How We Made The Wallflower, ‘an electronic, country, sci-fi concept album’.

In 1991, Zed Brooks, (Step Chant Unit, Schrodinger’s Cat, Tandy’s Recording Studio, The Zoo Recording Facility) and myself (Three Men Missing, Hoola Troupe) set about creating a concept album, a project that started out simply enough but quickly took on a life of its own. A scene within a scene, The Wallflower took almost 4 years to complete and became something of a legend, at least to the people in the know. I am used to writing other peoples stories but writing my own seems kind of self-indulgent. That said, I can now put those kinds of thoughts aside and get on with the telling.

https://itunes.apple.com/nz/album/the-wallflower/id1083355673

 

 

The Prison

Life/the unsuspecting captive/of a million dreams/chains of desire bind so vastly to the earth.

These are the opening lines to Mike Nesmith’s 1974 record ‘The Prison’, an esoterically themed concept album built around ground breaking synth technology. It was a revelation to my 16-year-old ears and changed completely the way I thought about music. Fired up by the ideas that Nesmith introduced me to in The Prison, I became fixated on the potential of the album to express thoughts, feelings and ideas and decided that making a concept album was something that I wanted to do.

It took me 15 years to acquire the skills, knowledge and money to do it. It took another year to write it and the recording process meandered on for four years, an exhausting endurance test that left me bereft and disappointed. Fortunately, others didn’t feel as negative about it as I did, and the album which sold a paltry 250 copies before it disappeared from view, became something of a touch stone, not only for those involved in its creation, but for a wide range of people from fans to other musicians and here I use their words, not mine; ‘Revolutionary’, ‘Inspiring’, ‘Groundbreaking’, well at least it was then.

We were using new recording techniques and our mindset throughout the process was one of reckless innovation as we explored the possibilities of the studio. Zed Brooks, producer, engineer and contributing musician: “Over my many years of engineering and production, this album is probably the one that I most strongly identify with. It was a sort of a quirky, dark, electronic country, sci-fi concept album that was probably a little ahead of its time.”

When Hark, the label that released it, went into liquidation I thought the album lost for good and while the master tapes have irreconcilably vanished from view, some cassette copies survived and when one came my way mid-2015, it was a chance to revisit the project, an emotionally fraught, financially ruinous and overly ambitious venture that hallmarks a certain period of my life. Here is the story of how we made The Wallflower, a story that begins sometime in the mid-1960s in the living room of my paternal grandparents house in the district of Hautapu, just outside of Cambridge in the central Waikato.

 

 

An intuitive Musical Journey.

In an interview, Singer/songwriter Lizzie Marvelly described to me being drawn to a piano when she was about three and a half years old. She went onto describe the experience of touching the keys and how the sound produced colour in her head. My experience was strikingly similar. I was about the same age and the piano was in my paternal grandparents living room. There was a family gathering; I remember indistinct faces that would later become more familiar as the years passed, I remember the sun shining and I remember hauling myself up onto the piano seat and striking the keys, first the high notes at the far right end of the keyboard and then keys at the opposing end, the deep sonorous sounding ones.

The effect was startling. Gone was the sun, replaced by a leaden sky and the sound of thunder. Grey clouds gathered and lightening bursts tinted their edges with multi-coloured hue and tones. My next memory was being hauled away from the piano by a woman I later come to know as an aunt, she was telling me in no uncertain terms that I was being a “nuisance and making a racket” which was about the absolute opposite reaction to my own. Regardless, from that point on and any time I found myself in the proximity of a musical instrument I rushed to it hoping to revisit that moment which remain to this day an unforgettably joyous moment in time.

My parents were not musical; we had no instruments and a sparse collection of records, and any music I heard came via Radio Waikato or the hissy black and white TV that had centre stage in our living room. It was little better at my primary school where I had been declared non-musical and denied access to the choir (the schools only substantial music venture) and the music room. My salvation was a boy called Gerard McCaffrey who also came off a farm. We lived in the same district and shared the same long bus ride home. Somehow Gerard had gotten his hands on an analogue synthesiser called a Stylophone, a small hand held keypad with pen-like stylus which when applied to the keys produced an electronic tone.

Gerard showed me this device one day while we travelling homewards and after a brief demonstration he handed it to me. Within minutes I had composed my first tune and everyday henceforth I begged him to let me have a little time with the device, and to his credit, he patiently complied. The tune I had made was bugging me relentlessly and all I wanted to do was revisit it and explore it. We were both 10 at the time and I had to wait three more years before I finally got an instrument of my own and the opportunity to explore it at my leisure.

