Axemen – Derry Legend (Agitreader review)

Reprinted from: http://agitreader.com/wp2/axemen-derry-legend/

AXEMEN Three Virgins 2XLP

If New Zealand was the world’s WTF scene in the early ’80s and beyond—producing slightly deranged, slightly pop jangle and discordance from a place as isolated as they come—then it was Christchurch’s Axemen who were the island’s leftfield misfits. With Lil’ Stevie McCabe and company, nothing was off limits, not even their Flying Nun labelmates at the time. Years before bands like the Boredoms, Butthole Surfers, or in a larger perspective, Ween, the Axemen mocked and ridiculed the norms, both aesthetically and sonically. And like a magic trick, the Axemen managed to tweak The Clean’s template with a slanted glee unheard before—and not heard since, though the band is still active. All of their collage-based, bric-a-brac punk barbs and general weirdness can be gleaned by the essential trilogy of recordings reissued by Siltbreeze earlier this decade, with 1986’s Three Virgins/Three Versions/Three Visions being their Sgt. Pepper’s meets Trout Mask Replica meets Raw Power masterpiece. If ever there was a peak, it was it.

AXEMEN Derry Legend LP

By the time Derry Legend arrived at the Flying Nun offices in 1989, the Axemen seemed actually impressed with their own idiotic glee. Not only is the album, now back in circulation courtesy of Luxury Products, the most cohesive Axemen record the band ever released, it also contains the most mainstream pop moments they were to conjure. That said, it is grotesque and blatantly jokey enough to reject itself from any classic cannon (that I know of), despite its inherent greatness. (Youtube the group during this era and witness their built-in repulsion.) As sung in the psych-acoustic dirge of “Mourning of Youth,” they were lovers of “finery both new and foreign,” but occupied themselves as strangers in a strange land. It was a revolution of sorts, mucked up in political statements, nihilism towards commercialism, physical turmoil, and chugs of  “coffee wine.”  It was independent to independence.

P1060925_AXEMEN_SICK P1060926_TNVIf ever the Axemen had a greatest hit, though, it was “Rocks in My Heart,” a slab of etiolated cretin pop filled with sardonic wiggles and a sharp sense of melody, history, deconstruction. It is the Axemen in a nutshell, a summation of their ability to wed their idiosyncratic nature with the expected Kiwi status quo. Its formula of multi-hued, quivering vocals and sketchy rhythms indeed turned out to be ahead of the curve. Witnessed in this somewhat dull wave of NZ revival, many of the bands that are continually celebrated (i.e. The Chills, The Verlaines, The Bats) were of their own very particular realm of sound. And though there are no hard feelings against plying the same stroke, the Axemen were all over that small map, while their tentacles stretched back to Memphis and Detroit decades prior. The same kind of polyglot fuck-off is found in “Disc to Disk” and Bob Brannigan’s joyous “Human Hot Dogs.” Again, both borrow freely from The Clean, but the Axemen are lifers and these songs’ seemingly perpetual motion has done nothing but enhance the subversive tactics of the Axemen sound.

Still, “cohesive” isn’t the right word for this record. Were it not for the purely rockist intent of the album, Derry Legend would be yet another grab-bag of demented pleasures. “The Tragic Tale of a Rock and Roll Legend” could very well be the first rap single produced in the country. “He’s Leaving Home” could be drunk(er) Sinatra on a lo-fi bender; “That’s Finland Dear” encapsulates the powder-keg quality of recording on a miser’s budget, and the finale, the aforementioned “Mourning of Youth,” now ranks high on the list of New Zealand’s best death-march psychedelia moments. All this culminates in what, for a band that thrived on the next moment, is the Axemen going for broke.

