Matthew Couper is a New Zealand-born artist, now based in Las Vegas, USA. He is back in NZ for a fortnight to attend the Auckland Art Fair with his gallery representative, PAULNACHE before returning back to the USA for solo exhibitions in Riverside, California and Houston, Texas before the end of the year. His work is based on Spanish Colonial Painting and was described by Huffington Post writer John Seed as “as artist with a Kafkaesque view on the world whose imagery suggests a pagan Catholic Cirque du Soleil”.
Here are five albums he’s loving right now…
I remember the first time I travelled away from New Zealand when I was 20. It was the moment that, by proxy, I got to figure out what it was to be a New Zealander. The inherent nature of NZ art, music, the Kiwi twang, all become so lucid when pitted up against the vastness of the rest of the world … in that Pre-Copernican way you think before experiencing other places. The last time I met up with Simon, who asked me to note down some albums I’m listening to now, was in Las Vegas, where my wife and I now live. While chatting, we got onto the subject of ‘home’, where that is and was and what defined it – what I came up with was a brief list of things I missed – family, friends and live NZ music. So the following selection is more of a general list of albums I keep going back to or that seem to fit into a lineage of music that has interested me since I was about 16. It acts as a stability for me and my studio painting practice. I’m now back in New Zealand for a short time to attend the Auckland Art Fair 2013 and here’s a few albums that I listen to on my playlist as I’m prepping for four days of art fair, dressed in a monkey suit, sitting in a small white booth inside The Cloud on the Auckland Wharf.
1 – Die! Die! Die!, Harmony: What a great band, in line with many of the best sonic bands in New Zealand. I first saw them at a makeshift venue in Whanganui called The Mutton Club. (Wellington photographer Andrew Ross took a great photo of it when he was artist in residence at the Sarjeant Gallery’s Tylee Cottage). What a great live gig! For some reason though, I didn’t get their album, or listen to their music as I guess I wanted to retain the freshness of their performance, but after hearing Locust Hours at a party, I had to go out and pick up all their releases. It wasn’t until I was living in Vegas in 2010, that a friend from a Vegas band called Candy Warpop alerted me to the fact that a Kiwi band was playing a free gig at the Royal Hotel on a Monday night, a great surprise that it was Die! Die! Die! at the end of their Form tour.
Their latest album Harmony, released last year seemed a change, more raw and clangy, heavy on a sharper tone than Form, which had, to my ears, a cleaner drone form. It’s certainly grown on me – many of the tracks have a sped-up MBV feel, especially with all the neck warps in the early tracks on the album. Get Back has to be my favourite track, with the obsessive layers of samples and the odd combination of Shayne Carter’s slither/whisper voice and Andrew Wilson’s matter-of-fact intonation.
2 – CHINA, Pussy LP: The tie-in with CHINA is that they opened for Die! Die! Die! when they played at the Beauty Bar in Las Vegas in March this year. CHINA is a Las Vegas-based three-piece band made up of two brothers (Anthony and Andrew Villalobos) with an encyclopaedic knowledge of music and a GG Allin-tee-shirt-sporting bassist nicknamed Slappy. I’d seen them gig a couple of times around Vegas and pursued their Steve Albini – recorded album Pussy LP after recognizing many familiar Antipodean sounds. After talking to singer and guitarist Anthony, his familiarity with NZ music, especially Flying Nun associated acts made a lot of sense with certain sonic nods to The Gordons.
Live, they’re pretty commanding with a shambolic, raw edge, not much in the way of effects, just relentless drums, consistent bass and Anthony Villalobos’s hesitant vocals and guitar tics, a kind of a Harmony Korine-sque character with an earnest focus and apparent shyness. The last gig in March saw the bassist extracted from the venue after their set so he drove his pick up next to the stage fence and proceeded to jerk off to Die! Die! Die! mid-set. Only in Vegas.
They’re an oddity in Las Vegas as there’s a penchant for live bands to over-produce their live sound and add unnecessary adherence to their album sound, so CHINA is a breath of fresh air in the scene, even with the antics set aside.
The relentlessness is transferred from the live gigs via tracks like Jahbreaker and LA Water, Pussy LP makes for a great early morning wake-up call when starting painting in the studio.
After fossicking around on the net and not being able to find much information on CHINA or their recording*, I’m not entirely sure how you’d get hold of their album, but you could get in touch with Anthony Villalobos on Facebook and see if he has any leads.
*addendum: Just found out that CHINA will be releasing Pussy LP on vinyl in late 2013.
3 – The Skeptics, Amalgam: I was a late-comer to The Skeptics, mostly because of my age and the then-scarcity of their albums. I heard Amalgam and If I Will I Can in one sitting with a friend in NZ – then finding out their lineage (backward of course) from Bailter Space and The Gordons, it all made sense in why I’d liked their sound. I loved tracks like Sheen Of Gold with the change in beat, like a aural heart palpitation halfway through the song.
A friend scored a vinyl copy of Amalgam, sans album cover, in a furniture/junk store on Cuba Street in Palmerston North, along with the Blue Monday single by New Order, so I transferred the vinyl to digital files but never inscribed the tracks, their order and listing, so for several years, I had no idea the sequence of the tracks, nor the titles, so And we Bake was Fleur de Lis etc. Much like how I experience Die! Die! Die!, there’s a melody wrapped in a grating aural forest of guitar and samples.
Of course, The Skeptics have also been on high rotation because of the Simon Ogston documentary Sheen of Gold that premiers in Auckland today, Saturday, the 3rd of August. (See you there!)
4 – The Joy Formidable, Wolf’s Law: I had to put in something poppy that I listen to in the studio mid-afternoon to see me through to the evening (mid afternoon in the studio is not a great time for me for some unknown reason). Wolf’s Law is my new Treats by Sleigh Bells (TJF’s Cholla seems pretty reminiscent of a few Sleigh Bells tracks) that I thrashed when I first moved to the States.
I guess there’s a proliferation of bands with a sound like The Joy Formidable at present, – Silver Sun Pickups is another one I quite like – that seem to hark back to thicker guitar sounds of the 90s, of Big Muff distortion. Leopard and the Lung and This Ladder is Ours are great pick-me-up tracks.
5 – The Fall, Re-Mit: I think if you’re a Fall fan, you’re all in and their back catalogue – depending on your entry point to their music between today and 1978- becomes a Holy Grail quest to collect up. Since buying my first CDof theirs in 1995 (I Am Kurious Oranj), I’ve been trying to collect all their albums on vinyl, a crazy attempt at a creating my own catalogue raisonne of all the albums, including a beautiful, but terrible sounding baby blue vinyl pressing of The Real New Fall LP. Re-Mit came out recently, only a year and a a bit after their last release, Ersatz GB which was a bit of a fizzer, especially after the pretty good run with the formation of a new band since The Real New Fall LP.
The first track I heard, Sir William Wray, certainly had a strong grunt reminiscent of What About Us from Fall Heads Roll, and come to think of it, the whole album follows a similar structure of a past albums – a ‘fiddle-dee-dee’ intro track/cover then into the good stuff. I remember reading an interview with Mark E. Smith and he mentioned that many visual artists listen to The Fall in their studio and he’s often inundated with photos of paintings and sculptures from Fall fans. I’m not sure that I could bring myself to send a pic of my work, but The Fall is certainly good company in the painting studio.