An interview with Mark Turner, the Eversons’ witty, amiable frontman.
“Imagine Flight of the Conchords in a long passionate embrace with a dazzling diaspora of Clean fans.”—Everett True.
Only twenty people turned up to watch the Eversons open for the Wedding Present in Brisbane. But one of them was the legendary Everett True, who introduced Kurt to Courtenay. The influential music critic wrote a passionate endorsement. Mark Turner, the Eversons’ witty, amiable frontman, talks to Alexander Bisley about humorously scoring, Scottian lyrics, their Japan release, and Beautiful Machine showing Shihad as “pre-internet.” Photography by Catherine Bisley and Rath Vatcharakiet.
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ALEXANDER BISLEY: The Phoenix Foundation’s Sam Scott fulsomely endorsed The Eversons: “Hilarious and bleak lyrics but sung with this awesome cheeriness and I think it maybe epitomizes what they’re all about. Very fun, bright music with a cynical and hilarious undercurrent.” ‘Heading Overseas’ is his (and possibly my) favourite. (Being the chronic insomniac that I am, I really rate ‘Fall Asleep’ also.)
MARK TURNER: I’m glad Sam likes that song, that’s a pretty sweet compliment considering his cool lyrics. Chris and I write all the songs in the band, but we usually write them seperately. With ‘Heading Overseas’ Chris had the musical idea and structure, and then we sat down and did the lyrics together one night. We’d both been through that same O.E. experience a few years back. Chris was in England and I was in Holland. It was the whole feeling [that] New Zealand is too small so heading off, then running out of money and asking your parents for help. Both Chris and I think New Zealand is probably the best place in the world to live so it felt good to make fun of ourselves trying to run away from paradise. Most people are stupid and worth having a chuckle at now and again. Ourselves included, of course.
AB: “The Eversons have released what feels pretty close to a classic,” Simon Sweetman wrote last year. Like True and I, he thinks The Eversons have international promise. Sweetman added: “Clever songs, catchy, funny, playful, subversive—every song with its own pop hook to hang on and from; loads of ideas. And they back it up live. They’ve got the tunes. Boy, do they have the tunes… at one point you might swear you’re hearing Woody Allen’s idea of a Greek chorus put to use in a pop song.” Do you like Woody Allen?
MT: Definitely. Most musicians I get on with dig Woody Allen I reckon. I mean, he’s the basis for most of the modern humor I like, stuff like Larry David, Seinfeld, Louis C.K.
AB: Like Lil B, you’ve had acclaim for ironic humour, on songs such as ‘Vote for Act’. Your vote for five of the funniest Kiwi songs?
MT: I find stuff that presents an unusual view or has some clever one liners to be the funniest. Songs like Darcy Clay’s ‘Jesus I Was Evil’. Voom’s ‘Happy Just Bumming Around’, Flight of the Conchords’ ‘Business Time’ (or most things by those guys), Edmund Cake’s ‘Gunga’. The video clip that the Sneaks did for ‘I’m Lame’ is hilarious, where they gamble their NZ on Air grant at the horse track, win, and celebrate dressed as hotdogs on top of a building with fireworks.
AB: ‘Marriage’ and ‘Creepy’ (video for the latter due out mid this-month) worked sharply for last year’s film, How To Meet Girls From a Distance. The actor who played lead Toby told me: “‘Creepy’ was mind-glowingly ideal. We couldn’t have commissioned someone to write a song more ideal for the soundtrack. It became the backing for a ‘research’ montage, which it plays against beautifully. There’s that kind of Pixies-esque rhythm section with a kind of Weezer-ish vocal style that is really nice. It’s got a great indie feel that is still melodic and broadly enjoyable enough to use comfortably in a romantic comedy.”
MT: Ha, that’s cool! Well it’s a lot of fun having the music in a movie, because I can tell my mum and my non-music friends about it and it makes me sound like I have a real job. The Eversons stuff has also been on a couple TV shows in New Zealand. I also recently wrote a piece for a short film and drummer Tim mixed it. I’d love to do more stuff like that. Writing to a brief is a nice change of pace.
AB: I enjoy your sharp, Scottian lyrics on songs like that and ‘Marriage’. Were there particular inspirations for ‘Marriage’?
