What’s not to like about The Prophet Motive? As band names go it’s artful and as songs go, downright down-to-earth. The newly released debut album from Mitch Cookson and James Fox-O’Connell includes tracks with titles like Toke and Temuera Morrison Blues, as if to prove the point. Michael Hollywood talked to the Rotovegas folk-punk duo for NZ Musician.
Mitch Cookson and James ‘Tittez’ Fox-O’Connell are Rotorua-based folk-punkers The Prophet Motive, and there was something quite fitting about the duo’s debut album ‘Manifest Density’ being launched during NZ’s General Election week. The album contains more than a smattering of hard-hitting critique about where the country might be headed in 2014. It’s clear that living in a scenic thermal wonderland offers no immunity to the social and political ills currently plaguing the rest of the country.
Chatting with the pair on the eve of the album’s release, there’s an air of nonchalant confidence about who they are, and what they do. It’s essentially a form of folk-punk – an absorbing mix of acoustic guitar, strong melodies, socially conscious lyrics, and large portions of irony.
Recorded at home by Dave McMahon, of Auckland band Future Theft, before being mixed and mastered by Andrew Taylor, ‘Manifest Density’ has a certain back-to-basics energy about it. A distinct lack of sheen and a DIY-approach proves pivotal to the message being delivered in precisely the way it’s meant to be heard.
According to Cookson, the recording process was a rudimentary, yet hugely effective way of capturing the raw elements and requisite level of spontaneity.
“He [McMahon] basically left us to it. We just set up the mics, we were DI-ed as well, he then hit ‘record’ and said, ‘Go for it’. We just laid the tracks down as we would when we’re sitting in my lounge on any other night basically. We did it over two afternoons, it only took about six or seven hours, and we did it all live. We found in the past when we tracked stuff it just didn’t have the energy and we never really liked it that much.”
It’s a degree of brevity and intensity faithful to generic boundaries of this all too rare form, and the album is all the better for it. Born from playing live, loud and often – 70-odd shows – most in Auckland and Tauranga, but also in Napier and hometown Rotorua.
“We generally get a good reaction. Most of the time we’re usually playing with more traditional punk bands, or louder bands, so we’re kind’a like the token acoustic act. That’s a big reason we try to play hard, we don’t just noodle around on our guitars.
Cookson is keen to let me know about Fox-O’Connell’s past as an accomplished trumpet player, Fox-O’Connell equally quick to credit Cookson’s songwriting talent.
“Mitch probably writes 97% of everything to be honest. He’ll show me a song and I’ll just come in and play along to it until I get it together I guess.”
In contrast to Fox-O’Connell’s more formal musical background, 28-year old Cookson didn’t pick up the guitar until five years ago, after years as a vocalist.
“I came very late into playing guitar and a lot of these songs are actually from very early on. I’ve got about 90 songs now. It’s not that hard to write the songs, it’s just that we’ve taken so long to get the album out.”
Cookson sings in a style not dissimilar to that of folk-punk pioneer Billy Bragg, but the twang is definitely straight out of Rotorua rather than anything superficial, and he is keen to contest any comparison with a master of the form.
“I do listen to a bit of Billy Bragg, but I try to just sing in my own accent. I mean this is my accent… it’s not exactly, you know … I’m not talking like Tem,” he laughs.
Ah, yes, Tem. Hollywood actor and Rotorua entertainment icon, Tem Morrison, who’s singled out for special attention on Temuera Morrison Blues, one of the album’s stand-out tracks. It’s one thing to have a dig at John Key, as on album opener Proof, but quite something else to take a crack at someone as untouchable as Tem Morrison – in a local context at least.
“If Tem doesn’t like it, he can come around and knock on my door and we’ll have a yarn… what’s Tem gonna care?”
Besides, The Prophet Motive wouldn’t be who they are if they stood back and looked on in awe of anyone, neither man seems the sort prepared to tolerate the worshipping of false gods. Cookson takes license to write about exactly what’s on his mind, without fear or favour.
Mostly it targets the wealthy, the government, so-called authority figures, and just about every conceivable type of hypocrite. Of which, of course, there are many and varied. It’s not that complicated, and neither is the music.
The album is available online through Savant Garde Records, via the Tauranga Music Sux Bandcamp page. At the time of writing it’s a name-your-price deal, which speaks volumes about the ethos behind The Prophet Motive.
The pair are happy to have had Hallowawa (also on ‘Manifest Density’) included as a bonus track on the Anti-Flag Records’ acoustic protest compilation album ‘This Concerns Everyone’, and understand that for now it’s all about getting exposure. Throwing it out there to see what sticks, and what comes back.
“We’re just trucking away, slogging away with gigging, trying to get people to take notice of it in our own way. We’re not big on the marketing side of it or anything like that, we mostly just talk shit on Facebook,” says Cookson.
And that sounds like more than enough to be getting on with for now.