In high school I loved The JPS Experience, particularly the Bleeding Star album because I saw it in an ad and bought it straight away – an impulse buy. And I couldn’t believe so many great songs were there and that this was some sort of acquired taster rather than just out there for everyone, being lapped up by everyone along with all the Finn/Dobbyn/Mutton Birds material.
And then, at university, still a fan of JPS and so many other Flying Nun and related acts – having gone back to hear all the albums recorded before my time – I caught wind of a solo performance by one David Yetton. He was one of the JPS guys, one of the voices of the band.
So it was up the hill and he was playing a free gig, just there in the atrium, him and his guitar. All about him students flurried, many didn’t care for the music – because they didn’t care for any music. Others couldn’t believe their luck – a living legend or thereabouts. The songs were new; they were works-in-progress. Demo-sketches. He had some backing tapes for some of them, atmospherics.
A few months on those songs, many of them anyway, appeared on the debut, self-titled release by The Stereo Bus. It wasn’t really a band – it was just Yetton backed by The Mutton Birds’ rhythm section. Ross Burge is one of the greatest drummers in New Zealand. If you have him on your team you’re lucky.
And these songs just sparkled. That play on words “You’re social/you’re social/you’re so shallow…” That was such a great opening song. It’s such a great album-starter.
And then The Stereo Bus became an actual band and there was another album and it was great too. Some good songs. They toured, opening for Neil Finn as well, that was a good set. And there were other good shows. But I always preferred the debut album to the follow-up. Brand New possibly had one or two better songs on it but The Stereo Bus was the album I could always play start to finish, every song a hit; or rather every song felt like it should have been a hit.
This album stayed with me through university. It’s stayed with me to this day. I liked Yetton’s solo album. I still go back to JPSE, to all of the great music that Dave Mulcahy has offered since the JPS days too. But there’s something about this self-titled Stereo Bus album. It’s just right every time. It’s never the wrong time to hear this album.
A couple of years ago I saw a Facebook post from Yetton, mentioning a hopeful return of The Stereo Bus. I flicked him a message; did he want to talk? Yes. He wrote straight back. When? Right then. Two minutes later I’m on the phone to him – hearing all about the band dwindling away sadly, rather than ending with a bang, about unfinished business and unfinished new songs. He plays me a song down the line. First a Dictaphone recording and then a snippet of a brand new song on a keyboard – live, down the line. It’s like that atrium gig all over again, a brand new song – but it’s just for me. No audience. No flurrying, scurrying students wrapped up in cheap second-hand textbooks to start the term and shrieking over coffee about the best pubs for not checking ID. It’s just me listening to one of my heroes. It’s a reminder – then and there – of how music-writing has such terrible pay and conditions. (The hours are terrible). But when you strike it right it has its own rewards. I wanted to help in spreading the word about the return of The Stereo Bus.
A year on from there the band – the new version of the band – actually arrives in Wellington for one show. And one show only. Katy and I are very excited to see it. It’s January 14, 2012. It’s at Mighty Mighty. I’m a little drunk. I’m a little emotional. It’s our first night out as new parents. We’ve left the baby at home and been allowed out to reclaim – for an evening – some shard of our old life. Oscar’s just a couple of months old. He’s safe with his grandparents. We’re busy buying too many drinks and hoping to hear some great songs from a favourite album.
And then Yetton stands up there, flanked by guitarists, the drums start to slow-tumble and there are guitarists and a bassist almost forming a cage around Dave Yetton. He too has a guitar and they all have the same shoulder-swaying bob-and-weave happening, the audience is caught in the sway. They are the music while the music is happening. Lie In The Arms from the debut album. It sounds as good as it ever could. It sounds like the best fuckin song in the world. There’s almost a tear. I look at Katy. She’s always beautiful. Always. But never more so on that night. The music is there. And it’s just for us. Sure, it’s a special gig for loads of people no doubt. But we’re there with that song. And that album. And that songwriter. And our baby – our whole new world – is tucked up and asleep away from it all. And we’re away from him. And the hairs on my arms bristle. I will remember that night always.
The gig finishes and I go to the sound desk to ask for a set-list. I need something to remember this gig by – something to have and to hold. To one day show Oscar perhaps. The set-list is gone, I’m told. But there’s a poster. I take it from the wall. I don’t usually do that sort of thing. Not these days.
But music is funny like that. It gets you in its sway, it holds you. It makes you lose yourself. Well, the best music does. You can be a teenager again anytime the best music is on or around you.
We taxi home. Katy carries the ride on up to her parents’ place to stay with Oscar. I go home to write a review from an earlier gig that night. To hang the poster on the wall. To think of the first night away from Oscar. I play the self-titled Stereo Bus album. And that tear that was almost there before just brushes down on my cheek for a second. I wipe, instinctively. It’s as if it’s almost gone, was never quite there.
Being a music fan is its own reward. The music is its own reward. The Stereo Bus album was always special for me. Once it was the soundtrack to beers on the roof, no class today, no point when there are beers on the roof. Now it’s the soundtrack to a baby learning to dance, learning to speak, of me learning to share my world; the soundtrack of a baby – the world’s most perfect, brilliant and beautiful baby – rocking back and drifting off. As he lies in the arms. Too tired to fight. He closes his eyes. And sleeps tight.