Tuis get technical|
NZ Herald (8th August 2009)
Article from http://www.nzherald.co.nz/entertainment/news/article.cfm?c_id=1501119&objectid=10589264&pnum=0
...old-hand Don McGlashan says he couldn't have created his second solo album, Marvellous Year, without his band the Seven Sisters and co-producer Sean Donnelly (aka SJD) to "push me and throw banana skins in my path whenever I got complacent"
Don McGlashan (with Sean Donnelly)
Finalist: Best producer
For: Don McGlashan and the Seven Sisters - Marvellous Year
Past work: Blam Blam Blam - Luxury Length (1982); The Mutton Birds - The Mutton Birds (1992); Don McGlashan - Warm Hand (2006)
What does a producer do?
There's the technical side of it, making sure the record can be as good as it can be - getting things in tune, making sure the engineer is getting good sounds down, and do justice to songs and all the ideas. Then there's the devil's advocate role to listen to the songs and say, 'That's not good enough'. Basically pushing the artist to do their best work. You do get a bit tunnel vision in the studio and its nice to remember that you are making something that's going to be in somebody's home, or car, and it's actually part of the world.
So is that where [co-producer] Sean came in?
Yeah, I was able to bounce ideas off him and sometimes it can be things like, 'You don't need the second bridge in that song'. Or sometimes it's more inspired like, 'This one needs some backing vocals, but they need to be really fruity'. It's basically curtailing the bad instincts of an artist and pushing the good instincts.
What was the most unique aspect about Marvellous Year compared to your other work?
It's such a big shift for me from going 10 years working in a band, where everybody's got their jobs to do to and Warm Hand where I could do whatever I like. But with Marvellous Year I think I'd got to the point where the Seven Sisters had been together for a couple of years and it's a great group of people to bring songs to because they pick up and run with them straight away. And I was able to be a bit more flamboyant sometimes because I could trust Sean because we've worked together a lot ever since the Mutton Birds finished.
Neil Finn's new supergroup
Sunday Star Times (2nd August 2009)
- Kim Knight
Article from http://www.stuff.co.nz/entertainment/2712090/Neil-Finns-new-supergroup
According to cliche, musicians drink, take drugs and have a girl in every city and small town in between.
Aspiring rock stars avert your eyes. Don McGlashan is about to blow that mythology out of the water.
It's 1980-something. He's touring with Blam Blam Blam, supporting Split Enz which, by then, was boasting both the brothers Finn. There they are, post-gig, back at the hotel. As McGlashan recalls it, he and his band mates were so shy, they couldn't speak.
"I can't remember if it was Neil or Tim, but to get us talking, somebody suggested playing a word game."
Three decades later and there is a small sigh. "That sounds like dad," says Liam Finn.
Dad smiles. And lays down his trump card. "The first time I met the Radiohead guys was at a festival in Europe and they were playing bridge."
The reporter falls through the sofa. Quite literally. Note to future interviewers: that couch at Neil Finn's Roundhead Studio in Newton, Auckland, is bloody, bloody dodgy.
And now, with (almost) all of the embarrassing stuff out of the way, let the story begin.
Last summer, Neil Finn invited a few friends home for Christmas.
Friends such as American band Wilco, Radiohead's Ed O'Brien and Phil Selway, The Smiths' Johnny Marr, Scottish singer KT Tunstall and the list goes on.
Some of them were here nearly eight years ago, when Finn pulled together the first 7 Worlds Collide the name he gave his musical supergroup "happening". This time, along with three gigs at Auckland's Powerstation, the 7-worlders were going to make a studio album. In three weeks.
"Come with a song," instructed Neil.
In the behind-the-scenes television documentary about the project, music producer Jim Scott summarises what happened next: "Sure. They were coming with songs. They just hadn't been written yet."
On the eve of the second album's release, some of the local legends who took part are pretty happy. McGlashan, Neil and Liam Finn and Bic Runga have come out on a rainy Auckland lunchtime to talk to the Sunday Star-Times about The Sun Came Out the double CD set from that summer holiday in the studio, with proceeds, minus expenses, to Oxfam International.
"All the people involved had been a hero [of mine] at some stage," says Runga. "I remember going to Radiohead's first New Zealand show in Christchurch, at Warner's Hotel, where there were probably 200 people. The Smiths was pretty much the first band I fell in love with, that wasn't my parents' music. It's hard to explain how that feels, but it's really something. I don't think about it too much because it does my head in."
She turns to Neil Finn: "Do you get star-struck? Have you been star-struck?"
"What was nice about this project," says Finn senior, "is that by the time it was finished, all the barriers had come down. The Wilco guys... Jeff [Tweedy] was our house guest for a couple of weeks. He stayed in Liam's room. You can't maintain star-struckness after that."
Liam: "I moved out after a couple of nights. I can't handle snoring."
Neil: "Yeah, we thought it was a good gesture to give Jeff our first-born while he was here."
McGlashan: "He treated you gently..."
There's an ease in this room, born of three weeks over Christmas, when songwriters worked in the stairwells, when a musician from Manchester jogged on the beach at Piha, when a singer interrupted her honeymoon to join the group, when children, partners and dogs were welcome in the studio and everyone played on everyone else's songs.
"When I went home at night, the experiences of the day just circled around and around my head," says McGlashan. "Things which I normally would have been staggered by, I didn't have time to think about. You're playing, and you don't know who's going to drop into the control room and suddenly there's this Mancunian voice saying `it sounds wrong, it needs more tambourine'."
"The first couple of days were pretty hilarious," says Neil. "We all set up wishfully in the main room downstairs, as a big super session jamming thing, which probably had a minimal chance of working out."
Thirty-three musicians, partners and their children flew in from overseas for Christmas at Piha. They sprawled across 10 rental properties. Every house got a pine tree and decorations. Johnny Marr gave presents a songwriter's recording device. Meals were catered: vegetarians, pescatarians, carnivores. The mussel dim-sums, says Neil, were the strangest thing he's tasted.
Slowly, songs emerged.
Johnny Marr brought "Too Blue" back from a Christmas Eve jog on the beach. Tunstall and Runga co-wrote their murder ballad "Black Silk Ribbon" in the front window of Sharondelier, the chandelier shop Neil's wife operates next to Roundhead studio. Radiohead drummer Selway found his inner singer-songwriter, for the first time ever, recording "The Ties that Bind Us". Neil and Sharon Finn combined on the catchy "Little by Little". It's their first official musical collaboration.
"We have jams," says Neil. "Me on drums, Sharon on bass we're evenly matched on those instruments. We wrote a few things down..."
The conversation meanders. McGlashan informs the group that bass lessons are a euphemism. "You say, `I'm really interested in music, I'd love to learn an instrument'. He goes, `I could teach you bass'. In my experience, that never ends up as a bass lesson."
Liam screws up his face. "So, when you guys say you're having a `jam'..?"
Neil: "That's an horrific thing for Liam to have to contemplate, Don!"
The first 7 Worlds Collide was, says Neil, "a whimsical notion" that grew out of a conversation with Ed O'Brien. "We were just talking about the number of people we see in airports and hotel lobbies, and you swap an enthusiastic conversation and say `oh, it would be great to do something one day' and it never happens."
And then it did. A successful idea, says Neil, at the right time.
"It probably helped that it was in New Zealand, because people feel quite nicely isolated from any scrutiny in this part of the world."
Second time around, Neil thought it would be nice to invite people's families. And a few extras Wilco got the nod, because it's a band the entire Finn family likes. "I shot off a hopeful email and they instantly responded." (Wilco stayed on, after the project, recording much of their new album at Roundhead. It recently debuted at number four on the American Billboard charts.)
At the same time as Neil was sending emails, Oxfam approached him to ask if he'd consider a charity album. "It was synchronous. It kind of dropped into my lap. But the central thing was to create a happening in this space, with people you'd enjoy hanging with, and making music with, that just cut across everybody's careers."
Musicians, says Neil, couldn't make work if they didn't have egos.
"At some point, you have to think `what I'm doing is really important'. Other days you wake up and think, `what I do matters not a jot'. But you have to believe it does, for a little while.
"Collaboration is at the heart of any good thing. I don't think anybody is more interesting on their own than they would be with the right other people in the room. I've made a couple of solo records, and they've worked out fine, but a lot of it's too introspective for my taste. You come up with the best when other people force good things out of you."
McGlashan says the project harked back to the days when musicians played in each other's bands, "when you suspend your sense of your own coolness enough to go and be part of somebody else's project and help somebody else's idea. It always feeds your own ideas when you go home".
Runga says the experience means she'll consider more collaborations. McGlashan is discussing the possibility of opening for Wilco, and has been working with Crowded House, who are scheduled to release a new album in January.
"The experience will inform whatever comes next," says Neil.
McGlashan: "It's a cliche to say music is a uniting link. But all these people came from wildly different backgrounds and wildly different lives, and they can still be there haggling over whether that bass line makes it build into the chorus in a good way. To see the way other people solve these problems was really good for me. Really inspiring. To see people working hard, and taking it really seriously. It was like, `this is what I do. This is my job too'."
There was a moment, says McGlashan, when various artists were debating the merits of various Los Angeles venues. "I sat there and thought, `I can't really contribute to this having just played the King's Arms and struggled to get 200 people'."
And yet: "That gets to the heart of why the project was so good. Nobody thought they were important because of the number of records they had sold. We didn't talk about the industry, it was about the music, the ideas."
Neil Finn made everyone paint a self-portrait, which will form part of the album's artwork. Runga's was excellent (the Finn family home at Piha has one of her works on the wall). McGlashan who produced a man squashed under a euphonium was told to try again.
"I'm usually resistant to group activities," says Neil. "But I did impose a slight regime on everyone."
Liam: "You should have had everyone doing group yoga."
Neil: "That would have been the end."
Some of them walked on the beach. Some of them sailed on yachts. The teenagers went op-shopping. KT Tunstall called the whole thing a "love explosion". Liam: "Do you want to tell us about that, dad?"
And then he gets serious. "There was a lot of love in the air." Nearly six months on, as the album comes to fruition, "I'm impressed by it. I knew when we were making it, it was fun and we were on to a good thing. But hearing it back the other day, I was really surprised by just how good a record it was".
There were, apparently, no major arguments.
"It wasn't really on to have fights," says Neil. "What's the point? We're all so blessed really."
Nobody behaved badly. "I plead guilty to enjoying wholesome experiences," says Neil.
Liam: "We play word games. We play word games, and then we OD..."
Neil: "And we make up really bad words."
Liam: "Really, really rude words."
"Oh God," says McGlashan. "I'm sorry."
7 Worlds Collide The Sun Came Out, released by Sony Music, will be available in music stores from August 31, with proceeds going to Oxfam.
Pain in the brass, but he loves it
The Australian (16th July '09)
- Iain Sheddon
Article from http://www.theaustralian.news.com.au/story/0,25197,25787059-5013575,00.html
DON McGlashan has a few things in common with fellow songwriter Neil Finn. They both live in Auckland. They began their careers in New Zealand at roughly the same time, in the late 1970s. Lately they have been playing in the same band, Crowded House.
It's something of a secret, though, that the two musos also share a taste for fine malt whisky. Along with some other like-minded local musos they have set up a whisky appreciation society, which meets every three months or so to discuss, compare and quaff really good scotch.
"Whoever has sold some records goes out and buys some whisky and then we all meet up for a day," says McGlashan.
The singer will be hoping it's his round next, since he has just released his second solo album, Marvellous Year, and he is in Australia to do a short series of shows, beginning tonight, to promote it.
The solo outing is something of rarity for McGlashan, who is perhaps best known in Australia as the singer and songwriter in 90s Kiwi band the Mutton Birds. Their catalogue of melodic pop included award-winning songs Anchor Me and Nature and the albums Salty, Envy of Angels and Rain, Steam and Speed.
That band broke up in 2002 and since then McGlashan's career has taken several twists and turns. He released his first solo album, Warm Hand, in 2006, but for most of the noughties his main source of income has been from writing for film and television.
His most recent credits include the NZ movies Dean Spanley and Show of Hands, both released last year.
For the moment, though, the new album is his priority. Thanks to his other commitments, not least touring the world supporting Crowded House as well as playing with the band on its comeback tour in 2007 and 2008, it took McGlashan two years to complete the album, with his band the Seven Sisters. Not that he's concerned about the time frame.
"That's fast for me," he says. "I started work on Warm Hands in 2001 and it didn't come out until 2006, so Marvellous Year is blinding speed for me."
It's a well-crafted album, too, featuring McGlashan on a variety of instruments, including guitars, piano, French horn and euphonium as well as on lead vocals. His mate Finn contributes backing vocals on the song C2006P1 (Make Yourself at Home).
The brass instruments have been part of McGlashan's repertoire since he was a boy. The euphonium in particular has featured in most facets of his career, including the Mutton Birds and on stage with the Crowdies.
"It's a really forgiving instrument," he says, modestly. "You don't have to work toohard."
It's not an instrument that finds its way easily into a pop song, however. McGlashan sees it as a way of introducing a certain mood or melancholy to a song in a way he may not be able to do vocally.
He describes it as being "emotionally curtailed in the same way as New Zealand men. That's why it's a companion.
"I try to be expressive in my songwriting, but I've always got the euphonium there to remind me how expressionless I really should be. It can carry the sad melody. And it sits in my writing space at home and falls towards me when it wants to be involved in a song."
McGlashan studied English and music at the University of Auckland and played French horn and percussion in the Auckland Sinfonia from 1979 to 1982.
His patience with the horn ran out on a tour of Australia, however, something that shaped his later path as a musician.
"It's not a forgiving instrument," he says. "I toured to Australia in my late teens with a New Zealand youth orchestra and I got so sick of cracking notes and making mistakes that I sold it in Sydney, much to my parents' displeasure. I came back with money but no French horn. I bought an electric guitar and carried on."
During the 80s McGlashan's career embraced dance, theatre, film and TV. He was singer in Auckland punk band Blam Blam Blam. It was at that point he first became friends with Finn, when the band toured with Split Enz, which had just added the younger Finn brother as a member. He was also in music theatre act the Front Lawn in the late 80s before forming the Mutton Birds. To continue the Finn connection, one of the Mutton Birds' early tours was with Crowded House. "We go back a long way," McGlashan says.
This year McGlashan has been camped out at Finn's Auckland studio, Roundhead, working on the new Crowded House album and on Finn's side project, Seven Worlds Collide. The former sounds fantastic, says McGlashan.
"I'm playing on a lot of it. A lot of the material is stuff we played on the tours. There's lots of euphonium and percussion on there, so I've been pretty busy with it."
Seven Worlds Collide is an idea Finn explored several years ago, when he invited guitarist Johnny Marr, members of Radiohead and a variety of well-known international names to write and record material at his studio. This time Marr and the Radiohead guys, Phil Selway and Ed O'Brien, were back, alongside most of American alt-rockers Wilco, among others.
The resulting double album, The Sun Came Out, which will raise money for Oxfam, is released on August 10.
"That was great because I got to work with the guys from Wilco and Johnny Marr and people like that, and they all played on my songs for the project," McGlashan says.
"On one song it's essentially Wilco and on the other it's the two guys from Radiohead and Johnny Marr. You can't get any better than that."
