Makers and Do’ers is a monthly series focussing on creative people who run. These conversations are long form, free flowing and aim not just to discuss the minutiae of running but engage around the person’s creative process, their likes, irks and inspirations. I’m hopeful that you will find Makers and Do’ers as enjoyable to read as it is to create.
So sit back, grab a beverage of your choice and enjoy this first episode of Makers and Do’ers with our guest, Peter McLennan who is a New Zealand music stalwart. Not content with playing in the bands Dub Asylum and Hallelujah Picassos, Peter has a regular show, Ring The Alarm, on Base FM. Peter is the owner of Loopy Fruit Records, blogs elegantly at www.dubdotdash.blogspot.co.nz . As if this all wasn’t enough, Peter is a journalist, crate digger and self confessed “Pop culture fiend”…. and loves to run.
Peter was gracious enough to meet with me and discuss among other things, his early athletic success, his musical history, his foray into running and what should come first when starting your first band, good songs or a great name.
When did you first become interested in music, and what age did you start playing an instrument?
Can I start with a running story? Before I was interested in music I was really into athletics, when I was about nine or ten. I remember one time,we had our annual sports day at school, I accidentally won the cross country running event for my year.
I was running behind the leading pack of about 6 or 7 runners and when we got to the last turn, after running out of the school and round a few blocks, the leaders all went the wrong way. Me and the two guys behind me turned back into the school grounds, I ran across the sports field and came first. Somewhere in a family photo album is me sitting down right after the race, and boy do I look surprised.
Then I got into skateboarding and I discovered music at around 13. I formed a band with a couple of friends of mine, we didn’t really know much about forming bands so we did it the wrong way around; We formed a band, came up with a name, then we thought about getting instruments. Then we thought about learning how to play them, which is the complete wrong way to do it.
I remember one time,we had our annual sports day at school, I accidentally won the cross country running event for my year.
How are you supposed to do it? that sounds perfect
Well, you know, you get your instrument, you learn how to play it and then you find some friends and then you get a band together and then you get a name. We did it back to front.
Was that The Rattlesnakes?
No, that was a band called The Worst, which is a very appropriate name.
What genre was that?
Vaguely inept punk rock with a bit of post punk british stuff like Swell Maps..It wasn’t really any genre as we couldn’t play very well, we didn’t know very many chords and we didn’t really understand how to write songs, so when we used to practice we used to make up songs at every practice, we didn’t actually go to practice and practice songs over and over, because we didn’t know how to be a band. Yeah, it was very inept
Do you remember an epochal moment, that tipping point, where you said “Yes. this is something that I want to do all the time”, or did you just keep plugging away methodically?
It was probably from going out and seeing other bands, I mean, it’s that point where you go from liking music, then you go from buying music by artists that you’re never going to get to see to buying music by local artists. I remember when The Screaming MeeMees started putting out music, and it was like they’re a band I could go and buy their record and I could go and see them, because they played all ages shows and my mum would actually let me go that because it’s not a pub. I can remember going to see them play at a tent at Okahu Bay with a couple of my mates and my mum dropped us off because it was an afternoon gig or something, and just seeing them play and going “okay that’s really exciting, I wanna do that”. I think that quite often, for a lot of musicians, it’s when you see somebody else on stage doing it and you see the way people react to it and you go, “Yeah. I wanna do that”
You’re perhaps best known as a member of the Hallelujah Picassos, how did the Picassos come about, and did you always possess such an eclectic vision?
In terms of the Picassos it was very much an evolution of our sound. I was in this industrial dance group called Death Korporation, You know, we spelled corporation with a “K” because we were industrial. We were doing this gig at DKD (a fabled Auckland cafe, on the site of what would become Queen St. IMAX cinema). It was a late night fringe festival, the guy I was playing with couldn’t make it, so I got someone to fill in for him and we ended up doing a bunch of songs that basically we made up on the spot, I was playing guitar and he was rolling around on the floor singing like Nick Cave. It was completely demented. This was in the middle of a bunch of performance poets who were doing a bunch of really boring poetry. We did James Brown’s “It’s a Man’s World” and about two weeks later Harold (lead singer of Hallelujah Picassos and DKD mainstay) came up to me in a nightclub and started raving to me about how great that night was and how it completely made his night, and that’s basically when I met him and we started playing music together.
