The opening fifteen seconds of ‘Inside’ bombard you with sonic pulses of crunchy guitar riffs and thumping drumbeats, the kind that force you to dip your head and tap your feet. Then the song blows wide open. Ryan Thomas’s slurry, gristly voice begins to wail. ‘I’ve been waiting so long/ I’ve been waiting for anything…. I get so sick of being inside.’ Thomas’s vocal sound is one of kiwified grace: part Joe Strummer, part Sylvester Stallone, there is nothing else like it in Aotearoa.
‘Inside’ is the lead single off Sommerset’s forthcoming, as-yet-untitled album. Thomas assures me that preparation is going swimmingly. ‘We’re at the stage where we’ve written enough songs for the album and are beginning to gel it all together. The songs feel like they will make for a very consistent record.’ The band plans to record in March or April with hopes for a May release, just in time for New Zealand Music Month.
The album will be Sommerset’s first studio release since 2001’s Fast Cars, Slow Guitars. In the years between, things have been going extremely well for the four-piece band (Thomas – vocals and guitar; Milon Williams – guitar and vocals; Stefan Thompson – bass; Jay Dougray – drums), progressing from the biggest thing in New Zealand punk to a respected name in the entire music scene. The group has been on two world- and seven Australian tours. ‘Singapore treated us like rock stars,’ says a chuffed Thomas. ‘Not because we were acting like them or anything,’ he hastily adds. ‘Shit, we’d probably get put in jail if we did.’
The group’s dedication and candour was rewarded by the industry with heavy media coverage and two Big Day Out slots. They also picked up ‘Best Live Act’ at the Squeeze TV awards and a $10,000 award from Satellite Media to make a second music video. More Songs From Last Century was then released in late 2002, a compilation of all of their music released prior to Fast Cars, Slow Guitars, showcasing their earlier sound.
Sommerset’s music is described as a ‘heartfelt melding of hardcore, punk and rock’. Beautiful, almost hidden melodies, supported by Thomas’s vocals, which often reflect personal and poignant lyrics, float over fast, rough and powerful compositions. Thomas suggests this is always in a state of evolution. ‘More Songs was a fast, major key, chord-based album. Fast Cars… was a mix of minor and major key with riffy intros that developed into chord-based songs. It was a lot darker than More Songs in some instances, but also a lot poppier in others. The new one will keep the intensity of Fast Cars… but it will have more control. It will also be a bit darker and crunchier…more in minor key.’
Changes are also to appear on the lyrical front. ‘I’m trying to avoid writing songs about girls. I mean, firstly I’m in a happy relationship, but I also want to avoid the whole “my heart’s been broken” thing.’ This is not to say that Sommerset are hinting at a political record. ‘You have to be very careful about politics. I write the songs, but the band as a whole gives the music context – I’m responsible for projecting the “thoughts” of the entire band. I think [the album] is going to be more of a social commentary – songs about life – much like some of the songs on Fast Cars… were, but hopefully written a bit better.’
Punters will get a chance to hear Sommerset’s new mantras at Eastside on Wednesday night. The band’s live shows are described as ‘the veritable geometry of exhilaration – equal parts grace and chaos, contempt and charisma’. Constant touring has transformed their gigs into tight, international quality performances. Thomas promises something special for the Orientation tour.
‘Welly’s always been real cool for us. The first time we played there the reception was just awesome, it’s unlike any other place in New Zealand. Wellingtonians seem very politicised and always say what they mean. The scene is a whole lot less uniformed and people aren’t afraid to speak their mind – we always know if we’ve played a great show or a crap show because people will tell us, and not be lying.’ I have no doubts about what people will be telling the group on Wednesday night. Go and see this band.
Fast Cars, Slow Guitars (2001)
More Songs From Last Century (2002)
More info: www.sommerset.co.nz