He says the beauty of the project was that "there was this great suspension of any kind of star behaviour. It was as if you put that aside at the door. It's rare to get a bunch of people together in the business like that. It's testament to Neil's ability as a leader that he made it happen."
Even with egos abandoned, McGlashan did feel some pressure to perform well in such elite company.
"It was nerve-racking because you'd be singing something or playing something and never know who had wandered into the studio," he says. "If somebody had an idea you'd pretty quickly hear the crackle of the talkback and somebody making a suggestion. It was all about everybody sticking their oar into everyone else's project."
McGlashan has no end of projects in sight. Aside from this tour and album, he'll be involved again with the Crowdies if they go out on the road to promote the new album. He's in the process of writing two film scores and there are a few solo shows in the US later in the year that he hopes will result in Marvellous Year being released there.
"There's a bit of momentum from getting Crowded House supports and playing with them," he says.
"A few things have happened since then without me having to push for them."
Despite his various commitments McGlashan is also a family man and he believes he has the perfect balance of work and pleasure in his life.
His wife, Marianne, and teenage children, Louis and Pearl, encouraged him to go on the world tour with Crowded House, even though he was in the middle of writing the Dean Spanley film score when it began.
"My family said I'd be fine," he says. "They said: 'Take a laptop and you'll love it.' And I did. It was great to have someone just pointing me at a stage and then pointing me at a hotel room.
"And writing the film music stopped me from being nervous about going on stage and playing (Crowded House hit) Fall at Your Feet, which is a song, just listening to it, that reduces me to tears, never mind playing it. But I didn't have time to worry about that because my head was filled with worrying about writing a piece for the New Zealand Symphony to play in a month's time."
It has been a marvellous year for McGlashan so far and his diary suggests it will continue that way.
"There's a tendency in New Zealand music journalism to put a negative cast on things," he says. "New Zealanders have a lot of words for failure and disappointment, just as the Eskimos have a lot of words for snow.
"People often say: 'Don't you feel that you should have been more popular?'
"But I love my life. I write my songs and there's something of an audience for it. Success seems to come with a lot of inconvenience and a lack of control. I got a glimpse of that with the Mutton Birds and I don't miss it.
"I live in Auckland. I can go sailing when I want to. I go fishing. I look after my kids. I'm not too organised. I wait for a film score and just hope one will happen."
Don McGlashan plays Northcote Social Club, Melbourne, tonight; Lizottes in Kincumber, NSW, tomorrow; and the Studio, Sydney Opera House, on Saturday.
Marvellous Year is out now through GoodRed/Shock.
NZ Herald (18th May 2009)
- Russell Baillie
Article from http://www.nzherald.co.nz/music/news/article.cfm?c_id=264&objectid=10573043&pnum=0
If it's Monday night, this must be Greymouth. Don McGlashan is in that anxious gap between dinner and showtime. Right now he's trying to find a place that's not too loud, but not too cold, to talk.
"The mountains are really snowy and really close," he says down the line as he wanders about, "so it does feel like a different place."
Eventually, he settles for a spot on the venue stairs where early punters might overhear the night's headliner talking about the new songs he and band the Seven Sisters will be playing in an hour, as well as the seemingly complex shape of his musical career.
"The cloning is working quite well. Though they are having a bit of trouble with the hair colour and the skin tone," he laughs, referring to how he's balancing being a band frontman, occasional solo singer-songwriter, soundtrack composer, and more recently, Crowded House studio ring-in.
"I had a reputation when I was younger of being really disorganised. Being the kind of guy that never would turn up at the right time. I think I have fought that for a long time and now I wake up to find myself to be considered to be quite organised.
"But for a lot of people making music there are large chunks of their life they don't have to publicise in order to get paid for and just about everything I do involves somebody organising some publicity so that people will come and see it. And therefore it looks like I am doing a lot."
This national tour for second solo album Marvellous Year started in Napier on Thursday a week ago, just as the city was paralysed by that day's shooting and stand-off.
"Yeah, it was a terrible time to be there. But people bought tickets so we did the show and tried to create a joyful noise in amongst all the dark clouds of the place."
The tour has been been zig-zagging its way through the islands then heads north to finish in hometown Auckland at the end of the month.
It's been bit of voyage of discovery for McGlashan and band - many of the songs from Marvellous Year haven't had much live mileage before or since their recording late last year.
Carting them around the country gives the tracks a chance to evolve - "give them a chance to see if they can go in a different direction or see what happens when everybody is having a great time and the solo seems to want to go on for two minutes rather than 30 seconds. All those sorts of things which you need a tour to discover."
McGlashan says Marvellous Year is his most relaxed and personal album yet. Fewer songs rely on characters or narrators - which have been a distinctive feature of his past songwriting from the early days of Blam Blam Blam, through the theatre/comedy/film outfit the Front Lawn, through to the Mutton Birds era - and more on where it's him doing the talking.
"I've felt it's a more confident record than I've made before in some ways. Not that I am ever going to give up different approaches to telling a story because I like what you can achieve with adopting a character to tell your story, but I have found with this one I felt like speaking from my own point of view and have enjoyed that freedom.
"Woody Guthrie wrote a song before breakfast every day - I may not ever get to that stage but I am speeding up and I am enjoying the freedom that allows me."
And that's whether he's contemplating the cosmos or life at home - and sometimes doing both. The album comes with two songs, the title track and C2006P1, that contemplate comets. It was an idea that kind of split into two songs - one raucous and one contemplative.
"I had been kicking around the idea of auspicious events because when my daughter was born there was a comet in the sky - whatever comet came through 14 years ago - and I remember writing Pearl one of those parental letters that you hope they will put away and read when they are 21 about the notion of cosmic events heralding important events on earth.
"Two songs seemed to want to come out. One was a big relaxed noisy thing just celebrating the flamboyant otherness of the comet and the other was a more thoughtful thing ... Maybe in my old age I am lurching blindly towards concept albums?"
Well, despite having come of age musically in the post-punk years of Blam Blam Blam, McGlashan admits he used to listen to 1970s prog-rock outfits like Yes in his younger years.
"Had I been in Yes and tried to write about a comet, I probably would have done half the song in Sanskrit, so count yourself lucky. And a lot of it would have been in 7/8 [time signature] - maybe that's the next album."
But McGlashan has other outlets for his more sophisticated compositional urges - he's become one of the New Zealand film and television industry's go-to guys for soundtracks.
His latest have included the films Show of Hands and Dean Spanley as well as the telefeature Piece of My Heart. His work on No. 2 generated his biggest hit, albeit sung by Hollie Smith, Bathe in the River, which he reprises under his own voice on the new album.
"The notion of a soundtrack being important, being more than a bit of glue to stick the licensed music together with, has led to filmmakers taking soundtracks a bit more seriously," he says.
McGlashan is also one of the nine composers who have written pieces for Sonic Museum - Auckland Museum's project to give its galleries headphone soundtracks - where he scored the Origins Gallery.
But does the multi-instrumentalist want to go bigger than pop songs and incidental music? Maybe knock off his own symphony?
"No, I don't really see myself that way. I get pretty bored with my own ideas once they have gone on for longer than the average song. And I found that even with the museum piece - that had a bit of a programme to it because you are walking around the gallery over the course of eight or nine minutes - but even then I kept thinking, 'This would be more fun if there were some words'.
"I do love instrumental music and the Dean Spanley thing I just loved - in some ways it was made easier for me because it was a period movie so I had a pretty clear style sheet to work from.
"But if I tried to make current classical music with a decent classical ensemble I think there are a lot of other people that would do it better."
He's not lacking for creative outlets. Having supported a revived Crowded House around the world last year, he's been a ring-in - a "utility mid-fielder" he laughs - playing euphonium, mandolin and percussion on early sessions for Neil Finn's band's new album.
His tie to Finn and his Seven Worlds Collide concert and album has also made another connection - he's been invited to open for American band Wilco, who were also participants in SWC, in the US later in the year. That's after he finishes another soundtrack. But first, he's got to rock Greymouth and a few other towns he hasn't played in a while.
These days it seems McGlashan, whose years of campaigning in Britain with the Mutton Birds have left him bruised by the music industry, is happier just to let his career take its own haphazard course.
"All those sorts of those stresses aren't there really. I have kind of organised things so that we are putting one foot in front of the other and the work itself is its own reward - that sounds pretty hokey but that is where I am at the moment.
"Surprisingly that attitude, which sounds really non-entrepreneurial, is paying off because we are selling out around the country - and everyone said this was a bad time to tour because of the recession. But maybe if you stop trying, good things happen."
Who: Don McGlashan
When: With the Seven Sisters, Friday, May 22, Clevedon Village Hall; Saturday, May 23, Leigh Sawmill Cafe; Friday, May 29, Monte Cristo Room, Auckland.
Also: Appearing at the Writers and Readers Festival talking about songwriting, tomorrow, 6pm, ASB Theatre, Aotea Centre, of which he says: "Their problem will be getting me to shut up rather than [me not knowing] what to say."
Don never fails to impress
The Nelson Mail (16th May 2009)
- Matt Lawrey
Article from http://www.stuff.co.nz/nelson-mail/opinion/2417132/Don-never-fails-to-impress
Whoever said that meeting your heroes can be a bad idea knew what they were talking about.
Over the years, I've been lucky enough to interview plenty of mine, and while most of them did not disappoint, a few of them did. I don't want to name names but I can think of three off the top of my head who were shockers.
There was the famous broadcaster who became incensed when I suggested that one of the network promos he fronted was gratuitous (I mean, really, what was his problem?).
There was the acclaimed director who, in a live radio interview promoting his new film, said: "I made it a while ago now and I'm kind of over talking about it."
And then there was the outwardly charismatic Wellington music star who turned out to be as interesting as a bag of frozen peas.
Someone who never disappoints, though, is Don McGlashan. In recent times, I've had a couple of interesting chats with the man who, before his solo career, gave us Blam Blam Blam, the Front Lawn and the Mutton Birds conversations in which he revealed interesting things about himself in the media for the first time.
The first was that he became a Quaker in London in the 1990s. It came up in a chat about Anzac Day. I asked him what he thought of the day, and he said he was a Quaker, and that he believed war was the worst thing people could do and peace was the best.
The cool part came when I asked, "So, how did you get to be a Quaker?" and he replied, "I've never talked about this before". If you want to get a journalist excited, get famous and then utter those fine words.
Don went on to explain that his wife discovered the movement when they were in Britain with the Mutton Birds. She spotted a sign outside a hall and went along to some meetings. He soon joined her, and they've been Quakers ever since.
The last time he gave me a scoop was a couple of weeks ago, in an interview about his Marvellous Year album tour, which brought him to Nelson on Sunday. We got on to the topic of the Front Lawn, the brilliant musical theatre group he and film-maker Harry Sinclair formed in the 1980s. I asked if there was any chance they might one day reunite in a professional sense. Don said there were plans for wait for it a feature film. He said Harry now lives in LA, and they had just finished working on the first draft of a script.
"Hopefully, we'll go into production with it in the next couple of years," he said.
"Does anyone else know about this?" I asked.
"I think you're the first I've told," Don said.
"I love you, Don," I thought.
By now many of you will be thinking, "Honestly, Lawrey who cares?". But I reckon you might be surprised by the answer to that question.
The Nelson School of Music auditorium was full of Don's fans on Sunday night, and they gave him a standing ovation after he and his band the Seven Sisters performed Anchor Me as their second encore. It was a great show, but one I nearly missed on account of completely over-reacting to the antics of our three-year-old.
Despite being repeatedly asked, our eldest boy would not sit down in his chair at dinner. I lost it and yelled at him he started crying, his baby brother started crying, and it is entirely possible that the neighbours' kids started crying, too I was that loud.
Despite apologies being exchanged, and cuddles and lots of kisses before bedtime, I still felt terrible, and going to a concert was the last thing I wanted to do. I told myself the tickets had probably sold out and, if they hadn't, all the good seats would be gone. The show started at 8pm.
At 7.40, I got a grip, kissed my wife goodnight, jumped on my bike and pedalled into town. At 7.55, I was sitting in the centre of the front row, drinking a beer. How Nelson is that?
NZ Herald (7th May 2009)
Article from http://www.stuff.co.nz/nelson-mail/entertainment/2391728/Dons-anchor
Don McGlashan is a busy man and his latest album and tour, which brings him to Nelson this weekend, is just another project for him. Alice Cowdrey reports.
He receives hate mail from National Party supporters, writes movie scores and has been busy travelling the world with Crowded House, but Don McGlashan says songwriting will always be the "central thing" in his life.
"It's what I do, so everything else I fit in because I am lucky enough to be asked. I never stop writing."
McGlashan, who has written more than his fair share of Kiwi classics over the years, including Marsha, Dominion Road and Anchor Me, has just released a new album with his band the Seven Sisters - Marvellous Year. This weekend, Nelson fans can get a peek at what he has cooked up, with a gig at the Nelson School of Music on Sunday night.
Over the past few years, the busy musician had more than just a new album on the go, playing with Crowded House during their world tour and composing and recording two soundtrack albums, for the Toa Fraser-directed Dean Spanley and the offbeat love story, Show of Hands, which was written and directed by Anthony McCarten.
In 2006, McGlashan composed the music to Fraser's hit movie No 2, which gave birth to the Apra Silver Scroll-winning hit Bathe in the River - originally sung by Hollie Smith and revisited by McGlashan for Marvellous Year.
McGlashan says that because he was performing, writing and recording a lot in 2008, he was able to try lots of ideas - so Marvellous Year has a lighter, more relaxed feel. (The name is not alluding to the fact that 2009 is going to be a corker, but comes from an image portrayed in the Allen Curnow poem The Skeleton of the Great Moa.)
And, as always, there are other projects, such as writing music for the Auckland Museum, for visitors to listen to via headphones while touring different galleries.
McGlashan says that when he is writing, ideas "catch hold" of him and take a while to "filter through" before they turn into songs, making things a bit harder when he is on the road.
"If I am touring overseas and see things out of the window of a tour bus, they are so fleeting I haven't got time to think about them."
However, when he returns home, a sense of purpose and a rush of energy returns and gives him a creative burst.
"It's always great to kind of get away; we go away and put this place in context and see the way other people live. We see how cramped and stressed and weighed down by history other parts of the world are, and how much space we have here and how good our living conditions are.
"This is the place I was brought up but I always choose to live."
McGlashan may have occasionally veered towards favourite son status for some of his best-known songs and his performances, but he's also tasted one of those peculiarly New Zealand controversies, during last year's election campaign. He objected bluntly to the use of Anchor Me as a soundtrack for images celebrating National leader John Key's election victory during a post-election wrap on TVNZ.
McGlashan, who had not authorised the song's use, told the network in a letter that he had never voted National and "would rather have sex with a very ugly crayfish than let them use my music".
For his trouble, he received hate mail from National supporters, who said they wanted to smash their Mutton Birds records and that McGlashan should rip up his passport and declare he was not a Kiwi any more.
Considering that National won, McGlashan says he expected its supporters to be a little less angry.
He also suspects that someone at TVNZ was having a laugh by using Anchor Me for the piece.
Although McGlashan originally planned to stage his Marvellous Year tour in old cinemas throughout New Zealand, the recession put him off, because it would be too expensive to convert theatres into venues for live music.
Instead, the tour will visit a range of pubs and other venues.
McGlashan says the music scene in New Zealand has changed drastically since he started out almost three decades ago.