AXEMEN Sac Tap Nut Jam LP (2013)

AXEMEN – Derry Legend (LP) – Luxury Products [2014 Remake/Remodel]

Reprinted from: http://www.othermusic.com/products/axemen-derry-legend

Derry Legend
Derry Legend

As with their fantastic 39 Clocks reissue, Luxury Product once again live up to their name with a beautiful package on this LP, originally released on Flying Nun in 1989. Derry Legend was the second proper Axemen album and it is also the band’s most immediate and coherent statement. Coherent is a pretty funny term to apply to this group, who always seemed to teeter on the brink of it and more often fell into chaos, but compared to their earlier work, the sprawling double album Three Virgins and earlier cassettes Scary Pt. III and Big Cheap Motel (all of which have been reissued by Siltbreeze over the past few years), Derry Legend is a perfectly distilled statement of all that the band was capable of. This is a record that shifts from off-kilter rock ‘n’ roll to Tin Pan Alley ballads to what is most likely New Zealand’s first (and only?) anti-drug, conscious, rap/rock hybrid — and all of this is even before you get to the track called “Human Hot Dogs!”

I’ve wracked my brain trying to think of any New Zealand bands that might have been the forbearers of such insanity and can’t really come up with any. Surely there must have been some Captain Beefheart and Bonzo Dog Band records involved and there are a few moments, like on the album opener “Disc to Disk” and closer “Mourning of Youth,” where they don’t seem too far off from the sound that made Flying Nun famous. You get the sense that if they wanted to they could have made a classic LP in that mold, but thank god they didn’t, as what they did make is far more unique and wonderful. If anything this record reminds me of a Kiwi version of Alex Chilton’s Like Flies on Sherbert, as it embodies that same sort of free-spirited, devil-may-care attitude, and like that album the more you listen to it the better it sounds. (March 19, 2014)

Reviewed by Dave Martin

SHOES THIS HIGH: Straight To Hell

reprinted from:
http://www.othermusic.com/products/shoes-this-high-straight-to-hell

SHOES THIS HIGH: Straight To Hell
SHOES THIS HIGH: Straight To Hell

Some of you have been slow to re-board the New Zealand Reissue Train for reasons perfectly understandable: can’t get into the psychedelic pop sounds, sounds like rain, same people play in all the bands, this all happened years ago/half a world away/what’s it got to do with me?, etc. For that last one, you’re on your own, but if you’ve been holding out for something truly dangerous from the back pages of Kiwi musicology, Shoes This High is the group for you.

Existing for a pinch between 1980-81, the only truly comparable band in the country, in terms of sheer intensity, would have been the Gordons (who I’m sure Shoes This High broke multiple stages with), but while that group was focused on a more long-term, weightier burn, Shoes This High — vocalist S. Brent Hayward, guitarist Kevin Hawkins, bassist Christopher Plummer and drummer Jessica Walker — were more content to stick and move, steal your wallet, stab you in between the ribs and slap you about.

All they ever committed to vinyl is a single four-song EP, but Straight to Hell issues for the first time a long-lost live set delivered by the band in its prime (and tacks on the 7″ tracks for comparison as a digital download). All but one of the songs in the set were ever heard by audiences outside of New Zealand in some truly reckless venues.

Punk is still in the air, but there are two other big components of their sound: the Fall, who by way of a brief snippet at the beginning of “Shouting Eat Sh*t” they must’ve been familiar with, and the Contortions, who unless any copies of No New York made their way across their borders, they couldn’t have possibly known about.

The guitar work and vocals here are absolutely vicious, frothing-mouthed and violent, introducing far-flung tenets of no-wave brutality to the punters, and the rhythm section anchors everything down in the maelstrom of slashing noise and invective hurled off by the rest of the band.

Despite what you might pre-conceive a nearly 35-year-old live tape might sound like, Straight to Hell captures this group with brightness and clarity, at peak psychosis.

If you were looking for a band that could rip your hair out from 7000 miles away, this here would be the one.

-Doug Mosurock (February 5, 2014)

Straight To Hell – Shoes This High LP out Jan 2014

Reprinted from: http://www.midheaven.com/item/straight-to-hell-by-shoes-this-high-lp

Ghost Ranch X - Fats White
Ghost Ranch X – Fats White; cover art for ‘Straight to Hell’

While Shoes This High’s existence was a mere glint in the eye of Father Time (a year or more, tops), they made every second count, stalking the New Zealand post-punk landscape—both North and South islands—with ravenous abandon.

