Golden Axe – The Transcript
Fri, 03 Sep 2010 by Duncan Greive
After over a decade together in one form or another we felt it was high time Real Groove chased down synth-noise duo Golden Axe for an interview. Composed of Real Groove's own Chris Cudby and Daif King, the pair are featured in September’s Real Groove in support of their superb new album Fantasy Footwork. But the constraints of magazine pages being what they are we feel compelled to give you the full transcript of their conversation with Duncan Greive, a sprawling hour-long interview conducted amidst the pop-cultural rubble at Golden Axe’s New North Rd HQ.
Duncan: When did you guys meet?
Daif: We’re totally both from Beach Haven. How specific do you want to get?
Duncan: Very specific. I want the day, I want first impressions.
Chris: All I can remember is I was hanging around Daif at Birkenhead College quite a bit, and he had a bit of a Lou Reed look going on – (sun)glasses, longish black hair, listening to, I don’t know, some (HLAH) music. I remember Daif and Daif’s friend James gave me a lift into town.
Duncan: How old were you at this stage?
Chris: Probably 17. Quite old.
Duncan: Well, you know, also quite young.
Chris: Yeah, true.
Daif: I remember there was that party. Everything was going really well, everyone was having a good time. Through shared friends, we didn’t really know each other, then all these rugby heads showed up and started to ruin the party, as they do, and we found ourselves talking about Japanese noise for some reason. It was really, really weird.
Chris: Japanese noise can end up forming strong friendship bonds.
Duncan: And here you are. My very limited knowledge of Birkenhead is that it’s not a haven of Lou Reed-looking types who listen to Japanese Noise. How did this happen?
Chris: But Darian [Godfrey, influential Birkenhead Dead C fan] is from there!
Duncan: That’s what I figured. Was he a mutual friend?
Chris: No. But there did seem to be a surprising amount of teenagers who were into noise and stuff.
Duncan: How do you go from nondescript on the North Shore to that stuff…
Daif: It’s always puzzled me. There’s been a few other…
Chris: Mint Chicks are from north of the bridge too. I remember there were no punks. No skaters. No genres at all. Just ordinary Joes…
Daif: Everyone liked Nirvana, and if you liked Nirvana then you’d probably like [Sonic Youth and if you liked them, then you’d probably listen to New Zealand music, and so on...
Chris: But the thing is that everyone loves Nirvana, right?
Duncan: So you just followed that chain? Nirvana was still the gateway?
Chris: This was like ’94, ’95.
Daif: There was this really great radio show on bfm called the Solar Furnace Hour.
Chris: Alan Holt and John Bywater.
Daif: Without that, I don’t think I would be listening to music at all. Not the good stuff anyways.
Chris: If you liked Nirvana, then you’d listen to student radio, so you’d end up listening to the Auckland noise music show that was on the radio, then you’d go to town and go to Crawlspace because it was next to the comic shop that I used to always go to. It was the same building so I’d just look at the things on the wall. There was also Opprobrium magazine, which is like a really great New Zealand noise music magazine. It’s kind of funny to talk about all this noise music considering we just made this poppy album.
Duncan: I was going to get to that. The thing is that it doesn’t seem like the noise has gone. It doesn’t seem like there was never pop there, it’s just like you’ve altered the ratio somewhat. We’ll get to that because I want to follow this Birkenhead noise thing because I think it’s quite interesting.
Chris: Beach Haven really did seem fucking like you might as well be living real rural.
Daif: It literally is a cul-de-sac. It’s in a cul-de-sac, right? A peninsula.
Chris: Yeah, it is. Maybe it’s the lower socio-economic area (of the North Shore), and all the other high schools are too far away, so you can’t hang out with anyone.
Daif: That’s true, but also on one side of the street there would be mansions. A million dollar mansion, back then, was something quite rare. On the other side of the street, you’d literally have state houses, sharing the same street. You had the best of both worlds at all times. You were always exposed to something wacky and lame at the same time.
Chris: I think we also listened to lots of stoner rock as well though, like Kyuss. You can’t hang out with (just) the three or four people who are into noise music.
Duncan: You mentioned that Crawlspace was right next to a comic book shop that you were really into. Were you both into comics at an early age or was that just you?
