Sunday, March 16, 2014

Robert Scott of The Bats Interview

It was one of the big surprises as a Kiwi migrating to Australia (insert dole-queue jibes here) that many Australians have more than peripheral knowledge of the 1980s to early-‘90s South Island New Zealand music scene largely associated with the record label Flying Nun. There’s an expression back over the ditch, ‘World famous in New Zealand’, which in a typically Kiwi self-effacing way seemed to apply to bands like The Chills, The Clean, Able Tasmans, The Dead C and The Bats. Yet it became clear once removed from the shaky isles that, in fact, these bands were actually pretty world famous in certain circles.

What became even clearer was the level of influence bands like The Bats have had on music in their 30-odd years together. Nowhere is this more apparent than in Australia right now. Take Twerps, Songs, Boomgates, Scott & Charlene’s Wedding, New Estate, etc; there’s little question these bands have spent time exploring the Flying Nun label.

The Bats’ singer/songwriter/guitarist Robert Scott reckons he knew they were onto something back in the ‘80s, and he’s gratified that bands today can find stuff in their songs worth referencing, however understated the allusions may be. “I think we realised in the late-‘80s onwards that it was pretty cool, it had a lot of integrity and form and it was carrying on, it had a lot of good momentum,” he says. “There was a lot of bands joining in and doing similar stuff in a way and the crowds kept coming and the reviews kept being good...

“It might be [that] some bands that are listening to you and enjoy the music and then they go off and write their stuff and there’s elements of what we’re doing in the work. It might be subconscious as well, in terms of, y’know, when a band is referencing stuff they’re not necessarily going to be saying ‘Oh we need to change that chord sequence [because] we want to make it sound more like The Bats’. I think it’s more that maybe they enjoy the music and take small elements or even attitude or some kind of meaning from it and then that comes through in the music... It is gratifying and it’s kind of a good indication and validation of what you’re doing being relevant or that people are still listening to it and enjoying it and getting something from it.”

Longevity is a word often associated with The Bats. The band have maintained the same line-up of Scott, guitarist Kaye Woodward, bassist Paul Kean and drummer Malcolm Grant throughout. Scott says the intermittent creative bursts of the band have been crucial to their ongoing collaboration. “We have been around for a long time but we’ve had very big gaps in what we do we won’t play for like four or five months at a time, so that helps,” he says.

The inherent Bats-i-ness of their tunes stems from this strength of membership and hinges largely on the guitar interplay and vocal harmonies of Scott and Woodward. “We don’t analyse it too much,” says Scott of the collaboration. “I’ll come up with my chord sequence and the Kaye will write some kind of pattern over that, whether it’s the lead or a set of chords. It all seems to work out, I think it’s one of those lucky accidents that when we write something it comes out like that.

“Kaye, in some ways, is unconventional in her playing, so that’s a good point of difference in terms of what she chooses to put over top of it. Quite a few of my songs, if a trad rock lead player was to put their stamp on it the songs wouldn’t be nearly as good, so what Kaye and Paul and Malcolm bring to the band is a huge thing in terms of making the songs sound the way they do.”

In terms of writing songs these days, Scott says growth is important to the band – much of the focus is on differentiating their new songs from their older material. When suggested The Guilty Office of 2008 and Free All The Monsters of 2011 could possibly be the best Bats albums, Scott responds: “There’d be nothing worse than putting out records and everyone prefers the older ones and compares them to the older ones and finds them lacking or wanting...

“[It] can be hard because I don’t employ a lot of different tactics,” he says of writing songs these days, “I sort of draw from the same bank of chords, I s’pose. I’ve got a few more techniques and ideas that I’ve picked up over the years but basically the approach is the same... Inspiration is still pretty much the same things: people relationships, how people interact; and also it’s landscape and physical forms around me... Seeing different things or meeting new things for the first time, that can give me ideas. Often it starts from a very small idea and grows from there. I don’t tend to like take a big idea like the meaning of life, I like smaller things.”

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