Monday, May 14, 2012

Joel and Nathan Haines talking all that jazz

Photo: Peter McLennan

Joel and Nathan Haines in conversation with Mike Chunn was part of the recent Auckland Writers And Readers Festival (and it was free - yay!). The Composer's Life was the topic, but before the questions started, they played some music, with Nathan on sax, Joel on guitar, and their father Kevin joining them on double bass. The tune was one of Joel's called "Live at Wembley", which Nathan said they'd explain the title later, but never got round to it. 

Mike Chunn tried to get Kevin to sit onstage with his sons but he wasn't keen, so Mike pointed out there was a glass of wine onstage for Kevin which Kevin leapt up and grabbed, then headed back to his seat in the audience. 

Mike started off by asking Joel and Nathan what were their first musical memories? They mentioned names like Gino Vannelli, Stevie Wonder, Art Blakey, Bill Evans, whatever their father chose to put on... Nathan said "Dad was the dark overlord of the stereo."

They grew up in Beachhaven, and went to Northcote College - they got to go to LA as part of the school big band and play some gigs, including Disneyland. Later in the conversation, Mike asks if they were good at school or did they get into trouble. Nathan says we were good, Joel mutters about being bad, and their Dad chimes in with "They were very good, it all went bad later."

Mike asked about their first time onstage. Nathan recalled their earliest gigs were at the Jazz Festival run by Tommy Adderley, at the Sheraton (now the Langham). Their father was playing with them, and they played some of his numbers, which Nathan remembers as "ridiculously difficult tunes." And that he and Joel could barely play. As Mike noted, they didn't take the easy option and just play Summertime

Mike asked what age were thay, and Nathan mentioned about 8 or 9. Mike jokingly suggested that maybe Kevin could be accused of child slave labour... Nathan says they started out playing at age 3 and 4, and he could read music by the time he started school.

Mike recalled the first Apra Silver Scrolls that featured artists covering the five finalists, and that Nathan  and Joel and their band Freebass had played one of the covers, doing a Headless Chickens number is such a fashion that it was largely unrecognisable, and split the room. Murray Cammick told Mike later that night that half the room loved it, the other half hated it. 

Talking about growing up, Nathan said that their mother was more artistic than their father, funnily enough. She was more from the visual side, their father more on the audio side. 

Mike asked about playing with your head or your heart, and Joel talked about his time playing with Human Instinct, which he said is about heart - "sometimes in that band, people are playing different songs! So it's all about heart with them."

They play another song, the title track off Nathan's latest album, The Poet's Embrace. Nathan describes the album as a "Straight to two track, wonderful analog affair." After the song, Nathan says "That's the first time we've played that one."

Mike talks about Nathan's latest album, saying he pre-ordered it, and got it on his iTunes, and asks is Nathan okay with that? Nathan says yes, it's all music. He made the album to be played on vinyl, and says the 300 copies have almost all gone. But any format is okay with him.

Mike asks Joel about his involvement in synchronisation (writing for film, tv). He says he got his big break writing music for tv series Mercy Peak. Prior to that he'd done session work for Murray Grindley on ads and so on and was very interested in that area. He talked about writing for the screen  - "To get it right, you've got to get inside the characters."

Joel says he really likes being part of a big machine where, if everyone gets it right, it becomes this incredible thing. Writing and recording music on his own at home suits him though he confesses "It drives my poor wife crazy!"

He says with his work "It's not about you, how well you are playing, it can be about the grading of a shot. I really like that. I never wanted to be a frontman."

They play one of Joel's film pieces, no song title given. 

Mike talks about choosing music for his father's funeral recently, and plays a snippet of the song he chose, and asks if they recognise it. It's Joni Mitchell's Court and spark, as covered by Nathan on his album Music for Cocktail Lovers. Mike asks would it have been a better song if Joni had used that [Nathan's] arrangement? Nathan says no. The song was suggested by Murray Thom (executive producer and financial backer of the album), from Herbie Hancock's version.

Nathan talked about his former manager Matt Coleman talking with him when Nathan got back from the UK last year about his next album. Matt told Nathan "I''ve got this great idea, you should do an album covering classic NZ songs" [or words to that effect]. Nathan thought about it for 24 hours and said no. 

Mike expressed surprise that Nathan had taken that long to decide against it, suggesting a minute's thought would have been a better length. Guessing Mike didn't think it was a good idea then. And this from the man who bought us Double J and Twice the T.

Mike asked an oddly-worded question about whether Nathan thought NZ was too small for him to  sustain himself? Nathan said no, he was grateful for the support he had here and the audience he had built up. And the hanging question over this reply was why are you moving to the UK, then? 

Nathan described his latest album as one where he decided to make the kind of album he wanted to make, and just not worry about pleasing an audience or whatever, and that it has turned out to be his most well-received album to date.  

I'm not too sure why Nathan should be surprised that an album that aimed to be straight ahead jazz,  which is a pretty conservative musical choice, would do well. Seems like a no brainer to me. 

They close the session with another song, one of their early numbers, but again a lack of song titles. Nevertheless, a very entertaining hour of conversation and jazz. Thanks to all involved. 

Nathan Haines is playing a show on May 18 at Devonport's newly restored Victoria Theatre, playing The Poet's Embrace in full, before he shifts to the UK in June. Details and booking here

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