I was 13 when I was sent away to a Catholic boarding school in Auckland, the same school that had only recently educated a group of boys who went onto form bands like The Dudes, Split Enz, Citizen Band and Crowded House. Sacred Heart College was a rugby school but it also had a fine musical tradition, and the music rooms, while sparse and poorly appointed, possessed instruments and boys that could play them. The whole caboodle was something of a revelation to me but not as much of a revelation as my first guitar.

Music was a compulsory subject for third formers and part of the deal was a guitar, a cheap classical job that parents had to shell out for. We duly received them, ensconced in a cheap vinyl carry bag accompanied by a chord chart. As for the lessons, I never took them, the chord chart taught me all I needed to know, a D chord. Once I had mastered that I was away, making up my own chords and tunes.

My relationship with the guitar was a fraught one. Songs poured out of it, catchy poppy tunes accompanied by words centred on naive social justice themes, songs I didn’t like one little bit. I wanted something more, something akin to that feeling I had when I first touched that piano in my grandmother’s living room, but it wasn’t forthcoming. In frustration I would throw the little guitar aside and vowed never to touch it again, but of course I did, I couldn’t help myself because while I hated the music I was creating, I loved the process of discovery, the process of drawing out melody and rhythm and turning the whole shebang into a cohesive whole.

 

 

Nesmith and The Amazing Rhythm Aces

While all this was going on, I was like my school mates, exploring the contemporary music of the times but unlike my school mates I found little that satisfied my desires, until that is 1977 rolled around with a song called Rio. Rio was written and performed by one Mike Nesmith, best known as the woolly cap wearing guy from the Monkees, and accompanied by a groundbreaking video the song quickly took down the number one spot on the NZ charts (the only territory outside of Australia where the songs hit in any significant way).

It must have been the school holidays because I remember I was at home and anticipating Saturday evening and Ready to Roll, a locally produced TV show that played the hits of the day. For several glorious weeks Rio sat at number one, which meant that it closed off every show and was played in its entirety. I remember sitting transfixed in front of the TV, oblivious to everything else around me but the images passing across my eyes, my mind chewing on the strange lyrics, my heart enraptured by the musical possibilities being suggested.

Rio was a whimsical number and like the album it was lifted off, ‘From A Radio Engine To The Photon Wing’ an otherworldly kind of thing, and though I did not fully understand the thoughts and feelings behind the rather eccentric and quirky songs contained within the album, Nesmith’s musical ideas and lyrical experiments were exactly what I had been looking for.

Over the next year I scoured the record stores of Auckland and Hamilton seeking more Nesmith and I uncovered a couple of early post-Monkee gems that included the oddly titled ‘Pretty Much Your Standard Ranch Stash.’ The cover featured a winking Nesmith and beneath the wink were the words ‘buy this record’. I remember putting the record on for the first time and sitting there in front of the speakers in a kind of enchantment.

You could describe the sound as country, a style I had largely hitherto been unaware of, and indeed ‘Pretty Much Your Standard Ranch Stash’ was Nesmith’s personal contribution to a project he helmed aimed at archiving the country music scene as it was at that time in L.A, but Nesmith’s sound is not that easy to pigeonhole. A mixture of Country and Western, Texas style Western Swing (Nesmith is Texan) with a dose of traditional hillbilly/bluegrass and some early style rock and roll combined with Nesmith’s penchant for literary word play added up to something that transcended the basic country genre in new and unusual ways. Nesmith is considered to be one of the early pioneers of county rock, but this was not the Eagles, The Byrds or Gram Parsons, this was something altogether different.

By the time the record player arm lifter at the end of side two I got up and went to see my father who was having lunch in the other room and tried to explain how the music had affected me. Dad was never terribly convinced by his wayward son and I could tell from the look his eyes that I was backing him into a corner that he didn’t want to be in so I left it at that and instead focused on trying to explain it to my guitar.

While ‘From A Radio Engine to the Photon Wing’ had shown me the possibilities and potential for exploring ideas with song, ‘Pretty Much Your Standard Ranch Stash’ was music I could actually play. ‘Radio Engine’ was compositionally eccentric and the songs were well beyond my skill levels but ‘Ranch Stash’, using basic country style chord structures, was accessible and for many years to come influenced the way I wrote songs.

