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Looking for Alaska are working towards the release of their self-titled debut. An album this year was not part of the plan for the Hamilton duo, but circumstances resulted in a weekend to record a single becoming a fully-fledged band album session. Finn McLennan-Elliott talked with Amy Maynard and Aaron Gott about the upcoming release.
“We just wanted to play music. If we can make a living out of this we don’t have to go flip burgers – and we’re not crazily employable in any other field,” Aaron smiles. “Where we started out was just going to lots of open mic nights. We’ve never had to fight for gigs, once we started putting our name out there, one thing would lead to the other.”
Amy and Aaron regularly get on the road just to support other musicians, even when they’re not themselves playing. Now integral part of the Waikato folk music scene, they host their own shows in Hamilton regularly where they invite out of town artists to perform, as well as being attentive audience members for other acts. Aaron enthusiastically points to this aspect of the community as the thing he loves about playing music.
“That’s the greatest thing we’ve found about the folk scene here in NZ. At the Auckland Folk Festival, that was our first time at a big folk festival, we met so many people and it was just amazing, we were blown away by everything. This is the place to be. What a cool scene to be part of.”
“It never feels hard to drive up to Auckland or go out and support other people playing, because everyone’s so generous and welcoming,” adds Amy.
This sort of mindset and attitude has meant Looking for Alaska are at the top of many artists list for performing with. It’s also been important for the duo that they can offer an alternative model.
“We can do the quiet two-piece thing, but we can also do the bigger full band, so it covers all bases,” Amy explains.
The pair met four years ago when they were both studying music at Wintec – Waikato Institute of Technology. Aaron was fresh out of high school, while Amy was getting back into music after a break of many years.
“I wanted to do music as a thing, but wasn’t ready to start the minute I left high school so I thought I’d study it and meet people. In many ways both of us really went into Wintec trying to meet people,” Aaron reflects.
A recording assignment led to him asking Amy to sing with him.
“Someone was recording me singing and playing, and I really wanted to do a duet song by The Decemberists. I’d heard Amy singing in class so I knew she had a great voice, and I asked if she wanted to come sing a song with me.”
Looking for Alaska surfaced in 2013, and earlier this year they booked a weekend at Auckland’s Roundhead Studios in order to record a single. After meeting up with producer Regan McKinnon plans shifted a bit.
“Regan was running the Porch Recording Studio in Hamilton for a long time before he went overseas. He’s done a lot of work with Luke Thompson and Joseph & Maia. I met him briefly when he was running the Porch.
“He just got back from the States recently and there was a music symposium in Hamilton and we were both there. He basically said to us, ‘If you want to work with me I’ll have to like the music.’ But we got a message a couple of days later from him telling us to come round, so we thought, ‘Oh good he likes the music!’” Aaron explains to laughter. “We mentioned the booked time at Roundhead, so he said, ‘Let’s do an album!’”
They had five sessions in McKinnon’s home studio doing pre-production and arranging the songs and then headed north as Aaron outlines.
“We hit Roundhead for two days with the full band and tracked the whole album in that time. There’s five of us – Regan is playing extra guitars now and then bass player Stephen Daniell and our new drummer Jeremy Hantler. We had Scott Seabright behind the desk, I can’t say enough good things about him – he’s so fast and onto it.”
Both feel like everything snowballed and suddenly they have recorded an album, but concede that a debut EP was supposed to have been completed much earlier and so the songs were all ready to go. The self-titled release will be a reflection of the first years of the band, with songwriting credits shared equally between them.
“Writing is mostly separate,” explains Aaron. “The songs change a lot from when one of us comes up with them to when we perform them together. But a lot of them we start alone, because otherwise we just end up fighting if we write them together. We’re both quite… “
Amy interrupts, “Stubborn.”
“We both have very strong opinions,” Aaron laughs.
“Usually, if I write, I’ll write to the guitar, so I’ll come up with some chords to write lyrics to. While Aaron is kind of the opposite, he’ll often write words first. I hear tunes in my head and then find the words from there.”
The South Island and Australia are on the horizon for Looking for Alaska. Further forward, they laugh about the bigger U.S. plan.
“We might start in Los Angeles and do a tour up the west coast ending in Alaska, because… why not?”