The fine folks that call themselves Carnivorous Plant Society have just released their latest album, The People Below.
Additionally, band member Finn Scholes has created a graphic novel, also titled The People Below, to go along with the music.
The 13th Floor invited Finn Scholes to come around and give Marty Duda a detailed account of both the album and the graphic novel. So, here is a track-by-track rundown of Carnivorous Plant Society’s The People Below.
Click here to listen to the interview:
Or. read a transcription of the interview here:
M: We’re here with Finn Scholes of Carnivorous Plant Society Who’s gonna take us through their new album, it’s called The People Below, you’ve got nine tracks which we’re gonna run through one by one but before that, we’ll just kind of give an overview of the record for folks and starting with the fact that not only is there an album of music, there is a graphic novel attached to the whole thing so explain please.
F: Well I thought it would be nice to not do a CD this time and the band has always had a lot of animations associated with it and we’ve always been into storytelling, so I feel like it made a lot of sense to do a graphic novel. It’s sort of a science fiction tale and it’s set in a city that’s suspended in a floating bubble which is in this alien’s mouth, the city. So it’s quite a complex science fiction concept but I feel like it’s not too hard to understand when you’re reading it.
M: When I first heard that you were doing this, I was expecting maybe a pamphlet or maybe ten pages at most.
F: Me too, I thought it was gonna be really short.
M: It’s not.
F: No. it’s a bit longer
M: It’s pretty slick.
F: It’s not too much of a read, it doesn’t take too long, which I think is kind of good. I didn’t want to punish anyone with it.
M: How did the rest of the band feel about the novel being attached to the record?
F: Good. It was nice to something new and they were happy about it. They all had a read and approved.
M: So the album itself, you recorded that where? Up at The Lab?
F: At The Lab in Paquin Studios though, Tom Healy’s room, most of it and we did a couple of sessions in the actual big room at The Lab and then we did the overdubs just at home.
M: You’ve got a few people helping out other than the folks in the band as well like Tiny Ruins.
F: Yeah, Tiny Ruins singing a song, James Milne from Lawrence Arabia, we’ve actually got a whole celebrity choir on one song with also Lisa Crawley and Ed Costello. So that’s pretty cool.
M: Well let’s dig into the record then. So The People Below is the name of the album and it’s the last track. Why is it called The People Below, is that part of the whole story that’s attached?
F: Yeah well the song The People Below is about the comic book, it’s about the story of the comic book.
M: We’ll wait till we get there then. It opens up with a song called The Baby. That track in particular kind of overall I got a Frank Zappa vibe from this record, is that something that’s …..
F: Yeah, we get that quite a bit. I’ve listened to, there’s one album I’ve listened to it a lot on repeat.
M: He’s got a lot of them so it’s hard to pin one down. Apostrophe?
F: No, it’s got the marimba player on it, I don’t know the name.
M: But you have listened to a bit of Frank?
F: Yeah I have, definitely a lot of it’s rubbed off
M: Well worse things could happen. So tell me about The Baby.
F: The Baby was produced by Cass (Mitchell) which is kind of interesting because it was her first time doing any production for this band and felt like she did a really nice job. The Baby is about, it’s kind of trying to open the discussion about whether to have children or not. I guess a lot of my friends and myself too, us and our partners are at the age when we’re thinking about whether we’re gonna do that and my brother Tam (Scholes) and Siobhanne (Thompson), they’ve just had a baby and Alistair’s (Deverick) got one on the way so it’s about that time and about this. The song doesn’t have many words but it’s asking ‘why do you wanna have a baby?’ while also asking ‘why don’t you wanna have a baby?’
M: I noticed there weren’t a lot of lyrics throughout the whole record it’s more instrumental.
F: It’s kind of our thing.
M: That’s your thing?
F: Yeah I mean none of us are big singers so that definitely is part of it. I’m a big fan of instrumental music. I kind of almost feel like having lyrics in songs is trying to please people a little bit.
M: Well I guess it does open up a certain doorway for people.
F: Yeah well the ones with the singing on them get a lot more listens. It’s fun to do it though, but I love instrumental music though it’s special being like being a trumpet player, it gives more space for me.
M: You do take some trumpet solos throughout the record.
F: There’s a few
M: That’s good to hear. The next song is called Shopping Mall, again mostly instrumental there are some voices on it though.