I listen back to the Wallflower now and hear ‘Ranch Stash’ in a number of songs, most notably ‘Take A Boy’ and ‘Waiting For A Fall’. As for the mysteriously titled ‘Radio Engine’ album, I can hear that in the tracks ‘Billy Mumy’s Lament’, ‘Everything’, ‘The Ways of Desire’ and ‘Love Injection’.

Frustrated by my inability to unearth information and further music from my new music idol, (remember this was before the internet and information and product on tap), I put pen to paper and wrote to him. I explained, at least as best I could, the profound effect his music had on me and asked for a list of his albums so I might better be able to source them. Nesmith, who was at this stage of career what we now refer to as an ‘indie-artist’, didn’t just write back, he went one step further.

About 6 months after I sent my letter off to America, (I gleaned the address of Nesmith’s media company Pacific Arts off the back of the ‘Radio Engine’ album), a box arrived containing every single Nesmith album ever made to that point, many of them first pressing editions and some autographed photos, (which I later learned was quite something as Nesmith famously does not sign autographs cynical as he is about the industry of buying and selling of celebrity signatures).

As you could imagine the whole thing was a bit like Christmas wrapped up in Easter and over the course of the next few days I played each record, one by one, savouring the sound while examining the album art and liner notes the way a biologist might explore cellular material beneath the lens of a microscope.

For some reason I set an album called ‘The Prison’ aside. Subtitled ‘A Book with a Soundtrack’ it looked especially intriguing and I wanted to save this for a special moment, a moment that came a few months later and doing as the sleeve notes instructed, I put the music on and began to read the book. Nesmith suggested in his notes that the reader would soon find the themes in the book and record synching and the listener/reader would experience both as a cohesive whole. He was right, the effect was both majestic and profound and as far as I was concerned, life changing.

Nesmith’s albums were often thematic and loosely conceptual but ‘The Prison’ was an actual series of songs written and organised to tell a story. The reviews at the time were not great and looking back almost every major review seemed to miss the point, hearing it literally rather than figuratively.

Using the idea of a prison as a metaphor, Nesmith crafts a story about a man unconsciously trapped by social conditioning within the confines of his own mind. Via a series of events, which include a love story (much misconstrued by reviewers as the central theme), the man is question begins to examine the circumstances of his life and quietly realises that the prison walls are actually just constructs of his mind. Facing his most acute fears, the man analyses the reality of his existence and discovers within himself the true meaning of freedom.

Nesmith’s ideas on this album draw form a type of Western esoteric mysticism known as Gnosticism, (a spiritual tradition very much in vogue in Southern California from the 1950s through till the early 1970s, a ‘thinking system’ that included among its adherents the writer Philip K Dick). Gnosticism treads very similar ground to basic Buddhism and Taoism and though I did not understand any of this in at all in anyway at the time, it nevertheless struck a chord in me, one that has never stopped resonating.

Before I move on to the next phase, I have to say a quick word about my Uncle Ray, a fellow Aucklander who took me under his wing on those weekends they cut us loose from the confines of boarding school. Ray had escaped the Waikato coalmining village of Rotowaro about a decade earlier by hitching a ride on the coattails of his mate Al Hunter, a burgeoning country musician who went onto become something of an icon.

By the time I caught up with Ray, he was a well-settled ‘wheeler/dealer’ with an amazing record collection that included an Amazing Rhythm Aces album called ‘Burning The Ballroom Down’, a country music record that was a bit like Nesmith’s ‘Ranch Stash’, a collection of songs that drew from the country cannon but reinterpreted the sound in a whole new way. ‘Ballroom’, a kind of Southern Gothic Noir, is a very adult album about love and loss. It is sad, sexy, and ironic and I could not get enough of it. I was so impressed by it that I appropriated the title of my favourite track ‘Out Of Control’ and applied it to a song which we recorded for The Wallflower, a shallow attempt to match Aces lovelorn loner, (a Wallflower if you will), an endlessly heartbroken character who stalks the dark corners of life’s Ballroom seeking love and companionship.

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The Three Men Missing Story (1981-85)

After being accredited with my University Entrance the principal at Sacred Heart called me to his office and told me in no uncertain terms “that my type was not welcome here” and told me not to bother returning. I don’t blame him; I was a square peg in a round hole and behaving badly.

My attempt at 7th form lasted a little over 3 months before the principal at Cambridge High suggested that perhaps school was not the right fit for me so I dropped out to do what I have become quite practiced at, drifting. My father pulled me into line eventually by asking me to come and work with him on the family farm. I agreed and when I wasn’t working, I played my guitar, watched Radio with Pictures on a Sunday night and spent a little cash every week on records.

