Shapeshifter on standing the test of time, and never hating on pop
Chatting to SHAPESHIFTER’s Sam Trevethick a few things really stood out. While he is completely honest, admitting that no matter how much you may love performing, touring comes down to a spread sheet and a dollar sign, he is also completely comfortable with admitting that Justin Beiber has a killer beat.
As the band prepare to release their 6th album it’s pretty clear that they seem to have come up with a winning formula in this ever changing world. Perhaps there is something secret to it, or perhaps it’s simply about making sure your music is never self-indulgent, and unashamedly loving what you love, whether It’s Justin Bieber or classical music.
You guys dropped your first EP in 2001, how do you think your sound has evolved since then?
Sam Trevethick: I think it’s still stayed true to our roots, which is electronic, jungle, club music I suppose you could say. I think the main difference now is that we have a singer we didn’t have a singer in 2001. Oh and our songs are shorter now too.
As whimsical as it sounds, do you think your name, Shapeshifters, has allowed you to transform and grow as time has gone by, allowing you to stand the test of time and feel as though you are betraying anything if you do change directions at all?
ST: I guess so. I suppose our first EP was very drum and bassy, but we have had a lot of other tempos as well. The first album was definitely a lot of different styles as well. I think certain people expect certain things from us. If you do a variety of things over your career sometimes people really like one thing that you do out of all those things, and they want that and expect that. So for us we just make what we really want to make, and that happens to be…I wouldn’t say eclectic but the styles vary within that kind of electronic music, Jungle kind of genres.
Do you think the progression of the Internet has made it harder or easier for you as artists?
ST: I think the thing that has made it harder is that there is now less money to be made in selling music, but that comes with the benefit of being able to listen to a lot more music. I don’t know, I think it probably made its easier though because your fans can listen to music around the world, there’s no restrictions more or less.
What has been the most important thing for you to keep true to while all these changes have been happening to the music world?
ST: I think, you know, one of the most important things is to not worry about what people want or what people like or what’s popular, acceptable or en vogue; that’s definitely not a consideration for us. Although we may be influenced by things if we are listening to something in particular that may be considered hot at the moment, But I think the most important thing for us is to make sure we enjoy doing what we are doing musically and that we aren’t doing it to chase anyone, that’s really been the main thing. You know doing it with respect, not making anything that is too self-indulgent. We’re lucky to have some attention and people listening to our music so we treat that with respect. We have done some things that maybe didn’t fit the ‘Shapeshifter’ mould, so we do what we want but you know respect is there.
Aussie music fans are currently getting pretty anxious about the governments movements towards increasing the visa costs for international artists to tour here, do you think this is something that will begin to happen more globally, or is this something genuinely concerning about the future of music in Australia?
ST: Um well this is the first I’ve heard about it, personally it won’t affect us because we don’t need visas coming from New Zealand. It’s not good for anyone though, because it all boils down to a spread sheet at the end of the day when people come and play which we know very well, and it’s an expensive game you know? Touring a band actually costs a lot of money, and when you start getting more costs and make it more difficult then less people will tour, or ticket prices will just be a lot more expensive. We know from going to places like America it’s just so difficult, it is really a pain in the arse and it makes you kind of just go “well is it worth it, is it really worth all this money and all this hassle, and being treated like a criminal to even enter the country?” It’s pretty horrible so I hope it doesn’t get like that for Australia.
You’re obviously going with something a bit different and very creative to launch Stars, is it really important to you to nail the full vibe of a show and make it a full sensory unique and memorable experience
ST: No matter what the format I think you are still using all your senses, you are looking and still connected to the people in that room so whether they have a full visual show or not I guess that is subjective to how that shapes your experience.
I think for us for this particular show we are going to make it quite visually heavy, and lean towards that side. It’s going to be quite intimate, only about 400 people there which for us is pretty small. It’s pretty fun we’re just going to be playing songs off our new album so it will be kind of like a listening party but on steroids, and we’re really excited about that for sure. For our other shows the visual component is definitely important. We’re always looking at the visual side and how we can improve that and get it cranking. You know in having said that sometimes its just amazing to watch someone do there thing and be focused entirely on them.
What made you decide to do this one a bit differently?
ST: Ummm it was actually a suggestion from our record company. We’ve got someone who works very closely with us at Universal in New Zealand, and he had this concept in mind and we really liked it. it’s just a whole submersive thing, we’re playing in the middle of the room with the audience all around us. We just really liked it because before then we were going to DJ and just play the album, and that’s one thing, and a celebration in a way but we took this idea and we’re really excited about it. It’s going to be special.
