Saturday, August 06, 2016

Harnessing the Energy of One Million Dollars (NZM)

One million dollars band nz

NZ Musician, August/September 2006 (Vol:13, No:1)
By Tessa Prebble (photography by Lindy Hickman)

It has been three long years since Auckland band One Million Dollars released their debut album 'Energy State' through Sugarlicks Records, back in December of 2003. The album took One Million Dollars' funky soul sound to Australia, Germany and beyond. Who You Are reached number one on a Hungarian radio station's play list. 

Over a year since starting work on their sophomore album the One Million Dollars crew are ready to launch 'Soup Kitchen' on our eager ears. Richard Setford, lead singer and band mastermind, says that funding 'Soup Kitchen' independently has been the big reason behind the three year album gap. 

"We funded it all ourselves so we needed to gig to raise the money. We would do a gig then record a track, do another gig and record the next track!"

Without record company time pressures, Setford says they could slow the whole process down and make sure it was right. 

"There was no real hurry. You don't want to have to finish early and not be happy. That would be the worst thing. This is something that's going to be out there forever so you really want to get it right."

Between 'Energy State' and 'Soup Kitchen' there have been some major changes for One Million Dollars, not least a label switch from Sugarlicks to Tardus Records. Setford assures me there is no bad blood with Sugarlicks, but the band required various things that label couldn't offer. 

"With this album we wanted a bit more in terms of promotion and marketing, and Sugarlicks couldn't really provide that. So that was the major factor in looking somewhere else.

"Also their recording set up is a house in New Lynn with a studio in the lounge, so it wasn't ideal for what we wanted to do. I don't think it could have worked," explains Setford, on behalf of his 11-member band.

'Soup Kitchen' was recorded at The Lab studios in Ponsonby because of its size. Setford wanted a place where the whole band could play together at once, hopefully resulting in a recording that would capture the band's considerable live energy. With Tom Miskin, who recently worked with Don McGlashan on his album 'Warm Hand', on board as engineer, One Million Dollars felt they could take the sound anywhere they wanted to. 

"Tom was really good. He wasn't afraid to try new things. We had a song that was a sort of 'power to the people song' and we wanted to create a chain gang thing with people striking rocks. Tom was totally open to that and didn't shy away which was great."

In three years the band managed to lose and replace all but three of its original members. Only Setford,Nick Tempest (trumpet) and Brazilian vocalist Robson Santao remain. 

"Things change in three years. It's really hard to keep a band together for that long. People will stay for how long they want to. We aren't holding anyone back from doing what they want to."

The band lost members to Open Souls and Breaks Co-op but Setford isn't about to let that slow them down and is philosophical about it all.

"It's just what you get from choosing to be in a band of this size. We aren't letting it ruin anything for us."
The band's Brazilian vocalist is one member Setford doesn't want to lose and Santao came close to being deported when it became apparent his visitors permit had long since expired.

"We couldn't sponsor him so we just got all these people and celebrities to write letters supporting him. We played at a Labour Party conference and almost got a photo of the immigration minister with his arm around Robson. They couldn't have kicked him out after that!"

The letters worked and now the band can hold onto Santao for another two years.
"I can't imagine doing it without him actually."
Losing musicians isn't the only problem caused by having a band with nearly a dozen players. Setford says travelling to Europe is definitely something he wants One Million Dollars to do, but when he starts to talk about it, the difficulties are clear.
"It seems like the next logical step. But think about the money. It would be 10 times whatever it costs to get to the UK. So that's $30,000 right there. Then you have got management and gear. Actually, I don't want to think about it. What a nightmare!"
Setford might be okay with people leaving the band, but so far says he isn't prepared to downsize in order to travel.
"I was thinking about who I could afford to lose and I don't think I could lose anyone from this band - and I don't want to. I think you should just go, 'This is our band, let's try and get the money for us all to go'."
The band's songwriting methodology has also changed. What used to be a one man affair is increasingly a group effort. Setford tells me he has always wanted to share the load.

"We have started writing together, so the focus is coming off me which is what I want. I think I like it like this. It has gone too long being my band - it's time for everyone to step up. And everyone wants that responsibility."

The 'Soup Kitchen' sound differs from that of 'Energy State' in often subtle ways. The group songwriting brings a depth and edge to the sound, but all in all Setford says that, like 'Energy State,' this album is funky, jazzy, and with a hint of soul. 

Setford admits he is unsure about the future of the band, but has other plans as well including a solo project. His solo work as Bannerman, he tells me, has definite indie leanings and sits at the other end of the musical spectrum from One Million Dollars. Although some may find it hard to believe he says, he does write more than just funk music. 

With a record company that can hopefully push where they need to be pushed, and a line up which seems to be sticking, the unique One Million Dollars brand of funky soul can hopefully go wherever they like. Let's just hope the band can find a way to afford to keep up. 

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