For most fans, their legend and reputation rest solely on the strength of one highly formidable (and collectable) self-released 7-inch EP from 1981. And as anyone with ears who’s had the good fortune to come in contact with its jagged, scabrous genius can attest, the cry invariably rings out afterward: “Mein Gott, is this all there is?” In the 30-plus years since its initial release, the answer has been a most unflinching “yes.”

That is, until Siltbreeze tapped into the massive tape library of famed New Zealand underground music archivist Bob Sutton, who had in his possession a white-hot live scorcher of the group, culled from a set that went down at the infamous Billy the Club way back when. Straight to Hell showcases a band at the peak of their menacing powers.

Guitarist Kevin Hawkins slashes and rips strings from his ax like a mad butcher; the rhythm section of Jessica Walker and Christopher Plummer is par excellence, while the sneering, contemptuous vocals of singer S. Brent Hayward spit like poison darts above the swagger. Expertly sequenced by Jared Phillips (Times New Viking), Straight to Hell is a most welcome and astonishingly great artifact that delivers in buckets a shivering, toxic rain you always knew had fallen. Vinyl comes with a digital download of the complete album plus the four studio tracks from the original 1981 EP. One-time edition of 500—buy now or cry later.

Shoes This High posters – from the awesome collection of Bob Sutton

Steve McCabe of The Axemen, Part Two – by Ryan Leach – SpaceCase, Boredout

Steve McCabe of The Axemen, Part Two

Reprinted from: http://boredout305.tumblr.com/post/56105133631/steve-mccabe-of-the-axemen-part-two
Part two of Ryan Leach’s Steve McCabe interview.
Photos courtesy of Stu Kawowski.

AXEMEN: Steve, Stu, Bob recording at Peterborough 1984-85 ©STU

Ryan: The Axemen’s membership was always fluctuating.

Steve: We had a good range of Christchurch and Dunedin musicians in the band. If you’ve seen our Wikipedia page, you can see all the people who’ve been in or performed with the band.

Ryan: On Three Virgins there’s a recording of you talking with an American about Beverly Hills and Mardi Gras. Do you recall who you were talking with?

Steve: No. I don’t remember.

(Stu: That’s actually me talking to a Taxi driver in LA and recording it on my Sony walkman, 1982.)

Ryan: There’s also another conversation on Derry Legend (1987) where you’re being interviewed but replying with unrelated answers—about how the New Zealand dollar is weak. It’s pretty funny.

Steve: We had a lot of abstract ideas. It had to do with stream-of-consciousness. Three Virgins is a good example of that mindset. Everything just sort of flowed out without any hesitation.

Ryan: What kind of reaction did The Axemen get from people in the middle ’80s? I imagine your sound was a hard sell to some people.

Steve: The variety of genres was probably a good thing. We had a lot of jokes in our songs. If people could understand the lyrics and pickup on the jokes, I reckon that was a good thing as well; people like jokes. We didn’t take ourselves too seriously.

Ryan: The Axemen recorded just about everything they did.

Steve: Yeah. I still have all of the cassettes. There are about three hundred of them.

Ryan: Unbelievable! Are these tapes mostly of live shows or home recordings?

Steve: A bit of both. I always preferred recording to playing live. I got a four-track recorder in 1986. We did a lot of recordings on that. We used to record our practices and do overdubs on them later. We released a lot of cassette tapes that didn’t show up on Flying Nun. They’re not available at the moment. We used to screen print covers for them.

Ryan: What was The Axemen’s relationship with Flying Nun like? I imagine the financial loss of Three Virgins might have caused a bit of strain.

Steve: Flying Nun did eventually sell all of the pressings of Three Virgins and Derry Legend. It did take them a while to sell them though. Tom Lax just rereleased Three Virgins on Siltbreeze. He was pleased with it and did two more of our records. I don’t know if Flying Nun lost interest or what but there was a demand for those albums.

