By RUSSELL BAILLIE
Paul Casserly has been making music as the Strawpeople since the mid-80s - a period he keeps updating with makeovers of the decade's more enduring hits, which themselves have become a trademark of the studio outfit's albums.
The new and sixth effort, Count Backwards From 10, is no different. There's a cover of the Psychedelic Furs' Love My Way sung by Leza Corban (also the voice behind the band's classic original track Sweet Disorder). As usual, Corban is but one of a near-netball team of voices which include the third Runga sister, Pearl, Jordan Reyne (whose own album is reviewed on page 15), Mahinarangi Tocker and regular collaborator Fiona McDonald in her first recorded outing post NZ Idol.
Casserly has a double life involving the small screen, he's the director and producer of Eating Media Lunch - though with the Jeremy Wells-fronted show between series, you can hear Casserly as the host of bFM's The Wire on Mondays and he's also the voice of local big-cat nature show The Lion Man in prime time on TV2 on Sunday nights.
So the album's been a while coming.
I'm feeling like it's four weeks overdue. It's just taken a bit longer. But I also wanted to take as long as I needed. In the past I've thought I've had to get things finished by some deadline which, in hindsight, if something took six months more, there wouldn't have been a difference.
How's this for a first impression: It's the first Strawpeople album you can actually dance to.
Really? I listened back to the last album and I thought, 'Ah, yeah, it's got some nice moments'. But it dragged and it was a bit dreary and I thought I would like to be a bit more uptempo, essentially. The other one I thought, 'It needs a bit more [expletive] life'.
Whether you are making music or television, you always have somebody else out front. Discuss.
Um, because in some cases I don't have the skills required to be up front. And so I recognise where my talents lie and it's definitely backstage, and when it comes to music I don't play an instrument and I don't sing, so that's pretty clear. The same with TV stuff. I can get by on radio but it's a different skill to get by on television. I'm not a show pony, as such.
But you do a pretty good David Attenborough as the voice of The Lion Man.
Well that's nice of you to say.
I take it you aren't responsible for the really bad African muzak that springs up.
No, I'm not, actually
Anyway, you're covering [the Psychedelic Furs early 80s hit] Love My Way on the new album, why?
Just always loved it. It kind of fitted the bill of that something from the 80s that I don't think has been thrashed too much.
Like the Cars' song [Drive] you did last time.
Yeah, it was one of the those songs that was well known enough so people would go, 'Oh, what's this?', but hasn't been on a Mitsubishi ad or a Telecom ad or a bank ad.
Is there a connective tissue between the songs on this one, or were the tracks project by project?
You know, pretty much project by project. But, at the same time, because I have the overview, I would maybe push things a certain way. But if you are using some of the same people you start to have a bit of connection anyway. Also, if I'm using the same software and the same plug-ins and the same synths that I like, the sound of that appears on a few tracks - it all starts meshing together, even though I think some songs are completely different.
You've been doing Strawpeople for how long?
Since about '86.
You are seen as a pioneer of electronic music in New Zealand. Do you feel any affinity with the new guys - the Sola Rosas and Conrays and SJDs?
Absolutely. I feel twinges of jealously quite often. I hear their stuff and go, 'Shit that's good, that pisses me off'. You know that terrible feeling? You must get it when you pick up the Truth or something.
You know that feeling when you like something and you move on from liking to going, 'That's a bit better than what I can do'. So, yes, I do feel an affinity with some of those acts and I do feel the appropriate level of either jealousy, or just admiration.
So that veteran status kind of makes you the Dave Dobbyn of dance music.
That's an interesting picture. I think Dave possesses a level of talent and success that I could only aspire to.
All those singers - do you hassle them, or they hassle you?
In the case of Pearl it was me hassling Boh [to hassle Pearl]. And in the case of Mahina, I think we ran into each other at a drunken awards night somewhere and had one of those conversations - the usual mutual admiration jamboree, and we actually did it, which is amazing, because usually you have those conversations and never do anything about it.
You've only used women's voices again. Why no guys?
I really wanted to because everyone keeps [expletive] asking me that. We recorded about 14 or 16 tracks which were culled and one of them was with singer Chris Melville of Grand Central Band, who's a great singer but the song just wasn't a very good song in the end, so we ended up not being able to make it work. But maybe next time. There's a whole bunch of male singers that would be great to work with. But there aren't as many good men singers as there are women because there are a lot of women for whom it's a bit of a craft. With men they usually have their own bands and their egos are usually big enough where they think I don't need to sing well, I just need to have my own character. Whereas I think women actually get the technical thing down.
Is Fiona McDonald's high profile as a NZ Idol judge a blessing or a curse for you?
I think things have died down now, but I think a bit of both. It certainly will be a reason that certain publications will want to do a story, and for them that will become the story.
The Strawpeople ... hey, it's not actually Shihad, it's not exactly the Dead C. There is no reputation to lose, which is actually a good place to be. It's certainly something else to talk about.
And it may enhance sales to Woman's Weekly readers.
Well, the ones who like her. More coverage can presumably only help. I guess the people who have a problem with her being a judge on that show would never buy a Strawpeople album anyway.
So you do music, radio, television. Is there any media you're not a master of?
Yes, all of them.
By RUSSELL BAILLIE