When he started going to music awards ceremonies in the 1980s, there were a lot of songs he had never heard of because they were not played on radio.
The role of the media has not only changed - so has the approach musicians take to their careers.
It seems they have a focus on management, which can be to the detriment of good songwriting, he says.
Nevetheless, it's still a community he loves to be part of.
"I think the really cool thing about living here is that there's a big community of musicians. Most communication is artist to artist, because you know people."
Don McGlashan and the Seven Sisters play at the Nelson School of Music on Sunday at 8pm, along with Reb Fountain; tickets $30 ($25 students).
Marvellous Year For McGlashan
Otago Daily Times (11th April 2009)
Article from http://www.odt.co.nz/entertainment/music/51114/marvellous-year-mcglashan?page=0%2C0
Blam Blam Blam, the Front Lawn, the Mutton Birds and, now, two albums into a burgeoning solo career, Don McGlashan's songwriting habit still provides a rush. Shane Gilchrist reports. "Let me finish one more mouthful ..."
Don McGlashan is having lunch in the inner-city Auckland suburb of Grey Lynn when his fuel stop is interrupted by this phone call. He seems unperturbed, happy enough to disengage to chew the fat.
"As long as it doesn't rain I'll be able to talk at the same time as I wander round the car park," he says.
It's been a while since we last spoke - 2002, in fact - back when McGlashan's former band, the Mutton Birds, had just put out a best-of album complete with tracks Nature and Dominion Road. In the seven years since, he's been pretty busy, soundtrack work for television series and films helping to pay the bills.
McGlashan still lives in the same house, too, a place in Kingsland (another inner-city suburb). He says he's not savvy enough to know how to sell a house and buy another one. Self-deprecation aside, you get the feeling he just can't be bothered moving. To do so would mean packing up a home studio into which he has poured much time.
Despite all his DIY efforts, there are some frequencies that defy soundproofing. The noise from nearby Dominion Rd - the thoroughfare, not the song, though the two are obviously connected - still leak in. Listen carefully to McGlashan's latest album, Marvellous Year, and you might just hear a faint engine accompanying his backing vocals or acoustic guitar.
Then again, you might not: most of the album was recorded at Roundhead, the Auckland studio of Neil Finn, who provided the occasional vocal cameo on Warm Hand but largely left the work to McGlashan and his band, the Seven Sisters, who actually comprise four musicians: guitarist John Segovia, multi-instrumentalist Dominic Blaazer, bass, cello and accordion player Maree Thom and drummer Chris O'Connor.
Sean Donnelly, aka SJD, the prolific and talented writer of pop songs, was also present, in the guise of co-producer, asking the "what if?' questions that stretched, or at least pushed, McGlashan's songs to outcomes that might otherwise have remained unrealised.
McGlashan likes to discuss music. But he's also aware of the danger of over-analysing, or of attempting to second-guess what an audience might like.
That hasn't always been the case; in the days of the Mutton Birds, much time was spent discussing the songs rather than playing them.
"The thing with the Mutton Birds was that what we all arrived at was a sense that nobody was going to overplay. Because we listened to a lot of music and we argued about music a lot and we all had different tastes in music, the intersection was a bit like one of those maths diagrams you did as a kid: the intersection of all those sets is not a very big place.
"In a sense, the Mutton Birds ended up a fairly conservative band. I think it was great band but it was a case of communicating an idea precisely and with a minimum of fuss rather than relaxing and showing off and having fun. But with this band there is more freedom. It has a slightly more relaxed quality to it."
To make his point, McGlashan reaches for the stars, Comet McNaught, to be exact. He has named a song after its astronomical designation of C2006P1, a track that features "crazy transvestite falsetto backing vocals with Neil Finn, Sean Donnelly and me".
He believes such an approach wouldn't have passed the early committee stages in the Mutton Birds.
It is put it to him that perhaps he is more relaxed these days.
"You mean older?" he chimes in, a little too quickly.
How about more confident in your own skin, your craft?
McGlashan, despite his obvious distaste for a music industry he believes is besotted with youth, does disclose his age. The married father of two teenagers, Louis (17) and Pearl (14), will turn 50 this year. And, yes, he is happy with his lot.
"I think the best stuff comes from people who are at peace within themselves. When I sit down with the band and have a good rave about how a song may go, that's enough opinion. If you're trying to guess what an audience is going to like or what a record company is interested in, by the time you make those guesses you might as well stop because you're already hamstrung.
"The biggest kick I get is when you play a song to an audience and they immediately react. We've already had that feeling from a few of the songs on this record because we've played a few of them live.
"That's the beauty of doing something like songwriting. You can write a song and play it that night to a bunch of people in a pub. If you're a novelist, you might wait years from the impulse of the pen going to paper before you get a reaction from somebody.
"Telling stories that resonate with us and make me feel like I've described a little bit of my world, a little piece of my day, then tinkering with them with the band and them getting a kick out of it ... there's not much better than that, I think."
McGlashan took plenty of time over his 2006 solo debut, Warm Hand, and it showed in a largely reflective album on which songs unfolded like short stories.
This time around, with the benefit of a band that wasn't pulled together specifically for a recording project, the process has been both quicker and easier.
"Warm Hand was the product of quite a few years of tinkering, wondering what I had to say as a solo artist. I was experimenting as to what kind of vehicle would work best for the songs.
"With this one, because I had been playing with the same band for a couple of years, we were really comfortable with one another.
''It's quite effortless to bring a song along to the band. In some cases the songs play themselves because I'll have written them with the players in mind. I hear a line in my head and think, 'John's going to play that beautifully or that's a rhythm that Chris will play really well'.
''There are other songs that I might bring along to the band and we will really pull them apart and deconstruct them.
"Marvellous Year, the song itself, was quite a full-on rocker when I brought it to the band and we gradually pulled it down and realised that a whole lot of people playing quietly was a good approach for it; glockenspiel, vibraphone, 12-string guitar and a theremin all contributed to an otherworldly, interstellar atmosphere to it.
"That was partly the band all experimenting and Sean Donnelly and I working on it. He had a lot of input into it as co-producer."
McGlashan began exchanging ideas with Donnelly when he returned from England in 1999 following the Mutton Birds' decision to turn down the volume on four years of graft in Europe.
As well as bouncing songs off each other, the pair collaborated on the soundtrack to the television series Orange Roughies, "which they are screening repeats of now", he enthuses.
On the topic of repeats, Bathe In The River, written for Toa Fraser's 2006 feature film No 2 and originally performed by Hollie Smith, has found its way on to Marvellous Year, McGlashan giving the Silver Scroll award-winning track a falsetto treatment.
He likes doing film work, evidenced by a growing list of recent projects, including No 2 , Anthony McCarten's Show Of Hands and Dean Spanley, the score of which was played by the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra.
McGlashan is currently working on a gospel song for another feature film, Matariki, for which he'll also begin work on a soundtrack in September.
In the meantime, McGlashan begins rehearsing for a new Crowded House album in a couple of weeks before embarking on a national tour to promote Marvellous Year.
Last year, he joined Neil Finn and company in the United States and Europe, both as a support act and as a member of the band, playing acoustic guitar, mandolin, horns, backing vocals. He has parts on several new songs.
Oh, acclaimed American band Wilco has also invited him to open some concerts in the US this year.
You wonder if McGlashan sometimes finds it all a bit of a head-scratcher. After all, there is quite a contrast between battling for recognition on the tour circuits of England and Europe in the '90s and performing a decade later with artists whom promoters would term "A-listers".
"I'm at the stage now where I'm not too fussed about the music business any more. I don't stop to consider my place in it.
"The nice thing, the constant, is I'm still doing the work I want to do, which is writing songs and enough people are getting to hear them to allow some of these cool things to happen. Also, I'm free enough."
Yes, but isn't there something ironic in all this?
"You mean, when you're not trying it all happens?"
"Yeah, possibly. I guess the difference is ... I think things have changed in that I'm not part of a gung-ho, knocking on every door, ever-expanding business, which is what a band is.
''A band has to be really dedicated and uni-directional and somebody like me . . . now I work with my band the Seven Sisters, but I can't work with them all the time.
''At the moment I'm writing a piece of instrumental music for the Auckland Museum so while I'm doing that I can't be on the road with my band.
"I'm kind of a ..." he pauses. "I'm not ... how should I put it? ... I'm not so much part of a community of business plans; I'm part of a community of ideas. And that feels to me a lot more comfortable. I don't have to really worry about how many records I'm selling or whether I'm on the cover of this or that magazine. I was never any good at worrying about that stuff anyway."
McGlashan describes the process of writing a song, often with guitar and pencil in hand, as more than an enjoyable habit. Call it an addiction.
Long after he began penning those cinematic, slightly mournful pieces with Blam Blam Blam in the early '80s, moving on to the more quirky output of the Front Lawn, then the pop distillation of the Mutton Birds and now his solo career, the rush remains.
"If I didn't do it I'd get sick. I think if you are not getting to the end of a song and putting your pencil down and playing it to yourself on guitar and then jumping around the room, punching the air ... if you're not that elated about it, then maybe you should get another job, go and find a car dealership to work for or something."
Among the 11 songs on Marvellous Year, there is one that holds a particular punch. The Switch is about McGlashan's eldest child, Louis, 17 and growing up fast, perhaps faster than he'd like.
The lyrics are full of love, with concern following a close second. Though teenage growing pains are nothing new in pop lyricism, parental perspective is less common.
McGlashan is pleased with this observation. It suggests he's not repeating someone else's line.
"I guess the good thing about broadcasting songs from your own frequency is that you describe things in your own life and with any luck they won't be the same as someone else has described."
Marvellous Year press release
NZMusician.co.nz (March 2009)
Article from http://www.nzmusician.co.nz/index.php/ps_pagename/article/pi_articleid/1565
After a huge year of what could only be described as over achieving, one of this country's favourite songwriting sons is about to release his second solo album. Don McGlashan talks to Mark Bell about the challenges of juggling his various endeavours and enjoying the ride that was 2008.
Don McGlashan has just finished telling me, with a completely straight face (so I have to believe him) that the title of his new album 'Marvellous Year' has nothing to do with what has been, by anyone's measure, a truly remarkable year of creative output for the highly respected Auckland songwriter. A year so marvellous, in fact, that John Campbell would be struggling to find enough superlatives. It saw him complete two major film scores, take on the role of MD at the Silver Scroll Awards, perform at WOMAD here and in Australia, tour the US and Europe with Crowded House, participate in the sublime Seven Worlds Collide project and - if all that weren't enough, he also recorded his second solo album at Neil Finn's Roundhead studios with his backing band Seven Sisters.
Donald Bain McGlashan has always been a pretty driven creative force, a true renaissance man who can turn his hand not only to a variety of musical instruments, but to popular music, orchestral composition, theatre, dance music (in the old sense of the phrase) and film with equal facility. Yes film. He's also been working up a screenplay with old Front Lawn sidekick Harry Sinclair whenever Harry is over here from his home base in LA.
Confronted with such a diverse and demanding workload, I ask how he managed to keep all those plates spinning without at least a few crashing to the floor.
"I kept plates spinning. I had cutlery, I had salad bowls, I had a huge amount of kitchenware up there and there were moments of stress, but looking back on it, it's sort of like a dream year really."
Having completed (with Seven Sisters) the music for 'Show of Hands', Anthony McCarten's story of an endurance prize competition set in a New Plymouth car yard, he was about to begin grappling with the enormity of scoring for the NZ Symphony Orchestra when things quickly got really interesting.
"I've worked with orchestras before, but never a full project - it's a 90 minute film and there might be 50 minutes of solid music, and I was in the middle of all of that, and I was curating the two WOMAD end of show galas…" Oh yeah, he did that too…
"I did a couple of songs with Neil Finn when he did his solo set at Taanaki, and just before we went on he said, 'Come to America with us, come and do the Crowded House tour'.
"I initially thought, 'I can't' you know? 'All of these things are falling out of the sky and unless I dodge one or two of them I'm gonna get squished.'
"But everybody around me said, 'You can probably do it, it's an orchestral score, it's all sitting there on your laptop, there's a lot of downtime on a band tour.' And so I kind of bit the bullet and did it, and it was fantastic! I had a great time on the tour, I didn't have time to get nervous in either direction, I didn't have time to stop and think ,'I'm learning Crowded House songs and trying to play them onstage.' I was playing a few different instruments, sort of like their utility midfielder, and I didn't have time to get nervous about that. As soon as we'd finished playing I'd rush off and get my laptop, put the headphones on and work on cue number 33."
I ask whether he found it difficult to transition from the euphoria of gig mode to the solemn requirements of composing for an Edwardian costume drama that is the Toa Fraser-directed 'Dean Spanley'.
"I tend to sort of fade into the wallpaper after gigs anyway, and sit there being pale and interesting while everybody's having a raucous old time, so in this instance it was the same except I was being pale and interesting with a laptop. But also I didn't have time to get nervous or think, 'I'm writing a score for the national symphony, they might think it's a piece of shit' because I was so busy. So it worked pretty well for me. I think whenever I stop and think too much, that's when I get into trouble."
I speculate that touring the world with somebody else's band must have come as something of a relief after the struggles of keeping The Muttonbirds going in the UK for so long.
"Yeah, if you take away the bits where you have to continually worry about the future or how everything's going, who's got their nose out of joint for some reason, how many people are coming to the gig, all those stresses that are necessarily there when it's your baby… If you take those bits out, what's left is pure music, and it was such a thrill to be eating and sleeping and breathing music solidly for a whole month. And the film score was all bound up in that, it was just fantastic."
Meanwhile back in the real world there was an album to finish, this time a more band-oriented project than his 2006 release 'Warm Hand'. The tracks have more of a live feel thanks to the solid backing of The Seven Sisters which comprises John Segovia on guitars, Maree Thom on bass, Chris O'Conner in the drum seat and new addition Dominic Blaazer on keyboards.
"There's quite a lot of live takes on it, our version of Bathe in the River is pretty much how we put it down and not overdubbed. The Switch, there's quite a lot of overdubs on that, but the basic track and me singing is pretty much one live take. We're comfortable playing together and everybody's contributed a lot."
The album has undoubtedly benefited more than it's suffered from the talented Mr McGlashan's rather fat 2008 portfolio, with a late burst of four songs finding their way onto the final tracklist.
"The last rush of songs was very last minute - Bad Blood, You're the Song and 18th Day came in right at the last minute, and Marvellous Year actually. And I'm glad they did too, because I had a bunch of other songs (normally I use everything, I'm a really slow writer), but this time I had some other things that I wanted to throw at it. I just got cold feet in about October and I thought, 'No, if I really think about it there's two or three more songs just banging at the door waiting to be finished."
Sean Donnelly once again takes on co-production duties, but on this album there's none of his trademark layered atmospherics and only a smattering of his inventive bass playing.
"This time because we mixed it pretty quickly and we mixed it all at Roundhead - I had a bit of a deadline so we couldn't take it away to either my home studio or Sean's home studio and do all that layering, so there wasn't the opportunity to do that. But I think that the kind of record that I wanted to make was a more immediate one, more band-y and less atmospheric." He adds that with this record, "It was as if the trainer wheels had sort of fallen off and I was just able to get ideas out and take more risks too. I was able to do some songs that were lighter in touch and more throwaway like C2006P1 (a song about a comet no less) and Radio Programmer which were not ideas that had been really fretted over for a long time."
