Published on February 20th, 2015 | by The Beige Baron0
Interview: Rhett Copland from Shacklock Meth Party
“I started the band in 2012 in Christchurch by myself,” says Shacklock Meth Party songwriter and guitarist, Rhett Copland, from his home in Auckland.
I’d come across one of the band during a boredom-fueled music-scouting mission, and with interest tickled by the name, clicked on the song Dialtone Eyes—and was assaulted by a drugged-out, droning vocal crushed under the weight of distorted guitar tracks looping around a Suicide-style drum beat. It felt like the musical equivalent of a panic attack.
I was hooked, and quickly purchased the albums This and Domino Room from the group’s bandcamp. Both were packed of dirty, occasionally sloppy psych rock falling somewhere between Methadrone-era BJM and the white noise of High Rise or Mainliner.
Domino Room was even more chaotic, but with intriguing hints of folk and pop seeping through. With a refreshed lineup and a new EP that dropped just last weekend, I was keen to have a listen to the new songs and maybe get in touch with someone from the band.
And so I found myself chatting with Rhett on rainy Monday night at work, an open Word document ready to hide my Facebook browser window from watchful eyes.
“I had a studio where I was living, so I pumped out a couple of albums and EPs (A Show of Hands for the Deranged, Jurassic Park Changed My Life, This, and Domino Room).
“A couple of members left the band and my landlord sold my house and studio without telling me towards the end of 2013. My parents are originally from Gore in the Deep South, so I moved back and rented a little house next to the river for about nine months. I had essentially given up on music at this point. Had a pretty extensive breakdown. I was in a really bad place. One day I got an email out of blue from Sean Hocking (owner at Metal Postcard Records) who wanted to put out an anthology of the band on vinyl. He offered me a great deal and it really helped me to get thinking about music again.
I had essentially given up on music at this point. Had a pretty extensive breakdown.
“I met [guitarist] Rikki Sutton at a gig in 2013 and we both really liked each other’s bands. He had been keen to play music with me and had been telling me to move to Auckland for some time. My keyboard player (who was in Doctors on guitar, John Harris) was already living up here and was keen to play again too, so I made the move to Auckland in July of last year, got a lineup together in the first week I was here (thanks to Rikki), and started again. We wrote the new one Mar 66 over the last couple of months.”
BNU: How did you arrive at the sound on Domino Room? It has this kind of claustrophobic feel, like someone is on the edge and about to jump. It’s almost scary…
The album before Domino Room [This] had some double-ups of instruments on it, like a drum sample along with recorded drums. When I started Domino Room it was my plan to double every instrument on the record, I think all eight tracks have two bass parts, drum machine and recorded drums, and four keyboard parts instead of two. I think Chavez had 10 guitar tracks on it. I was on a somewhat manic high while making it and the album actually clips above 0.0 dB because I just didn’t take care mastering it [Laughs]. I was going a million miles a minute and starting things, leaving them half done and forgetting, so overall it’s really all over the place production-wise.
But to answer your question, I think that’s a really accurate description. A lot of the songs were written by just recording things as soon as they came into my head and building the track around it as I went. Gag is the best example of this, or Razors on Bears. All of the lineup at that time tracked things for it and contributed ideas, but I wrote the meat of the songs. But as with any of the shit I have made, it’s very improv-based, lyrics come last almost always. This was written before it was recorded, but almost all the others are improv-buildups.
Are you kidding? Ten guitar tracks? On the song Chavez, did you have that fully formed before you started or did it happen more by accident? What music were you listening to that led you in that direction?
Yeah, it has 10 or so guitar tracks, probably two of them were drone-ish loop things, some come in after the chorus. It’s just the layering theory in my mind, if they are all playing the same thing relatively then their inconsistencies get lost in the wash of guitars, but bits of them jump out from time to time. Domino Room also had a bunch of reverb sub-mixes for the guitars, keys, and bass parts so it helps fill out the bottom.
Chavez was built on basic rhythm instruments being tracked first. I started it with drum machines and bass, then added guitars and everything else on top.
I was listening to a lot of Spacemen 3 at the time but I always have, Things’ll Never Be the Same is right up there for that sort of guitar treatment. But also a lot of classical music, Adagio for Strings by Samuel Barber and a lot of Chopin, Philip Glass, Eno. My favorite composer is Chopin. Him and Phil Spector are my all-time heroes musically, I could care less about The Beatles or Jimi Hendrix or Pink Floyd.
So I think Domino Room had some classical influence in terms of building tracks up with multiple guitars. If I had an 80-piece orchestra I would use all of the first violins, the second violins, violas, cellos. My thought was that with overdubs I could do it digitally in some respect.
The new record Mar 66 is quite different from Domino Room. I’m getting an almost Brian Jonestown-y vibe from the first track. And the vocals are beautiful!
