“We had a lot of time to rehearse at the beginning of the year. I guess also, there's just a wonderful community of musicians at the moment, with the kind of people like Will Wood and Tami Neilson and occasionally Marlon Williams, and even some crazier more out there people like Finn Scholes and Darryn Harkness. They're all here, living in Auckland, playing their instruments. Musicians lives are always in flux, they're not always playing, not always recording, so I think when they are, you've got to make the most of that."
“Auckland is a very good town to be a musician. I think we're really lucky for what we've got here, I think we've got some really terrific venues, we've got a great crowd that supports live music. I think there could be more of those people. But I think more and more Aucklanders are getting quite accustomed to local, alternative music as a cool entertainment option. I think the calibre of live acts is pretty damn great at the moment. And I see quite a few gigs now where suddenly you're like woah, I can't get to the gig, I can't get in, it's sold out. The moment it gets to that point, when it gets so popular you can't see it, everything ramps up."
Hopetoun Brown is quickly becoming one of those bands, hosting amazing shows and becoming one of the hot bands to see in Auckland. This is largely due to the ridiculously high energy they give off in a concert, and also due to the amazing musicians they bring along to perform with them.
"It's great to involve other musicians, and while I love doing it with just Tim, because that's so much fun, Tim does the stomping and I'm kind of the band. So, if I make a mistake, it's like the whole band makes a mistake. So it's nice to have some other performers on stage, it really lightens the load. Playing with someone like Finn Scholes really ups your game, and it enables you to do things you can't normally do. If you dance with a bad dancer, it's hard to dance really well, but if you dance with really good dancers, maybe your dancing gets better. At least that's the hope."
Equally, they do have drums on the album so they do want to play with a drummer at times. They are a very rhythm driven band, from Tim’s stomping to the driving riffs on the bass clarinet from Nick. A slightly odd and unique choice for a band that find themselves playing stages in many different musical worlds. But one that is working very well for them, as they find themselves supporting Dave Dobbyn, Tami Neilson at all sorts of venues from the Kings Arms, to Neck of the Woods, to The Tuning Fork and the Wine Cellar, always the Wine Cellar.
I’ve seen Hopetoun Brown countless times, and every show is mind-blowing, whether it’s the duo or them plus others. Their live show is where they shine. "Well I think the strength of our live show, apart from the outfits, is with us, or anyone playing acoustic instruments, that the microphone can be your friend or your enemy. And for Tim and I, we can make the on stage sound very quiet, so what's going in to the microphone can be quite pure. There's not much sound from the clarinet into Tim's vocal microphone. So when it's going well we have this massive dynamic range, when it's going well we can really make those instruments shout or whisper. That's where we can really captivate an audience, with the intimacy and the dynamics in that performance."
Look So Good is being released on October 28th and the album is better than their first, Burning Fuse, and that was a hard one to top. It’s got a couple of, in Nick’s words, “four-on-the-floor tracks, that are quite, to coin a 90’s word, oonsty, they have oonse.” From mind-bending horn solos, to phenomenal keys and organs to the raw energy of bass clarinet and stomp, it has it all. This is one of my favourite albums of the year. It moves from funk to hip hop all while maintaining the core of Hopetoun Brown, that authentic blues feel.
They ramped things up with Look So Good, inviting many fantastic guests to record with them. From the backing vocals of Marlon Williams and Aldous Harding to the drumming of Joe McCallum and Al Deverick, with multiple bits of Finn Scholes and Tami Neilson, this really is a who’s who of the music world at present. All of this does mean that Look So Good feels bigger, I might even say, better than the first album, as Hopetoun Brown have found their feet and are comfortable to explore what their sound can be, while always staying true to that iconic stomp and shout.
Half of the album was recorded with Oliver Harmer at the Lab, but for the other half Hopetoun Brown took off to Lyttleton to record with Ben Edwards of The Sitting Room and Lyttleton Records.
“The dude has just got something going on. Ben records a lot of acoustic guitars, I mean he can do anything, but right now he’s working with a lot of acoustic artists, and known for Nadia Reid, Will Wood, and early Marlon Williams. None of that has bass clarinet, trumpet or trombone, so I feel like when we get down with Ben, it’s a different flavour for his ears. But, there’s something he’s got going on down there. He’s an incredible engineer, he’s gifted.”
“He’s a guy who is so engaged with you when you’re in the room with him. I think his chief characteristics are that he’s very empathetic, really caring and unbelievably generous. We’ll go in there and we’ll record until late at night, and that’s not something that happens in most studios anymore. He’s incredibly fast, the session goes so smoothly and everything is happening and you get so much done.”
“It’s quite indulgent to go to another town to record. But we did some things down there that we really surprised ourselves with. Some of the piano parts I did, I think to myself, wow, how did I do that? That kind of magic does happen at Ben’s place. We were really lucky because Marlon and Aldous were staying in Ben’s house for the whole week while we were there. So that was fortuitous, you couldn’t organize that.” Marlon and Aldous can be heard singing on some tracks on the album, and if you listen carefully to Future Never Came, you can hear a little “Hey!” in the background, that’s Aldous in the studio.”
Hopetoun Brown is that band that you see at all the gigs, supporting their friends, sometimes playing as the horn section on massive stages and then right in the mix at the Wine Cellar any night of the week. This is what they had in mind, and it’s working out. Nick has the last word here, speaking on forming the band with Tim, “My spiel to Tim was this – Wow man we know all these musicians, we play in this band called Supergroove. There's 7 of us, we hang out together, we know lots of other musicians, we socialise, but we only perform music in these very formal confines. I would call band practice, a gig, a sound check, very formal and you can't get more formal than a recording sessions. So why are we only creating music in these very formal environments? Here we are all socialising, we love performing music, learning new songs, playing music, yet… When we get together we drink beer and listen to records. My big motivation for this band was to have a band that we could have in the living room, or on the porch and that we could bring other people into. Play some songs that we all knew. I don't know if we've necessarily achieved that yet, but we've had some fun times."
Hopetoun Brown is taking to the road again, with new record Look So Good in the trunk. They’re stopping all over the country across November. To kick things off they’re performing at the Wine Cellar this Friday 28th and Saturday 29th October with many special guests. Don’t miss it. I promise it will be one of the best nights of the year. Look So Good is out Friday and will be available from all good record stores and online, go find it.
Friday 28th October features, Tami Neilson, Finn Scholes, Dave Khan and Darryn Harkness.
Saturday 29th October features, Priya Sami, Kingsley Melhuish, Dave Khan, Darryn Harkness and Callum Passells.