This was about the same time Flying Nun was hitting its stride and being a huge fan of Kiwi music (thanks to the education proferred by Radio with Pictures and Rip It Up Magazine) I was buying every new Nun release as they became available. It was here listening to the revolutionary sounds coming out of the South Island that I got my second musical education and stepped in the music of The Verlaine’s and Sneaky Feelings was inspired to start my own band. (I appropriated the name ‘Spiritual Gas Station’, a track from The Wallflower, from a Flying Nun band. The name was perfect for a song I needed to write about a man’s search for a place in life).

I placed an advert in The Cambridge Edition seeking out like minded musicians explaining that I wanted to create a band that played original music and after a few auditions teamed up with Sue Brown (vocals/keyboard), Rhonda Hoffmans (vocals), Patrick Downey (Bass) and a transitory drummer whose names escape me. We were perhaps 6 months old and still without a name when we headed off to the town of Coromandel for our first recording session.

I discovered the Aerial Railway Recording Studio via an advert in Rip It Up. It was on a commune somewhere north of Coromandel town and we bunked down for a few days with the intention of recording an EP. The two engineers were an ex-pat Brit named Johnny Irons and a Morrinsville lad Dennis Marsh who later became quite involved with us in a sort of managerial role. (One night a few years later the car he was driving collided with horse that had escaped onto Hamilton’s Te Rapa straight and sadly, that was that for Dennis).

The recordings were meagre but it was a worthwhile education and the place where we found our name. It was during the long drive up that a news bulletin caught our attention, “Three Men are Missing in the Coromandel”. It seemed fortuitous and from that moment on we were ‘Three Men Missing’.

By the time of our first proper gig at a Hamilton Musicians Club gathering (at Uncle Sam’s Nightclub on Ward Street) we had settled on a permanent drummer, Te Awamutu based landscape gardener Max Ward. We started off well, I remember sensing the positive interest from the crowd, but the mood dissipated as I slowed up the proceedings with a series of broken guitar strings. I was never much of a live player and tended to get it all wrong when in front of a crowd. I was learning the hard way that my natural venue was the recording studio.

A few months later we found our missing piece, an ex-pat Australian punk, Chris Johnson or Fish as he was better known. With Chris and his guitar in our line-up we recorded another EP called ‘Days on the Island’ at the Lab in Auckland under the supervision of former Chills bassist Terry Moore. Self-released on vinyl, ‘Days on the Island’ was a step up from our first recording session.

Later we toured the North Island to minuscule crowds before winning our heat at the coveted Hillcrest Tavern Battle of the Bands. We went to the finals, and if memory serves me, we came third. Once again my inability to function in a stable manner before a crowd was our undoing. We were preparing for our third EP when I left. I was struggling with the band dynamic and my autocratic approach and youthful pride were making things difficult for us all. While I hived off overseas in search of something (or nothing as it turned out), the band continued on becoming the centre of a small scene that produced a variety of side projects that included the bands Silken Blue and Moofish.

Three Men Missing:

Bass: Patrick Downey

Keyboards and Vocals: Sue Brown (Silken Blue)

Drums: Max Ward (Grok)

Guitar: Chris ‘Fish’ Johnson (Grok, Dept of Corrections, Love and Violence, MOoFish)

Vocals: Rhonda Hoffmans Johnson (MOoFish)

Guitar: Andrew johnstone

*The song ‘Days on the Island’ was written in response to the economic changes being wrought by Rogernomics. In Cambridge, many small manufacturing business’s and in the case of the song, a clothing manufacturer whose children I had gone to primary school with, were closing down as cheap tariff free imports flooded the market. I was not happy and expressed my concern in song, the only active platform available to me.

 

Morrinsville Tonight

When I returned to NZ a couple of years I found a job as a gardener in Auckland for a family best described as ‘old money’ and on the weekends I would head of to Hamilton to record demos at Tandy’s Recording Studio. Set in a renovated barn on a small hobby farm just outside the eastern edge of the city on Morrinsville Road, Tandy’s was owned by Neil Nooyen (then the proprietor of a successful chain of record stores which stretched across the Waikato and into the King Country and Bay of Plenty), and operated by Zed Brooks, a musician whose band Step Chant Unit had had a few years earlier had scored a sizeable hit with a song called ‘Painting Pictures’. (Zed later married Sue Brown, the keyboardist with Three Men Missing, and the couple had two sons before the marriage dissolved).

