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Song You Need to Know: Jim Nothing, ‘Hourglass’

“This song is a very Auckland song for me,” the garage-pop musician says

Jim Nothing

Frances Carter

Music, if you ever had any doubt, is all about different perspectives. (Some modern-day stans would do well to note this.)

When I told Auckland musician Jim Nothing – James Sullivan to his friends – that I really liked his support set for the wonderful Wurld Series at The Wine Cellar a few weeks back, he was a little sheepish. “I was quite ill prepared,” he replied, “but Wurld Series were great as usual.”

The quality of “Hourglass”, his latest single as Jim Nothing, however, is not in doubt.

It’s an infectious garage-pop gem that is probably the most polished song he’s ever released – still Jim Nothing-rough, but less so than his previous DIY offerings. The rhythm is a little more muscular, the backing vocals lend the air a subtle sweetness, and “Hourglass” doesn’t sound like it was just tossed out of the garage an hour ago.

“We tracked initially in The Beths’ K Road studio while they were on tour [in the US],” Jim explains. “It was my first day out of COVID isolation. They’ve got really nice gear and some pretty flash microphones. After the initial tracking the draft mix sounded professional, but it didn’t really sound like a Jim Nothing song yet. It sounded really good, but not in a way I’m used to or totally comfortable with.”

That honesty must be appreciated: always know who you are as a musician. Like Alex G fretting over his sound becoming too refined on God Save the Animals, Jim set about upending the “Hourglass” to make it his again.

“I spent the next few months over winter freezing in my garage recording overdubs and trying to make the song sound like one of my songs. It needed the garage, and layers and layers of feedback.” He’s a garage artist by name and also by nature, working out of his Grey Lynn garage, tinkering with rough demos. If “Hourglass” ended up too polished in the end, it would have been anathema to his artistic spirit.

The song is lyrically concerned with the melancholy of passing time. “Time slips away / And it won’t come back,” Jim sings again and again, a pandemic-adjacent refrain if ever there was one.

And yet “Hourglass” seems in a much bigger rush to get somewhere than Jim’s previous 2024 single, the gently meandering “Easter at the RSC” (featured in Rolling Stone AU/NZ‘s Best New Zealand Music of the Week list at the end of March), and both songs together make for a stirring one-two punch: the latter makes drifting through almost-forgotten pubs, as “old timers try their luck at the TAB,” sound like the best thing in the world, but by “Hourglass”, the long weekend is over, reality returns, and time is an issue again.

Jim is picking up speed at the right time, though, with a new album slated for release later this year. It will come via Melted Ice Cream (New Zealand) and Metitorio (Spain), who also released his excellent 2022 debut album, In the Marigolds. Both “Hourglass” and “Easter at the RSC” will feature on the forthcoming album, as will his 2023 single,  the lively “Raleigh Arena”.

In the accompanying music video for “Hourglass”, shot by Frances Carter (who you can also hear singing in the background of the song), Jim stands stock-still in the middle of a busy Auckland CBD crossing, seemingly oblivious to the people bustling around him.

The same people seem equally unaware of his presence (except for one overzealous person who plants a kiss on his cheek; it’s unclear if this was scripted), which hints at something of Jim’s inherent appeal: he is an everyman, a Grey Lynn garage-occupying musician’s musician quietly doing his own thing in life. It’s what makes many of today’s best indie musicians seem so relatable; it wouldn’t have been surprising to see MJ Lenderman and his Wednesday bandmates sipping cold ones in an Auckland RSC when they were recently in town.

“Frances is an amazing photographer and videographer,” Jim says. “When we talked about making the video it was clear we had a similar thing in mind. [We] wanted it to feel like MTV, Oasis, Avril Lavigne and stuff. I always wanted to do a walking video like Vooms’ “Relax”, something that captured the city, as this song is a very Auckland song for me.

“We shot the video along Queen Street then went to grab slabs in Onehunga. We needed a beach scene and Onehunga Reclaimed Beach was close by. It was low tide and absolutely pissing down. I had a good whisky buzz on, it was perfect.”

Now his new song is out in the world, is he content with how it sounds? “I’m happy with it now, so it’s time to let it go.”

Jim Nothing’s “Hourglass” is out now.