Salient. Official Newspaper of Victoria University Students Association. Volume 40, Number 3. March 14, 1977.
Whitewash from the Antipodes Split Enz
A 10am press conference for Split Enz, New Zealand's most successful and, some might argue, most cerebral pop import to date — and the only liquid in sight is coffee. In the street one of the two limosines scrunches a fender into the road surface as it turns into the reception area. The black and white striped tracksuits amble from their cars and file into the lift, visibly unsettling a visiting Ohio farmer. He's 8000 miles from home, in town for a meat conference, and looks it. He staggers against the wall as a cruel taunt about mental paraplegia stabs home in answer to the query: "Waal, boys, are you in a team?"
The doors part, and Phil Judd and Tim Finn shuffle in. Judd's responsible for two thirds of the Split Enz music, sharing writing time with Finn, the vocalist and stage focal point. Judd's stage presence is somewhat more restrained — his understated guitar figures supply all that needs to be said. Up another floor and we're in the room where the conference is to be held. Judd is reputedly intense but introverted and reticent, and that's easy on the peppers. He's taciturn to the point of dyslexia, and talking with him is almost as difficult as an attempt to pound Gibraltar to smithereens with a rubber gavel.
Would you say that the band has a cogent musical persona?
Phil: Just being a good band. That's all there is to it.
We've heard from various sources that Split Enz — because of their precarious financial situation — were planning to call it quits in another nine or ten months?
Phil: Well, I've got no comment. None. Lot of bullshit from one way or another if you ask me. It just shocks me.
Phil: Yeah, we're a family. We always be a family and continue playing until we decide to retire.
Are you working on material for the new album at the moment?
Phil: No, we've got most of the material, but we've only had a week and that was just last week to learn a couple of new numbers. We've got the rest of the album, anyway. That's the only rehearsal time to do new material that we've had for nine months.
How did the second album ... I understand it was released as Mental Notes in England ... the Second Thoughts pressed in New Zealand ... as a matter of fact did it go down very well?
Phil: In England, urn ... the sales haven't been that good (that they've stabilised at about 8000 and might yet reach 10,000 appears to be the consensus of opinion among the band and record company people) but sales in general over there haven't been that good in the last year for anybody, except regular big bands. We've been very good for the number of people that have seen us. We've been very good. Equipment. Keeping us alive in England ... airfares, and all that stuff. It's amazing how much it has cost.
The new album will make or break you, I suppose?
Phil: Well, if we're really successful for the next two years we'll probably be out of debt by the end of then, put it that way.
What does the contract with Chrysalis entail?
Phil: Two albums a year, four years. They've got a good office over there in the States now. They're on a real buzz at the moment because our sales are doing so well again. Yes, it is. Those things are. It's like Mushroom did to Skyhooks, you know, Mushroom made their fortune out of Skyhooks, but it's good for us because they can afford to pour a lot of the money into us. That's part of the real crunch. Getting a good company. And a company that's prepared to spend money on you, because if you don't have that then you'll never have it. Especially in the 70s. It's going to get worse and worse as time goes on. Your bands.
Do you think that the perspective of the band has altered since you've been over in England?
Phil: What? Musically, you mean? Or just all together?
Ah, in its attitudes and in its music?
Phil: I think now we all realise where the band is heading, and what the band is, whereas before it was a little confusing as to what was going to happen and what we're doing but now we know where to aim!
Phil: I'm talking about musically. We'll sort of find out. Split over to the States, return to England and record the next album, too.
What equipment do you use?
Phil: Guitar wise I've got a Gibson SG Standard. Ah, a white Fender Strat and an Ibanez. Just a cheap Japanese Ibanez which I love anyway I use a Vox and an H.H. amp. Various paraphernalia.
Would you say that Split Enz has a cogent Musical persona?
Tim: Would I say that we did have?
Many have this concept of the group as deranged weirdos.
Tim: No, we don't. We consider ourselves as being quite a sensible people. There's bit of us in everybody. The side of us that people see on stage is no less a part than the sensible part we are, you know, offstage. I think it's all just part of the same make up.
What about future evolution? Do you think you are going to get rockier?
Tim: We don't really anticipate ourselves, you know where we're going and that's the honest truth. Two years from now, who knows? Musically, we're sort of moving in a few new directions at the moment, a few of the new songs are really meaty and incredibly solid. Almost heavy. I think people will get a surprise to hear a couple of the new tracks played on stage, but they're good to play, and they're good songs, I think. So there's one direction, but it's directions rather than direction, I think.
How do you think you'll go in the States? Will you be appearing by yourself or will you be supportive? Also, do you envisage any problems with American audiences who are notoriously harder to get through to than the English?
Time: We'll be doing clubs like the Roxy in Los Angeles and the Bottom Line in New York. Clubs equivalent to that... and in other places as well. Some of them will be top of the Bill and some will be in a support situation. I don't know about generalisations about audiences. You always make them and people make them ... I make them myself, I suppose, but I don't know ... people are people whatever they eat for breakfast and I think we entertain people. It's good being on the road, but it's different from recording end everything. It's pretty absorbing ... you don't get any spare time much.
Could you tell us about the recording sessions for Mental Notes?
Tim: Yeah, Second Thoughs, They were good, intense but relaxed sessions and Phil (Manzanero) was good in that, like — for me personally — vocais. Sometimes, when you're doing vocals you can dry up, lose confidence just momentarily and he had just the right words ... he knew what to say to keep things rolling. He's a musician that we admire and respect, so having him and knowing and believing what we were doing gave us a lot more confidence.
In England you have attracted an ecstatic reception from the English music press, but how well has the album itself gone?
Tim: Well, it's a funny thing actually because particularly with us but with most bands anyway the audiences have separated themselves it seems into a concert audience and a record buying audience. And a lot of people will go and see a band and get off on them but won't necessarily run out and buy the album. So we had great concerts and the album sold really well in some areas, but not in others. You can't ... there's no reason for it. It's hard to explain why it happens like that.
Well, you had — before you went to England — what might be termed as an high energy act? Apparently, this has also relaxed. Is there a specific reason for this?
Tim: Relaxed in that we're just more confident now and you know, we're still pretty intense. Just more controlled now and less indulgent, perhaps. We're more aware of an audience now than we were.