Callum Passels & Callum Devlin from Hans Pucket / All photos by Violet Hirst
Hans Pucket is the joining of brothers Oli and Callum Devlin (Oli is also prolific in theatre music composition, and Callum runs Sports Team, Trash Recital, and the 95bfm Top 10 with their partner Annabel Kean). They started as a two-piece party band performing Jungle Book medleys, then released their first project together. Jono Nott (best cover band in Blenheim, Broods) admired the project and soon joined as their drummer. Some years later, and after being a casual saxophonist/drummer, it soon became easier for Callum Passels (LCR) to be in the band than to not! His arrangements for a special “Horns Pucket” brass band became a part of the new album.
“Our first gig together was following a spoken word performance from Chris Knox using the 30 words he could. It was destroying and brought me to tears.” - says Callum Passels.
No Drama is being released this Friday and as Callum D says, is “reflective of the past eight years”. Built over the last four years, No Drama is very much songs about your 20s: anxieties, fears and heartbreak. I met with Callum Devlin (CD) and Callum Passels (CP) in Kingsland village for coffee on a bright Monday morning.
“We didn’t restrict ourselves at all in the recording, so this album is a lot bigger than our last, involving strings, horns and keyboards.” says Callum Devlin.
What is the writing process of the band? Is it mostly Oli?
CP: It’s the first day of our writing retreat. Oli comes in. We all sit down. Then he plays us 15 songs that he’s written.
CD: We’ve had three years since the last time we recorded, so he came prepared with all possible Hans Pucket songs. They’re mostly campfire arrangements - bare bones. So we sat, politely clapped at the end of each song, and took notes. Anything we were excited about we would take, and often completely deconstruct Oli’s idea of the song in terms of feel, tempo or mood. Sometimes it’s obvious. “Let’s just add drums and bass and play it how it’s heard”, but sometimes we come at it from every angle.
CP: Not every song Oli writes is a Hans Pucket song.
What separates that?
CD: The definition of that is changing and will continue to change. For me, it feels more resolved.
CP: Callum has a good sense of what is and isn’t it. The question is “is this right? Can we twist it into something that works?”.
CD: Oli’s rule is we have to really enjoy our own parts, because we’re going to be playing them for a long time. If it’s not going to work, we have to be honest. The clearest example is the original demo of Fuck My Life - which was incredibly emo, slow, and sounded like an Animial Collective song with soupy electronics underneath. This is great! But it would clear the room in a party band set. Let’s try it with a disco beat.
CP: That’s what makes a lot of our creative process work. Oli’s songs have a certain mood, then we cut across it with a new angle. It’s a band of complex mood. Sometimes that’s nuanced and sometimes things are in opposition to each other, forced to work together.
I felt so related to when I met the music, I love the contradiction of self-deflating lyrics with upbeat.
CD: Because I don’t write the lyrics I have a step removed and can be a fan of the writing. Oli does a really good job of articulating thoughts and making them useful. The sign of a good song is when it’s expressing something you hadn’t yet had words for. Trying to articulate your life is very hard to do when you’re in it.
That’s what the people need!
CP: There are a lot of bands that make musical moves because they think they should, whereas for me all our musical decisions are out of necessity. Oli’s big guitar hero moments feel like a relief, when we play I think “thank god” - I need to do this! I hate flippancy in music; when people are too casual in a way that shows they don’t care. I have a lot of fun, but I also feel the need to do it. Oli is also so generous with his songs that they feel like ours.
CD: You get the perspective of one voice which makes the songs clear and unified - but as a full band, we couldn’t be more different in our tastes. It’s the resolving of these conflicts that makes the music. Oli and I are from that NZ Nature’s Best, guitar-pop/rock narrative. You know when the Gorilla’s and the Strokes were the biggest bands of their time? We’re holding onto that era.
CP: I didn’t grow up with any of this.
CD: So I made Callum a playlist called “not jazz” with that music.
CP: It is all evergreen.
I wanted to ask about navigating Sports Team, and being an important figure of our music community vs. having the band?
CD: I love it. There’s no point making music if you don’t have a music community. Annabel and I do Sports Team (making videos) full time, which is incredible and only thanks to our generous funding bodies. It’s so exciting seeing the amount of music that gets produced. Just the fact that we have a place like Karangahape road, where I can go to a gig and know I’ll see someone I know is such a nice part of the music community.
Yesterday I saw a friend doing their morning pages in the cafe, and it made me think about daily practice. I’m curious to know if you have a daily creative practice?
