Moving from New Zealand to the busy streets of London is a huge undertaking, but that didn't stop peripheral sound artist, Peter Wright. Tired of his familiar surroundings and feeling uninspired, he did what most people wouldn't even think of doing: moved halfway around the world. His music hasn't missed a beat, and although his great label, Apoplexy, has been on the back-burner since the move, plans to relaunch it are in the works. Over the course of numerous recordings, Wright has proved to be an innovator. His sound is easily recognizable, and that's the biggest compliment I can give. As Last Visible Dog is set to reissue his opus, "Distant Bombs," Brad Rose conducted this interview via email in June of 2004
PW: I was an only child and I think I was always looking for an outlet to avoid loneliness. I spent a lot of time on my own creating fantasy worlds, drawing detailed maps of imaginary cities and so on. Music was just another escape route. I don't really remember when it first took hold. When I was about 7 or 8 we used to spend evenings listening to records rather than watching TV (we only had one channel), and out of the entire mediocre collection of vinyl that my parents owned there were two records that I played incessantly, ABBA and The Beatles. It was a toss up which was my favourite of the two but in the end thankfully the Beatles won me over. For some reason it took me a while to cotton on to the fact kids could actually buy records but once I found out that small fact I started a Beatles collection and became one of those anorak-wearing trainspotters who collect everything.. I must've spent a small fortune on bootlegs, rare 7" mono mixes etc. It was thanks to this obsession that I got into recording, inspired by tracks like “Revolution 9” and “Tomorrow Never Knows.” I began experimenting in my room with tape recorders and microphones, not making music but just collages of sounds, both pre-recorded and noises of my own. I wish I still had some of those tapes but at that time it was just a bit of fun. I never thought it very important to keep them. I never touched an actual instrument until I was about 12 when a friend convinced me that we should take guitar lessons. I think he had a crush on the teacher and needed a foil in some nefarious plot. I only managed about 3 chords before I lost interest. It's the only time I've ever taken any form of music lesson.
After that brief encounter I didn't pick up a guitar again until I was 17. (I've still got that guitar, an old Kawai strat copy; I used it on some recordings which eventually came out on PseudoArcana (“The Broken Kawai”)). A friend of mine had a cheap four track and we set about trying to become rock stars, influenced by such wonderful classic FM fodder as U2, ELO and of course the Beatles. Perhaps it's fortunate I was sufficiently unskilled enough to wreck anything we did. Looking back on it, despite the strictly commercial influence to our music, there was a strong DIY aspect to what we were creating which has carried over to where I am now. Once I moved to Christchurch in 1990 and discovered the so-called alternative music scene, it was game on. The whole kRkRkRk story starts from here.…
PW: Keeping a continuity and progression without repeating myself. I've reached a point now where I work almost exclusively within improvised guitar-based droney template, so it's a constant challenge to keep innovating around what is essentially a very basic idea. It doesn't always work out that way but that's the general idea. I usually progress by introducing a new sound effect or device or simply by changing the tuning or method of recording the sound. My biggest fear is that I will come across as a one trick pony and that motivates me to keep exploring new angles but I really like the fact that I still use a guitar as the starting point for almost everything I do. Even the Polio project has it's origins in a guitar-based recording.
Playing live has produced a few problems for me, mainly because I don't do it very often, and I never rehearse as such, apart from testing equipment to make sure everything works. When I take my noise to an audience I tend to try too hard to cover all my tricks in one 45 minute set which can get a bit messy. I've had to learn to minimalise what I do live to get it a little more cohesive and less confused. Having said that, I've had some pretty good shows here and there which I'm proud of. I'm just a bit of a perfectionist and playing live leaves you completely exposed at times and you can't press rewind. Still, that's all part of the fun. If there were no challenges, there'd be no point.
