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Apollo SteamTrain - INSIDE THE MUZIC: Apollo SteamTrain

31 Mar 2018 // An interview by butch181

While up in Auckland for his inaugural Auckland show with Apollo SteamTrain, Brendan McCarthy sat down for a chat with the Inside the Muzic Crew

Check the video out below:

Alex (Interview): Welcome to this episode of Inside The Muzic, today we are talking to Brendan from Apollo SteamTrain. Good to have you up in Auckland. You are Tauranga based?

Brendan (Vocals/Guitar): I've just battled the motorway, only a four-hour trip today, but I'm here. I hope the rest of the band is on their way in.

Alex: Auckland traffic. Never underestimate it.

Brendan: Absolutely. It seems to have gotten heaps worse since I left 12 years ago. I used to have a driving job in Auckland and I thought it was bad then.

Alex: While Ed Sheeran is also in town, you've got a show at the Ding Dong Lounge?

Brendan: We are here to play our first Auckland gig, with a band called Ocean Beach, who are old mates of mine from Dunedin days, and Subscond, who are Hamilton and Auckland based, that we met last year playing Nivara lounge. Looking forward to it and hoping a few people are going to come along that aren't going to Ed Sheeran.

Alex: How did the band get started? I hear you were the pioneer.

Brendan: I just got sick of playing covers, which I'd been doing for about four or five years from when I first moved to Tauranga. I used to play a lot of original music in my twenties, and that just sort of ended because of family, commitments, and life. Life got in the way. I got back into music and got into covers but realized I really want to play my own stuff.  That was 2014 and  I didn't know any musicians that wanted to play original music in Tauranga at that point. So I went into a studio and demoed a whole heap of tracks by myself. Due to life and day job commitments, it took about 15 months. 

Coming out the other side, I played it to my old friend Jan Hellriegel and she signed a publishing deal straight away, and then a couple of tracks were used in Shortland Street. Off the back of that mild success, I thought I could see something quite good happening here. In the start of 2016, I started to look around for the best musos and it's taken a year and a half to finally get that line up right. The band's been playing; seven or eight gigs last year, and three or four in 2016. We've recently moved to a four piece and the lineup is good. It feels right for reproducing the studio sound. It's a bit of a journey and a bit slower in the evolution of a brand new band than if we were 20 years younger. But it's good, we're enjoying ourselves.

Alex: So you did all the recording yourself? All the musical instruments?

Brendan: Almost. We did live drums. I'm not good enough to track at a studio level, so I used a session drummer, I did the bass and guitar, and the producer at the studio did some keyboard, piano, made up some strings for a few bits and pieces. It was just pretty much myself and this guy, Tim and come up with what we call the demos. It was originally going to be a studio project, and I was just going to put it out there as an album, but when we started to get a few industry interests, we decided to slow down. We took that batch of songs and got one remixed by Clint Murphy.

Through the MMF (Music Manager Forum) I met James Southgate (Devilskin's current manager), he said: "Let's get a track in front of Clint Murphy in the UK". I don't know who he was at the time. He came back and of course, the sounded pretty huge, so we've got one huge sounding track. If we put one huge selling track out there, people are going to want another one at the time we didn't. So we slowed down completely, practised, saved some money and went to Roundhead Studio to record two more with Greg Haver. They went through the Jason Nick Portman/Clint Murphy chain and that is what Brain Bell Jangler is, the first of that Roundhead session last year. Now we're on sort of a journey of rinse and repeat where, Brain Bell Jangler been playing for about two months and so we're on the end of life for that single, and the new one is ready to go.

Alex: How did you find your other musicians in your band?

Brendan: The old-fashioned way, mostly. The drummer, it's a long story. Les Robinson was the drummer for a while, but he's now done a complete Dave Grohl and jumped on the guitar. He had a notice up on a music shop board advertising himself as a bass player because he's one of those people that you hire who can play anything. I do solo gigs to get money, playing covers on an acoustic guitar stuff, to get money to put into originals for recording videos. I found the notice and then rung him up. The guy had said he can play the drums as well. I rang him up to see if he wanted to come in and jam, and he's like, "Yep, cool". I said I've got a gig tonight, and he says "I'll bring my bass" but no, I want you to play the drums. He just says "Yeah, it'll be alright". We do this gig with him on bass, and if he can play the bass like that, I didn't even need to see him play the drums. I asked him to do the drumming gig and that's how I met him. 

