Our city has raised a stack of great musicians over the years. Dunedin-born Richard Ley-Hamilton, lead guitarist and singer-songwriter of ‘Males’, is a fine example of the continuation of this tradition. We were so excited to interview him in one of our favourite cafes, Circadian Rhythm.
We asked Richard how Dunedin has shaped his musical career. While growing up, he listened to a lot of hard rock (“I got to a point where my voice was getting quite ruined”) but a defining moment was being pushed to join the Otago Boys’ High School choir, encouraged by his singing teacher, Pat Richardson. Richard has an incredible vocal range as well as the ability to sing falsetto (particularly noticeable on songs ‘Weakness’ and ‘So High’) which he uses because “…melodies come through stronger and that way I’m not pushing my voice as much.” He’s also been playing the guitar for about 11 years.
While at Otago Boys’, he met Sam Valentine (Males bass player) and Adrian Ng (Trick Mammoth) and formed the band Mr. Biscuits. With the addition of his sister Sarah on vocals, they won OUSA Battle of the Bands in 2010. “…we managed to get that in our first year which was amazing – never really won an award before…we were one of the weirdest bands of the night”.
He then went on to form Males in 2012 with Sam Valentine and drummer Ben Madden. Richard describes the Males sound as “…elements of 60s influence which is like garage rock and psychedelic rock as well, mainly I would call it alternative power pop.” His determination to make their sound unique and “break the mould” came from comments he received from Rockquest experiences.
Given Dunedin’s strong musical heritage, it was not surprising to hear that the Males sound is greatly influenced by local band The Tweeks. “…one of the best pop bands that have come from this town I reckon…” Richard’s singing is also influenced by Radiohead and his guitar playing by the “rhythmic and different strumming patterns” of Sonic Youth.
While many are drawn in by Richard’s ironic and sometimes melancholic lyrics, his song writing process is more about the chord progression. Richard sheds light on what appears to be a very complex process:
“I just sit down and write a chord progression that I think sounds good in itself…so it’s all about building up a song that is stable in every single stage…then I can move on to overlaying the vocal melody which makes it more stable and ties it together…. then once you’ve got the melody in there I interweave the lyrics that fit the syllabic beat and tone of what I want to say.”
Talking about lyrics, if you want to sing along to ‘So High’, we were surprised to hear that the chorus goes “I’ve been getting academic ulcers. You and all your friends are getting so high.” The song is “about the work and play balance, which is pretty much the most universal-like student idea you can think about”.
The Males sound is clearly a winner as the sales of their back-to-back EPs, ‘Run Run Run/Males Males Males’, are doing well. They have a new single, ‘Go’, coming out this month. “It’s probably the most excited I’ve been about a single the whole time I’ve been doing music, so yeah, pretty keen to have it out..” We can all look forward to hearing more of an experimental and psychedelic approach with a “massive jam at the end” – can’t wait!
And for the future? The first Males full album is planned for release in about a year’s time. “…there’s about 25-30 songs that have been written that we kind of need to cull down to the best ones”. A tour is likely to follow the album’s release – “Australia is definitely a must and we also want to go to the States” where the band has requests to perform in the New York area.
Males are performing at ReFuel this Saturday (8 March). If you’re a fan, it’ll be your last chance to see them for a few months.