Graham Matrix, singer and guitarist for local post-grunge-pop band Sheep, passes around a bag of Sour Cream and Chives potato chips.
“These are dated so they might taste a bit funny” he warns.
They taste fine to me, and apparently also to drummer Tobias Heeringa and keyboardist Josh Bottz, who munch them down eagerly.
I first saw Sheep in July 2017 at Crown Hotel. I recall an enthusiastic crowd bouncing to noisy pop songs with infectious bassline grooves. Video evidence on dunedinsound.com confirms this. The elephant in the room was the fact that it was very obviously inspired by Nirvana, but I didn’t mind because it still sounded fresh and exciting.
The next time I saw them was at their single release gig in The Attic on Friday. Graham Matrix wore ripped jeans and a Daniel Johnston “Hi, how are you” shirt while a Nirvana live VHS played on a small CRT television behind the stage.
I ask them the question all musicians dread: describe your sound.
“Kind of like Nirvana” jokes Graham, then he elaborates.
“The new songs are kind of branching out a little bit more. We still kind of stay true to our roots though. Loud, pretty basic pop songs with heaps of distortion and a whack-as synthesizer as our main bass. Kind of like some krautrock beats…”
“I’ve always tried to take a mechanical and krautrocky approach to my drumming” agrees drummer Toby.
“We’re kind of just like millennial Nirvana I suppose” concludes Graham, but I don’t think that’s fair. Sheep write great songs, catchy enough for the radio, but with an edge. And their sound, while being unashamedly inspired by Nirvana, is definitely unique. Nirvana didn’t even have a synth player.
Also Sheep’s stage presence is probably even greater than Nirvana’s. For a three piece the energy is incredible. Josh somehow manages to ground his fingers to the keys while the rest of his body flies all over the place and Graham’s guitar playing perfectly balances precision and raw noisy output.
“I like to put as much energy as possible into each song and that’s just a way for me to kind of chill out in my day to day life,” explains Graham, ”so like all the tension that builds up in my life I just release it in 30 minutes of angry noise”
“Yeah that’s definitely the same for me when we’re playing live,” agrees Josh, “What I’m playing is real simple and easy but it gives me all the more chance to put all the energy into it, into each note and each moment, and then it just goes hard…”
The Attic gig was the final gig in their tour which was loosely to promote the album coming out very soon on the excellent cassette label Trace/Untrace. The first single from it, The Government Can’t Take My Benny, articulates a mortal fear we can all understand: the fear of losing something which is rightfully yours. I asked Graham to explain what it’s about.
“Basically I’m on the benny,” he begins, “and there was the election, and Winston Peters had the country by its balls…”
“I was like holy shit, they’re going to take my f**king benny, no way, don’t let them take my benny”
“But yeah I wrote that song in that little existential window and yeah… It’s just a song that pumps.”
It pumps and pretty much epitomizes what they’re about. They the sort of band who like to go with the flow, follow their buzz, rather than following someone else’s.
The album will be out soonish featuring more noisy pop songs and will be called something to do with Behemoth, “like taming the behemoth, or tame the behemoth.” There will probably also be an album release gig.
As a band who’ve just come off the back of a tour naturally they’ve got some pretty great stories from the road.
“We played a really cool gig in Kumara outside Greymouth, we got free hot chips” laughs Graham. Josh elaborates.
“It was dark and we needed a place to stay so I suggested we play a gig there for something in return, hoping we’d get a nights stay… But we got a bowl of chips.”
“Our weirdest show,” reveals Graham, “was probably Wellington, it was at moon bar and everyone was sitting down which was kind of strange and I felt like I was part of the Wiggles trying to get people up and dancing”
“But you know that’s just part of touring, you play some mean gigs and you play some weird ones, the weird ones are really special in their own way”
“At our Whammy Bar show we tried to sell bags of sheep shits which were actually like raspberry coated in chocolate and I was like ‘sheep shits come get your sheep shits’”
“Nobody was really interested in our sheep shits”