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For your 'ENTRTNMNT'

13 June 2022
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Photo: Alex Lovell Smith

Alternative rock band Asta Rangu has released their debut album 'ENTRTNMNT' with eight songs showcasing their lyrical talent and themes of progress and connection.

To celebrate the release, the Dunedin-based band are on the road in June, stopping off in four main centres through New Zealand. Style talked about the new album with band member Richard Ley-Hamilton. Interview Hannah Brown

Congratulations on your new album 'ENTRTNMNT' how does it feel to release it?

We are just extremely proud of it. For me, the songs have been steadily evolving over a number of years, some of them dating back to 2017, so it’s incredibly cathartic to have them come to fruition and be out in the world. Musically, and personally, it represents a turbulent yet necessary time in my life, a coming to peace of sorts.

How did you come together as a band and discover your passion for making music?

All of the band are close friends, music obsessives, and have been collaborators in different projects over the years. Angus (McBryde, bass) and I’s first bands shared the stage at Chicks Hotel, Port Chalmers way back in 2010, while Josh (Nicholls, drums) and I went to the same school before then, finally playing together in Space Bats, Attack! years later. Through Josh, I met Julie (Dunn, keys/synths) and soon after we co-founded trace / untrace records in early 2017, a small independent label releasing and promoting the music of Ōtepoti/Dunedin.

One of the very first releases was in fact Asta Rangu’s debut EP ‘Plasticine’, and when I returned from the UK in 2019, I rallied my talented friends to get a live band together. There’s a generous overlap in our taste, and the points of difference only make it richer.

Tell me about your song-writing process as a band – where did you draw inspiration from for this album?

Most songs begin with cycling a few chords, and the unique feeling between them sets the scene for one or two lyrics, usually nonsensical or abstract but it’s a foothold for a stronger idea to grow. From there, I just follow my instinct, and prune or decorate as I go. When I bring the song to the band, they translate it into reality, finding the true heart of it and adding much needed dimension.

The album is inspired musically by the eclecticism of alternative and art rock bands such as Stereolab, Yo La Tengo, Radiohead, and Flaming Lips. Lyrically, it is about making sense of life, our connections to people, places and ideas, as well as progress and escapism.

What inspired the album name 'ENTRTNMNT'?

There is a tendency in Western society to view culture as valuable only insofar as its entertaining. At face value, musicians' function to entertain, but for myself and I’m sure for most performers, music is more about connecting with the listener and audience. It's a relationship, not a one-way street. So, there is a pointed irony in choosing ‘ENTRTNMNT’ as a title.

The lack of vowels in the title, as well as in the song names, points to the imperfection, ambiguity and hollowness we encounter throughout life. It likewise caters to the impatient typists among us.

Do you have some favourite tracks from the album? Which are you most excited for people to hear?

Though it’s always tricky to pick favourites, particularly as certain songs suit certain moods, I am most excited for people to hear the two longer, more intricate songs on the album, BTTR and SNGBRD. These tracks are more exploratory and ambitious, weaving in and out of different feelings and settings by shifting our intensity and instrumentation. The songs journey deeper into the album’s themes of progress, connection and disharmony.

Tell me about the album release tour?

We kicked off the tour in the South Island last weekend, with an energetic and warm reception (despite the fierce chill) both at home and up in Ōtautahi/Christchurch. We’ll be visiting the North Island on the 16th and 17th June, in Te Whanganui-a-Tara/Wellington and Tāmaki Makaurau/Auckland respectively.

We are joined by our fellow label mates Space Bats, Attack! A sci-fi-tinged instrumental rock quartet, who are likewise celebrating the release of their spellbinding, expansive sophomore album Oort.

What do you like about being a part of the music scene in Dunedin?

Ōtepoti has an incredible musical lineage, iconic around the world. There were countless gig-goers overseas that when I mentioned my hometown would rave about both bygone and current artists. When Yo La Tengo played in Birmingham, the songs of The Clean and Look Blue Go Purple were blasted over the PA as the crowd took their seats.

Being an isolated city at the bottom of the world, it is necessary for a local scene to sustain itself, and to support one other. There is little appetite for a ‘too-big-for-your-boots’ attitude or exclusiveness.

Though trace / untrace is a family of bands and fans, there are abundant other subsets of music culture in the city. There are social and musical overlaps all over the place, whether it be bandmates playing in different groups, often across genres, or radio DJs meeting between shows. There is also Fraser from Dunedin Sound, who documents live gigs across town, spanning across the scene. It is grounding, it is genuine, and it requires respect and persistence. We love it here.

What is next for ASTA RANGU this year? 

With the tour complete, we can look forward to working on new material. The release of an album is a chance to close a chapter, and refocus on both the present and fresh goals. As the months warm up, we’ll likewise look to take the stage again, but for the next short while, we’ll sit back celebrate a release we’re deeply proud of.

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