In the wake of Soaked Oats’ 2018 US tour and ahead of an appearance at England’s The Great Escape (and the release of their EP ‘Sludge Pop’) Katherine Parsons talked with guitar (bubble stick) player Henry Francis and bassist (blue whaler) Max Holmes about how the sludgy Dunedin four-piece has become the country’s fastest building indie rock act.
“Show it to ya neighbours,” laughs Max Holmes, promoting their new single Coming Up and their upcoming EP ‘Sludge Pop’.
“We got an email in our inbox from Canada asking if we could play a show, and we just replied saying, “Thanks for the offer but we’re actually in New Zealand”, smiles bassist Holmes as he explained how the three-year-old Dunedin band’s 2018 American tour came to pass.
“And they were like, ‘Yeah that’s cool! We’ll pay for your flights!’ We were like, ‘Right… we need to book a US tour!’ And it grew and it grew, and it grew!”
Indeed it grew to include 20 far-flung shows that meant covering more than 10,000 miles of American roads. How did they possibly afford all that travel?
“We bought a 34-foot motor home,” Holmes smiles. “And we started with four and ended up with 11 living in it full time. So yeah… it was a lot of fun.”
“A good contingent of really close mates from New Zealand came over for a holiday,” chuckles guitarist Henry Francis. “It was interesting… I’m not sure it was what they had expected.”
The entire tour was organised by the band themselves, a DIY tour if you will.
“They were all so different,” remarks Holmes of the 20 gigs they played. “We played our first show to our smallest audience. Basically at least four people. But they were stoked! We’d never really played to a crowd that size. And then we played some shows to like 200 people, or in somebody’s basement where all their friends would come over. It was such a wide range and so much fun.”
“It was the really small shows I think that they were some of the ones I enjoyed the most, because you really knew when you were doing well,” Francis picks up.
“There’s something about there being fewer people – they seem to respond honestly – or you can feed more off their enthusiasm. It’s really nice to get that human response from individual people. I think coming back to NZ from that has given us a real appreciation of playing to all sorts of different crowds, and working out how to be better performers and give people a more personal experience, even though they might be in a crowd of say 200 people.”
“A lot of us had wanted to travel with an objective and for music to be that objective,” Holmes adds. “It was a pretty awesome experience meeting like-minded people, other bands our own age, and then being invited back to their place. Yeah, it was awesome, we met so many good people.”
In May the band are heading overseas again to play the UK, stopping off in Brighton to play industry-showcase gigs at The Great Escape Festival.
“We’ve announced a show in London, which we are really excited about,” gushes Francis.
The band’s first single from the upcoming EP, Shuggah Doom, has been well received.
“It was something Henry kind’a bought along,” says Holmes of the Lou Reed-reminiscent song suggesting life is akin to film-making.
“We all had a great time jamming it. Oscar [singer Oscar Mein] whipped up some lyrics and there you go. Oscar kind of had the video concept in his head to go along with the song as he wrote it, so that was kind of the intention of the song.”
“In terms of its title, it was quite throw away,” Francis continues. “Oscar was doing vocal overdubs, and after the first chorus there’s a wee break and there’s a rhythmic beat where the drums and guitar syncopate. When he was recording vocals he just went ‘shu-ga-doom’.”
Soaked Oats have creatively defined their own musical genre as sludge-pop, using that descriptive term to name their next EP.
“The whole being placed in a genre thing. It’s a little bit funny and a hard thing to talk about,” says Francis.
“For anyone who loves music, they tend to love loads of different types and that like leads into what you create as well. ‘Sludge pop’ was something that we came up with a little while ago. It plays into the whole Soaked Oats thing. We write like a lot of pop songs, I think, structurally. But then hopefully there’s a little bit of something interesting in there that could be described as ‘sludgy’.”
“I think most of our favourite songs have originated from jamming, and in terms of performance anyway. It’s so much fun to stretch out together. That’s how it all comes about if that makes sense.”
The group’s personalities and cheeky charisma seem to glue the whole band together, and the evident love and friendship between them shows clearly through in both their music and videos.
“Oscar and Max actually went to primary school in Christchurch together,” explains Francis. “And then Oscar, Max and Conor [drummer Conor Feehly] went to school together. Then I met them while at university. Oscar was in Wellington whilst we were at uni down here in Dunedin, and then he came down. We could draw a Venn diagram for you!”
“It took a while for us to all come together,” laughs Holmes. “But once we did, we did.”
“Max is the Chief Financial Officer of our band,” says Francis grinning. “I’m Team Legal, Oscar is Health & Safety, and Oscar is Dental Hygienist/Intern.”
“We just formed a company to keep our parents happy,” Holmes continues the joke, both boys snickering. “So, we’re now directors of a company.”
Despite their chilled appearance and mischievous image, Soaked Oats is a very hard working and forward thinking band. They like to know what’s going on and are keen to take their music to the next level. Auckland publicist Lisa Paris has been helping them for a while and more recently come on board as manager.
“I think we’ve all really benefitted from sort of learning as we go,” smiles Francis. “How to book a tour, like around NZ, and making relationships with venues. Getting a gauge for how it all kind of works. You want to have some idea of what’s going on, ‘cause at the end of the day, it’s our career.
“I think we definitely have things we want to say and that comes across in the lyrics. Oscar really thinks about what he presents in lyrics and I think he’s a really great poet. A lot of the happiest of our music was certainly some of the ‘Stone Fruit’ songs, [their 2017 EP ‘Stone Fruit Melodies’ with I’m A Peach, Prunus, Avocado Aficionado etc.] and I think throughout our time releasing that music has changed quite a lot, especially the lyrical message.”
The passion of their craft is clearly evident through what they produce. Their single Driftwood, a beautifully unique instrumental, and its accompanying video plays tribute to their US tour, shot by their friend Jake Munro whilst they travelled around in their 1980s RV.
They contemplate the artists that have inspired them:
“Kevin Morby’s been around for a while,” says Holmes, “and Parquet Courts!”
“I’m really really excited for Aldous Harding’s new record,” says Francis. “Her last one was definitely one of my favourite albums. Oscar’s a really big lover of Bob Dylan in terms of songwriting and lyricism. I think it’s impossible to escape that cross-pollination. It’s funny cause it can be a very different genre of music sometimes, presented in very different ways, but you can still be influenced by it. It’s nice.”
“We’ve all grown up in families that love music, so it’s always been a huge part of our lives.”
“What have we not mentioned that we should mention?” Francis asks Holmes as we make to finish up the interview.
“Our friends don’t get enough credit, so a huge shout out to them,” answers Holmes. “We rely so heavily on them. Everywhere we go, we always have different friends picking us up from the airport or letting us stay at their place. They’ve got the connects and they’ll put us on to someone in America to go stay with. They’ll film for us or offer us their studio. They just do so much for us. We run on the fuel of our friends.”
The fun-loving lads have some exciting events to look forward to over the coming few months. New single Coming Up drops at the beginning of NZ Music Month, followed by their ‘Sludge Pop’ EP mid-June.
“It’s the best yet!” chuckles Holmes.
“It should speak for itself hopefully. It flows really nicely. It’s our first vinyl release, which is exciting. We got some test prints back the other day so it’s feeling very legit.”
They also have an Australian tour lined up for the end of June.
“Then NZ Winter tour in July,” states Francis. “And then we’re gonna take a break and just start putting together an album. We won’t be touring as much in the second half of the year ‘cause we kind’a need a break.”