Interview by Beth Dawson / C.C. / Photo supplied
/ Thursday 20th January, 2022 1:03PM
Acclaimed by Sonic Youth’s Thurston Moore as "the best band in the world," Coolies have blazed their own noisy trail across the globe since joining forces in South Auckland back in the late 90s. In advance of next week’s very rare, can’t-miss appearance at The Others Way festival, Beth Dawson (Ducklingmonster, Futurians) caught up with Coolies co-founders and fellow Uniform collective members Tina Pihema and Sjionel Timu (CUTSS) for a chat at Tanuki’s Cave yakatori bar. They spoke about growing up in Manurewa and Papakura on hip hop and punk, how community sustains their music, finding freedom via having fun on stage and more…
UnderTheRadar, Flying Out and 95bFM are proud to present…
The Others Way Festival
Saturday 29th January 2022 – Karangahape Road, Tāmaki Makaurau / Auckland
Backroom, East St Church, Galatos, Mercury Theatre, Neck of the Woods, Soap, The Studio, Whammy and Wine Cellar
General release tickets are on sale HERE via UTR
Uniform collective’s five questions for talking about process:
What is your uniform?
Tell us about an event that engaged you.
What is your place?
What is your structure to making?
What is motivating about your community?
Tina Pihema: We’ve been going forever. Obviously, me and Sjionel have been best friends and playing together since we were teenagers and then Stefan (Neville) is like our long-lost sister. Our uniform for us is our friendship and making things together, we work really well together and know what each other are thinking. We’ve always had the simple makeup of the band three-piece punk drums with guitar bass vocals situation
Sjionel Timu: How do you sound uniform with that?
T: It can be anything.
S: But have a structure we’ve always liked.
T: Something I notice with our structure is that when we write we write we write in a box.
Beth Dawson: I remember you telling me about the composition box, like riffs forming the box.
T: Yeah, how we play, we unintentionally follow the box. I notice that if I forget something or whatever, it takes me ages to try and figure it out and it always turns out to be so much more simple then I expected and always a box shape on guitar.
S: And tracked with the bass
T: So, if I’m playing around with vocals Sjionel will always play gestures ~ ~~
S: Always playing like I’m planning.
And is a structure on your mind when you are playing?
T: I don’t think we think about it, it just happens. All through the years it feels like we’ve been writing the same way. On the verge of falling apart.
It seems like there is a desire to simplify and that’s harder?
S: Yeah, to clarify essentially.
T: I prefer to keep it simple and then try and push that out as far as I can take it, with pedals loud and soft etc… and I find The box thing is a safe mode / challenge mode.
S: There’s a security.
T: if we keep it super simple then it gives us some really big landscape to explore.
When you’re describing structure, you’re using hand gestures of returning and repeating that is in the songs. So that uniform structure is important?
T: It’s that relationship that we have to making, that is an unsaid type of simplicity. We’ve always played the same way. It’s like super punky, super simple, but super insane and trying to keep it together, while also trying to fuck it up at the same time. So, it’s lots of contradictions.
And then you’re playing and you’re just right in it.
T: Yeah, sort of like reflects our personalities eh.
S: It’s like the contradiction of sound. So there’s this gestures box shape  but then there is these gestures rolling waves ~~~~~~ cutting through. We need all the surroundings.
T: We don’t want to just be that we want to be that and that and that.
And that’s a similarity in the music now that is from what we grew up with liking, the Ronettes and The Shangri-las all those bands that are girl group type of bands but at the same time, loving like fugazi and Crass , stuff like the Ramones, we used to get hassled for liking the Ramones you know how it was back then.
S: We liked different elements.
T: You know, we liked the Dead Boys and stuff like that. That trashy rock and roll as well. And we really like New York Dolls and like Germs, and things like that. Me and Sjionel really liked The Donnas first album that they put out when they were still in high school. That was not that cool, but that’s who we are. We grew up in Manurewa and Papakura so obviously we grew up on hip-hop, it was definitely a mashup.
