Wellington singer-songwriter Lake South has just released his second album titled Wellington/Te Upoko O Te Ika.
The 36-year-old former Urban Tramper has assembled a record full of songs that are based on places that are important to him…most of them in or around Wellington.
With the album just released last Friday, and a nationwide tour due to commence later this month, The 13th Floor’s Marty Duda spoke to Lake South and asked him to go through the album’s 11 tracks in order to gain a more in-depth understanding on what he is trying to communicate.
Click here to listen to the interview with Lake South:
Or, read a transcription of the interview here:
M: You were living in Toronto last year?
L: Yes, I got back in September. I was living there for about a year and a half. I went over there and basically just wrote this album over that year and a half and played a few shows and did some odd jobs.
M: So you wrote the album, which is all songs about Wellington while you were in Toronto?
L: Yes exactly, seems to be the way. I always write about New Zealand when I’m overseas.
M: Well, thanks for sending me the postcards, you seem to have gone to quite an effort in all this physical stuff, ’cause I know you did also a thing, you had the map online where people can go and they get close to a certain area and they can listen to the song when it pops up on their thing. Why do you go to all that effort?
L: I guess cause I’m trying to get people to listen to the music and all these little things get people interested in the music. I guess that’s one part of it, is to pique peoples’ interest by having interesting ways of accessing it, but they’re all meaningful ways of … basically it’s like how am I gonna get people to listen to this music and then it’s like, well what is the music about, and then thinking of ways that are related to that. The website is a way of really communicating the fact that these songs are about my interpretation of place and my experience of a city and how important those places are and just how music can be really connected to physical places. So creating that website is a way for people to go, ‘OK, I’m listening to this song in the place it’s singing about.’ It gets people, hopefully, just thinking about the importance of place in music, especially writing music. A lot of music is just generic and doesn’t matter where it’s from. But a lot of that, I guess whoever wrote it, often it does have an importance to them the place where they wrote it, and I guess being from New Zealand, I’m just trying to write songs about the places that my community lives in and to get people thinking about, ‘Oh yes, we can have songs about Aro Valley that are just as epic and cool as the songs about California.’
M: So before we get into going through the album track by track, maybe you can talk to me a little bit about the making of the record, where was it recorded and who did you work with putting this thing together?
L: I wrote it and did some demos when I was in Canada and that’s just at my flat, just with a 58 and a sound card, and playing around with Fruity Loops and making beats and that kind of thing, I mean they all start with just a guitar and then I take them to the computer and try and realise the sound that’s in my head. So I did that and jammed with a couple of friends that I made in Canada and workshopped the songs a little bit with them, and then I got back to Auckland, my partner’s from Auckland, so we stayed there for a few months when I got back to New Zealand and we stayed with her parents so they were lucky enough to have a big house, I had a room there to work on the songs and work on them a bit more and then I went to Whanarua Bay which is on the East Cape around from Opotiki just around from Te kaha, it’s a tiny little bay, and they’ve got a house there and I just took my computer and my sound card and a couple of mics and met up with my friend Phil, who is an instrument maker he makes cajons and started to make marimbas, but he also used to be in the band in Urban Tramper, he’s a really good musician, so we just went there.
M: Phil Jones right?
L: Yeah, Phil Jones. I just went there with him and that’s where I recorded all the vocals and the guitar and bass and most of the instrumentation and he played a bit and he did some backing vocals and I did all my vocals there just over a week and then I did the drums in Alistair Deverick’s studio, which is just by The Lab in Auckland which is actually just around the corner from where I was staying so he did the drums there, then I basically spent months cutting everything up and crafting the final album.
M: I see. Alright, let’s start with the first track, which is called Brock and Dundas. So all the songs relate to particular places in and around Wellington is that right?
L: Yes and no, I mean Brock and Dundas is where I lived in Toronto, but singing about Wellington. I basically had two songs that were kind of set in… so I wanted to set that one in Toronto kind of looking back at Wellington.
M: So tell me about the song.
