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Interview: Midwave Breaks

Posted by Lee Densem

The Next Wave

Friends and bandmates. That's how Paul Russell and Bruce Conlon started out, and a couple of decades later, that's how they've ened up again. These old mates are now Midwave Breaks, a rock duo who is remarkably easy on the ears and about to take their show on a 9 date tour around Aotearoa in May. We got drummer Paul Russell to answer some questions.

RBF: Give us the lowdown - despite being familiar faces, Midwave Breaks is newish right? What made you both decide to “start a band” now?

PR: Bruce and I go way back, we grew up in the same neighbourhood, went to the same schools. We formed our first band Eight together in the late 90’s and when that disbanded in 2005, we both did our own things for a while, including moving to the UK for almost 10 years.

After I moved back to NZ, Bruce and I both ended up in Tauranga. It was inevitable that we would want to make more music together. We’re both wannabe surfers, and Midwave Breaks came about from our music chats, sitting out the back waiting for the next wave to roll in.

Bruce is a prolific songwriter and has a whole catalogue of songs, some fully formed, some just scratch ideas, and we decided to work together to bring some of them to life. And now here we are.

"There’s only a few degrees of separation in NZ"

RBF: You've got a storied musical history which has taken you from Supergroove to the West End in London. Tell us a bit about that background?

PR: That covers a long time, over 25 years starting in the late 80s, so here’s the short version! I joined the Low Down Dirty Blues Band when I was 14, which morphed from a traditional blues band to the 7 piece funk-rock-soul style of Supergroove. I spent my mid-teens learning the craft of being in a band, writing and recording, getting signed, making music videos, and touring the country. I left Supergroove after the release of our debut album ’Traction’ in 1994, and for a number of years worked as a professional drummer juggling teaching, session work, and live shows for various artists.

Through the early 2000’s I was part of Che Fu’s band The Krates, and performed on 'The Navigator', and 'Beneath The Radar' albums, as well as touring those releases. Bruce and I had Eight going at this point, and our album 'Moving' came out in 2004. There’s only a few degrees of separation in NZ and I was fortunate enough to be able to record and perform with a number of inspiring NZ artists over those years. I performed with Anika Moa during the release of her debut album, and the same with Brooke Fraser where she was coming through.

“it was tough to breakthrough into consistent music work”

In 2006 I left NZ for the UK in search of new music opportunities. I had a couple of promising jobs initially, but it was tough to breakthrough into consistent music work so I was also doing a range of 9-5 jobs around London. Unbeknownst to me, my wife Michelle had signed me up to audition with Stomp. One day (at a time when we were contemplating packing it in and moving home to NZ) I received an email to say that they were holding auditions in Brighton. So I turned up not really knowing what to expect, and just wanting to enjoy the experience of trying out. I got the gig and was part of the full time London cast of Stomp for over 8 years.

This was pretty trippy for a guy from NZ, I had the most amazing time and learnt so much working with the show. I got to tour internationally through Australasia and Russia, we performed at an FA Cup Final at Wembley Stadium, at The Royal Variety Show, at the 2012 London Olympics Closing Ceremony, at the O2 Arena, on the BBC - loads of great memories! After a few years, I also took on part-time studies to become an Osteopath. So, for 5 and a half years I juggled studying while continuing to perform as a regular cast member in the West End. In 2015 I graduated with a Masters in Osteopathy, left Stomp and relocated to NZ. The end :)

“He’s one of those rare creative breeds that excels both creatively and academically”

RBF: And what about Bruce?

PR: My first memory of Bruce as a musician, was seeing him perform the guitar solo to Van Halen's 'Jump' at school assembly at Lynfield College. He was a long-haired hard-rock-metal guitar prodigy and a year ahead of me at school. I filled in for his band at the talent quest when their drummer didn’t show, and we played 'Cocaine' by Eric Clapton.