PW: Biggest change? People. There's quite a few more living here than at home and it really stops you in your tracks when you first arrive here. Literally - you can't move for the crowds…. I guess I was very bored in New Zealand. It felt too quiet and too isolated and I needed to be shaken violently out of my complacency and I think that has happened to some extent although I don't really feel like I'm living in England as such. I'm based in London and it feels like it's really a country all on it's own. It's such a cosmopolitan cultural soup, an all-consuming, throbbing, mythical beast and I imagine coming to live in London from elsewhere in England would be a culture shock, never mind from a small New Zealand city of 350,000 people. New Zealand is definitely becoming more multi-cultural now but not on this scale. It's interesting traveling on public transport and hearing dozens of different languages mixing together. London is everything and nothing all at once. There's often so much happening that it can become overwhelming and difficult to find a perspective or a place where you fit in.
On a personal level, I'm not really doing anything different here than what I did for the past 4 or 5 years in New Zealand, just working full time and trying to find a patch of space in there for musical activities. I probably have less time for the 'hobbies' now than I did at home and maybe that's the biggest change, and maybe that's what will really kill it for me in the end - the lack of time, energy and motivation to utilise this place creatively. There has to be some kind of balance and I don't really have that at the moment. But for the meantime, it's still kind of exciting being here, the feeling that something is always happening. I suspect I'll find New Zealand very quiet when I go home, even more so than before, but I may be ready for that by then.
PW: Well, New Zealand certainly has a beautiful and unique environment, what's left of it at least, and I would love to say that my music is a homage to that but it's not specifically, at least not at the point of conception. After the fact when the dust has settled I might give a piece of music a title that reflects where I am or what I've seen and my general sound is a very landscape-y soundtrack-y sort of thing, so it tends to associate itself by default with the outside world, but when I'm making the noise it's purely a technical process working with sounds that appeal to me. So it means the music I'm recording now is not that far removed from where I was when I left New Zealand, just a continual progression of ideas around a theme. Whether I record in a small room in New Zealand or a small room in England, the basic result is the same, although it's hard to find a quiet space here that isn't under the flight path to Heathrow! Obviously, I use field recordings which tend to emphasize a specific environment, but it's just texture for me, another source of interesting sound.
PW: With hindsight, New Zealand's geographic isolation was more acutely felt when I was growing up in a small lakeside town, way back in the good old days before the Internet. I wasn't really aware of anything cultural or artistic at that time. I don't think I even saw any form of live music until I was about 10. New Zealand culture and history was non-existent (aside from the euro-centric bollocks taught in school). I only knew one Maori at school before I was 13 and she was half pakeha (European). Kind of blinkered upbringing and I was well on the road to the nearest trailer park for awhile there, mullet flapping in the wind. It wasn't until I moved to Christchurch when I was 20 and enrolled at university, became involved in student radio, started going to gigs, etc., that I became aware of my own country, its history and culture, and girls. The four years I spent at university were like waking from a long sleep. I started wearing black and going to poetry readings (that's where all the pretty girls were, naturally). In the end, I dropped out, as you say in America, never finished my degree. I became disillusioned by the factory churning out bankers and accountants and consumer junkies so I left to subsist on the dole and play music. Of course, I eventually broke down and joined the Corporation but for awhile there, I was free. But I don't want to give you the wrong impression. Despite our geographic isolation New Zealand is not some backward wilderness.… We still have McDonalds and corporate greed, environmental degradation, and an ugly obsession with celebrity and violent sport just like anywhere else with educated white people at the helm. To sum up then, growing up in New Zealand left me with cynicism by the truckload.
