As I arrive to Failsafe Records headquarters (a small upstairs flat in central Christchurch) Lying on the floor are half made covers for Eskimo’s debut album, Loverbatim.
The name according to David Mulcahy, the band’s front man, is an implying connotations of hibernation.
Eskimo was born out of Dave playing solo in a bar. According to him, Rob Mayes took pity, inviting him back to play at his Failsafe studio. Rounding up the line up, Rob brought drummer friend Michael Daly to the group. Michael was drummer from art-rock outfit, YFC.
Eskimo’s Dave Mulcahy is probably better known as a vocalist, guitarist and songwriter for Superette and Jean Paul Sartre Experience. Rob Mayes’ musical background included Dolphin and Throw. He also runs Failsafe Records, which has been home to the likes of Degrees K and Loves Ugly Children.
When asked about the sound of Loverbatim, Rob leans over to the computer at his desk and reads straight off a press release “Distilled entrails of pop and rock art musings.”
The reaction is surprise from Michael.
Rob: Well its pop rock, and art rock. It’s got all those elements in it.
Mike’s the art, Dave’s the pop and the rock, and I’m the rock and pop.
Dave: It is a pop rock album and its kind of … its pretty indie if you want a genre… but how do you describe your own poos. Some days I think it’s good, some days I think it’s really crappy and some days I think it’s really amazing. Just depending on how I’m feeling.
Michael: The sound is strong; people will be able to immediately like it.
Rob: Dave’s a bit of a romantic in his lyricism. He sings about kisses and stuff like that.
Michael: …and bombs.
Dave: Well some songs, some of the songs on it I wouldn’t say were romantic at all, I think they are quite existentialist.
Michael: There’s some harder hitting material on it.
Rob: I think all of the rhythm tracks are pretty driving actually.
Eskimo vs. Previous bands?
Michael: It’s absolutely nothing like it! It’s got melody.
Rob: Michael’s stuff is art rock, drum based stuff…. although Eskimos stuff is very rhythmic and pounding beat underneath it. The icing isn’t the same but the foundation is pretty close.
Michael: There are other differences like the fact other previous bands I’ve been in we’ve gelled material from nothing. Dave has brought already structured work, which we have then arranged.
Dave: It’s an extension, in my eyes.
Rob: Do you reckon it’s heavier? Cause I was listening to that solo album of yours…
Dave: Yeah well the last release I did was a melancholy acoustic affair, but previous albums have always had an element of rock and roll. My guitar playing is a little bit better after 20 years.
Rob: Musically it’s a wee bit different, it’s still has the melodic hook thing, but that’s just what we do, it’s what all my bands have done. We both come from a similar background, (Dave) has the dream aspect… mesmorising, like the last JPS stuff.
Dave interjects: This guy could write a fucking novel!
Rob: Well I just know this the last JPS stuff was really oomph oomph… really hypnotic… didn’t you notice that?
Dave: What my songs or the bands songs? It’s quite different in JPS
Rob: Cause there’s three songwriters I suppose…I can’t tell you guys apart actually.
Dave: Well the good songs are mine
The Recording Process
Rob: It was interesting.
There is a universal agreement in the room
Dave: It was not long enough for my liking.
Rob: Dave has a history of big budget albums which not going to happen here.
Dave: I really like to remix some of the album now; I was listening to some of it today, but Rob’s not going to let me.
Rob: Well it was just going to be a couple of songs, just to get some David songs out in the public… but it kind of spread like a cancer,
Michael: Well as a process it was quite interesting, the guys were recording while I was away.
Rob: Yeah, Michael went away for two months right when we wanted to start recording.
So did the whole lot to click tracks. The bad thing about it was he had to play to someone else- he wasn’t the driving rhythm. The good thing about it was that he got to play to a finished product, with vocals on it, drummers don’t usually do that, they usually play to the bare bones. If someone puts a guitar hook later, they go, well I would have done something to that had I known it was going to be there. Michael got to have all of that.
Michael: It’s a hard thing to do, playing to a rigid time… I play to the whole thing if its there.
Dave: I did the solo album in ‘98 and moved down here (Christchurch) in 2000 and pretty much sat back and listened to music rather than try to write it, and that was a conscious decision because I’d been playing constantly for 15 years and I decided it was time to sit back and look at the canvas. I listened to everything; I don’t think there is a piece of music I couldn’t listen to.
Rob whispers in the background, ” I bet Michael could find something you couldn’t listen to.”
