Wairarapa-origined neo-dub act Tunes Of I were able to raise enough funds through a Kickstarter campaign to record their first album, a follow up to their late 2013 EP titled ‘T.O.I’. Having just listened to ‘Restless’ fresh from the press for the first time the night before, the band met up with NZM’s Jamie McCaskill at one of their regular stomping grounds, The Southern Cross in Wellington.
“It was perfect, a whole month in the studio felt so right”, reflects guitarist Jules Blewman on the still recent time spent at Surgery Studios, working on the new album of Wellington seven-piece neo-dub band Tunes Of I. It’s nearing the end of 2015 and we are sharing a drink at one of the city’s better known music venues, The Southern Cross, the same pub that they will bring in the new year at.
With producer/artist Barnaby Weir and well-known engineer Lee Prebble at the helm providing their experience and knowledge, ‘Restless’ proves to be an evolution on the sound Tunes Of I have become known for.
“The main difference with the album compared to our EP was having Lee and Barnaby in the room, questioning stuff and keeping us real,” claims Blewman.
A lot has changed in fairly short time for the band since starting as a three-piece in 2011. Back then singer and guitarist Conway Jeune would be leading the charge, jamming in the Wairarapa. Saxophonist Bryn Van Vliet was invited to a practice and immediately added valuable extra flavour.
“People would lose their shit at Bryn,” enthuses Jeune.
Now there are seven in the band with Michael Costeleo on trumpet, Kaito Walley on trombone, Makura Tomoana (Ngati Kahungunu) on bass, Blewman on guitar and Luther Hunt, the latest addition to the band, drumming.
This group of mates and students from the NZ School of Music are trying to push their sound, which is distinctively Wellington.
“Some people have even described it as old school,” Costeleo comments to nods of approval from the rest of the band. “Our influences are definitely Kora, Fat Freddys Drop and The Black Seeds, and some of us have a metal influence as well that we like to bring to the table.”
“Anybody can bring in a song or idea and we’ll workshop it as a band”, Blewman elaborates. “Everyone is very respectful of each other, we have a very open platform.”
Following the December release Tunes Of I headed out on an album release tour, their third summer tour and one they were really excited about. Over a busy December, January and February that took them as far north as Whangarei’s Old Stone Butter Factory, as far south as Dunedin and west via Fox Glacier’s Cook Saddle to play in Haast, as well as Hokitika’s famed Wild Foods Festival.
“We’re playing some festivals which has always been a goal of ours,” Jeune remarks. “I remember sitting in the van and talking to the group saying, we gotta play at one of those big festivals, now we are and now our goal is to get one of the dope spots.”
One of the things they are focused on for the tour is sustainability, says manager Loz Wootton.
“They are a good bunch of guys who are very professional and know when to go to bed early and look after themselves.”
One of the highlights for this tour is that they get to play alongside other influencers of their sound, the Kora brothers and Brad Kora’s new project LAB.
“All the brothers are going to be playing this gig and it’s something I’m really looking forward to. I’ve been listening to Kora since they came out”, says Conway. “And we get to go to awesome places and play music.”
It’s been three years since the band released their EP and they’re clearly pumped about getting their new album out there.
“We haven’t really been playing much of the EP live lately – more of the album,” Conway acknowledges.
While in the studio, they were able to work on some little things Barnaby provided help with, which the band says makes the main difference between ‘Restless’ and the earlier EP.
“It was the little dynamics which affect the whole music that makes a difference. Barnaby felt he needed this specific sound for one of our songs. He came into the kitchen area where we were all playing darts, and started hitting the pots, then he was like, this is the one and went and recorded it. It’s those little things.”
Looking to the future, Tunes Of I say they want to continue setting achievable goals, being professional and playing well.
“Maybe we could arrange a set with a big band. Other bands have done the orchestra thing so that would be something different,” ponders Costeleo. “The Wellington music scene is in safe hands with all the bands coming through, and we are the most dub band on the scene at the moment.”
“We’re paying homage to the Wellington bands of old,” adds, Tomoana, referring to the dub/roots boom of Trinity Roots, Fat Freddys Drop, Kora and The Black Seeds back in the early to 2000’s.
“And we just want to say thank you to all the people who have supported us on our journey.”