by Amanda Mills

Tidal Rave: Dark Wizard Popsters

by Amanda Mills

Tidal Rave: Dark Wizard Popsters

Morphing out of a number of bands, notably Kitten Tank and Echo Beach, Tidal Rave formed three years ago, the line-up mutating to accommodate the comings, goings and joinings of a six-piece band. The multi-faceted, multi-talented Wellington-based (though half are from Dunedin) band are three singer-songwriter-guitarists (Emmie Ellis, Kristen Paterson and Esther Gedye Taylor), keyboardist/singer (Ann-Marie Keating) and a rhythm section of Frank Eggleton on bass and drummer Scott Hakkaart. Amanda Mills talked with Paterson and Ellis about their 2020 debut album, ‘Heart Screams’.

“Echo Beach stopped playing because… Ann-Marie went overseas,” Kristin Paterson recalls. “Me, Emmie, Frank and Esther started jamming in Emmie’s bedroom… we thought, ‘This is really cool, we should make these proper songs and do stuff.”

They did just that, initially recruiting drummer Charlie Camp to the first iteration of Tidal Rave before Keating returned, and Echo Beach’s Hakkaart joined the fold. The band name (attributed to Eggleton) led to unexpected benefits, as both a dance party in Ghana. A British band shares the name, leading to mistaken (but welcome) social media attention, and gig offers from the UK.

Initially, Tidal Rave worked up their material playing live around Wellington, including Eye Gum Wednesdays at San Fran, and supporting Australian bands Maureen and Swim Team. Performing their material live before going into the studio is something Paterson is pleased about.

“I would never want to write a song and go straight to the studio, because you want to feel what it feels like in the practice dynamic, and also on the stage as well.”

Their self-titled first EP was recorded in 2017 at Chicks Hotel in Dunedin (now Port Chalmers Recording Services) while a five-piece (without Keating). It was, as they say, an experience.

“We knew that Tom [Bell] was really talented, and amazing, and to be honest charges not nearly enough for what he does!” Paterson enthuses. “We got to record in this place that was really amazing and evocative… I’ve heard these ghost stories, these horror stories about Chicks, and I’d been there years ago, and Tom had done it up so beautifully,” she remembers.

“It was stunning, just the whole set up. Persian rugs kind of laid out, like this whole massive area framed with beautiful pianos, and musical equipment,” Emmie Ellis confirms.

While the EP was written from jam sessions, their newly-released debut album ‘Heart Screams’ is the work of three individual songwriters.

“Pretty much everything was written by Esther, Kristen and I, we’re the three songwriters and front people,” Ellis clarifies. “We bring a song, pretty much finished, or still working on it… everyone brings their own arrangements.”

“Me, or Emmie, or Esther would bring our own vocal line, or riffs… and lyrics,” affirms Paterson. “And all three of us songwriters play guitar… someone might do a wildly different thing on bass than I’d imagined. So, it’s still collaborative in that respect, but there’s definitely that sense of ownership. If you’re not happy as the songwriter, people want to make sure they support the vision that you have.”

The eclectic nature of songs on ‘Heart Strings’ reflects each writer’s differing perspective, their idiosyncratic approaches coming through. FOMO stands out – a first-person account of not wanting to leave a party. Turns out, that’s only one experience related in the lyrics.

“It may be a collection of many related experiences, but I wrote that after my Christmas party,” Ellis grins. “I’m one of those classic kids who can just not go home… everything that happened… happens most nights I go out!”

Paterson tends towards darker themes. “I don’t write happy-dappy… songs, it doesn’t really creatively give me the urge to put pen to paper or pick a guitar up.”

The “anxious and claustrophobic” nature of Wellington also emerges. “The fault-line’s there, it’s windy all the time, you can feel very irascible, everybody’s just trying to get on with working, the world’s a bit screwed up, and that sort of stuff,” she admits. “People don’t feel great a lot of the time, and that resonates with me, and definitely comes out my music. I mean it to be more cathartic than depressing!”

Ellis agrees. “The amazing thing about writing songs is that ability to articulate how you feel… things that are present in your life and in the world… they’re inescapable… This experience, it never stops being cathartic.”

There’s much to love on ‘Heart Screams’. Paterson admits the “… really cool chorus,” makes Leave It Alone one favourite,  while Ellis is fond of Preacher’s Creatures because she sings on it by herself, and “…it’s quite exposing.” She was especially happy with the recording.

“Our recording engineer did a wee thing on the vocals when they come in in the chorus that … reverberated, that was magic.”

