The Phoenix Foundation are a six-piece from the capital of New Zealand, Wellington, who are one for the tuned-in.
They’re not the attention-grabbing, headline-making, hype-spinning band that the country sometimes produces and, unlike some of those particular acts – chose your own from the list – are capable of making some Damn Good Pop Music.
Buffalo (EMI) is the latest example of a sound that’s captivating with a thoughtful touch. Please take a trip through the city’s Town belt and hill suburb of Mt Victoria on the opening track, Eventually, and take your brolly with you.
Be enchanted by by the child-friendly Flock of Hearts, be invigorated by Pot and singalong like a mad thing to the wonderfully fruity lyrics of Orange & Mango.
Buffalo is a gloriously simple record, one that is very New Zealand in its themes, but also sounds like it could traverse traditional musical snobbery and parochialism, and appeal to, say, indie fans in Manchester.
It’s the fourth album from a band that’s been around since the late 90s, and is garnering positive reviews from the national press.
The ride began with the debut album Horse Power in 2003, progressing through Pegasus (2005), and Happy Ending (2007) which was given a decent run when released on limited scale in the UK.
Before a gig in Wellington, as part of their national tour, I caught up with frontman Samuel Scott in one of the city’s cozy wee cafes.
How’s the tour going?
The tour’s been going great. We’ve just had a show at the Powerstation in Auckland which sold out. That’s pretty cool as that’s probably the biggest venue we’ve ever played at, so it felt like we were stepping up another level.
After this tour I believe you’re going to London?
Later in the year, that’s the plan. We did a soft release of Happy Ending last year, putting it out on iTunes and doing limited runs at Rough Trade stores and other independent stores. On the back of that it got great reviews, such as in The Independent newspaper, so we felt we should go back there and capitalise on that. Hopefully, we’ll get a record deal over there soon.
Tell me about the recording of Buffalo, as it was done a little bit differently.
Yeah, we did some of the initial recording work at our own studio so we had more time to mull over the first set of ideas but we also worked from those initial recordings, so in a way we turned what were kind of demos into finished recordings. On previous records we fussed over things in the studio and over-worked them. On this one I think we got it just right. It was definitely an un-angsty album to make and I think it sounds like our least angsty album to date.
It seems to have worked as the reviews have been pretty good.
Well, people have been either calling it our best album or our worst one. Personally, I think it’s got qualities that weren’t on the last album. Happy Ending has that extra level of professionalism and big kind of big radio-friendly rock tunes but Buffalo has a humble quality to it which I relate back to Horse Power, our first record, so it’s more of a continuation of what we were doing six/ seven years ago, sort of bedroom recording music, low-key and intimate. It’s very close to our heart in terms of the music we want to be making.
And I guess doing things here in Wellington and New Zealand is very different from how you would do those things in London and Europe?
We have a lot more time in Wellington, like what I was saying about recording in our own studio here. But finding the same kind of kind of facilities is almost impossible in London, people are actually recording in their bedrooms because that’s the only place they have to do something. The two cities are so different in so many spheres. I like London, there’s always things happening there but I mainly enjoyed London as a travelling musician. I don’t think I could live there for too long, it’s too fast. I’ve lived in Wellington all my life and there’s so much more for me to enjoy here.
And there’s a bit of a Wellington influence on Buffalo, for example there’s a line in the opening track, Eventually, about Mt Victoria, which obviously would mean little to people in Christchurch and Auckland but clearly means a lot to yourself.
Yeah, that song’s about going for a walk in the Town Belt around Wellington during stormy days, something I enjoy quite a lot, going out in the worst-possible day and actually embracing the awful weather in this town, such as what we’re having today (it was raining heavily – ed). Wellington doesn’t always influence the way we write but it does creep in.
Are you benefitting from downloads or suffering because of them?
We do okay sales wise, every record feels like it’s getting us to more people. We’re not particularly concerned with the shrinking of the CD market because as long as you keep innovating, things will pick up in some way that no-one has picked up on yet. And vinyl sales have picked up over the last couple of years, they make up a really tiny proportion of the market but they’ve gone up quite a lot and they appeal to people who like us, to a slightly older audience who want that high sound quality. And if it’s a download, they want a decent sound not a crappy MP3 from a file-sharing site.
And what about solo projects, I know the band members like to do their own thing outwith the Phoenix Foundation, are there any plans on the horizon?
Not from me at the moment. I’m just focused on the Phoenix Foundation and ensuring that we’re doing everything we can to push Buffalo, and try and get it out there overseas. I’m already thinking of another Phoenix Foundation record before any solo project. I had a lot of fun doing those solo records and soundtracks but I’m really excited about the band again and being part of a group.
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