C.C. / Chris ‘Albi’ Dent and Matthew Bean (Sneaky Bones) / Tuesday 17th January, 2023 1:42PM
One of Aotearoa’s longest running musical traditions, the Auckland Folk Festival is happening this summer from 27th to 30th January at The Kumeu Showgrounds. Celebrating folk musical sounds of all stripes, artists from across the nation and beyond will be congregating for the festival’s four day 50th anniversary knees-up — including US folk songwriter Sneaky Bones, Melbourne / Naarm-based Folk Bitch Trio, Edinburgh-based The Jellyman’s Daughter, Irish fiddle player Manus McGuire, Australia’s We Mavericks, returning kiwis Kerryn Fields and The Frank Burkitt Band, Aucklanders Albi & The Wolves, Theia’s reo Māori project TE KAAHU, T-Bone, Monty Bevins and lots more.
Sneaky Bones aka Matthew Bean has returned to New Zealand for his keenly awaited summer tour, beginning this Thursday and concluding at the festival [see below for tour dates and ticketing info]. He caught up with Albi & The Wolves frontman Chris ‘Albi’ Dent for an rousing chat reflecting on their shared craft, the differences between touring at home and overseas, the multi-faceted umbrella term ‘Americana’, mouth-watering meal options and more…
Auckland Folk Festival 2023
Friday 27th January to Monday 30th January – The Kumeu Showgrounds, Auckland (Auckland Anniversary Weekend)
Featuring… Across the Great Divide, Albi & The Wolves, Alpaca Social Club, Butter Wouldn’t Melt, Criu, Rthno Aotearoa, Folk Bitch Trio (AUS), Kerryn Fields (AUS), Manus McGuire (IRE), Monty Bevins, OrigiNZ, Rough Town, Sneaky Bones (USA), Songs from the Old Country, Sweet Bottom (NZ/USA), T-Bone, TE KAAHU, Te Wehi Haka, The Frank Burkitt Band, The Jellyman’s Daughter (SCO), TUi MAMAKi, We Mavericks (AUS), Wheel of Experience
Tickets available at www.aucklandfolkfestival.co.nz
Sneaky Bones Summer 2023 NZ Tour
Thursday 19th January – Common Room, Hastings*
Friday 20th January – Globe Theatre, Palmerston North
Saturday 21st January – The Jam Factory, Tauranga
Sunday 22nd January – TSB Festival Of Lights, New Plymouth
Monday 23rd January – Whangateau Folk Club, Whangateau w/ Albi & The Wolves*
Wednesday 25th January – ONEONESIX Theatre, Whangarei w/ Albi & The Wolves
Albi: Hey. Shall I call you Matt, or should I call you Sneaky? What do you prefer your first name to be?
Sneaky Bones: It’s Matt, but you can call me whatever you like.
Where did the name Sneaky Bones come from?
It’s not the most exciting story but I was visiting a friend in Fort Worth, Texas. We were out eating chicken and waffles, and she got a little chicken bone in her throat and she was like, "Damn those sneaky bones." And I thought, "Oh, that has a nice sound to it." I was just in a big transition period and I was like, "I’m going to take that." So, it was a spontaneous saying that turned into a career, I guess [laughs].
I have never had chicken and waffles, but I’ve always wanted to.
It’s pretty good. You’ve never had it?
No, because over here, waffles are usually like ice cream and syrup and cream and stuff. But there’s fried chicken too?
Yeah, fried chicken. Do you know where it originated?
No, I have no idea.
This is the story I’ve heard — I think it was in Harlem in the 30s, not sure on the exact time but somewhere back in the heavy jazz days, these guys would get off their sessions and they didn’t know whether to eat breakfast or dinner, so they had both.
At the same time?
Yeah. So, they would have fried chicken over waffles. And it’s absolutely delicious.
There wasn’t ice cream as well, right? It’s not like you dunk your chicken in it or something?
No, no, no. But there’s syrup on the waffles and hot sauce on the chicken.