Chris: That’s just me.
Daif: We could both draw really well.
Chris: We were just really, really (in to) drawing.
Duncan: The visual elements of your shows have always been quite prominent. Like you obviously paid attention to them. Where did that come from?
Daif: Something I don’t get about bands not being in control of that area… It’s the total package if you want it. Is it because they’re lazy?
Chris: You can lie about it and just get up on a guitar on stage and wear whatever you did that day and say that you’re just being you but as soon as you’re in a formal situation, all the visual signifiers mean stuff.
Duncan: So “being you” is conveying something about you to your audience kind of like an idea of you as ‘all about the music’.
Chris: We were just like really aware of that and trying to do interesting… There didn’t seem to be too much of a tradition in New Zealand pop music or whatever genre in the recent past of doing that kind of thing, even though NZ bands of old times looked like a bunch of court jesters.
Duncan: Totally. Don’t take this the wrong way, but neither of you are ‘musicians’.
Daif: I’ve come to terms with that. That’s fine. You can go down there.
Duncan: Well I think it’s a compliment in a lot of ways. Bands full of ‘musicians’ seem to be pretty rotten. How did you come to start playing music then? How did you first start messing around – together or apart? What’s the genesis of the first Golden Axe?
Daif: There’s definitely been quite a few versions. We first started trying to make noise.
Chris: That’s where the noise thing came in. You listen to these noise bands and are like “Oh fuck. This is awesome!”
Daif: …and I can do it!
Chris: You don’t have to do anything. You just mash this thing against another thing and get a microphone and put it on tape. Then it’s totally rad and great. We recorded music and maybe some lo-fi pop songs.
Duncan: I’m curious about what you first did when you decided ‘I’m going to stop being a passive listener and start being a participant’.
Daif: Well it didn’t happen till really late comparatively.
Duncan: That’s what it felt like.
Daif: Most people start bands in school. There was nothing scarier than school music. Guys who were doing music in school were the weirdest – not weird, but I couldn’t understand it and couldn’t see the appeal.
Chris: It’s more like a transitional thing. Initially, it seemed like quite a hermetic activity. You’d record it, but it would also be like writing in your diary, not really think about public consumption - the idea of performing being quite strange initially. I think we really cracked it when we started busking.
Daif: How did we even come about to busk?
Chris: We’d do jams but we could never figure out how to reproduce the stuff that we’d recorded with a tape and bass, but when we used keyboards then we could figure out how to reproduce it.
Duncan: When you starting messing about doing whatever you were doing, was it always together? Did you start separately and then come together or was it about conspiring together from the start?
Daif: I was dabbling in music. There are some pretty sweet recordings of me hanging out in my friend’s house trying to make the stupidest song on Earth.
Chris: And succeeding!
Daif: We didn’t ever start doing shit properly for ages and ages.
Chris: Maybe that’s glossing over it a little bit because I recorded lots of terrible stuff and never wanted anyone to hear it. We recorded some pretty fucking dodgy shit before we actually figured out how to sound even remotely what I would consider to be OK.
Duncan: But was that as Golden Axe? When did you become Golden Axe? Was that pre or post busking?
Daif: That’s a good question. It was pre busking actually.
Chris: Golden Axe was a zine. Then we were a really shit guitar band that sucked.
Daif: And bless all the people for sticking up for us when we were doing it!
Chris: Yeah. People would just give us their house and we’d just be really terrible.
Daif: Did we play with The Mint Chicks that one time?
Chris: No! I hope not. Then I was just about to quit my music career because I sucked so hard. Then we figured out that busking was fun with people. By the time that we hit the streets with the keyboards, we had already figured out that it seemed like an interesting format. Daif had already built his waveform generator at that point, and you could improvise. We were really motivated by improvising in a pop format.
Duncan: What’s the response? … Why was that not present tense, like a statement about the band just then?
Chris: We were? I’d say we still are.
Duncan: It seems like quite a good way of summing you up. So what’s the public’s response to these buskers with keyboards improvising the pop format in public?
Chris: …wearing stupid outfits. Silly outfits.
Daif: Mostly ignored, I think.
