Auckland, New Zealand’s Popstrangers may be releasing their debut album Antipodes, but their sound already feels like it’s steeped in tradition. Your straight-up guitar-bass-drum power trio, Popstrangers at their best bring to mind the energy and ramshackle melodies of legendary three-pieces like Hüsker Dü and Nirvana. And coming from where they do, they’re carrying on the storied legacy of the New Zealand underground—their early singles were released by Flying Nun, after all. In a forthcoming review of Antipodes, PopMatters Associate Music Editor Zachary Houle describes how traces of all-time alt-rock greats like the Pixies and Nirvana show up in the mix, but that “Popstrangers more than successfully take all of these elements from other groups you know and love, and stirs them together in an appeasable soup, a brilliant melange of styles that ultimately comes out of the wringer sort of sounding something like their own.” We caught up with singer-guitarist Joel Flyger to find out more about Popstrangers and the making of Antipodes, which will be released on 2/26/2013 via Carpark.
Photo by Frances Carter
PopMatters: What’s it like to see Antipodes as a finished product? Was it difficult going from making singles to creating a full-length album?
Joel Flyger: It’s a good feeling knowing that Antipodes is finished and set to be released, and I am happy that it documents what we were doing as a band at the time of recording it. Releasing singles is pretty straightforward as it can be done fairly quickly. It wasn’t difficult making a full length, though the hardest part was choosing ten songs that work cohesively together, in some way. We had some troubles initially in getting released, so now it’s nice to see that it has come together.
PopMatters: As a young New Zealand band, it must have been a thrill to have your music released with the Flying Nun label on it. What was it like having your early singles come out on Flying Nun? And do you have a favorite Flying Nun album?
Joel Flyger: At the time when we were talking to Flying Nun about releasing some music and signing to them, it was something that I thought would’ve never happened. I didn’t associate new music with the label and I remember being affected emotionally at the time because it did seem surreal that it was happening, as it was the first time a label had taken serious interest in us as a band. So, at the time, having singles being released was something I was proud to be doing. [Two] of my favorite Flying Nun albums are the first album and Future Shock EP by the Gordons.
PopMatters: But does being a New Zealand band associated with Flying Nun also limit the way people to think about Popstrangers and listen to Antipodes? I ask because your approach on Antipodes seems to bigger, more muscular sound than some of the acts Flying Nun is known for.
Joel Flyger: Yeah, I suppose people may have some preconceptions about the way the album might sound due to the association. I don’t think Antipodes sounds like a classic Flying Nun album and it wasn’t intended to either. I’ve heard someone describe a feeling of isolation in the NZ sound, or Flying Nun sound or whatever it may be. I think, if anything, then that would be a similar theme that can be identified within Antipodes. I like some of the Flying Nun bands, but don’t know all of the back catalogue and wouldn’t consider our sound to be purposefully influenced.
The approach for the album was just to create a warmer and richer sound than we had done in previous releases.
PopMatters: Our reviewer of Antipodes noticed a 1990s alt-rock dimension to your music, particularly elements of the Pixies and Nirvana. What are some of the influences on your sound and approach?
Joel Flyger: I love the Pixies, but try to avoid sounding exactly like any of the bands or sounds that influence us. I think our sound is still progressing and we don’t have a certain approach or method to the way we write songs. I think it’s important to keep messing around and trying new ideas mainly because I would get bored doing the same thing. I go through moments where I don’t want to play the guitar anymore. I like to take different elements of songs and artists that appear but don’t want to sound exactly like them.
PopMatters: One of the interesting notes about the making of the album is that it was recorded in the basement of a 1930s dancehall. Was that by design and, if so, how did it impact the sound you were after?
Joel Flyger: It was recorded at a studio called The Lab, which is in the basement of Crystal Palace, the dancehall. I think it definitely suited the way we worked on the album, as we could hang out there and work on the album any time of the day and night. It’s not a clean, brightly lit studio with a coffee machine or anything like that, but it feels a lot closer to home, which made it a comfortable place to record. We knew Tom Healy, our engineer who has a space at the studio, so we were familiar with it before we started recording.
PopMatters: With your debut album under your belt, what else do you have planned for 2013?
Joel Flyger: We have our New Zealand album release tour coming up at the end of this week, then we have a small tour of Australia at the start of March. Then in April, we are relocating to London for a little while before we start touring more and recording a new album.