New Plymouth hasn’t thrown up many popular bands in recent years and many Taranaki-backers would have been disappointed when the budding local rock act Rival State split back in 2007, having cut their teenage teeth and built a decent national fanbase over five years. Five years later they are back, with the same membership, a new and assured sound, and an album that they plan to take back to the northern hemisphere just as soon as they can, as guitarist Jo Einarrson tells Emily Ford.
It’s a mid October Friday night at Rising Sun on K’ Rd in Auckland and Rival State is raring to go. A crowd is starting to mill around the bar, downing cocktails and beers. There’s a guy with a mohawk, indie couples, Zowie. Tonight is the first leg of the band’s album release tour for ‘Apollo Me’, they’ll spend tomorrow trekking back to New Plymouth for a show in front of their home crowd.
Guitarist Jo Einarsson isn’t looking forward to the next day’s long drive – but it’s the type of life you might expect for a musician who’s spent the better half of the past five years living overseas – and at least it won’t be as bad as the six months he spent living in a van with his bandmates while they toured Canada.
“You’ve got five or six sweaty dudes in a small confined space,” Einarsson reminisces. “You’ve got to be really good friends to stay in a van together for six months.”
On the up side, he got really good at using baby wipes and showering in sinks. He also once had to clean up after an exploded septic tank while working for a production company in Canada.
“I had to go in my own homemade plastic uniform and pick up insulation covered in shit!”
Then there was the time he played to two people at an English pub – an equally far cry from the days in front of 10,000 punters at Edgefest. These days Einarsson’s busy back here in NZ with his former high school band Rival State. They did their separate thing for some years, when he jaunted off overseas and lived in vans, but now they’re back, and with a striking album under their belt. It may not surprise former fans to find the band’s still pretty much the same as when they were all 16-year olds, rocking Edgefest.
Rival State includes Einarsson’s brothers Stefan (bass) and Valdi (drums), along with guitarist Nimal Fernando and lead singer Luke Van Hoof. The group has known each other since they were 12 and started out together competing in Rockquests while in high school. In recent years Luke toured with Kids Of 88, while the rest of the band headed overseas, spending four years in Canada and Europe, together and separately.
When the other four returned home last year they reconnected with Luke. Rival State was revived and soon started recording new music. They were shooting tracks back and forth to Brit producer Matt Hyde, in England, until September when they pulled all their gear into a family friend’s home and started recording ‘Apollo Me’.
“It was a long process but kind of a short one, we just locked ourselves in a room and got it done,” says Einarsson.
Hyde has extensive credits as recording engineer, producer and mix engineer, (Slayer, Ash and Porno For Pyros among plenty of others), and house-recorded or not, ‘Apollo Me’ sounds impressive. The album title comes from Van Hoof, who penned most of the songs based on self-reflections.
“When it comes to lyrics, Luke’s the lyric guy in the band, but we all sit in the studio and knuckle it out as one.”
First singles Sleeptalker and Four Leaf Clover have both made good inroads on NZ commercial rock radio stations, but according to Einarsson the band was never intending to hang around in NZ for the release.
“We were supposed to be gone straight after we recorded it last year,” he says. “We never knew how well rock music was doing in NZ. When we came back we never knew if our music would do well here at all.”
Thanks to a deal they signed with Aussie label Shock Records, they decided to stay for the summer and head back overseas in 2013.
Although still only 25 years old, it seems there hasn’t been a time in the past 10 years where Einarsson hasn’t been involved with music in some way or another. He readily admits he’s too busy focusing on his work to bother meeting girls. Music is everything. While wishing illegal downloading didn’t exist he accepts that it’s a fact of life. Their label agreed to put up second single Four Leaf Clover as a free download. As an artist it’s important for music to be available to be consumed he says.
“If you want a career in music you learn quickly that money is not a factor. It’s all about the passion.”
He’s positive about Rival State’s future and excited about travelling with the band again. Luckily, Canada and England remind him of home.
“I love NZ, it’s the best place in the world to be,” he says. “But for music and what we want to achieve we’ve got to go overseas.
As the band’s Rising Sun gig wraps up, the death circles evaporate and girls are swooning at the foot of the stage. ‘Apollo Me’ has gone down a treat with the Auckland crowd and Rival State are definitely back in business.