Duncan: Did you get money?
Daif: No. One time, a drunk guy gave us $20. Ocassionally we’d get the odd 20c or 50c coin.
Chris: I think we would always make at least $20.
Daif: Are you sure?
Chris: Within an hour we’d get around $20.
Chris: Well, we definitely did a couple of times. We didn’t do it that often. We maybe did it six or seven times. Maybe a bit more.
Duncan: But it was helpful to you in terms of becoming a band?
Chris: That’s where we got the clapping (for ourselves) between songs. When we were busking, we’d joke because nobody else would be applauding. We’d do that between songs and it actually started to work as a cue for other people to applaud for us on the street. That was a bit of learned knowledge.
Daif: Still, quite often, people don’t know when to get excited or when the song is over.
Duncan: I do find that, because you’re not a conventional band, even allowing for how open music is now.
Daif: Well that’s nice of you!
Duncan: You know, I’m full of compliments. If you’re coming into a brand new audience, not playing a home town, what are the responses that you tend to get?
Chris: I prefer to play strangers.
Duncan: So it’s not based on your friends?
Chris: Yeah. We definitely try not to be too friend-rocky. What kind of response do we get? Probably a good example would be the So So Modern show that we just played.
Duncan: I dragged the guy from MTV Australia to watch you.
Chris: Oh, great, thanks.
Duncan: Your big break!
Chris: “Sounds fine but a bit muddy!”
Duncan: No, he seemed pretty happy - but he’d been drinking.
Chris: Oh, drinking is better. We normally go down a treat with drunk people.
Daif: Playing at parties rules because the house is full of people who are way drunk. Playing at a bar blows because everyone’s got to pay $7 for a beer, and no one’s remotely drunk, and slightly upset that they’ve got to pay $7 so they’re kind of taking that out on you.
Daif: I’ve noticed a lot more of a high ratio of strangers coming over and trying to play our keyboards.
Duncan: Is that irritating? Because you are a band. There’s a sense of fun – you do play in the audience a lot of the time, and the sense of play is really strong with you guys, so you can kind of imagine that people might feel like they want to create a relationship.
Daif: And they’re totally justified to come along and get excited and want to join in, and I can respect that. I think at the time when it’s actually happening, in those seconds, it is a bit irritating. But looking back on it, that’s totally fine. I think it just adds to my experience as much as it does theirs.
Chris: You can just do a friendly push away.
Daif: I’m not very good at that though. There have been loads of disasters.
Chris: I remember there was a really good show – we played one house party and we were playing and this guy just comes over and starts chatting to Daif while he’s playing, like “Hey man, how’s it going? Blah blah blah”.
Duncan: Were they friends?
Daif: No! I didn’t know that guy.
Chris: Like “Oh great. Sorry, I just gotta do this for a sec!”.
Daif: Also, I’ve seen real musicians be able to do that too – be able to hold down conversations while they’re playing, even if it is with their band – “Let’s discuss the next section. You on bass, we’re going to follow you and we’re going to wait for your signal”, and this is while they’re playing, this is totally bizarre. Some people can talk and do other stuff – multitask. But back to your original point, it’s probably a little harder for me.
Chris: We do deliberately put ourselves…
Daif: Yeah, it’s absolutely our own fault.
Duncan: So what prompts the walking frame, the helmet and the costumes and the playing the audience. The amount of thought and the difficulties and the whole junk shop... Where did that come from?
Chris: A lot of stuff was generally pretty logical – just building up from scratch. The walking frames were already in our studio, just sitting around.
Daif: And they were an excellent way to take our gear to where we were going to play.
Chris: We were playing in the gallery, and when we were playing in the street, we’d just put our keyboard on our knees and sit down, but because we were playing a gallery, we were playing to an audience and we didn’t think that sitting down on the floor with people on their knees would be so good. The funny thing is we didn’t consider the idea of keyboard stands. It had never occurred to us! The walking frames were there, the right height, they’re funny. They were fun and they had wheels. Daif would just tape all this shit onto them and then just wheel it back to the studio. We used to wheel our gear from K’ Road to our practice room on Customs Street.
Duncan: That’s a hike!