Was their anything unique about the process of writing and recording Stars that makes it different to your previous work?
ST: There was kind of a sense of letting go I think. I wouldn’t have said that it was like gung-ho, or careless or anything like that, but we sort of started it fresh. We just thought let’s forget about everything that’s happened up until this point. Musically, in our career we’ve done 5 albums and this is number 6 so we have said a lot in the course of that music so I think we were just waiting to make sure that the music we were making was relevant and that it was worth of listening to and being put out there. For us it just meant exploring, doing lots of writing and mining for ideas, but I think the feeling behind it was we don’t have to write this and that. You know we have had commercial success before but we’re not aiming for that. This album was definitely a bit more about forgetting everything and just seeing what happens.
What do you draw inspiration from?
ST: It’s the little things you know, I suppose looking at the sky (laughs). One thing that inspired the new album a lot was the new synths and keyboards I bought prior to writing. We’d come to the studio and play them and it would be a real buzz, and we would think wow, you know? And I think if you couple that creative studio time with out of the studio as well. Like I love playing tennis, it’s kind of like my thing. So I couple my tennis with everything else and I’m happy.
What do you listen to in your down time?
ST: Oh, lot’s of different things! The radio station that I listen to the most is Concert FM, it’s all classical music. But I also love the Deftones, I love metal, I love Mark Pritchard, I really love dub and reggae, I’m a big dub and reggae fan. I really do like a lot of different types of music, and we all do really. There is no easy way to answer that one really.
So no Justin Beiber?
ST: Oh no Justin Bieber, shit yeah! Oh yeah the Biebs for sure. I’m sorry, it’s a killer beat you can’t deny it! That song he did with Skirllex, that’s a cool song. It’s a bit poppy, but I think it’s undeniable.
I never really liked Justin Bieber until I saw his movie, I felt sorry for the little guy. I shed a tear and thought “man, everybody is just trying to make money off you bro!” I think the music that he’s released recently has definitely been a successful reinvention. You know you can’t hate on pop music otherwise you are going to hate on Prince, and you are going to hate on Madonna and you are going to hate on Michael Jackson, and when people nail it, it’s nailed. There are a lot of really talented songwriters involved in that kind of music. Sometimes it really hits, and sometimes it sounds like the same old shit coming out of a concrete mixer. But when it hits, you know like ‘Hotline Bling’, it’s very poppy but that’s a cool beat, and the new Drake album. There you go, controversial calls all round.
What’s your earliest musical memory, and do you think it has an impact on who you are as a musician today?
ST: My earliest musical memory would be my mum taking me to an orchestral concert, and it absolutely influences me. I think what turns me on, as a musician, is harmony and harmonic movement, which in an orchestra is kind of what you’ve got. You don’t really have a beat as such most of the time, you’ve got a rhythm, but a lot of the time it relies on harmony. The feeling and power evoked by that I think is the thing that really gets me to this day.
How does the New Zealand music scene differ from Australia’s?
ST: I don’t really know what Australia’s music scene is like to be honest. I know that there has been some really good music coming out of Australia, I think it’s really high quality music, EDM in particular, which is great. I think New Zealand has a lot of quite inventive producers, although there are a lot of generic producers as well. I think they New Zealand music scene is pretty healthy, like we were saying with the thing about the internet before, producers find it very difficult to sustain themselves because the money has gone from making music. I feel very fortunate to of started our band so long ago and to come through and have a following now because it’s very difficult to sustain that as a new artists.
Where do you think, locally or internationally, is really thriving for music makers and lovers right now?
ST: I mean a couple of years ago LA was really just cranking out heaps of awesome music. I love dance music and I love jungle and I love break beat culture and stuff, and London is just like the granddaddy of all that sort of stuff, and so much cool music comes out of London. We just got a remix done by this guy called Ticklish in Berlin who is kind of part of that Duke Footwork, I don’t want to call it future jungle, but that sort of youthful jungle influence and that’s definitely happening in somewhere like Berlin and LA as well. That’s kind of where I’m hearing it.
Is there anything you have never been asked in an interview but really wish someone would just ask?
ST: Not really….I mean I don’t have any burning issues that I need to tell the world about, except stop using plastic, but we say that often enough anyway.
Stars is out November 4.
Tickets on sale NOW via http://shapeshifter.co.nz/tour
December 2nd – Subsonic Music Festival – NSW
March 31st – Perth – Metro City
April 1st – Margaret River – Settlers Tavern
April 5th – Gold Coast – Parkwood
April 6th – Brisbane – Triffid
April 7th – Melbourne – 170 Russell
April 8th – Sydney – Manning Bar
Words by Madeline Kilby