I like the simplicity of it. All I have to do is get my running shoes on and put one foot in front of the other.
Harold was really into Rockabilly, so I was learning a lot of songs by The Cramps as their songs have got three chords and are really easy. That was the starting point, when we were The Rattlesnakes, and we evolved from there to being Hallelujah Picassos. As we improved in our ability to play and the range of music that we were interested in expanded..because, first and foremost, the members of the Picassos were music fans, we weren’t really musicians. We used to go to band practice and talk about what records we’d brought that week or what comics we’d brought or what movies we’d seen, because that’s who we were as people. It wasn’t like we consciously chose a sound that’s got seven or eight hyphens between it, going Punk-Funk-Soul-Rap-Reggae-Ska-Dub whatever, that was just what we were interested in and we decided not to limit our interests.
We were playing in an era when most of the bands we knew in Auckland played one genre, you go and see them and they would play fifteen songs of one genre, maybe changing the tempo slightly, but it was one genre. That really didn’t interest us. There were a few overseas bands that were doing the same thing as us, like Fishbone or Bad Brains, but there wasn’t really anyone else doing that here, so it was suitably confronting for some people. One of the first thing we learnt when we started getting international supports for overseas bands and we’d watch them play and we learnt that they’d play a song then their drummer would go “click click click” and start the next song, we figured we should start doing that for our sets because we noticed if we left gaps between our songs for too long people would just get confused, If you kept hitting them over the head, song after song, they haven’t got time to react.
There’s nothing worse than a long gap
When we started playing with these overseas bands you’d see how they’d do that stuff and how it worked with the ebb and flow of their sets, that’s why the audience goes bonkers, because they come on stage and play four songs in a row, then they go “how you doing?” and by that time you’re out of breath.
So you worked on the stagecraft as well as the playing?
At that point, it was the Grunge era, where it was really cool to be disinterested on stage, and we didn’t want to do that. We wanted to engage our audience, have a conversation with them. Also, there were quite a few glam metal bands around at the time which sort of looked down on their audiences, we didn’t want to do that. We always thought of ourselves on the same level as our audience, we could hang out with them afterwards and talk to them. We were aware that we were there to entertain people.
When did you stop playing with Hallelujah Picassos?
We started out in ‘88 and I left the band at the end of ‘95 and they broke up about a year later.
When did you get back together?
We started hanging out together about 2009 because we were working on reissuing our music as it had been out of circulation since it was released in the mid nineties, it came out on CD and had never been available digitally. We spent about a year or two putting together a best of compilation, working on the artwork and that came out in 2011. We did a follow up compilation in 2012 and we’ve started playing live together since 2013.
At that point, it was the Grunge era, where it was really cool to be disinterested on stage, and we didn’t want to do that.
Since Hallelujah Picassos got back together is there anything different in what you do and how you do it?
In terms of working with those guys it’s really easy as there’s a musical shorthand that you get from playing together for that long period of time to begin with, so you don’t have to explain “let’s put a bassline in here like Bad Brains’ or whatever so it’s a lot easier now. The other good thing is it’s not like when you’re in your twenties and the band is the be-all and end-all of your life and it’s the main focus, everything is about the band. You get a bit older and you get back together and it’s just fun, you don’t have all that pressure of going “we’re going to change the world” or whatever you want to do, it’s like “we’re going to go out and make some good music because that’s what we used to do, and we still make good music, so let’s go and do that again”. The thing is, when you back to that, and you strip away all that other stuff, you know, “we wanna be the best on the scene”, you take away those things that you built up, and you go back to the original thing, which was “let’s get in a room and make some noise and have fun”.
Currently, what else are you involved with musically?
I’m still DJ ing on the radio, I’ve been doing that since the mid nineties. I was on Bfm for seven or eight years and Base FM for the last 10 years. I’m still doing quite a bit of music writing, mainly online for sites like Audioculture, and my own blog as well, dubdotdash. I’m also working on writing my next book, about the 90’s record label Deepgrooves. It’s one of the first labels which picked up on that big mix of what I guess you would call “Pasifik music”, in terms of New Zealand hip hop or reggae. They had Urban Disturbance, who were Zane Lowe’s first group, they had Three the Hard way who had the first hip hop number 1 in New Zealand, they had quite a few really strong reggae acts as well. It’s a fascinating label because it’s very much the sound of what central Auckland was like in the mid nineties; It’s basically the soundtrack of what you’d hear when you went to gigs around town and you’d hear Dubhead and Stinky Jim DJing and Mighty Asterix on the Mic, and those were the people who ended up being involved with the label and recording for it.
