New Zealand Legends the Terminals Revisit Being ‘Uncoffined’
Out of the gaggle of important bands that sprang from the fruitful music scene of New Zealand in the '90s, the Terminals are one that have not only managed to hold themselves together as a unit throughout the years — a major feat in itself — but have consistently put out stellar record after stellar record, never straying from their patented form of Kiwi brood.
If you wish to trace the dots back to the group's fabled beginnings, the Hozac label is reissuing their debut LP Uncoffined, an undisputed classic of its time and place that sounds just as moody and strangely welcoming as it did upon its release in 1990. And for those who don’t have a hundred bucks or so to spend on an original copy of the thing, this re-up is nothing short of a godsend, obviously.
Terminals drummer and New Zealand underground music legend Peter Stapleton was kind enough to talk about the early days of the band, the secrets behind their longevity and the music scene of his country at the time.
Looking back on the cultural landscape, 1990 was a pretty fertile time for New Zealand in regards to underground music. How much were you paying attention to what your musical peers were doing at the time of the recording of Uncoffined? Do you feel it bleeds through on the record?
In the early days, we were pretty insular. We were certainly aware of what other people were doing, but our influences were older, and by that time they were largely unconscious. Uncoffined was recorded in 1988, and took over two years to be released. During that time, we became disillusioned with Flying Nun and formed an association with Bruce Russell’s Xpressway label. We used to travel down to Dunedin and play with other ex-Flying Nun artists such as Peter Jefferies, Alastair Galbraith, Plagal Grind, Sandra Bell and the Dead C. We felt a kinship with them, but more in terms of our shared outsider status than musically.
Can you paint a picture of what the recording process was for the record?
It might be a stretch for me to remember details like that now! As I recall, we flew up to Wellington a number of times and recorded at a studio called Writhe. We knew Brent McLaughlin from the Gordons and Bailter Space from his days in Christchurch, and he engineered the album. We recorded the basic tracks live, but I remember going back to do a number of overdubs, including some backing vocals from Mary Heney. Not sure how long the whole thing took, but I suspect it might have taken the best part of a year.
Probably my most enduring memory of that era is practicing every Saturday afternoon at my house in Christchurch, and the next door neighbor — an angry man who we just called "Psycho" — marching up and down outside the window with his hands over his ears! Mind you, to quote Lou Reed, hearing that album again also made me think that "those were different times."
At some point in time later on in the ’90s, many people involved in the New Zealand music scene got interested in making improvised music, or "Free Noise." What do you think was the impetus for that?
I was one of those people! There was a common feeling at the time that we wanted to push the boundaries a bit more. Also, I think that as some of our musical peers sought more mainstream success, many people felt more comfortable moving in the opposite direction! The Dead C were certainly very influential on that scene, but subsequently there were a number of other like-minded artists and what seemed to be a distinctive South Island / New Zealand sound. There was also a real sense of a "free noise" community. Ever since then, I’ve played with improvisational and experimental groups, and I currently play with Eye, as well as the Terminals.
The Terminals are a unit that seem to shoot out a new release every few years. Are you still a band in the aspect of practicing regularly?
Things move very slowly in the world of the Terminals! When we all lived in Christchurch, we would practice every week, but nowadays we live in different cities. We have occasional intensive practices when we happen to be in the same place, but we don’t usually play any more than two live shows a year. As far as the songwriting goes, it’s a slow, but still ongoing process. I’ll send lyrics to Steve [Cogle, vocalist / guitarist] and he’ll put music to them, and he might record a demo. At some stage, the songs will be introduced to the band, who will then deconstruct them!
What is it about the Terminals that makes it this entity that you and the others want to come back to after all these years?
Despite the fact we’re all very different people, there is still something special when we all get together. I guess the collective whole is greater than the sum of its parts or something like that!
Is there anything in the Terminals' future? Or is the band a never-ending entity?
Yes, the Terminals are a never-ending entity! The difference from the early days is that people's everyday lives are much more complicated now. Having said that, we have a show coming up in Auckland at the beginning of November, and a new album called Antiseptic due out on Ba Da Bing early next year, plus a bunch of new songs. The question about the future reminds me how in the neoliberal 1990s, an Auckland music journalist accused us of being "anti-career," but in actual fact we just have our own kind of career, in our own time.
Pre-order the reissue of Uncoffined from Hozac right here.