PW: I've had a home grown label for as long as I've been recording, since about 1987. It seemed like a natural progression to me. I've never really had any delusions about getting signed to someone else's label, so it seemed the next best option was to just do it myself. I've always enjoyed putting the whole thing together from recording to mixing to designing a package to put it all in. The first attempt wasn't really serious; then I met a bloke at university called Jaemz who I started a band with and we formed the kRkRkRk label to put out our music. At first it was just our own stuff. Then, we started to expand to accommodate our friends and their bands. It was a lot of fun initially, making the covers for countless cassettes, most of which only existed in limited numbers (some only existed on paper), but after about four or five years, I was a bit tired of the 'gothy industrial' scene that seemed to incorrectly define kRkRkRk. It didn't reflect where I was going musically and I couldn't really get enthused about all the stuff kRkRkRk was releasing anymore so I made a break and started Apoplexy. Looking back on it, I don't think my intention was ever to create an imprint that releases a ton of unheralded and fantastic sounds from around New Zealand and the world. I merely wanted to get my own stuff 'out there' as quickly as possible, and have a viable means of trading with other like-minded souls. But then I found myself in the unusual position of having a bit of time on my hands and started releasing other people’s music and could have taken it a lot further, but once I moved to the UK, it had to take a back seat somewhat.
PW: Apoplexy is on hold at the moment, mostly due to lack of time. I want to keep a label going but I haven't got the space to do what you have to do to maintain it so it's in hibernation for now. I do want to have a label, a proper functioning one again, but for now I haven't got room for it. As long as other folks are prepared to release my CDs, it's not such a priority.
PW: I'm not in the least bit interested in sales and marketing, which are fundamental to running a proper label, or so I believe. I hate the whole selling thing, turning my stuff into a commercial product. It doesn't motivate me at all. I know it's poor business sense but the whole idea that you have to ask people to pay for your music stinks. And chasing distributors for money.… I hate it. I'm sure people owe me money but I haven't got around to chasing them up. I'm certainly never going to get rich in this business! On the bright side, the whole label process has made more people aware of my music and opened my ears to a large number of other folks’ output, thanks to trading. It's the best way to get new music, and I'm so impressed with what people are doing out there at the moment on these little cottage labels. It's a really exciting time for our kind of noise.
PW: I suspect there's a little wee pot-smoking, caftan-wearing hippy inside me somewhere screaming to be let free because I’m becoming more and more inspired by nature.… Anything that doesn't feature the grubby fingerprints of man all over it is what I get off on now. I've always liked nature to some degree but more so these days which is no doubt a product of city living. Having said that, I'm still inspired by the chaos of a city and I figure I'll always need a balance between the two to maintain some sanity. Right now, I'm living by the River Thames opposite Greenwich. Flowing water is a nice thing to come home to, even if it's full of questionable brown substances.
PW: It's more to do with my current one-dimensional lifestyle of working my butt off for a living and having no time to relax. I love the city, I get a lot of inspiration from the chaos and the energy in the metropolis. I like certain kinds of architecture as much as I like a good tree or stream. But I'm essentially an observer. I like to sit and watch the world go by and take inspiration from that, but when you're actually caught up in that world going past, it's difficult to stand aside and detach yourself from it. That's when it becomes more important to find an escape, some solitude and tranquility and in a city the best places for that are in the parks away from machinery of people. London is actually one of the best places for this because of the vast amount of open park space available to utilise. I mean, you can actually get lost in the woods on Hampstead Heath, yet it's only a stone's throw from the heart of the city.
PW: Well, again it was a progression from the previous recording, Duna. But you're right, it's very organic sounding, mainly because I'd begun using incidental sounds as a backdrop to the guitar drones. I used field recordings taped on a holiday to Europe on a couple of tracks and it was the first album that I used my 'open door policy', which is just what it says on the tin, leaving the doors and windows open and putting a microphone in the middle of the room and letting the sounds of the outside world come through the recording. I've always liked the lo-fi, buckets of hiss approach to recording anyway, and the idea of chance events or 'accidents' in music is appealing to me. I mean, I don't rehearse or retake recordings so there's always some 'mistakes' or unintended noises in there but using natural sounds simultaneously gives it an extra dimension which is always interesting. So “A Tiny Camp” was the first time I really did that. It worked best on the long 18 minute track that ends the CD. That was a complete fluke really. It was raining heavily outside so I set up a microphone at the back door and fed the sound into the four-track and played live over the top. I couldn't hear the rain as I was playing too loud but I discovered when I played it all back that just as I was winding down to the end the rain eased up and birds started chirping. It was all very harmonious! Needless to say that is still one of my favourite recordings. It just kind of mixed itself; I barely had to do anything to it when I mastered it.
