Pressing record on my Dictaphone, I confess to my interviewee that I have never learnt shorthand, and so record all of my interviews so that I can quote people correctly. He chuckles.“Ah yes, we’ve been misquoted through the years… sometimes it’s alright though, because myths are made out of them.” I respond: “So it’s ok if I quote you as saying something outlandish.” Paul Kean laughs down the phone and says cheekily “But we are outlandish-you could put that in couldn’t you? The outlandish Bats?”
In a way, he wasn’t far off with his descriptor. Over the last thirty years, The Bats have gained a mythical status in New Zealand music, thanks to their off kilter, darkly danceable songs, as well as their affiliation to Flying Nun Records and Dunedin Sound. Perhaps in an idiosyncratically ‘Kiwi’ fashion, Kean downplays the obvious successes of The Bats throughout our interview. But they have long been the quiet achievers of New Zealand music, having toured with Radiohead, and amassed solid fanbases in both the United States and Europe, while their albums have garnered critical acclaim from the likes of Mojo, and Uncut music magazines- as well as landing a Billboard magazine cover. This is on top of charting in France and having an NME single of the week. All of this has been achieved with the same four members from their first performance in Dunedin on New Year’s Eve in 1982- Paul Kean (bass), Malcom Grant (drums), Robert Scott (vocals), and Kaye Woodward (lead guitar).
The Bats will be performing as part of The Others Way festival which will be tucked away in various nooks and crannies down Auckland’s perpetually colourful Karangahape Road. The line-up is an eclectic assortment of established and emerging New Zealand musicians. “It’s a great concept for a festival, and [its] heart-warming to see that the live music scene is alive and kicking again with some great young acts” Kean enthuses. “It’s almost going through a renaissance at the moment. For a while there was a dull period, where artists would just mimic what they heard overseas, but there is a ‘Kiwi’ sound to this new wave of artists that is nice to hear. It’s broad [in terms of genre] but people aren’t afraid of being or sounding like New Zealanders anymore” muses Kean.
It is with mock horror that Kean realised that many of those who used to go to The Bats gigs during O-week in the 1980s have “spawned” and have perhaps been discovering their parent’s music collection. Flying Nun is best known for its lo fi jangle during the 1980s, and The Bats were known, by Kean’s own admission as “the bouncy, poppy frivolous band.” But really, both the label and the band are more diverse than history gives them credit for. Reflecting on his band’s dreamily disconsolate sound, Kean notes that “there has certainly been a darker side to us throughout our career. When we were younger, we all listened to a wide range of music. We imported a lot of stuff, and we are all fans of pop music- both left of centre, avant garde as well as straight up pop music. We put it in a blender and we represent ourselves. We’re not really following any trends, and people say that we still sound the same as when we started. But maybe that’s because we have our own sound and that works for us and we don’t want to move away into territory that doesn’t feel natural for us.”
With 8 albums to their name thus far, it is territory that holds them in good stead. Three classics from their back catalogue have been recently reissued-Compiletely Bats, Daddy’s Highway and The Law of Things. Kean remastered much of it himself, tweaking and“embellishing them” so that they now sound “the way they were supposed to sound” all those years ago. Their performance on September 4th will feature a mixture of their back catalogue, and will also debut some new songs. “We’ve recorded an album’s worth of songs and are just in the mixing stage at the moment” says Kean. “Musically, it almost sounds like an extension of [2011’s critically acclaimed] Free All the Monsters.”
Reading through the glut of scintillating artists performing at The Others Way festival, I ask Keane why punters should come and see The Bats. “Because it will be a life-changing experience if people haven’t seen us perform live” he deadpans before bursting into peals of laughter. “No, no….if people have a preconceived idea of who we are…they will be surprised.”This writer for one is looking forward to it.
This was first published in Rip It Up magazine on September 3rd 2015.