Returning from three years in Berlin, Kiwi-bred six-piece An Emerald City are beginning their final New Zealand tour, playing a one-off show in Wellington on the 1st of March as part of the New Zealand Arts Festival. Guitarist, and chief- dreamer, Sam, chatted to Salient co-editor Ollie Neas about recording in caves, secret Soviet complexes and a life without plans.
OLLIE: Hey man, how’s things?
SAM: It’s quite a strange time actually. Basically we’re going to finish at the end of this tour. It’s quite strange now because I feel like I’m reflecting back, rather than making an observation of where we are now.
OLLIE: An Emerald City’s music has been described as “organic instrumentation and sounds of the East meets psycadelia”. Is that a description you agree with?
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SAM: …that’s a good first question, man.
OLLIE: (laughs awkwardly) …sorry.
SAM: At one stage, that description was probably fairly accurate. In saying that, our sound is continually evolving. The point that we got to musically with our last album was a combination of a very organic foundation with a really nice mixture of modern, synthesiser sounds and sound effects, which I was really enjoying exploring.
OLLIE: What was the influence for that change? Was it deliberate?
SAM:It was a combination of us all being very curious musicians and also living in Berlin—that was a pretty significant influence on our song-writing. Over there we went through some massive phases of listening to all this old Kraut rock, and that for sure had quite an influence on our latest album.
OLLIE: What was it that made you guys head to Berlin? Why Berlin?
SAM: Well, if you want the real story…
OLLIE: Yes please!
SAM: Basically, without sounding too crazy… I had this dream of the band moving to Berlin when we were in Auckland, and so I was like, “I had this dream, what do you guys think? Should we go to Berlin?” And they were all like, “why not?” It took us about a year to save up money and all that kind of stuff, but after doing a little bit of research we were like, oh my god, this is meant to be. It’s one of the most inspiring places to go to as an artist.
OLLIE: Did you find it hard establishing yourselves at all?
SAM: Luckily for us, people were really receptive to our sound. There’s always something that’s fashionable in any of the big cities in the world; there’s always a scene. Sure that exists in Berlin, but it’s really minor. There’s a massive spectrum of people that just go out and listen and tell you what they think, and they’re really straight up. They can go pretty crazy.
OLLIE: Is it true you guys recorded your first album, Circa Scaria, in a cave?
SAM: Yeah, we did. We went to this cave and thought, this is a really beautiful sound.
OLLIE:What was it that made you move to a studio for your more recent album, The Fourth?
SAM: We were in Berlin and we were ready to record and we looked around at our options. We thought we could record in someone’s bedroom, we could record in a studio, or find another cave somewhere in Europe. I mean we could record this anywhere; we could record it on top of a mountain if we wanted.
OLLIE: I guess there’s not so many caves in Berlin right?
SAM: To cut a long story short, a good friend of ours recommended this studio. So we took his word for it, because he’s basically a wizard. The studio is this massive, massive complex. It used to be the main radio station in East Berlin before the wall came down. It’s a huge Soviet structure where all the DDR broadcasting was based from and there’s these amazing concert halls in there. Like a lot of German things it’s been built perfectly and immaculately. We were driving there in our van in the snow, it was freezing cold. It was right by the main river that runs through Berlin called the Spree, and that was all frozen over. There was this massive abandoned theme park on the other side of the river. It was just like a real surreal experience – a majestic space. In those kind of situations it tends to take you to another level. It has a really cool influence on the whole recording process. It was perfect for us.
OLLIE: Considering you guys are winding things down now, what are the plans for the future?
SAM: The plan is, there are no plans.