“It’s about being alive, what it means to be a human, to go through a breakup, to be fucking depressed, to have some gummy psychedelics, to feel isolated… Generally, it’s about the human experience.”
No pressure, then. That’s how Maurice Miller, one-half of New Zealand duo DUAL, describes his band’s new EP, SO ALIVE.
Maurice’s words may sound lofty but maximalism has always suited DUAL: their genre-bending, throw-everything-at-it, amorphous style has won them admirers far and wide, and their wholehearted energy is impossible to ignore, even on record. They want listeners to live in the moment – to feel “so alive” – and cut loose while doing so.
It’s not a surprise, then, when they reveal a mutual admiration of the freeform psychedelia of Tame Impala; the pair’s first high school band – the wonderfully-named Narwal – was actually put together in an attempt to emulate Kevin Parker’s outfit. “It sort of fizzled out when people went off to uni and stuff,” the other member of DUAL, Jamie Pyne, says. “But me and Maurice just kept writing music together without a plan, just for fun, and we got asked to play at a house party.”
When Rolling Stone AU/NZ speaks to DUAL over Zoom, only Jamie is still in their hometown of Auckland. Maurice, it turns out, is in Sydney preparing to move to the NSW city. “I just had a lot of change in my life and was like, ‘fuck, I can’t live in New Zealand anymore,” he explains. “And we wanna play shows in Oz too.”
How will this affect such a tightly-knit musical pairing, I ask. “We got pretty good at Zoom sessions during lockdown,” Jamie says slyly. And as both are keen to point out, DUAL actually boasts more listeners in Australia than in their home country. What could be the reason for this?
“Well, obviously there’s more people,” is Maurice’s initially succinct answer. “A lot of my favourite bands are from Australia, not from New Zealand, and there’s just a bigger scene here.”
Check out the music video (filmed at Brick Bay) for “Lights Out”:
Back to that Auckland house party: it was before that event that Jamie and Maurice hastily learned to play as just a duo, having spent their high school years in much larger bands. “We kind of pulled it together and got lots of good feedback, so we just kept going from there,” Jamie recalls. Maurice, though, doesn’t know how the feedback was so good, insisting their performance at the time went “terribly.”
Several years after that house party, Jamie feels like everything really came together on their new EP. “We’ve definitely found our groove in terms of writing,” he insists. “We’ve been working together for so long now, we just feel like we’re hopefully progressing.”
Unlike some other guitar-vocal duos, they prefer working on everything together. “It’s just us jamming in a room, guitar and vocals, working out chord structures and melodies,” Jamie continues. “We both handle the songwriting, bring it all together, and take it to a producer to refine it more.”
The major thing you notice about SO ALIVE is how restless the songs feel; DUAL have always been committed to shifting between genres, but it feels especially pronounced on their latest work.
“We write a lot of different music and we’ve always sort of questioned ourselves in that respect,” Maurice says. “We’re like, ‘oh, we can’t release that because it doesn’t sound like us,’ but at the end of the day, it’s me singing and Jamie playing guitar on every track. It is us, we’ve kind of just accepted that and moved on. But yeah, it is quite different – if you go from, say, “Gummy Bear” to “We Are the People”, they’re totally different songs.”
Jamie agrees. “We don’t want to conform to a genre but when you come up with a crazy idea, you’re like, ‘oh, it’s too far out.’ But nowadays anything goes. We write to what the song wants to be instead of coming up with a thing and saying this has to be more EDM or something.”
Like Kevin Parker’s approach, I add. “Yeah, which you can do now because everyone can record anything on their laptop,” Jamie replies.
And also like Parker, production seems to come before lyricism for DUAL. “I work on melody first,” Maurice says. “So Jamie will often be in the same room or he’ll send me a riff or whatever, and then I’ll just scat a melody and words will come. It won’t be until after the song is finished I’ll be like, ‘this song is actually about this.’ I never start with lyrics. I might have a few words or names of things that I’ve got saved, but generally it’s melody first and the melody will determine the emotion or feeling.”
Away from Tame Impala, they cite early ‘90s British bands like Primal Scream, Stone Roses, and Happy Mondays as inspirations, and there’s something of the latter’s swagger and stomp in DUAL’s rousing EP closer “We Are the People”. Kiwi artists aren’t missed out entirely, though, with both admitting to being huge fans of Unknown Mortal Orchestra (“I’ve had it on repeat on the train in Sydney,” Maurice exclaims).
Recorded during lockdowns, Jamie feels that SO ALIVE may be more introspective as a result of those suffocating times. “People have always interpreted our stuff to be quite positive,” he reveals. “Some of the content is a little bit sadder lyrically, but we’ve always gravitated towards major sounding chords and stuff.” He has the perfect song in mind to describe this dichotomy: “like “Hey Ya!” by OutKast.”
“We are the people / Let’s come together / Get connected / You’re not alone,” Maurice belts in the aforementioned “We Are the People”. That communal sentiment runs right through the EP, and probably explains why they both think of DUAL as a live band first and foremost.
“That’s where we’ve got our roots,” Jamie says. “There’s just two of us, so we were writing songs and playing small little clubs and stuff and getting the energy from the crowd. If there was a section of a song where everybody started talking or losing interest, then we’d go back and rewrite the song. In our early days, we were writing to make everything really exciting and captivating.”
They’re now looking forward to their hometown release show at Big Fan on Saturday, April 29th, and the pair have invited a full band to perform with them, including a bassist and a drummer, which “brings the whole thing to life and fills up the stage.”
Even though SO ALIVE has only been out for a handful of weeks, DUAL already have their sights set on a full album. “We’ve definitely got enough songs,” Maurice insists. “Still not sure of what sort of direction we’ll go in. We’ve always wanted to do an album. We might just go away for a month or two, book somewhere by the sea or the countryside, and just work on it like that.”
Jamie is a little bit more hesitant, though. “We always end up being perfectionists with the songs that we actually want to put out.”
DUAL’s SO ALIVE EP is out now via Warner Music Australia. Tickets to their Tamaki Makaurau release show are available here.