[laughs] You understand saying it out loud, how that doesn’t sound as appealing as it probably is, right?
Yeah, but you have to experience it, I think. It has to be good fried chicken. It can’t be anything. What about you? Do I call you Chris or Albi? What’s going on with that?
Albi: You can call me either. To readers out there, I have albinism and I sport a really big white beard. I picked up this nickname in high school, and then I just ran with it for a long time. I was hitchhiking around the countryside, playing shows as Albi. And when this band formed, I didn’t want to drop the Albi, and they became the Wolves. I wish there was some interesting story where a spontaneous phrase became the name, but we chose Wolves because we think they’re cool.
Well, it was a nickname, right?
Yes, so Albi for me, and then the Wolves.
I don’t know. Because there’s that The Flight of the Conchords saying Albi the racist dragon, right?
Yeah. That comes up a lot. But here’s the thing. I’m not racist, anymore.
Or a dragon anymore [laughs].
[laughs] So I have a question for you that applies to both my act and yours, although definitely more so yours than mine. I sometimes, and this is a bit cheeky, call my band Americana, but we’re from New Zealand obviously. What does Americana mean to you? Because you use that to describe your music too sometimes.
You guys are “Oceanicana”. You know, Americana, it’s funny because that name has totally been commercialised and I feel like genres themselves are such a trap. I get that people need to understand the style of music, if someone hasn’t heard of you before. But to me, I look at Americana more as American roots music. I think Americana was … I guess it still is, a combination of all of these wide-reaching genres that have developed in America. And not strictly … I’m not saying all this is American music, but I guess there’s this blend of bluegrass country, soul, R&B, roots.
It’s really cool. I like it a lot. It’s funny because when I think Americana, I think Hank Williams, and I think Woody Guthrie. When I look at the Americana playlists and I see guys that have these songs with such swagger and they’ve got electric guitars, I think I didn’t get it until just now. Because it makes sense. Some of these new artists we’re seeing just the evolution of those artists we were listening to 50, 60 years ago.
And that makes so much sense for you, because when I listen to your songs I hear those influences, I was trying to explain the Sneaky Bones experience to a flat mate earlier, and I was like, "It’s contemplative. It’s not in a hurry, but also it’s got a groove and a swagger to it that makes you want to move and sway." I think that’s a really interesting combination in a song. I guess that is Americana, right? It’s got its roots in R&B and that oomph, but it’s slow and thoughtful. And yeah, you sometimes pick up an acoustic guitar.
Yeah. I think folk music is about tradition really. From the Greenwich scene to basically troubadours that are traveling around and sharing songs. And I think that it’s still about the song. Folk to me is that pure essence of song. I feel like folk is another one that’s been just taken over by whatever commercial entity wanted to call it, complete with the big hats or whatever.
Folk is tricky because in its essence, it’s just about sharing stories through song. The problem is that could be anything. Some aspects of the community I like is that anyone can join who’s got a story to tell. It then becomes impossible to define. And I think genres can be annoying and provide limitations, but I think maybe a good side of it is it provides boundaries for what art you’re trying to make. If nothing else the song you’re writing can be an experiment. Today, I want to write a pop song. Today, I want to write a folk song. But what’s a folk song? So, yeah, gosh, I think I’m rambling a little bit with this, but I can say that you’ve made me feel better about calling ourselves Americana, because I think we are… Yeah, we take some of those aspects of the genre.
At the end of the day, it’s all just music. It’s not necessarily a big challenge of needing to be from somewhere to play in the style or needing to respect where it came from, the heritage. But I do think that if you approach music with open ears and a reverence for where it’s been, and you’re the voice of where it’s going and you’re true to that, then I really don’t think that there’s a wrong place you can be.
Oh, man. I’m looking forward to hearing some of your new songs in real life. I’m looking forward to sharing a stage with you too. Something I was also curious about was what drew you to New Zealand initially. Because you’ve got a big old home to tour. Technically, you don’t have to leave, but you thought, I’m going to fly to the middle of the ocean and I’m going to play on a tiny island.