MT: Thanks man, the lyrics to ‘Marriage’ were inspired by a couple things. My good friend Peter was getting married at the time, and being a young man of 23, he was the first of my friends to tie the knot. So it was the first time I’d really thought seriously about people I know getting married. I was listening to the Beach Boys obessively and in a song like ‘So Young’ the singer is sad that they’re too young to get married to their sweetheart. I thought it’d be interesting to do a song from the perspective of a version of myself where I’m jealous of Peter’s happiness, desperately wanting to find a wife.
The sadness of the delivery in ‘So Young’ comes across as potentially kinda emotionally manipulative to me, so I figured taking that to its logical conclusion would be interesting. I’m kind of obsessed with the accidental darkness of some ‘60s lyrics. Where the intention is to be sweet, but they come off as kind of rapey or pushy or something. Something dark. Lyrics like Buddy Holly’s “I’m gonna tell you how it’s going to be/You’re gonna give your love to me,” or the Beatles on ‘Please Please Me’.
AB: Appropriately for a group who’s been played in-flight on Air France, you’ve got cool tunes about romance, like ‘Hot For Me’ and ‘The End of the World’. How is Chris Knox an influence?
MT: My favourite classic Flying Nun stuff at the moment is Chris Knox. Seizure is a fantastic album, and so is the Toy Love best of. It’s great how he’s self sufficient, he writes and records himself, and then he makes his own videos. That’s something we’ve got going with the Eversons. We’ll be making all of our own videos for our second album. But we’re a team of people compared to the one very impressive Chris Knox.
AB: Other Flying Nun influence on the Eversons?
MT: Chris has been into the Clean and the Bats and all the Flying Nun stuff for ages, it comes through in his guitar playing, with bendy bits and jangly bits. He’s got a cool shred style.
MT: ThisTime Records over in Japan got in touch with us and were keen to release the album, which is really cool. They wanted to have bonus tracks and extra liner notes and stuff so we worked with them for a while on getting it all together. The liner notes, two thousand words, were all translated into Japanese.
AB: The Japanese are pitching you as “Pavement meets the Beach Boys.”
MT: That’s an accurate description of Summer Feeling.
AB: How would you describe the Eversons’ sound?
I guess we’re a guitar band that’s heavy on the vocals and lyrics? On Summer Feeling we sound musically like Weezer, and Pavement, and the Pixies, with singing and lyrics more along the lines of the Streets and Motown call and response songs. I think we sound quite different on each of our releases.
AB: Tell me about new album’s style, development?
MT: The new album is less of a live rock band thing, and has a much wider range of sounds on it. Lots of acoustic guitar and tambourine. There’s a song that’s a cross between Randy Newman and the Flaming Lips, and there’s one that sounds a bit like David Bowie meets Nirvana. We’re more confident now so we’ve started trying a few more things. I sing the lead single as a woman, in soft falsetto.
AB: A new favourite song?
MT: I’m loving Chris’s song ‘Good At Making Enemies’. It has piano and baritone sax all through it, and a big guitar solo. His singing on the new album is awesome, he goes from super soft falsetto to full on yelling bits.
AB: So you guys are now part of the Auckland Sound? Why did you move ? Mike Fab told me, “Wellington markets itself on being the creative capital of New Zealand, but in reality that’s a fantasy. Increasingly there’s no way musicians can afford to practice and record. We might all have to end up in the Hutt.”
MT: We decided to move to Auckland for a bunch of reasons. Our musician friends at our label Lil Chief are all up in Auckland, and it’s great being round people who are on a similar buzz. My girlfriend Lisa Crawley is up in Auckland, too. Tim’s gonna set up his studio in Auckland where there are more bands to record than down in Wellington. It’ll be so good for him when more people realise what an excellent engineer he is, but I’m happy keeping him to myself for as long as possible [laughs].
AB: “I was also very impressed with The Eversons production, I think they do it all themselves, and it sounds great,” How to Meet Girls from a Distance’s Richard Falkner told me. I’m impressed you guys don’t waste any money. For instance, instead of pingas on a local publicist, you just emailed me to say you’d be keen to do a decent interview.
