“I’m a cross between a hippie and an anti-hippie” Kishore Ryan/Hexham

Hexham just released their incredible new record, Close and Leaving, through Two Bright Lakes offshoot, Little Lake Records. I had a chat with drummer, Kishore Ryan, ahead of their album launch tonight in Melbourne.

Are you able to tell us a little bit about your new project Hexham?

Hexham is a collaborative project with my dad, Max Ryan, and two of my friends, Samaan Fieck and Peter Emptage. Max has published two collections of poetry Rainswayed Night and Before the Sky. Sometimes we use his poetry as a starting point to write songs and sometimes, more so on our latest album ‘Close and Leaving’, Max’s words are written during rehearsals or directly after rehearsals. 

The members of this band previously worked under the name Max Ryan & Where Were You At Lunch, what prompted the change of name?

Where Were You At Lunch was an instrumental band before we started making music with my dad so when we made an album with him we just added Max Ryan to the start of the name. That album, the first we did with Max, was called ‘Before We Lose Each Other Again’ and was thrown together quite quickly. We had two or three rehearsals then went into the studio. A lot of the music was improvised to Max’s words. It was very easy and exciting. It just worked somehow. Since we released that we’ve had a lot of rehearsals and we developed a writing process which has become a bit more focused on form and ‘songs’ (even though there are still a couple of spoken word pieces on the new record). By ‘songs’ I basically mean the words were written to be sung. We felt like it was time to have a new name so it sounded less like a spoken word project with musical accompaniment and more like a normal band. Although I guess we’re not that normal. 

The new record, ‘Close and Leaving’, was recorded in Mullumbimby, New South Wales. What made you record in this region? How did it influence the recording process?

Samaan and I grew up in that area and my dad still lives there. We recorded in the music room at Shearwater Steiner School. It’s the school that Samaan and I did year 11 and 12 in and Samaan’s mum and step-dad have taught at for many years. We recorded in the winter during the school holidays. I thought no one was around but I found out later that a teacher who was working in the library heard us recording every day and thought we were a slightly better than average high school rock band. We decided to record in Mullumbimby for a couple of reasons. It was easier for Max because he has a physical disability from a car accident he was in about 50 years ago so it’s harder for him to travel. But also, we all love going up there and visiting my dad as well as Samaan’s mum and step-dad and we wanted to combine recording the album with having a holiday. We usually started recording around 11am, which gave Nick Huggins, who produced the album, a chance to surf for a few hours in the morning.

A part of me is reluctant to talk about the influence of that area on the recording process. Mullumbimby is close to Byron Bay and is part of the Byron Shire, an area which is known as being very alternative. I grew up there and as a result I’m a cross between a hippie and an anti-hippie. 

I definitely believe in the importance of place. There’s a Chinese folk belief that relates to Taoism called Tudigong. It’s a belief that every place has its own spirit, which I really like. Some people might think I’m a hippie talking about spiritual things and I am a hippie in certain ways. But at the same time I feel like hippie culture often takes ancient belief systems from China or India or wherever and turns them into clichés. Its hard for me to hear the word chakra and appreciate its original meaning. As a child hearing adults talking about each other’s chakras and witnessing a disproportionately large amount of djembe circles I developed a dislike of the hippie aesthetic. It’s hard for me to hear the word chakra and not associate it with dreadlocks and fisherman’s pants and white people playing reggae on acoustic guitars and djembes. When I visit Byron Bay people can tell I’m from Melbourne because all my clothes are black. Maybe because we weren’t allowed to wear black at the Steiner School.  So I’ve rebelled in a way but in the end I guess I’ve just turned into a different kind of cliché. But I’d prefer to be a Melbourne cliché than a Byron Bay cliché. When I have kids they’ll probably rebel by wearing fisherman’s pants and growing dreadlocks and moving to Byron Bay. 

Having said all that there are things about Byron Bay that I love. There are hundreds of amazing musicians who live in that area. Greg Sheehan, for example, is one of the best drummers in Australia and is also unquestionably a hippie. He’s a beautiful human and extremely generous teacher. When he used to teach me drums, we’d meet on the beach and we would play for an hour or so. Sometimes we’d use sticks we found as drumsticks. It was great. Dave Sanders (not a hippie) is another incredible musician from Byron Bay. He taught me drums from ages 12 to 19. I love both those guys. 

Anyway, I’m getting very side-tracked. As you can see I’m a hippie on the inside but I have a strong dislike of the stereotypical aspects of hippie culture. And after all that I didn’t answer your question. You asked if recording in Mullumbimby influenced the recording process. It’s hard to say. I didn’t notice this when I lived there but after living in Victoria for a while and returning I realised that all the trees and plants in that area are extremely luscious and green.  When you drive out of town along Left Bank Road or Main Arm Road it really feels like the trees are growing towards you, like they’re reaching out towards your car. The trees along Coolamon Scenic Drive reach towards each other from both sides of the road. There are sections of the road where they meet in the middle and form a tunnel so that the sky is blocked out completely. It’s hard to say how that kind of stuff influences you, and I’m not going try and relate that to the musical content of our record, but a little bit of Mullumbimby must be in there somewhere. If we developed a Mullumbimby sound the change is subtle. There are definitely no djembes. 

I feel like I have to clarify that there is nothing inherently wrong with a djembe. It just happens to be the most popular instrument for recently divorced people who are having a mid-life crisis and are spending time in the Byron Shire to get in touch with their creative side. And good on them, but please stop practicing in the park.

I’m not sure how Max lives in such a beautiful area and still writes great poetry. There are too many dolphins and rainbows and everyone is too happy. It must be challenging to have something interesting to say when you’re that happy.
But then again too many dolphins and rainbows makes some people angry. There’s a hilarious Parkway Drive video Samaan showed me where they’re playing hardcore music on a beautiful beach in Byron Bay

You’ve been working with Nick Huggins for a long time now, not only on this project, but also in your previous bands Kid Sam and Otouto? What draws you back to working with Nick on all your projects?

Even though I don’t get to see him that often I consider Nick to be one of my best friends. He’s also a very talented producer. He doesn’t doesn’t try to sculpt the music into something it’s not. He just brings out the best in you.

I could imagine the dynamic of working with a parent on a record would be very different to working with friends. Can you talk a little bit about what that experience is like for you?

I’m very lucky to have this connection with my dad and the two albums we’ve recorded with Pete and Samaan are very special to me. Once I record an album and its been mixed I very rarely listen to it again. But I’m sure when I’m older I’ll revisit these albums like an old photo album. I’ll probably feel the same way about albums I’ve recorded with other friends and my cousin Kieran, but the ones with my dad feel particularly special. I appreciate the fact that most people don’t have the opportunity to connect with their parents through music and playing music with my dad is something I don’t take for granted.

I think the fact that my dad is sixty-eight and is making this kind of music is admirable. Then again, our music really isn’t very experimental. It varies a lot from song to song. Some of it is kind of folk or even pop in a way.

We recorded ‘Close and Leaving’ more than a year ago so it’s been great to play the songs again and to be able to this spend time with Samaan, Pete and my dad.

 

Download Close and Leaving through Little Lake Records and come along to Monday Night Mass tonight for the album launch.

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