Graham Reid | | 7 min read
New Zealand singer-songwriter Simon Comber seems to have a confident mainline into those places where few others venture: insecurity articulated in small details, astutely observed slice-of-life images which suggest more than they say, and an honesty which is soul-baring and yet guarded at the same time.
He really is someone special and although Elsewhere missed his debut album (Pre-Pill Love of 2006, recorded in Dunedin with Graeme Downes), his second Endearance recorded in Auckland with Dale Cotton was an exceptionally mature work.
And more recently he has released the fine EP The Right to Talk to Strangers which again Elsewhere has embraced and recommends.
Comber is taking his songs on the road through New Zealand (dates below) but here, as expected, he thoughtfully and with wit, answers the Famous Elsewhere Questionnaire.
The first piece of music which really affected you was . . .
On one hand it would be some of the hymns as sung by myself and the other pre-pubescent school children at a catholic primary school mass. Oh the untainted voices, oh the mystery of what went on in the sacristy! Not all the hymns we sang back then still affect me the way Amazing Grace does, so let’s go with that! (I really hope it wasn’t something less transcendent like “All Things Bright and Beautiful”). On the other hand it would be the odd song that stuck out in my parents’ record collection. They listened to Abba, Bread, Neil Diamond and Nana Mouskouri. Those were the days my friend.
Your first (possibly embarrassing) role
models in music were . . .
That’s a 3-way tie between the music videos for early 80’s Bon Jovi, same-era vids for Dire Straits, and Tom Cruise’s slick cocktail pouring moves in (duh) the movie Cocktail. Let me explain: The Cocktail soundtrack was one of the first cassettes I bought and I remember playing air guitar to the opening song on the album, Starship’s ‘Wild Again.’ Without having seen any footage of them perform, the only cues I had in my mind regarding the performance mojo that got the girl was Cruise tossing a cocktail shaker in the air. Who would’ve thought he would in later years become my religious role model too?
Lennon or Jagger, Ramones or Nirvana,
Madonna or Gaga, Jacko or Jay-Z?
Lennon, Ramones, Haunted Love, Jacko
If music was denied you, your other
career choice would be . . .
Well I probably have as many literary heroes as musical ones. In fact this year I have read far more than I have listened. Writing seems kind of the ultimate to me. Finishing a novel seems like a humungous endeavour though, in a whole other ballpark as far as sheer discipline and the isolation needed to get anything done. I would love to try getting words to survive on the bare page without musical accompaniment in another lifetime (though the thought of trying to do so terrifies me.)
The three songs (yours, or by others)
you would love everyone to hear are . .
G. Frenzy- Kids Sleep in the Car (which is why I recorded a cover of it on my new E.P); John Vanderslice – Keep the Dream Alive, Judee Sill – Dreams Come True
Any interesting, valuable or just plain
strange musical memorabilia at home?
A very slim book of poetry co-written by Patti Smith and Tom Verlaine entitled ‘The Night.’ They take turns writing alternate stanzas, Smith the odd, Verlaine the even. It took me a while to appreciate it for what it was: a series of stanzas of no fixed length, through which flows the blood of Rimbaud and Dylan (particularly the liner notes to his mid 60’s albums.) NYC’s very own delusion of the senses! (p.s – not as good as Rimbaud).
The best book on music or musicians you
have read is . . .
‘White Bicycles – Making Music in the 1960’s’ by Joe Boyd. So just so I’ve got this straight Joe, not only were you at the Newport Folk Festival when Dylan went electric, but you were also in Britain at the right time to help make the most vital records of the British folk revival (even though you were a YANK!)? Yep – Boyd is one hell of a dude. This book is absolutely chock full of inspiring stories and amazing anecdotes, and it’s also a timely reminder to someone like myself that musicians and songwriters are rarely (if ever) the only people responsible for great records finally getting made.
If you could get on stage with anyone
it would be . . . (And you would play?)