L: A lot of it is in the title. So in terms of the lyrics, I guess it’s just about being in the same place again, where I’m often at with no money and a lot of self-doubt and questioning the artist life and all that sort of “woe is me” sort of stuff which is often where I’m at at the start of an album and why I’m pushed to create something from that position of anxiety. It’s basically a song that’s coming to terms with just being part of the cycle of my particular life and accepting the fact that that’s pretty much how it goes, that’s it you know and just being Ok with that and just saying I’m just gonna keep on doing it cause that’s just what I do.
M: There’s a violin playing on that particular track right?
L: Yes, Tristan Carter plays the violin on that and Charlie (Davenport) plays the cello. I recorded those when I got back to Wellington actually, so that was sort of right at the end, I had midi strings on there and I replaced them when I got back to Wellington and had more contacts of people that I knew.
M: So next track is Mount Victoria.
L: How much detail do you want me to go into here?
M: As much as you feel like Enough for people to get an idea of what’s going on with the record and your songs so anything you can enlighten them with is great.
L: Ok, Mount Victoria is a sort of mish-mash of feelings I have about a couple of experiences I had living in that area. I had a really shitty flat in Mount Victoria, I mean all my flats in Wellington have been pretty average but that was a shitty flat, but I had a great summer there with a friend and I’d gone through a breakup and also I lived there with my parents. So it’s a mixture of stuff that happened in Mount Victoria and actually it relates to the other song Ellice St, which is also on Mount Victoria, and that’s a different period, but a lot of these are kind of looking back to my first years in university like leaving school. But this one jumps around in time a little bit and I guess it’s just about Mount Victoria being my mountain, just an important place for me and then Ii just started on the guitar and then it turned into some sort of rock song which I don’t normally do. I wasn’t even gonna put it on the album, but I showed it to people and some people thought it was kind of the single, so I’m making a video for that in a couple of months.
M: Excellent, now we go to South Coast.
L: Yes, South Coast is about old friends basically, and just those friendships you have that are based on history, they’ve just always been your friend and potentially you’ve grown apart but there’s something strong there because you’ve gone through things together. So just those long term friendships and how important they are and it’s also just looking back at …I mean a lot of these songs are looking back on a time in my life and I was just trying to take little tiny vignettes of life like tiny moments, cause they kept on running around in my head and I thought maybe they were really meaningful but looking back and reassessing them, sometimes they weren’t that meaningful and I was just sort of a foolish youth, but in the process of looking back there’s things that I’ve learnt about myself and what I was like then and that kind of thing. This song was another one that I wasn’t gonna put on the album cause it just sounded really weird, I had heaps more instrumentation and all this stuff going on then I basically took it all away and it sounded way better.
M: Alright, we move on to Island Bay, another one with marimba on it if I’m not mistaken right?
M: Why do you like the sound of the marimba?
L: I think I just had a synth in there doing that kind of sound and then basically it was just like Phil brought his marimba, so I was like let’s use it. This one is about a particular moment walking in the hills of Island Bay just with my headphones on and it’s also about playing sport when I was younger. It’s hard to explain but there’s a lot of, I guess sport was important in my family.
M: Lots of rugby?
L: Yes, I played rugby for fifteen years, but kind of hated it and loved it at the same time. So I guess it’s about that kind of, I think I found on the back of that postcard there is an ongoing battle between art and sport, and I mean that’s definitely the case amongst artists that caused a lot of people to hate sport and I guess that’s a battle that goes on in my own head as well so yeah that songs about that.
M: The next song on the album, Is it Wellington or Ellice St?
L: I think it’s Ellice St. Ellice St is just about a particular night that I had with some friends in Mount Victoria on Ellice St, which is actually just around the corner from the song Mount Victoria and looking back at it from my apartment in Canada. This song kind of sums up what I was saying before about searching for meaning in moments gone but they mean nothing. I guess reassessing things, but I actually got the chorus of this from a book, I think she’s a Canadian author, and I was reading her book and she is an author, the protagonist of the book is an author, and she goes to a course and the creative writing teacher says that as authors we only have one story and we just tell it again and again, so it’s not necessarily about you only get one shot at life, it’s more about you have one story and end up telling it different ways so I mean that’s kind of like the album, there’s just one story and there’s different angles on it.
M: So we move on to Wellington, which is the title track of the album.
