Electric Dreams

8 August 2012 | 9:59 am | Brendan Telford

“I just wanted to play with things, then get them out there and see what made sense. I think that’s some of it, I’m realising what it’s about, maybe…”

The break-up of self-made “troublegum art punks” The Mint Chicks after three albums and two EPs, rampant live shows and much adulation came as a shock to many, especially as the New Zealand trio – made up of brothers Kody and Ruban Nielson, Paul Roper and Michael Logie – had just made the move to Portland, Oregon for a change in scenery. However the quest for musical wizardry is in their blood, so it was only a matter of time before something new bubbled to the surface. First it was Ruban who made ripples last year with his outfit Unknown Mortal Orchestra. 2012 appears to be Kody's year, with the release of debut record Electric Hawaii with new band Opossom (with Logie on bass and Bic Runga on drums).

That said, Nielsen felt that the time was right to return home and unplug from the music machine that he had been shackled to for almost a decade before new material could flow.

“I moved back after the break-up and just wanted to chill for a bit,” he recalls. “It could have gone for longer if it wasn't for Bic, who asked me to write some songs with her. She was getting a new album together, and I got caught up in the producing side of things, with Bic and other little bands here and there, so I've actually been quite busy. But after Bic's record was done I found I was on a roll, there were more songs and ideas in me. So I used both, and started playing with recording these ideas.”

The end result of this is Electric Hawaii, ten tracks of woozy paisley psychedelic pop that's been injected with enough variations of the sonic palette to inform a plethora of records.

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“It was the first time that I felt that I didn't have to write for any kind of musical arrangement,” Nielsen explains. “I didn't have to cater to a line-up or a set of instruments, so I could construct things on a piano, or use a particular drum fill that I felt like playing with. I could be more complex. I've always wanted to wear more of the '60s psychedelic influence on my sleeve. It's particularly tricky music to write and not sound contrived. I'd been listening to a lot of new music, so I wanted the songs to sound current, yet have a familiar sound to them so that it wasn't unrecognisable.”

The perfect example of what Opossom encapsulates is on the single Blue Meanies, a pastiche of pop and paisley psych mashed together with modulated vocals and off-kilter instrumentation, all coming together to make a bubbly multi-coloured aural explosion. Whilst it sounds like someone going mad in the laboratory, Nielsen maintains that everything on the album was controlled and measured.

“I worked really hard on providing something that I never could with The Mint Chicks. There were simple elements like going down in the verse and getting louder in the chorus. Rather than it being a volume thing, which I was used to, I wanted it worked into the arrangements. I could have bass and vocals on a verse, with keyboards coming in on a chorus to add volume without stomping on a distortion pedal. I could play with tempo and rhythm as much as I wanted to until it gelled in a way it never had before.”

That said, what Nielsen has created with Opossom continues to evolve at the rate that even he finds it hard to get a grasp on it.

“I just wanted to play with things, then get them out there and see what made sense. I think that's some of it, I'm realising what it's about, maybe…”