I'd like to record an entire album outdoors sometime, take my recording studio out into the woods and set up under a tree. I thought about doing an acoustic album recorded in the band rotundas that are in public parks. I actually have done a recording in the rotunda in Christchurch's Hagley park in New Zealand.... It's on “Catch A Spear As It Flies,” on CPSIP. That track was recorded in the rain and the album finishes with a hail storm, so there appears to be a bit of a theme developing with my releases on Campbell's label!
PW: I sent a tape to the Dog after hearing about them through Campbell Kneale, I think. They'd shown a huge interest in the New Zealand thing so I thought they'd like my stuff, and it turned out that they did. They're reissuing Distant Bombs shortly…my first actual pressed CD, believe or not.
Anders Gjerde from Humbug sent me some things for a trade and I immediately felt there was a connection there. He was keen to release something of mine, which ended up being a Polio CD-R, Concrete. I had intended to reciprocate by putting out some of his solo recordings on Apoplexy this year but I've had to put that on hold along with the label, sadly. I hope he will get something out elsewhere soon. His CD-R on Humbug is fantastic.
PW: It's funny - I've actually just finished a collaboration with Jani Hirvonen (Uton) from Finland, and two of my CD-R titles are derived from Old Norse - Duna, which means a noise or din and Catch A Spear As It Flies which is the English translation of an Old Norse phrase. It was just one of those things. We had an Old Norse dictionary lying around the house which came in handy when I was stuck for titles. But as to something more solid between New Zealand and Scandinavia creatively, well, I'm not that convinced.… I don't really read an awful lot into these sort of connections, if they are there at all. I mean, in the sort of subset of a subgroup of a music genre that I seem to work within, it's hard to put geographical or political boundaries onto the output from any of my contemporaries. I don't think of Birchville Cat Motel as New Zealand music any more than I consider Thuja as American or Continental Fruit as Norwegian. It's more about a bunch of individuals than representative of a specific cultural connection to my ears but then maybe I'm too close to the action to actually see it any other way.
PW: Oh yeah definitely. This move to the UK was always going to be temporary, if at least of an undetermined duration. It's still a lot cheaper to live in New Zealand in the long term, certainly as far as buying property goes. But y'know, New Zealand is home.
PW: It's quite a busy time at the moment. I'm working towards or have submitted tracks for several compilations lately, including tracks on a PseudoArcana CD due out later this year and another for Last Visible Dog which is happening early next year. I've got a split release on Deserted Village to get started on and there's that collaboration with Jani Hirvonen I mentioned. We're tossing about a few ideas for names and looking for someone to release the recordings. At this stage I think we're calling it Birdsong For Sewers which fairly aptly describes the sounds we've made. It's the first time I've collaborated with someone by post and I'm really pleased with the results. What else?…. I have a CD-R due for release on Scottish label Heart Liver and Lungs and, as I mentioned, Last Visible Dog is reissuing my Distant Bombs CD-R from 2002 as my debut CD. I'm also lined up to have CDs released on PseudoArcana and Celebrate PSI Phenomenon sometime in the next year or so, which is very exciting. I love both these labels to bits, so I'm pleased to have anything issued on them. The PA disc is actually all finished in terms of the recordings, but we're just waiting for things to fall into place before getting it ready for release. Antony Milton of PsuedoArcana is venturing into CD production for the first time this year and obviously it's a tough thing to kick-start financially speaking but it's a great label. Everything on it deserves much wider exposure.
PW: Apoplexy will probably have a grease and oil change and come out with a completely different name someday in the future. In the meantime, I'm making selected things available for trade if anyone wants them. I'll have a new website up soon which will serve as a trading post of sorts, but email is just as effective. Musically, I'm just going to keep on churning out the drones until something or someone shuts me up.
PW: Thanks for reading. And please please vote that git Bush out of office American peoples!
-- Brad Rose (28 June, 2005)