Bands; here’s a hint. If you are looking for press, particularly street press, it doesn’t hurt to give the writer some incentive. I’m not suggesting you bribe us with cash. Not at all (although if you are into that, hit me on twitter @liampieper), but it doesn’t hurt to make us feel special. Maybe a nice vinyl 12” of your record, or even a cup of tea. Or you can do what Matt from Nightmaster did:
“We could do an interview this weekend if you’re interested. We’re drinking beer and roasting a pig in a friend’s backyard. We didn’t honey-glaze, so it’s vegan-friendly.”
So your humble writer spent Saturday afternoon sipping Canadian beer and talking music with Matt Fox (guitar, percussion) and Chris Turner (bass) while a spit-roast suckling pig turned delicious pirouettes over a bed of coals. Absent was Troy Coxhill (drums), who is, from all accounts, a gentleman and a scholar. Collectively they are Nightmaster, who are not, as their name or their choice of meat as a bribe might suggest, a doom-metal band, but a different beast entirely.
The outfit combine angular rock with Afro-beat and calypso rhythms, applying some unexpected song structures and adding surf melodies to weirdly danceable music. We street press writers are seemingly contractually obliged to say that every record we hear is like nothing we’ve heard before, but in this case, yes... that’s the case.
Drawing on influences such as Fela Kuti, Wire, Tortoise and Santo And Johnny, the trio play a style of music that crosses punk aesthetic with hypnotic Afro-beats and complex interweaving melodies. Subtle bass and drum grooves are augmented by stabbed chords and intricate guitar-work for an instrumental pastiche that is somehow workable and totally unique.
“It’s a style we just arrived at, a natural progression from what we liked to play,” explains Matt, a Canadian ex-pat and refugee from the North American indie scene.
“You just gotta write something and keep on it until it’s done. It takes a while to refine it. It’s debatable that we refined it at all, actually,” he laughs. “The more we play the more rock comes into our show, much more angular punk element that comes through in our live shows.”
“We’ve both played in other bands before, where we focused on rock,” adds Chris. “I think in this band we tried to make it a bit more fun, a bit of a party band. We made a deliberate decision not to have vocals for this reason. Without vocals we can concentrate on the music. I would say that half the band’s we’ve played in have been instrumental.
“We tried a vocalist early on, this hip-hop vocalist from Tanzania called Mr. Paul, who is huge in Tanzania, but we couldn’t really make it work. We tried to write with him in mind initially, but it was very r’n’b and after two or three songs we gave it up and concentrated on party jams. More than anything, we wanted it to be fun. Incidentally, our lives shows are quite a lot of fun.”
The band started in an earlier format in Cambodia, where Matt and Chris started a band that they described as a more aggressive, punkier version of Nightmaster – one that they cobbled together out of the music scene in Phnom Penh.
“Phnom Penh is an incredible city,” offers Matt. “There’s so much going on there, so much stuff from around the world that washes up there. Our band there was with a dude that used to drum for Bauhaus. At one point there were drummers from Pyschedelic Furs and Midnight Oils’ drummer, so it was like, take your pick of which amazing ‘80s drummer you want to play with.
“That said,” he adds, “there wasn’t much of a live music scene there. You could go to see bands, but no-one was really having that much fun. We wanted to help people have fun, to dance, so bit by bit we became a party band.
In the end the guys moved to Melbourne, where they teamed up with Troy and sometime-percussionist Rod Collins (currently of smooth rock band Puerto Rico) for live shows. Through experimenting with sounds and jamming them out, they slowly arrived at their idiosyncratically cruisey-yet-angular groove-based style.
“It’s a progression if you follow it, at least for a bass player,” nods Chris. “Having grown up around and played in all these indie bands, where under the guitars and vocals there’s a really cool groove going on… if you take that groove, and really follow it, down the rabbit hole, see where it ends up, these west African grooves are about as far into a groove as you can get. It’s an evolution of rock in a lot of ways, and we’re having some fun with that.”
Nightmaster have been playing gigs around Melbourne since 2009, and are just about to release their first EP (Tiger) on Wireless records. They’re going to be doing launching with fellow indie types Mr Maps at a double launch tour, with a Melbourne date at the Curtin Bandroom on January 22.
“We just want to do live shows that were fucking fun, and a bit musically satisfying and challenging at the same time,” says Chris. “We wanted stuff outside of the four-four. I came up through Toronto, and it was a fucking nightmare of 50 people staring at their shoes. This band is all about breaking through that. In Cambodia we learnt early that we had to ramp up the party a bit just to make it work, so we’re going to bring a bit of that to the launch.”
NIGHTMASTER and Mr Maps hit The John Curtin Bandroom this Saturday January 22 for a double launch – NIGHTMASTER launch the Tiger EP and Mr Maps launch Wire Empire . Both releases are out now on Wireless Records.