F: That’s Cass and Siobhanne doing some Woos and Lalala things. Shopping Mall’s is inspired by video game music but it’s inspired by this part of video game music which not everyone is going to know about but in video games there’s often a shop and it’s often in the shop scene in a video game I feel like there’s a certain type of music sometimes and it’s inspired by the music in that particular scene in many video games. RPG games where you’re building your character and buying potions. For some reason that song makes me think of that.
M: Do you play a lot of video games?
F: Not really, I kind of want to but I don’t have enough time for it and I don’t have Playstation or anything.
M: I know a couple of guys who are hard core into it and it seems to take over their lives in a way.
F: Yeah, I wouldn’t be into that but I used to play a bit but definitely never took over my life but when I was a kid it definitely was good fun.
M: So just briefly run through who else is in the band so the folks know who …
F: We’ve got Cass Mitchell on the bass and also doing quite a bit of singing, Alistair Deverick on drums, Tam Schole on guitar, Siobhannen Thompson on violin and she does a bit of vibraphone and plays the baby trumpet.
M: The baby trumpet? Is that the cornet?
F: That’s like a small, compressed trumpet.
M: So it’s not a cornet?
M: It’s smaller than a cornet?
F: It’s smaller but it’s the same length of tubing as a normal trumpet.
F: Yeah but it’s just kind of all squished together So it’s about that big and it’s really cute.
M: Does it sound much different?
F: The bell is a lot smaller so it’s not as powerful sounding, it’s a little bit more reedy but cuter and it’s nice.
M: More delicate?
F: Yeah. It’s great for travelling with.
M: I can imagine. That moves us onto It Followed Them, and this is the one with Holly (Fullbrook).
F: Yeah, Holly’s singing the verses, I’m doing my first chorus, my first lead vocal on this song on the chorus.
M: This is your first one ever?
F: Yeah the first song I’ve ever done lead. I dabbled in the BV’s before but otherwise, yeah, I feel happy with how it sounds. I might do more next time.
M: Oh good.
F: I mean it’s about some people that go on a fishing trip and they get killed by a demon.
M: So why did you decide to get Tiny Ruins involved in this track?
F: She’s a really good friend of ours and I mean I love her voice, I feel like it just makes everything sound so nice, that’s the main reason but being friends with her is … she’s also doing very well at the moment which is nice. I mean that track has got a lot of listens on Spotify already because of her, her fame. But mainly though I just really love her voice, it’s just so nice I mean everyone would agree. It’s nice writing stuff for her because you know it’s gonna sound convincing.
M: So did you write it with her in mind?
F: Yup, I did. I wasn’t too sure when I was writing it that she would do it, but we’re good friends though so had a fairly good chance.
M: That’s good, it would’ve been a bummer if she’d said no.
M: What They Want is next, which has got this kind of twangy thing going on.
F: It’s kind of a surf rock piece I guess and it’s called What They Want because it’s kind of meant to be a bit of a crowd pleaser. When I first wrote it I wasn’t too sure about recording it but my girlfriend, Isabelle, she’s actually learning how to play the midi saxophone. She knows how to play the saxophone but she has this midi saxophone that I bought her.
M: What exactly is midi?
F: It’s like an electronic saxophone. She used to play the saxophone but she’s forgotten how to do it because it was when she was in high school but with this midi saxophone, all you need to do is the fingering then blow air into it and it works.
M: Isn’t that how real saxophones work?
F: Nah, you’ve got to have chops to make it work and it’s out of tune if you don’t blow it right. So this is really forgiving so now that she can play, she can play with me now so I was testing out some tunes with her and that was just one that was sitting there and she really likes it and she said that will be a hit. Then we recorded it and it’s been going down really well.
M: It does seem to be immediately accessible. You like that sound. Now the next one is Sex Guru which also has a trumpet solo in ti and it starts out with some electric piano is that what I’m hearing?
F:Yeah, the Rhodes and some vibraphone and I think it’s got some chimes, it might even have some rain sticks I think at the beginning. It’s meant to have a slightly new age, not really a new age feel but a bit of influence from that sort of thing. It’s just kind of a groovy piece and it kind of something sexy about it so hence the name Sex Guru. It’s not particularly deep it’s just a bit of a nice groove, similar to what they want, but sounding well, sounding good.
M: Yeah it did sound good. How do you come up with the instrumentation for these. You mentioned all the things that are on this particular track. Do you as a band put your heads together and talk about it at length or do you just pick up what’s around and start playing and see what works? How does the process happen?
