December/January 2014

by Silke Hartung

T54: Playing The Long Game

by Silke Hartung

T54: Playing The Long Game

Riding somewhere between shoegaze and punk, T54’s debut album ‘In Brush Park’ sounds warm and summery, tap-along, sing-along even, full of melodies and well-suited to association with the Flying Nun label via which it has just been released. Roger Shepherd himself initiated licensing discussions in December 2011 on the recommendation of Sam Davis, who had seen them play at RDU’s Round-Up and knew Flying Nun were in the middle of a signing spree. Christchurch’s T54 are Joe Sampson, Matt Scobie and Sam Hood, all of whom were in Scobie’s Addington kitchen, listening to UMO on vinyl, drinking beer and eating chips when Silke Hartung visited mid-November.

Having released a live EP, a cassette-compilation (for Camp A Low Hum) and CD/digital EP ‘Drone Attacks’, band and record label decided they were ready for a full album which was duly recorded at Sammy’s in Dunedin – rather than a studio.

“Studios are really expensive. They’re so flash, it’s not very comfortable,”” explains T54’s drummer Matt Scobie. “Even if it sounds better, it won’t feel as good. We’ve always been a feel kind of band, not a sound kind of band.””

Just released this November, the album was recorded in early 2012, nearly two years earlier. After playing CALH the band only had a brief stopover at home in Christchurch before driving down to Dunedin, gear and all. They set up the night they got there, ran through a song and the next day the bulk of the album was recorded.

“That next day I felt the worst I’ve ever felt in my life!”” recalls singer and guitarist Joe Sampson.

Forty possible songs had previously been whittled down to 20, of which 15 were recorded, with 10 ultimately making it onto the album they’ve called ‘In Brush Park’.

“It’s very much a live recording compared to what we’ve done in the past. It’s a very natural sound, too, no added reverb or anything like that – the reverb that you can hear is the sound of the theatre,”” says Sampson.

With some nice pre-amps borrowed from Tex Houston it was captured via Pro Tools. Tom Bell, who has credits with Ghostwave and David Kilgour & The Heavy Eights, engineered the session, but T54 (Joe Sampson, Matt Scobie and Sam Hood) looked after production themselves.

“I guess we produced ourselves,”” says Joe without irony. “We’re a guitar band, a rock band – there’s not a lot to produce. We work together in a room for a few months, come up with the sound and record it – there’s not a lot to produce!””

It wasn’t all that straight forward of course. Matt had his drums being set up right underneath the massive dome at the centre of Sammy’s, which caused a distracting hissing snare sound.”

“There were a few times when Sam [bassist] and I went out of sync!”” Matt recalls.

“There was a lot of fucking around, interruptions, while recording – much more than recording,”” says Joe. “Some songs we got first take, others took five takes to record. When you record a song live it’s usually the first or second take that’s best – afterwards it never gets better – you’re nervous!””

T54 had ridden to some student radio prominence on the back of a determined gigging schedule that included regular trips northward. Prior to recording the album they had been playing pretty much every weekend for four years and it seems that at the time of recording that had already caught up with them.

“We had overexposed ourselves to ourselves, so we needed a break and that’s what we did,”” says Matt.

For a while, the band focused on their other projects – Salad Boys and the Dance Asthmatics, Space Bats, Attack!, No Broadcast, Motown Junk to name a few – and time passed.

Sometime in mid-2013, “someone”” made the self-managed band pose for press shots (which they only reluctantly agreed to), wrote a fresh bio and got the ball rolling for the release of ‘In Brush Park’. They’re humble about the album, at one point admitting that they weren’t very happy with it right after recording, but it has since grown on them.

“It all comes back to what being in a band is about – about three dudes in a room playing together, making noise and having fun. Not about how many friends on Facebook you’ve got or your online presence. That’s not what it’s about. It’s about good songs and enjoying what you do,”” claims Joe.

Somehow we drift into talking about Krautrock and soon you can’t really make out what each individual on the table is saying anymore because there’s so much excitement in the air. T54 might yet turn into a Kiwi Krautrock band. Who knows? Anything is possible as long as they enjoy it.