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October 10, 2011 | by  | in Arts Music | [ssba]

John the Baptist – The Great Mountain Haul

John the Baptist first burst onto the Wellington scene in a glory stomp of unrivalled revelry back in 2009. Having decided to start a band ‘before having even jammed together,’ they took to the live scene like a fat kid to cake: without caution or fear for life or limb.

This year they took a step back from the limelight and have produced a record that, while still being everything we’ve come to expect from John the Baptist, might actually be just that little bit more. Shaun Blackwell, the band’s singer and guitarist, shared with me a cup of coffee, his thoughts on British and American comedy, the pros and cons of the RWC, and the process behind the making of John the Baptist’s latest offering, The Great Mountain Haul.

“We put a lot more time into this one, compared with the first one. The last EP was a snapshot of the band’s beginnings. It took only about three hours to record. For The Great Mountain Haul we spent a bit more time in the studio, even though we did most of it live, there’s still a few overdubs and stuff.”

The sense of a slightly more deliberate sound and overall consciousness of what they are trying to achieve is obvious. There is a sense of sophistication in the songwriting that has developed too. While it’s still energetic and firmly founded in the folk and country tradition, there’s a focus on the songs themselves, with little intricacies and complexities that may not be so prevalent in the earlier recordings.
“Yeah this one, for want of a better word, has a bit more thought behind it. We spent a lot more time in the studio. And we went back over the songs, trimmed the fat off them.”
While the songs are stronger and the production and arrangement of them are fuller and more carefully designed, don’t let that trick you into thinking this isn’t the hoedown John the Baptist that can make even the most sullen of suspicious heathens throw their beanies in the air and yell yee-haw! Musically, the songs are often narratives, of drinking, leaving lovers and drinking. The banjo twang and the rollicking snare twitch at your feet like they darting tongue of a venomous frog.

‘Whenever we played we were having heaps of fun, and that’s why we recorded most of the EP live and have the live track on there, to try and capture that energy as much as possible.”

If criticism has been raised against John the Baptist, it’s that they are propped up on old tunes; playing comfortably within genres. Those thinking along these lines probably aren’t going to be forced to change their mind with this record, but then they’re probably the same people who don’t enjoy music per se, but its representational possibilities in a post modern global environment. All of which John the Baptist is having too much fun to care about.

There was one important point that needed to be asked of Shaun though, and I could tell he was getting geared up for it.

If you had to invite three people to dinner, one living, one dead, and a kiwi, who would they be and what would you serve?

Dead: Chet Baker. Before he was addicted to heroin. Yeah he might be a bit more talkative. Yeah and better to look at too, he was quite a handsome man. And his voice? I’d just get him to sing all night. Dead: Miles Davis. I don’t know why I’m choosing all these jazz musicians but I read this article the other day about his explosive wit. And then maybe I’d invite Scribe so Miles and Chet could just take the piss out of him. And, I don’t know, pretty much the only thing I can cook is nachos, so I’d roll with that.


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  1. Rita says:

    You have more ufesul info than the British had colonies pre-WWII.

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