I think it’s a really important label because it’s basically been invisible since it folded in the late nineties, but there’s a lot of people who came out of it, like, DLT was on there, there’s a whole range of other people who were on that label who went on to do other things, it’s one of those talent incubators that never really got recognised.
When did you start running?
June 2013 when I got made redundant, and I figured I needed something to get me out of the house. That was one of the motivations, as my wife was working from home and I was like “okay, what’s going to get me out of the house?” and I tried running. I was working with Vera at the time, who encouraged me to take up the joys of running by talking about it constantly, when she wasn’t writing about it on the internet .
Did you take to it straight away?
My first run was June the 8th 2013, and I went out, ran two kilometres and didn’t die and thought “I can probably do that again”. I went from there and by May 2014 I had finished my first half marathon at Huntly.
How many events have you completed so far?
Three road and two trail halfs.
Any plans to stretch out to longer distances?
I’m still surprised I can run that far for a half marathon, We’ll see. I think with running it has to be something that you enjoy doing so I don’t think it’s necessarily how far or how fast.
What do you like about running?
I like the simplicity of it. All I have to do is get my running shoes on and put one foot in front of the other. That’s it, really simple. I like that a lot. I can go as far or as short as I want.
What does your weekly running look like? Do you have a set goal in terms of kilometres or days per week?
My goal is to run at least once a week, pretty much. After I did a bunch of events over summer and I thought to myself “I’m gonna run three times a week and I’m gonna do 30 k’s a week, rah rah rah”. I ended up hurting my foot a bit, so I stopped running for a bit and I figured out that instead of trying to go this many times a week and clock this many k’s I should just go for a run, and do that regularly. It’s easier and a lot more enjoyable.
I think with running it has to be something that you enjoy doing so I don’t think it’s necessarily how far or how fast.
Do you have a set route that you do? or does it vary?
I live in town so it’s usually around the waterfront or if I’m feeling a bit energetic I’ll go run up Mt. Eden, across to Mt. St John and Mt Hobson and get a couple of decent urban trails in. There’s not many of them, there’s a couple of good ones through the domain also.
Have you noticed any benefits creatively or musically that you can attribute to running?
No. (pause to think) Probably more lifestyle in terms of overall health and stuff like that. The main thing in terms of where running has directly influenced me creatively or musically is running is the longest stretch of time on a daily or weekly basis that I have uninterrupted to listen to music. One of the best running investments I made was getting some decent earbuds so I could listen to music. In terms of of trying to listen to music or think about music, that’s the best time.
What do you listen to when you run?
All sorts of stuff, it can be a promo album someone has sent me to listen to , it can be New Orleans funk, Northern Soul, it could be Sly and Robbie it could be anything.
I remember when you were live tweeting abuse at me during Riverhead Rampage it was Carl Craig you were listening to.
Yeah, (laughs) I remember I made up a running playlist a year or two ago which involved a really geeky exercise of downloading a plug in for my itunes and then sending it to analyse my entire library for bpms. Which took about two days, and then once I had the bpms It was “okay, what’s a good running BPM playlist?” then set it to order bpms and just drag songs out. It starts off at 117 bpm and then goes up to 125 by the end of the playlist, so it gets gradually faster. There’s all sorts of music, there’s a bit of Carl Craig, a bit of James Brown in there, it goes all over the place. Running through Riverhead Forest listening to Carl Craig was hilarious, the most Detroit techno electronica in the middle of the forest was really funny.
How do your old musical friends react to the fact that you run now? and that you’re running Half Marathons no less, to non runners, you might as well say “I’m going to run to the moon” when you tell them that you’re running 21km.
I think they’re probably impressed that I can do it for a start. Music friends who have known me for a while, it’s not like my life has ever been a path where I’ve done one thing and just done that. I got into music, then I decided to start making music videos because I didn’t like the music videos that people were making for us, then I became a filmmaker, I became a documentary maker and I also got into writing and started doing music journalism so it’s not like I haven’t got a track record for changing my mind and doing something different on a regular basis.