May is New Zealand Music Month – New Zealand’s annual celebration of homegrown music and the people who make it. In each edition for the month of May, the Oamaru Mail wants to showcase and celebrate local talent and all those who contribute to the music scene in North Otago. To kick it all off, Rebecca Ryan talks to Oamaru band The Trendees.
The Trendees know their original music isn’t everyone’s “cup of tea”.
But the “weird pop kings” of Oamaru, Matt Plunkett, Eden Bradfield and Austen McMillan, love what they do – and until it stops being fun, they will continue to do it.
“For us, it’s just everything and it’s supposed to be exciting and fun and enjoyable for people,” Plunkett said.
The Oamaru band formed about four years ago, starting with Plunkett and Bradfield and a few “awful” experiments with covers.
“Eden was the only person I knew that even vaguely liked any of the kind of music I liked,” Plunkett said.
They had thrown around the idea of forming a band, but never thought it would work.
But one day something clicked and they recorded an album.
“It was kind of organic and pretty low key and really lo-fi – and there was no drums so it was pretty wild,” Bradfield said.
Then, McMillan showed up on the drums and it grew from there.
They play pop songs with the unshackled, wild spirit of early rock and roll and punk, and practise a “DIY ethos as well as trying to save humankind from its worst idiocies”.
“Most people when they listen to the band, it might not be their idea of pop, but in our minds it is,” Plunkett said.
“The songs are supposed to be short, reasonably catchy and fun, basically.”
For a long time, they struggled to get gigs.
“We were just a band from Oamaru and no-one gave a s…,” Plunkett said.
Then, in what felt like a final session in Plunkett’s lounge, they recorded We Are Sonic Art
Inspired by indifference, small towns and cold winds, the song was uploaded to Bandcamp and it seemed to resonate with people, mostly those who lived in cities and other countries.
“All of a sudden it got a momentum,” Plunkett said.
“Elijah Wood tweeted about it, we got an article about us in Viceand things just started happening.
“It’s been really weird, and kind of fun and exciting.”
Since then, they have played gigs in Australia and in all of New Zealand’s main cities, sold records around the world and had their music played on international radio stations and podcasts.
But until recently, they had very rarely played in their hometown.
Like We Are Sonic Art, many of their other songs are inspired by things that happen in Oamaru and the mundane ephemera of the every day.
“We are definitely an Oamaru band, even though .. it took a long time for us to get any love from Oamaru,” Plunkett said.
Plunkett moved to Oamaru with his family 13 years ago, escaping Auckland’s rat race, and is an English teacher at Waitaki Boys’ High School.
The Trendees lead singer and songwriter said music had always been part of his life.
“I was that geeky guy at school who would make mix tapes with people,” he said.
McMillan is another Auckland expat. A builder by trade, he moved to Oamaru in 2002 and has never looked back. As well as The Trendees, he also plays in Johnny and the Cashtones and the Saggy Britches Band.
“I like a good spread of music . I just love the people you meet through it.”
He plays the piano and guitar, but feels most comfortable behind the drums.
“It’s a good place to be.
“I love the crowd – I love watching the crowd from the drum kit.”
Bradfield grew up in Oamaru and trained as a classical violinist. He is married to McMillan’s daughter Frances.
“I feel like it’s almost dangerous to say you’re a classical violinist because people immediately make a set of assumptions about you,” he said.
He considers his guitar work for The Trendees a “sensible response”.
“A lot of western art music is really rhythmically based,” he said.
“There’s always an underlying rhythm and I think what we do in The Trendees is really short, rhythmic based.”
Playing only original music came with its challenges in Oamaru, but whether the Trendees were practising or playing a gig, they always gave it 500%.
They hoped to encourage more of Oamaru’s “amazing” musicians to experiment with originals.
“I think people have this idea that they’ve got to be like Ed Sheeran every time they get up there,” Plunkett said.
“I think people should just get up there and express themselves.
“There are so many things to be angry about and happy about and joyful about – amazing things in life. Take what’s around you and make it something.”