We close out our interview by talking about Seven Worlds Collide, Neil Finn's star -studded concert and album project to raise money for Oxfam. Without wishing to come on too star-struck, I'm keen to hear some of Don's observations about working with such talents as Radiohead's Ed O'Brien, the legendary Johnny Marr, Wilco's Jeff Tweedy and Scottish songbird KT Tunstall.
"Given that the group contained a fair number of heavy hitters, there was a total lack of 'Don't you know who I think I am?' behaviour. Johnny Marr, Ed O'Brien, Phil Selway (drummer) from Radiohead and Wilco's Pat Sansone were the basic band for one of my songs - Johnny leaping in on acoustic guitars, backing vocals and tambourine and making a lot of good production suggestions. He has an enormous breakneck Mancunian energy about everything, all the more remarkable because these days it's fuelled on nothing but healthy living and Chinese white tea.
"For the other song, I had the Wilco rhythm section of Glen Kotche and John Stirrat, Ed played layers of finely judged guitar atmospherics, Jeff Tweedy came up with a blistering solo on his SG and I roped in Ivy Rossiter, who was supposed to be only there to make coffee, for some late-night vocal harmonies. Apart from those two songs, I just wandered from room to room as we all did, throwing ideas in, picking up instruments and trying overdubs, joining in group discussions about where each song was going and where else it might go if you changed this or that element."
He says he could talk for days about what he learnt and took out of this amazing experience, but the over-riding impression was "…the idea of putting aside the normal insecurities and constrictions of the studio, and giving yourself over to purely 'playing' in the child-like sense of the word. You can only do that when there's complete trust all round, and I think Neil and producer Jim Scott did a great job of setting up and maintaining that atmosphere."
Whatever the future holds for this unique musician with incredible work ethic, 2008 was surely one he will look back on and think, "Well yes, that was a pretty marvellous year."
Marvellous Year press release
UnderTheRadar.co.nz (3rd March '09)
Article from http://www.undertheradar.co.nz/utr/more/NID/1304/Don-McGlashan-&-the-Seven-Sisters---Marvellous-Year---Out-Today.utr
Marvellous Year is the first full release under the name Don McGlashan & the Seven Sisters – reflecting a more “band” effort than his first solo album Warm Hand. As you will hear, The Seven Sisters are bursting with “unfailingly musical” talent, giving the songs real energy, atmosphere and depth. Don’s songwriting and ability to capture melody and the everyday moment is as strong - or even stronger – than ever.
Another reason Marvellous Year is so darn good is that both Don McGlashan and the band (Chris O’Connor, Maree Thom, John Segovia and Dominic Blaazer) have been on a real musical roll for the last couple of years. The band have played numerous shows, such as to thousands at the Auckland Domain, WOMAD and various theatres, clubs and pubs up and down the country.
As Don says “I think because I was performing, writing and recording a lot in 2008, I was able to try lots of ideas out - on the band, in the studio, and on audiences - so there's a lighter, more relaxed feel to some parts of this record. Warm Hand took a fair while because I was trying to find a sound for my solo stuff. I was gradually assembling the band as I recorded. Now the Seven Sisters is established, and we're used to playing together, so Marvellous Year was able to happen a lot more quickly, naturally, and with less head-scratching. It sounds, to me, more like a bunch of songs written for, and played by, a really good band.”
As well as the band input, Marvellous Year was also a joint effort in the production stakes, with Don working alongside Sean Donnelly (SJD). Don says aside from Sean’s undeniable musical talent and ears, his input was to: “Challenge me, push me and throw banana skins in my path whenever I got too complacent.” The album itself was recorded at Neil Finn’s Roundhead Studios, mixed brilliantly by Jordan Stone and features guest backing vocals from Neil Finn and string arrangements by Victoria Kelly Don recently played sold out solo shows in London, showcases in New York and Vancouver and toured with Crowded House - both opening for and playing in the band. This took him through Australia, USA and Europe (including Russia!).
As if that wasn’t keeping him busy enough, in the last year Don has also composed, supervised and recorded two soundtrack albums; the Toa Fraser directed Dean Spanley (Recorded by New Zealand Symphony Orchestra and featuring Peter O’Toole, Sam Neill and others) and the charming Show of Hands (written and directed by Anthony McCarten and featuring performances by the Seven Sisters, Anika Moa and Reb Fountain). The soundtrack CD to Dean Spanley is released March 09 on Mana Music and Show of Hands was released December 08 on Arch Hill Recordings.
In 2007 Don co-wrote, with Toa Fraser, The Colossus of Roadies, “the story of a sweaty, flatulent rock n roll roadie who finds himself struck down in a freak accident” and was also recognised as a “Living Legend” by the City Of Auckland. In 2006 Don composed the music to Fraser’s hit movie No 2 – which spawned the APRA Silver Scroll winning hit “Bathe in the River” - originally sung by Hollie Smith and beautifully revisited by Don on Marvellous Year.
Mutton Bird in flight again
The Province, Canada (23rd January 2009)
- Stuart Derdeyn
Article from http://www.canada.com/theprovince/news/etoday/story.html?id=18ece61b-23d9-4f21-8d83-a9013a40533d
In his homeland of New Zealand and in Australia, Don McGlashan is a national treasure. The Auckland-based singer/songwriter is a multi-platinum artist whose career stretches back three-plus decades in a series of influential bands, orchestras and as a solo artist.
Earlier this week, he sold out two shows in London and performs his only Canadian show in Vancouver this weekend. Great, so who is he?
Back in the early 1990s, he led an incredible band called the Mutton Birds. The group had a shot at global fame with its third album, Envy of Angels, and re-located to London to be closer to the touring circuit of the Northern Hemisphere. The Birds dropped into Vancouver three times, including as a part of Tragically Hip's Another Roadside Attraction. But fame proved elusive and eventually the combo disbanded.
McGlashan returned home and all but dropped off the international map. Still, he remained very active at home. When Crowded House re-formed, his old pals the Finn brothers requested his services in the touring band and he was often the opening act, too. As part of Neil Finn's latest Seven Worlds Collide project, he has been recording with members of Radiohead, Wilco, Modest Mouse guitarist Johnny Marr and Kiwi star Bic Runga.
He chatted with us during a break in the recording sessions which, to date, have yielded 30 new songs and three sold-out concerts that will probably be available as a live CD and DVD.
"It's been amazing working with this project and my two songs with Phil Selway from Radiohead and Johnny Marr was fantastic," says McGlashan. "For Neil, who has bankrolled the whole thing, it's a great idea to offer friends in the Northern hemisphere a sunny, relaxing place to record.
"Wilco enjoyed themselves so much that they are going to stick around and start their new album down here."
McGlashan admits that he doesn't collaborate much, so letting himself be guided along musically with Seven Worlds Collide has been liberating.
"You've got people wandering in and out of sessions, picking up instruments and offering their ideas, which is quite unlike the way I tend to work."
At home, he has also carved out a niche as a leading composer for TV programs, in movies, on stage and for dance shows. But his first love will always be crafting deeply personal and insightful observational pop songs. Case in point, the one-two punch of opening songs on his hit solo CD, Warm Hand. "This Is London" looks at what the city was like for him and the Mutton Birds in their final days, while "Toy Factory" is a potent retelling of the 1993 fire in a Kader Industrial Toy Factory outside of Bangkok, Thailand. A total of 188 workers, 174 of them women and girls, died and 449 were injured in the fire. The factory manufactured Simpsons and Cabbage Patch products. The lyrics play off this: "Here's Bart Simpson, with his arms all melted and twisted/And here's one of Big Bird, with his feathers all matted and black/And here are the rows of young women/Wrapped up in bolts of white nylon."
Both his hit solo CD Warm Hand and a new album, Marvellous Year, due in March, will see international release in 2009. He's hopeful about this. But with two feature film scores, a musical and a retrospective CD of another earlier band on the go, he won't be waiting for a new audience to discover him.
Mutton Bird learns to fly with solo career
North Shore News, Canada (23rd January 2009)
- John Goodman
Article from http://www.canada.com/northshorenews/news/music/story.html?id=f0c6b56b-18a1-4175-986f-ee8ea21c5312&p=1
One of New Zealand's best-kept secrets probably won't be a secret for much longer.
Over the past year singer/songwriter Don McGlashan has been performing more and more outside of the Southern Hemisphere -- first on tour with old buddy Neil Finn's Crowded House and now as a solo artist.
McGlashan's deep catalogue of brilliant work is reminiscent of Elvis Costello and like Costello he got his start with the advent of punk but at the other end of the world. "Punk rock hit when I was about 16," he says. "Pretty much the same time it happened in the Northern Hemisphere. New Zealanders are very isolated but they read the newspaper and music magazines very carefully. All the movements that happen in other places happen immediately here."
Unlike many punkers though McGlashan already knew how to play an instrument. Several in fact. "I studied all kinds of instruments and was working towards a career as a classical French Horn player," he says. "The cool thing about punk rock was that when it arrived in New Zealand suddenly ideas were more important than your facility as a player. So if you had really strong ideas you could get them out there even if you could only play three chords. I wasn't a very good guitarist but I could add brass and saxophone."
McGlashan got his first full-time gig with post-punkers Blam, Blam, Blam because the original drummer quit. Although he could play many instruments percussion wasn't one of them. "At that stage I'd never sat down at a drum set and put everything together. I'd played the snare drum in a brass band and I'd marched with it but I didn't know how to get my feet and hands working -- luckily the ethos of punk rock meant that I could learn on the job."
By the age of 19 McGlashan was writing songs and touring and didn't stop for more than two decades. He was a member of several groups during that period including Blam, Blam, Blam, radical noisemakers From Scratch, art experimentalists The Front Lawn and critical darlings The Mutton Birds.
Each group had a different approach to music. "The main man in From Scratch, Philip Dadson, influenced me a lot," he says. "He's kind of like a Harry Partch building these crazy instruments and playing them. It was a great apprenticeship for me even though when I stopped doing it I took a more conservative approach as a songwriter. The ideas that he gave me I keep referring to throughout my career."
After his stint in From Scratch McGlashan spent a year in New York City working with Laura Dean's dance company. "Laura Dean had visited New Zealand a few years before and I'd met some of the members of that company so that was one phone number I had. (When I got to New York) I phoned the one phone number I had and asked if I could come and observe some rehearsals. They took a shine to me and offered me a job as an extra musician."
The company of six dancers and two musicians did U.S. and world tours while McGlashan was with them. "It was a fantastic opportunity and really interesting," he says. "I could apply some of what I'd learned in From Scratch. Drumming with different time signatures and that kind of rhythmic experimentation. It was really cool. And also I was in New York and I wasn't just an observer -- I had a gig. A lot of people come to New York and they just watch but I had something to do. It helped me to crystallize my own ideas about what I would do once I stopped doing stuff for other people."
McGlashan met his wife in the dance company and they moved back to New Zealand where he performed for six years in a "two-hander," The Front Lawn, with old school friend Harry Sinclair. The duo experimented with song forms and incorporated a lot of storytelling into their music. They recorded two albums and toured the U.S. in the late '80s.
In 1991 McGlashan formed the Mutton Birds to focus more on his songwriting. "I had no idea where it was going to go," he says. "I think after we'd been going for two years we became the first New Zealand band to ever have an album stay for a whole year in the charts. We kind of broke through a barrier. New Zealand's a small place. Local music has always been quite controversial because it needs help to get a big audience but until it gets a decent-sized audience it can't grow. It's the chicken and the egg syndrome. The Mutton Birds are one of the early bands that broke through. We got to the stage where people were coming to our shows and refusing to believe we were from New Zealand. I think that was a compliment."
The success of the band meant that they would have to leave New Zealand if they wanted to continue to grow. Their first international stop was Canada where they spent a few months supporting acts such as The Watchmen and The Rheostatics. They then went on to England where Virgin U.K. decided they liked them and asked them to stay. The band spent four years in London and recorded several albums including Envy of Angels in 1996 which had a worldwide release.
During his tenure in the Mutton Birds McGlashan established himself as a world-class songwriter. Classic tracks such as Dominion Road, Anchor Me and Pulled Along By Love can be heard on the 2002 compilation, Flock: The Best of the Mutton Birds.
"My kids grew up and developed English accents which they lost as soon as they came back to New Zealand," says McGlashan. "It was kind of an organic decision that seemed like a logical outgrowth of what we had been doing before but in hindsight it might have been better to come to the States or even Canada to live and work. The U.K. was good in the sense that we got a lot of critical notice for what we did. The first album that we made in England made The Times Top 10 Album of the Year list and we got a couple of four star reviews in Q Magazine."
Back in Auckland McGlashan has spent the last few years working on a variety of projects. He's written the music for several films including a full orchestral score for director Toa Fraser's new film, Dean Spanley, starring Peter O'Toole, Sam Neill and Bryan Brown. He released his first solo album, Warm Hand, in 2006 and has recorded a second with the Seven Sisters, Marvellous Year, that should come out shortly.
"We're going to talk to a record company in the U.K. about releasing it worldwide," he says. "That will hopefully be in March. I've found a record company here (Arch Hill) who are really attuned to what I do. It's a really good home. It would be cool to team them up with a company that can get the records out on a wider scale.
"It's a pretty well-kept secret in the rest of the world which is why I'm looking forward to these gigs. They seem to be a natural offshoot of the kind of stuff I've been doing with Crowded House. I've started to put my hand up and say, 'I'm here.'"
Big Takeover Interview
Page 1 (pdf) | Page 2 (pdf) | Page 3 (pdf) (right-click and save)
For the second half of this brilliant article, we highly recommend picking up Issue 61 of The Big Takeover, which can be ordered from the magazine's website.
NOTE: the article contains some comments that Don later clarified:
"1. They imply that we had an English manager who stole from us. I didn't say that at all. During our time in England, we had two managers. One who was English, and the other who wasn't. Steve Hedges (who is English) is a fine upstanding fellow who saved our arses many times over. The less said about the other guy the better."
"2. They seem to have me saying that some of Alan's songs on Marshmallow are "clichés strung together". I didn't say that either. I was referring to Alan's song "So Long" which was left off "Salty", and which he himself described as "clichés strung together" in the liner notes for "Too Hard Basket". Alan is also a fine fellow, and a songwriter I much admire."
Songs of the city recognised in legends awards
Source unknown (April 2007)
Singer-songwriter Don McGlashan is one of seven Aucklanders recognised last night as "living legends" by Mayor Dick Hubbard for their contribution to the community.
The 47-year-old songwriter - best known for his suburban classic Dominion Road - was slightly mystified when he found out he had been singled out for the honour.
"I've got no idea how I deserve this but I do love this community and if I'm doing something that benefits them I better keep doing it," he said.
The seven award winners were each presented with a Living Legend certificate and a pohutukawa tree by Mr Hubbard at the Town Hall.
McGlashan said he would hang the certificate on the wall of his music studio at home.
Community volunteer Charles Crotty received an award for his involvement in the Turn Your Life Around project.
He said it felt good to receive the award. "It's a nice recognition for what the trust has achieved," he said.
Dancer Douglas Wright, police officer Nick Tuitasi, architect Ivan Mercep, artist Stanley Palmer and Keith Taylor, whose achievements include serving as the executive director for the Northern Methodist Mission, also received awards.
