Local blonk-pop band The Shambles are parting ways, but they’re not going out without one last tour, one last opportunity to experience the electric energy which had them blazing a trail up and down the festival circuit the last few summers. Their trajectory has been short but very sweet, like a gummy bear or Danny DeVito, but much like a gummy bear (or Danny DeVito) the heavenly flavour lingers. They’ll never be truly gone.
I caught up with frontman Max Gunn before the tour for an emotional retrospective.
When did you start playing and where?
We started playing in Dunedin. I originally began with my drummer in a two piece, we were the musicians amongst our buddies and we didn’t know each other and our friends kind of made us meet. I just had an old synthesizer that my granddad had given me and he had a drumkit and we just set up in a garage in my flat and made some noise.
And then our first gig was to open for Brookes Brothers which is an international drum and bass act from England, so we played kind of drum and bass, we weren’t necessarily drum and bass musicians at all but we began at Re:Fuel with a large drum and bass set with just me on the synth and him on the drums which was very good fun and very funny in hindsight.
Then slowly over the years in Dunedin we just accrued, as it happens, you just slowly absorb all of the musicians that are in your circle and we ended up definitely deviating away from the drum and bass and getting more towards the kind of funky groove melodic stuff that we’ve evolved into now. It was this beautiful kind of organic process of just friends and musicians getting together in Dunedin in a student flat and making music because we love making music.
How did you find Dunedin as an environment to start a band in?
Dunedin was an amazing environment. You’ve got thousands and thousands of young amped up people who are so enthusiastic about listening to new music and partying and coming to gigs. Obviously Dunedin’s got a bit of a reputation for being a really artistic city so there’s a culture in Dunedin that’s very inviting and very accomodating for anyone who’s making music or doing their art, so it’s actually a perfect place to begin.
It’s just that lovely atmosphere where you’re playing with your garage door open and students walk past and grab a seat and park up and watch you, so yeah it was actually a fantastic place to begin.
After your first album took off a bit you toured the country and played Rhythm and Vines right?
Yeah, it was called the Grambles tour which is Gromz and Shambles. It’s very enthralling when you’re starting out and you have your first national tour and it’s the classic rock n’ roll romantic notion of what it is to be a musician where you’ve got your buddies and your instruments and you’re in a big van and you’re driving from city to city to play shows to lots of happy people. It was quite surreal that first trip. And from that lots of doors opened and it became a viable career option.
I studied law, I went and got a law degree and finished my law degree and had a job at a top law firm and decided that I’d step the other way, go the other direction, go the music direction and obviously stop the law and launch into music because it was what I’d really wanted to do. And it just made it all possible. It was quite serendipitous, I finished my degree and a week later we were touring the country and it all went from there.
What would you say were the best gigs you played, or maybe the highlight of the bands career?
We played at Nest Fest January 12th this year, that was maybe the most fulfilling day of my life so far. Harry Pettit my manager and I had conceptualized this festival a couple of years ago in the Hawkes Bay in this beautiful amphitheatre in Black Barn and it was a long time coming to play the show and make that event happen. And so that was quite incredible standing on the stage there with, you know, lots and lots of people in the most stunning environment with a band that I’d been working with for my whole music career, and I dunno, there was something very very special about that day.
Other than that we’ve played Rhythm and Vines at New Year at midnight, so we’ve brought in the new year at Rhythm and Vines for the last two years, and that energy as the clock hits twelve on a new year is pretty electric. There’s something symbolically nice about bringing people into a new chapter, a new year. There’s something quite beautiful about that, so those are really amazing.
All of the festivals are damn fun and it’s hard to beat, I dunno I could go on forever but yeah. All of the tours, everything, it’s very rarely a gig that isn’t ultra enjoyable.
Lots of other Dunedin bands played Nest Fest too right? Did you have something to do with that?
There’s a bunch of Dunedin bands, we all know each other and we’ve all toured together and helped each other produce each others music and been on a similar journey at a similar time, so there’s a beautiful connection between the bands. And this was this day where we could actually curate the acts and have that whole movement of Dunedin music be showcased on a really big stage. Again that was what added to making the day so beautiful, there were all these seeds that had been nurtured in Dunedin growing up and were really excelling at what they were doing.
I’ve only seen you guys live once, I feel bad about that, that was at Feastock like two years ago and I was blown away. There was heaps of energy but it was also really positive, often you can get energy which is kind of aggressive or negative… So is that kind of a deliberate thing?
For sure, it’s deliberate but it’s also not forced, it’s not deliberate in the sense that it’s calculated. But definitely something that I think is unique about The Shambles is the level of energy and the type of energy which, as you point out, is ultimately very positive and definitely the message we want to leave when we get off stage is one of positivity and having people feel happy and having danced.
Someone messaged into me today who was upset that we were doing this final tour, she’d come with this guy to our gig and it was their first date and they had such an amazing night, and they just said they’ve become engaged and they’ll have their one year anniversary on valentine’s day at our gig in Wellington. So something like that, it’s enriching to hear that stuff.
Hopefully partially because of the vibe we give off we just have the loveliest crowds come to our gigs, we’re just so problem free and everyone’s just grooving and grinning. That relationship with your audience is so give and take that I imagine it’s a bit of a feedback loop where the happier you are the happier the crowd is and vice versa, you see the crowd having a good time and it makes you even more pumped and so on and so on until you have this electric arena of good energy and good vibes.
So why are you breaking up?
A few reasons. I’ve got a lot of music that I’ve been writing for my solo career and that’s ready to launch and there’s an incredible opportunity with that so there’s a lot of exciting stuff happening for me that I’m really pumped to get into. And the band, it represents for me just a beautiful chapter of my adolescence and my beginnings in the music world and I’ve got so much love for the project, and obviously it’s an incredibly hard thing to do particularly as you get very close to everyone you’ve played with.
So yeah, that’s reason number one and reason number two is various band members are all moving to various cities and various countries and it’s like having a long distance relationship, you can’t move anywhere near as quickly when you’ve got everyone in a different city. It just slows down the music creation process, and you know all of the guys are extremely talented musicians who also have wonderful opportunities. The timing just feels right to evolve into a new chapter, a new era, for me and for the guys.
But as I said it’s just so bitter sweet, very very bitter sweet, the band has given me so much and I’ve given so much to the band and you’ve got a lot of people who have a similarly special connection with the band, so like any goodbye to someone or something that you love it’s extremely difficult but it’s for purely positive reasons. It’s also really nice to leave on a high and to end in song, and end smiling, and having no doors slammed and no dramas and just having anyone kind of extremely proud of what we’ve been able to do whilst also hopefully using it as a bit of a launch pad to move on to even bigger things.
Anything else you want to add?
I guess just gratitude, just a thank you to all of the people who’ve come and supported our shows and supported our music and listened, because it’s quite a vital part of the equation, and also everyone who helps us musically or press wise or there’s just an endless number of people who all in their own small ways contribute to you being able to do what it is that you’ve wanted to do your whole life. There’s something very special about that, so I guess yeah gratitude to them all.