Did you know that most of The Beths studied jazz music at school? Despite their power pop propensity these days, this shouldn’t be too much of a surprise because New Zealand is a country deeply in love with jazz.
A group currently honouring the fine tradition is HUMMUCIDE, a Wellington ensemble who make, according to their own rapidly-changing press release (more on that later), “heavy-jazz.”
And it’s true to say that HUMMUCIDE’s music sounds heavy at times: there are weighty textures at almost every turn, thoughtful jazz patterns furrowing around in search of answers.
After several years of steady growth on New Zealand’s live circuit (it makes a lot of sense that the group were once asked to support renowned English jazz multi-instrumentalist Emma-Jean Thackray on tour), HUMMUCIDE’s vision for their sound came together beautifully on their debut album, Tides, finally released earlier this month.
For a group containing members now spread across the world – London, Amsterdam, Colombia – it was fitting that Tides was a tribute to the forging of their friendships, through music and community, in Aotearoa, a time capsule they can all bask in just as much as any new listener. “(It’s) a tapestry of sounds from a whole community of deep thinking and deeply loving artists,” as the band explain.
As the members of HUMMUCIDE travel the globe after finally realising their debut album together, Rolling Stone AU/NZ thought it was the ideal time to get to know them better. Read our full conversation with Ben and Toby from the group below.
HUMMUCIDE’s Tides is out now.
Rolling Stone AU/NZ: How did music influence you in your early life?
Toby: Listening to music has always fascinated me, and it hasn’t always made sense to me. From an early age, it really engaged my visual imagination, and that’s something I try to bring with me. I didn’t take to playing music instantly – I took many years of guitar lessons before I picked up the saxophone when it clicked for me.
After that, saxophone music took over my life and it’s my personal rabbit hole; the saxophone is a unique instrument historically and sonically, and its limits are still to be discovered (by people other than me).
Ben: My parents always had awesome music playing in the background – Miles Davis, Jeff Buckley, Steely Dan, as well as Kiwi legends like Nathan Haines and Mark de Clive-Lowe. This definitely influenced my taste and sound, and my mum still shows me cool artists before I’ve heard of them! I always gravitated towards the piano – I’m terrible at reading music but always had a good ear, which I developed more through playing jazz in high school.
What artists influenced you growing up?
Toby: As a child, my parents showed me Modest Mouse, The Flaming Lips, and They Might Be Giants. I took a classical music detour in high school and was obsessed with Tchaikovsky and Debussy. Jazz grew on me towards the end of school when I found Kenny Garrett, Sonny Rollins, John Coltrane (obviously), Kneebody, and Jaga Jazzist. Also have to shout out all the Kiwi artists making amazing stuff right now. I listen to a disproportionate amount of music from Aotearoa.
Ben: I had a pretty random sonic palette when I was younger. I thrashed albums by Queen, Michael Jackson, and Justin Timberlake. As I mentioned previously, a huge influence was all the music playing around the house. And later on, I fell in love with the music of artists such as Aaron Parks, Brad Mehldau, Herbie, and Coltrane/McCoy Tyner as well.
Tell us about Tides. What’s the album about?
Toby: Tides is about the ebb and flow of time and life, the coming and going of everything. It’s the biggest collection of work we’ve put out, so it’s also about the band of four best friends (Ben, Hugo, Lennox and Toby) and three other best friends (Zane, Luca and Kat), and celebrating what we’ve achieved in the past five years. It’s amazing to me the amount of original music that we created in that time (it’s all recorded now) and the quality of it all.
For me, the album is about those emotions that we’ve talked about, but the main thing is remembering the long road we’ve been on together, and the many different hurdles we overcame to reach this point. Thanks heaps to Lachlan Ferris (and his mum), James Goldsmith, Will Borza, Ina Rufino, our partners, friends, families, and community for making this happen as well.
Ben: The album ties together a few themes that we’ve been pondering for a while now, as well as being a body of work and collaboration that we’re really proud of. We must have put hundreds of hours into the album at this point, fixating over pretty tiny decisions at points. It’s a pretty special piece of work, and I’m stoked that everyone can finally listen to it.
Has New Zealand had a long history of jazz music?
Toby: Aotearoa has a rich history of jazz music, and it’s a small enough place to have the privilege of knowing the local legends. My saxophone teachers included Colin Hemmingsen, a saxophone hero from back in the day, and Jake Baxendale, one of the most incredible players around. We export so many world-class musicians of all genres, but the musicians who study jazz are particularly strong. Trying to find a voice within the tradition of jazz, the tradition of music from Aotearoa, and the tradition of those together is a challenge, but also an opportunity to add our contribution to those traditions.
Ben: There’s been some incredible jazz musicians from New Zealand! I could keep on going for hours, but there’s the legends Paul Dyne and Roger Sellers, who taught many of the amazing players emerging now. Rodger Fox as well, who has been pushing for jazz in Aotearoa for decades. Nathan Haines, Charmaine Ford, Kirsten McKenzie have all been influences for me too, and now that I’m in the UK it’s been amazing to see first-hand what legends like Myele Manzanza and Ashton Sellars are doing on the world stage!
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What are some other career highlights so far?
Toby: The festival circuit in New Zealand is so much fun – Twisted Frequency, Tora Bombora, Welcome to Nowhere, the usual suspects. Opening for Emma-Jean Thackray was special too. But I feel like I’m always trying to chase that feeling of playing in a tiny, damp house party lounge with my friends all right up in my face. That’s where the band started and that’s where I feel the music is best. Shout out the Ditch Fest homies.
Ben: We’ve been lucky to be treated more like an indie band than a jazz quartet in the Wellington scene. Like Toby said, we love playing at house parties! But festival sets are fun and 121 festival this year was a highlight for me, as well as our bittersweet show at the Rogue and Vagabond before I left New Zealand.
What kind of personality traits and values do you believe it takes to succeed in the music industry?
Toby: Patience, resilience, tolerance, humility, thick skin, energy, communication, honesty, integrity, punctuality and most importantly, the ability to maintain relationships with people.
Ben: All of those! And I think self-awareness and empathy are key, in a band context or in a music industry context. Look after each other, build up your mates!
How would you describe your music to a potential fan?
Toby: Jazz but you wouldn’t hear it in a black and white movie. Cinematic and energetic instrumental heavy-jazz. My usual answer is “please listen to it.”
Ben: Every press release our genre changes slightly. I think we’re sitting on heavy-rock-jazz at the moment!
What are your goals for 2023 and beyond?
Toby: You’re looking at it, baby. This (album) has been my number one goal since we began recording in 2021. Since half the band is overseas at the moment, some of my goals were to play with other local bands such as Distance and Casual Healing, as well as to put on my own jazz show.
Ben: This album was the goal for the longest time, it’s crazy to be at the point where we’re past that post! From here, we’re keen to take a little break to grow as people and write, and then eventually we’ll come back and do something else. I’d love to play some overseas shows too.