WHEN SHERPA OPENED THE 2012 AUCKLAND LANEWAY FESTIVAL THIER PERFORMANCE ENSURED A MOUNTAIN QUICKLY BECAME A MOLEHILL. GRANT FELL TALKS TO SHERPA’S DANIEL BARRETT ABOUT VINCE AND HIS VAN, BRIAN WILSON AND TODD RUNDGREN, FLAMINGOS (GREATER AND LESSER) AND BECOMING MORE LIKE AN ANIMAL. PHOTOS: FRANCES CARTER
Grant Fell: How long have you been together, tell us about the genesis of the band, how you met... Daniel Barrett: Sherpa as a band have been together since we were in high school, and we’re all in our early 20’s now, so quite a while. The core of the band has stayed the same with Earl Ho singing and playing guitar and Vince Mcmillan playing drums. Our other guitarist, Ben Jack, met Earl and Vince through their various bands playing together. I met Earl at a music festival in Wellington and it turned out we were both going on to study Music at the University of Auckland. We spent three years playing music together. When we finished our degrees I got asked to join the band, which was great. Why did you decide on the name Sherpa? The name Sherpa is actually a reference to a van that Vince and the original bass player had a running joke about. The band needed a name to enter Rockquest so they used ‘Sherpa’, and it just stuck. Who plays what in the band? Earl Ho - vocals, guitar, sampler. Ben Jack - guitar, vocals. Daniel Barrett - bass, sampler. Vince Mcmillan - drums, sampler. It’s a common band question but I am fascinated to know, (I’m hearing Nuggets, elements of Flying Nun, Brian Wilson, even Todd Rundgren) - who and what are you influenced by? Sherpa are definitely influenced by Brian Wilson and Todd Rundgren. Many of the local bands we grew up listening to such as The Mint Chicks and Die! Die! Die! are influenced by the Flying Nun scene so that probably comes out in our music quite a lot. We’re influenced from a whole range of stuff from classics like The Beatles, Chic or Davidbowietonewerbandslikethestrokes or Tame Impala and even electronic acts like Daft Punk. A lot of the themes in our songs orthewaywethinkaboutourartisinfluenced by novels and films especially those related to the Surrealist or Dada movements. I suppose the biggest influence on us are our peers. Partys, the nightlife, whatever we can get our hands on. I really like some of your titles, can you explain why you called your latest album “Blues & Oranges?” ‘ Blues and Oranges’ is a title with many layers of meaning to us. The album is a concept album about life and death. It follows the story of a protagonist through their final days on Earth from trivial everyday life developing into something bizarre as they drift into insanity and finally a death and rebirth experience. A prominent idea we had for the album cover was to have a picture of an orange covered in blue mould symbolising how even the sweetest things will succumb to rot and decay, and the inevitability of death. At the same time Earl’s girlfriend had painted and gifted him a portrait of a very striking orange and blue face. We liked both images so much that we decided to superimpose a mouldy orange over the portrait, giving the face an amazing porous texture. The title we were working with at this point was a line from a poem, “buzzing dawn’s blueings”. We decided to simplify it to ‘Blues & Oranges’. Blue and orange are complimentary colours so they’re aesthetically pleasing, it sounds interesting when said aloud, as well as looking good written down. It is also a reference to the ocean (blue) which is a prominent lyrical theme throughout the album, as is sunrise and sunset (orange), which is also an image we saw a lot during the writing and recording process, most of which took place at Ben’s bach. The album was recorded with a lot of vintage analogue gear which gives it a very warm sound, but the songs are also quite sad, like having the blues. What an answer Dan! How about your last album “Lesser Flamingo?” ‘Lesser Flamingo’ was inspired by questioning what we value and ideas of beauty. Flamingos are beautiful and amazing animals but the full name of the pink species we commonly think of is “Lesser Flamingo”, as opposed to another quite plain looking species of flamingo which scientists identify as the “Greater Flamingo”. The plainer species of flamingo is greater in size, hence “Greater Flamingo” but is the Pink Flamingo really “lesser” because it’s smaller? Many prefer it because of its
“THE ALBUM WAS RECORDED WITH A LOT Of VINTAGE ANALOGUE GEAR WHICH GIVES IT A VERY WARM SOUND, BUT THE SONGS ARE ALSO QUITE SAD, LIKE HAVING THE BLUES”
bright pink feathers. If it was up to an artist to name the species instead of a scientist would they have been named differently? They are also extremely flamboyant which definitely represented the in-your-face maximalist approach of songwriting on that album. There are continuous themes surrounding animals on the album with the songs ‘Lunar Bats’, ‘Turtles’, ‘In Dolphins He Trusts’ and ‘I’m Becoming More Like An Animal’. That’s definitely an interesting one,“i’m Becoming More Like An Animal?” The song ‘I’m Becoming More Like An Animal’ was written by Earl as he was observing a cat which lived at a house he was housesitting. It is self-reflection on how his own hedonistic tendencies were beginning to have more and more control of his behaviour. It’s about a slow erosion of society and cultural norms into animalism, which is commonly seen as a bad thing though it is arguably more honest and therefore pure. How do you go about “Eclipsing The Night Away?” ‘ Eclipsing The Night Away’ is less about what you do and more about what you choose not to do. It’s a call from people who care about you not to indulge yourself in night time’s entertaining yet harmful habits. “Eclipse the night away”, she said. “Leave the colours in the day.” Nice. How would you describe your songwriting process, if there is one?! Earl will typically come to band practice with the skeletons of a song. Either just the chords and lyrics to a section or sometimes something fully structured, usually in the form a demo recording with some basic drums and bass outlined. We’ll all work together to make the song as good as we can. We pay lots of attention to the way the guitars are working with or against each otherandhowthebassanddrumsarelocking in and carrying the momentum of the song. I love your album artwork, who is responsible for that. The artwork for ‘Lesser Flamingo’ was a collaboration by two high school friends of the band, Ben Metge and Ben Carroll. I believe the picture is a photo of vivid inks on glass with a light shining on it from underneath. The original portrait for ‘Blues & Oranges’ was by Earl’s girlfriend Dieuwertje Hehewerth who is currently studying art in Amsterdam. Our drummer Vince Mcmillan superimposed a photo he took of a mouldy orange over the top. Similarly, the video for ‘Love Film’ is great, who directed it? Thevideoforlove Film was directed and shot by Marc Swadel. Heisaverytalentedfilmmakerandwasgreat to work with. What does the next 6 months hold for Sherpa, where are you playing next? Earl is currently in Europe seeing his girlfriend and passing on our music to industry people so we have no gigs lined up for the immediate future. We do however have two new singles and videos we recorded before he left which we’re going to release soon, both of which are so new they didn’t appear on the album. When he gets back it’ll be straight back into touring.