Mr Hubbard said he introduced the awards two years ago because of a lack of formal recognition for people doing outstanding work in Auckland.
Frankton Road is being under its own weight...
Source unknown (October 2006)
DON McGLASHAN is one of those salt-of-the-earth types - keen to talk but gracious. You'd never guess he's been living a public life for more than quarter of a century.
Fresh off a second APRA Silver Scroll win for his gospel track Bathe in the River, one of New Zealand's foremost songwriters has been blown away by the media interest since he was presented with the award by Prime Minister Helen Clark in Auckland last month.
McGlashan fronted punk venture Blam Blam Blam from 1980-82, university favourites The Front Lawn in the mid-80s, and platinum-selling international act The Mutton Birds from 1991-2002.
He will play Revolver next Tuesday night, with songs off his Warm Hand debut solo album. Plus a few old anthems as well.
McGlashan was touring abroad when his song Anchor Me won the Silver Scrolls in 1994 - the phone went just once for a radio interview. This time around he's had TV appearances and back-to-back interviews.
"It's been intense," he says.
McGlashan, 47, is used to talking.
As The Mutton Birds' main songwriter throughout the 90s, McGlashan was "the one that people wanted to talk to," he says. "I guess it's a habit I've gotten into.
"The Silver Scrolls used to be a clandestine affair because back then [early 90s] very little NZ music was played on radio," he says.
In fact, McGlashan recalls one punter refusing to enter a seedy Christchurch bar in 1994 to hear The Mutton Birds play for two reasons - he didn't believe "such an important band" would play in a "dive like this" and, secondly, he refused to believe The Mutton Birds were a NZ band, promptly turning on his heels and walking off.
"I don't think that would happen nowadays," he says. "I think everyone is comfortable with the idea that you can have home-grown music on the radio."
McGlashan has five entries in NZ's Top 100 songs of all time.
McGlashan says these days writing music to please himself or "broadcasting on your own wavelength is a good place to be at my ripe old age".
"There were times in the Mutton Birds where we were overseas and there was a lot riding on the songwriting - the net effect of which was me beating myself up more," he says.
"I didn't really know whether anybody was going to hear this [album] apart from me - I think that's a really comfortable place to be."
McGlashan Wins Silver Scroll
Source unknown (21st September 2006)
Veteran songwriter Don McGlashan has been awarded one of New Zealand music's high accolades - the APRA Silver Scroll award.
McGlashan was presented with the award for his single Bathe in the River by Prime Minister Helen Clark at a ceremony at the Auckland Town Hall last night.
Bathe in the River was performed by Hollie Smith on the soundtrack for the New Zealand film, No. 2.
It beat out four other songs, including another of McGlashan's own, to take the Silver Scroll.
McGlashan is no stranger to the APRA awards - he won his first Silver Scroll in 1994 for the song Anchor Me, written during his time with the Muttonbirds.
APRA's New Zealand director Anthony Healey called Bathe in the River an "absolute classic".
"All Don's music is emotive and powerful and this song is no exception," he said.
Also presented at the Silver Scroll ceremony was the Maioha Award, given to Richard Bennett for his waiata E Hine.
Judges consider the creative content of music and lyrics, as well as the use of Te Reo Maori, when selecting Maioha finalists.
Composer Ross Harris won the Sounz Contemporary award for his Symphony No. 2, which he has said is intended to convey the "terrible sadness of the man-made hell of war".
It is the third time Harris has won the award in its nine-year history.
Anchors Away With Don McGlashan
Source unknown (12th September 2006)
- Vicky Anderson
Kiwi artists revel in examining why they leave New Zealand and why they come back, Don McGlashan tells Vicki Anderson.
Don McGlashan is whistling something that sounds like The Mutton Birds' song, Anchor Me, down the phone line. He's a better singer than he is a whistler but it is an apt tune.
Home From Abroad, a highlight of The Press Christchurch Writers' Festival, puts the welcome mat at the front door of the James Hay in the Garden City for acclaimed New Zealand writers to debate the pros and cons of leaving home.
Veteran Kiwi singer/ songwriter, McGlashan performs with his band the Seven Sisters for the first time in the South Island.
Many Kiwis head overseas to become hacky-sacking, wacky, slacking, backpacking youths of the world roaming about accumulating experiences and embracing life. Home and Abroad examines how these experiences relate to returning home to New Zealand.
"It seems as if we're going to play a song and then there's going to be a panel discussion with Emily Perkins, Julian Novitz, Paula Morris, Karyn Hay, Andrew Fagan, and Bill Manhire chairing it, and then I think we're going to play a bunch of songs at the end of it. Bill sent me a bunch of questions that I must admit I haven't looked at yet," McGlashan says.
His new band is named after the Pleiades, a star cluster the ancient Greeks called the Seven Sisters and stargazing boffins today call Messier 45. The Seven Sisters consists of three blokes - Sean Donnelly (SJD) on bass, John Segovia (Boxcar Guitars) on pedal steel and guitars and Chris O'Connor (Trinity Roots, Cloudboy) on drums.
McGlashan has been on the Kiwi music scene for over 25 years and is one of New Zealand's favourite songwriters both at home and abroad. He began his musical career as a French horn player with the Auckland Sinfonia - his infamous euphonium was on the cover of The Mutton Birds' debut album. A defining member of Blam Blam Blam and The Mutton Birds he released his first solo album, Warm Hand, on independent label Arch Hill Recordings earlier this year.
No slouch with a pen, he's written soundtracks to the Janet Frame mini- series, An Angel at My Table, and Toa Fraser's film, No. 2 and even composed fanfares for the 1990 Commonwealth games.
As one half of The Front Lawn with filmmaker Harry Sinclair he won acclaim for comedic short films Walkshort, The Lounge Bar and Linda's Body.
McGlashan might not have been swotting up on Manhire's questions but he's obviously been giving the subject of leaving home a lot of thought.
"Whether I get around to reading the questions or not I'm sure there'll be a lot to bounce off because the other people in the panel are some of my favourite writers. I'm looking forward to it. Examining why you leave New Zealand and why you come back and what happens a) when you leave and b) when you come back is something New Zealanders do a lot," he says.
"Especially people in the creative sector because a lot of our opportunities happen offshore and it's not something that we're ever going to work out.
"No-one's ever going to write a manual for how you go away and how you come back and effectively resolve all the contradictions that you feel. That's something that all kinds of writers deal with."
McGlashan spent four years in Britain with The Mutton Birds and before that, he worked as a drummer for a dance company in New York. "I was on my OE so I could have been sitting around going to bands and listening to stuff but I got a job with avant-garde dance company Laura Dean Dancers and Musicians. Suddenly I was in a bus and I was off to see the world. We did two American tours and a European tour. It was a fantastic thing to stumble upon. I could've stayed on working with the company because I got to the point where I had the title of Music Rehearsal Director.
"I decided I needed to come home."
A s well as penning the words to hits such as Anchor Me, The Heater, Dominion Road, Don't Fight It Marsha It's Bigger Than Both Of Us and, more recently Bathe In The River, the "gospel song" he wrote for Toa Fraser's movie No. 2 which was performed by Hollie Smith and the Mt Raskil Preservation Society, McGlashan has inspired notable overseas authors.
"Ian Rankin used one of my songs, The Falls, as a title for one of his books. Chris Brookmeyer quoted my songs in his books - he's become a good friend. We send each other things. I send him music and he sends me new books."
An avid reader, McGlashan finds it difficult to select just one book as a favourite. Instead he settles for pronouncing the latest page-turner on his bedside table - Ian McEwan's Saturday - "fantastic".
Reflecting his accomplished songwriting abilities, McGlashan has been nominated for two Apra Silver Scroll Awards this year for Miracle Sun and Bathe In The River - making him the first person to get two nods since Dave Dobbyn in 1995. He also features strongly in this year's New Zealand Music Awards with nominations in the Best Male Solo Artist and Best Album categories. Bathe In the River is nominated for Single of the Year.
"I took a long time getting this album out and it's coincided with the film No. 2 getting out there too and my songs from the film having a really good run on radio. It's a happy coincidence for me."
Warm Hand weaves elegantly simple storytelling with gentle, beautifully crafted sounds.
It is named after something he saw on a bathroom wall in Prague in the '80s.
"I'd had that name for a while. I originally wanted it for a Mutton Birds album. I saw a hand drawn on a hand dryer on a wall in a bathroom in the freezing cold city of Prague. The hand dryer had indecipherable writing on it and a little picture of a hand getting warmed up - I filed that one away as a good title for an album."
After tonight's sneak preview, McGlashan and his band of merry men will be touring throughout New Zealand in October. There are plans to start work on a new album next year.
"I'm also going to New York in November for a solo showcase gig in Brooklyn because I got a review for Warm Hand in a New York-based music magazine. The Mutton Birds did some showcases in America but we never got a release there.
"Maybe now it might be a chance to get a small record deal in the States, so that's what we're working on."
McGlashan laughs when I point out he's still wrestling with issues relating to home and abroad himself.
"I come home from overseas with essentially a suitcase full of work that relates very strongly to home. I think you're expected to come back with a suitcase full of somewhere else."
Double Nod For Don Of Songwriting
Source unknown (1st September 2006)
- Russell Baillie
If you were betting on the winner of this year's Apra Silver Scroll - effectively the New Zealand song-of-the-year award - then Don McGlashan would seem to be a hot favourite.
And not just because he has figured in the awards before, after winning for Anchor Me in 1994. It's because he's nominated twice this year.
He's up for Miracle Sun, a track from Warm Hand, his debut solo album.
He's also there for Bathe In The River, the song he wrong to order for the soundtrack of film No. 2 and which - after being recorded with Hollie Smith on scorching lead vocals - has taken up permanent residence in the national singles charts since its release six months ago.
McGlashan isn't the first Silver Scroll double nominee. Dave Dobbyn was nominated twice in 1995 - though he didn't win for either, possibly because of a split in votes.
McGlashan could suffer a similar split, though the songs' diverse style and delivery might set them apart for the secret panel of Silver Scroll judges who assess nominated songs on musical and lyrical worth, rather than commercial performance.
This year's list features last year's winners, band of brothers Evermore, for their hit Running. Also nominated are singer-songwriter Anika Moa for Stolen Hill, and James Milne, leader of band the Reduction Agents, for his track The Pool.
The nominees were a "moody" bunch, said Ant Healey, Apra's director of NZ operations in yesterday's nomination announcement.
"From The Pool, with its quirky lyrics about impossible love, to Bathe in the River, which promises an escape from suffering, to the angular and evocative Stolen Hill and the reflective and nostalgic Miracle Sun. Even Running, with its uplifting, stonking chorus, has an angsty quality, anticipating loss and disillusionment."
In other words, it captures the feeling of the morning after if you don't win.
Also being presented at the Auckland Town Hall on September 20 will be the Sounz Contemporary Award, recognising creative excellence by a New Zealand classical composer and the Apra Maioha Award, presented for the best Maori waiata of the year.
The Silver Scroll nods come seven days before next week's announcement of the 2006 New Zealand Music Awards.
Don McGlashan: Loneliness of the Long Distance Strummer
Source unknown (June 2006)
- Mark Bell
For someone who has just completed his first solo album, Don McGlashan is very sparing in his use of the personal pronouns 'I' and 'me'. Instead he is much more likely to substitute the inclusive 'we'.
Not through any self-effacing desire to deflect the limelight (although there's possibly an element of this), but more as an acknowledgement that without the input and inspiration of certain key people, the somewhat belated 'Warm Hand' might never have arrived at all. It would certainly bear scant resemblance to the intricate and soulful work it has become, and for that he is more than willing to give credit where credit's due.
Although Don is a brainy, hard-working, multi-talented, multi-instrumentalist singer/songwriter, arranger and composer with his own home Pro Tools studio, the effort of producing a solo album which refused to sound finished was beginning to weigh on his mind. He'd spent about seven months, starting in July 2004 (when the rhythm tracks were recorded in a barn at Bethels Beach), tinkering and doing overdubs at his home studio. He'd done string and brass sessions at The Lab, and even some final mixes with Angus McNaughton, with the aim of being wrapped up by around January this year.
"But the more I listened to them, the more I realised they were nowhere near final mixes. Songs needed different instruments on them and quite often I just didn't believe the lead vocal or something. And so then I did more work..."
Quite a bit more as it turns out. Because he is someone who admittedly doesn't over-write for an album - "Never have actually," he stresses - Don was pretty reluctant to dump songs just because they weren't quite gelling. The upshot was a rather protracted period of re-jigging, re-arranging, transposing, adding and subtracting and in some cases complete re-recording, all of which takes time and can play havoc with a writer's sense of objectivity.
Enter Sean James Donnelly and Ed McWilliams (Cake), two musicians Don is obviously happy to share the NZM cover shot with, and who, through their own individual musical output have contributed some of the most original and intelligent music this country has heard for many a year. Just check out SJD's 'Southern Lights' and Cake's 'Downtown Puff', their most recent solo releases, for confirmation of this.
"Sean was in the middle of his own project ('Southern Lights')," Don recalls, "... and we were able to push each other along at different times when we needed it. My constant bleat was; 'I have to do everything myself, I'm tired of this, I just want somebody to take it off me - tell me the good bits and throw away the bad bits and just release it!' And his constant refrain would be; 'Deal with it, welcome to solo albums.'"
So while 'co-producers' might be an adequate technical description for the role these two played in getting 'Warm Hand' made, it doesn't really paint the whole picture.
Over a nice lunch (I brought the fish, he did the salad) at the Auckland villa he shares with wife Maryanne and their two children, Don's telling me that the changes by no means started and ended there. By the time rhythm tracks were started at Bethels, his concept for the album had changed from being "a fey, fragile little acoustic folk record," to "... an album with a lot more blood in its veins, an album with real people playing, with an overlay of quite a lot of cinematic texturals."
These textural backdrops are an important component of SJD's own solo work, and his expertise in this area proved invaluable. "He'll fill up the frame with lots and lots of detail and then he'll start to erase bits and then arrive at the form he wants, and I think he's given me some permission to do that."
As Donnelly also played bass on all tracks while Don would simultaneously lay down a rhythm Telecaster part, McWilliams' input as far as producing the sessions became paramount.
"Ed set up and basically ran the sessions. He was the producer in the sessions because Sean and I were playing on the rhythm tracks. We needed that outside ear and he was fantastic for that; he really put a lot of energy into it."
McWilliams also facilitated all the beg-borrow-and-stealing of the various extra leads, mics and outboard gear needed for successful 'garage-style' Pro Tools recording. His real forte though was apparently his enthusiastically unconventional approach to engineering. For example setting up overhead drum mics to capture the sound of the rain on the iron roof, "... really trying to catch the feeling in that barn at that particular time", as Don describes it. Or literally climbing inside the drum kit to alter some aspect of the sound. He likens Ed Cake's tinkering and questing for perfection in capturing a certain mood or feel to that of Brian Wilson. "Although hopefully without all the medication!" he hastens to add.
"Before the session Ed said, 'Why don't we both go away and dream up the ideal session?', and we both came back having more or less had the same dream."
He goes on to talk about a photo on the sleeve of Neil Young's 'Harvest' where the light refracts through holes in a barn wall, the band are sitting on hay bales, you get the picture...
