December/January 2014

by Sam Carswell

The Means: From The Beginning To An End

by Sam Carswell

The Means: From The Beginning To An End

Individually, Abe Kunin, Tom Broome and Marika Hodgson are all outstanding Auckland musicians, recognisable from a number of different acts they perform with. During 2013 they have been establishing a reputation together as The Means, a kind of super instrumentalist group that ropes in quality female singers to bring out the soul in their electro-jazz arrangements. The Means is ‘at once a band, a production unit, a burgeoning empire and a philosophy’ according to the media release accompanying their debut EP, released under the Young, Gifted and Broke banner. Sam Carswell talked with Kunin and Broome about getting The Means to an end.

It took me all of two seconds to realise that my stereo was set too loud. I must have accidentally knocked the volume control, because the moment the stuttering drum fill that opens ‘The Ends’ EP came in, I was deafened.

The first song, aptly titled Heavy Trigger Finger, hits you right in the face with its straight, stammering groove and seems to set a trend for the EP. Unlike a lot of beat-orientated music, The Means have found a way of making music that you just can’t ignore. You’ll tap your foot. You’ll nod your head. You’ll sing along. You’ll pull weird funk faces and, if you’re in the same situation I happened to be upon first listen, you’ll be keen to soak in every little detail – at full volume.

‘The Ends EP’ is the first official release from Auckland electro-soul/RnB band The Means. With Abraham (Abe) Kunin playing guitar, Tom Broome on drums and the bass chops of Marika Hodgson, plus a slew of guest vocalists, The Means channel a love of hip hop production through conventional songwriting sensibilities, emerging with a sound that’s really quite tough to describe.

Aaron Nevezie, who recorded ‘The Ends’ intermittently in a variety of studios (including The Lab, Roundhead and York St) along with Tom Anderson and Simon Gooding, goes a way to describe it as “The Flaming Lips meets J Dilla,” though I’d argue there’s the downbeat feel of The xx somewhere in there too. Fellow New York-based Steph Brown (aka LIPS) joined in the fun on keys.

What comes through vividly is a strong sense of professionalism, especially in the attention to detail. Through the eight tracks The Means shift effortlessly between different grooves and styles with pinpoint accuracy. It would be tempting to find it over-produced if it wasn’t for the fact that the band play with such conviction and feeling that they make every track sound raw and exciting. It’s this energy about the record that makes it infectious and ensures that every time it’s on you’ll find it hard to concentrate on anything else.

Broome and Kunin went through Auckland University’s jazz course while Hodgson trained at Massey. Eclecticism seems a key theme with (amongst the plethora of bands they play in) Broome also drumming for local hip hop heroes HomeBrew, Kunin playing guitar in shoegazers Coach and Hodgson currently playing with Esther Stephens (who also guests on the album) and Funkommunity.

There are hints of all of these influences in The Means, which grew out of an “originals band that never did anything,”” though once Hodgson was brought into the fold to replace another bass player something in the line-up clicked.

“There was almost, like, accidental chemistry…”” ventures Kunin. “When it just clicks with people that you’ve been thrown in with…It felt like that third part of the puzzle fit straight away.””

The band bonded over a joint interest in D’Angelo and warmed things up jamming his album ‘Voodoo’.

“The process of that falling into our own compositions, of those songs we like playing developing into our own thing, happened really organically,”” says Broome.

I ask the two guys about comparisons I’ve made in my head. Do I hear a bit of BadBadNotGood? A little Robert Glasper? They understand but are quick to disagree. Broome points out the difference.

“Looking at them – it’s in no way inspired by them, but it is inspired by the same thing they’re inspired by – almost being inspired by production ideas instead of bands.””

Foolishly, I ask if The Means are something of a jam band? Again they promptly disagree. Quite the opposite, while songs often start out as jams, The Means make a point of keeping everything very well structured.

“We had seen too much of the jamming thing going wrong…It ends up being a bit disrespectful to the audience to sit there and jam on two chords for 20 minutes”,” says Broome.

Here we find what really defines The Means. The songwriting is immaculate. Every song is catchy and memorable. Strong hooks, strong melodies, strong grooves.

The process has really been distilled over the course of making this EP” Kunin notes. He describes writing as “a workshopping process between ourselves, as a unit, and whoever we’re working with”,” with the initial instrumentals usually coming out of jams, then altered to suit what the singer feels they can write over. The effect of this has left the band with instrumentally detailed tracks, the music being equally important to the song as the vocals and lyrics.

Kunin and Broome clearly believe in the music they’re making and are more than prepared to work to achieve success. Our hour long chat ends with them agreeing on a quote.

“Josh Homme was in an interview and got asked, ‘What would you say to someone trying to get into music?’ He said, ‘If you expect anything then you expect too much.’ At the end of the day, if you do it because you love it and you believe in it – for the artistry – that has to be self-nourishing. That has to be a good thing.””

In The Means’ case indeed, that seems a very, very good thing.

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