Thursday, January 12, 2012

Picassos NZM

Hallelujah Picassos, NZ Musician interview by Mark Bell.

With their recorded output of two EPs (‘Lovers +’ in 1992 and 1996’s ‘Gospel of the DNA Demon’) and two albums (‘Hateman In Love’ from ’92 and 1993’s ‘Drinking With Judas’) unavailable for love nor money for over 15 years, the five members of Hallelujah Picassos have finally decided to set the record straight and claim their rightful place in the pantheon of Kiwi music history with a remastered 18 track re-release of their choicest cuts – ‘Rewind the Hateman’. 

Mark Bell met up with Harold ‘Roland’ Rorschach and Peter McLennan at his local watering hole to get the skinny on Picasso’s dub things, and to discover why they’ve chosen this moment to re-introduce their unique sound to the music listening public.

There was no problem identifying the Picasso pair when they arrived, what with former frontman Harold Rorschach’s sartorial style remaining intact from two decades ago – the tall lean frame, chunky boots, black jeans, braces hanging down, beanie, the leather wrist bands and arty pendants – ever very much his own brand. By contrast, guitarist Peter McLennan, who now works for a major newspaper, was always the least extreme-looking member of the Hallelujah Picassos, and these days would not have turned any heads on the ferry coming over.

Much as their music, the Hallelujah Picassos were a very diverse bunch of individuals, but there was always a keen intelligence and shared vision behind their sprawling musical output. With a reputation for high energy live shows and a wildly diverse grab-bag of influences including (but not confined to) punk, reggae, garage rock, dub and Jamaican dancehall, the Picassos were trail-blazing, genre-mashing misfits in a late ’80s/early ’90s Auckland scene dominated by big-hair rock and shoe-gazing angst. 

This band– fleshed out by Bobbylon (drums), Johnnie Pain (bass, keys) and Gavin Downie (added later on second guitar) – were manifestly neither of these things. Their influence on a generation to come, for which the concept ‘genre-mashing’ would become totally commonplace, should not be underestimated.

Not surprisingly this self-released compilation album they’ve titled ‘Rewind the Hateman’, is an idea they’ve been nurturing for a while. 

“Yeah, it’s something that’s been knocking around for quite some time,” explains Peter. “Basically when our releases came out they were available, and then the record label that released them [Wildside] stopped operating and Festival disappeared, which was the distributor. So for most of the last 20 years our music has been out of circulation. I’ve had people over the years come up to me and go, ‘Aww man, I lost my Hallelujah Picassos CD, where can I buy another one?’ and they don’t really exist.”

The opportunity to re-master their output was another major motivator, and was completed by Alan Janssen and Rick Huntington at Uptown Studios. Sent to Australia by Festival to be mastered, their first album came back “way quiet” according to Peter. 

“We were on Wildside and we weren’t earning money for Festival, like Kylie Minogue was, so they didn’t really care about us, and fair enough.

“Hearing it in the studio when we started on the re-mastering project, we digitised all the music and got it all tracked in there and set up, and hearing it on the studio speakers again, it was really gratifying because all the crazy production ideas we had back then still sounded really good.”
Harold describes the band as having a dualist approach to their music. On stage they were there to entertain. 

“We wanted to get the audience as excited as we were,” Peter explains.

Harold seems a little annoyed (to this day) by the critics who said the band failed to capture the excitement of their live act on tape – they made studio albums in the studio, not live albums. Back in the day there was a slight dearth of trained sound techs and one could imagine a group like the Hallelujah Picassos might have difficulty finding recording engineers adaptable or knowledgeable enough to execute the band’s unconventional (for the time) production ideas. 

“We were really lucky,” continues Peter. “When we first went to bFM we worked with Mark Tierney, who was the in-house engineer for bFM before he started working at The Lab. So we moved and did our first album with him at The Lab as well. He was really good because we’d basically come up with these ideas like, ‘We want to take Harold’s vocals and throw them into a backwards delay… and then throw some distortion on them!’ and he’d sort of laugh for a second and then go, ‘Oh yeah, let’s give it a try and see what it sounds like’. Because the worst kind of recording engineer you can get is someone who says, ‘You can’t do that.’”

They were also fortunate to hook up with live soundman Dave Hornblow, who the lads tutored in the dark arts of dub and reggae production, allowing them to transfer some of their studio-inspired effects to the live situation – although creating carbon copies of their studio recordings was never a priority.

With all four original members contributing songs the band was never short of material, and once even managed to commit 26 songs to tape in a nine-hour session – probably some sort of record. Budgets were tight due to the band financing their own recordings (although this has paid dividends with the new release, as they own the tapes) and they quickly learned how to work fast and efficiently in the studio.

Despite some of the songs sounding like they’re goofing off or taking the piss, in reality they were very well rehearsed and had detailed cue sheets for every song. And having four individuals contributing equally to the creative stew didn’t make for many difficulties in terms of focus and decision-making. 

“We were always open in terms of each other’s ideas,” says Peter. “We had strong opinions because we were passionate about what we were creating and we all had different elements we were bringing to it.”

This also led to a certain amount of musical cross-pollination between members, allowing the band to evolve and solidify its unique sound. 

“And I think that’s one of the reasons we get on well today. We’re still friends and we’re also passionate about the idea of what we did, we truly believed in it,” Harold finishes.

Which naturally leads one to ponder whether we can expect to see the Picassos whipping up a frenzy on stage any time soon? 

“We’re talking about doing some sort of live event next year,” Peter confirms. “But Johnny’s in Indonesia so I’m not sure what we’re going to do about that. But we want to do some sort of gig or… I don’t know what it will be like… and I mean the thing with the Picassos is that we had this reputation for doing quite wild live gigs, and people didn’t know what to expect when they went along, but they knew it would be good. 

" So that’s basically what we’re going to do with this event we’re gonna do next year – we don’t know what its going to be like, but we know it’ll be good!”

No comments:

Post a Comment