Haunted Love: Leaps in the dark

By Lydia Jenkin

Dunedin duo Haunted Love tell Lydia Jenkin why they've combined horror, sci-fi, and teen romance into their sound.

Haunted Love. Photo / Supplied
Haunted Love. Photo / Supplied

Geva Downey and Rainy McMaster have had uncannily parallel lives, even before forming Haunted Love. They both listened to the Nolan Sisters, Talking Heads and David Bowie growing up, had slightly hippy mums who encouraged them to play guitar, went to art school, and they both worked in a Dunedin art gallery (where they met). "Marriage counsellors say that the best couples who stay together are the ones who have similar childhoods," Downey laughs, "so maybe that's helped."

When Downey met McMaster, it was as if she'd figured out what had been missing in her music at university, and she quickly asked McMaster to be in a band.

Finding the name Haunted Love was almost as effortless for the pair - it came from a 1970s comic series of spooky and romantic gothic horror. Though the stories themselves weren't inspiring, the overall aesthetic was. "Maybe it was the treatment of the horror genre in particular, because Rainy and I are both super-sensitive to any kind of horror post-1970s - it's just too gory and a bit too freaky. But before that, when horror was perhaps a bit more of a metaphor for the outsider in society playing on human darker sides, then that's much more interesting than shock value," Downey explains.

The first song the pair wrote was inspired by the Otago Settlers' Museum's crammed portrait gallery.

"The portraits of these settlers all have their mouths shut so their manky teeth can't show through, and they stretch all the way up to the very high ceilings, and they bear down on you. Everything is dimly lit to preserve the paintings, but it is an eerie space to be in, and there is such a sense of loss in the room that both Rainy and I picked up on, and a song came quite naturally out of that shared experience.

"That was the beginning of realising that we often would pick up on the same things within an artwork or a film or just even our daily lives," McMaster explains.

They released their first EP Darkness in Diamond City in 2009, and a sly video for their track Librarian has attained cult status in the world of information system specialists. Two years on, after flying up to Auckland regularly to work with producer Ed Cake, they've released debut album Spirit Revival.

It's the blend of themes - fantasy and science fiction twisted with gothic romance and an element of comedy - that is so appealing. Along with comics, art, and films (think of the modern fairytales told in romantic comedies mixed with teen science fiction flicks), the pair are encouraged by an array of female artists.

"Le Tigre, Mira, all kinds of female artists who reaffirm what you're doing, telling your lady stories in a lady way," Downey laughs. "I've always loved organ music too - and that's baroque organ music, 70s punk organ music, like Suicide and Young Marble Giants, and surf rock, all of those genres have some common denominators."

The original working album title was Teen Fiction, which hints at the subjects of tracks like Teenage Fever and Robot Boyfriend.

"There's a line in Teenage Fever 'at 15 years old you understand love', and I guess there's something quite appealing about exploring an 'almost adult' world," says McMaster.

"Teenagers experience everything for the first time, and it's so potent, and there's so much passion behind those feelings," says Downey.

The inspiration for Robot Boyfriend was actually an early childhood crush of Downey's - R2D2

"It was a good choice!" McMaster exclaims. "As Geva said, he's funny, he's kind, he saves the day, but he's not a show-off. And he comes out at the end, just needs a polish up and then he's off to the festival with the princess."

But the pair aren't all about trying to be ironic.

"On the surface a lot of the songs could come across as kitsch or twee," McMaster muses, "but we're really just into pathos, and what's sadder than a robot that's still living on after his love has long gone?"

LOWDOWN

Who: Geva Downey and Rainy McMaster as indie-pop duo Haunted Love
What: Debut album Spirit Revival out now on Round Trip Mars

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