That’s the whole South Auckland girls in the garage thing. Hearing that evokes that time when there wasn’t heaps of access to this epic range of music to be influenced by so then everything got put in the mix. So, you’re listening to like radio hits of the ’60s but then someone’s got the Germs to chuck on.
S: Yeah, exactly.
T: We were coming into the city when SJ was maybe 15 and like when Mancini was around playing Mancini 500 and we liked all of Roddy (Pain)’s bands, Fake Purr , Goldifox, and Liz (Mathews) and that.
S: All the different music that we run into.
Yeah, but I think Auckland was a wild scene, when you think about it, like we were like getting to see Roddy playing guitar, and that’s just like fuuuuuck.
T: And it was our friends playing.
S: Constant Pain.
S: And to think how inspirational that was, and we were right in it.
You’re at that age where you’re in sponge mode.
S: And that’s the beginnings.
T: It’s still important.
S: That ’90s noise scene was amazing.
T: I think though people now are like, oh, you must have been limited because there was no Internet, but I actually think it was the other way around. I think it made it so you had to immerse yourself in the scene. Like if you weren’t at a show, you didn’t hear so it didn’t happen for you.
S: It was raw energy.
T: You had to be present.
S: You had to go.
T: And if you didn’t go to the shows, it was really important to read the reviews because it wasn’t like everyone had a camera phone so you could just look at the photos on Instagram. So, you made an effort to go out. It was more active in that you really had to be there for stuff to happen.
And that makes the live context so much more important. I remember coming up from Dunedin one time and seeing you guys play at I guess Edens Bar, and you were stomping on each other’s pedals, and that’s only going to happen live.
T: And we used to do that a lot.
It’s the freedom to fuck around.
T: and the thing that I like about that is that it is amazing to see how people handle things that aren’t planned. Bands practice like crazy.
S: But we aren’t scared of those moments. Now we feel safe in this unpredictable space. Like what Tina is saying is bands practice to make everything perfect but we don’t know what is going to happen. It’s honest and we can bring things in.
Is that also because you’ve been playing together for ages, and you have absolute trust?
S: yeah, we are on the same page, and we are riding the same way.
T: And it’s about ourselves. It’s fun for us. That is where the fun part is playing with each other in a sense of we don’t know what is going to happen. Instead of we are playing with the crowd, and we will play very good. It’s like we are fucking with each other, and we are having a laugh. This shit’s comedy.
T: It has to be ‘cause if you’re gonna be serious you’re gonna be like, what is this?
S: you’re gonna be disappointed. Your expectations are unrealistic.
T: If you’re not having a laugh, there’s not much point. What are you going to do? Go home and give yourself a pat on the back “wow great show tonight”? We usually just say, oh that was funny af when you did that “you’re a funny beep”. That’s what we talk about after we play.
You don’t want be watching and band and know someone’s going to be told off ‘cause they messed up a bit.
T: Oh no you’re going to be laughed at. There’s inside jokes.
S: It’s very funny.
T: It’s pretty funny going around the world to laugh at each other.
S: Yeah, that was cool.
T: That’s what tour is really a big bag of laughs.
You did seem very refreshed when you got back.
S: Just very refreshing.
The last question is, what do you find motivating about your community?
T: We have one.
I was thinking how if it’s a Coolies show, that you know it’s going to be a big catch-up.
T: Yeah, I feel like after all this time we have a certain crowd.
S: Our mates, that’s our community.
T: And we definitely choose the shows we play. We aren’t out there looking to book lots of shows, so when we do play it does feel like a coming together of people that you haven’t seen in ages.
Your last show felt like that. I was looking at some of the photos of the European tour and it was the same as that Krd show where you were playing in the middle of the room and the audience is around you and that’s immediate.
T: And that just keeps us going.
S: It’s sustaining.
T: The band keeps going with the community that supports us, I mean they’re our friends pretty much. They support our practice. The live show is a catch-up and a good time.
S: And its lasted so long because we are friends, and we are tight like that.
T: And it evolves.
S: There’s nothing weird going on. There’s no hierarchy.