Sep 28, 2012 Web Exclusive
Flying Nun is as synonymous with indie rock in New Zealand as Chemikal Underground is in Glasgow or Creation Records is in London. Each is a singularly ubiquitous cultural force that has influenced legions of acts worldwide. Kody Nielson, the mastermind behind New Zealand's Opossom, has ties to Flying Nun. He previously played in The Mint Chicks while in high school, a band signed to the fabled New Zealand label. Before that, he'd been enthralled by its rich musical pageantry.
"I loved stuff like Chris Knox, The Clean, and The Chills growing up," says Nielson, whose brother Ruban, also ex of The Mint Chicks, fronts Unknown Mortal Orchestra. The Mint Chicks were infamous for reckless live performances at earsplitting decibel levels, to the extent that they once brought down part of the St. James Theatre in Auckland due to excessive volume-scraps of plaster from a decorative portal crumbled as the band played. Self-anointed as "trouble gum," they were perhaps closer in spirit to '80s New Zealand proto punk act Straitjacket Fits than to the shimmering resplendence of the bands Nielson cited.
"The Mint Chicks was just more punk kind of, thrash punk, kind of fast, like Jay Reatard kind of stuff," he says. "Like English punk. It was also kind of like Supergrass mixed with the Buzzcocks, or something like that. Really thrashy."
Opossum's debut album, Electric Hawaii, is rife with sing-song pop hooks obviously beholden to '60s orch pop bands such as The Zombies and The Left Banke. According to Nielson, the impetus to create the record was one of less is more.
"I just felt like there were a lot of things I wanted to try, just let the songs be more keyboard-arranged and really simple," he says. "A lot of times I'd write a song on keys with The Mint Chicks, and it would change later, and I just wanted it to be like the first version. Not think about it too much. And I love The Zombies. I tried to use similar instruments like the Wurlitzer. Modern rock music's got a different sound to it, and I didn't want it to sound that way. I wanted it to be scratchy."
Self-produced and recorded by Nielson at his home in Auckland, with some assistance from his father on brass, Electric Hawaii has a homespun yet visceral sound. Tracks such as the Motown via Northern Soul number "Girl," with its eerie reverb effects and crisp Farfisa fills, sounds simultaneously enamored with the past while feeling utterly contemporary.
Belying the music's summery, headlong rush feel, Nielson named the band Opossom due to his proclivity for working at night. He says dryly, "They often kill opossums in New Zealand, as they're considered pests, and I feel like that on occasion."
Thematically, the album is something of a photographic snapshot of relationships and their attendant disintegration.
"I was trying to be specific, to capture moments. But I tried to just keep with a sound, and an idea, I guess. We were quite harsh with The Mint Chicks, but I think that I was trying to write something a little more populous just because it's where I am now."
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