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

Gareth Thomas: The charm offensive

Gareth Thomas discusses the inspiration behind his latest offering with Lydia Jenkin.
Gareth Thomas talks about his upcoming new album, Fizzy Milk.
Gareth Thomas talks about his upcoming new album, Fizzy Milk.

We're sitting in Gareth Thomas' cosy kitchen, sipping tea and getting down to business talking about his upcoming new album, Fizzy Milk.

There's no fizzy milk in the tea thankfully, but he does offer up another rare treat: a Cameo Cream biscuit. Immediately we're off on a nostalgia trip about the classic Kiwi biscuits that bring back childhood memories.

And the funny thing is that Thomas' latest album has a similar effect. It's not music for children, but it's filled with a childlike sense of delight, of exploration, and a sweet frankness.

From lyrics like "I didn't like your party, it's way better here across the street, hanging in this here tree" (All Eyes In The Room), and "It's a weird fever, makes me feel alright, my skin goes all bumpy with you, my throat gets all lumpy with you, we're floating like dumplings" (Weird Fever), it's a reminder of what makes life fun.

Thomas has a history of creating great catchy songs, from early 2000s Goodshirt hits like Sophie, Lucy, and Fiji Baby, to his earlier solo ear-worms like Google Song and Gone Cold, but Fizzy Milk has a particularly charming exuberance.

"Quite a few of my songs are drawn from childhood experiences, like the Goodshirt song Buck It Up was about a teacher I didn't like, and there's Some Teachers on this album. The songs let out those feelings I've had pent up for all these long years," he jokes.

"But I think the whole creative process is about getting in touch with your sub-conscious, which is your inner child really, and just not thinking too much. Hence the album title - I was very inspired by these kids I know who put milk into a SodaStream."

Thomas is an architect by day, and one of his architecture heroes, New Zealander Ian Athfield, also had an inspiring perspective on tapping into a childlike mindset.

"He always talked about how he lets go of his adult mind and tries to get in touch with a more primal childlike feeling when making decisions, and to hear that from someone who was an archetect at the top of his game, that was really inspiring."

Fizzy Milk is a slightly different direction to his first solo album, Lady Alien, which had slightly darker themes of loneliness and isolation.

"Lady Alien was just after Goodshirt broke up, and there were all sorts of feelings of loss and so on in there. And Goodshirt was a very bouncy energetic band, so initially I wanted to try something in a different direction, something a little more dark and brooding and mysterious, and so I guess that was naturally a darker, more introspective album.

Thomas has a history of creating great catchy songs, from early 2000s Goodshirt hits like Sophie, Lucy, and Fiji Baby.
Thomas has a history of creating great catchy songs, from early 2000s Goodshirt hits like Sophie, Lucy, and Fiji Baby.

"And then I thought, 'Yeah, it's much more fun to be happy and outwards and generous and just have a good time with it.' And playing music live is much more fun when you're playing happy songs, seeing people having a good time. And I'm just in a better place now too, I think."

Goodshirt have gotten back together a few times to jam (some of the Fizzy Milk songs started life as Goodshirt ideas), though they're not recording any new material at the moment, Thomas is at peace with it.

"I was all keen to get Goodshirt going again, but everyone's in different places at the moment, everyone's got a lot going on.

"We do play together still, we play a bit of a reunion show every six months or so, and I'm really happy about that, that's a lot of fun, but we're not actually writing anything at the moment, and so I guess I kind of thought, oh well, maybe I'll turn these songs into something for myself."

The sound palette on the album has been directly influenced by a new instrument which Thomas has added to his stable: instead of the distinctive synth basslines he played in Goodshirt, he's been playing a lot more bass guitar.

"I bought a bass guitar - just a Fender copy for $100, but that really got me into bass, and that's been essential to creating the sort of grooves I've used on this album."

Weird Fever in particular has a great bassline, which is a song he wrote about meeting his girlfriend Amelia Murray (who's also a musician, recording and performing under the name Fazerdaze).

"When I met Amelia we both got sick, and so it's about falling in love and being sick at the same time, and that kind of weird, feverish state," he laughs.

Murray's presence is felt elsewhere on the album too - Blue Blue Day is a tender love song, So Unbelieveable uses a bassline she created, and Girlfriend On My Hofner is a true story.

"I got this new Hofner guitar home, and Amelia immediately started playing it really well, and I was thinking, 'Ah shit, I'm not going to get this back now'," he laughs. "She was playing this chord pattern that she was thinking of turning into a song, but I was sitting in the kitchen secretly recording her and singing lyrics."

It became a sort of race between them to see who could record the song first, with Thomas just getting away with effectively stealing his girlfriend's song, after she stole his guitar - all in good humour, of course, and another example of the playful nature of Thomas' approach to music, which has helped him create one of the best local albums of the year.

Low down

Who: Gareth Thomas
What: New album, Fizzy Milk, out tomorrow.
Where and when: Performing at Moon in Wellington on Friday, July 1, The Darkroom in Christchurch on Saturday, July 2, and Whammy Bar in Auckland on Friday, July 8.

- TimeOut

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