Great North's alt love story (+video)

Auckland duo Great North explore the dark side of romance in their second Americana-inspired album.

Hayden and Rachel Donnell of alt-Americana band Great North. Photo / Supplied
Hayden and Rachel Donnell of alt-Americana band Great North. Photo / Supplied

Hayden and Rachel Donnell have known each other since childhood, though didn't become friends until they were older, and ended up in the same band - Hayden the songwriter, guitarist and singer, and Rachel on bass.

"I don't think I would've spent that much time with him otherwise" teases Rachel.

"I was probably scheming" laughs Hayden. "How can I get regular appointments where she has to see me? Let's have weekly band practices."

Hayden's clever scheme worked. They became a couple, and those band practices proved productive, with Great North releasing EP Soldiers in 2009, and debut album Newfoundland in 2010, to glowing reviews and a growing fan base.

They were alt-folk, Americana albums, full of adventurous imagery - seafaring, exploring and animals.

Song titles and lyrics stemmed from dreams of the great wilderness in the northern hemisphere.

However, their harmony-laden second album Halves though still most definitely in the Americana vein, is a slightly different proposition in its darkly romantic thematic ideas.

You see, Hayden (a journalist by day) and Rachel (who's a speech therapist) were married last year, and it got Hayden thinking about long-term love, and all the issues that confront it.

"I had a few examples in mind - my poppa and nana were one. My nana died a few years ago, but Poppa stayed with her and cared for her right until the end. And she had Alzheimers, so she wasn't easy to be with, and I thought that was an amazing love.

"I remember a conversation I had with Poppa afterwards, and asked, 'Did you ever feel like giving up, or that it wasn't worth it?' and he said 'No, actually it was an honour to do that'.

"And so I had that example on the one hand, but the other side was that I was thinking about all these people I see in the YMCA after basketball, and I overhear them, and they're saying stuff like, 'Marriage isn't a word, it's a sentence'.

"And these are people that were once in love, and now they're sick of their partners. So the album is sort of reflecting on the decisions you make that shape your path in love."

Hayden writes all the songs by himself at home, in his music room with the piano and guitar, before bringing them out to share with Rachel (and the rest of the band).

"He locks himself in a little room far away, and I try and not to listen, because it stresses him out. That's the scene," Rachel laughs.

Fortunately being presented with a song like To Leave Someone - which is a beautiful and tender, but gutting ballad about love that runs out - didn't make Rachel wonder about the state of their relationship.

"I'm glad that I knew that Hayden isn't a songwriter that takes something that's happening in his life and writes about it directly ... I guess I expected him to take something like getting married, not just as the happy thing that it is, but that he'd be quite thoughtful about it."

Americana has always been where Hayden has felt at home as a songwriter ("the only other genre you could really go into is rap, because you use so many words" Rachel jokes), and it suits his wonderfully expressive vocal and storytelling abilities, but one of his greatest musical heroes is the rather more rock 'n' roll Bruce Springsteen.

"Bruce brings out a common humanity in all his characters, and there is also an unbridled joy and hope in his songs. He can find uplifting, almost spiritual things in some really sad situations. He manages to talk about the hard or sad stuff while also making people hopeful, and that's something I'd like to do too."

Who: Auckland alt-Americana band Great North
What: New album Halves out May 26.
Where and when: Album release show at the Grey Lynn Library Hall on Saturday May 26, followed by a tour of New Zealand in late June.

-TimeOut

- NZ Herald

© Copyright 2014, APN New Zealand Limited

Assembled by: (static) on red akl_n3 at 22 Oct 2014 04:20:00 Processing Time: 1760ms