Bruce has been a songwriter and multi-instrumentalist from a young age. He moved to the States in his teens and trained to become a qualified Luthier (guitar maker). He’s one of those rare creative breeds that excels both creatively and academically; He has a degree in computer science, and worked at a high level in that field, building and then selling his own company which spanned both here and the UK. At the same time, he is a successful solo artist in his own right, with two international songwriting awards under his belt.

I remember thrashing the cassette tape of his first band Orange back in the mid 90’s, and since the Eight days we’ve become pretty close musical allies. I was fortunate enough to play drums on his Solo album ‘Audience of One’, and performed with him a number of times in London. These days he is a part-time farmer, raising cattle and goats in the hills surrounding Tauranga, as well as being my musical partner in crime with Midwave Breaks.

RBF: You recently dropped EP ‘Mind Made Up’, and have mentioned that it wasn’t so radio friendly. How are they different to your other tracks?

They’re more eclectic feeling to us, in that they’re not really formatted to what radio typically plays these days. And the choice of instrumentation was different. The main two tracks are also written in parts, rather than a typical Verse-Chorus-Bridge style of most radio-friendly tunes, and the middle track is essentially a cheeky Alt-Country reprise remix of the first song. While they do feel quite different to us, I fully appreciate that because of the way we produce and mix the music, they probably still end up sounding very “us” to other people though!

“we really don’t care to be the centre of attention”

RBF: You've got a 9 date tour around Aotearoa coming up for NZ Music Month in May. Can you explain the idea behind picking a Special Guest Artist in each place?

PR: We love the idea of NZ Music Month putting a spotlight on all Kiwi Artists. We’ve always had the view that rather than try and get the biggest slice of the pie, we’d rather help make the pie bigger, so everybody gets a slice. And that’s the motivation behind getting a Special Guest Artist on board in each centre.

We’re still an emerging act ourselves, so it’s a bit rich of us to assume we have much to offer, but we know what it’s like to try and get your music out there in front of an audience. We love making our music, but we really don’t care to be the centre of attention. So, if we can share the stage with emerging artists who can maybe leverage that opportunity to build their own profile, that’s great.

For NZ Music Month last year, we featured a new track from a different NZ artist on our socials across every day in the month with a link to their track. It feels good to help promote other Artists that we enjoy ourselves as music fans, and it makes for a healthier view of your own process and the industry in general when you focus some of your energy on supporting other people’s work.

“I have to actually learn how to play my drum part live after the song has been finished”

RBF: How does the Midwave Breaks live experience differ from your recorded tracks?

PR: We perform as a two-piece with live drums, guitar, and vocals, as well as separated recorded tracks, meaning that the sound engineer can mix each individual instrument as though they’re on stage. So although there’s only two of us, we can sound like a 5 or 6 piece band depending on what else is going on.

The recording process is very different in this line up, because rather than jamming out a song in a rehearsal room with a full band of instruments, where you can hear everything at once, and slowly adjust accordingly to what each other is playing, we start with a very basic guitar and rhythm track first, and then piece it together slowly by adding layers of ideas to the recording. This inevitably means we end up re-recording various parts as we continue to develop the song, and not always from start to finish. In some cases, I have to actually learn how to play my drum part live after the song has been finished, which is a bit different!

“When we have something new, we put it out”

RBF: You’ve got a bunch of unreleased material too – are you working towards an album?

PR: Most of our current releases so far were originally intended as a full-length album, but we decided to release them as singles and EPs instead. This was partly to spare ourselves the stress of having a ’Debut Album’ and a subsequent ‘Follow Up’ album. The way streaming services work nowadays means that it’s very simple to just keep releasing new material, and as an independent band that seemed a much less stressful way to go about things.

When we have something new, we put it out. It could be a single or a few tracks. That process may change if we feel we want to commit to a particular batch of tunes as a project. But for now, we’re happy with putting out our music as we go. And this way, we can call our first full length album 'Greatest Hits'!

Midwave Breaks are out on tour starting in New Plymouth on 9 May. Get details and tickets from their website. You can listen to Paul & Bruce's latest EP 'Mind Made Up' and all their other tracks on Bandcamp and other streaming services.