Ryan: They haven’t done a great job rereleasing their back catalog. If you want a vinyl pressing of (The Clean’s) Boodle, Boodle, Boodle you’d better have ninety bucks on hand.

Steve: They haven’t. I’ve seen original copies of Three Virgins go for good money too.

Ryan: Derry Legend hasn’t been rereleased yet. That record goes for fifty bucks.

Steve: Yeah. Derry Legend is being rereleased soon. Dustin Travis White, who did live sound for us on The Axemen and Times New Viking tour, is going to rerelease it on his new label, Luxury Products. Stu remastered it all on analog for the reissue. It’ll come out after Sac Tap Nut Jam. Sac Tap Nut Jam is completely digital. Hearing those two records back to back will be interesting.

Ryan: You released your solo LP Sweat It Out (1986) around the time of Derry Legend.

Steve: I released a whole lot of solo cassette stuff too. The EMI record pressing plant in New Zealand closed down around that time. It was the only plant in New Zealand. I did release one single after Sweat It Out. Then I did about four or five cassettes on Sleek Bott.

Ryan: Did it become cost prohibitive to release records after the New Zealand EMI plant closed down?

Steve: It did. New Zealand record companies would go through Mushroom (large Australian independent label). It became more difficult for them to press up records. For individuals it really became too difficult.

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Ryan: One of my favorite Axemen records is Scary Part III which Tom (Lax) at Siltbreeze reissued recently. Did Flying Nun not want to take you up on that record when you originally recorded it?

Steve: I think it had to do with Flying Nun being sold to Mushroom. It messed up our relationship with the label. Mushroom was more interested in getting Flying Nun’s back catalog than releasing new stuff.

Ryan: That’s right. With some exceptions—like King Loser—quality control at Flying Nun started going downhill after they partnered with Mushroom.

Steve: Yeah. Things started getting a bit poppy.

Ryan: Scary is the record where The Axemen got really into sampling.

Steve: That’s true. Although there’s a tiny bit on Derry Legend. Stu and I had these SK-1 samplers. They’re a Casio sampler. It had a little microphone on it and you could create one-and-a-half second loops of samples.

Ryan: What motivated The Axemen to do an Elton John tribute record (1992’s Three Rooms)?

Steve: It seemed like a good idea at the time. There’s a good range of songs in Elton John’s catalog. Good chords and things.

Ryan: The Axemen sort of wound down after the Elton John record, correct?

Steve: No. Stu and Bob moved to Auckland in about ‘87. I was playing in Christchurch from 1987 to 1990. Bob had formed the band Shaft. My wife and I got married in Las Vegas in 1990. We toured around America for our honeymoon. When we came back to New Zealand we moved to Auckland in 1992. Bob, Stu and I were all in the same town again so we did those two records on Sleek Bott—Recliner Rocker and Dirty Den Sessions. After that we didn’t do anything together for a while. Bob was busy with Shaft and I started a screen printing business with my wife. I started a band called CFCs in 1995. We played with Shaft for a little while. I released a solo CD called Generations (1998).

Ryan: Generations is great.

Steve: I like it too. I can’t get any copies of it. The guy who released it has heaps of them—about four hundred of the five hundred pressed. They’re sitting in his garage somewhere. I try to get them off of him. He keeps saying he’ll get them for me but it never happens. It’s really annoying. People are interested in it.

Ryan: A number of your songs have a lounge feel to them—going back to “Effectively My Baby” on Three Virgins. That aspect of your songwriting comes to the forefront on Generations.

Steve: Yeah. It was great being able to do those arrangements on the computer—get the big orchestration. I always wanted to do what Frank Sinatra and Nelson Riddle did with big orchestras. I was really pleased with it.

Ryan: Over the last four years there has been a resurgence with The Axemen. Obviously that has a lot to do with Tom Lax reissuing a number of your records on Siltbreeze. How did you guys come in contact with Tom?