I am not sure how I met Zed or heard about Tandy’s but there I was, week after week, spending my pay on studio experiments and learning that with Zed I had found an compatible creative partner. We got on well, shared a similar sense of humour but most of all, we were in love with ideas, be they scientific, philosophical, spiritual or musical. We recorded perhaps a dozen songs four of which ended up on an EP called Morrinsville Tonight, a kind of paean to small town Saturday nights, nights dedicated to the pursuit of sex, drugs and rock and roll. Partly influenced by Neil Young’s ‘Rust Never Sleeps’, concert film which I had seen in an otherwise empty Carlton cinema in downtown Hamilton a few years earlier, “Morrinsville Tonight’ was very much me testing the waters: trying out ideas, trying my hand at distorted guitars (the Neil Young thing) and generally playing around in the studio.

*Morrinsville, (a small industrial town in the North Waikato) has always had a fascination for me. I think it has something to do with the spectacle of Mt. Te Aroha in the background as you approach the town from the South. I have always found this to be an invigorating and affecting outlook. Over the years I wrote written several songs about my feelings for the town, a place that, for whatever reason, features prominently in my dreams in a symbolic kind of way.

 

 

This was Hoola Troupe (1988-1990)

 

 

It was Dennis Marsh (who had by this stage left Aerial Railway and was now helping out at Tandy’s) that introduced Chris Fish and myself to Dean Leary (Bass), Bill Parker (Drums) and Paul Brodie (Guitar). They helped me out with the Morrinsville Tonight EP and it was with his urging that we formed a band. Bill and Dean were from prominent local covers band 8forty8 and Paul was a remarkably skilled rock guitarist from the Morrinsville covers band scene. It was Bill Parker who came up with the name Hoola Troupe, a little something he had picked years earlier from a book and had put aside thinking that when the time came it would make an excellent band name, as it did.

Paul’s Keith Richard’s influenced playing set against Chris’s sonic guitar experiments made for an interesting juxtaposition and a rather unique rock sound. We were probably a bit much for the local rock audience and could never pull much of crowd and when we did, it was usually other musicians curious to see what it was we were up to. Indeed our self-titled first EP, recorded live at Musicare by Lawrence Eden Arps in Hamilton’s industrial northern suburbs, became something of a cult hit with some local rock musicians and for years after, the odd song or two would pop up in the set lists of various cover bands.

 

 

Our second EP, the 8-track Ego Slide was recorded live at Tandy’s studio by Zed Brooks, and as with the first EP we banged it out in no short order. We were tight, well rehearsed and knew exactly what we wanted but by this time my enthusiasm for the band had run its course.

Dean managed Hark band King Biscuit before heading to Melbourne where he learned the art of cooking. He now operates the very successful Scoff in Hamilton East, a takeaway joint for adults that offers gourmet cuisine at affordable prices. Bill joined Blackjack (featuring Devilskin’s Paul Martin). The bands first album Deal, recorded by Zed Brooks at Tandy’s, scored three NZ chart singles and the album itself sold 5000 copies but by the time their second album, the brilliant ‘Kicasso d’Muse’ (also recorded by Zed), the band was on critical life support after an episode of sexual indiscretion ruined the relationship with their management.

Chris Fish, Rhonda Hoffmans Johnson and Zed Brookes started Moofish and recorded one album, the self-titled Moofish, which spent some time on the American College music charts after being picked up by student radio there. The project is still ongoing today and is endlessly productive. Chris also spent time with experimental ensemble Grok, Love and Violence (an electronic pop band fronted by brothers Andrew and Scott Newth) and with industrial noise rockers Department of Corrections. Paul Brodie now resident in Raglan is still playing in the covers and tribute bands that have been his bread and butter for decades. As for me, I was finally ready to tackle the idea that had got me into music in the first place, I was going to make a concept album.

Hoola Troupe:

Guitars: Chris ‘Fish’ Johnson and Paul Brodie

Bass and Keyboards: Dean Leary

Drums: William Hammond Parker

Vocals: Andrew johnstone

 

The Wallflower Part One (October 1991- February 1992).

The Wallflower was recorded produced and mixed by Zed Brooks at Tandy’s Recording Studio, Morrinsville Road Hamilton.

