By STEPHEN JEWELL
Look around Relaxomatic Project's Dan Sperber and Luke Casey's inner-city Auckland rehearsal space and you might expect to find an old John Coltrane album or perhaps a Gilles Peterson jazzy house compilation.
Not an ancient vinyl LP by 70s prog rockers Rush, but that's exactly what I discover when I sit down on the couch.
Casey insists that the album belongs to one of the other bands that practise in the cramped bunker, but Sperber admits that the duo's second album, the just-released Relaxomatic Projections, has some surprisingly prog-rock leanings.
"The progressive influence came about because someone said that Pre-Loved Goods, the first song off the album we released to student radio, sounded like King Crimson," says Sperber.
"I'd never heard King Crimson so I investigated them. I bought my first Yes album at a garage sale a couple of days ago and I've been getting into prog-rock like Gong. But Luke would be a bit more knowledgeable about prog than me."
Sperber is referring to Casey's uncle Andy Parker, who drummed for 70s rockers UFO.
"My family were involved in seminal British hard rock of the 70s and 80s, but it wasn't really prog," says Casey, who cites Radiohead's OK Computer as a progressive style influence.
"It's like taking some of those standard pop or jazz song forms and extending them, hence Projections as opposed to Project.
"The exploratory nature of prog-rock suggests some kind of musical complexity. But the pretentious overindulgence of prog-rock doesn't apply to us. Our music is all about space. Less is more."
Space doesn't exist solely in Relaxomatic's music, but can also be found in the organic, collective nature in which Sperber and Casey operate.
"We like to have a fluid structure," says Sperber.
"The whole idea is that it's a project not a band. A partnership rather than a group. It's taking a couple of tricks from dance music and asking what's a workable unit, rather than going by traditional models and having band meetings. We employ musicians for gigs and recording sessions.
"When you start a band, you don't think about things like money, but that's an experience I've taken from Luke and his old band Eye TV.
"Being in a band with four or five other people in a small country and trying to combine your visions is really difficult.
"With Eye TV, there were very high expectations internally and externally and that was one of the things that killed us," continues Casey, who resigned just before Eye TV broke up last June. "In retrospect, when we started making music seven years ago, the only reason we did it was to make songs that we liked.
"As soon as another agenda became apparent - when our record company wanted us to make money or we needed to make money because we had families - it killed the band, because that wasn't the reason why we started out."
Consequently, Casey and Sperber have taken the success of the Relaxomatic Project and much-trumpeted inclusion of their track Every Day There's Something on a French Blue Note compilation and the first edition of EMI's best-selling Lazy Sunday chill-out series very much in their stride.
"I was pleasantly surprised by how well the first record did, only because I had no expectations whatsoever," says Casey.
"Dan and I did it for posterity. So things happening like getting on Lazy Sunday or the Blue Note compilation was a really good bonus. It was a lesson to me because in the past [with Eye TV] I've always had really high expectations that weren't met.
"Relaxomatic Project hasn't made us millionaires, but if you want to be a wealthy musician who's only in it for the money, you'd be in Westlife."
But if you were in Westlife, you certainly wouldn't sample former New Zealand Prime Minister Norman Kirk, whose first speech on a marae forms the basis of Rivermouth Interlude.
"I wrote the music for Rivermouth Interlude during two weeks I spent at a little bach next to the river in Tongaporutu, just north of Taranaki," says Sperber.
"I'd sit there and watch the tide come in and out every day and I wanted to capture those moments. I later found the record that Norman Kirk's speech is taken from (a 1970s recording called Big Norm) and what he said just seemed to suit the track. He was such an awesome orator and was one of the last great statesmen."
Meanwhile, a recording of late poet Denis Glover reading his poem Sunday Morning is included on Relaxomatic Projection's opening track, Every Other Sunday.
"It's a strange coincidence," says Sperber. "In the same shop that I bought the CD that the sample for Every Day There's Something came from, I bought this record from 1974 called New Zealand Poets Read Their Works.
"I'd already written the music for the track and it was amazing how well the poem fitted around the chords and the whole groove. I wrote the music on a Sunday.
"In retrospect, I could say that there's 14 chords that I play in sequence in between the spoken bits, and you could compare that to a fortnight.
"It's just like the prog thing was thought of in retrospect. It's not like we said, 'Let's make a prog record'. You can only tell a story forwards. There's no such thing as a story-maker, just a storyteller."
* Relaxomatic Projections is out now. Casey and Sperber play Vibes on a Summers Day at Western Springs on Waitangi Day.
By STEPHEN JEWELL