Joining Agent Ewok for a jam session

23 September 2017 by Fraser Thompson

interview agent_ewok

We emerged from the tiny practice room on Baldwin Street trembling and sweaty. It wasn’t a warm day, but the doors and windows had to be kept closed otherwise the neighbors would complain about the noise, so it’d gotten hot. Guitarist and vocalist Oscar Francis immediately rolled a cigarette.

“It’s a special occasion” he explains.

I wasn’t quite sure what the occasion was. Maybe it was the set they’d just nailed? But that seemed unlikely since Oscar had confided in me earlier that he thought it was one of the worst practices they’d ever had. Indeed it had been a little fraught. In a room packed full of amps of various sizes, one of the amps turned out to be completely dead and its replacement wasn’t much better.

I got the feeling that it was the simple fact that four people had found the time and energy to join together in a room for half an hour of musical matrimony which was cause for celebration.

“Have you listened to the album yet?” Oscar asks bassist Andrew Hopkins, referring to the album they’re releasing tonight titled Deianira Khrushchev.

Turned out he hadn’t: No cassette playing device, and like any good album release in 2017 it’s a cassette release. I have listened to it on my inherited cassette deck and can confirm it’s definitely worth slipping into your walkman and going for a jog with.

“On one of the cassettes H2GO is reversed, so someone will get a real good one.”

Agent Ewok are a weird band. They’ve been kicking around the Dunedin gig scene since about 2011 and released roughly three albums. They sound like an indie band who get too involved and end up jamming instead of making songs. The first track on the album for example, H2GO, could almost be an alternative hit from the 90s, but then devolves into twenty minutes of kaleidoscopic audio collage.

“I think our closest contemporaries are probably the Ford factories of early capitalism and hamsters on treadmills” muses a voice to my left belonging to the member who adds saxophone textures to the sonic soup. Earlier they explained that they like to use sarcasm to protect themselves from establishing any meaningful connection.

“After we played battle of the bands someone was like ‘you sound like Captain Beefheart mixed with Cap’n Jazz’ and it was the only description I liked”

They seem closer to free jazz than rock to me. At times it’s more like they’re playing against than with each other, and much like free jazz it’s all about those magic moments where it all fits, which sometimes happen to be moments when it’s falling apart.

“We recorded it over a long period of time and in lots of different places, we’ve just been recording everything and it was kind of what turned out to become an album/EP.”

“I really like recording but that’s just me, what do you think Andrew?”

Andrew groans.

“Recording is real stressful… It’s like practice.”

The band’s drummer Max Lake might have agreed but he’d disappeared to have a shower, a testament to both the temperature of the room and the energy created by the destruction he wrought upon his kit. Thoughts and prayers to any kit which has to endure Max’s onslaught.

As a final question I asked them what motivated them to continue making music.

“We don’t really have like any goals… Any like idea of the future” replies Oscar after mulling it over for a while. I got the impression he tried not to think about it.

“It’s something to do” adds Andrew.

“What else is there?”

The EP release gig is tonight at Crown Hotel. Also playing is experimental musician William Henry Meung, Sleaze whom I know nothing about, and dancey synthy duo Richard Maybe’s Passion for Nature. And it’s just $5. Beats getting shouted at by Patrick Gower.