“It is the long history of humankind (and animal kind, too),” Charles Darwin once wrote, “that those who learned to collaborate and improvise most effectively have prevailed.”
Darwin may have had the origin of species in mind when he wrote this, but he might as well have been referring to the collaborative relationship between an indie rock band from New Zealand and a California poet.
After striking up a friendship with Hawkes Bay’s Golden Curtain around the time their debut album came out in 2011, Alex Green and Golden Curtain front man Andrew Mckenzie started collaborating via Skype on a truly transpacific musical endeavor.
The idea to work together came from Mckenzie, who was a fan of Green’s prose poem collection Emergency Anthems. “We had been talking in particular,” Mckenzie recalls, “about stuff that had been rejected by his publisher as being a bit too much. I suggested he send the rejects to me, and I could try to use the material as lyrics.”
Instead of sifting through b-sides, Green decided to write all new material that was intended solely for Golden Curtain’s fourth album. “It was a rush of material that came out,” Alex recalls. “And as soon as I finished one piece, I’d send it over to Andrew and he and the band would do the rest.”
The result is Underwater Gospels, a hook-laden ten-song cycle that brings to mind the indie pop charm of The Clean and the dark swagger of Exile-era ‘Stones. Rounded out by one of the best rhythm sections in the business—drummer Andrew Gladstone (Garageland) and bassist Brad Gamble, Golden Curtain have never sounded more cohesive and vital.
Although the collaborative process was natural and effortless, Alex admits it was also a bit daunting. “Well, it was only daunting in that Golden Curtain had put out three perfect albums and I didn’t want to screw up their streak,” Alex recalls.
Underwater Gospels ’first single is “Amen” a soulful blast of handclaps, nautical basslines and hypnotic percussion. “I had been thinking of a bass that had a bit of distortion on the top end,” Mckenzie says, “and sending that top end into a stereo reverb, which is usually a no-no for the bass. But as we are a three piece, and the bass part is as important as the rest, I made it stand out a little more as a melodic part in all the tracks, taking up a little more of the guitar’s space, giving more drive. The drums and claps needed to be very roomy, so we used the room mics, plus reverb.”
As for how that song came about, Mckenzie recalls: “The lyrics to “Amen” arrived like all the rest, written up on the page like a novel. As per usual, I read it through and identified a meter I could accentuate and use in song form. Every sentence would be re formatted as a new line, so I used the 'Return' button each time, and then it was on to the music. In this case I had to write extra lyrics for the chorus, hence the title. Alex would never write, 'Can I get an Amen?'”
“Well, I might write, May I please have an Amen, kind sir?" Alex says.