Written by Andrew Johnstone, except ‘In the Morning’ written by Chris ‘Fish’ Johnson. Cover Art: Andrew Johnstone

The Players:

Bass, Keyboards, and Guitar: Zed Brooks (Step Chant Unit, Schrödinger’s cat, Wonderbug, MooFish)

Keyboards, Accordion: Grant Brodie (Inspector Moog, Dribbly Cat Attraction)

Vocals, Guitar: Andrew Johnstone.

Vocals and Backing Vocals: Rhonda Hoffmans and Sue Brown

Bass: Jeff Lamb

Guitars: Chris Johnson

Drums: Bill Parker

 

 

As with all broad creative concepts, the ideas for The Wallflower grew organically and exponentially. Starting with the title, The Wallflower (in popular culture the word Wallflower refers to an individual left behind on the playing field of romance and in more recent times has become a figure of speech used to describe a ‘loner’), is unable to make connections and is drifting into a twilight world of regret and decay. Notwithstanding he nurses a degree of hope that perhaps somewhere, maybe just around the corner, are the answers he has been seeking, answers that will give his life purpose, meaning and context. Of course, the whole thing was a metaphor for my own social anxiety.

As I wrote the songs, my head (as was usual with me and music) was flooded with images and I began to imagine a recording that read a little like a Ken Russell movie, a crazed dream fever laced with religious and sexual imagery. In fact I went so far with the Ken Russell thing that I copied in dialogue from his 1984 film ‘Crimes of Passion’ starring Anthony Perkins and Kathleen Turner. The albums opening track ‘Love Injection’ begins with a line from the film: “Here, have a Quaalude, to float, you float I promise, remember, I never lie.”

Turner’s prostitute is offering Perkin’s sexually tortured priest a pill (the Quaalude is drug known for its sedative and hypnotic properties) to ease his anxiety, following up another of the albums main themes, Catholicism and sexuality. I had been bought up in Catholic home and schooled in Catholic institutions, and was struggling to shake off a culture for which I had little empathy. This aspect of my life as it was then is explored in the tracks ‘Spiritual Gas Station’, ‘Take a Boy’, ‘Nightfall’ and ‘Everything’.

This feeds into the albums other major thematic thrust, love and the importance of romantic love as regards social fulfilment. As he steps into life The Wallflower is discovering that his idealistic notions of romantic love do not meet the realities of life or the certitude of his own nature and discovers, as so many do, that the road of romance can be a rocky, lonely and hazardous one.

 

THE RECORDING

Zed began by recording my guitar and vocals straight to tape with a click track to keep me in time. Once the bare bones of all 20 odd songs were drawn, we began adding layers eventually replacing the original guide tracks with a more polished vocal and rhythm guitar.

As money was short and time was at a premium, the method was to add tracks as fast as possible. We would play the basic track to the session musicians and send them into the studio room to do their thing. I had no preconceptions about what I wanted as regards keyboards, bass, drums and backing vocals, rather I wanted to see what might happen. Quite a lot as it turned out, much of it surprisingly on point and if we didn’t get it on the first take, we usually did on the second.

I especially remember the magic produced when Rhonda Hoffmans added her powerful voice to the basic tracks early on in the layering process. Her melodic sensibilities opened up the songs to new possibilities in much the same as Chris Fish’s guitar. Always something of a sonic conjuror, his lines, riffs and licks (like Rhonda’s voice) added melody, harmony and atmosphere.

Jeff Lamb was a trained jazz musician and while I can’t remember how we found him, his playing was sensational. Using both an electric bass and an acoustic upright, his rhythmic and melodic sensibilities were very much in tune with my own and listening back to his work today, I am still impressed with the lucidity of his lines and riffs. Otherwise it was mainly colouring, a job undertaken by Zed with the assistance of Grant Brodie and his array of keyboards. Grant and his brother Scott were the sons of Glaswegian migrants and had become stalwarts of the local alt-music scene, Scott with his bands Inchworm and Grant with Dribbly Cat Attraction and Inspector Moog. Grant possessed and excellent ear and the little touches and flourishes he added are central to the albums mood and feel.

I was fascinated by the methods of the burgeoning Hip-Hop movement as it was back in the late 1980s and early 1990s and the way the musicians would borrow directly from the recordings of others using sampling technology. I took on the general concept by recording dialogue from TV shows (with a cassette recorder) borrowing words and phrases that I thought might add to the albums narrative flow. Most of the spoken word phrases were taken from Star Trek- The Original Series (when you listen closely this shows offers some curious dialogue), Ken Russell films, TV Soaps and talk shows. Also, there are several references to TV shows like Star Trek-The Original Series and Patrick McGoohan’s The Prisoner scattered throughout the songs. These shows held deep symbolic import for me because as a child I found a degree of sanctuary and escape in the narrative and visual landscapes proferred by these entertainments.

