CLOUDBOY'S DEMARNIA LLOYD, INTERVIEWED (2001): In the garden of unearthly delights

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CLOUDBOY'S DEMARNIA LLOYD, INTERVIEWED (2001): In the garden of unearthly delights
The image is appealing. Walking in the hills above Wellington is songwriter Demarnia Lloyd, of Cloudboy, whose ethereal and magical music on their Down at the End of the Garden album has won wide acclaim.

It's the kind of place which feeds her imagination and infects Cloudboy's spacious music.

"I walk in the hills all the time. There's a stillness and within that is your Self. It creates a space and, in that, there is room to create. If you are writing from your Self then everything that's happening to you is going to affect you, including your environment and the people you hang out with and whatever situation you are in."

So up there behind Karori, it's a kind of Wordsworth thing then?

"Oh yeah, 'I wandered lonely as a Cloudboy'," she laughs.

Cloudboy's extraordinary debut album has the kind of atmospheric organic beauty that makes it hardly surprising it has been affected by the natural world. Opening with tabla and the drone of sitar, it unfolds steadily through lush and sensitive songs, layers of discreet instrumentation, and memorable songs which quietly infiltrate the subconscious.

It has drawn praise from reviewers across the spectrum who, in their quest for description, have hailed it as everything from psychedelic fantasy, startlingly original avant-pop and something wondrous and sometimes sinister.

Name-checks in reviews include references to Portishead, the Cocteau Twins' Liz Fraser, Suzanne Vega, Goldfrapp, Bjork, Groove Armada and "Mental Notes-era Split Enz filtered through Spiritualised."

R_209668_1157294741But these are only helpful signals. Cloudboy sound like few others - and the surprise is it emerged from Dunedin's brash and obvious band Mink.

"Mink was more poppy and loud and dance, whereas Cloudboy was a bit more introspective. Mink was a collective, Cloudboy is a band. There was definitely a while when Mink and Cloudboy were simultaneously happening but with Cloudboy it was more of a way for me to write my own music. With Mink the songs I did were more of a collaborative thing.

"I felt the songs I was writing wouldn't really fit into Mink and the more songs I wrote, the more Cloudboy became a solid entity, being a smaller and stronger band in the personal line-up. Fundamentally, there is a core of three of us but we love bringing in other people."

That core is Lloyd, Jo Contag and Craig Monk, who are co-credited with the often quite gorgeously understated arrangements. "Jo and Craig and myself all have extensive backgrounds in music and are really into layering and lushness, and we have a lot of musicians we can work with.

215"We can bring in a lot of different people who have skills in instruments we don't, like vibraphone and tabla."

After the demise of Mink two years ago, Lloyd continued to record for the Cloudboy project, which began life modestly in '95 with a seven-song EP. She then relocated to Wellington for the final phase of the album.

It's a city which she says has much in common with Dunedin - there is a supportive arts community and the hills are roughly shaped the same. But it differs in other significant aspects.

"The energy [in Wellington] is a lot faster, which is good because it makes us move faster."

Cloudboy have also become more diverse when presenting their music. As much as the album has won plaudits, so have recent performances in art galleries and theatres, which included film elements, masks and costumes by wearable-art maker Donna Demente, and a large group comprising a jazz rhythm section, orchestral players on flute and violins and a chorus of backup singers.

For tonight's performance at Galatos, financial constraints mean it will be a pared-back presentation but will still feature a film track and a six-piece line-up. "But the music stays the same. The only thing changed is that theatrical element."

Lloyd says the visual presentation came easily as it was an integral part of the creative process.

"The music came first but when I write I'm operating in a lot of realms at the same time, so to pull the visual element in is just a matter of closing my eyes and remembering what was happening when I wrote it and the feeling. It's all just waiting there to be accessed.

"The feedback on individual levels about our performances has just been amazing. People are saying it is beautiful and they can understand the music better. It creates an individual reaction which is different from person to person but quite intense.

"There is so much happening you can access it from so many different places simultaneously. Everyone sees a completely different show."

And this could well be one of the last opportunities to see Cloudboy as they intend heading to Europe in September.

"We're organising bookings now and taking a stripped-back version of the show. Before we go, we're going to send over a remix album to pull some of the tracks into the dance world.

"We're going to be doing gigs but because it will be winter there aren't a lot of music festivals on so it'll be a bit lower key. We've been given a partial grant from Creative New Zealand but we need to come up with quite a bit of money each. So it isn't easy, but you work and save.

"And sell all the old junk you don't want any more."

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