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By: Gaz Cloud
Photos: Charlie Gardner
Gaz Cloud caught up with the London-based New Zealand rock band Agent after a sweaty, successful show at Camden’s Barfly. James Donaldson (guitar and vocals), Dean Gibb (drums), Matt Flower (bass) and Gerald Gill (guitars) have recently played Ibiza and put out a well-received single, ‘Death In The Afternoon’.
(((o))): Can you talk to us about not fitting comfortably into any one genre?
Donaldson: Sure – it’s a pretty common topic in most interviews. We all like heavy music, but we don’t like straight 4/4. We like melody, but don’t like to give ourselves too many boundaries – it allows us to mix it up. We can write what we want – it’s all in the same vein but there are variations.
(((o))): What are your main influences outside of the sphere in which you operate?
Flower: Jazz – I’m originally a jazz bass player so Stanley Clarke is a big influence – I’ve got jazz hands!
(((o))): Does coming from the other side of the world give you a different perspective?
Donaldson: Maybe not New Zealand, but Australia’s got a really healthy prog scene at the moment – you’ve got bands like Karnivool and Dead Letter Circus that are playing at international level. There’s something about that part of the world that people like to listen to this sort of music. In the 90s, per capita, Tool’s biggest market was New Zealand.
(((o))): Are Tool a big influence on you?
Donaldson: (Laughing) A little bit, yeah! We don’t want to do exactly the same but we’ve got some “isms” in there. It’s not just Tool, we’ve got some Mastodon riffs in there as well, Queens Of The Stone Age and other bands as well. It’s just because Tool are one of the more popular bands, but I can show you other bands we sound like and have similarities to.
(((o))): Who drives the time signature changes? They never sound forced.
Gibb: Everyone in the band loves weird time signatures!
(((o))): Tell us about your live technical set-up: we understand you wear in-ear monitors.
Gill: Our rig is very portable and stuck together with a few band aids and such! But it works for us – we’re just using a laptop to run a wireless mix each, which is completely specific to that band member. We get sick of foldbacks – even when we left New Zealand in 2008 we were sick of them. We’ve been messing around with this set-up since 2005, and we’ve just nailed it. It’s so portable we took it all the way to New Zealand – we did four shows there in November 2014.
(((o))): Matt, your bass sound is not what you’d expect from the genre. Is this something you developed yourself?
Flower: I’ve always liked a sound that’s going to stick out – a muddy bass sound has never appealed to me, so I’ve always aimed for a sound that will cut through.
(((o))): Lyrically, can you tell us about the themes touched on in your music?
Donaldson: Kingdom Of Fear (the band’s second album) is based on real life experiences. When I was writing the album, I had a friend that died. There was also a lot of stuff going on in the UK with the G20, the riots and the looting. I was also reading Hunter S. Thompson at the time as well so we borrowed the title from one of his books. It’s basically a realistic look at civil situations but with a twisted sense of humour.
(((o))): Do you find it easy to mix the personal and the political in your lyrics?
Donaldson: I don’t like listening to music when you can tell the guy’s got pissed off and written twelve songs about it; it’s like our music – it doesn’t fit into one genre. I’m not trying to be poetic, but I like to be descriptive with my words, and drop some cool imagery in there. Not like dragon imagery though – gritty juxtapositions! I could talk about this all day – just listen to the fucking music!
(((o))): Can falling between two stools be a curse as well as a blessing?
Gill: Yes – we’re not accepted by the really heavy guys, we’re not accepted by the mainstream, so we’re caught in the middle. But it had opened up a lot more doors than we expected, because prog has adopted us – we’ve had some amazing shows, such as the prog fest we did in Wales.
Gibb: It starts off as a curse, but if you plough through it, it becomes a blessing. If you’re right in the middle, the people who do like you will be crazy about you – it’s not just a casual listen.
Donaldson: It’s good for longevity as well, as you’re not part of a genre that bottoms out.
Flower: Yeah, we’re not part of a scene.
(((o))): Tell us about your harmony vocals.
Flower: In the studio, Jim will do all of the vocal recording, and then I’ll learn what he’s done and then sometimes change it around a little bit (for the live show).
(((o))): Tell us about the compositional process. How do songs evolve?
Donaldson: Everyone brings ideas and lately, with technology and things like Dropbox, it’s changed again into something completely different. Even though we all live in London, some of us live an hour apart, so you lose two hours in the day just travelling. Now, everyone’s got Logic, so Gerald will record a riff, send it through, I’ll chop it up and move it around until we’ve got something we’re happy with.
(((o))): Tell us about your latest single.
Donaldson: It’s called ‘Death In The Afternoon’, so another literary reference! It’s also inspired by my favourite cocktail, which is champagne and absinthe. There’s many meanings to the title. It’s more of a straight-up rock song, but with a really proggy chorus, and we were lucky to be… We’ve shot the video ourselves, in-house: much like our on-stage mixes, we’ve taken that DIY ethos.
(((o))): What about your visual aspect?
Gill: I just wanted us to give people more than the music; to make it an actual “show”! It all started by filming stuff on an iPhone, we bought a cheap projector and it’s evolved from there. Now, we have visuals for every song, and every new song we have we have to come up with new visuals. This is a bigger experience than just four guys playing their instruments.
(((o))): What’s next for Agent?
Donaldson: We’ve more UK shows and we’re working on a new album!