Waking Up From The Indie-Pop Dream: The 405 meets NZCA/Lines
I'm sitting with Mr. NZCA/Lines, Michael Lovett, chatting over a beer. During the course of the interview we (well, more him than me) discuss neo-classical composers, Japan, Murakami, Umberto Eco, the idea of falling in love with the three-minute pop song and the idea of new magnetic north and creating your own sense of identity.
The latter is an idea at the heart of his captivating concept album. His eponymous debut album creates a world for the listener to live in. "It's a concept album for want of a better word. There's a lot that feeds into it but the basic idea is of new magnetic north and how meaning is flexible and can be given a lot by the reader. A lot of it is to do with context – I was inspired by writers who deal with context, like Umberto Eco. The idea is that these magnetic poles are constantly moving and if you look for a place in relation to them then it doesn't exist in the physical world – and if you're aware of this then you can make any place your home. Each song is a little moment of this universe which is supposed to be much bigger than you see it on the record."
This complex idea may suggest an impenetrable album but his brand of music – one where crisp R 'n' B merges seamlessly with smooth pop melodies – is irresistibly accessible. Depeche Mode, Junior Boys and Metronomy have all been mentioned in reviews and all make sense. It's a complex, delicate, understated yet confident debut, a sound which is in tune with the zeitgeist but uniquely his.
What influenced the NZCA sound? "So many things. From Boards of Canada to liking r'n'b, which I never thought I would listen to."
"I also love classical music, but I don't know how much you could say that's an influence. Anton Bruckner especially with the neo-classical thing where you get all these beautiful harmonies because you're not restricted by the rules. And then there's the pop element, so Britney Spears and Justin Timberlake cos they've got all these teams of writers coming up with their songs. And there's My Bloody Valentine.
"I've just always been infatuated which records that captivate you in some semi- nostalgic or immersive way or really takes you off to some other place. Even something that is the opposite of this record like Slint's Spiderland. I remember loving that and the idea of what is Spiderland."
It's an idea that has clearly infused the album, which he calls 'an art project'. "It involves taking all these disparate elements and merging them together. All the stories on it evolved in my time at art school. I've never been a songwriter so I wanted to make it like I would make an art project."
It's certainly worked. The album has been out a few months now and received, in the main, rave reviews praising his ambition and his pop spirit. "I was really pleased with the reviews. The 405 one was great. At the time Charlie (Alex March, who produced the record) said are you nervous about your record coming out? He released his last year and he got very neurotic about it. When it was released I didn't think it was amazing but I was happy with it. I think now it's at the point where I can see its flaws but I'm also pleased with it and I'm glad that people like it. Often the bad reviews have missed the point of it so I can dismiss those. Someone is yet to make a point that will really upset me – but I'm sure it will happen."
Having been in bands – notably Your Twenties – before it's given him a greater appreciation of what he wants to create and how to achieve it. "I've been in bands and I've always made my own stuff and some of it has been used by those bands. I fell in love with the indie pop dream. Through playing in the band with my brother, who was always very pop oriented, I got caught up in trying to make the perfect three-minute pop song – which I still love but in a very different way."
"But I also learnt that it's good to not work on your own – you need someone to challenge you. That's why it was great to work with Charlie, who I'll work with again on the next album. I trust his opinion and he's free to change stuff."
After the release of what could be seen as very much a 'studio record' the next step was to understand how to make it work live. It's a very different animal. "I wasn't exactly sure what type of band I was going to need to play but I decided eventually it needed this live element to it that drew it out of being this heavily sequenced thing. The introduction of having live drums gives it a bit more swing. And the idea of it being an all encompassing live show was always appealing to me."
Later on that night watching him live it's clear what he means. It takes what's good about the album and adds more bite, more colour, and, yes, more swing. It's this idea that he liked to extend in the future.
"I'd like to separate the live show from the record even more. There are a lot of financial constraints but it'll hopefully evolve and develop. Although it looks incredibly slick and professional it's actually been done on a shoestring," he laughs.
"Playing live has made me realise there needs to be a lot less parts to it. That makes it better and makes it easier to play. It's gonna get more', he searches for the word, pauses, 'funky."
Yet playing live has also got in the way of writing new stuff. "Playing live takes up a lot of time But I have been writing. I don't know whether it will be a new project or a new piece as part of this project. It develops during the time you make it. If you approach music by planning it out then it will be shit."
Having released a highly praised record, supported bands like of Montreal and been invited to a number of festivals, I ask if he feels their stock is rising. "The trajectory of NZCA is a slow upward curve. I can feel our reputation growing gradually. Playing with of Montreal felt like, not exactly that we'd made it, but I was playing with a band I really liked and could watch from the side of the stage and they're amazing musicians."
Not that he's not still learning. "I think there's so much to learn from everything around you that you can't afford not to isolate yourself in it. The act of making stuff is so much a filter of stuff that comes through you. The more music, stories and films you take in the better." It's this ambition and willingness to absorb as many cultural reference points as possible that means the next thing we hear from NZCA/Lines could be very special indeed.
NZCA/Lines' self-titled album is out now via Lo/LOAF Recordings.
Purchase and listen
Only a few months after releasing his debut self-titled album, NZCA/LINES has already headed back into the studio to completely remaster and rejiggle the year's greatest electro-pop record so far, rereleasing it on beautiful white vinyl with recommissioned artwork exclusively for Record Store Day. [read more]