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Phoenix Foundation Embracing The Oddness

Fuseworks Media
Fuseworks Media
Phoenix Foundation fans were asked to design T-shirts for the upcoming tour.
Phoenix Foundation fans were asked to design T-shirts for the upcoming tour.

Wellington band The Phoenix Foundation are back with their fourth album Buffalo. Before heading off on a nationwide tour, frontman Samuel Flynn Scott talks to JULE SCHERER of NZPA about awkward feelings, movie scores and how the band connects with their listeners.

It's almost three years since Wellington band The Phoenix Foundation released their acclaimed third album Happy Ending.

But being the creative bunch of people that they are, the six band members used the time to release at least one solo album each and composed two movie soundtracks, most recently for Taika Waititi's hit comedy Boy.

The band were formed in 1997 by high school students Samuel Flynn Scott (guitar, vocals), Luke Buda (guitar, vocals, keyboards) and Conrad Wedde (guitar, keyboards). They were joined by Richie Singleton (drums) and Will Ricketts (percussion) and Warner Emery (bass). Emery has left the band recently to focus on his solo projects and was replaced by Tom Callwood.

Now they have released their fourth studio album Buffalo.

"I think it is a kind of odd sounding record in some ways," singer Scott tells NZPA.

"It is not this big gestural album but it's got this kind of internalised weirdness. I am quite proud of it, that it is not a particularly commercial sounding album," he says.

After doing rather radio-friendly rock songs like Bleaching Sun and Bright Grey on the last album, the band felt it was time to move on.

"The album is pretty much us being honest to our own creative desires and angles that we usually go for," he says.

They worked on and off for over a year on the new album.

"We did a lot of the work ourselves in our own studio. That was a big change for us, not doing the whole thing in a studio but actually doing a lot of the production ourselves.

"That gave us a bit more freedom and took a bit of the pressure off, and we really got to experiment with a bunch of different stuff, which was great and I think that led to a lot of pretty collaborative songwriting moments and a real team effort for a lot of things," he says.

The band benefits from the fact that all members have their own musical projects on the side.

"Because everyone is getting to do their solo records means when they come back to the Phoenix Foundation, no one needs to be the boss, we've all got other projects, where we get to do that.

"We really just have to listen to each other's opinions and find common ground and it works really well," Scott says.

The result is a mixture of the avant-garde experiments of earlier albums Pegasus and Horsepower and the kaleidoscopic pop of Happy Ending. Buffalo brims with quirky lyrics, multi-layered soundscapes, dreamy psychedelia and synthesizer prog rock.

Apart from writing their own music, the band worked on movie scores. They collaborated with Waititi on Eagle vs Shark in 2007 and this year's box-office success Boy. They also provided the soundtrack to feature-film Separation City, written by Scott's father, cartoonist Tom Scott.

The musician says he enjoys both lines of work.

"You've got a much narrower range of sounds that you can choose from, when you're doing something for a film, because you have to fit it to the pace of the film and the timing of what the director is going for," he says.

"My favourite thing about doing soundtracks is seeing it on the big screen and seeing a scene that works really well as a dramatic scene and knowing that the music isn't getting in the way but is just complementing it."

But Scott says the band feel a great surge of satisfaction "when we've done something like that and with the band it is almost the opposite.

"I think my greatest joy is when our music absolutely blocks out everything else, when you're hundred percent consumed by the music.

"I love it when someone puts on something of ours at a party or somewhere and I can tell that it is actually a little bit too bizarre to fit the mood and it feels a bit awkward; that can be in some ways an achievement with music, when you can't necessarily carry on a conversation over it," he says.

Over the last year the band got more into using the internet to connect with their fans via Facebook, Twitter, MySpace and their own home page. Leading up to the album release they asked fans to design a T-shirt for the upcoming tour and showcased a couple of tracks online before releasing the album.

Although the band were genuinely interested in feedback from their listeners, Scott admits the various internet activities were also marketing tools.

"We would be lying if we'd say it wasn't a marketing thing but it is also a way to make people feel like they're part of the process of what we're doing.

"Because we want to be inclusive to people who fork out their money to buy our records we want to show them that we appreciate what they do and give people free downloads and give people access to extra material and that sort of thing. It makes it more fun for us as well."

Never short of a dash of geeky creativity the band have fitted the first 500 copies of the new record with a Buffalo origami kit and provided an online tutorial on their homepage.

With the album finally on the shelves, the band are now keen to hit the road.

"We've been putting massive efforts into rehearsing. Probably more rehearsing than we've ever done before.

"We're pretty excited about getting out there and playing the new songs," he says.

*Buffalo is out now

*Tour dates:

5th May - Mussel Inn, Golden Bay, Nelson

6th May - The Bedford, Christchurch

7th May - Sammy's, Dunedin

8th May - Revolver, Queenstown

9th May - No8 Wired, Timaru

21st May - Powerstation, Auckland

27th & Fri 28th May - San Francisco Bath House, Wellington



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