The name of your latest EP, Transpacific Express, is the name of the main underwater internet cable leading into and out of Taiwan. Was that name chosen to coincide specifically with this Asia/Transpacific Tour?
SSM ♥ factoids! …while we should be on a mission to help New Zealand out of its sluggish, over-priced ‘internet’ dark-age, we’re really hoping to forge new friendships with our Asia-Pacific neighbours. NZ is such a multi-cultural country nowadays it seems odd that we still identify with the commonwealth, and place so much emphasis on success in the West, …as a band we’re looking closer to home for inspiration.
The title track of that EP starts with a chant, 'We don't piss in the Atlantic, so don't shit up our Pacific', and there's a definite anti-waste (anti-nuke?) theme with the album art. Can you elaborate on the ideas on this EP?
‘We don't piss in the Atlantic, so don't shit up our Pacific’ was an anti-nuke protest chant from around the time of the Moruroa atoll nuclear testing, and the bombing of the Rainbow Warrior… while the EP, or more specifically the title track, gets its ‘attitude’ from this notably Kiwi slogan, it’s backed up by a wary concern for the current TPPA negotiations, which is another interview in itself! For those who are in the dark, get educated!
It's been three years since the release of your album, Crude Futures, is another studio album on the cards?
Three years passed by so fast! …but in retrospect, two of those years we spent apart on sabbatical, stockpiling ideas until we ended up in the same city again.
In a way, Crude Futures marked a slightly haphazard end to the 1st chapter of the band, and Transpacific Express began the 2nd …there’s an ambiguity to our latest EP, it’s an amalgam of influences, and points in no certain direction as to where the band is heading creatively, which was done on purpose, because we’re going to put out some fairly odd material soon; a 45 minute long single, an instrumental/beats ‘mixtape’! As a result of this, we hope to push some new boundaries on our next album… new sounds for a new chapter.
Taiwanese audiences probably don't know too much about New Zealand music and bands yet (aside from Flight of the Conchords, The Naked And Famous, and Crowded House(!)). Can you recommend a good starting point (bands/labels/websites?) for people curious about good NZ music?
Undertheradar is a good starting point for local news/tours/releases, etc… Camp A Low Hum would have to be the best independent festival in NZ by far…
Keep an eye out for releases on labels like Flying Nun, Arch Hill, Lil’ Chief & Muzai… although many NZ bands (including SSM!) release independently via Bandcamp.
…and few local favourites would include Opossum, UMO, Disasteradio, Alphabethead, All Seeing Hand, Secret Knives, Julien Dyne, She’s So Rad, Our Love Will Destroy The World, Orchestra of Spheres, Glass Vaults, Seth Frightening & Joe Blossom!
You all put your day jobs on-hold to concentrate on SSM and this tour. I imagine that could've been a difficult decision to make. At what point did you all decide 'okay, we're really doing this'?
Perhaps this is a little nostalgic, but I’d have to say back in 2007 when we all personally pitched in on our first international tour, USA/UK/Germany… you have to have a lot of respect and belief in each other to take these kind of risks, and from that moment onwards, touring was never a difficult decision, employment & income stability vs. adventuring the world playing music, the choice is easy. That said, we all have active lives outside of the band, and maintaining a band/life balance is key to the success of both sides of the equation… touring indefinitely (6½ months across Europe anyone?) can drive you insane just as much as staying put in your hometown.
You're currently halfway through your 36-day Transpacific Tour. You started out in Japan playing at Haçienda and Mai Asia Festivals, then jumped over to China where you played Midi Festival and a bunch of smaller shows, and now you're back in Japan. Has it been as hectic as that appears? What are your tour highlights so far?
Having been fortunate enough to play solo shows in Japan already, I’m quite familiar with the country, especially Tokyo (and to be fair, I did live here for a few months on a working holiday) but it's been great to see the country through fresh eyes again with the band… eat this! drink this! yes, that hotel has ‘rest’ rates!
China was an amazing first for all of us, coming from New Zealand we’ll always be a little naïve when it comes to traversing urban environments… we learnt quickly that there is order in chaos across China, almost everyday felt like we might miss our show/bus/train/flight, but somehow everything worked out. The scale of development across China was incomprehensible, again, it’s an NZ thing, we’re just not used to seeing giant, unfinished/uninhabited apartment buildings everywhere, demolition rubble in the streets, areas the size of downtown Auckland that are less than five years old!
Show wise, there’s plenty to look forward to, but our recent show in Tokyo was a definite highlight! Sharing the evening with the amazing talents of Ningen OK, De De Mouse & Open Reel Ensemble (a personal favourite) was mind blowing.
How was it playing these festivals to huge crowds and sharing the lineup with the likes of Delphic, Peter Hook (Joy Division/New Order), 808 State et al?
Great! We love the swarming mass, genre-clash, multi-stage warfare that most festivals are… odd standouts were playing before Peter Hook at Haçienda Oiso, and being denied entry by the Police outside of Midi Beijing while watching our stage time pass over, luckily for us everything was running late! Again, order in chaos prevails!
So far, which songs have been your biggest crowd-pleasers?
We’ve been playing fairly punctual ‘slap in the face’ sets on this tour so far, and it’s been humbling to see fresh audiences bopping along with familiarity to some of our tracks (thanks, internet)… but our instrumental Berlin always seems to please, a German fan of ours once compared it to a ‘Lichtung’, meaning ‘a clearing in the woods’, which is fairly apt considering the noise that we sandwich it between!
Grayson, things have been going very well for you with your solo musical efforts. You're signed to Flying Nun Records, have released a number of albums and EPs including soundtracks for two feature films, and even managed to fit in a tour in Japan. Is it difficult to balance solo projects, So So Modern and your other work? What's next?
Admittedly I’m quite the musical schizophrenic, so I need creative outlets for everything that I’m interested in, from ambient/soundscape performances, to film scoring, to solo songwriting, to the chaos of SSM… ‘Better busy than bored’ has been my ethos for some time now, while it’s both a blessing and a curse it’s allowed me to make music my full-time existence. 2013 is going to be a busy year! I’ve recently released a split 7”, my next film soundtrack comes out on the day I get back from this tour, and if all goes to plan I’ll have a new solo record out in September!
You are playing a total of four shows in Taiwan; Tainan, Kaohsiung and also two shows in Taipei, one as So So Modern and the other as SZO SZO. Without giving too much away, what can we expect from your SZO SZO set (at APA 808 on May 18)?
A lot of SSM material comes from long jam sessions, whittling down ideas until their essence is revealed to us… however, more recently we’ve been turning these jams into ideas/songs of their own, a more hypnotic, long format approach, along the lines of African Highlife, German Krautrock, and Japan’s Boredoms / OOIOO. Basically, you can expect an ‘endurance’ set of the aforementioned influences, I gave away the duration in an earlier question, so I guess I can say one other thing… there will be no encore! This set physically destroys us!
Any last words for Taiwan?
Yes. Dear Taiwan, please supply your most stinky tofu for our drummer Daniel, his stomach is up for the challenge.
We look forward to seeing you in Taiwan next week!
For more info, check out the So So Modern - Taiwan tour minisite.