Asta Rangu are an Ōtepoti-based indie rock band consisting of Richard Lee-Hamilton, Angus McBryde, Josh Nicholls, and Julie Dunn. I’ve been extremely fascinated with the intertwined-ness between these members and the Ōtepoti music scene, as the connectedness within the community seems omnipresent.
Richard and Josh also play in Space Bats Attack!, (who were on tour with AR at the time of our kōrero). At home, the two live in an eight-person house with a practice space in constant demand. Josh is there every night.
We met in St Kevins Arcade on Karangahape Road ahead of their show at The Wine Cellar. It’s around midday and their morning so far consisted of struggling to find a juice bar open. The band is fresh from a tour stop in Pōneke at San Fran, and yesterday they recorded an in-store session at the Flying Nun store!
We discussed the current state of Dunedin venues, the recording process, misunderstandings and arrival.
Julie is currently realising naturopathy.
Josh has not been realising anything.
Angus is realising having a child hasn’t meant sacrificing everything that’s important to you.
Richard has been realising you don’t need a second dinner, you can have a glass of water instead.
Richard has also been realising demo-ing.
Violet: I don’t want to say I fetishise Dunedin, but I do have a deep fascination with it. The community seems so tight-knit and supportive to its core.
Julie: That feels true, it’s small. Everyone has to rally together because we’re so ostracised by the council (and constantly being pushed out of practice spaces), so you have to band together.
Why has the council stopped funding spaces?
Julie: They never have.
Angus: The council uses music of the 80s and 90s to promote the city of the “Dunedin Sound”, but aren’t doing anything for its future.
Julie: There are pop-up venues/spaces that you can approach for an event but I’ve been jaded ever since getting kicked out of The Attic and haven’t looked into that. It’s sad but that made me feel like it was all a bit pointless. We band-aid the situation by being able to practice at home, but it is really hard not to complain.
So, why do you stay?
Julie: There’s something about that uphill battle that’s so attractive - the DIY mind. I love how everything is so unpolished; you just record something and shit it out. I love that sound, I think it’s so incredible. Plus I really hate the “promoting yourself” side of music. The only reason Asta does anything is thanks to Angus cracking the whip. Personally I really struggle with playing that game. I love how you can ignore that in Dunedin and just have jams.
Do you think your music is political at all in a response to this situation?
Julie: Not explicitly, but I end up talking about it in every interview. I was recently discussing funding and literally all the criteria is about how many fans you have, but Dunedin is tiny! It’s hard to feel like funding isn’t structured in your favour. It’s really hard to not put that onto yourself and respond with I’m not working hard enough when pushing music is hard enough. So any chance I get I’ll yarn about this.
Live at Darkroom, 2020 photo by Fran Scrimgeour.
Richard - when you write a song, what is your process of capturing it?
Richard: It starts with my favourite guitar, my brother’s ¾ nylon that he got when he was eight and never played, so I stole it. I sit down, find some chords to cycle, loop them for ages in my room trying to get some sort of belly, then go from there. Then over a couple of months, it might evolve into part of a demo.
Does Richard write everything or do you all write together?
Julie: Richard writes everything. Josh writes all his drum parts mostly, apart from Richard’s weird mouth click-ey thing.
Richard: Sometimes I make drum noises at Josh and he converts that into real and much better drums.
Josh: Richard’s really good at music, typing drums.
ALL: The QWERTY drum.
Richard: My ear-drumming is not too bad but my real drumming is atrocious.
Julie: For the album we also can’t overlook De’s contribution as that was massive to the writing.
Angus: Violet - you worked with him recently?
(De Stevens engineered and produced the ENTRTNMNT album. I also worked with De recently and he was my first reference point to Asta Rangu!)
What was your favourite part of working with De?
Richard: Sometimes you put out an idea for what you want - it’s garbled and only 20% formed, but he’d say “oh yep, like this” and make it the full idea. The workflow was really quick which gave more time to the creative side. Working in our own space meant we could alter the setup each time and search for the sound we wanted. He has a good sense of energy and knows when to push or relax.
