Dreams come true for Six60

Local heroes Six60 are adding "classical" to their genre-mashing sound, reports Lydia Jenkin.

Six60 (from left) Marlon Gerbes, Chris Mac, Matui Walters, Ji Fraser and Eli Paewai. Photo / Chris Gorman.
Six60 (from left) Marlon Gerbes, Chris Mac, Matui Walters, Ji Fraser and Eli Paewai. Photo / Chris Gorman.

It's one of the oldest recording studios in New Zealand, but on this particular winter afternoon, the iconic Stebbings building, with its dark wood panelling and cream lamps, is full of youthful energy.

The five members of rock-roots-electronica act Six60 are there for some recording, but instead of a studio strewn with amps, guitars, keyboards, and drums, there are 30 members of the Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra, along with conductor and composer Peter Scholes.

Yes, it may not be a move Six60 fans have seen coming, but they're collaborating with the APO on a brand new recording of their soulful ballad, Lost.

"I was teary-eyed when they started playing earlier, it was something special," lead singer Matiu Walters smiles, sitting on the orange leather benchseat in the control room.

"Even when this song was being written, you can always hear how it could work with an orchestra. It was just a matter of opportunity, and I'm so stoked that it has actually gone ahead because I think the dream is coming true. It's probably anyone's dream, to be able to play a gig or record a track with an orchestra. It's just that most of the time you don't have enough money to do it."

Fortunately, Six60 have had a pretty successful year - they have sold nearly 50,000 tickets to their shows since releasing their debut self-titled album (which has gone double-platinum, racking up more than 30,000 sales) in October 2011, and every single they've released has sold at least platinum.

Which means they're able to make this particular dream a reality and not only record with the orchestra but play a large-scale live show, which stretches them musically and offers something new to their fans.

The one-off show will be in three parts. They'll be presenting an "unplugged" set of acoustic versions, a set dubbed "Live & Massive" with their usual full set-up, and a set to be performed with the APO.

"To say that we're content with where we are now would be a lie, because we just wanna keep pushing. That's why we're doing this recording and this show, we want to find new ways to entertain people" Walters explains. "Being a band from New Zealand, you play a lot of pubs, and everyone has heaps to drink and you have a big party, and we're down for that, but this is an opportunity for people to see us in a different light, in a new atmosphere. When we tour in summer, we'll play Rise Up and everyone's going for it, and then we'll play Lost and everyone's like 'oh yeah, let's go get a drink, eh'."

They're likely to be listening when the new four-minute version of Lost lands on the radio though - the more down-tempo, soulful ballad that showcases Walter's voice has been impressively transformed by composer and arranger Peter Scholes.

"It's an ideal song to bring an orchestra into," says Scholes "because there's a lot of space in it, and so there's room to have an orchestral sound. It really lends itself to this treatment too - it has really dark lyrics, and so I've gone dark with the orchestra in terms of the instruments. There's no flutes, just clarinets; no trumpets, just horns. It's a bit broody, but at the same time it reaches a triumphant place, not a 'ta-da' kind of happy triumph, but there's a change."

"It's a sad song, for sure," Walters agrees. "It starts off with that feeling of being lost, then you go through the confrontation which is the bridge, and then coming to a moment of relief at the end, and I think that's something a lot of people can relate to."

Six60 were on tour in Europe, and wondering who to work with on this orchestral project, when they met Killing Joke frontman/prolific composer Jaz Coleman backstage at one of their gigs in Prague.

"We got to talking to him, and he's done orchestral arrangements himself obviously, and we said, we're looking to do this song with an orchestra, and so he put us in touch with Peter, who he's worked with before," Walters explains about the conversation which triggered the collaboration.

Scholes worked with Coleman for a To say that we're content with where we are now would be a lie, because we just wanna keep pushing. That's why we're doing this recording and this show, we want to find new ways to entertain people.Matiu Walters decade doing symphonic adaptations of Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, The Doors, and the Rolling Stones, along with many projects in New Zealand, so has great pedigree when it comes to doing 'classical crossover' projects, and is enthusiastic about their value.

Says Scholes, "It's great bringing the two genres together, and the orchestras love it. They know the importance of embracing all music because the orchestra is an extraordinarily versatile thing.

"They see it as part of their skill base, and part of their extension and reaching into the community to do this kind of project."

And it's clear that Six60 (who are all multi-instrumentalists themselves) are also extremely enthusiastic. The show in November will be the first time they have performed in New Zealand since April.

"I just can't wait to have that moment together live with the orchestra, and with our fans, specially in a 2500-person seated venue, a beautiful room, with amazing acoustics. There's still heaps of songs that we haven't played live because we haven't had the right opportunity, but this is it.

"Our fans might be surprised but I think they're going to love it. I guess we like to think that we're like our fans and if we're digging something then hopefully they feel the same."

Who: Six60, along with the Auckland Philharmonic Orchestra, arranged by Peter Scholes.
What: Large-scale live show, and a newly recorded version of Lost with the APO.
Where and when: At the ASB Theatre, in the Aotea Centre, on Saturday, November 17.

- TimeOut

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