Interview: Into the East

Tuesday 1 April 2014

Interview: Into the East

Into the East are about to embark on an extensive six-week long tour, which will see them performing in 18 towns and cities. The folk/country duo released their debut album in 2013 to critical acclaim after nine years of musical collaboration. The notoriously hard-to-please Simon Sweetman described their album as having "just enough rustic Americana charm running through the title song and a few slightly darker moments as the album moves, song by song, each track strong - no duds - purposefully to the end, to the moment where you want to hit play again". In person, Liv McBride and Graeme Woller are charming, with their humor and abundant talent obvious to anyone lucky enough to catch the band in concert.

We spoke (and when we say spoke we actually mean emailed them some questions, which they turned around in record time) to the duo on the eve of their 'As Autumn Falls' Tour.

How have rehearsals been going for the tour? You mentioned on Facebook it was the first in six months...
It was the first in six months!! We've been touring and traveling and performing like mad things but in between shows we do everything for Into The East ourselves. We're our own accountants, graphic designers, promoters & managers. To sit down for once with guitars and new ideas was so freeing and begins to reacquaint you with the reason you're doing this job. 

Have you got a setlist sorted for this tour?
We do. There are a few surprises for certain shows. We've made so many new friends around the country so we wanted to honour them. Otherwise, we have some new material that we're showcasing for the first time but fans of the album will get their money's worth!

Who do you create your music for? Do you have a particular person or audience in mind when you are writing?
We write for ourselves primarily - to get through or move past something or just to get thoughts into words. It's a pretty cathartic experience! From there we find the backbone of the song and build around that. We figure that if we do justice to the song for our own ears then our audience will appreciate it too.

Do you write your music with the live performance in mind?
Oooh, hadn't thought about that!  We are live performers first & foremost. Dynamics are important to keep peoples attention & we want people to listen to both the live show and the album & feel like they've been thrown around in the nicest possible way! They're two different processes. With the album, we added in whatever lifted the song. Performing live, we have to go back to that backbone & make sure that we tell the story of the song & respect that backbone I was talking about. Flashy playing & big voices have their place. For us we just need to make sure we're doing the right thing for each song. 

Tell us a little bit about Sarah Conlan, who will also be performing at your gigs, for people who might not yet be aware of her work?
Sarah Conlan has one of those voices you melt down to. She has a real true tone to her voice but there's also a bit of Janis Joplin inspired dirty-soul that peeks through at all the right moments. She writes a damned hot hook too. The thing that attracted us to her though is her passion and drive. We're all parents so we're all fighting the same fight - she's much better at the fight than us! She's so organised. It makes us sick...

Have you got any tricks up your sleeve? What can audiences expect?
We hate boring & we hate loud. Both of these things are banned from our shows. We're still a relatively unknown act. If we can convince 40 people that our show is worth seeing then those people will bring another 40 the next time around. We're also aware that being compared to Simon & Garfunkel & Fleetwood Mac means we have to live up to that as best we can.

Do you have any survival tips in place for the month-long tour?
Eye drops, fresh fruit, frozen yoghurt, & almond danishes at Ya Bon when we hit Havelock North. I've also got an hour each day planned to go for a jog and take in the community vibe of each stop. Really, though... There's four people stuffed into a Toyota Estima who are just as crazy as each other. We'll be knackered but there's no hard work when the ducks are lined up like they are at the moment! 

Will you get a chance to have a rest at home at all?
Yes!! Originally we were going to tour for 6 weeks straight. When we sat down and thought a bit more about it we realised that as parents there's no possible way we could stay away from our kids and loved ones for that long. That's when we shifted our starting point to Auckland. It means we go down the East Coast, spend Easter & some of the school holidays at home & then take off back up the West Coast recharged!

Has there been a town or city whose audience has surprised you in terms of their reaction to your music?
Taupo! We played the Taupo Museum there with Amiria Grenell last year and it was the first sold out show we've had. Everyone was so welcoming that we've made friends with most of the audience & have either played, or are going to be playing, at their venues & houses this year!

What has been your favourite venue that Into the East has played at?
Buster Crabb in Invercargill. That was where we started. Nobody in town gave us the light of day to play original music but when we asked Alan, the owner, he didn't bat an eyelid & has embraced us for almost 4 years. We wouldn't be here without Busters.

Is there a town you are looking forward to visiting?
Yeah! So excited to get back to Geraldine. We really can't find fault in Geraldine. It'll take you in, feed you, give you the shirt off its back & then send you on your way with a renewed sense of direction.

By the time the tour is finished, your album will have been out for a year. How has the past 12 months been for you?
It has felt like a day and it's felt like a decade depending on how we look at it! We've lucked out with our audiences and how well they've pushed our name out there. We've completely exhausted ourselves taking every opportunity that's come our way but it's that exhaustion where you collapse for a bit & then spring back up & go "Wooo, that was fun, what's next?!"