7 Dec 2023

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Life for Strawpeople began at 95bFM. Paul Casserly and Mark Tierney met there in 1985 when both had foregone the golden path to academia for the small and damp corridors of student radio. Tierney was the studio engineer at the time, Casserly an aspiring DJ.

Various 'experimental' recordings followed - a cut up of a cassette Casserly had stolen from his mother, The Pope's In Ireland, resulted in Something Else Is Needed. "She took it back when she’d heard what we’d done", remembers Casserly.

Then came soundtracks for various art school short films. The production of a mini album for the Greg Johnson project; This Boy Rob, and the first recordings for the album Hemisphere.

From that album came the single One Good Reason, a reworking of a song by Australasian pop heroes The Swingers. The song was a minor hit, and the first chapter in the Strawpeople book of reworkings (still to come were versions of John Hiatt’s Have a Little Faith from Worldservice and The Church's Under the Milkyway from Broadcast). It was also the beginning of the duo's appearance at The New Zealand Music Awards - Hemisphere picked up the 'Best Engineering' and 'Most Promising Artist' awards.

Their next album Worldservice won the duo the 'Producers Of The Year' trophy. It also garnered rave reviews and spawned a hit for another band.

The song Dreamchild was co-written and sung by Fiona McDonald. She joined the Strawpeople for much of Worldservice (along with singer Stephanie Tauevihi), but in the extended period between album completion and release, she left to join The Headless Chickens. That band heard the recordings of Dreamchild and decided to record a cover of the song, renaming it Juice.

The song went on to win 'Single Of the Year' at the 1994 Music Awards, and was the second best selling local single of the year. It also helped to break the Chickens into the Australian market, featuring on the TV Soap Neighbours.

Work then began on the new album Broadcast, once again the album featured a number of singers: Fiona McDonald, Stephanie Tauevihi and Leza Corban. Corban’s vocal featured on Sweet Disorder - the song that went on to win the APRA Silver Scroll Award as well as the 'Songwriting' trophy at the 1995 New Zealand Music Awards.

The album reached #3 on the national charts and featured in the top 40 for a staggering 51 consecutive weeks. It also marked the Strawpeople’s debut in Hollywood; Cult Director Gus Van Sandt picked Wings Of Desire for a crucial scene in his movie To Die For.

February 1996 saw a change in Strawpeople personnel. Mark Tierney decided to leave the musical partnership that began with Paul Casserly almost ten years previously. Casserly had already begun writing new material with Victoria Kelly - who for a short time was to be the new Strawpeople vocalist. It was a fruitful experience but Kelly's intended plan to enrol in an American school for aspiring film soundtrack composers meant that a new singer had to be found. "Luckily" says Casserly, "Fiona (McDonald) had just finished a project and was looking for something to get her teeth into before embarking on her solo career".

The pair began writing in the sweltering heat of an Auckland February. After stints in Casserly’s lounge and in McDonald’s spare room, Vicarious was born. Long nights and long weekends of recording ensued at the Lab Studios in the rundown back streets of Newton, Auckland. Vocal and string sessions followed at Airforce Studios. The album was mixed at 301 in Sydney in the last week of June.

As with previous Strawpeople albums, Vicarious featured some top local musical talent; Victoria Kelly not only co-wrote two of the tracks - she also arranged the string quintet brought in for three of the tracks even while she worked on her first feature film score 'The Ugly'. Long-time Strawpeople associate Greg Johnson co-wrote Boxers and played trumpet on Somebody Else and Gypsies. Headless Chicken Chris Matthews added guitar to Spoiler and Inject Me.

Second Child guitarist and Lab Engineer Chris Van De Geer also plugged in his Gibson (Inject Me), double bassist Steve Harrop can be heard on the Jungle/Ballad Somebody Else while Stellar* and Greg Johnson band drummer Andrew MacLaren hits the cymbals and hats for much of the album. Unlike previous Strawpeople albums Vicarious (1996's 'Album of the year') doesn’t feature any cover-versions - something that was a feature of previous albums.

For the Strawpeople, 1997 was the year of Remix. The album 100 Street Transistors saw some of the country’s top producers and purveyors of aural electronic art getting to have their way with two album's worth of Strawpeople material. For an act who have always been at the forefront of sample-based vibrations, the Remix album seemed more than just the logical progression. Early in ‘97 leading Strawperson Paul Casserly set about asking various local producers to reinterpret a number of tracks from the album Broadcast and 1997 NZ 'Album of the Year' Vicarious. Casserly, not surprisingly, couldn’t keep his hands off remixing a few tracks himself.

While Vicarious featured just one vocalist, 2000's No New Messages returned to the old Strawpeople formula – a veritable smorgasbord of vocalists, dipped in a rich sauce of slinky beats. No New Messages featured the sublime lead single Scared of Flying, and the hit cover of The Cars' Drive sung by Bic Runga.

Late in 2000, the first Strawpeople career retrospective The best of 1990 > 2000 was released.

Fast forward to 2004, and Count Backwards From 10 became album #6 for Strawpeople (8 if you include the 1997 remix album and the 'best of') and once again producer Paul Casserly has brought together an all-star cast of songwriters, vocalists and musicians to create a unique blend of moody electro-pop.

The album continues the successful Strawpeople formula: Gorgeous vocals over slinky electronic beats put together by the multi-talented musical co-op.

The album was co-produced (with Casserly) and mixed by Stellar* guitarist and producer Chris van de Geer. Chris has worked as an engineer and producer on albums by Tim Finn, Brian Bell, Steriogram, Bic Runga, Savant, and Carly Binding.

Featured musicians include Dan Sperber (guitar), Godfrey De Grut (keys), Max Stowers (bass), Joost Langeveld (keys/production), Dave Goodison (acoustic guitar), Ted Brown (acoustic guitar), Chris van de Geer (electric guitar) and Neil Watson (electric guitar). Andrew Dubber (host of George FM’s Jazz Show) co-wrote and composed the track The Andy Warhol Effect.

The album was recorded over a period of 3 years at Pitt St Studios near K’rd in Auckland (now a bar) and a home studio in St Mary’s Bay.

Now in 2023, Strawpeople have returned with a brand new album Knucklebones, which sees Paul Casserly and Fiona McDonald back together as the core of the project. Guitarist Chris van de Geer and bassist Joost Langeveld are also back as players and producers.

Knucklebones features a cast of New Zealand music's heavy hitters including: Chrissy Diamond from The Human Kind, Matthias Jordan of Pluto on keys, Nick Atkinson of Supergroove on sax, drumming legend Chris O’Connor on drums, Mark Hughes on bass and even a cameo appearance from legendary Auckland busker Luke Hurley on guitar.

Band Members:
Paul Casserly
Fiona McDonald
Chris van de Geer
Josst Langeveld





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