L: Yes, this song is just written on the back of a particular… I just had a contract, maybe I had a three month contract working full time over the winter in Toronto, so just that feeling of the end of the week and the end of the month and just that mundane-ness and repetitiveness of full time work but also the coziness and comfort of a weekend. Then again just questioning why I left Wellington when everything was going Ok and then you make life hard for yourself sometimes.
M: Holloway Road.
L: Holloway Road yes, so I’ve got a video coming out for this on Friday and this song is about, kind of when I lived in Aro Valley when I was younger and it’s basically about not wanting the night to end. I guess I’m channeling a little bit of Running Up That Hill by Kate Bush which I often reference in my songs, I mean I guess that sentiment and that euphoric, when you’re just running and you’re just going for it. I quite like that song.
M: Are we getting political here with Parliament?
L: Parliament was on the back of when I was in Toronto, it doesn’t actually mention it in the song but I guess this is just about when Metiria Turei was forced to leave the Green Party and I just felt really sad about that whole thing. So that’s what that’s about and I guess everyone can relate to just scrolling through some sort of social media or news site and just getting despondent at the world so that’s pretty much what that songs about.
M: Then we move on to Royal Oak.
L: There’s kind of two parts to this one. It’s a song about growing up so the first half of it is very simple and juvenile kind up straight up beat and simple and then it gets a bit more interesting near the end to follow some sort of growth sonically and with the lyrics. So that’s what I was trying to do with the music. Phil plays a little bit of a bongo in this one, that he made, so the Cajon and he’s got one that turns into a bongo as well so that was cool. I guess this is probably the love song off the album.
M: The love song of the album?
M: Very good, and that takes up to Makara.
L: Makara is a place out the back of Wellington, if you go past Korori you get to this really rugged beach and people go there for a Sunday drive. Phil plays some bass on this which I quite like, the bass line that he’s come up with and I guess that the instrumentation has kind of gone a little bit over the top and I’ve got some falsetto in there and stuff and it’s almost a little bit comical at some points but the sentiment of the song is actually very personal and very sad.
M: I get the feeling that you’re somewhat uncomfortable about talking about the actual feelings and meanings of the songs so I apologise for putting you through it.
L: Just that one in particular I can’t really talk about. I guess that one’s kind of sad but I’ve turned it into…I often end up writing sad songs but they always end up with some sort of hope in them.
M: We’ve come to the last one, Karori Park.
L: Karori Park near one of my childhood homes in Karori in Wellington and I just remember walking home after a night out sometimes and just walking through a big open space and just a hint of suburbia and that just epic-ness that you felt. That kind of feeling, the epic sort of feeling, I mean I guess that’s what I’m trying to articulate throughout the whole album is that sort of feeling you get walking through that empty park on the way home at five in the morning and that’s why I can’t really describe it.
M: That’s your one story that you have to tell.
L: Yeah I guess so, I mean the epic in the ordinary is the thing, just finding something transcendent about the suburbs.
M: So you’re safely living back in Wellington now, are you feeling good about it?
L: Yes, the plan is to stay here, for a while at least, although my partner is from Auckland so we’ll see what happens with that but yes it’s great.
M: And what are your plans for the record? Are you gonna be touring or promoting?
L: Yes, the tour starts on the 23rd of August in Christchurch, so just doing Christchurch, Dunedin, Wellington, Auckland, Wanganui and Palmerston North, and then I’ll see what happens with going overseas, I’ll just see how it goes in the first place.
M: You would hope that people, even though the songs are specifically about a particular place, Wellington, that they are somewhat universal and the themes and the feelings that you get across so people don’t have to understand Wellington specifically to get what you’re trying to get across in the songs.
L: Yeah not at all, I don’t think so. I mean the names are there but no I think the sentiments are very universal and I think people relate to the fact that songs are from somewhere, even if they’re not from that place, they relate to the fact that someone is singing about a place.
Lake South ‘Wellington | Te Upoko O Te Ika’ Tour
Friday 23rd August – Darkroom, Christchurch w/ Timothy Blackman + guests
Saturday 24th August – The Cook, Dunedin w/ Timothy Blackman + guests
Saturday 31st August – Secret Venue, Wellington
Saturday 7th September – Wine Cellar, Auckland w/ Fables
Friday 13th September – Lucky Bar, Whanganui
Saturday 14th September – Snails, Palmerston North
You can score tickets over HERE via UTR