Lydia Jenkin is an entertainment feature writer for the New Zealand Herald.

The Unfaithful Ways emerge from the rubble

The debut album from Christchurch country outfit Unfaithful Ways has finally emerged from the rubble reports Lydia Jenkin.

Christchurch band the Unfaithful Ways. Photo / Supplied
Christchurch band the Unfaithful Ways. Photo / Supplied

Marlon Williams, lead singer of The Unfaithful Ways, was set on a musical path early on by his father.

"My dad's kind of a Maori punk from Gisborne, from the old days" Williams laughs. "And he's definitely taught me a lot about music in all it's various forms; so has Mum. I sang a lot as a kid on the marae."

He developed a taste for country music at the rather young age of 14.

"Dad kind of forced it upon me at first. He traded in a couple of my CDs for country CDs, and I was quite upset to begin with, but eventually I gave way."

He even loaned them to fellow singer and bassist-guitarist Ben Woolley and the pair began to spread the love of country. They also sang in the Christchurch Cathedral Choir together, and in the Christchurch Boys High School choir with guitarist/vocalist Sebastian Warne, so it was a natural slide into jamming in the band room and singing three-part harmonies.

Drummer Simon Brouwer was also at Christchurch Boys, but as a teacher - he's 30, while the other three are all but 21.

When he met the others, it seemed like an obvious step to create a band.

"I saw them jamming and thought 'jeez these guys have got a real talent'. I'd been playing around with a few indie country bands, and they'd seen me play, so I guess they'd figured out there was a teacher who was into that music. We just got yakking in the band room, and obviously there was a connection."

Having earned themselves a solid reputation playing around their home port of Lyttelton and Christchurch, they recorded and released their debut EP First Four Songs in 2009, and it wasn't long before they were being picked to play at the Silver Scroll Awards and supporting the likes of Band of Horses and Justin Townes Earle.

The release of their album Free Rein is a tale of musical triumph. Having begun recording at The Sitting Room mid-2010, they were fortunately nearly done when the September 4 quake struck. Though there wasn't much damage to the studio or equipment, they were forced to move due to structural instability. The studio was able to relocate to the central city in the new year, and mixing continued until February 22 - this time, unfortunately the building had to be red-stickered and tagged for demolition, with the only master tracks still inside. Though they had CD copies, the tracks were only semi-mixed, unmastered, and pretty low-fi. Council contacts were tried, as was the army, but it seemed there was little to be done about retrieving those hard drives.

"There were a couple of months of nervous waiting, starting to twiddle our thumbs going, 'ok, what's the situation here, we'll have to start making some big decisions'. And then finally, I remember getting the txt" Brouwer grins.

The hard drives were thankfully eventually rescued by a couple of structural engineers. They pay homage to their broken city on the album artwork, with landscapes of Lyttelton hills inside, and a photo of The Sitting Room on the back, the last one taken before it was demolished.

Though not hardened by these challenging experiences, their music often sounds like it was written by men much older than their fresh faced years. They're old souls in youthful disguise, which gives their songs an appeal that is hard to define. There's cynicism mixed with nostalgia on tracks such as Yesterday I Loved You But Today I Just Don't Care, and Katie My Darling which is sung from the perspective of a father struggling with heartbreak, whiskey, hard times, and letting his daughter go, which seems a little world weary for such a young band.

"It's all about projection" Williams laughs. "It's just about observation really, authors don't always write about people their own age I guess. I've always been drawn to those kind of stories, and trying to get in touch with those kind of emotions."

However an exuberant michievousness also pervades at times, particularly on Twenty Nine Days and album closer Trouble I'm In, which hints at their real age. They cite old-timers Neil Young and The Band as formative influences, as well as country godfathers like Hank Williams and George Jones, but also more left-field acts like The Flying Burrito Brothers - "People who've taken Americana out of the country music club mould that people get a bit 'urgh' about, and then presented it in a way that the wider public can connect with" Brouwer explains.

"Without being false about where they've come from" Williams finishes.

And that's what The Unfaithful Ways are aiming to do, enjoying their country roots, while having a stomping good time.

"Just give us a chance" Brouwer laughs. "Seriously, people often think 'hmm, country music, not sure about that', but they come along to a gig and go, 'actually I really like this!"'

Christchurch alt-country band The Unfaithful Ways

What: Debut album Free Rein, out October 25


- NZ Herald

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