When Rolling Stone AU/NZ asks the lead singer of Soaked Oats what he’s most looking forward to about Nest Fest, Oscar Mein offers a wry smile.
“The unknown, I guess. Not knowing what the stage will be, what the crowd will be, or what time we’re playing at,” he says. “We’re excited about not knowing anything really about how it’s going to go. We’ll also be playing a lot of new music, which is always a joy.”
Soaked Oats came together in Dunedin after Mein wrote a handful of songs about stone fruit. Riding the crest of the surf rock/indie wave that brought bands such as Marlin’s Dreaming, Mild Orange, and Hot Donnas ashore, Soaked Oats began at a pivotal time for DIY music in Dunedin. But according to Mein, it was nothing special as far as an era goes.
“I’d be surprised if anyone’s ever cognisant of that sort of thing. Not that this was a particularly great era of music, [but] I think it was a special time as far as openness to…” he stops, gathering his thoughts. “Oh, there’s so much in there.
“There’s something about Dunedin and the South. I’d say Christchurch is the same, where there’s a mentality of just trying things. There’s no real kind of cultural or social barriers to entry. Everyone’s just trying something, and you feel a lot freer to try.”
Mein lived in Wellington before starting Soaked Oats further South, but he doesn’t think he would have been able to start a band in the capital because of the stature of the music scene at the time.
“It wasn’t that anyone was intentionally gatekeeping or anything, you just got the sense that there was esteem to the scene,” he insists. “Whereas in Dunedin, and like Christchurch, anything goes really, and when you meet bands that you admire – and there’s a lot of incredible musicians in Dunedin – they’ll just shrug their shoulders and just kind of go like, ‘Yeah, I don’t know, we’re just doing the thing.’ Like, ‘Figure it out yourself,’ which is hugely, hugely freeing.”
Inspired by a summer selling roadside stone fruit, Mein sparked his music career by gathering friends Henry Francis, Max Holmes, and Tom and Connor Feehly for lo-fi recordings put together in the depths of student flat-dom. It was the first time he’d sung into a microphone, his first time recording, and his first time writing songs.
The first EP, aptly named Stone Fruit Melodies, was released in 2017, reminiscent of summer days and, according to Mein, “weird phrases” he heard on the road. The EP was distributed as demos between friends and connections, never quite becoming an official release, but it caught the attention of many. They were asked to play a show, so they formed a band to seal the deal.
Since then, Soaked Oats have released three EPs and a debut album, Working Title, which was released last year. During the pandemic, the four band members matured their sound and songwriting, and the result was a thoughtfully introspective record. Inspired by a dream Mein had with an outstretched hand and a real-life conversation with a dying man, Working Title captured key events that he “couldn’t quite shake.”
“Albums are just these fucking beasts that just like consume your life. Everything falls into them, all of your experience falls into them. It’s a beautiful thing, but it’s also a hard thing because you just get lost in trying to uncover what it’s trying to tell you,” he says.
Growing from dive bars to festivals to tours overseas, Soaked Oats will be perform at Nest Fest this January. The two-day Hawke’s Bay festival will be hosting a massive celebration of indie and DJ acts, with much of the lineup drawing on emerging and established local talent.
Promising to play old favourites alongside new material from Working Title, Soaked Oats will also be teasing unreleased songs from their next album. “[Our] tour in March will be like a first little proper insight into the record, [but] we’ll be playing some of those songs [at the festival],” Mein reveals.
Written during a residency at Onekaka’s Mussel Inn, the band’s next album explores Mein’s insight on how New Zealanders are raised on media, stories, and ideas from another country such as the US. “The stories that I had consumed and the myth that I’d consumed of America, particularly in music… it was a big unburdening,” he admits.
All record-making has a therapeutic element, Mein adds, and the process of writing their forthcoming album has turned out to be especially collective.
How that will sound, Mein does not disclose, but expect it to continue the evolution and maturation of Soaked Oats.