They both love Gedye Taylor’s song Dark Wizard, Ellis enthusing, “… she has this amazing ability, uses comic and pop culture amazingly in her songs.”

Paterson expands on this. “It’s using Harry Potter as a catalyst to talk about wider societal problems… there’s so much wit, humour, and darkness. I think [they] play a lot more with turns of phrase and metaphor, I’m definitely a bit more super-literal… I really love all the different ways we play with words and with sound, and because it’s the same guitar sound and drum sound… it’s that uniformity of theme… we don’t end up with a funk-jazz number over here, a power ballad over here, and a death metal number.”

Despite having three songwriters, ‘Heart Screams’ is cohesive in sound. Funk-jazz, power ballads and death metal numbers don’t feature, but a “big-band county banger”, Can You Do Right (When You Do Wrong)? does. Written by Ellis over 10 years ago, it’s found a home on the album.

“It was so much fun working on that because we sonically often try to go for the same sort of vibe across the songs,” she muses. The decision to try country was a challenge to see if they could nail it. “And I love it because it still has a garage edge to it.”

Really, ‘Heart Screams’ is rooted in what they term “garage-rock dark-pop”, but infiltrated by dashes of different styles and genres. 

“It’s so different having the keys as well… keys have added this whole different level, and they’ve definitely made me play a little differently,” notes Paterson. “It’s interesting… three guitars could get a bit sonically dense. We got too tonally similar, and we definitely started to play in a bit more of a dynamic way. Adding the keys in, it’s a lot more interesting. I still feel like we’ve grown into the sound that we’re going to nail… I like that there’s the garage element, there’s the surf element, there’s the pop element, there’s the… jangle!”

Their touchstones of grunge, Hole, Riot Girl, Sleater Kinney, P.J. Harvey etc. are present, but subtle. While Tidal Rave have not pigeonholed themselves to any specific style, they are interested when people apply a style to their music.

“I actually find it quite fascinating – what we intend versus what happens,” she continues. “If people don’t quite get the references we’re going for, it means we’re not ripping them off… we’re creative enough to not quite get busted! We’re mid-to-late 30s, early 40s in the band, so when people say it comes from another era, maybe it’s that we’re not 20! We are of our era,” she laughs.

‘Heart Screams’ was recorded in different sessions over a year in Wellington, then mastered by Warwick Donald at Munki in Newtown. The band co-produced the album with Donald, and although they are ambivalent about the term ‘producer’, they enjoyed working with him to find their sound. Paterson discovered something about herself in the process.

“As a woman, asking to re-do something is so… confronting,” she reflects. “I’ve already put myself in a really vulnerable space because I’ve been hardcore singing about my deepest feelings… to then have to flip that around and be… ‘I want it to sound like this, and like that,’ when I don’t necessarily have the language of how to frame it… I’m not a recording engineer so I don’t always know the right words. That for me is super confronting. Working with Warwick, and Tom was great… if I actually said, ‘Can we do it again’, they said, ‘Of course, that’s what we’re here for.’”

The band’s lineup of four frontwomen is something they value highly.

“It is really, really, really exciting to play on stage with the four of us being women, it’s very cool,” Paterson enthuses.

“It’s amazing being part of the music scene at the moment where, organically, women are fronting bands,” Ellis smiles. “We played at Now festival, and we were lining up in the artists line to get food, and I looked around me, and over half the artists were women… this is one of those things you thought, ‘Not in my lifetime’… [but] it’s in our lifetime!”

Paterson too has seen a huge change. “When I was younger I thought, ‘cause I worked at music venues and in music radio… that it really was going to take spaces like that becoming more amenable to women. But then what happened was women went, ‘No… we’re going to do it anyway.’ It’s really exciting to witness, be a part of and enjoy it. Trans women too!”

‘Heart Screams’ is released on Dunedin’s Fishrider Records. “It’s great being on a label with people who we absolutely love and respect and adore their music. It gives me heart flutters,” Patterson smiles.

But why Fishrider? Full disclosure, Ellis admits – it’s a family thing. “One of the bands on Fishrider is The Puddle, which is my Dad’s band… which then means Ian Henderson is my uncle!”

That said, the band wanted ‘Heart Screams’ to have the best chance for exposure, and thought Fishrider could provide that. Ellis approached it like a business case.

“I wrote it all up in an email, and said, ‘This is where we are at… this is what we’re thinking we should do… to provide some surety. He replied straight away and said, ‘I’d like to release it.’”

With 2020 being difficult for artists, their plans are fluid, but for this “very happy six-piece,” the sky’s the limit.