Originally appeared: https://www.ambientlightblog.com/stuff-of-inspiration-an-eyreton-hall-interview/
Auckland-based duo Eyreton Hall’s upcoming album Spaces, will has just been released this month. And it’s a collection of music that dives deeply into parenthood, pathos and philosophy.
At it’s core, the jazz-folk team is comprised of husband and wife team Toni Randle and Andrew Keegan. Their 2014 debut album Featherstitch garnered support from a niche of reviewers across the globe. By their own admission Spaces sees Eyreton Hall tackle ever-evolving themes of loss and grief, alongside threads of new hope, healing and love that run parallel throughout this cathartic record.
However, until now the group have flown under the radar. So Tim Gruar though it was time to find out more about the group and their music, and took the opportunity to catch up with Toni Randle and get a little bit of history.
From musical worlds in different parts of the antipodes, Toni was born in Christchurch and Andy in Sydney. Toni reckons she had a bit of a misspent youth, filled with dancing and piano lessons, musical theatre, and classical voice examinations. So no hanging out in bars and pool halls, then?
I heard you grew up on a farm, amongst olive groves. An idyllic lifestyle, surely?
Toni: “Well yes. The olive trees came later. But growing up in Canterbury rural life was idyllic. But like al good things, I wanted to be in town. When you are young, you don’t appreciate what you have. I went to school in the city. I had no idea how fabulous it was until I looked back later and thought about how amazing it really was. The grass is always greener and all that.”
Then you went to the Sydney Conservatorium of Music, where you studied jazz That’s proper music training, not just bumming around on a guitar.
“Well, yes (laughs). That’s where Andy and I met. He was 19 and I was 21. I studied under a New Zealand Pianist, Judy Bailey (She was well known during the 1970’s and 80’s here and in Australia as a jazz performer and on radio and TV, as well as and the pianist on the ABC radio show Kindergarten. She’s been awarded the Order of Australia for services to music. Her album You & the Night & the Music is still considered a jazz masterpiece of the early 70’s). I didn’t learn piano, though. I learned improvisation. She can’t actually sing but she could teach improvisation and music composition.
Interestingly, Andy and I did a stint teaching English is Japan after graduating and we learned that Judy is super famous over there. Who knew? In Japan every genre has its own little niche. That goes for jazz, too. There are mad music buffs, over there.”
You taught English in Japan as an excuse to live somewhere ‘weird and strange’?
“Exactly. A six months gap year with a few jazz gigs.”
And then you came back to Melbourne to start up The Portraits?
“Yes. We all shared a love of all things Rufus and Radiohead, dark and brooding messages of love and loss (haha). That was with Andy’s Brother, Tim on guitar, Jacob Cole and our good friend Lochay Robertson on acoustic guitar. Jacob also played on our first album (as Eyreton Hall), Featherstitch.”
Just as ‘The Portraits’ began getting some serious notice – Toni was pregnant with their first little boy. Life: Stopped. And, subsequently, so did all music projects. Toni and Andi were married in 2010 and things were looking pretty domesticated.
You guys had given up? You moved back to Christchurch to settle down?
“We did but, as we say, we’re musicians with an impeccable sense of timing. We arrived back from Australia just in time for the Christchurch earthquakes.”
Pregnant with their second child, surrounded by natural beauty and the aftermath of horrific events, the music began again.
They realised it was time had come to document their musings and experiences. So with a new baby (their second), a toddler, two dogs and two grandparents along for the ride, they recorded at Eyreton Hall (a former school hall – just down the road from Toni’s parents’ olive grove).
“We moved to Auckland, eventually. After creating Ereyton Hall (Mark Hughes, Sam Taylor and Tim Randle) where we recorded some of Featherstitch, which featured our Australian friends. It was a collaborative effort, to a degree.”
I read a reviews that describe the album as “homespun, dusty folk (The Marriage)” “sprawling, almost messy rock (Lovelessly)” and “plaintive, piano-driven ballads (Featherstitch). And listening to it, I can’t help comparing to bands like Over The Rhine – that warm, front room and parlour sound.
“Ha Ha. We get that a lot. Although I’ve never heard them. But the flavours, I guess are that. We draw on the domestic situation, of our experiences, and a little bit of a connection to the land. We’re not Americana, but not dissimilar, I think.”
The last album had a lot of musicians on it. But this latest album, Spaces, just features the five core players, more stripped back in that regard, yes?
“That was Sam Taylor (Nadia Reid), Mark Hughes, Stormporter’s Tim Randell (bass, banjo, guitar), myself (guitar), Andrew Keegan (drums), of course, Mark Hughes (Tim Finn, Bic Runga) and (former Goldenhorse band member) Ben King (has recorded Bic Runga, Tim Finn, Dave Dobbyn, Boh Runga, Brooke Fraser), who produced it all. Our touring band is Tim Randle my brother James Fistonich on Electric guitar (George After James) Ben King and Andy Nick Duirs (Keys). We change a round. We did quite a bit of recording out at his family estate, which is his recording studios.”
Ben’s known for that, isn’t he?
“Yeah. You can spread out all over the house. Different instruments in different rooms. Drums in the lounge, me in the wall way, guitars on the porch, etc. Wires up and down the corridors. It’s actually his parent’s house. They’ve now built their own house on the property but at the time we were recording in his mum’s kitchen (laughs). We also did some recording at our old flat and a couple of other locations. And Simon Gooding (who did Featherstitch, as well) mixed it for us, before running off to record and mix P!NK’s new album.”
The single Albatross is an interesting, atmospheric song. This song was written in dedication to your youngest son Orlie, and that video, so amazing. Those dynamic drone shots of the South Island coastline, allowing viewers to soar above the Tasman, weightless and gliding through the song’s ethereal narrative. No Samuel Taylor Coleridge Connections?
“Yes, it is. It’s directed by Jared Kahi, he did a great job. I think you feel like the bird, soaring high. It’s a song of hope and optimism. It’s that thing, we weren’t expecting a third child – “Oh, Surprise!” We thought our little family unit was complete. Orlie arrived and we thought “Hey, you’ve completed it even more, now.” If you look at a baby and you can see how they are these placid all-knowing souls. They just seem to be that mirror to your soul. Like an albatross, flying high above, watching everything. Although, as he’s grown, I’m beginning to think we could relabel the song ‘Hurricane” as he’s such a whirlwind of energy – haha! The video is about coming home, sailors, land is nearby, a safe harbour.
He was also born with my waters still intact. They say that is really good luck. My Irish midwife said he’ll be a sailor or such like. And, yes he absolutely adores the water! So the video had to have coastline in it”
And the title song, Spaces is a completely different beast.
“There were two themes when I was writing the album. One was Orlie being born and that who thing of newness and hope and the other was death. We lost a really dear friend in 2015, dying of skin cancer. She was a neighbour of mine, in Australia, before we came back here. It was juggling that and a really busy life. I was thinking of the grief that I felt. She was such a beautiful person. I needed time in my chaotic life to come to terms with that.
The title of the album is Spaces, just coming to terms and finding time in a busy life to take that time out to process all this and seeing what that looks like. There’s also a song on the album especially dedicated to her called Ilse, she was a Dutch-South African. She dedicated her life to working with mentally challenged children. I knew her in later life. On meeting her, she told me two things: That she loved Chardonnay and she had terminal cancer. So we became firm friends. That’s the stuff of inspiration for a song writer.”
yreton Hall’s new album ‘Spaces’ is out now at all good record stores, as well as online via Bandcamp and Spotify.