02|24|09   National Radio interview with Kirsten Johnstone

The following is a slightly edited transcript of a National Radio interview where Mark speaks with Wellington-based radio producer and host, Kirsten Johnstone, focusing on the making of our new album “A Maze And Amazement”. The interview was held in October 2007 and is avilable for streaming at National Radio’s website. All edits in the following transcript were made for the sole purposes of aiding readability and clarifying meaning. This interview aired on New Zealand National Radio on October 15th, 2007:

Kirsten and her engineerKirsten (on the right)

Kirsten: Now this is quite a challenging album isn’t it? I mean, it would have been easy for you to take that big sort of post-rock doom and gloom formula, with safe chords and predictable structure, but this album tries so many different things…

“Yeah absolutely. I’ve never really wanted to be a post-rock band. I love post-rock music and there are so many bands in that genre which have influenced me, but I never set out to make The Enright House post-rock. Quite the contrary, I set out to make it pop, and it sort of became more complex after a while. I started writing very cute songs and got bored with it. And assuming that no one would ever want to listen to anything I did (…), I just started experimenting and trying things that I wanted to hear for myself. More complex time signatures, more complex structures, more… I don’t know, I guess more intimacy sometimes. I feel like pop music has this glossy barrier, and I wanted something that was disturbingly personal. And later on, when people started paying attention, I was rather baffled I guess… and that’s why the album is so eclectic… because I really wrote it for myself.”


Kirsten enquires bout the song “Up”…

“Well the time signature in the verse is a 7/8. There’s this lyric that essentially says: “I’m not dreaming, things are spinning out of control.” The song is essentially about a sort of manic form of depression and about being immobile. But the way in which that manifests itself is that everything is in complete turbulence and constant motion. It’s utterly euphoric at times, and its completely confused at other times. (…) The underlying 7/8 meter and a lot of the arrangement precisely mirrors this sense of being lost, of things spinning out of control.”


Kirsten: Tell me about your poet on “Solitaire” and “Remember The Stillness”…

“The poet is Mary… Mary Jones. Mary is a dear college friend of mine and probably up to this point the love of my life. She is an absolutely magnificent poet, and I just think a lot of her poetry just really suits my music. So early on I’d always ask her, whenever she’d have new poems, to come over to my dorm room, and I’d record her. Then (…) if there was a song I liked, I’d use some of her poetry and try it out. So the poetry wasn’t written for these songs, it was usually the case that the songs were written around the poetry.”


Kirsten enquires about the song “A Maze And Amazement”:

“The main lyric is “Bring mit Dir die Nachricht, dass wir leben koennten, wenn wir wollten”, which, in English, means “Carry with you the message that we could live, if only we wanted to.”

“Life could be incredibly simple and it is really just a matter of volition – a matter of choosing one’s life, and then simply doing what we know we have to do in order to live it. That seems so simple, yet its completely impossible to act upon – at least for me. And that confusing insight is what this song is about.”


Kirsten: Now German is quite a guttural language…

“Ha. So they say … well it is probably :).”


Kirsten: …but you’ve sort of played on that in this song.

“Yes! In fact, thank you for noticing! German doesn’t actually sound like that. It’s not that extreme. So yes, it’s vastly exaggerated. When I was singing, I wanted to go completely over the top with pronunciation and use it like a sound effect, rather than just properly articulate a language. [...]“


Kirsten enquires about the use of studio manipulation on this record.

“There is a fair amount of studio manipulation, but less than most people would probably think. For example, most of those odd noises on “A Maze And Amazement” are just me playing with a coke bottle screw cap on the guitar strings [in combination with a slide - ed.] to produce this sort of scraping noise. And for the drums I just sampled an old 20 dollar Casio keyboard by sticking a mic on-top of it. So a lot of the elements that go into these songs are actually quite natural and there isn’t always a ot of post-production going on in songs like that. [...]“


Kirsten: You seem to have thought about your structures and how you go about putting things together. You know? You’ve thought about it a lot… Are there happy accidents in your music?

“There are a lot of happy accidents. I mean the one thing I tend not to over-think are details. A lot of the guitar work on these songs are improvised and are first takes. “A Maze And Amazement”, “Kiss Kiss Bang Bang”… these are instances where I literally just pushed record and started playing guitar; and I kept the takes as they were. So a lot of the sounds are very happy accidents.”


Kirsten enquires about the main challenge and purpose of making this record…

“The main task was finding a way of making people familiar with my music, coming, as it does, from about 4 or 5 years of writing. I wanted to show off some of the newer ideas and, at the same time, also include some songs that I’ve worked on for years and really love. Song diversity on an album can be a benefit, but it can also be something that is excruciatingly confusing for listeners. What I tried to do with the track-order is construct something with a narrative, something that has an internal dramatic arc in it.”

“I just really hope the album manages to sum up these last few years musically and emotionally. I don’t know what it is, but the record has given me a lot of consolation over the years, that’s for sure: and I guess that’s really why I wrote it…”