12 Dec 2018

DOG Power: From Sydenham to Serbia

From RNZ Music, 1:14 pm on 12 December 2018

Elliott Childs speaks to new Flying Nun signing DOG Power about life in Serbia and the dark pop music of their debut album.

DOG Power

DOG Power Photo: Supplied

A lot of Kiwis head over to Europe for a few years. Traditionally most head off to London, perhaps Berlin or Paris if they’re feeling more adventurous. But Sam Perry and Henry Nicol of DOG Power have made their home in the village of Idvor, about 67km north of Belgrade, Serbia.

Though they met in the North Island, both were members of the Christchurch music scene. Nicol played in punk/noise bands Log Horn Breed and Pavement Saw and Perry performed as Zen Mantra. The pair made the move about six months ago and they bought a house in Idvor in order to secure themselves visas.

“Firstly it was somewhere we could afford,” Nicol tells me over a dodgy phone line.

“And where we could do whatever we want. And the second reason is because it’s really close to these three big lakes that are world famous for fishing and both Sam and I are really keen fishermen.”

It’s at this point in the conversation that I start to wonder if I can take everything they tell me completely seriously.

The music of DOG Power’s brooding, dark but oddly melodic debut album, does little to conjure images of lazy days spent on the water. In fact, it has quite the opposite effect. “Pop hooks weaseling their way out of experimental music” as Perry describes it.

A prime example is ‘Come Back To Paris’. The rigid and harsh drum beat sits menacingly under unadorned vocals and a droning, screeching guitar that seem, somehow, to occupy the same harmonic space as each other. On tracks like ‘King’ or ‘Entourage’, horror movie style organs blend with echoey, ghostly vocals to disquieting effect. It’s hardly relaxing.

Yet songs like ‘Not Human’ are lighter and more melodic, with big twangy guitars and minimalist electronic percussion. That particular track sounds like someone asked Soft Cell to write a song for a western movie.

The homages to 80s pop don’t end there. The piano part on ‘Love Potion’ sounds remarkably like the Stranglers’ ‘Golden Brown’, though Nicol insists that it’s not that close and that the choice to play the part on piano rather than guitar was what caused the similarity.

This varying range of styles and sounds is probably due to the somewhat unstructured nature of DOG Power’s writing process.

“We just did whatever we had the most fun doing and it ended up being a lot of different stuff,” says Perry. “But, you know, I think there are certain things that kind of unify everything we do. We gravitate towards a certain type of imagery and all that...”

Though the album started to take shape at LOG Recording in Christchurch, recording took place in various locations around the South Island, including an old Masonic lodge in Dunedin and the Catholic trampers lodge in Arthur’s Pass, before the band headed north to Serbia.

My knowledge of Serbia is limited and admittedly clouded by news reports from my childhood about “war torn Belgrade” but Perry and Nicol assure me that I and everyone else have the wrong idea. They describe it as a city with a thriving cultural scene with lots of great venues where they’ve gotten to know musicians and filmmakers. “A real rock and roll city,” says Nicol.

Living off savings and what they can make from “side hustles” (which apparently include acting and modelling) DOG Power are making the most of not having day jobs. They are just about to head off on their first European tour and are nearly finished with their follow up album, which they say is more influenced by the dance music they’ve been introduced to in Belgrade.

“The next record is nowhere near as intense” says Nicol. “Intensely uplifting” adds Perry. Perhaps all the time spent fishing has mellowed them out?

DOG Power's debut album is out now via Flying Nun Records.