Former punk Kody Nielson is heading in a new direction

by James Belfield / 15 December, 2017

Kody Nielson.

But it’s no less entertaining.

Kody Nielson’s just finished a new album – and it’s a little bit of a departure.

Having won last year’s Taite Music Prize with his futuristic alter ego Silicon, been nominated for a 2017 Silver Scroll with partner Bic Runga for Close Your Eyes and then spent much of the year as Runga’s touring drummer, the former Mint Chick and Opossom frontman might have been tempted to stick to his winning formula.

But, instead, his new work continues a theme he started with a lesser-known six-track EP he released under his own name in 2013 called Devils. It draws on his love of analogue synthesisers, electronic music pioneers such as Isao Tomita and Wendy Carlos and classical composers such as Bach, Stravinsky and Debussy.

The album, called Birthday Suite, is all instrumental, promises to be full of psychedelic and jazzy grooves and is made up of tracks inspired by family birthdays, so everyone gets their own “theme song”.

For example, the first track is due out on January 13 to celebrate Bic’s Birthday and there are tracks composed for each of their kids: Joe, who’s 10, four-year-old Sophia and two-year-old Frida.

The other change is Nielson’s decision to take more of a back seat in how he’s going to play his new music live – something that will become apparent to anyone going to watch his support slot at next month’s Auckland Future Islands gig.

Nielson with Bic Runga. Photo/Getty Images

Although booked as Silicon, Nielson plans to test out the new music with himself on drums and samples, his dad Chris on saxophone and trumpet, and former Mint Chicks bandmate Michael Logie on bass. So, why has a performer renowned for wild, athletic stage antics chosen to share a bill with Future Islands’ often-outrageous frontman Samuel T Herring, and decided to calm down?

“I suppose now with this new music I’m trying to get more into the music than the theatrical side,” he says. “I found playing drums in Bic’s [band] was really fun as it takes a lot of physical energy and can be just as exhausting as when I used to do all the running and jumping around – it’s just that now all the energy is going back into the music. It’s good to put all that energy into the actual sound, rather than the performance.”

Another teaser to the new sound will be his annual festive release of a track with his US-based brother Ruban, who fronts Unknown Mortal Orchestra (UMO). The SB series – we’re now up to SB-05 – acts as both a “little prelude and a palate cleanser” for both Nielsons’ tastes. The pair have been working on a new UMO album (including a recording trip to Vietnam), which is due out in 2018.

So, for those who have followed Nielson since his punkish Flying Nun days in the early 2000s, will this new direction scare the horses? “I’m 35 now and I’m just trying to keep making music. That’s not quite the same as being a 21-year-old and being really keen to hit the charts. So, yes, it is a bit different. But no less entertaining.”

Kody Nielson will be supporting Future Islands at the Powerstation on December 16 and will play Splore festival at Tapapakanga Park, Orere Point, from February 23-25.

This article was first published in the November 25, 2017 issue of the New Zealand Listener.

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