F: Whenever we’ve recorded we’ve done the rhythm tracks in one big session altogether at a studio but none of the overdubs. So I got a file with the bass and the drums and the guitar and that might have been all that we had on that one and then I just had at home to fiddle around with and do overdubs and I felt like the Rhodes really suited this one because it’s a bit more jazzy. The Rhodes and the vibes sounded really good together, they really blend together those two instruments.
M: Are they actual Rhodes and vibes?
F: Yeah, certainly.
M: And you have them at home?
F: Yeah I’ve got a couple of Rhodes essentially.
M: So is your house full of instruments lying around all over the place?
F: Yes it’s got plenty I’ve got a marimba at the moment, two vibraphones, two Rhodes, a Wurlitzer organ and lots of synths and takes up a lot of space. It’s all very fun.
M: I’m sure. I can imagine someone breaking into the house and just tripping over.
F: Everything’s a bit too big for them to steal luckily.
M: That’s the thing about the records as well nobody wants to steal records, they’d hurt them, they’d get a hernia carting them out.
F: Yeah it would take ages. Hard to move.
M: Not worth the effort. Children Of The Yard is next, which has more twangy guitar in it.
F: Yup, big fan of the guitar. That one’s meant to be about how we should let children enjoy their childhood. Some of the gigs I was saying that we don’t really believe in school and I kind of feel there’s something a bit wrong with the education system but I mean not that I have any alternative to fix it. It’s just about your childhood and just trying to enjoy that and let kids enjoy it. Don’t make them do too much homework.
M: Right homework’s a bummer. Did you have a good childhood?
F: Yeah, it was good. Grew up in Ponsonby. School was certainly a bit of a pain in the ass having to do all that work. I mean I definitely remember in high school finding it frustrating because I knew I wanted to be a musician then and all of the other stuff was really getting in the way of what I knew I needed to do.
M: Well I can imagine once you’ve made that decision then it’s like, ‘this is what I want to do, why am I messing around with all this other stuff?’
F: Yeah, it was pretty frustrating. I guess in a way Children Of The Yard is kind of about that too although perhaps that era for me, I was a bit older than what the song is really about.
M: At least you decided what you wanted to do relatively early on. I’m still working on it.
F: Yeah well it’s a hard decision, I’m sure you’ll figure it out.
M: I’ll figure it out one day. Take is the next song which starts out with this kind of sequencer type thing going on.
F: That’s the marimba
M: That’s the marimba?
F: Yeah, it was marimba and what else was there? It’s got two marimbas. It’s got a lot of influence by Steve Reich. I really like his over-lappy parts that go in and out of phase with each other and sound really kind of crazy sort of arpeggio stuff so it’s influenced from that the marimba part and then it’s also got Junos doing similar things coming in and out so it’s this kind of weird wave of arpeggios. It’s kind of an environmental song actually. It’s about how there’s no where in nature anymore, it’s hard to find a nice spot to kind of be in nature and how humans have put shit everywhere, I’m not a huge fan of that.
M: Well, here in New Zealand is better than most places.
F: It is better than most places yeah, but sometimes you’ll be driving round Auckland City and be like Ok I just want to have a couple of minutes to be somewhere nice for a second and it can be really hard to find.
M: Actually though, around here, even though I’m in the middle of the city, I’ve got the Domain over there and then there’s another park right over there.
F: There’s a few good parks, I mean it’s not so bad but it’s not as bad as other countries, that’s for sure but it’s all very quickly changing and I don’t think it’s gonna go in the other direction any time soon.
M: No doesn’t look good. The Black House is next, there’s piano at the beginning of it I think and then it goes into this Tex-Mex thing with the horns.
F: We’re big fans of Sun Ra so the first half is really meant to be a big influence from Sun Ra and then the second half is meant to be like Calexico, well parts of their music. Some of theirs is not so much like that, So it’s kind of voodoo moving into Mexican stuff.
M: So it’s interesting you listen to Sun Ra, Frank Zappa, Steve Reich and Calexico.
M: Fair representation of what you’re into?
F: Yeah, it is. Frank Zappa’s always got singing, he’s got a lot of instrumentals too doesn’t he?
M: Yeah definitely
F: It’s quirky stuff I guess.
M: It’s kind of off the beaten track a little bit, especially Steve Reich and Sun Ra definitely was in his own world.