Yeah, the Jonestown thing, something no psych musician can escape from. The guy’s a pretty heavy influence on my guitar playing. It’s a pretty poppy EP, I had some good voices to work with so the vocals are out front a bit more. The vocalist’s name is Manon Revuelta, she is Rikki’s partner. Our drummer Rachael Elf backs Manon up, Charlie on the new EP is a good example.
I did got a sense with the first two records you were trying to fuck with the stereotypical “psych” composition, smash it up. This record seems more wandering and atmospheric with the tape manipulation and stuff. What was your objective with the EP?
I think the press release for This called it “gory drug pop”. [Laughs] I’m into that, I wanted white noise and frequency-shifted organ tones, you get a high-pitched kind of awesome creepiness that way. I think the new one was me getting back into writing. I definitely wanted to use some kind of waltz beat like on Charlie, and something a bit more swing like on Monster. I just want “eureka” moments, I have had them a couple of times making Shacklock stuff, but an album or an EP to me is one thing. I do it and move on. If I sit on a recording for too long I get filled with self-doubt and end up not wanting to do it anymore.
I am about to start writing an album with the band but we had all agreed we wanted something out before that happened, and relatively quickly. It’s the best lineup Shacklock has had musically.
So how would you describe the headspace you were in making This and Domino Room compared to the new EP? You mentioned you moved to the country, is that right? Did you kind of just burn out?
I was having trouble with my family. My studio was sold out from underneath me with two months notice. I just broke down, basically, and decided to move back to Gore where I grew up, escape. So I bought a car, packed up all my shit in the back and drove home.
I hear people say that weed makes them more creative, but I personally don’t subscribe to any of that shit.
I recently moved in with my girlfriend who is my biggest supporter, she helped me get my music life together more than anyone, I’m extremely lucky to have her. I guess I was in more control during This than Domino Room, I had definitely began unraveling mentally at that point. In saying this, all of my problems still exist. I have just gotten better at dealing with it.
Do you think depression and drugging-up to deal with it is more conducive to creative expression? I guess I’m saying do misery and drugs produce creative inspiration, or do you feel the urge to make art when you’re happy or more “together”?
I think it effects your output, but most people I know that really want to go somewhere in music do well in both situations, it’s just mostly their personal lives that take the damage from it. I wouldn’t want to speak for others, but that’s how it goes for me.
I hear people talk about all kinds of spooky shit with music, that weed makes them more creative or DMT opened up their mind to new music, but I personally don’t subscribe to any of that shit. I don’t see colors when I make music or anything like that. I have generally lived a pretty hermit-based existence with music. I don’t go out much socially unless I am playing, really. I think with my depression, music was a brilliant escape that I could go at alone.
I recently read John Muir’s unpublished diaries, he was a naturalist and probably the biggest catalyst for the National Parks system in America and the way he talks about getting lost in nature to deal with issues in his personal life really struck home with me. The way he describes how it made him feel grounded and part of something bigger. I love playing music with other people but being able to be alone in a studio picking up anything and putting something down is my National Park, I can get lost for hours and completely lose track of time.
What’s Gore like to live in?
It has about 10,000 people I think. It has one of the best art galleries in the country. The fishing is awesome, there are a lot of really cool people there who care about art and putting on theater shows and gigs for locals. They recently tried to re-brand the town just before I left for Auckland, which was pretty hilarious.
There are a lot of problems down there though, the local council has their tinfoil hats on when it comes to fluoride in the water, shit like that, the local high school has moved light years ahead since I was there, they had banned the LGBT 0800 helpline for kids when I was a student. My music teacher was let go for helping a student (of legal consent age) procure condoms. I’m glad they have changed, but Jesus Christ talk about bigotry and judgment in the one place there shouldn’t be any.
One funny thing I remember growing up there was a local cop being charged with counterfeiting copies of Microsoft Word and Encarta. Small towns serve shit like that up all the time and everyone in the community has a good chuckle.
You fish? What do you fish for? And what’s next for Shacklock Meth Party?
I fish for brown and rainbow trout. I have rubbish fly reel but really enjoy it, whack on the Staple Singers’ Vee Jay Years compilation, pack a few spliffs and head out.
What’s next for Shacklock: an album that will be going out on vinyl, we are starting writing soon. I have a few ideas so far, but we want this one to be built up from jams and ideas everyone brings. Hopefully some publishing opportunities, I’m in talks with some publishers. It’s really our bread and butter if we want to fund real projects for the band. And hopefully a tour to India, China, or Cambodia. Everyone goes to the States and loses money, which I am sure I’ll do eventually, but Asia is more interesting. It’s China’s turn now as far as all this shit goes, TV, film, music itself. Better opportunities for a little band like ours.
Shacklock Meth Party’s new EP Mar 66 is out now on bandcamp, along with the rest of the band’s back catalog. Check it out.