"Just that idea of isolation and being able to sort of think our way through each song and not be distracted. Because we knew we hadn't had much rehearsal with the songs and we really needed to find the center of each one somehow. And so Ed really put a huge amount of energy into that." Always an even-handed sort of a fellow, Don is also high in praise of engineer Tom Miskin, who took care of most of the button pushing, but also lent his considerable organisational skills to the sessions.
"It was great having Tom there, because apart from having great ears, he's also an extremely organised engineer who can keep track of multiple sessions. He's the kind of guy who will take notes as to what's being said in the room. So you'll go back months later and look at a whole bunch of takes and you'll read, 'Ross (Burge, drummer) liked this one' or 'Ross didn't like the cymbal crash' or something like that, which is really great." With such a long gestation period there are naturally many other musical collaborators who also deserve mention. Of the core musicians, old Muttonbird mate Burge took care of the bulk of the drumming, doing a great job according to Don.
As far as live work goes however, it was amicably agreed that after 15 years of working together it was time for the pair to have a break from each other, so Ross won't be seen in the Seven Sisters, the live four-piece that evolved out of the recording process. That role has been taken by Chris O'Conner (early TrinityRoots, Cloudboy), who played on the re-recording of This is London, plus a late addition in the form of an SJD track, I Will Not Let You Down. Interestingly this song failed to make the 'Southern Lights' cut - but only because it didn't quite sit with the rest of the album. It looked likely to miss out on 'Warm Hand' as well, until a new version recorded on Christmas Eve 2005 when O'Conner bought a stay of execution.
"I got the idea of transposing it to a different key and changing the instruments around. It only took a couple of takes and it was just really effortless - I'm really pleased with the way it sounds on the record."
It has to make you wonder how many potentially great songs get chucked simply through lack of that sort of perseverance. Willy Scott (Anika Moa, Dimmer) helped out post-Bethels but pre-O'Conner, contributing drums to another twice-recorded enfant terrible - Harbour Bridge. With Donnelly on bass, John Segovia - the slide and pedal steel maestro, makes up the fourth core member of the Seven Sisters (a constellation, a geographic curiosity at the White Cliffs of Dover or a bunch of shadowy ancient Greek dames - take your pick). Accordion player Tatiana Lanchtikova's contributions were eventually whittled down from a constant thread to an occasional feature as the nature of the album became less acoustic/folk-oriented.
Don speaks enthusiastically about his relationship with his new record label Arch Hill, something that he would have found difficult to do towards the end of The Muttonbirds' contract with the giant Virgin company in England.
"I've always liked the kind of community they (Arch Hill) represent. There seems to be a lot of really good music on the label and it's really small but perfectly formed. I guess if you talk to Ben (Howe, the label boss) about something, he's going to tell you what he thinks. He's not going to have to go and run it past a committee. I suppose my last experience with major labels was in England where the committees were all over the place and you never knew whether somebody was just being polite, or whether they really had an opinion about your material."
He goes on to describe a situation where Howe asked if he would consider doing a structural edit in the interests of better presenting a song, Miracle Sun, to radio.
"I think if a major label person had asked me that I would have come back with a full head of outrage and told them where to stick it. But the fact that it's Ben and I know where he's coming from and he wouldn't ask me if he didn't think it was a really good idea, meant that I went and tried it and I actually like the results."
Now that he can finally and irrevocably say he has put the album to bed, Don talks of a weight being lifted and how he is again walking around with a notebook, starting new songs.
"For a big chunk of last year, where this thing was a bit stalled and I didn't know whether it was finished, and I didn't know whether even if it was finished anybody would want to listen to it, I actually wasn't writing much new stuff. I wrote new stuff when somebody needed it, like the song for the film 'No. 2' Bathe in the River. That was great because it was a very clear brief and I could kind of pour all that frustrated energy into it over a really short space of time."
Frustrated energy clearly did the trick in this case, because as I write Bathe in the River is perched comfortably at number two (oh the sweet irony) on the national charts.
As to the question of whether he should be able to knock out his next album in better time than the first he has this to say. "There's a number of people in my life who, if that doesn't happen, they're going to take me behind the bike sheds and give me a good seeing to!
"I think maybe a simpler album (next time) that just comes from what is turning into a really good band - I think that should be a lot quicker." So it is true that bands make albums faster than solo artists. Don starts out agreeing, but then changes his mind.
"I don't think making a solo album per se is necessarily slower, because if you're somebody who had a touring schedule and management hassling you to finish stuff, then that would be impetus. All your various collaborators would feed into you, and so you get things done as fast. I'm not in that situation - I mean I am now, now that I've got something to release I have got a manager (Roger King who previously managed Dave Dobbyn for almost a decade) and I've got a record company.
"But for all the time that I made this album, if I'd just sort of said, 'I don't actually feel like making a record', I don't think anybody would have found out for a long time!"
Upfront: Don McGlashan
Listener.co.nz (19th May 2006)
- Philip Matthews
"The music that I'm enjoying now is very stripped back, music that goes back to where music comes from; a way of talking, a way of communicating," says Don McGlashan. 'Anchor Me', 'White Valiant', 'The Heater', 'Dominion Rd' - McGlashan wrote these and other entries in the canon of great New Zealand songs while in the Mutton Birds and further classics in earlier bands the Front Lawn and Blam Blam Blam. But he's an unassuming guy and it makes sense that while someone else is having a top 10 hit with a song of his ('Bathe in the River' performed by Hollie Smith and the Mt Raskil Preservation Society), he quietly slips out his first solo album, Warm Hand, on independent label Arch Hill Recordings.
Arch Hill is an indie. Did you shop Warm Hand around the majors?
I did shop it. I just didn't meet anybody who was excited. The market has changed and major labels are tightening their belts because they're under threat. They may have to downsize their cars a little, which would be a terrible thing.
Your sales history must be good; I would have thought they'd jump at the chance to release it.
Maybe I'm difficult to work with.
Why Arch Hill?
They were keen and interested and passionate and I love the roster. When I first met with Ben [Howe, label boss], he was talking about record launches that would involve other Arch Hill acts. It sounded like a great evening to be part of. In my experience, being involved with major labels hasn't really been about community. You'd be lucky if you'd meet another band, partly because it's not done for a band to turn up at the label unless it's very ceremonial. Better to keep the artist at arm's length. Ben doesn't really have an office, so that problem doesn't exist.
The Mutton Birds had a big UK following. Any chance of a release there?
We're not talking about that yet. The guy who used to manage the Mutton Birds, he lives in France. He's keen. The idea would be to get my new band over there, but I'm not that keen to do that while my kids are at the age they're at [14 and 11].
Did it feel like a sacrifice to come home in 1999, when the Mutton Birds were still getting decent audiences there?
No, enough people had left the band for some of the joy to go out of it. I'd hit a brick wall as far as songwriting went, and I'd come through that somehow and arrived at the decision that this is all I ever wanted to do. Everything else was superfluous; the industry could do what it liked. I needed to be at a place where my family was happy and I could still write.
At a recent Wellington Arts Festival panel, you called yourself a "neo-traditionalist" and took an extreme position against modern sampling technology.
I had a hangover, so I came in with a fundamentalist anti-sampling viewpoint, which I regret a little bit now, but me getting on my high horse got a few people on to theirs, which made for interesting theatre. What I find alarming, and what I was trying to say on the day, is that all the distractions of music technology and the plethora of choices rob us of stillness, rob us of thought. I've been writing songs for years and years. I should be finding it easier now, but with emails and computers distracting me, it's harder and harder to find peace and stillness, to be awake and really listen to the world. And my job is to do that; to be peaceful and see what's in there. I don't know how everybody else handles it, who just have normal jobs. Maybe there's never any stillness for anybody any more. There are a lot of people with a vested interest in keeping us distracted, so they can sell us stuff we don't need.
There are permanent soundtracks. Your phone plays music. Your phone takes a photo...
My phone takes a photograph of my inner thigh at regular intervals and sends it to somebody I don't know.
The new song 'Passenger 26' seems to revisit the rural-menace feel of 'White Valiant'. There's something very New Zealand about that.
We have a myth that we're a rural people, that we're at home wandering down an empty country road, whereas an empty country road is too alarming for most of us to handle. I travelled a lot in bands. In Blam Blam Blam we walked down a lot of country roads, because the van didn't go very well. We were three boys from comfortable homes on the North Shore. Suddenly we were in the backblocks with nothing to sustain us. That feeling has stayed with me.
So, about your entries in the canon of great New Zealand songs: 'Anchor Me', 'White Valiant', 'The Heater', 'Dominion Rd'?
None of them were hits. Well, 'The Heater' was number one. 'Dominion Rd' never made the top 20. But that's not important. That's about timing and whether the Crazy Frog happens to be out that week. I'm in the top 10 right now.
With 'Bathe in the River'
I'm really proud of it. It's a real career highlight to sit in a darkened room and have Hollie Smith sing your song.
Is it nice to have a hit song without having to front it?
It's really good. Just to see it go out there. I'd never thought about writing for anybody else. I might do some more of it now. The song is as you hear it in the film [No 2, which McGlashan scored]. Nanna Maria looks through the blinds and says, "Look at all that light." That's what the song's about: a secular gospel song where life itself is what's being worshipped.
Don McGlashan's anchors aweigh
nzherald.co.nz (7th May 2006)
- Russell Baillie
Don McGlashan has a fresh wind in his sails. Well, sail.
For on this Anzac Day morning we are sitting in his Laser as the singer-songwriter finds a puff of breeze and the craft picks up a few knots across the dark brown waters of Takapuna's Lake Pupuke.
It only has the one mainsail. And on breezier days even that can be more than enough for the short but solid McGlashan.
So with variable winds out of the northwest and only the swans and some waka ama teams for company we splash about going nowhere in particular. We talk, the conversation punctuated by Captain Don's observations on the flukey breeze and polite commands to go about.
The reason for this waterborne chat is ostensibly his long-anticipated post-Mutton Birds solo album Warm Hand. As he rigged the boat earlier he found the idea ironic.
"This is the only place I don't think about music."
But sailing on Pupuke also represents something of McGlashan's life past and present.
He grew up a few streets away in Milford.
He'd spend his Wednesday afternoons at Westlake Boys' High sailing and daydreaming. He sailed competitively through his teens, just as music took hold and his talents bloomed.
It was the start of what's been a richly diverse career, from the punk and post-punk years of the Plague and Blam, Blam, Blam, the theatrical-musical-comedy-film troupe the Front Lawn, and the return to rock'n'roll with the Mutton Birds.
Along the way there's also been McGlashan the composer with soundtrack work for everything from An Angel at My Table to television's Street Legal to this year's No. 2 - he wrote the gospel-styled Hollie Smith-sung Bathe in The River which became a surprise top 10 hit.
Five or six years ago, having returned from Britain to eventually call it a day on the Mutton Birds - the band he guided through four studio albums and many international airport terminals through the mid- to late-90s - he found himself back at Pupuke.
He was here to start fulfilling those sailing daydreams he had when stuck in a tour van somewhere Up Over. He came down one Wednesday night.
"And there were all these blokes furiously thrashing around in their lasers swearing at each other and having the time of their lives. I thought, 'that looks like fun'."
He bought himself a Laser, joined the Pupuke Boat Club, which, with its windowless green shed on the lakeshore, has possibly the most modest yacht club house in the country.
McGlashan also likes it because here he's just sail number 148919. He once brought a few Mutton Birds greatest hits CDs down to the club to give away as prizes. He suspects they're still in a box somewhere in that shed.
McGlashan's surfer wetsuit might be emblazoned "Threat", but he's not much of one to the other club members. Loves sailing, hasn't quite got the tactics down yet.
"Oh no. I once had a book about sailing tactics and it had two chessmen on the cover. That is all I remember. I'm a ludo piece that has found its way on the board."
He's had days when the sailing and music has combined with some strange effects.
Once, down in Wellington, he borrowed a Laser and went sailing in a local race at the Worser Bay Yacht Club. The capital's stiff breeze took his toll on his nerves. He came in early, and it was a pale and still slightly terrified McGlashan who was regaining his composure that night on stage at the International Festival of the Arts.
Of course, he's not the only sailor in Kiwi rock. Andrew Fagan is famous for his bluewater exploits. Blam Blam Blam bandmate and guitarist Mark Bell is a champion racer of Paper Tigers. McGlashan's sailing ambitions are more modest. He wouldn't mind crewing on a bigger boat but wonders if his haphazard musical commitments might make him an unreliable team member.
As McGlashan points out Pupuke's usual racing course on the lake, a theory is postulated by his own idiot crew - that sailing a typical race is a bit like song structure. Those windward beats might be the verses, heading downwind the chorus, with the occasional squall to deal with in between.
"Yes that's right - dynamics. But you can't capsize in a song."
Of course, in Anchor Me there's one nautically-themed classic in the McGlashan songbook. And the new album ends with Queen of the Night, a song inspired by the plight of the crew of the Bounty who didn't follow Fletcher Christian and his mutineers to Pitcairn. Its first single Miracle Sun is set on the Northland coast during the summer of Opo the dolphin.
But as we head out across the lake, McGlashan says he will probably never write a song about his maritime passion.
"I don't think I ever will because it's just too difficult without getting maudlin and sentimental. It's like writing a song about sex - it's one of those things that we do that means an awful lot to us, but it's probably best that we not put it into words."
Actually, there is a sex scene in new album track Passenger 26, which traverses a similar creepy psychological and New Zealand back country territory to his earlier White Valiant.
Elsewhere the album carries stories told from the point of view of a drug mule (Courier), and even more disconcertingly, a New York PR guy involved in a cover-up of a Third World industrial disaster (Toy Factory Fire).
It's a narrative style which harks back to the likes of the gun-dealer's memoir A Thing Well Made on the first Mutton Birds album.
"I suppose it's trying to approach something like that and expose all the anger, but then pulling back from the pure protest song."
The album's most personal heartfelt number - I Will Not Let You Down - was written not by McGlashan but Sean "SJD" Donnelly, who, when not releasing his own terrific solo albums has become a studio collaborator and moonlights on bass in McGlashan's live backing band, The Seven Sisters.
SJD rejected the original version of the song from his own album. McGlashan had always loved it, right from the demo tapes which the pair regularly swapped as they "bounced from crisis of confidence to crisis of confidence".
Finding himself a track short, he asked Donnelly if he could rework it. The result is possibly the greatest love song McGlashan has recorded since While You Sleep.
But it means that McGlashan's solo album doesn't sound any more personal than the songs on the albums he's done with band names on them.
"Um, I just pulled out of the bag whatever was closest to the top - all the way through from Blam Blam Blam. Don't Fit it Marsha is a really personal song and While You Sleep is a really personal song and Anchor Me - they're extremely personal."
Anyway, with having the likes of SJD and the rest of the Seven Sisters, it's not like he's drastically changed from band frontman to soloist anyway.
But without the clutter of major label politics - the album is out through indie Arch Hill Records - and a burning need to conquer the world, McGlashan says there's something "clearer" about his approach to music now.
After an hour or so thrashing about, dodging the boom and successfully keeping the tape recorder dry, we head back in. I'm feeling oddly rejuvenated. It's the first interview I've done that's ever given me a wet bum I tell Captain Don, who replies something vaguely rude about whether such encounters should always have that result if they're really good.