Zed, much to my delight, did some actual sampling. The horns in the chorus of Billy Mumy’s Lament, for example, were lifted from a vintage 78rpm jazz record. Otherwise I would describe what I was hearing in my head and Zed applied himself figuring out how to ‘make it real’. He had only very basic tools at his disposal but managed to create a curious array of sound effects, rhythms and beats, stretching the technology at hand in ways I am sure it was never designed to do.

After 4 months of sporadic work, Zed mixed and mastered it and that was that. I had no real plans to release it; I just wanted to create it. The doing was what interested me the rest was incidental.

 

wallflower cover sleeve 5

 

 

The Wallflower Part Two: The Zoo August 1993-May 1994 (Hark Records)

Engineered by Zed Brooks with the assistance of Grant Brodie.

Produced by Zed Brooks.

The Players:

Bass: Daniel Devcich.

Drums: Christian Pearce.

Keyboards: Grant Brodie.

A Bit Of Anything and Everything: Zed Brooks

Narration: Grant Hislop, Lindsay Gallon, and Richard Jones.

 

wallflower cassette hark 9

 

A Second Chance

By 1992 Zed was working at The Zoo, a recording facility that had been set up by Grant Hislop to feed his label, Hark Records. A couple of years earlier Grant had come to Hamilton armed with two FM frequencies and set up a radio station called The Rock. It was phenomenon as was his next project, a pop station that was to become an iconic brand called The Edge.

Using the money he had made from these ventures, Grant set up Hark to pursue his great passion, NZ music. Zed was poached from Tandy’s and given free reign to design and build a state of the art recording studio in a building up the north end of Hamilton’s main drag (Victoria Street) and when The Zoo swung into operation, Zed passed a copy of The Wallflower to Grant who took a listen and got in touch proposing that we revisit the project and using the considerable technological resources available at The Zoo, ramp up the quality of the production with the end goal of releasing the album through Hark.

Using the master tapes from the Tandy’s sessions as his foundation, Zed began polishing, improving and tightening up the recordings. The first things to go were the voice samples. We had been advised that they would not hold up to copyright scrutiny, and being too expensive to licence we elected to rerecord the dialogue. Lindsay Gallon and Richard Jones, (Gallon and Jones were copywriters at the Rock and Edge and after overhearing them recording voice tracks for adverts, I co-opted their services for The Wallflower), voiced the dialogue mimicking the tone and intonation of the originals almost to a tee.

The other thing bugging me was the feel of some of the drum tracks. While Bill Parker was a damned fine rock drummer, his style was not always in keeping with what I wanted for the songs. It was Grant Brodie who suggested we bring in Christian Pearce a drummer from the local alt-music scene. Christian redid Love Injection and for some of the other tracks, Zed took the parts of Bill’s drums that worked and rebuilt them digitally as well as creating brand new rhythm tracks from scratch. In ‘Take A Boy’ for example, the hypnotic swishing noise that acts as the rhythm track are my fingers running gently across a ride cymbal.

 

wallflower inner1

 

Release and Aftermath

In May 1994, almost four years after we started the project, The Wallflower was ready for release. A video was shot for Billy Mumy’s Lament by local filmmaker Steve Clarke, a strange allegorical piece reminiscent of an Ingmar Bergman film (imagine the great Swedish Director doing B-Movies in Hollywood) which was filmed at the base of the vast opencast mine that had swallowed up Rotowaro the village my uncle Ray had escaped 2 decades earlier. I have no recollection of why Steve chose this location, but hell, it was awesome.

Two tracks were selected by Grant Hislop to be featured on a Hark promotional CD called Bark, ‘Wings of Love’ and ‘Hell was my Destination’, the latter a song named after a t-shirt I had picked up in London a few years earlier featuring a phrase that was begging to be a song title. (I didn’t wear it much because it was a magnet for Christians who misread its irony and took it for some kind of religious statement of intent).

I don’t remember the actual release date but being a Hark event it was full on. I played the songs on the acoustic guitar to a packed studio audience at The Zoo and to a live listening audience via The Rock. The video was premiered, the drinks flowed freely and we were caught smoking pot out the back later on by a cop who confessed he didn’t give a damn but urged us to be a little more discreet in the future. The album was released on cassette, and with the exception of the Waikato Times, which gave the album a two-page feature spread and a 5/5 star rating, it received universally negative reviews.