We had another bass player that I knew from local circles, but then he got really busy, and I found Ian Clark through Facebook. We did a few gigs as a three-piece, but while this all this recording and was going on we realized that we needed to be a four-piece, and it's taken us most of 2017 to the find the right person. What got Lee to do the Dave Grohl thing and moved to the guitar and a drummer that I've known for years called James Bos in the Tauranga music circle for quite a while. Got him on the drumkit. Now we're four dudes living the dream.

Alex: How's it working as a four-piece so far?

Brendan: Really well. This is only our third gig. This Brain Bell Jangler tour is the first of the four-piece lineup, and it's good. It gives me as the lead vocalist, a lot more freedom to not have to worry so much about, my guitar parts because it is a big responsibility playing guitar and singing and trying to reproduce stuff you've made in the studio where you're completely free and you've laid down 200 tracks. It gives me the chance to jump on acoustic as well so we can bring the sound down from a really big sort of wall of rock electric guitars. Just down a layer and just have an acoustic guitar, a nice, floating, ethereal layer with some good electric over the top.

Alex: Are you still you writing all the parts?

Brendan: Mainly me, because of the start that he had. The demos were 10 tracks and I had other tracks that I've been introducing. But we've got a couple of songs that we've collaborated on. They've just been, "Hey, I've got this one that is sort of 80%" and we just bring it in and the way and away we go, so it is becoming more of a team effort which is what I wanted. But I knew back in 2014, I had so much of a back catalogue to give the band a kickstart and have content for the band to get moving until I found the right people to start running together, forward as a band.

Alex: How difficult is it being on the road? You've mentioned having to do covers to make money.

Brendan: Absolutely. It's hard for everybody. I was just listening on the way up to Joe Walsh on a podcast and Ekko Park just recorded their third album and no one's got any money. It's pretty obvious that there isn't any money to be made from original music. It's tough. But I come from that side of the entertainment industry and playing covers, it was a case of knowing here's a place where there is still value in live music, and you can get paid pretty well. There's a lot of dudes around that pick up an acoustic guitar and that's what they make they're living off. It is tough in our situation being at the age we're at because we aren't 20, and we have families, commitments to day jobs that we've had for years, that we can't give up because we want to be rock stars. It's mainly time, overall, money's not too difficult because we self-fund everything, but there's often two or three of us putting in money from covers gigs to work towards the latest goal; recording or your video. Time is the tough one.

Alex: Is it hard to balance it all?

Brendan: It's a complete nightmare. Mobile phone. I mean, I'm from the generation that watched mobile phones come in and I don't know how you couldn't have done it without a mobile phone. You have to do all the publicity and all the admin and everything yourself when you're in a band or in a group that's at this level. We don't have a manager, we don't have anyone helping us, so you've got to be it. I'm the main tech guy because I'm in IT as a day job, so I'm sitting in front of a computer all day and I get to make the promo and posters, all that sort of stuff. It's tough, but all of that seems to go away as soon as you strike the first chords. It's really cheesy, but it's true. The 150 hours that you do to build up to a gig for that one hour is, at the moment, still worth. 

Looking forward to some bigger stages. It's a strange place to be, in my situation, having done music my whole life, and played on big stages for covers reasons or for supporting other people. For example, I was just talking to Rob from the other band is playing tonight. OK. I'm trying to remember what the last gig I did in Auckland and I think it was playing in The Managers, who were around at the time because Rob was the guitarist and he had taken off to do Lord of the Rings, because, in the year 2000, everybody in the music industry went over to Peter Jackson's house and got a job on Lord of the Rings. I took over his role in The Managers for two gigs. We did a gig which blew my mind at East Auckland somewhere, and it was in front of 5,000 people on a normal sort of outdoor stage. It's odd to come from having that experience, throughout the years playing big covers gigs, I've done corporate level stuff at ASB stadium,  to writing your own material and having to accept you are down at this lower level, you have to go stand in front of the drumkit. It's odd, but it's part of it.

Alex: What's the community like in Tauranga?