Steve: When I moved up to Auckland, Tom sought me out. He bought everything I had—all the old Sleek Bott cassettes. That was in about 1992. I didn’t hear from Tom for quite a while after that. E-mail wasn’t around. Tom did a couple of reviews of our albums. Later on he bought the remaining copies I had of Sweat It Out. He sold all of those. That was more recently. The Axemen had been on hiatus for a while. When Tom decided to rerelease Cheap Motel, Three Virgins and Scary, we talked with him about doing a US tour. He lined us up with Times New Viking; we did the US tour with them in 2009. Tom came to quite a few of the gigs. Tom apparently was always playing Three Virgins to people, long before he reissued it. They’d ask him if it was available; eventually he decided to put it out.

Ryan: You did a tour of Australia a couple of years later. You hooked up with Brendon Annesley and did a great single with Negative Guest List.

Steve: That was cool. Brendon died shortly after that. He was a talented guy. A good writer.

Ryan: Bob Brannigan is no longer in the band.

Steve: On the last tour he was partying too much. It sort of got on my nerves. We had a bit of fight and he decided he didn’t want to play with us anymore.

Ryan: You’ve got the young gun in the band now.

Steve: Who?

Ryan: William Daymond. He’s younger than me.

Steve: Oh, yeah. He’s not a replacement for Bob or anything. William is a songwriter—although we haven’t written any songs with him yet—but it’s good having someone else in the band who can contribute songs. He seems to be fitting in well.

Ryan: We (Spacecase Records) wrote you about doing a single. But you had so many good tracks we asked you for a record instead (Sac Tap Nut Jam).

Steve: Yeah. We were keen on the single but doing a full length was so much nicer. I just bought a sixteen-track digital recorder. It’s about the size of a laptop. Dragan has a whole lot of mics. When you came up with your offer we all decided to go down to Wellington; Dragan has a practice space there with a lot of nice mics and William lives there too. We decided to record a number of songs and pick the best two for a single. We ended up with so many extra tracks doing an album came naturally. I was really pleased with the results. I really like the sixteen track recorder.

Ryan: I was surprised by how high the fidelity is.

Steve: Dragan is a really good audio guy.

Ryan: Is this the first vinyl record you’ve released of new material since Derry Legend?

Steve: Yeah. Not counting the reissues.

Ryan: Is there any chance Sweat It Out is going to be reissued?

Steve: There’s a possibility but not on LP. It might be reissued through Dusty who’s doing the Derry Legend reissue.

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THE AXEMEN | Sac Tap Nut Jam LP | SPACECASE

Reprinted from: http://www.spacecaserecords.com/axemen-sac-tap-nut-jam

THE AXEMEN | Sac Tap Nut Jam LP

Spacecase Records
US$14.00*

Sac Tap Nut Jam
The Axemen – SAC TAP NUT JAM, Spacecase SCR006, 2013

Spacecase Records is pleased to release Sac Tap Nut Jam—the first new Axemen full length in twenty-one years.
GO BUY SAC TAP NUT JAM NOW (direct from Spacecase)!
Originally from Christchurch, New Zealand, The Axemen formed in 1983. Shortly afterwards the band solidified around the core of Steve McCabe, Stu Kawowski and Bob Brannigan. (More than two dozen musicians have played in the Axemen, notably Johnny Segovia, George D. Henderson, Mick Elborado and Peter Gutteridge). Initial Axemen releases came out on Steve McCabe’s cassette label, Sleek Bott. The Axemen signed to Flying Nun in the mid ’80s, releasing the label’s first double album, Three Virgins (1986). Like The Swell Maps, The Axemen sound is hard to define—Three Virgins runs the gamut, from country to punk to avant-garde. The Axemen released their second Flying Nun record Derry Legend in 1987. The band put out further cassettes on Sleek Bott, notably Scary (Part III) and Three Rooms (An Elton John Tribute Album), before going on hiatus in the early ’90s.

