When I speak to Ha the Unclear's Michael Cathro, it's just after the band has made the APRA Silver Scroll's top 20 shortlist. It's the first time the Auckland-based group has made the list, and Cathro is stoked.
"It's really cool to be included among a list of people like Tami Neilson," he says. "You just write songs and hope that some people will hear them, and for someone to think that I was good enough to be included in that list is quite special.
"I've been to the event before … John Campbell was hosting, and to have someone who was so passionate about music was quite infectious. It made the crowd feel it as well."
The honour was for their single Wallace Line, lifted from their new album Invisible Lines. The title alludes to what Cathro describes as a "crisis of knowledge" he was going through – one that reflected both his personal relationships and his studies in psychology.
"Science says certain things, but lived experiences say another thing, and I was just thinking a lot about that stuff and the invisible links between everything – this kind of intricate web of connections that isn't always initially apparent," he says.
In his songwriting, Cathro was digging for an understanding of empathy, and how close humans can truly get to one another.
"How can we really try to understand other people's experiences? It was a thing I'd been mulling about for a while … I had this strange feeling of being bound by my own body. Like, wow, I'm sailing this ship myself for the entirety of my life."
Invisible Lines blends alt-rock and synth-pop sounds on a brighter, more layered record than Ha the Unclear's first. It opens with the off-kilter relationship drama Where Were You When I Was All You Needed, a line that Cathro admits "takes a little bit of unpacking".
"I imagine the conversation being; 'I really need you here …', then you meet up, and it's like, oh, this thing was only built through that absence itself," he says.
The added nuance is owed to the band's producer, Tom Healy, who Cathro says offered them access to higher-quality gear through his facility Paquin Studios.
"We wanted something that sounded a bit bigger than the last one," he says. "I really like pop songs, pop choruses and lots of backing vocals – like Beatles songs and girl groups of the 60s. I think musically I tend to write in that way a bit more, but then I have an angsty lyric side."
Who: Ha the Unclear
What: New album Invisible Lines