As we finish putting the yacht on its trailer, McGlashan points to a rocky outcrop near the ramp.
That, he says, is where they took the shot for the cover of the first Mutton Birds album - the one of an arm holding a euphonium, Excalibur-like, from below the surface of the lake. That was McGlashan, head under the freezing water, brass instrument in one arm, rock in the other to counter the buoyancy of his wetsuit, happily near-drowning for his art.
These days, though, he's up on the surface, steering his own course and hoping for just enough breeze to get him round that next mark.
And quiet flows the Don
Stuff.co.nz (7th March 2006)
From his early days in Blam Blam Blam to years playing in London, reminding homesick Kiwis of how good life was down under, Don McGlashan has long managed to capture the mood of a nation and has no plans to retire, as he tells Robyn McLean.
Don McGlashan has managed to capture the essence of New Zealand in his songs. His music is the stuff homesick Kiwis turn to as they battle through grey London winters. Like a genie released from a bottle, McGlashan's sound has the power to take you home, no matter where in the world you are. But the man behind Anchor Me, his iconic song that won him the Apra Silver Scroll in 1994, has never been anchored in any particular style or musical group. He's more of a collaborator. From his 80s group Blam Blam Blam to his collaboration with Harry Sinclair in The Front Lawn, McGlashan has woven himself into our musical fabric but he's always been in the company of others.
So news his first "solo" album, Warm Hand, is due to be released is intriguing. But it doesn't take long for the 46-year-old to admit there are in fact plenty of others involved in this not-so-solo mix.
"It grew into something that's got a lot more people involved then any Mutton Birds record ever did," he says from Auckland while preparing for his two shows at the New Zealand International Arts Festival. So it is really a solo album, then?
"I don't know. I mean it's an album under my name so I'm responsible for it. But I don't know what solo means. I'm drawing a lot from the people I'm working with. I guess the main thing is if it falls over, I'm the one who will be in debt, not them."
After spending four years overseas in the 1990s playing to homesick Kiwis and introducing a New Zealand sound to international audiences, McGlashan and his family returned home in 1999.
"When we first came back from England most of the songs I was writing were very unravelled in terms of structure. They were anything but pop songs, they were really radio unfriendly," he says. "Getting back from overseas is a terribly unsettling thing. It takes a long time to adjust. Some things have stayed the same, which is infuriating, and some things have changed, which is even more infuriating because you're nostalgic for those things."
He also had to learn to deflect others' views about him and whether he had passed his useby date.
"There's also that thing about whether anyone wanted to hear any more songs from me at my age. Pop music is very ageist and a lot of people that I would talk to about putting together a record project would develop an indulgent half smile, which would suggest they'd rather I just went away."
But fans can be reassured - he's not planning on drifting into musical oblivion.
"I've long stopped listening to that sort of stuff. My main critic is me. I have to write stuff that I like and that I really want to hear, that I'd like to share with people."
Some of the fruits from his 2002 writer's residency at Auckland University appear on the album.
"I was thinking a lot. The stuff that was coming out was kind of the unpacking of a lot of bags of stuff I'd thought about over the years."
He says he's come to embrace the idea of doing a solo album late in life. He is slowly getting used to the idea of spending more time alone and reckons he can hold a good argument with himself. He jokes he might develop a split personality disorder one day - but he'd use it to his advantage.
"I'd put out several different records under different names, so this Don McGlashan thing might just be a phase."
Ask him where the title Warm Hand came from and he says it was inspired by a toilet block. He catches himself, realising it could sound slightly dodgy. "This isn't going to be a Lee Tamahori story," he says, before explaining how he was in Prague several years ago and saw a hand drier on the wall with a graphic next to it featuring a hand with rays coming down towards it. It piqued his interest and he carried the memory around in his mind for years before being able to unleash it on this album. "I like it because it's got other overtones too, the idea of applause. It's simple too." The Don is back.
Ex-Mutton Bird takes a solo flight
NZ Herald (27th February 2006)
- Catherine Harris
Don McGlashan is about to fly solo and, he says, it's about time.
The Auckland singer-songwriter is a man of many parts. He has written music for films and TV, made short films, done musical comedy, and was the force behind seminal band the Mutton Birds.
Now, after years of collaborations, McGlashan is due to release his first solo album, Warm Hand, in May.
His work is prolific, but McGlashan is quick to admit that songwriting is not like a tap he struggles to turn off.
"I wish it was a tap. It's more like a leak in the wall and I don't know where it is."
It's a busy time for McGlashan. H is latest film soundtrack is getting attention, and he has two projects at the Wellington Arts Festival: a couple of sellout gigs with his new band, The Seven Sisters, and an appearance in the "Tuwhare" concerts, a tribute to poet Hone Tuwhare.
Songwriting is his first love but soundtracks and commissions "put food on the table," and he's particularly enjoyed his latest effort for Toa Fraser's film, No. 2.
Just released, the score is already racing up the New Zealand charts, hitting 26 this week.
"It's pretty odd for a soundtrack album to chart," he admits, pointing out that it features some hot New Zealand acts, including Che Fu and Trinity Roots.
Working with others has long been McGlashan's thing. As a student he played French horn in the Auckland Symphonia and then joined the percussion ensemble From Scratch for six years.
During this time he also sang and played drums for 80s band Blam Blam Blam -- remembered fondly for their single, "Don't fight it, Marsha".
After a year with a New York dance and music group, McGlashan returned to form the beloved comedy-musical duo, The Front Lawn, with good mate and filmmaker Harry Sinclair.
The Front Lawn lasted six years, winning acclaim at the Edinburgh Festival.
But like most of his projects, McGlashan says, the Front Lawn came to a natural end.
"We were just bouncing ideas off each other the whole time so it was a wonderful collaboration, probably the kind of thing that you're lucky if it comes along once.
"But I think that with hindsight I'm surprised that it lasted six years because the centrifugal force that it created was going to make us fly off into different directions at some stage."
After the Front Lawn, McGlashan was even keener to get back to songwriting and formed the Mutton Birds.
For 10 years he was the lead singer and main songwriter for the group, penning classics like "Dominion Road" and "Anchor Me".
The band went to England in 1995 with a record contract in hand. Never really down and out, they recorded two well-received albums and won a healthy following through solid touring.
But after four years in England, home beckoned, largely so his kids wouldn't have to keep moving schools, and because two of the original band members had left.
"It wasn't the same band that I started out with."
Although he does not rule out living overseas again, McGlashan is content to be back in New Zealand.
"I found when I was living in England that I wanted to write about this place while I was there. I found that images from here sort of floated up in quite clear focus for me while my surroundings were quite shadowy.
"I would try to write about Luton winning the game on Saturday, or something like that, but I didn't believe it ... they didn't sound authentic to me."
Since his return, McGlashan has been working with Auckland electronica musician Sean Donnelly, also known as SJD, who is part of his three-man band, The Seven Sisters.
He also began crafting his solo album, which he says has benefited from the fact he was not under major label pressure.
McGlashan agrees he's come to a solo career late in the piece but the timing seems right.
"The album's finally finished, I seem to have got myself a manager, I have a record company, and there's a bunch of people that have taken it upon themselves to help me speed up a bit. And it's about time."
The new album promises to have strings, brass "and all manner of things the Mutton Birds never got".
And the title, Warm Hand, came from a rest room. McGlashan liked the graphic on the hand dryer, as well as "the crazy idea that you could be nurtured by this little machine in the wall".
It will be no surprise to Mutton Bird fans that McGlashan continues to write songs about people relating to inanimate objects.
He laughs at the suggestion that his songs are populated with characters who love their guns, cars or heaters.
"I suppose on some level I'm interested in characters ... that are a bit flawed and they don't know quite what's going on and maybe they reveal more than they think they're revealing through what they say and what they don't say."
They "are pretty close to objects but a bit distant from people."
Despite his long career, he retains a sense of wonder about his craft.
"Songs are compact things, you can't fit too much into them and I feel like I'm just getting started really.
"The more I write, the more I'll learn, I think, so that's why I'm really glad this record's not just sitting around for another year before I put it out ... Once it's out, I can start really writing some new ones in earnest."
Five minutes with Don McGlashan
NZBC.net.nz (November 2005)
- Chris Bell
Pictured is the Eric Glandy Memorial Big Band in the 1980s. Who says white men don't suit the blues? 'Delta' Don McGlashan is on the right, next to NZBC Director-General Rob O'Neill touting the Fender bass (no, it's not really him, merely a more youthful facsimile); Sally Hollis-McLeod is at the back wearing the B-52s wig; Derek Ward (Listener designer) is front-centre in the brown suit; and Lindsay Marks is second left in the white jacket. A comedy country act featuring two real musicians (McGlashan and Marks) along with a number of guests, the EG Memorial Big Band played original songs in costume. Some of the material was "brilliant", says NZBC blogger and audiophile Stephen Stratford. "Lindsay's Cowgirl Afterglow was my favourite, along with McGlashan's The Ballad of Kelvin. Kelvin, as I recall, was always delvin', and entered into an inappropriate relationship with his mother… or possibly a cow." Sadly, most other facts about the project appear to have been lost in the mists of internet time, and 'Delta Don' was reluctant to disclose just how much Stephen's copy of 'Adrenal Glandy: Songs of Love, Hate and Revenge' might be worth today, assuming he could be persuaded to part with it. But we just couldn't resist asking:
What do you remember about making the only LP ever recorded by the Eric Glandy Memorial Big Band, 'Adrenal Glandy: Songs of Love, Hate and Revenge'?
"Eric Glandy was the most important artist of his era, although you wouldn't know that from the band's live shows, recordings, or rehearsals. We hit our peak before our first practice, actually. Before we even thought about having a first practice, in fact, and from then on it was a sickening spiral downhill into recording industry hell and substance abuse. Those we influenced will certainly say that we didn't influence them, but deep Jungian therapy will reveal that we did."
Do you know if the halfway house half way down Dominion Road will be demolished when the road you immortalised in song is widened by Auckland City Council?
"I understand that the city council is also considering widening the song. They've put questionnaires out to residents, asking if I should be widened as well. I'm all in favour of that. It'll take some time, but it'll be well worth it."
What's currently on your iPod's 'On the go' playlist, or are you an iPod refusenik?
"I think I'm what's called a late adopter. Last year a friend gave me a box of Psion 5s that his office was sending to the landfill. I was thrilled, and did nothing else for weeks but play with them. Luckily, they all broke within a month or so. I work at home, and were I to put headphones on I wouldn't be able to hear the tui in the acmena tree. I suppose I should join the 21st century, record the tui, add reverb and listen back to him on my iPod. That way he can have a break and do whatever tuis do when no one's listening. As far as music goes, call me old-fashioned, but I like listening to it with other people, at the same time. I mean, without having to take something small and warm out of my ear, stick it in theirs, and shout, "Here! You'll love this!'"
If visitors to NZBC only read one book this year, which book should that be?
"I haven't been reading much this year, mainly crime novels and books about sailing. I recommend Ben Ainslee's 'The Laser Campaign Manual' or Joachim Schult's 'Tactics and Strategy in Yacht Racing'. The best book not about sailing that I've read in the last few years has been Ian McEwan's Atonement."
There are concerns about copyrights these days largely being controlled and manipulated by large corporations, rather than by the originators of copyrighted works, because that inhibits the innovation the right was created to protect. Do you have any thoughts on copyright and how long it should apply to works of art such as songs?
"None of my copyrights are controlled and manipulated by large corporations. They're controlled and manipulated by a nice man in Melbourne called Chris, who phones me when someone wants to use a song in a film. Seeing as my songs are the only things I'll probably be able to leave my kids, I'm all for their protection."
You've just been involved in the 'Gone To The Beach' concert collaboration (16 October 2005) with Peter Scholes and the Auckland Chamber Orchestra (ACO), who combined forces with you and two other top New Zealand composers, Jonathan Besser and Ivan Zagni, to perform new works. What was the biggest challenge for you, and how well did the new music go down on the night?
"Frank Zappa is supposed to have said that you have to write music out for a symphony orchestra because it's really time-consuming going round to each player in turn and humming them their parts. Having to specify everything on paper in advance is certainly different from working with a band, and that was hard work in the weeks leading up to the concert. The ACO are great, though. A lot of the scores contained improvising sections, which they laid into with gusto. I really enjoyed the show, and I think the audience did too."
What are you working on at the moment, and when can we expect to be able to hear your long-overdue solo album?
"The album's finished at last. The next one won't take so long. I'm just having meetings about the cover now, and talking to record companies about a release, probably around February or March, given the need to avoid the Christmas turkey period."
Update - (Don writes to augment our incomplete Eric Glandy Memorial Big Band photo caption): "The bass player is John Schmidt, actually a real musician, too - he was in Rex Reason and The Rationalists; the singer down the front (just visible) is Helen Fuller. I can't remember the drummer's name. Also, I thought Frank Stark (NZ Film Archive boss) was in that photo as well? He was in the band, or maybe he'd moved to Wellington before we had a chance to take the shot..."
TheListener.co.nz (June 2005)
- Matt Nippert
Musicians mark the anniversary of the 1985 sinking of Greenpeace's Rainbow Warrior in Auckland Harbour by re-recording a Kiwi classic.
In terms of gambles, this would have to rate up there with backing Wairarapa-Bush to beat the Lions. "Anchor Me", the Mutton Birds classic, has been re-recorded by a bevy of local musos to mark the 20th anniversary of the Rainbow Warrior bombing.
But will this Kiwi classic be remembered as just another sorry celebrity singalong? Bob Geldof may be lauded by some for his work to focus world attention on African development, but "Feed the World" was hardly a musical masterpiece.
The dreaded 'cheese factor' was something that everyone was acutely aware of, says Greenpeace's Steve Abel, so the stakes were high.
Singer/songwriter Don McGlashan admits that the decision to gift Greenpeace the song, a personal ode to his wife, much like the Chris Knox wedding staple, was not given lightly. "I have so many people beating a path to my door over that song," he says, including a milk-powder company. "I'd be living in a nicer house now if I'd said yes to one of them."
As songs to commemorate political sabotage go, "Anchor Me" is a strange choice, despite winning a 1994 APRA Silver Scroll and being judged the 44th best New Zealand song (Nature's Best). Abel admits that Herbs' "Nuclear Waste" was their first choice of anthem. But with every rhyme ("Let the salt spray lash / Where the green waves crash") there's a reason. He draws a parallel with Anzac Day and believes the clash between France and Greenpeace has become part of our national identity.
McGlashan says, "Aspects of our character became more and more important after the bombing. We took on the world and we're still a lighthouse for the anti-nuclear movement." The bombing and PM David Lange's participation in the Oxford debate helped forge modern New Zealand.
This evolution is illustrated by the musicians who freely contributed their vocals to the song, but were too young to remember the Warrior sinking. Nesian Mystik's Donald McNulty was aged two at the time, and David Atai a year younger.
Pluto singer Milan Borich, who was eight in 1985, says, "I remember seeing it on telly after school. I couldn't really comprehend it. I was quite perplexed that the French did it." Although he says he now understands the geopolitics of the time, he can't condone them. "Violence begets violence."