Dave: there are always bands that I find inspiring. At the moment it’s The Eagles of Death Metal and QOTSA- all those guys, I really like their approach to music. Although some days I’ll find some old Wire record and get really into that, get obsessed with that. You’ve just got to be exposed to hearing them talk about their music, exposed to it in a context, which is real rather than the press release record company rubbish which makes everything banal and boring.
The New Zealand Music Industry
Dave: I think its got better and its got worse, there’s a bit of an industry, there’s more of an opportunity for bands to make a living, but there’s also a lot of bands making a lot of crap music to cater for that. There are so many roads you can go down, a lot of young bands aren’t very inspirational.
Michael: I think it’s bigger, healthier and it’s more of an industry. I think that was what was great about music 15 years ago is the industry was so crap people concentrated on making good music, now people concentrate on making money from music.
Rob: That’s the kind of music that appeals to people who say when you ask what music they like they reply “all kinds”. Which is exactly the wrong thing to say, you’ve got to have an opinion or else its just wallpaper.
Dave: I think that’s bullshit; I like all kinds of music,
Rob: no, there’s stuff you don’t like.
Dave: Like what?
Rob: How about a Hayley Westenra album?
Dave: I’d find that interesting purely for the fact that you’ve been involved in it.
Rob: well not that album…but I did record one. You have really strong opinions on music, you go “I fucking hate it, I fucking hate it”
Dave: yeah, but at least it’s interesting; I enjoy listening to why I fucking hate it.
Rob: you don’t like all kinds of music, you’ll listen to all kinds of music and fucking hate it.
Do It Yourself
Rob: I don’t think we have a choice.
Michael: Apart from that, there are so many bands that are doing well and doing it for themselves. They’re not part of the rolling machine.
Rob: I think we’d all like not to do as much work as we have to do. David and I cut up and manufactured CD’s, and I’m just about to do distribution, and I mean we wish someone else would do it, but well they would not do it how we want.
Michael: there are some smaller outfits who are getting quite efficient, at putting CD’s into stores, and not major labels.
Rob: We are cottage industry. We’ll make up more CD’s after you leave. We will post them out ourselves, and reap those $20 rewards, it’s not going to amount to more than a couple of hundred of sales, it won’t cover costs, but that’s not why we do it. We did it because we want to have a nice album, and that’s the best reason.
Dave: I will base myself up in Auckland next year, and will hopefully be coming down to do some Eskimo things three or four times during the year.
Michael: The last gig was good. We actually don’t play all that often, we’re probably close to the laziest band on the planet.
Rob: We’d be a lot better if we were playing more often, but so would every band in New Zealand but you just can’t.
Michael: If you’re not playing much the nerves are always there. It makes it interesting
Rob: We’ve really worked out how the songs go since we were writing them at the time. The arrangements are what the album is now, but they’re not what they started.
Dave: If I can get hold of the master tapes I’m going to remix it as a dance album.
Dave: No. I wanted Eskimo to be a project band, concentrating more on recording and songwriting. I’m adaptable, but I don’t foresee us not being so live.
Rob: It was just supposed to just be a project thing, it wasn’t meant to be a band. Then it went into a band, then David just want it to be a project, then said we’d do some gigs, and then it was back to the project, so it a bit of whatever comes, but it’s the album that is important.
Future of Eskimo as Recording Project
Dave: well it’s me who pretty much says, “I don’t want to do that” its like a presidential veto.
Rob: I don’t think you’re quite that important David! (Laughter)
Dave: I’d rather see us to be perceived as a recording project that occasionally plays live.
Music in Advertising
Dave: I’m all for it if we can get any money for it. We did an ad but we haven’t had any money yet, that was for Firestone. I really hated it when I first thought of the concept, but right now I’m so broke I’d do anything. I hate the whole thing of commerce invading into music, but everything is a money value these days.
Rob: its not like we’re writing a song, “we like Firestone tyres, they’re really cool” the usage of a track on that thing was accidental at first anyway.
Michael: I’ve got to say, Firestone’s okay, cause when I was a kid at school there was a big tyre named Firstly, it was a Firestone tyre, you had to be the first one to get to it and wheel it round the playground. Class would finish and you’d run.
Rob: that was in the days before game boys.
Michael: does that seem unusual?
Dave: I remember those things, I do remember sitting in those things.
Lastly I had to ask, Did Eskimo get hassled about living in igloos- Apparently putting the heaters on is risky.