Well-known drummer Caroline Easther has stepped out front with a debut solo album.
Her eclectic CV reads like a best-of of Kiwi indie since the early 1980s. She drummed with Wellington bands The Spines, Beat Rhythm Fashion, Circus Block Four and Let’s Planet. She had a short stint in Dunedin’s Verlaines and a longer one in The Chills, playing on their UK-recorded debut album, Brave Words, before leaving. She’s one of many ex-Chills to appear in the new documentary about the band, The Chills: The Triumph & Tragedy of Martin Phillipps.
Easther’s rhythmic colouring skills have been applied to the music of Warratahs frontman Barry Saunders since he went solo in the mid-90s. After they struck up a friendship over the counter of Wellington’s Slow Boat Records, where she worked, she played on his 1998 album Magnetic South. A tour for the album included Easther’s newborn daughter.
“We’ve got photos of us touring the south with the baby, and Barry’s there with us carrying her. That was when we became very good mates and forged a bond that’s more than music.”
Even now, they chat on the phone several times a week and, although the Remutaka Range separates her Porirua home and his Greytown pad, often catch up for a bite to eat.
So, when it came to finalising her debut solo album, Lucky, it was only natural that an Easther-Saunders duet would work as a closing song. The track is a soft, honest version of the Hank Williams classic I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry, and it was chosen as a favourite from their many live concerts together rather than because it fitted the tone of the album.
“There was some thought about whether it should be there at all, because it’s just so different, but I think it works as a piece of music at the end as a thank-you to Barry for being so supportive of me and my music over the years,” she says.
The rest of the album is designed to focus on Easther’s rich, gentle voice and her lyrics, which are a series of fictional skeletons dressed with personal observations and nods to family. Husband Chris is credited with backing vocals on the touching Find Me.
The exercise has taken more than a decade (a mixture of being a “very, very undisciplined songwriter” and simply finding it “really lovely to have that process going on in the back of my mind”), but that has also led to a relaxed collection of polished indie pop songs.
The colour comes from fellow Let’s Planet-eers Alan Galloway and Murray Costello, Hamish Graham (from folk outfit Hobnail Boots, another band that Easther plays in) and ex-Warratah Alan Norman. There is spacious, generous production from soundtrack composer David Long, formerly with The Mutton Birds.
So, having spent more than a decade writing and recording Lucky, does Easther hanker for more? The answer’s typically modest for someone who’s still nervous about fronting a band rather than holding the beat at the back.
“To be honest, I feel a bit of a fraud in the songwriting business, because I’m not driven to get a message out and I don’t think I’m that good at it. This has been more like a diary I’ve finally put to rest, so I don’t know if there needs to be another one.”
LUCKY, Caroline Easther (self-released)
This article was first published in the May 25, 2019 issue of the New Zealand Listener.