Leonard Cohen of course! He is so polite and humble on stage and kneels before everyone when they play solos. I think it would be rather life-affirming to play a Mazzy Star-by-numbers blues harp solo (of which I would be capable) during ‘Hallelujah,’ as The Man Himself knelt down before me in total deference to my meagre contribution.
The three films you'd insist anybody
watch because they might understand you better are . . .
Nosferatu by Murnau, (snigger); Naked by Mike Leigh (snort! Hamlet complex much?); Adaptation by Spike Jonze (awkward silence).
The last CD or vinyl album you bought
was . . . (And your most recent downloads include . . .)
My last purchase was The Great Santa Barbara Oil Slick by John Fahey. It is a great concert recording of Fahey at the peak of his playing powers, and he also gets applause for blowing his nose ‘on mic’ at one point. I didn’t realise it was recorded live in San Francisco till I got back to NZ (after a month in the States) and had a proper read of the liner notes, which made it a nice coincidence that I’d found it second hand at Amoeba Records in San Fran. You don’t get to geek out on silly little coincidences like this when you DOWNLOAD FILES! Is this the right time to mention that if you prefer files, you can name your price to download my new e.p on bandcamp?
One song, royalties for life, never
have to work again. The song by anyone, yourself included, which
wouldn't embarrass you in that case would be . . .
Everybody’s Talkin’ – Fred Neil . Neil dodged the overexposure normally associated with having a hit on account of Harry Nilsson’s cover being the version that got big. By all accounts Neil retired from the music industry an album or 2 later, moved to the Florida Keys (taking his millions with him), and co-founded The Dolphin Project in the interests of looking after his favourite mammal. Smart man was Neil. Oh, and the song is good too.
David Bowie sang, “Five years, that's
all we've got . . .” You would spend them where, doing . . .?
In the Florida Keys, campaigning for the safety of dolphins, worshipping no idol, (except the patron saint of dolphins) answering to no man (only dolphins), playing no shows (except fundraisers for The Dolphin Project.)
The poster, album cover or piece of art
could you live with on your bedroom forever would be . . .
There is a great old-school print shop on Broadway in Nashville called Hatch Show Print. They used to make concert posters for country stars like Johnny Cash and Hank Williams, which you can buy replica prints of. Many of these I could “live with” in my bedroom. They also have a great “It’s better- Pure Coffee” print which I bought home (along with the Hank poster) after my first visit there a few months ago. I like coffee.
You are allowed just one tattoo, and it
is of . . .
The following slogan: “It’s better – Pure Coffee.” (in my favourite font: “New Roman Prison Tattoo”)
And finally, in the nature of press
conferences in Japan, “Can you tell me please why this is your best
Hi Japan. My new release is a 5-track E.P. It is my best album ever because it is a mere E.P and you are more likely to listen all the way to the end. It is also the best due to having the least outside influence, my own superior sense of what is needed having only been diluted by my good friend and musical renaissance man Thomas Healy. I am doing EVERYTHING next time . . . (just kidding Tom!) But can I just say Japan, you should also check out my last L.P Endearance. It is also quite the best.
SIMON COMBER TOUR DATES
Wed Sep 14 - Auckland, Tabac w/ Steve Abel and She's So Rad
Thu Sep 15 - Taupo, The Bay Bar and Brasserie w/ Kneegrazer
Fri Sep 16 - Wanganui, Space Monster w/The Blue Onesies
Sat Sep 17 - Wellington, Meow w/ The Blue Onesies and French for
Thu Sep 22 - Christchurch, The Brewery w/ Nadia Reid, Uncle Scrim and Terror
at Ten Thousand Feet
Sun Sep 25 - Dunedin, Taste Merchants - 36 Stuart St. w/ Michael Steven
Comber will also be supporting Haunted
Love for their album release in Dunedin:
Fri Sep 23 - Dunedin, Dunedin Public Art Gallery