Flying Boats - House Music
10 Aug 2005 // An interview by Shade
Interview taken from the Nelson Mail dated 4 Aug 05
Cafes, hired halls and, occasionally, pubs and bars have been the traditional venues for musicians who want to get their original songs out to the public. But this approach, like musical fashions, is changing.
Three Nelson singer-songwriters are joining a trend that is becoming increasingly popular as a way for musicians to showcase their work in a more intimate and friendly setting - the house concert.
Steve Low, Marc Steyn and Shelley Burt will be headlining a house concert at Low's Nelson home on Saturday night.
The idea is simple - instead of hiring a venue, use your own home. Rearrange the furniture, do a bit of publicity, charge a small entrance fee (with BYO alcohol) and encourage the audience to stick around afterwards to talk with the performers.
Like any gig, house concerts provide two things every musician needs: exposure and money. They're also ideal for musicians who are still developing an original repertoire - there can be several acts on the bill, who can get away with playing just four or five songs each.
There are few downsides, other than tricky acoustics, the odd carpet stain and the chance of a less-than-honest member of the audience making off with an ornament or two.
Upsetting the neighbours isn't a concern, Low says. "You can't be too loud anyway, because your audience is so close to you."
The concept is not new to Nelson - jazz musician the late Dave Fraser hosted regular concerts at his home studio at Waimea West - but Low predicts that it will take off as more musicians realise the advantages of performing in close proximity to a friendly audience.
House concerts may be in their infancy in New Zealand, but they are becoming an important part of the live music scene in the United States.
According to one website, there are house concerts in most US states every week, with audiences ranging between 30 and 120 people. Some even include a pot luck dinner before the show.
There are "how to" guides available, and businesses that can handle the organisation if the musicians are inexperienced, busy or nervous.
While house concerts tend to promote lesser-known talent, big names such as alternative country star Lucinda Williams have used them as a means of getting closer to their fans and road-testing new songs.
Wilco frontman Jeff Tweedy played a low-key gig at a neighbour's home after the release of the band's acclaimed album Yankee Hotel Foxtrot in 2002. Another leading US alternative band, the Smithereens, liked the concept so much that it organised a five-month "living room tour".
Low got the idea for Saturday's concert from an article in a US music magazine. "I thought it was a great thing, especially for people like us who write music and have a regular day job."
House concerts have several advantages, he says.
"There are no overhead costs, there's the proximity to the audience, and it's quite good to get a bit of feedback from them.
"It's like having an art exhibition in your home, in a way. It's a more intimate way of getting your music across. It's much better than hiring a cold hall somewhere and then trying to fill it."
Low says people at bars and cafes are often there for reasons other than listening to music, "and you're more or less obliged to play covers, whereas with a concert like this, you're able to get their full attention".
House concerts can also be more profitable for the performers, from both the door take and CD sales.
Low says the lack of venues for singer-songwriters taking their first tentative steps as performers is frustrating, and house concerts are a convenient solution.
"Obviously, most of the people who come are people you know. It's like getting a rubber stamp for your work, to say you're doing okay. And the audience doesn't just leave afterwards."
The musicians featured in Saturday's concert have different influences and levels of experience.
Low, an anaesthetist, has been writing and playing since he was a teenager. Earlier this year, he released a CD under the name Flying Boats.
He played pubs and cafes when he was a student, but let his musical endeavours take a back seat to other things until he saw Kiwi music legend Don McGlashan perform in Nelson two years ago.
"It was the way he didn't bother with fashion, just took a topic and put everything into it and presented it well. It changed my way of approaching songwriting."
The songs on the Flying Boats CD were written in six months, and he has new ones lined up for Saturday's concert.
Low met Steyn at a Nelson music store when they were both shopping for a portable home recording studio. They started meeting to discuss and play music, then roped Burt in.
She describes herself as a "recovering songwriter" with blues-rock influences, who has fallen in and out of love with the craft over the years.
"Within the last few months or so, you could say we have reconciled our differences and may even resume a relationship again," she says. "Any originals performed are now a few years old, but perhaps that doesn't matter."
Burt works as a business consultant and writer, and had a song released on a Nelson music compilation in 2000.
She says a house concert is a good intermediate step between composing and playing a wider range of venues. "But it's also an environment where, most importantly, you can play your own songs."
Steyn, the most experienced of the three, has been a regular performer around Nelson and headlined his own show at the 2003 Nelson Arts Festival. He has written more than 100 songs and has recorded for Radio New Zealand and performed in Britain, the Netherlands and Germany.
Steyn stopped performing regularly for an income about five years ago, when he began studying for an IT degree. He says Low has helped to reawaken his passion for songwriting, and a house concert is a good forum to present his new material.
Low admits that he, Steyn and Burt are fortunate in that there is no pressure on them to make a living from their music. A house concert is an ideal fit with this part-time approach.
There has been keen interest in Saturday's concert, with more than 100 people expected to attend.
House concerts have been credited with breathing new life into grassroots music in the US, and Low, Steyn and Burt hope the same thing will happen here.
Low also finds the idea musically liberating. He admits that his past efforts were constrained by worries about what the prevailing musical fashion of the day was.
Nowadays, though, "it's good because there's no dominating fashion or style. This means you can do anything and people don't cringe".
"You're at an age where you're obviously not fashionable anyway, so why not do what you want to do?"
He says the trio are considering holding two or three house concerts a year, "but if other people get on the bandwagon, they'll be all over the place".
House concert featuring Flying Boats, Marc Steyn, Shelley Burt, Alisdair Daines (guitar), Craig Hallem (keyboards) and Adrian Secker (piano) at 15a Moncrieff Ave, Nelson, Saturday, August 6 at 9pm. Door sales $5. RSVP to:
About Flying Boats
Flying boats is the recording vehicle of Nelson singer/songwriter Steve Low.
Visit the muzic.net.nz Profile for Flying Boats
The debut CD release occured in Dec 04 and is available by email. The CD contains 10 original songs and and the production is marked by jingle jangle guitars and vocal harmonies reminiscint of The Byrds, REM and The Mutton Birds.