Formed in Christchurch in the late 1980s, The Terminals have developed a sound steeped in a dark romance and lush melodrama. Led by Stephen Cogle's distinctive and fiery vocals, the band hone in on a grittiness with free-range guitars, squalling violin, and heady organ that has established them as one of the most important bands to spring from New Zealand's illustrious music scene.
Cogle and drummer Peter Stapleton first started playing together in The Vacuum in 1976 and The Terminals now boast a musical family tree of New Zealand's underground rock luminaries with members from groups The Pin Group, Scorched Earth Policy and the Victor Dimisich Band.
In 2014, Brooklyn label Ba Da Bing released Singles and Sundries, a superb LP compilation of the band's early singles from 1990-1996. Last year Chicago's HoZac records re-issued the group's classic 1988 debut Uncoffined. This month The Terminals have released Antiseptic, their first record since 2007's blistering Last Days of the Sun.
The band currently consists of Cogle, Stapleton, organist Mick Elborado, bassist John Chrisstoffels and Nicola Moffat on violin and vocals has replaced long time guitarist Brian Cook.
Noisey: Antiseptic follows on well from your last album but it's been ten years between them. Was it difficult to get a momentum back?
Stephen Cogle: There was no problem with momentum. When you've been playing with the same group of musicians over the years, I don't even think we think about it.
You recorded the album in around three or four hours? So you all knew exactly what you wanted to achieve before you went in?
The process leading up to the recording had started with a few practices in Christchurch over the previous months to formulate the sound as best we could in the limited time we had. These songs had been written by Peter and me since the time when Last Days of the Sun had been recorded, with the exception of the title song which I had composed with Brian Crook at the end of the Last Days of the Sun recording. Mick was not a part of these practices and relied on a tape of me doing acoustic versions of the songs, so we had no idea of what he was going to play on the day. The three to four hours was the time we took to record them and in that time we did a couple of them twice. Some overdubs were done about three or so months later, along with the vocals. We recorded it in the old Masonic Hall in Port Chalmers.
One of the magical things about the Terminals is the songwriting partnership between you and Peter Stapleton. What is the dynamic like?
The way it's always worked is that we don't work together. I'd say probably 95% of the time he'll give me a set of lyrics and I'll just go away and put something to them.
So what is it like for you to sing someone else's lyrics?
I mean, I can't say I like them all! (laughs)
You've covered the classic "Love, Hate, Revenge" from New Zealand 60s garage band The Avengers.
It's a twisted and nasty but also very funny song, and it makes me think, do you think there's an undercurrent of humour that runs through the Southern Gothic of the Terminals?
Oh for sure. Peter's got a pretty dark sense of humour. Perhaps it doesn't come through at times, but it's there. I think with me as well, to be honest. Maybe it's a Christchurch thing. We come from the 'Gothic City'.
Like the song from Uncoffined "Frozen Car" is kind of absurdist. Can you tell me about that song?
I can in this case! I don't normally ask him where the lyrics come from. In those days Peter used to work as a wharfie on the wharf and they were working on refrigeration containers. And one day they opened one up and inside it was a frozen car! And that's how the song came about.
You can hear traces of pre and post-punk and there's that 60s psychedelic white blues and noise. Is this a combination of the kinds of music that you were all interested in, coming together?
Definitely. I was writing most of the music. The main three bands I liked were the Velvet Underground, Roxy Music and Pere Ubu. So I think you'll find all those elements within the Terminals.
I love the song "Cockroaches" from Unconffined.
Ah… apparently the "cockroaches" were meant to be "hippies"! (laughs)
You now all live in different parts of the country. How often do you get together?
Well, Mick and Peter are in Dunedin. When we recorded Antiseptic in 2015, Peter would come up to Christchurch for a couple of practices. Mick had a problem with Christchurch at that stage (post-earthquake) so he didn't really go back there. All I did with him was send him more or less an acoustic version of the songs and he took it from there. And I must say that when we recorded the thing, we just went in there, he'd never played on them, and he was perfect. It was great.
Your voice is extraordinary and one of the most distinctive things about the Terminals. Did you always intend to be a singer? Did you aways have that vocal style?
That's very hard for me to answer. I didn't even know I could sing until we were forced into a boys' choir at primary school. One day, the nuns just walked in and made us all line up, with a priest on the piano, and he played a scale and it was either, "that way if you're in, and that way if you're out." And I think that probably had a big bearing on how I sang. The influence of the old Catholic hymns and things were a very big influence on me. I love that gothic sounding thing. It's just really good. And after that, well, you know, people always go on about this warble thing, which I don't really hear, but other people do, so… OK!
Did you pick up on the hymns subconsciously?
Yeah, I think so. It wasn't just hymns. It was the whole high mass which they used to have, and the big organ sounding thing. Yeah, that impressed me. Catholicism didn't! (laughs).
That organ sound, you know it makes perfect sense, really when you think about the Terminals and that sort of really deep kind of lush organ, and deep kind of baroque sound.
Yeah! People might tell you that Antiseptic is the best Terminals album ever, and ah, I might have thought that initially but I just think, oh, I'll keep my reservations about it… until other people hear it.
'Antiseptic' Is available now on Ba Da Bing Records.
Kiran Dass is an Auckland writer. Follow her @SteelyDass