I guess there is a little bit of a fascination with New Zealand.
Oh, yeah, yeah, yeah.
I grew up in Oregon, which is a pretty rugged zone. I grew up surfing in Oregon, and my buddies and I, we’d always see these little glimpses of surf culture in New Zealand and how beautiful it was. A lot of it reminded me of Sonoma County and around the Bay Area and Oregon. And it always blew me away. Yeah, I guess it was just a place I was wanting to go. There was a day where it clicked that I could travel and play music. And not just travel and play bars in the US, because I’ve done that grind for a long time. But I booked my first European tour and I was like, "These people love music and I’m so grateful to be here. And they support it and there’s funding for it. And they’ll bring you to these places and they’ll pay you a decent wage and they’ll take care of you." Once I did that, I was hooked. And so, I started trying to book New Zealand. It was the first place I went after Europe, and I just fell in love with it after the first tour. I’ve been so fortunate to link up with folks like you and Finn and everyone who I work with down here. So, I’m very happy.
You know what’s weird is the duality of touring overseas (rather than touring at home) and the fact that you have to work crazy hard to rise above all the other local noise that’s going on. But whether you end up with a packed sold-out room or 20 people, I feel like (while you’re overseas) the interest in what you’re doing is something else compared to when you’re at home. Do you know what I mean? Have you had that feeling as well?
Hmm. Well, where have you had that feeling? You tour a lot abroad right?
I’ve toured a couple of times in Europe, across Switzerland, Germany and Australia. I just got back from a full months stint there (in Australia), which was heaps of fun. I remember our show in Perth. It was a new territory. A festival brought us over. They were really lovely. The festival was incredible. The first sideshow, though, if I was looking at it purely from a, I guess, financial perspective, we got 20 people through the door, so that was an absolute bust. We just spent a lot of money to be there. But the quality of the crowd was high, we can play them anything and they were so into it and was so ready to hear us. When I think back to my first tour in New Zealand, although we did have people on side of people who supported us, I still felt like we really had to fight to gain their attention. But by simply being an overseas band, people were just more receptive. I don’t know… Something like that.
I think people assume that you’re here, so you must be a big deal, or you must be worth it. That was the vibe I got in Europe. We were playing in these beautiful rooms and people kept saying, "Oh man, you must play all these crazy rooms back in the States." And I’m like, "Yeah, I can’t even draw like five people in my hometown." [laughs] It’s so funny that there’s an export thing that is really beautiful. I think bands should go for it, reach out overseas. If you can get there, it can be a profound experience. There’s a certain level of the fact that you’re there means something. It means something to the crowds too, especially when you come through small towns.
We played some tiny towns on the last tour where I told people in New Zealand where we were going and they’re like, "You’re going where? What are you doing there?" And I was like "I don’t know; these are places that wanted us to come play." People were so surprised at some of the places. The funniest one last tour was Wairoa. Everyone was like, "You’re going to Wairoa?" And that show was completely sold out. So many people from town were there and stoked. It was so awesome. I feel like you kind of lose sight of those scenes… And it makes me come home and really appreciate home as well when I’m gone. I do lose sight of these little scenes around me, and I feel like visiting these towns and being able to link into these little scenes makes me appreciate them more when I go back to my home base.
I think you’re right. Actually, after being away for a month, instantly I’m back, and I’m more in tune with what’s going on around me. I’m looking for what artists are doing and what’s happening. I think that can be hard to do when you’re just living your day-to-day life. It’s easy to just focus on how am I going to pay rent this week, not what’s the person next door to me making, which is a freedom that you get when you’re traveling around. Well, I think we’ve got heaps to put on paper. Whoever’s going to transcribe this is going to have quite the time. So, I think we can wrap it there. I can’t wait to have you on our soil. Dude, it’s been too long. You are so welcome here, and it’s going to be a hoot.
Awesome. I’m excited.