Hiboux's release of Command The Earth To Swallow Me Up is by all means an excellent addition to the growing New Zealand post-rock scene. However, the motifs surrounding it are surprisingly as interesting and subtle as the finer parts of the music itself. The band aim to tell a story without words, and much like the old legend where a person’s one lost sense enhances the four others, Hiboux supplement the lack of lyrics through careful musical composition. The progressions, the gear set-ups and even the recording process becomes part of a larger interpretive experience which makes the live show that much more engaging – the thought and care they’ve put into these aspects is applaudable, to say the least. It wasn’t an easy journey to get Command The Earth To Swallow Me Up released however, as bassist Duncan Nairn and guitarist Bern Stock explain to LIFE IS NOISE.
“We started writing the material in early 2015,” says Nairn. “We spent most of that year writing the six songs that would become that album, the first attempt to record it was at a small studio just out of town. It was a good set up and a really, really fun experience but some technical decisions made by the audio engineers were made that we didn’t agree with. Apart from the bass guitar, recorded with clean and effected signals, we had to re-record the entire album both at our studio and the house of the guy who mixed and mastered the album.”
“We started out wanting to have a ‘live’ sound because we’re better live,” Stock chimes in. “We wanted to capture that experience on the album – that was our intention. So once we realised that the tracks weren’t to a high enough standard, we thought ‘well shit’. Re-tracking those parts after work until 4am isn’t our idea of a good time. Our drummer did some really awesome microphone setups and somehow re-tracked his drums – you never do it that way. That said the engineer was technically brilliant. His engineering and mastering skills… oh my god it was really something to behold. He was spatially separating the sounds out and watching how the bass frequencies go, setting it up like a room. He had a crazy little den where he’d listen to the mastered copies - he’d covered it with soft toys to make it sound dead. There’s this one super comfortable chair smack bang in the middle of the room, and there’s soft toys all around you with these two super expensive fairly flat response speakers pointing at you, and you’d be sitting in that sound cone directly. It was a hilarious experience. His mastering was exceptional. Despite the fact that we took some of the live sound out of it in a way, we were very happy with the final product."
Safe to say, Hiboux place a high level of care into the idea of a large, live sound. The process behind this takes more than just an ability to play precisely – rather an ability to know how to create the specific sound sitting in the back of your mind.
“We’ve all spent a small fortune on gear – each of us has the best you can get of its kind,” says Stock. “I’ve been noticing lately that the sound that it generates in the studio is just beautiful. If you record something dry with overdrive baked in and digital effects over the top – it does sound amazing but it doesn’t capture us live. That gear really helps us generate that sound. I spent a year and a half really getting into my pedal board and spending loads of money on it, learning how it all works, and now I feel that I’ve got that sorted. It just takes time and money.”
“I have definitely had an idea about a sound that I wanted to achieve – I bought I think it was the PT2, thinking that if I can’t solve the sound in that base then I have to dig harder. I thought at one point that I might have needed more space but I just needed to work out a better system. There’s loads of YouTube videos showing you what the best order is and how to play around with that – it took a while. I used to have my compressor first and then my overdrives, then I had to swap that around, then upgrade each of those pedals once I knew it was in the right spot. Honestly Strymond pedals are insanely good and I intend to get more. I really feel that I’ve achieved the sound I’ve intended to create and the pedal board is a big part of that, along with a lot of thought.”
That said – it’s one thing to talk gear, but composition is something that requires a different school of thought, let alone dealing the creative process for a band – many cases ranging from collaborative to totalitarian (for lack of a better word).
“Lester writes a lot of the raw riffs at home by himself,” says Nairn. “He brings them into the studio and we figure out what we’re doing with every section – every movement – and every vague order in which they should go. We all develop those sections and think about how the transitions should work, how it should all be linked. That’s often the hardest part, we find that the sections, making sense of them is the easiest part. The hardest part is stitching them all together. Sometimes in different time signatures, different keys, putting that together is the hardest part for us.”
“Because we’re an instrumental band, we don’t have the lyrics there to guide the changes, the songs along – ‘this is where the verse is, this is where the chorus kicks in’ – we don’t have that and it gives us a lot more freedom. We have to create arbitrary gestures and movements to indicate the change into another section, not just the end of the verse – all sections we’ve stitched together. As a result I think people get quite surprised at the journey their imagination takes them on while listening to the music. Some people come back to us with a sense of surprise about the mental journey that Hiboux takes them on.”
Hiboux kick off their Australian/New Zealand tour on Friday, June 2.Catch Hiboux at one of the following dates:
Friday June 2 - Space Academy, Christchurch
Saturday June 3 - Re:Fuel, Dunedin
Saturday June 10 - Wine Cellar in Auckland
Saturday July 1 - Valhalla in Wellington
Thursday July 20 - Frankie's Pizza, Sydney
Friday July 21 - The Townie, Sydney
Saturday July 22 – The Last Chance Rock & Roll Bar, Melbourne
Tickets available from the venues.