Chris Schulz is the deputy head of entertainment for the New Zealand Herald.

Shapeshifter's big questions: 'Are we taking the piss and flogging a dead horse?'

Forget the burgers flying over their heads - Shapeshifter looked even further skyward for inspiration for their new album.
Shapeshifter looked to the heavens for guidance on their new album, Stars.
Shapeshifter looked to the heavens for guidance on their new album, Stars.

They met at jazz school, found singer P Digsss at long lost New Year's festival The Gathering, and, most astonishingly, once opened a concert for art metallers Tool.

They're just some of the fun facts you might not know about Shapeshifter, New Zealand's premiere drum 'n' bass act who are gearing up for another sweltering summer with a new album and full tour schedule ahead of them.

But, sitting at C1 restaurant in Christchurch with the band's three key members, another fact about the group quickly becomes apparent: flying hamburgers do not impress them.

Buns filled with pulled pork and shredded chicken are quite literally flying through the air above us via a series of pneumatic tubes that delivers food to hungry diners right at their table.

It's a surreal scene being enjoyed by many. But Shapeshifter's key trio of Digsss, Sam Trevethick and Nick Robinson couldn't care less.

They're regulars in this eatery, and the novelty's long since worn off. Besides, they've got more important things to discuss, chiefly, their new album Stars, being released tomorrow.

Made amid some major changes for the band including management wrangles, legal issues and losing founding member Devin Abrams, the group started asking themselves some big questions.

One of those was deciding whether or not they should keep making music together.

"There was so much shit going on, a lot of chaotic things," admits Trevethick.

"The challenge was, it was album number six. Are we relevant? To ourselves? To our fans? Or are we taking the piss and flogging a dead horse?

"It's like, 'What new things are we going to bring to the table?', 'A lot of people listen to us. Are we doing this because we are successful? Why are we doing it?'"

It's a surprising admission from a band widely considered to be among New Zealand's most confident and successful touring acts, one that performs to packed crowds at summer hotspots and tours regularly overseas.

They know it would have been easy to put out an album of bangers to please fans. "We can do [that easily], we know this formula," says Trevethick.

But they didn't want to do that. So they looked a little higher than the ceiling those burgers are flying around on for inspiration.

Yes, the album is called Stars. So's the first single. There's a good reason for that. The band took inspiration from Castle Rock, a volcanic area near Christchurch that doubles as a popular spot for stargazers.

Instead of watching burgers whizz over our heads, we were supposed to visit it together, but Christchurch's blustery weather made it a no go. So Trevethick has to explain the location's appeal instead.

"It's a really significant point where people would ask for guidance. From up there y... you're closer to the heavens, and this album's a little bit about that, being connected to things other than our everyday reality."

Songwriting sessions kicked off in March last year. Trevethick and Robinson recorded beats together in Christchurch and send them to Digsss, who would download them to his phone and jam over the top of them.

"I'd be like, 'Oooh that's a good one.' Sometimes it's cool to get in the zone as quickly as I can, just put my headphones on, 'Oh yeah, that's an interesting one ... I'm feeling it man, I'm feeling it'."

They recorded close to 100 song sketches that way, then began whittling down their ideas to the 11 that made the album. The result is the most ambitious and varied album of Shapeshifter's career, from the moody atmospherics of Blazer and Eternal, to moody tempo changers Ex Machina and Gilded Sun, and full on synth blasts like Fake Charmer

Fans worried about a massive departure needn't worry. Stars has plenty of time for the kind of chest-beating drum 'n' bass they're known for, with anthems Her and Oculus set to ignite those festival hotspots they're playing this summer, easily sitting alongside previous Shapeshifter bangers In Colour and Dutchies.

Shapeshifter looked to the stars for inspiration for their new album.
Shapeshifter looked to the stars for inspiration for their new album.

Its creation might have been fraught, but Stars helped Shapeshifter tackle those big questions they'd been asking right from the start.

"The answer is to make music that truly makes you feel," says Trevethick. "If that ends up being popular, so be it. That's all we've got now, if we don't have that, we don't want to do it ...

"As soon as you take it for granted, become complacent about it, get comfortable, you're asking for a fall. It would be such a horrible fall."

LOWDOWN
Who: Shapeshifter
What: New album Stars, out tomorrow
Live: Horncastle Arena, Christchurch, November 10; Shed 6, Wellington, November 11; Vector Arena, Auckland, November 12
Also: Performing at various summer music events, including Petone Beach on December 27, Napier December 29, Riwaka on December 31 and Bay Dreams in Tauranga on January 2.

- NZ Herald

Get the news delivered straight to your inbox

Receive the day’s news, sport and entertainment in our daily email newsletter

SIGN UP NOW

© Copyright 2017, NZME. Publishing Limited

Assembled by: (static) on production bpcf04 at 23 Jan 2017 16:49:16 Processing Time: 27ms