The hugely popular Black Seeds stick with their distinctive sound on the new album, but perhaps with a touch more maturity. Scott Kara talks to songwriters Barnaby Weir and Dan Weetman
Barnaby Weir admits he's done a fair amount of "stumbling home like a bumbling gnome" in his day. That's a line from the new Black Seeds' song, The Bend, on the Wellington reggae band's fifth album Dust and Dirt.
"Yeah, it might not be my best line," he says with a laugh, "but I've had to calm it down a bit and realise that I'm not 21 and invincible anymore."
But, he adds quickly, the track is only partly autobiographical. "It's one of those songs that is not totally about me, but based on some experiences. It's about booze and drug culture in New Zealand."
As confessions go it's far from the deeply personal outpourings Weir let out on previous album Solid Ground from 2008. Back then it was girl trouble he sang about, following his break-up with singer Hollie Smith, and this time round it's fellow songwriter Dan Weetman who is opening up.
On Wide Open, a song that grooves along somewhere between skanking and slinking, Weetman coos, almost wryly, how "I hear you, but I never listen".
"It's a personal track for me, but it's also taking the piss a bit," he says sheepishly.
Overall though the album is uplifting, a little cheeky, and more adventurous than ever while still, in the words of Weetman, having the "same kind of reggae-ish, funky-ish" Black Seeds' sound of old.
And Weir adds: "It's one of those things that is perfectly predictable. It's our sound, and we've established it over the years, and so it's not that far away from anything we've done before. But, looking at it, we've got a bit older, we've got better at our craft, and we're better at recording.
"It sounds more comfortable and more like what we are into," he resolves.
Because it wasn't always that way. He jokes how their first album, Keep On Pushing, was "amateur hour in some ways". Still, the reggae-loving New Zealand public liked it, with songs such as Coming Back Home and the dancey Hey Son.
Second album, On the Sun ("A lot drier and more poppy" in Weir's opinion) was their breakthrough with songs such as So True and Fire pushing it to No 3 on the album charts in 2003. And then came the "dirtier and funkier" Into the Dojo (2006) and "dark and mechanical" Solid Ground in 2008.
Weir reckons Dust and Dirt, which is out on Monday, is a blend of the latter two. "It's got the punchy dirtiness of Dojo with the futurism, or some sort of analogue synth past-future sound. It's a hard one to describe. But do you know what I mean?"
Well, kind of. Because Loose Cartilage starts out like a wild Black Keys song before it pulls back into trademark Black Seeds territory, opener Out of Light is a dazed and dreamy down-tempo beauty, and Don't Turn Around, one of the best songs, harks back to the piano-driven house music glory days of the 90s.
"Don't Turn Around is quite disco. It just came out of a jam really. Coming up with it was a great morning because we just got in there and I was playing some really bad chords on the keyboard and everybody just jumped on," says Weetman.
"I play bass on that song so I was quite stoked," chips in Weir, "and that song's got a great sense of humour, it's psychedelic, it's got a bit of a groove, and it's a long player."
Weetman: "I always want the band to progress and move on. So we really just want to keep on pushing it."
And they are taking the songs on the road in the coming months. After a jaunt through America and Europe this month and next, they head back to New Zealand for a nationwide tour starting in Dunedin on May 24 and including two shows at the Powerstation on May 31 and June 1.
Dust and Dirt has taken almost four years to release - a long time for the Black Seeds given they released four albums in seven years in the 2000s.
But in that time they have released a remix album and a live album (both of which were free), toured here and overseas (with two trips to Europe), had side projects (including two of Weir's Fly My Pretties projects and his solo album), and a number of band members have had kids. "There have been four children born in that time," says Weir.
But mostly, says Weetman and Weir, the longer-than-normal gap was because they took their time to record Dust and Dirt.
"We had the time and we didn't rush it, and I think those factors make it a better quality album," says Weir.
Weetman: "And we had our own humble little studio space in Wellington to come and go as we please. Sometimes we release an album and I really care about what other people think, but this time I don't really care because I'm just really happy with it."
Who: The Black Seeds
New album: Dust and Dirt, out Monday
Where and when: Altitude, Hamilton, May 30; The Powerstation, Auckland, May 31 and June 1. For full tour dates see theblackseeds.com
Past albums: Keep On Pushing (2001); On the Sun (2003); Into the Dojo (2006); Solid Ground (2008)