Chris: Yeah. It didn’t seem like it at the time.
Daif: It was 90% practical and 10% fun.
Chris: The outfits were definitely inspired by Providence noise bands. I should make that very clear – and the Boredoms. Psychedelic noise music was just full of possibilities. We wanted to make that connection because it seemed really fresh and interesting, particularly in New Zealand.
Duncan: So maybe I should take that as an opportunity to talk about influences as such. It feels like there have been more bands that sound vaguely like Golden Axe in the last few years, but you guys have been around a lot longer than the last few years. You talked about the noise music tradition, but most of that’s with ‘real instruments’ the idea of doing it with keyboards, and bringing a more pop music sound into it, yes, to a certain extent is a keyboard thing – it’s driven by the instrument. What were the core influences of your sound?
Chris: Do you want us to get really specific?
Duncan: Yeah. I’d like some names that teenagers can go and look up.
Daif: Early Boredoms.
Duncan: Which albums?
Daif: Soul Discharge and Chocolate Synthesizer. Forcefield is really good.
Chris: Yeah, yeah, Forcefield, yeah. High Rise.
Daif: Japanese psychedelic music like High Rise and Mainliner and Acid Mother’s Temple.
Chris: Musica Transonic was really good 100% improvised psychedelic rock from Japan, who are straight edge. All these straight edge psychedelic Japanese bands! Nirvana was one. We used to play Nirvana.
Daif: Black Sabbath. We used to religiously listen to Black Sabbath all day everyday for quite a few summers. It was like we had one tape or CD and that was it.
Chris: Heaps of ‘60s music. All those compilations.
Daif: Nuggets and Back from the Grave.
Chris: We’d try to write a song like that but it would just come out completely different.
Duncan: That is one of the things that your music calls to mind is those compilations just because they’re so treble-y, and in terms of the song writing, it’s rudimentary but it has this force to it.
Chris: Also, one of our first songs that got played – it was our first song that was actually distributed in any way on a compilation, it was a song called No Food, and I realised maybe four years later that I’d completely ripped off a 3Ds song. I’d completely stolen the main guitar melody without even realising. Unprofessional! There’s this really great Half Japanese article on how to play guitar.
Daif: Can we big up Half Japanese?
Duncan: Absolutely. I want the whole picture.
Chris: Daniel Johnson on the chord organ is well – a huge inspiration with his chord organ playing.
Duncan: I had to interview him earlier this year. It was really terrifying. He’s gone.
Daif: He’s gone?
Chris: We’ve got a tape recording of our noise band from 1998. The Moscow Mules.
Duncan: Isn’t that a really bad early RTD (Ready To Drink beverage)?
Daif: Probably ’96 or ’97. Wasn’t it a literary reference?
Chris: I don’t know. It was also an RTD! Either a literary reference or an RTD.
Duncan: Definitely cool in this day and age for being an early RTD…
Chris: Stereolab is another one. Stereolab and Neu! Not too much Can though.
Duncan: So they’re probably more musician-y than…
Chris: I like Can now but I didn’t then.
Daif: You had an Amon Duul II record, didn’t you?
Chris: I had the really crazy one.
Chris: Pretty much anything that we’d buy from Beach Haven op shop. You’d find amazing records at Beach Haven op shop, like John Cage records and free jazz records and shit.
Duncan: How do they end up there?
Chris: I don’t know. I remember once I pulled out The Best of Cream record and I was like ‘This looks interesting’ and I pulled the record out and it was Black Sabbath Paranoid on the inside and I was like “Yeah!”. Yeah, random op shop records, lots of records, moog records – Daif’s got a giant moog record collection.
Daif: That said, I’m not very good at getting technical gear geek-ish, you know?
Duncan: Let’s talk about gear, actually. To an untrained eye, it looks like a mess of tape and things strapped to other things. The pedals and so on – how do you get your sound and what happens when one of your things falls over, as they inevitably must.
Chris: At the moment, my distortion pedal keeps crapping out. It turns out that you need the distortion pedal totally! It’s one of the things that you can’t do without, at which point Daif does a masterful solo while I try to figure out what’s going on. But you can generally resolve things, and maybe that’s where the excitement of live improvisation comes from.
