Lord of the Echo

ARTS, Features, Interviews, Music
Black Seeds guitarist and producer Mike Fabulous spills on silverbeet, social media, and supergroups.

“I’m terrified of it. I don’t have enough time to keep up on my emails. I don’t like the idea of being instantly contactable. I value my solitude,” Mike Fabulous smiles during a relaxed interview at his busy Newtown home. The Black Seeds’ genial guitarist and producer tells The Lumière Reader that he will definitely not be setting up a Twitter account (or a Lord Echo website).

“He was getting up to some sketchy things.” For quite sometime a dubious individual was pretending to be Mike Fabulous on Facebook; this imposter was deceitfully connecting with some of the Black Seeds’ many American fans. Numerous modest requests to Facebook to act vanished in the ether. The father of two was forced to hardball, emailing: “I’m from a moderately popular New Zealand reggae band. Please do something about this situation, or I will have to talk to my media contacts about identity fraud on Facebook.” Within 24 hours the imposter was deleted, he recalls over a big bowl of silverbeet. “Oh, green vegetables. I punished myself on Saturday night.”

Earlier this year I befriended a Colorado chef at a Barcelona tapas bar. He didn’t mention hobbits, rugby or landscapes. Kiwi music, however? “I love the Black Seeds. Super talented.” Rolling Stone alleged they are “The Best Reggae band in the world right now.” Diminishing returns can set in on some Seeds popular hits when overplayed round these little islands’ cafes; they trend towards terrific live, as at the May Wellington launch of chart-topping album Dust and Dirt.

With Fabulous Arabia, the former Cartertonian’s distinguished partnership with Lawrence Arabia, outputs include Unlimited Buffet, harmonious tracks like ‘ Ballad of State Highway One’. Simon Sweetman, no Black Seeds fan boy, blogged the collaboration as charming, adding: “Mr Fabulous deserves plenty of credit for what he brings to the party. The party for a start.”

Lord Echo, Mike’s 15 piece supergroup, is marvellous and dynamic live.  Alongside bandsters from Fat Freddy’s Drop and Trinity Roots, it includes his brother, landscaper Danny Pash (pictured).

The energetic bloke enjoyed performing at WOMAD 2012 (“I am a fan of so-called world music”), with both the Seeds and the Yoots. The 2011 summer concert season kicked off with the Yoots’ whimsical waiata at Paekakariki’s “beautiful old St Peter’s Hall”, enhanced with a local kapa haka group.  Nick Bollinger described Sing Along With The Yoots!—Amplifier’s Album of 2011—as “raw, spirited, inspired and often virtuosic”. The Yoots are back at St Peter’s on December 7; and are rehearsing for WOMAD 2013, where they will perform with the 80-strong Aotearoa National Maori Choir.

Mike’s boutique solo work features on labels German, New Yorker and Japanese. “My four track vinyl sampler sold out. I’d like to spend some solid time with Kenji in Osaka.” There’s engineering, producing, and recording work for artists like Electric Wire Hustle’s Mara TK. And, further below the radar, drum research: “I’m obsessed with drum sounds.”

Making a diverse group like Lord Echo happen is not without its challenges. Band members live in different cities. Remuneration is modest. Mike makes sure there’s good food and drink, a sense of humour, and ingenuity. “Eight songs and no rehearsal. Yes I want to rehearse,” Venezuelan singer Jennifer Zea said when she met Lord Echo before a gig. So the hotel room quickly became the group’s mock stage.

The Phoenix Foundation’s Sam Scott chimes in, telling me why he rates Lord Echo: “I have Lord Echo demo CDs that I have stolen from Mike’s house at various junctures. The fact that he has now released this music and is playing it live is awesome for everyone but me. I miss being one of the few people who knew how much great music he was stockpiling.”

Seeds vocalist Daniel Weetman explains why this 1997 formation member—along with former Seed now Conchord Bret McKenzie—produces their albums: “Mike has a great ear and vision. He works hard to make things sound good, and knows what we want an album to sound like, but also an album evolves by itself too, and he is good at moving with what is happening at the time, and ready with an open mind to capture anything spontaneous happening in the studio.”

Mike’s productive and easygoing, but he’s unimpressed by the capital’s slovenly support for musicians. “Wellington markets itself on being the creative capital of New Zealand, but, in reality, that’s a fantasy. Increasingly, there’s nowhere musicians can afford to practice and record. We might all have to end up in The Hutt.”

The Black Seeds play venues North and South, including Martinborough, through December. Mike Fabulous will perform at WOMAD 2013, including supergroups The Yoots and Fly My Pretties.
Filed under: ARTS, Features, Interviews, Music

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Alexander Bisley is an editor-at-large who has contributed in-depth interviews and more to The Lumière Reader since 2004. He’s written extensively on culture (and sport) for all of New Zealand’s leading outlets, and also makes his living freelancing for international publications including The Guardian, Slate, and The AV Club. He’s published by The Independent, BBC, Vice, The Sydney Morning Herald, Playboy, and Slate France, and has been paid once by The New Yorker.