Emerging initially as a side project for members of Christchurch bands T54, Bang! Bang! Eche! and Dance Asthmatics, Salad Boys have spent the last month touring their disingenuously-titled debut album, ‘Metalmania,’ across North America, at the behest of Chicago record label, Trouble In Mind Records. Sammy Jay Dawson caught up with Salad Boys’ vocalist/guitarist Joe Sampson ahead of the album’s September release.
Christchurch trio Salad Boys have drawn regular comparisons to the glory years of the Flying Nun sound, which may in itself explain their appeal to US pop-plus label Trouble In Mind Records. Their just-released debut album also largely plays homage to ’80s American college radio, noticeably influenced by bands such as REM, Sonic Youth and Pavement, as well as The Clean and Chris Knox.
Salad Boys started out in 2012 as a side project, guitarist/singer Joe Sampson explains.
“I was in T54 at the time and James Sullivan [drums] was in Bang! Bang! Eche!. Both bands were going through a bit of a quiet phase at that point for various reasons.
“James and I used to work together and our job meant we’d take trips to Timaru and the West Coast. We realised we had a similar taste in music so we’d listen to quite a lot of stuff in the car, quite a big range. Wire, Jay Reatard, Sparklehorse, PIL, lots of German stuff… but also classics like The Smashing Pumpkins, Green Day, and heaps of Flying Nun – of course The Clean and David Kilgour.
“I guess it was a chance to form a band more influenced by our favourite bands than our other projects were. I felt like there were some things I wasn’t allowed to do with T54, and maybe James felt the same. I’ve always liked The Clean-style songs, the REM-style songs – the chordy kind. The songs I’ve always been writing, but in the bands I’ve been in those songs have always sounded out of place. So it was good to finally be able to do that stuff.
“There’s a certain raw magic that Ben [Odering – bass] adds when we first learn a song, there’s the odd exception but most of the time we immediately align musically.”
A 4-track recorded online demo tape released in early 2013, found success, aided by their appearance at 2013’s Camp A Low Hum festival. The indie pop three-piece’s popularity continued to spread with a number of tours alongside the cream of Melted Ice Cream’s (Sampson’s baby) musical crop.
Following the release of the DIY label’s first compilation album, ‘Sickest Smashes From Arson City’, also featuring the likes of Ipswitch, The Transistors and X-Ray Charles, word of the band’s lo-fi sound spread across the ditch. Returning home from playing Australia’s east coast they were approached by cool Chicago indie label, Trouble In Mind Records.
“We actually started recording the album in 2013,” says Sampson of ‘Metalmania’, which was released internationally on the US label in September. “It took quite a while to get finished. A lot of the songs came together quite quickly, getting them down on tape was a bit of a longer process however. We recorded all the drums in September 2013, with the intention of finishing things off that year. Obviously that didn’t happen with producer Steven Marr [Doprah] getting super busy, and Ben Odering living in Auckland at the time. Myself being a perfectionist didn’t help. All of a sudden it’s 12 months later and there was still a lot to be done.
“Then Trouble In Mind Records got in contact with us, which we didn’t really know what to think of. It kind of felt too good to be true, so we acknowledged their interest, but not much more than that. About six months later they contacted us again saying, ‘So, are you still keen? What’s the deal? Have you got the album?’
“So we started to attack it more. I showed them one of the completed tracks, which they loved and said they were keen to release the album. So we thought, if they’re into the Salad Boys based on the strength of a single song, then that’s a pretty good sign – you can’t really ask for more than that. That’s when I said to myself, ‘What the hell are you doing? This is the dream, you’ve wanted this your whole life, why aren’t you grabbing it?!’”
Backing the release of ‘Metalmania’, the band set out on a five-week, 26-date tour of the US, including a show at Jack White’s famed label Third Man Records in Nashville. A three-city NZ tour planned for late October will see the band wrap things up before work commences on a follow-up.
“There’s another album worth of material ready to go, which I reckon are stronger than the last record,” Sampson promises. “Though everyone says that, don’t they?! I’ve been trying to get back to the way I used to write songs when I was a teenager, which was a lot more instinctual. There’s a lot of stuff I’ve discarded to the cutting room floor for being too simple that I’m only now starting to rework into tracks now. A track doesn’t have to be needlessly complex to be good, but sometimes there is this fabricated judgment in a songwriter’s mind.”
Their label clearly sees them as worthy inheritors of Christchurch’s musical heritage, warmly raving about their place in the sun…
Like the originators of Christchurch’s ’80s DIY scene, The Salad Boys use their town’s isolated southern location to their advantage, fostering their hometown scene and perfecting their tunes free from the sounds and expectations of a larger city. That freedom undoubtedly contributes to the rural vibe of ‘Metalmania’, whose sound makes sense in a dark rock club & DIY space, as well as floating down the Avon River, placing them firmly into the physical & musical landscape of New Zealand. After all, location is everything.