Duncan: My guess is that you're not merely still improvisatory.
Chris: Yeah, I can fall off and get back into it.
Duncan: Can you do that within the Golden Axe? Is there room in Golden Axe for it?
Chris: I think half of the album was mainly improvised. Some of it’s from live shows.
Duncan: I’ve mainly listened to the first four songs. CBD car rides.
Daif: We need to give you a new CD with proper, real artwork. Not fake artwork.
Duncan: Thank you! Is that a homemade Google Earth t-shirt? Amazing. Did you make it?
Duncan: So if you found that at the Birkenhead op shop, that would be…
Daif: I bet you you could though! I’ll give it up eventually. But there must be some real wizards living in Beach Haven to just throw this stuff out to the op shops.
Chris: And inorganic collections are quite good.
Duncan: Is that for collecting musical equipment?
Chris: Mainly record players and speakers.
Daif: And actual records and gear.
Chris: For a little while,
Daif had this toy guitar – he’d taped a weed whacker to the toy electric guitar, to the spinning disc. When we played, Daif would bring it out and do a solo and hypnotise the audience.
Duncan: That way you’ll be popular because you’ve hypnotised your fans!
Daif: Anyone at that show is a loyal.
Duncan: So Fantasy Footwork? Tell me about it. Is this the second album? Third? I think maybe I missed one.
Chris: You probably missed the first one.
Duncan: No, I feel like I had the first one. Maybe I didn’t. Maybe I think the second one is the first one. Party Alarm Bells is the one I have.
Daif: We’ve had lots of album releases, but not many of them have been called albums.
Chris: And they’re all poorly distributed.
Duncan: What sort of distribution is there for this, just out of curiosity?
Chris: Daif’s in charge of that.
Daif: Rhythmethod maybe. I don’t know. (It was Rhythmethod)
Chris: But you mailed off the CD and press release, right?
Daif: We’ve only made 200...
Chris: Our manager Stevie – he’s drawn up this giant list of things that we have to do. We’re just going through the list; Write out real sweet press release – done, send it off to distributors six weeks before the album comes out – done, music video – done almost, organise interviews with high profile journalists of magazines – tick. All that kind of stuff.
Daif: I don’t really see the usefulness of making a CD anymore.
Duncan: You’ve just made a CD. Are you not aware of that?
Daif: The wheels for that CD have been moving for about four years.
Chris: We had to make a CD.
Daif: But after this, it’s definitely low on the priority list.
Chris: The thing is that we’re not going to sell CDs very much but we may sell handmade Golden Axe shoes. But you can generally sell CDs to drunk people. I always remember being disappointed when Cortina put out their album and didn’t do any promo stuff. They just sort of disappeared.
Duncan: I personally like talking to bands about their albums if it’s a proper band. Like Paramore or something!
Chris: It’s not like it’s not a proper band! We consider ourselves a band.
Duncan: Or Golden Axe! You’re a proper band. Of course you are.
Chris: Did you ask us a question about the album?
Duncan: Yeah. Tell me about Fantasy Footwork.
Daif: Can you be more specific?
Duncan: Well, no!
Chris: It’s just a journey into a really awesome place. Pop songs from another dimension - that’s probably great.
Duncan: And how does it differ to your previous releases, to return to something we talked about earlier?
Daif: I think it’s a lot more considered for the first half of it. They’re really tightly polished songs.
Chris: It’s definitely our idea of a pop album.
Duncan: There’s a song called Telephone on it, which is very current.
Chris: We wrote that one three years ago! It was going to go on the first (Awesome Feelings compilation) but we didn’t quite get it finished! Telephone songs are perennial.
Duncan: I did a post about them while I was on Real Groove.
Chris: Everyone always does their best work with the telephone theme.
Duncan: They do! They should make a compilation! Let’s make a compilation of telephone songs. It will be fucking famous. Definite satisfaction.
Chris: It’s definitely our idea of a pop hit.
Duncan: You covered a Katy Perry song called Hot n Cold. Why did you do that and, judging by what we’ve talked about. Golden Axe in 1999, I wouldn’t have thought would be covering Katy Perry in 2009.
