LASZLO & ARABELLA FROM RINGLETS — PHOTOS BY VIOLET HIRST
I first met with Ringlets in August last year while they were recording their debut album at The Lab with Olly Harmer. At this stage, they were on song eight and attempting to complete ten songs in three days. I’d just returned from snowy southern weather. The energy was low.
Yesterday they released their self-titled album, Ringlets, through US label Mutual Skies. The album was produced alongside De Stevens, and the artwork was made by member Leith Towers' partner, Ella. Their release show will be on April 14th at Big Fan in Tāmaki Makaurau (tickets here), but you can listen to the songs now here.
I was familiar with Laszlo Reynolds' thick catalog of alternative singer/songwriter material, Arlo Grey's ambient/instrumental collection, and of Leith from being in Marlin’s Dreaming. But this was my first introduction to Arabella Poulson (a Jazz school graduate) and an introduction to who they are curled together - Ringlets.
Leith: One of my favourite things about music is that it can be quite incoherent, not just lyrically, but rhythmically - the choices can be incoherent. I won’t say anything too pseudo-profound, but we’ve all got frenetic aspects of our personalities that find their way into the music.
Our conversations were initially difficult, the band being incoherent, sarcastic and sporadic in nature. I am determined to locate and hold down meaning, but this band is a good reminder that you will not always receive an explanation. The music will speak for itself. And it works. I am taken by the combination of Laszlo’s folk guitar, with Leith’s punk-like speech, and the tightness they hold. There’s a certain instability and tension wound together.
Arabella: I think we just like to get to the point.
Laszlo: I don’t need artists to be honest in interviews, be honest in your music. If the music is done, that’s the prerogative. If someone’s made something incredible, then I don’t want anything explained to me. That would mean it’s not compelling.
ARABELLA & ARLO
So why are we recording in a studio, and not DIY perhaps like you have with solo material?
Leith: When other people are worrying about tones and sound, you can just worry about the space. It’s nice not to have too much cognitive load. Also we require a large variety of lamps.
What made you come together?
Leith: I’ve played in bands with and adjacent to Laszlo and Arlo since I was a teenager! This band started as Laszlo (guitar, vocals) recruiting Arabella (bass, vocals) and Arlo (drums) to back up his solo stuff, then morphed into a rock band of sorts. I started playing guitar but wasn’t good enough so I started singing.
Arabella: We were a bit unlucky that when we first started thinking about becoming a band, the lockdown started. It wasn’t until Leith decided he wanted to be the frontman that we all came together, into our own roles.
Leith: We then got our identity from playing a bunch of shows and cultivating the perfect sound.
LEITH (AND VIOLET)
But you all knew each other, and are established musicians on your own accord?
Arabella: I hadn’t met Arlo.
Laszlo: You met Leith and I on the same night in 2019 - at Leith’s Point Chevalier flat warming. It was a wonderful night. Then at the end of the year we…
Arabella: …talked about Thom Yorke for ages at a party. You messaged me a month later like “hey do you wanna play bass” even though you hadn’t heard anything.
Leith: Arabella has a jazz degree so it was a safe bet.
Laszlo: It’s worked well enough so far as we’re all pretty well practised, and also all conflict avoiders.
Leith: I’m not.
Laszlo: The three of us, without Leith, are all conflict avoiders. It means we’re not throwing plates or our instruments at each other. It’s pretty civil.
Arabella: This year we also started collaborating more in the writing process, taking turns leading. That’s been a nice dynamic.
Does everyone have a song they’ve written?
Laszlo: It started with me just telling everyone what to play. Initially it was just one show for my album release, but then we decided to make this more than a solo project. That first year was a process of merging. We have our machinery now. We can slot in and build songs quicker now.
Arabella: Everything can be translated quickly.
Leith: There’s a bit more convergence. The music comes easier and more defined.
Laszlo: When you strike a period of wonderful productivity with creativity, all you have to do is get out of the way and let the music happen. It feels like less effort because we’ve practised so much. Now it’s just a matter of letting the music come through.
Laszlo: It’s the best feeling in the world.
It’s special that you can come together and dedicate this time to each other. There’s a certain intent that occurring.
Laszlo: We practise regularly in the evenings, to an extent where we’re all exhausted when we start playing. Our minds and bodies are a bit battered and maybe that allows the music to happen.
Arabella: It’s such an outlet. We all have work outside of this and turn up to rehearsal fucking exhausted.
Laszlo: No small talk.
Leith: I don’t want to see these three without an instrument in their hand.
So are you friends?
Leith: Friends don’t fulfill your needs as much as band mates. It requires you to catch each other in a unique way.
Arabella: You have to push each other to be comfortable because if you’re not comfortable and confident you can’t express yourself creatively.
Laszlo: There is a different journey you’re going on when you’re collaborating as opposed to hanging out. There’s a place we’re trying to get to; we don’t know where it is or what’s happening, we’re just reaching forward. There needs to be that reaching.
Where do you think you come together, influences wise?
Arabella: We’ve been told we sound like Tool but in cardigans. I’ve never ever listened to Tool.
Arlo: I saw them in 2013! I’ve got the t-shirt.
Laszlo: We don’t sound like that.
Arabella: We do sound like cardigans.
Leith: We sound like cardigans smeared in melted Toblerone.
Two weekends ago, we caught up again in the Hollywood Avondale garden, where the band were playing alongside Babe Martin for their single release.
Since we last spoke, the record was completed, the songs mixed and mastered, and Leith now lives in Christchurch which means the band are in a long-distance writing affair. They say it works well, considering it requires Arabella, Laszlo and Arlo to show up to rehearsal’s with something to deliver. Leith says he enjoys biking around listening to their demos, spinning ideas.
Why did you release on a US label (Mutual Skies)?
Laszlo: He writes about music and is someone I’ve looked up to, so I’ve sent him my music for a while. It’s a very small label.
Where do you think of yourselves inside the NZ music landscape?
Leith: There’s a lot of music in New Zealand. We used to make steel, but now we make music.
Arabella: and we thought about making steel, but now we make music.
Leith: I think the way we are in interviews reflects the setting of being a band member. We struggle to articulate the band and maybe that reflects where we sit.
Arabella: We’re all quite different members without a unified vision.
Is there one belief binding you together?
Arabella: I just want to make some great music. We don’t know where we’re going, but we want to keep going.
Leith: We’re not hungry, we're peckish.
Is that a New Zealand cultural thing, to not want to be too hungry?
Arabella: New Zealand nature is to be self deprecating and unsure of yourself.
Do you enjoy that?
Arabella: Nah. I don’t think we thought about that until this moment.
Can I ask about the album, thematically speaking?
Laszlo: It’s not thematically unified, and we didn’t intend for that. I wrote half the songs, Arabella wrote one, and Leith wrote the rest.
So then what is your voice?
Laszlo: We just put everything into it. I don’t want to be interpreted as mediocre. If you’re going to make something, you may as well be willing to put everything you’ve got into it. If you’re not willing to do that then fuck off. Either make everyone hate you as much as possible; or make it as good as possible - just don’t be in the middle because that’s pointless. We want an emotional reaction, not to just be good or nice people. This album’s not nice; there’s a lot of confusion, a lot of angst, and a bit of slapstick. There’s different tones in there, but I don’t want to be just good.
Ringlets are Leith Towers, Laszlo Reynolds, Arabella Poulson and Arlo Grey.
Their self-titled album is out now — hit play below, and order their CD via Mutual Skies here.