It’s long been known that a town heavy with the culture of college proffers a healthy musical culture. Dunedin, the second largest city on New Zealand’s South Island, is such a city, and holds an impressive musical heritage. From the early 1980s, it was a chief source of ‘the Dunedin Sound,’ an indie-rock sensibility that fuelled a good portion of the bands under the Flying Nun label, as well as a healthy chunk of many of New Zealand’s musical imports of the day: The Chills, The Clean, The Bats and Straitjacket Fits, amongst many other bands.
And it was with the intention of studying music that brought Matiu Walters, lead guitarist and vocalist of five-piece genre-defying rock band Six60 down to Dunedin in the first place. “It’s a pretty prestigious music college they’ve got down there,” Walters says matter-of-factly, “with reading, writing and composing and whatnot.” Sadly, he was informed by the powers-that-be that he wasn’t dedicated enough, so he and some musical mates ended up moving into a decrepit house at 660 Castle Street that ended up being the source of their name.
“It’s kind of a ghetto area down there!” Walters says with a laugh. “And I don’t know what [660 Castle Street]’s like now, but when we were there it was a shithole. It was probably the worst house on the street and it was as cold as an icebox. It was cold even when it was warm outside. And it all kind of started from there. We had a studio in my room, we played parties at local pub, and then we ended up recording an EP [in 2008] and got a record deal.”
Sporting a sound that deftly blends guitar-heavy rock ‘n’ roll, jazzed-up soul and deep, throbbing drum and bass, the Six60 sound has since spread far and beyond the long white cloud’s shores. Their debut self-titled LP was released October of last year and has since gone triple platinum, with its singles Rise Up 2.0 and Don’t Forget Your Roots going double platinum.
Ever the tireless performers, they’ve been touring nearly nonstop over the last few years, and this month sees Six60 making their fourth headlining trip to our shores. Not bad for a band that takes its name from such humble origins. So naturally I ask him what he thinks it is about their music that captures the public’s imagination. “I like to write music the way I listen to music,” he says earnestly. “Our music is just natural and our hearts are on our sleeves; we’re not trying to be anybody else but who we are, I suppose.”
And who they are is a sum of their parts. The first thing you might notice when you listen to Six60 is how it seamlessly blends jammy, phishy guitar play with sleek electronics and reggae-infused R&B. Walters mentions that it has a lot to do with the fact that he and his cohorts all come from different backgrounds, and they let things happen naturally during the course of writing songs. “We definitely keep our minds open to debriefing, and we don’t try to confine ourselves to a genre,” he informs me. “We leave it open to allowing our songs to take their own direction. It allows our album and our shows to be more interesting because yes, we play a whole span of genres.
“Now, I’m not sure if the next album will follow that diversity – it will probably be more refined – but yeah, I like the feeling of the process being really natural and what happens happens. It makes the songs true.”
Word on the street is that Six60 might be releasing their sophomore album in April of next year. “Yeah, if all goes well, hopefully!” Walters exclaims. “We’ve got to make hay while the sun shines,” he laughs; a very easygoing laugh. “It’s kind of a whole weird new process now because we’ve got a whole live show off the first album and now with the second we’ve got all these new pressures working towards it. I guess now there’s these degrees of expectation and stuff like that, and we’ve got deadlines that we didn’t used to have; but pressure makes diamonds, I do believe.”
Over the course of the last few years, Six60 have been touring like crazy – each cycle of their live show has seen them playing larger venues and in front of larger audiences than the cycle before. Walters is psyched to be playing in Australia again, and especially so at the Forum. Touring, as he says, is part and parcel of his life, and he wouldn’t have it any other way. It surely helps that Six60 are made up of such good mates.
“Certainly we get along really well because we were friends before this. So the touring and all the stuff like that is easy. We get off on touring and performing and entertaining,” he says, “and we definitely set the bar pretty high – to say we’re content with where we are right now would be a lie, because we’re really not.”
So what does Six60 want out of life? He thinks for a second and takes a deep breath. “I guess we really want the main goal to be – just being a world-renowned band that has changed something. That would be the dream.” Judging by their success so far, I’d say they’re nearly there.
BY THOMAS BAILEY
Rise up and catch SIX60 when they bring their expanded show to The Forum on Friday September 28.