NZ Musician April/May 2005 (Vol:12, No:2)
By Stephen Jewell
It’s been a long time between albums for one of New Zealand’s original hip-hop acts. Breaks Co-Op, aka Zane Lowe and Hamish Clark, released their debut LP, ‘Roofers’ in late 1997 just after moving to London with their then-offsider, Chris Tubbs.
The pair have been far from idle in the intervening years however, particularly former Max TV host Lowe, who has become of Britain’s most influential music media figures. He currently holds down the pivotal Monday to Thursday 7-9pm slot on the BBC’s national youth-oriented station Radio One, as well fronting Gonzo for MTV Europe 2. Clark contributed to various projects, including Chris Tubbs’ debut album, ‘Good Days Better Nights’, which was released locally through Loop last year, before returning permanently to New Zealand last year to work as a primary school teacher in Auckland.
NZ Musician caught up with Clark in a K’ Road pub and Lowe on the phone from the South by Southwest Convention on the eve of the release of the very long-awaited Breaks Co-Op sophomore album. ‘The Sound Inside’ also features contributions from British vocalist/ producer Andy Lovegrove.
"We went to London and you saw us there," remembers Clark. "It was good, everything London usually is. We didn’t actually do any music until about a year and a half after you last saw us (in 1998), but then we started making music again. I was doing other things and was in a band on EMI called Dog with Mark Sayfritz, who used to work with Goldie and Ian Brown. It was immensely over-financed and we were basically dropped the day the album was released because it was electronic and it took so long to make. It happened during the whole period of the collapse of the dance music industry and the return to stripped-back rock. By the time the album was finished, everything had changed. It came out but it did nothing. But it was a retainer for a while, so that was good, it paid the rent."
When I last saw Zane Lowe, about that same time, he was paying his rent by working at the infamous Music & Video Exchange in Notting Hill. Despite its notoriously low wages, London’s version of Real Groovy has proved to be a crucial launching pad for many musical and music media careers over the years.
That was the last time we made a record as well," laughs Lowe. "The M&V was an interesting time. It’s a really productive place to work if you’re a music fan. It’s got its own way of thinking and its own attitude towards business. When you’re on the inside it’s great and from the outside, it’s quite fascinating to watch."
Before Breaks Co-Op, Clark was part of seminal Christchurch hip-hoppersBeats’n’Pieces, and he has fond memories of a certain, well known Kiwi rapper, who later also joined the collective’s fold.
"At the time, Scribe was like a 13 year-old kid who came to our gigs," recalls Clark. "He’d ask if he could rap and I remember the night that we first put him on stage, it was at a marae community hall off Aranui Road in Christchurch. He got on stage after us and just lost it. He came off stage with a big grin on his face.
"I then left to go to Wellington and thought that was the end of Beats’n’Pieces since I’d set the whole thing up. But Anton Carter (MC Antsman), who now does Pacific Island funding for Creative NZ, andRichie Mills, who is now the What Now DJ, kept it going and actually got a live band together, which was all the Pacific Underground people and Scribe was my replacement. And, yeah, I was totally surprised by Scribe’s success when it happened, but I didn’t see him grow into anything because I wasn’t here."
Curiously, Clark and Lowe have turned their backs on hip hop just as the likes of Scribe, Dawn Raid andP-Money have all but taken over the NZ charts.
"So many people think that Sound Advice (from ‘Roofers’) was a love song, but it was actually a farewell to hip hop because both of us were totally dissatisfied with hip hop and all the chest-beating," explains Clark.
"With this record, Zane said ‘We’ve got to do some raps for it because that’s who we are and it’s where we come from’. So I did two raps, and one of them is the b-side of the new single. There are no raps on the actual album. We had two raps on there but it was confusing because we weren’t making that kind of music anymore, so they had to come off. We didn’t want to make an urban record. We just wanted to make music that we liked and the only way we could do that was to make this record."
Breaks Co-Op have instead emphasised traditional song structures and singing on the extremely mellow ‘The Sound Inside’. Lowe shares vocal duties with Lovegrove.
"We have a sound that runs through the album, like an ambience or a vibe," says Clark. "I’m massively into Nick Drake, John Martyn and Mark Hollis (from Talk Talk) and Zane likes Pavement,Tortoise and stuff like that. The album just happened naturally. Zane originally said he’d do guide vocals and then we’d get someone else to sing it properly later, but I was like, ‘No, you should sing the vocal’. It so happened that Dog, the band I was in, was managed by Andy Ross, who also managed theAWAYteam. He said that we should hook up with Andy Lovegrove so we did.
"We gave him a CD of instrumentals and told him ‘Do what you want but you can’t sing on track two because we’ve promised it to someone else’. When we got the tape back that was the track that he’d written to because that was the one he liked, and that became the Otherside single. We heard that and it was all on. We asked him to produce the record and we started recording at The Courtyard’s residential studio outside Oxford. It just kind of happened. Andy became a full member of the band."
‘The Sound Inside’ will initially be released only in NZ (through EMI), although Clark reveals that some "big fish" have expressed interest in picking up the album in other territories. "We’re not going to stop it coming out [in the UK], but one step at a time," cautions Lowe.
"We don’t have any major plans for international release as yet because I just want to see what people feel about it in NZ. It was only ever made with the intention of releasing it in NZ because, for a start, that’s the only country we approached that showed an immediate interest. I haven’t spoken to anyone in the UK about it. I’m not hiding from it and if somebody finds out about it and asks me about it, I’ll talk to them about it. I’m really proud of the record but I haven’t called anyone and said ‘Listen, I’ve got this record’. So for that reason, it’s convenient because it allows me to not get anything confused and it means that I can just focus on what I’ve got to do (in NZ) at the moment.
"But I’m really looking forward to coming back and hearing what people have to say. It’s nice to talk about the album and it was nice to be a musician again. It’s been quite a few years since I’ve sat in a studio and it was really satisfying for me to be there. I miss being in there and I’m already chewing at the bit to get back in the studio and make something new with Andy and Hame."
"It’s really exciting that people are going to get a chance to hear the album. If it does well and people around the world want to get behind it and release it, it will be because they like it, and I’m certainly not going to get in their way!"
Lowe’s hectic schedule and the fact that he and Lovegrove are both based in the UK means that Breaks Co-Op won’t be playing live for the foreseeable future.
"We’ve got to get the album out there and let the music do the talking," says Clark.
"Then we can play to people who know the music. When Zane and Andy come back to NZ, and if the album goes off to a certain level, we will play as required. But Zane is busy and so is Andy. The main thing is that there has got to be the demand. We’re not playing to no demand, which is just pissing your soul away."