Monday, December 2

interview: adrian ng (mavis gary; trick mammoth)

Photo by Daniel Blackball

Dunedin's sonic and visual research bureau, The Attic, have had an exciting year. Last month, The Attic released the debut album for Adrian Ng's solo project, titled "Mavis Gary". In a short time frame, Mavis Gary has sparked interest from both local and national music communities. I sent Adrian a few questions in an attempt to demystify the dark enigma that is Mavis Gary and to understand how Adrian separates this solo project from the music he creates for the flowery pop band, Trick Mammoth.


What were you doing just before you read this?

I was watching basketball and eating toast. This is what life has done to me, this is what I have become - an all day toast eater. Also, I was supposed to be doing some Trick Mammoth demos. We have a session booked just before Millie [Lovelock] leaves for Canada for half of next year. I'm kind of slacking off as it has been a busy few days. But yes, I need to flesh out some songs. 

How did your music project, Mavis Gary, begin?

I wanted a low key outlet to release my home recordings, I also wanted to do a release with The Attic. But Mavis Gary has grown into something else all together. Daniel Blackball helped me create this weird persona for the project. He's done an amazing job. Now that I've started to get my head around it a little more, it's extremely interesting and gives me something quite stimulating to work with as an artist. It just adds another level of intrigue. 

If I had to do it again I would have paid more attention to the overall sound of the music as well. Basically, when I picked songs for Mavis Gary I simply thought, “oh I'll just do this one and this one and this one.” I want to define the project's direction a little more. I guess once the cassettes are all gone and sent out, I can sort of restart a bit. I want to go much, much darker with this. I'm thinking more songs in the line of 'Dim The Droog' and 'Odette' - songs that provide more space for my nightmares to roam. 

How do you differentiate Mavis Gary from your three piece (now, four piece) band, Trick Mammoth?

Well, to tell you the truth, it's only now that I'm thinking about really differentiating the two. If I keep going the way I'm going there will be no real purpose for both of them to exist. I guess, at first, the premise for Mavis Gary was just a demo, rarities, lo-fi recording thing. But now that it has turned into something more, I want the two projects to go in separate directions. Of course, Trick Mammoth also has the talents of Sam [Valentine], Millie and, now, Richard [Ley-Hamilton]. They each bring something special and unique to Trick Mammoth - they help define the sound, they make the music better and give it a different edge. They complete my incapabilities.

Are you working on your own music over the summer?

Yeah! I am always working. It's kind of a habit now. Every time I pick up an instrument I just start writing something. When I'm listening to music I pick out bits that I would like to steal. I think, “oh if I change that melody around a bit that could be another song.” I remember you asking me why I was listening to so much Lana Del Ray. Now you know my shameful secret.

Of course there are periods where everything I write doesn't please me, but it's not because I'm writing too much, I don't think. But maybe I should take a break? Maybe I'll try pick up another hobby besides writing or music, another detriment to my dream of a comfortable life...I want a range life, if I could settle down....

How is producing and recording music for other musicians going?

It's actually been fun. I mean I'm not the best producer as of yet, and in the past I've been very limited in terms of gear, but recently Ian Henderson from Fishrider Records has been extremely helpful on that front. I'm sort of getting my head around recording, mixing, mastering. I've found just doing is the best way for me to learn. Making music for Mavis Gary has actually helped heaps, I get to play around and slowly figure things out. Hopefully soon I'll be more helpful and more of a quality option as an audio engineer.

What does 2014 look like for you?

To be honest, I see a lot of poverty, but I'm excited. I was suppose to be in Melbourne right about now getting ready for film school, but I decided to stay in Dunedin a little longer - for one more year, maybe more? Anyway, it looks like it'll be busy a year. I'll be helping to record Kane Strang, Richard Ley-Hamilton and a few other cool projects. Also, The Attic Singles Club will bring a bit of a work load. The Attic in general should be doing a lot more and we have quite a few projects penciled in already. Trick Mammoth will be up and running again when Sam and Millie return from their overseas adventures. Mavis Gary should be doing shows and more releases. There will be some more band related, secret projects. I'll probably need to start looking for a job again. Yeah, it's going to be a good year.

I am still trying to understand how a person can even write a song in the first place. It really bewilders me. What is the first piece of music you wrote? How do you write songs?

The first piece of music I wrote I still keep today. I think I was seventeen when I wrote it. It was a good feeling, but I definitely wasn't thinking "this is the best song ever". I was proud that I could put something together. I'm not the best musician in terms of skill and I don't think I really know what I'm doing most of the time. For me, creating anything sort of feels like that. I often think, "how am I doing this? What am I doing? What just happened?" I only started playing guitar at fifteen or sixteen, so I'm late to the game. Now all the best musicians are around that age.

I write songs in a lot of different ways. Sometimes, I'll create a riff then build from there - or I'll play chord progressions and mumble until a melody arises - or I'll write the lyrics first then trying to set it to music. 'Dim The Droog' was written by recording one guitar and vocal line, “honey don't cry”, and looping it on Logic and sort of building from there, it was the first time I had done that. I guess the best way, I've found, is try not to think about it too much. The best songs I find always appear out of nowhere. They write themselves. I sound so lame. I don't actually know anything about songwriting.

What is the first song that moved you?

Okaaaay, it was Michael Jackson's 'You Are Not Alone'. The song used to play on the radio and television all the time when I was back in Malaysia. I was four, there was a thunderstorm outside. Michael made four year old me feel safe.

At events like concerts I dwell on all the people around me who have waited for this moment for a year - perhaps longer. They worship the music - the moment - and in that way they allow themselves to become briefly unattached from reality. It's like some sort of contemporary, alternative practice of spirituality and faith. What goes through your mind when you are performing and a wall of people stand before you?

I don't think anyone has waited any long stretch of time to see Trick Mammoth or Mavis Gary play yet. But I know what you mean. I mean if you really love someone's music, going to a concert is like sharing that love, not only with the musicians but all these other people that feel the same way you do. It's very communal and, yes, it's totally like an alternative practice of spirituality and faith. For a band it can be very validating. If you like attention it can be very exhilarating. If you like fun it can be fun. I don't know...

For me, I don't really get nervous. I laugh at myself a lot though, at my lyrics. I do a lot of weird and stupid things because I find it funny. Okay, I'm weird because I enjoy going unnoticed most of the time. That's why the more band members the better. I guess I don't think too much about being on stage. I'm just myself and I try to do a good show, plus play my instrument adequately. I love music and I want to continue making it. I would also love to travel and playing in front of people is a part of that, so I guess I've just accepted it as something I have to do. It's nice connecting as well. It's getting more and more fun for me. Before it used to be just about creating music. Sharing it in a live setting can be rewarding in it's own way.

When and where will you be performing over the summer?

Trick Mammoth currently only has one show lined up. That is in Auckland for the Flying Nun Birthday show. We will be opening for The Verlaines and Astro Children. It should be good. Apparently we might be getting filmed. That could be interesting...


To listen to Adrian's solo project, Mavis Gary, click here.

To listen to the flower pop trio (now a four piece), Trick Mammoth, click here.


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