           In 2009, The Axemen caught their second wind thanks to Tom Lax at Siltbreeze who reissued the band’s cassette-only releases Big Cheap Motel and Scary (Part III). The Axemen toured the United States with Times New Viking the same year. In 2011 The Axemen visited Australia and put out a tour 7″— a label split between McCabe’s Sleek Bott and the late Brendon Annesley’s Negative Guest List Records. Siltbreeze came through again that year, reissuing Three Virgins on vinyl (original pressings were going for well over fifty dollars).

Sac Tap Nut Jam finds Steve McCabe and Stu Kawowski reuniting with Dragan Stojanovic (who played on 1987’s Derry Legend)rounding out the lineup is William Daymond. Recorded in early 2013 in Wellington and Taita, Lower Hutt, Sac Tap Nut Jam—like all Axemen releases—defies easy categorization. There’s The Beatles/Dylan pop of Stojanovic’s “These Days”; McCabe’s post punk-influenced “Doctor’s on Speed Dial”; Steve McCabe’s inimitable voice and stream-of-consciousness lyric writing comes to the forefront on “Google That Girl”.

500 vinyl copies of Sac Tap Nut Jam were pressed up—400 on black, 100 on gold. The Axemen are currently planning a tour of New Zealand in support of Sac Tap Nut Jam.

Sac Tap Nut Jam is the sixth release from Camarillo, California-based Spacecase Records.


If ordering from outside the United States please email orders@spacecaserecords.com before submitting your order for accurate shipping rates.

* + shipping

Up Front with the Yub Nubz

such a tease
such a tease

Hot on the soles of their forthcoming new 12″ release ‘Sac Tap Nut Jam’, the Axemen are chaffing at the bit for punters to step up into the stirrups climb into the saddle and hitch their wagons to the new guiding star, the star that comes from the South, the star that IS the Axemen. The current lineup, showing impeccable taste chose this outlet for their first official interview regarding the new album.

Steve McCabe - still working on the John Halvorsen / Eraserhead look
Steve McCabe – still working on the John Halvorsen / Eraserhead look

Steve McCabe, speaking from his idyllic kiwi coast bach in the Coromandel on the verge of a 3 month sabbatical in the Pacific Islands, was the first to speak out on the release:

Steve McCabe: “I was initially troubled by the concept of plant (‘inanimate’) objects being incapable of feeling pain. This is the reason we embarked on the ‘Sac Tap’ project in the first place. All things were pointing in this direction, we had a levy-breaking wall of song built up ready to breach the sea-walls, with nowhere else to run!” he enthused in answer to my first utterance “Hello”.

IMG_5391
William Daymond – Role Model for troubled youth

William Daymond: “Dragan came over and showed me the famous ‘swizzle-sticks in a jar’ experiment – believe it or not this was the first time i ever experimented with this kind of experiment – and frankly it blew me away. My ‘Sac Tap’ commitment started there”.

IMG_5341
Stu Kawowski – aka Ludwig van Beathoven

Stu Kawowski: “Yeah I kinda dug Will’s naivete in the beginning, but by the end of the sessions we were churning it up free flow like a machete machine with overblown muscle-cloth spun on a quantum wheel upon which no-one can see which way its rotating but experienced users can count the bleats”

IMG_5354
Dragan Stojanovic – go ahead… tap my sac!

Dragan Stojanovic: “I count my blessings. And I think the other lads are counting theirs. The Axemen are the only band I would get out of bed to play in. Of course I’m fantastic in bed too!”.

Accolades are already pouring in from all over the world and the roundabout at Stokes Valley Road is fast becoming a local tourist attraction, with double-decker buses frequently thrilling passengers by driving around it multiple times, in one case until one elderly passenger threw up (she soon recovered when the tour guide pointed out Dragan Stojanovic walking down the road to the alchemists and giving her and the other passenger his trademark “fingers” gesture – a Serbian sign usually reserved for Croation soldiers – much to the amusement of the appreciative cheering passengers).

Idols and rivals check out the scene
Idols and rivals check out the scene

Watch this Space[case] spacecasefor new revelations!

The Axemen wish to thank Ryan and Mor at Spacecase who were instrumental (and vocal) in making the project happen…  http://www.spacecaserecords.com/ cheers dudes!