Chris: I may have told you this before. We were driving down to Wellington – Stevie (Kaye) makes a compilation of the best pop every year. He makes this gigantic…
Duncan: I’ve known Stevie all this time and he’s never given me one!
Chris: They’re awesome. I listen to them all year. We were listening to a Katy Perry song and it was pretty much a Golden Axe song.
Duncan: The drum beat in particular is a Golden Axe drum beat.
Chris: We didn’t have to change anything. Even the whole distortion pedal for the chorus, no distortion pedal. We just noticed how the pop format of the day was what we were doing anyway.
Duncan: You pretty much predicted the future?
Chris: It’s just coincidence.
Duncan: Given that most of this conversation has been about various degrees of obscure noise artists, that you’ve ended up becoming more and more pop is kind of interesting. Where did that come from?
Chris: Maybe because our last four or five or six releases sort of explored that territory quite a bit. With our last album, we felt like when we did it we were like ‘OK, we’ve done this version of what the band is. Let’s find out what’s next’. It did take quite a while to learn how to use computer recording technology, like a couple of years.
Daif: Too long!
Chris: Too long, but now it’s alright. It doesn’t have the cassette hiss that our previous ones did.
Daif: Are you talking about how hi-fi…
Duncan: No, more about how pop came to become part of your idiom? There are quite strong, genuinely… before, the catchy melodies were always kind of simple.
Daif: Or implied!
Duncan: Yeah! Whereas now they’re almost, not complex, but they have six or seven notes in sequence, and they’ll float above another melody.
Chris: It’s an attempt at trying to do Prog Rock.
Daif: It is. That’s totally an attempt at getting a Jazz Fusion band vibe. That’s the other thing that we really secretly love. Prog music.
Chris: Daif knows all about Jazz Fusion.
Daif: Well I don’t know anything about it, but I have two or three records, so I shamefully keep quiet.
Chris: Yeah I forgot that we were making an attempt to be prog with it.
Daif: Yeah, because there’s nothing more psychedelic than a prog rock band, right? That also just comes with having played for a little amount of time. You will naturally pick it up, even if you don’t want to like we do.
Chris: We kind of challenge ourselves.
Daif: We’re not very good at it. Any sane human being probably would be shredding like a bastard by now, but it definitely shows development.
Chris: It’s sort of like ‘Can we do this? Let’s see if we can write a song…’. There are later songs on this one – there’s a song called Watch The Clock. It’s got like a million little riffs on it. It’s starting to come up with different ways of describing it. We said that we’ve got 'micro riffs'. There’s 'riff stacking'.
Daif: A term we coined!
Duncan: You should sell some of the terms to bigger bands. They need them.
Chris: We’d charge a reasonable fee.
Duncan: Imagine for a moment trying to write an actual pop song, rather than a Golden Axe version of a pop song – a song which could be played on, not necessarily The Edge, because production wise that’s too difficult, but a song which classically fits that format through your filter?
Chris: Formats always change though.
Duncan: Like a Hot n Cold, you know?
Chris: I think that’s a very well written song.
Duncan: You said that it was pretty much a Golden Axe song. Could that ever happen?
Daif: Yeah. Well, I’d love if that happened!
Duncan: Have you tried?
Daif: The thing is that we do try a lot and it hasn’t worked out yet, but that’s fine, I’m having a great time!
Chris: I think that if we were asked to write something, we might get freaked out and overdo it, but then maybe I don’t want to say that.
Daif: But you know that Thought Creature remix that we did?
Duncan: I want to talk about remixes, and thank you for bringing that up. It seems like when you’re given something like that and the Computers Want Me Dead remix – you guys are quite good at that. Within Golden Axe, you walk up to a line and not cross it because it isn’t Golden Axe, but when you’re given something which is coming from a different area, you actually have the ability to take it closer to…
Chris: I’m restricted by my terrible singing (laughs).
Daif: We would love to be able to wizard up an incredible frosty pop song, but from our combined experience, I don’t think we can get there just yet.
Chris: I’d like to work with somebody else. I’d love to meddle around with somebody else’s songs. Quite often.
Speaking of pop stuff, we can show you a rough of the music video…