When you create, do you have something you think you are searching for?
Richard: This might sound corny, but if you get to a point within an idea where things sit right, it’s quite peaceful. Like playing a gig and getting into the flow - where everything else falls away. Maybe if I was better at meditating I could find myself more present, but this is where I find the most peace. Sometimes it’s about clarity on how you think.
Julie: I don’t necessarily understand what I’m writing at the time. I just play my song and let the words fall out of my mouth, it’s like free-writing - letting out your subconscious. It’s quite hard to have perspective on your current moments. When you move past it you can look and see - oh yes that’s how I was feeling at that time, I can see that now.
Photo by Alex Lovell-Smith.
Do you view yourselves as performers as well? How is that in comparison to the recording?
Richard: What’s amazing about the performance, is that it’s always going to be something different. I never want to be sitting there with in-ears and everything completely synced. It’s nice when things fuck up a little bit, everyone kind of sways in and out of time with each other. My first band would fall out of time every show. Once we had an opening for a bigger band and practiced so much that we sucked. The essence of what we were about is there was a dynamic, close to fighting, that worked. Everyone in the band has their own feel of where the performance is going, and their own place of pulling. If I was to hold too much onto my vision, it would cut the life out of it.
Julie: Lately I’ve been conceptualising it as observed and unobserved. I would consider a recording to be observed, as you’re thinking about it being heard. But jamming or practicing feels unobserved. The vibe I can obtain in a band practice vs when I’m on stage and feel like I’m going to spew is so different. I feel so much worse on stage, almost like a muted version of myself.
Richard: Sometimes you can push through that ceiling. It changes depending on who you’re with, whether you feel rushed, or if you’ve fulfilled the expectations. Sometimes you can arrive trusting the songs speak for themselves.
If you could offer some sort of explanation for naming the album ENTRTNMNT, what would you say?
Richard: I started with 'CWT' which I'd written the riff for overseas and named “Cool With This”. I thought that was lame so I shortened it. If you don’t understand that lyric in the song, then you won’t get it, which is kind of nice. There’s ambiguity.
Julie: I always thought of it as "Cool Whip Topping" but that makes so much sense.
Richard: I love misunderstandings. People understand things in their own lens. Nothing against earnest and literal lyrics, but a lot of the communication in my life (historically) hasn’t been that direct or literal (we’re working past that). I like the abstract realm because I think you can play around, and everyone interprets it in their own way. You can understand what ENTRTNMNT is even with parts missing. To not be too cliche, there’s lyrics about being incomplete, and things are always incomplete in life. We never get to a point of completeness, that’s just a false illusion we live our lives with. It’s not going to arrive unless you find it. Completeness is finding content in being incomplete and imperfect. That’s where the peace will be.
Julie: If you think about it like that, then you are complete now. Kids always have this idea put onto them that one day they’ll be an adult or a person, but they are people now. They have personalities now - even if they’re five.
Richard: Your first stages of life are all about completion. Each school year receives a big “done”. When you come out of education, there’s this - what are my goals? What am I reaching for? You have to set your own goals then. There’s no overall “I achieved this”, it’s just coasting to the ultimate arrival - death.
Do you feel you’ve arrived?
Richard: It’s still ongoing.
The feeling of the closing song on the album, 'SNGBRD', has this home-coming feeling. Like riding home and everything comes back around. A sense of arrival.
Richard: It might be the sense that it’s a progression of arrivals. Particularly in an album, whether you feel resolved or not, you’ve got to leave it on some sense of resolution.
Angus: SNGBRD to me is like the moment when the storm clouds clear and you see land. After going on a long journey of uncertainty and celebration, you’ve come through something and you see home. Sonically at least, maybe not lyrically.
Richard: If you write abstract lyrics you can take it any direction you want!
You can listen to and support Asta Rangu’s new album ENTRTNMNT here on their Bandcamp. There are limited tapes for sale, courtesy of trace/untrace records - Richard and Julie’s joint label and cassette production.
Photos courtesy of Angus McBryde.