After that I recorded one more untitled album, an experimental self-produced collection, (recorded by Zoo engineer Mike Cotton during the studios downtime), that never saw the light of day and disappeared when Hark ceased operating in 1997. There was another band, WEB, and some desultory attempts at another EP but basically it was all over.

My initial mission had been to make one album, and that should have been that but I hung for a wee bit too long on not knowing what else to do. Fortunately circumstances forced change upon me and after a bit of drifting I found myself in Sales and built a career that latest 15 years and came to an end when I realised I couldn’t stand the ennui of it anymore.

I didn’t make music again until I was well into my forties. I still had to answer some nagging creative questions and purchased an iMac and set to work composing on GarageBand. Over the course of 4 years I wrote the kind of songs I always wanted to write but couldn’t when I was younger. Satisfied, I ceased making music and expect never to go down this path again.

 

  

To finish up, here are a few words from Zed Brookes and Grant Brodie about the project.

Zed Brookes:

Over my many years of engineering and production, this album is probably the one that I most strongly identify with. Although it’s Andrew’s solo album, it really ended up as a collaborative project as it went from Andrew’s acoustic guitar demos (some of which still ended up in the final album) to a vastly more complex production. It began as a bunch of acoustic demos by Andrew recorded on an old Fostex analogue 16-track reel-to-reel in the converted barn at Tandy’s studio in Hamilton and ended up as a full analogue/digital production at the Zoo studios a few years later.

It was a sort of a quirky dark electronic country sci-fi concept album that was probably a little ahead of its time. We spent a lot of time over the few years of working on finding each song’s unique character and bringing it to life. There were versions of almost every song that were wiped and started again from scratch, and as with most albums there were more songs recorded than those included.

As the album slowly developed, we brought in guest musicians; drummers, bass players, guitarists, keyboard players, violinists and singers at various times as we explored the many possible dimensions of each song, and towards the end of the project most of my early electronic drums/rhythms were replaced with real drums to give it all a bit more grit and counteract the extra samples and synths somewhat.

I’m pretty pleased that we still managed to keep some of my own bass/guitar/keyboard playing in there as well. This was all done in the early days of comparatively low-budget (i.e. less than a million dollars) digital technology, and there was no Pro Tools or other affordable computer-based editing technology – apart from an Akai S900 sampler (plus a vintage 8-bit Ensoniq Mirage with one dodgy voice!) and an Atari with Notator for the MIDI parts. A lot of the guest parts were re-arranged and re-sculpted using the sampler from what were often single (usually the first) takes on each song to capture that magic authentic vibe from the musos.

The early versions of the album also had cool obscure samples from the original Star Trek series in it, but it turned out to be too expensive to license them, so we just did our own similar parts instead. Overall this album is one of the ones I’m most proud of. There are so many layers of detail in every song – even the simpler-sounding ones – that you’ll probably never hear it all, and for myself, every song has it’s own rich back-story.

* After the closure of The Zoo in 1997, Zed taught audio and songwriting at Waikato Polytechnic (WINTEC) while completing a Graduate Certificate in Music and Film Sound from Griffith University (Queensland). After moving to Auckland a while later he did some production work at Mai FM/Mai music while teaching part time at MAINZ. He now teaches Audio Engineering full time at MAINZ.

 

Grant Brodie:

It is hard to separate working at The Zoo (where I was second engineer and apprenticed to Zed) and recording Wallflower, a project that took up much of our time. Dispersed with that was the odd bit keyboard playing. From memory most of the keyboards were recorded in one session when we went from one song to the next quite quickly. We were pretty well rehearsed at that point so I don’t think it was all that hard. I remember Zed fixed a lot of my sloppy playing with the midi editor (Atari ST, I think).

We recorded everything via midi so if we got a great take but with a couple of fumbles we could fix them up. I remember Zed spend a lot of time on the album and I can remember staying late with him watching him mix. It was a really good experience for me because I got to participate in the process of making an album from start to finish.

My overall memory of the project was the great melodic songs and it amazed me how Zed brought those songs to life, honing in on what was important for each of them. I am proud of that album and pleased to have been involved.

* Grant stayed on with MediaWorks, the media conglomerate that evolved from The Rock and The Edge. He is now MediaWorks Group Imaging Manager and personally looks after The Rock and The Edge. He has been with the company for some 25 years.

 

wallflower sleeve9

 

 

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