CD: I don’t have a daily routine, but I learnt creative process at art school which taught me to be critical and how to research. It also made me self-consious, anxious and over-thinking of my creative outlet for three years after. I loved art-school but the hangover was brutal. I think of it in relation to the research end of process - which is being open to the world, taking in conversations, movies etc.. I’ll have these broad obsessions that slowly filter into my work. I’m more big-brain conceptual than sitting down with a notebook and writing. At the moment I’m going through a car phase. Thinking about cars. Thinking about how people are saying “gamechanger”. It’s the word of the year, it’s everywhere. The colour orange is coming in, just in time for our album.
CP: I am passionate about improvised music so my daily practice is to get into “flow state” which for me is the ability to get out of thinking mode and into only playing mode. Often I will set a timer for half an hour, sit down, and attempt to be non-judgemental with my ideas. Often I’ll record it and use that as potential material to work on. It’s a generative process of looking at what I come up with in the moment, then dissecting that.
'No Drama' album cover by Callum Devlin
CP: As a jazz musician you are taught to listen critically to other people but not to yourself. That’s something I’ve gathered from artistic conversations. Rather than slavishly practicing scales and going can I have ultimate facility of this instrument, which is what a lot of jazz practice isI ask: how can I be the best version of myself? How can I let ideas I come up with (even when I’m not looking closely) influence the way I think about music? To develop a language that is mine?
CD: I really value improv, that free flowing state. It’s rare for me and exciting you have that in a daily practice.
CP: Sometimes it’s all I practice. If you don’t know how to do that you’ll only ever chance upon it. It’s a feeling more than anything else, the feeling of coming out of a time warp thinking - what just happened? But if you record it, you can listen back and see what the hell happened! Eventually, those things become closer, you get there quicker, and feel less afraid of the steak. You have an idea of what you’re giving to people.
If I’m feeling bad I know not to force this state. If I come across judgement I know to throw in my toys and have a movie night. But I’d love to reach that bliss daily.
CP: Playing a wind instrument helps. All meditative practices focus on breath; to breathe into your instrument is all consuming in a way other instruments aren’t. My practice is to start by playing a note for a full breath, breathing in, and doing it again. I used to play long tones for hours a day if I could. I’m practicing breathing, being aware of my body, my heart rate, and becoming one with my instrument. It’s more all-consuming than how we often talk about music practice, being project or result based. That’s cutting down what is an endless river of creative flow and trying to box it into a small package. The idea a song has a beginning and an end is a European construct. Traditions coming particularly from African music are a repeating thing, it could last forever. It’s the way music worked pre-capitalism. That’s something I want to tap into playing in Hans Pucket. For me, I want to be referencing this flow state, this river that you feel like you’re dipping into, everytime we play.
CD: The closest I come to that is when Oli and I would do our two-piece set. It’s less twin interconnectivity, and more a vast shared history where playing music is our way of communicating. We wouldn’t write a set list but just play songs that would dipped in and out. Things would extend and contract, it would be very responsive to the room. We’ll get there eventually with this band but have had less experience all together.
CP: There are moments of the infinite in Hans Pucket that I strive for. The end of Eczema feels like it could go on forever for me. Sometimes music loops in your head and becomes more than the 4 minutes it occupies. It creates the stream.
CD: I feel like Kiss the Moon from our new album could be that. It’s definitely my favourite song Oli’s written.
And you’re about to go on tour with The Beths!
CD: The first show on tour is Oli and I’s 30th birthday, 16th Feb.
CP: It’s gonna be crazy but a compromise. We’re gonna be really nervous for the first show, jet-lagged, on our best-behavior (so no tour faux-par is created), and probably going to bed early because we have a show the next day in a new city.
Practical 30 year olds.
CD: I will believe it when it happens because it seems too good to be true.
CP: I can’t even talk about it because no one gets to do it here, in America, sure. I’m looking forward to twenty shows in a row, we’re gonna get so good! Body knowledge and experience is so much more valuable than anything else. New Zealand’s too small to do that, that feeling of being road-hot and doing heaps of gigs just doesn’t happen. What I think we (New Zealanders) do well is experimentation, cross-pollination, and generalisation. You can’t just do one thing, everyone does six things at once, which makes the music more interesting. For me, I take my teaching seriously, and that’s a big part of how to model good behavioiur creatively. All these things I wouldn’t do if we toured all the time (i.e. making videos, teaching, many bands) are so valuable! You lose one thing but you gain the other. It’ll be nice to do the other thing for a bit!
Hans Pucket’s new album ‘No Drama’ is available tomorrow on Bandcamp here or via the Flying Nun Record Shop here. Their Aotearoa tour starts this weekend in Pōneke, or you can see them touring the US with the Beths in February.