MT: We all chip in with production work on the album, so we’re our own producer. We’re gonna all be living together in the same house. Our friends who run Lil Chief Records live in a semi-infamous flat called ‘the ghetto’. They’re in Europe playing as Princess Chelsea, supporting Alt-J, so we’re subletting their place. We’ll be recording b-sides in the garage out back.
AB: How did Cobain influence the Eversons?
MT: We all grew up playing Nirvana covers with friends. I remember doing horrible versions of ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ and ‘Come As You Are’ and ‘Heart Shaped Box’ in a garage in Johnsonville when I was 13. Nirvana was one of Chris’s obsessions growing up. He actually kinda sounds a little like Kurt Cobain when he’s lost his voice [laughs]. Nirvana are pretty sweet.
AB: Any songs about being that young on the new album?
MT: Not really. There’s one song that’s not gonna make it onto the album. It’s from the perspective of an old guy telling a bunch of kids how to get girls. The band plays the naive kids and I play the old guy. As the song goes on you realise that the old guy is pretty awful and doesn’t have good advice on talking to women etc. It nicely summarises my experiences of getting advice growing up from adults that I thought at the time were cool, but they then revealed themselves to be idiots or arseholes. I decided not to have a song on the album that has lyrics like “trick her real good into thinking you’re the man,” and, “are you sure that all the women are shallow and thick?” because we have plenty of other songs. Maybe we’ll put it out as a b-side at some point.
AB: Being in a band isn’t all good times. What did you think of Shihad documentary Beautiful Machine?
MT: It’s weird to see the personalities in a band like Shihad. Those guys are so different to any musicians I know. I don’t relate to their outlook really, maybe it’s partly because they grew up without the internet? Me and my friends are all pretty aware of what other bands are up to and about the history of music. We have access to every song ever written, and we can read endless info about the music while we listen. This makes for a more cynical outlook, I reckon. In the documentary, Shihad come off as lacking insight into their own careers, they don’t come off as very analytical. I couldn’t imagine seeing things the way they do. Maybe it’s just a temperament thing? I love music documentaries though, I recently watched one about the Flaming Lips called Fearless Freaks. Every musician loves a story that involves a band becoming amazing in their forties.
AB: Connections between the Eversons and Wellington Rockquest champs The Henderson Experience?
MT: That was my high school band. We had a good time and toured the South Island. That’s how I know Chris from the Eversons so well, he’s from Christchurch.
AB: What’s one thing Rockquest mentors Autozamm taught you?
MT: That’s right, at high school I was assigned Autozamm as my mentor band. I went round to one of the guy’s houses and that’s where I met Blink who runs all the A Low Hum stuff. Blink has been hugely supportive with my music, particularly with my last band Little Pictures.
AB: Blink is also running new Tory Street venue Puppies, of course. Tell me about a memorable Eversons gig?
MT: One really cool show was our first ever time playing in Wellington. We played at a friend’s house in Aro Valley and someone filmed it, lots of people having a good time and we played surprisingly well.
AB: How about the other side, as an audience member?
MT: I was blown away by the Clean at San Francisco Bathhouse when Flying Nun did that Nunvember series of tours. I think the best show I’ve been to in Wellington was Lawrence Arabia at the Opera House, though. Again great songs played really well, but with the added bonus of being in a beautiful theatre. The audience is on their best behaviour and it’s seated so it’s easier to get into ballads and a longer set.
AB: Luke Buda told me that’s his favourite venue. Who are some other New Zealand bands you really like at the moment?
MT: There are heaps. Some stuff I’ve been listening to recently is Homebrew, the Phoenix Foundation, the Salad Boys. I’m lucky to be on Lil Chief Records so I’m surrounded by sweet music all the time. One Lil Chief album I’ve been listening to a lot is Edmund Cake’s album Downtown Puff. I love his strange style. There’s my girlfriend Lisa Crawley’s new album.
AB: Anna Coddington, who did some backing vocals, said she was impressed with how Lisa is sounding.
MT: I’ve been tagging along to recording sessions out at Revolver studio in Waiuku, Djeisan from Cool Rainbows is producing it. Lisa’s new stuff is a really awesome evolution from her 2011 album, she’s gone heavier on the 60s meets modern pop angle.