F: In the beginning, our first few albums have been quite Mexican and then this one, I’m trying to get us to be a bit more just general world music.
M: Have you been to Mexico?
F: Yes, I have. Loved it. I went there twice and had a great time. I was really lucky to spend Day of The Dead in Oaxaca and saw this amazing brass band. The music over there was awesome.
M: I get the feeling there must be music everywhere in Mexico, I haven’t been myself.
F: Yeah definitely.
M: But I found that… have been to Havana and it was like that there, you just walk into any place and then suddenly bands would show up and start playing.
F: Actual bands
M: It was incredible
F: It certainly is, I mean a lot of countries you go there and it’s hard to actually find any live music even though you think it’s gonna be everywhere but you go there and it’s certainly not. Unless I’ve just been lucky finding the right stuff.
M: Usually, if there’s live music you can hear, you’ll find it eventually.
F: Sometimes yeah.
M:That brings us to the last track which is The People Below which is the one with the Lawrence Arabia and Tim Stewart and a bunch of other people.
F: Mimsey Cable.
M: So tell us all about it.
F: It’s about the comic book, it’s about the story of the comic book. The comic book is a lot about class and equality and I guess the song is about bringing out that theme a bit. It’s got a lot of reference to the ocean and living by the sea which is kind of meant to be symbolic of being rich in a way. Which I feel in my head makes sense cause the rich people always live by the sea.
M: They’re the ones who can afford that.
F: That’s the hot spot. It really works with the plot of the whole comic is kind of spoken about in the song a little bit.
M: So the plot is somewhat of a study about rich vs poor and how to go from one to the other is that what’s happening there?
F: Definitely and each verse in the song has got a different singer so it’s meant to be a little like a musical and the first two verses they’re singing about different characters in the book and then the last two is just about the general themes of the book so it really sums it up. It’s almost a spoiler.
M: There’s interesting graphics in here I see a building with ‘boobs’ on it.
F: Yeah there’s a lot of boobs, I mean some would say it’s not for kids, the book.
M: It also looks somewhat violent
F: Yeah there’s a bit of violence
M: Goriness in there
F: Yeah, that’s just how the plot..
F: Yeah, it wasn’t really my fault. Once the story started happening there had to be boobs and there had to be violence.
M: It seems like you’re pretty happy with the way it turned out
F: Yeah I am
M: Is it what you thought it was gonna be when you started out or was there a journey involved.
F: It definitely kept surprising me. It was my first time doing a comic with actual planning where I thought about the end and thought about what would happen and tried to have some characters that would develop. It’s been a very interesting thing to do and I do feel happy with it yeah.
M: So people can get the novel how?
F: Bandcamp is a really good way, at our gigs, I’ll hopefully be remembering to bring it to the gigs.
M: That would be wise
F: They could also just message me, some people have been doing that, but Bandcamp is a pretty logical one.
M: How have the shows been? You kind of just wrapped up your tour.
F: The tour was amazing, it was all though Arts On Tour which is a company that organise tours through rural New Zealand and we did like twenty three odd gigs around the whole country and it was over a whole month and they give you a van and organise everything.
M: They actually give you a van to use?
M: That’s pretty cool
F: Very cool and they pay for the gas and they give you guarantees. I would’ve not been able to do it without their help it would have been too hard to organise. And yeah people came to all of the gigs and they enjoyed the shows and felt like it really was a very nice experience.
M: So what’s in the future for the band? Resting?
F: I’m trying to think about the next project now. It was very satisfying doing the tour because there was a lot of movie theatres in the venues and big projector screens so we got to do our live video animations at those and they were going down very well, there was a lot of good feedback from the videos and I feel very motivated to do some more videos after that. I’m gonna definitely do a bit more animation.
M: And for you, do you always do animation that’s connected to musical stuff that you do or do you do stand alone stuff as well?
F: I’ve done a few commissions for other bands but for myself it’s always been for Carnivorous Plant Society, generally to go with a song that we’ve been working on or sometimes I’ve started an animation and then realised that a song would work with it, but I’m hoping to do something, maybe that would be a bit longer perhaps, a bit more like a longer piece that will all be connected through one story hopefully.
M: Like a rock opera
F: Yeah like a rock opera yeah, but a bit more Carnivorous Plants-y. I’m not too sure we’ll see
M: That sounds exciting. Well thanks for doing this, much appreciated
F: Thanks for having me