Brendan: It's getting better. I don't think it's ever been in a bad place, but it's a lack of small venues that is what's causing everybody to suffer at the moment. There's plenty of bands around, but because there's nowhere to play, a lot of people give up pretty quickly. The covers scene has always been well supported, and of course, we've got a big jazz festival. If we're talking specifically about rock or even perhaps reggae there are some big festivals that are sort of supporting that side of things. But there are no smaller venues. Auckland's suffering from the loss of Kings Arms, but there is still Galatos, and Ding Dong Lounge, and Thirsty Dog. Something like a handful of smaller rooms with 100-150 capacity, but in Tauranga, we've only got the one which is Totara Street, and that's a little bit out of the reach of your local original bands. It's great for touring. It's brought a whole lot of New Zealand and overseas touring bands to Tauranga, which is good, but it's not really supporting the local music scene.

Alex: So unless you've already got that large fanbase there...

Brendan: Yeah, absolutely. Totara Street is a fantastic venue and know you pay money up front, but what you get for that is an A-Class sound rig, A-Class lighting, but it's non-refundable and, and to try and drag 250 people into that venue when are still developing your band or developing your brand, if you will, it's too much of an ask.  Everyone's the same, everybody's out there and they just want to make it happen. There are a few rooms around town. We just play in a smaller function room on the side of a bar called Imbibe, which was good. It turned out to be pretty sweet, it had a 50 capacity and we packed it out so we were happy. You just do what you gotta do.

Alex: I just found it quite interesting, because, for many Auckland bands, their next biggest fanbase isn't actually in Hamilton or another nearby area.  Tauranga is usually the second biggest fanbase.

Brendan: It works well for the bands coming down and grouping up, which is good. That's where I'm trying to take my band as well. Realizing that the value that's left in music is about forming communities. The likes of Coridian just did a tour with four bands on the road. With four bands together you can afford to pay and get to use a good quality venue and hopefully between four bands you'll attract enough interest to make it a really good night. It's an interesting one. What're your thoughts on the community side of it?

Alex: It's a complicated topic...

Brendan: It is. I have the conversation a lot. It's a really interesting that reggae in our country, has survived and become huge. I think it's because the whole reggae is about fun and it's a community thing, with the One Love Festival, so many people will be going along, and they're not actually going to see any individual band, but just going because of the festival atmosphere.  It's a bit of a generalization. Of course, you go to a festival like that, but the whole survival of reggae throughout our country, I think it's because people just accept that it's all about family and it's all community. 

I don't know that we've quite gotten there with rock music, for a while there, I thought we were still perhaps all fighting each other, but I'm seeing good things from the Auckland boys.  They're really leading the way I and realize and that we have got to work together. It's a fight to survive because the younger generation coming through are not supporting rock the way they used to because they've got so many more with digital options available to them. The Auckland City Rockfest that JP Carroll put together last year, that was good. It's tricky. There are maybe two other rock bands in Tauranga that are trying to push like we are, it's all down to the population.

Alex: What else have you got in store for 2018?

Brendan: More releases. The Brain Bell Jangler was our first big release, trying to get support from blogs like nzmusician, with a proper video et cetera. Just gonna rinse and repeat the formula for the next single, which is the second track from Roundhead, and after this tour is finished I will be going straight home to try and make a video as cheap as possible and yeah, just keep pushing content out there, and just get on the circuit. It's pretty easy to get hooked once you start to do a few gigs over a short space of time, you sort of realize that that's actually what it's all about, that time on stage. So yeah. More, please.

Alex: That's all the questions I've gotten. Good luck with the show.

Brendan: Thanks for the chat. 

Enjoy the interview? Follow the Inside the Muzic Crew's interviews on their dedicated Facebook page


About Apollo SteamTrain

Apollo SteamTrain is a musical platform to host the continuing projects of singer/songwriter Brendan McCarthy from Tauranga, New Zealand.

Brendan has a deal in place with Songbroker which has seen his tracks synced on several high profile TV shows including Shortland Street and Filthy Rich.

Brendan has worked with several procucers including internationally renowned Greg Haver (Manic Street Preachers, OpShop, Catatonia, The Feelers, Six60), recording 2 tracks at Neil Finn's Round Head Studios.

Visit the muzic.net.nz Profile for Apollo SteamTrain


Generation Overload
Year: 2021
Type: Album

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