From the moment King Sweeties strutted onto the airwaves a couple of months back, heads turned. What was instantly grabbing and intriguing was that their minimal elements had been cranked up to maximum.
Their songs surged forward on giant swaggering basslines that pulled along chirpy, perky drum grooves while coolly sweet vocals drifted nonchalantly above. It was catchy and funky and, in those initial moments, mysterious.
"We made it for fun and when we released it we were like, 'let's put it out as something to do'. We didn't have a big master plan," vocalist and bassist Cass Basil says. "The whole thing has been on the fly".
"We've got such low expectations. It's already exceeded them," King Sweeties' drummer Bic Runga adds. "'I'm a glass half-empty person."
That may be, but King Sweeties glass now runneth over. They're playlisted on radio, nominated for a Silver Scroll award, in demand for summer festivals and play their first show as part of Elemental Nights tomorrow night.
"I'm really excited," Basil says. "But playing live is making me quite nervous."
As bassist in Tiny Ruins and Runga's touring band, Basil's no stranger to the stage. But King Sweeties marks the first time she's stepped up to sing.
"Oh, that's awesome though Cass," Runga smiles, reassuring her bandmate. "If I'd sung, it would sound so earnest. It wouldn't be as cool."
Then laughing she says, "It would be really naff actually."
One listen tells you King Sweeties are anything but naff. Their songs percolate post-punk funk grooves and cool 'tude. It makes me wonder how they feel while playing them?
"I feel really… I feel quite… tough," Runga laughs.
"Like a bad-ass," Basil nods.
"Yeah it's so ridiculously brave, so stupid," Runga grins. "It's like, 'who do we think we are?'"
It's a great question so I lob it back. Who does she think they are?
"I don't know," Runga admits, after a brief pause. "We just really wanted to be a band of bass and drums. Everyone knows Cass' work in Tiny Ruins, she's a really accomplished musician, did a degree in jazz and stuff, but I always thought there was something more to what Cass could do. And she's really funny, she's got a really good sense of humour. I think there's these almost humorous bass lines popping out. It's just funny to me."
Fun is a big part of King Sweeties. It's why the pair started the band, what kept them going and what they want people to have listening to their up coming EP We Are the Bosses.
"We were always looking for the take that had the most joy and punch," Runga says. "Because of that the songs have really found a life of their own. It's so different from my stuff. It's fun making it. It's fun choosing the right takes. It's exactly how it should be. Just really fun and not too much struggle."
While they're exploding now they've been working on King Sweeties for over a year. The idea for a girl band first came up during rehearsals for Runga's 20th Anniversary show at the Civic. Runga's band consisted of her partner and Basil and her partner. She grins mischievously as she recounts the moment they decided to jam together.
"We were just like, 'hey, let's get rid of these two!'. It was a little bit rude of me, because we were at a band practice and I said ' Cass, do you want to start a girl band?' and you were like, 'yeah, ok' and those two guys were like, "Oh, what are we chopped liver?'"
Laughing she says, "but they were both so busy as well. They both engineer and produce. It was just a way of making some music and hanging out."
"One of the first thighs we did was get together and jam. We spent a day jamming. Bic was on the drums and I was on the bass," Basil says continuing. "That was awesome."
"Cass wrote a lot of basslines first and then we got together and I jammed with those," Runga says.
The basslines are fun and joyous but also damn funky and very bad ass. Basil says she's always had a deep love for swaggering basslines like you hear on Motown and the sort that Tina Weymouth from Talking Heads and Tom Tom Club would bust out.
"Part of King Sweeties is getting to do the thing that I don't get to do with the other bands that I play in," Basil explains. "Just that feeling of the bassline being this repetitive cool groovy thing. I really wanted to do that."
Runga also wanted to try her hand at something new so, along with producing their songs, she picked up engineering duty as well.
"That was a real thing I wanted to get under my belt," she says. " It was really cool to have a hoon."
She says her references was New York's classic 80's post-punk era but with one important difference. She wanted to make Basil's bass the undisputed star of the show.
"I wanted to make a sound for Cass that was super characterful," she explains. "The mix is all about her bass guitar. Like, what's the most honking frequency to make her bass the main character in the mix and the character of the music? It probably required a wee bit of patience from Cass but we just learnt on the job eh? She was quite patient with me. We got there. It was a cool experience."
Stepping into the limelight was, as noted, new for Basil as well. It was a prospect that terrified her.
"It was really scary. Before we put out 'Let's Just Stay in Bed' I was like, 'Oh no, everyone's gonna hate my voice.,'" she shudders. "It's a different feeling, singing. It's mainly been scary but once I did it and got some nice feedback it's quite cool."
Basil says singing wasn't something she ever aspired to, as that mischievous grin once washes over Runga's face.
"I kind of made you, eh?" she laughs. "She's 12-years younger than me. I'm just gonna wheel her out the front."
*King Sweeties plays Elemental Nights Tuesday, 20 October, with Opposum.