Fortunately, this recording hasn't inflicted violence on a Kiwi classic. At Auckland's York Street Studios, where the recording takes place, rock cred seems to have won out over schmaltz. Every inch the wastrel rock star, Borich drags on a cigarette and notes that when the studio's carpark gutters were cleaned, syringes were fished out by the fistful. Anika Moa is shuttled in and out of the studio. McNulty and Atai are late, having turned up on time in Ponsonby, not Parnell. Still, by the end of the day, Che Fu's done his thing and recording is pretty much wrapped.
Despite being currently fashionable (arise Sir Bob), there is a long tradition of musicians contributing to socially progressive causes. In 1986, a fundraising concert was held in Auckland to help float a new Rainbow Warrior. Split Enz re-formed for one night and Neil Young flew in at 7.00am, played a set, and flitted out at 7.00pm.
In 1976, when Greenpeace was on its first anti-whaling voyage, salvation wore tie-dye. The James Bay, a converted minesweeper, had docked in San Francisco and needed refuelling, but no one had a spare $20,000. Rex Weyler, a foundation member of Greenpeace and crew member at the time, says sales of T-shirts and badges, their main fundraising method, weren't getting them anywhere.
"A woman came up and said, 'You guys will never raise this money selling T-shirts. You should have a concert,'" Weyler says. The environmentalists talked their way past an obligatory bouncer (a Hell's Angel) and convinced the Grateful Dead's Jerry Garcia to perform for a benefit gig.
Garcia's producer said the timeframe was "impossible". But three days later, 20,000 people packed Pier 31, the tanks were filled and the James Bay sailed into the Pacific. A long shot had paid off.
Don McGlashan: A song guy
TheListener.co.nz (January 2005)
- Gordon Campbell & Bianca Zander
And they said guys can't multi-task. Don McGlashan is recovering from a fairly major bicycle accident, finessing the mix of his new album and talking about music at the same time. Our entry point being the fact that he was already earning his keep from music at age 15, by playing the hits of Bachman-Turner Overdrive (and Bowie, he adds plaintively) in a covers band called Ethos, along with ace drummer Peter Warren. At that point, we had not seen nothin' yet.
He's always been a song guy, and - when asked to cite a few of his favourite albums - his first pick is blessed with some great ones. We're talking about The Legendary Billie Holiday compilation. A lot of people don't like compilations because they omit all the little details, he explains, and telescope the conditions surrounding the making of the album. No problem, as far as he's concerned. "Because I'm a song person, I don't mind them. They let the song speak. And we're talking here about songs such as 'I Cover the Waterfront', 'Strange Fruit' and 'Gloomy Sunday' …"
And there are no barriers to immediacy - created by the timewarp record production or by Holiday's vocal delivery? Not for him. Listening on through those scratchy recordings led him to an entire world of amazingly literate, tightly structured and smokily atmospheric songs. Songs dealing with grief and exultation in equal measure. "They have such deep roots."
In sharp contrast, McGlashan's other chosen reference point is the 1979 Singles Going Steady compilation of singles and B-sides by the Buzzcocks. "It's a cry from the soul," he says, from inside some godforsaken British housing estate. "It's saying, 'I'm alive, I don't fit in.' It's got one-finger guitar solos by musicians playing as fast as they can, even though they can't really play their instruments." Plus a brilliant set of songs: "Orgasm Addict", "Autonomy", "Harmony in My Head", " What Do I Get?" … "Something's Gone Wrong Again". In this one glorious collection, the Buzzcocks created the high-water mark for the first wave of British punk.
One other thing about the Buzzcocks, McGlashan adds: "Pete Shelley was gay, and it made a difference to me." Somehow, McGlashan could sense that there was an extra dimension involved. "It made him seem like even more of an alien and an outsider than he already was. And it intensified his distance from the cartoony macho kind of rock-star image that dominated the music scene before the English punks came along and smashed it all to bits. And so I guess that's the point," McGlashan says, laughing, "at which I stomped all over Bachman-Turner Overdrive."
Of late, McGlashan has been listening a lot to the Soft Boys double CD reunion album. Yet another collection of great songs, played by guys who sound like a real band - and with much the same quality results, he agrees, as the Pixies reunion tour and their new recordings. Routinely, Robyn Hitchcock of the Soft Boys does a lot of touring in his own right, and plays such festivals as South by Southwest in Austin, Texas - which is where the Mutton Birds came across him, when they played South by Southwest in 1996. Wilco's allegedly difficult A Ghost Is Born is another recent favourite of McGlashan's.
So, when will his own new album be out? Well, he says, he'll be finishing the mix in January and taking it to record companies in February - with a view to getting it released and in the shops by April. "And if the record companies don't want it, I'll release it myself."
The Name Is Don
NZ Herald (19th September 2003)
- Russell Baillie
Don McGlashan is having quite a week. He's been juggling rehearsals for his Auckland Festival show, promotion for the gig, family commitments and a spot of guest euphonium playing on the forthcoming Finn brothers' album.
While McGlashan's next project is recording his debut solo album, tomorrow night's AK03 show is effectively his solo coming-out in his hometown.
Though he won't be alone on stage. Helping to colour in the new songs and reworked old ones will be Sean James Donnelly - who records his own electronic art-pop albums under the name SJD - on bass, backing vocals and computer duties.
And there will be accordion accompaniment from the wonderfully named Tatiana Lanchtchikova, late of Siberia ...
Some quick questions.
So it doesn't sound particularly solo?
Well, it's my songs and Sean's providing loops and vocal harmonies and writing bass parts, but, I don't know, what does solo mean?
Going out under your own name.
Yeah, but Dave Dobbyn does that and he's usually got a band. Sting might have 15 people on stage.
But you've seemed shy about going out under your name. Have you just put it off?
I have put it off, and I've put it off for a long time. I'm not sure why that is. It could be an aversion to the publicity aspect of it. Because I don't have any aversion to getting a whole bunch of people and saying, "We're going to do my songs".
Admittedly I was bit of late starter doing that, because I didn't until I was in my early 30s with the Muttonbirds. Even though the point of that band was it was going to be mainly my songs, it soon became more collaborative because it was a band.
If they're created under your own name, are the new songs more personal?
I don't think they've changed. I think I'm writing as I have always written, and people who listen hard might find threads in all these new songs that go back to Front Lawn songs, to Muttonbirds and Blams songs.
Threads such as?
There's landscape songs. There's songs which are like short stories where I'll assume a character for the song. There's fewer straight pop songs. And something about the fact that there's a not a band there, that kind of gives me permission to let atmospheres develop slowly.
Also, because I haven't been thinking in terms of radio or pleasing anybody at a record company, these are really pleasing me, these songs.
So in the swing between art and pop, you've swung back towards art?
Back towards art? Yeah, it depends on whether art is a dirty word. I feel good being able to write music that's more like the music that I love to listen to, and I'm loving listening to old story songs like old Robert Johnson stuff and Gillian Welch's stuff. I'm going back to listen to Nick Drake a lot where you can paint pictures in a more leisurely way with a song. I've always written songs like that - A Thing Well Made, White Valiant.
There are songs that really relate quite strongly to those songs in this new bracket of stuff. But what usually happens with me is, I write a bunch of those songs and then at the last minute, before the album gets made, two or three pop songs rush through the gate.
Apparently White Valiant has inspired [tonight's] episode of Mercy Peak.
The Mercy Peak people approached me and said, "We always called this episode the White Valiant episode, and can we use the song?" and I was really wary of it because I wasn't sure whether the song would suffer from being associated with the drama.
But they sent me a script and a rough cut, and they use it pretty subtly, so it's more of an overriding atmosphere in the show. They've done it really well and treated it really tastefully.
Is is strange encountering large posters of yourself and your name on the streets of Auckland?
Yes, really strange. I can do without that. I think it's also to do with having a festival. You lose a bit of control. I was keen to play a smaller venue and do a week, but they wanted it to be a showcase kind of thing. So they need to fill it, so I've had to do a lot of promo, which hasn't been too bad.
It's been good going on TV and playing those new songs. It sort of feels like I'm back on the scene even though I seem to have managed to get Pam Corkery fired.
I secretly think it was because I miscalculated the length of the song. I told them I was going to play a four- and-a-half minute song and it went for five-and-a-half minutes. I expected a normal TV tantrum when I came off stage having gone over, but they just shrugged their shoulders, so maybe they already knew ...
What I'm reading
Weekend Dominion Post (24th May 2003)
Muttonbird Don McGlashan owes his voracious appetite for books to a tip The Chills' Martin Phillipps once gave him - teach yourself to read in the tour van. Lo, the boredom and travel sickness went, and he was "adrift somewhere else completely". Otherwise, remembers McGlashan, who performs tonight with the reunited Blam Blam Blam as part of the True Colours concert at Wellington's Michael Fowler Centre, "there's a small set of running gags and your job as a band member is to sustain and feed those running gags and laugh at them. That, or if you're hitching a ride on a bigger band's bus, complete with video, endless viewings of This is Spinal Tap.
McGlashan has four books on the go at the moment. "I'm reading a book by Celia Lashley called The Journey to Prison, a really amazing account of her experiences as a superintendent at a women's prison and as the first woman officer in a men's prison. I've been dipping into Salt by Mark Kurlansky I love food, you see. There's a book of short stories I've been dipping into as well, Fortune Hotel: Twisted Travel Stories. It's got writers like Will Self and Esther Freud and our own Emily Perkins. Finally there's my old friend Geoff Chapple's book about his long trail. Te Araroa. I imagined it might be a pretty nuts and bolts story about his struggle to get the trail up and running, but it's a great read - entertaining, funny, and rather scary at times. It's fantastic company".
Bird In Flight
Stuff.co.nz (15th December 2002)
A stalwart of New Zealand music and bands since Blam Blam Blam in the '80s, Don McGlashan is preparing to go it alone for the first time. Sarah Stuart reports.
There's Bartok for beginners on the keyboard, a manual for American folk guitar techniques flung nearby in frustration.
Don McGlashan is in creative mode, two-thirds of the way through his first solo album that's taken two decades to evolve and it's requiring a few lessons for the guitarist who always strummed, the lead singer who liked the side of the stage. "Smaller, weirder and folkier," is his description of the unnamed masterpiece. Marketing has never been McGlashan's gig.
Although the hip Sean Donnelly, aka SJD, is running loops and harmonising on the almost complete album, he's also working with an unknown Russian accordionist, as you do. "Coolness and irony are straitjackets," pronounces McGlashan, who's in the much-washed bushshirt and black jeans he seems to have always worn. "Have I ever been cool? No, but thank you for asking. Look around you. Of course I haven't."
McGlashan has, however, always been popular. Last week he was in Auckland's Real Groovy record store, playing a gig to celebrate the release of Flock, a best of from arguably his best band, The Mutton Birds.
Thousands of fans on websites from Glasgow to Georgia helped choose the final line-up of the album and McGlashan wrote the amusing liner notes.
On auditioning drummers during the beginnings of both The Mutton Birds and the iconic Dominion Road anthem in 1990 he writes: "One played so quietly we couldn't tell whether he was any good and one was an older guy who had taught stick-tossing and twirling to drum-solo championship hopefuls in Las Vegas. He could play the timbales with his tongue. We were impressed, but decided, reluctantly, to keep looking."
Words are McGlashan's gig. Writer Geoff Chapple, who played with the young classical horn player in the alternative percussion group From Scratch, says the man's a poet. That may be why, in the early 1980s, McGlashan left the Scratchers, who by that stage were into Sufi rhythms, spiritual "whirling dervish" dances and not a lot of language. "Harry (Sinclair) and I used to joke in our Front Lawn days that when we went to a party he went straight to the middle of the room so everyone could see him and I went to the side to see what everyone else was doing," says McGlashan. "I observe. That's what I do."
It has served him well. From Blam Blam Blam in the '80s through the Front Lawn duo's alternative theatre and into the pop charts again with The Mutton Birds in the '90s, McGlashan has captured the Kiwi character in song. The Birds' The Heater is about "the first time you move away from your parents and you go out and buy some dumb second-hand object you need for your flat, and the act of doing that seems to be an irreversible hand-shake between you and an older, more mythical, more dangerous world".
"I remember he and Harry in The Front Lawn on stage, banging nails into a bit of four by two in a rhythmic way and yelling 'get us a cup of tea love' as a kind of chorus," says Chapple. "He satirises us - Kiwis, Kiwi men - in an affectionate way."
New Zealanders loved it. McGlashan remembers the early days of The Mutton Birds, when record companies were dubious and audiences were instant fans. "We couldn't get a record company interested in us early on. They thought it was a 'project', perhaps a vanity project is too harsh, but there was an element of that within a couple of record companies," he says.
"Blam Blam Blam was successful then I had years in the wilderness from a rock'n'roll perspective."
McGlashan's seven years with Front Lawn's art and theatre crowd was deemed pop chart Siberia. "Coming back from that and saying I wanted to start a band, you could almost hear the rock journos saying 'yeah right'."
A meeting with the band's record company in '92 about when to put the first Mutton Birds album out turned to farce when McGlashan suggested Christmas mightn't be a good time, as they'd be swamped by pop blockbusters Madonna and Michael Jackson. "The whole room laughed. It was like 'do you really think that you'll be anywhere near being threatened by Madonna?' The point was we weren't going to sell any more than 12 albums."
Instead they sold thousands, with the album in the New Zealand charts for a record 12 months. Anchor Me, McGlashan's love song to his choreographer wife Marianne Schultz, won the song of the year in 1994; the group was signed to Virgin Records UK in 1995 and spent the next five years touring the world, veering between grungy flats and limousines in London.
Being a good dad to Pearl, 8, and Louis, 11, was McGlashan's priority when the family came home two years ago, back to their working man's cottage in Auckland's Newton, where his studio looks out over roofs to the motorway and Dominion Rd.
He misses Britain, the political discourse, the people. Scottish crime writers Ian Rankin and Christopher Brookmyre took a particular fancy to the Birds, writing about their songs in books and joining McGlashan for dinner, but the constant touring took its toll.
"I've been in vans around New Zealand since I was 19 or younger, so there's a kind of comfort in touring," he says. "Your life just shifts into your carry bag. All the difficult stuff like families and relationships fall away and it's just you and the band and the road and the music. It's hard not to like that at least a tiny bit.
"But it became really unworkable with kids. For a few years I was away every week and you can't be a decent parent if you're not present in the community of your kids' friends and their parents and the school."
Yesterday he was strumming a few numbers at Newton Primary for a whanau day, "where some people will sing along and others won't have heard the songs before". He's trying to encourage Louis to open the guitar case that sits in his room, and taking Pearl to dance class.
McGlashan writes music for local cop show Street Legal in his studio, one in a long line of TV, film and theatre commissions that fund his real love, songwriting. "I'm lucky really. My other jobs have been fun. Except mowing lawns. I did that once and it wasn't fun at all."
Being honoured as one of this year's five Arts Foundation Laureates brought a $30,000 windfall, which was good for the mortgage and he's up for a Chapman Tripp Theatre Award in Wellington this month for music he wrote for the 2002 New Zealand Festival's The World's Wife. Accolades have never been a problem for McGlashan. Expectations have.
And so to next year's solo album, a distinct departure, he says, from The Mutton Birds. McGlashan likes to move his songwriting and music on, and if that means Russian accordionists so be it."Some people seem excited about the new stuff," he says. "But there's always nerves about it. Whenever you get up in front of people there's a sense that you're giving them a present. The thing is they might not like it or they might already have one."