I interviewed all of the bands at the New Zealand showcase CMJ event earlier this week. I'll be posting each one over the next week or so, starting today with the duo Cairo Knife Fight.
The Secrets of Sin by Cairo Knife Fight
TWD: Since this is the New Zealand showcase and I don't know a lot about New Zealand, if I were to ever go there, tell me something I should make sure to see. Something maybe not as obvious.
Aaron Tokona (guitarist): Oh ok. You should go to Rotorua, that's a really good place to go.
Nick Gaffaney (drummer / lead vocals): Yeah definitely.
TWD: You guys are familiar Spinal Tap and Almost Famous? In Spinal Tap, you have this band, everything's going wrong, especially the Stonehenge scene. Then on the opposite side you have Almost Famous and the "I am a golden god!" scene when he's on the rooftop. Could you tell me a Stonehenge moment and a golden god moment?
Aaron: Ok, I'll do golden god.
Nick: Oh, of course you will.
Aaron: There's a few of them. We supported Them Crooked Vultures. Did the soundcheck, walked off the stage, down the stairs, and into the waiting hands of John Paul Jones. That was pretty golden-y.
TWD: Yeah, that's a good one.
Aaron: (Laughs) He welcomed us to the tour. He was such a lovely guy. I was kind of in rock royalty shock.
Nick: The Stonehenge moment, we haven't had anything quite as funny happen to us, but we're currently in the middle of what could be considered a rather bizarre experience. When we landed here a couple days ago, we landed in LA, and by the next morning, we had separated from our manager. We came here with absolutely nowhere to stay 'cause we were supposed to be staying with him. We only really got it sorted out the second day we got here. This complete package of team ended up just him [Aaron] and I split off. And it was full on, too. It wasn't "Um, we're just going to go home." It was a big thing.
TWD: You don't mean you guys got to the airport at different times, you mean like –
Nick: Severed ties. With our manager of two years.
TWD: Oh my goodness.
Aaron: Yeah. One day into our US trip.
Nick: The night we arrived. We're in New York the very next day basically and we lost our place to stay. And he's got the money.
Aaron: He's got our everything (laughs).
Nick: Yep, it's full on.
TWD: Well nothing like playing a few shows, right?
Nick: Yeah. What's ended up, man, is another golden god moment. The luck of the gods. We ended up staying with Gary, who's running this whole thing. We're here because of him. We'd never even met him, and he just took us in when he heard about our situation. Incredible.
TWD: Very cool. I'm always interested to hear about how people get into music. Particularly it seems like good stories come from when you share a moment with someone else that gets you into it. Maybe an older sibling or a girl you're interested in. Wondered if you could tell me a story of how you got into something you really like.
Aaron: My story is really easy: musical family. Everyone sung and played guitar really well. There were a lot of instruments always lying around the house. There wasn't any pressure, there were no music lessons, there was no obligation to go and do music. It was just like I picked up a guitar that was lying around. That was it really. And then the point comes when you start getting good at something and start getting attention for it and then you just kind of go your way.
Nick: Yeah, "This is who I am now. I'm that guy." Yeah. A guy came to my school and played theme songs from The Blues Brothers and that was it.
TWD: Really, that's cool.
Nick: Yeah, and he started giving lessons. I was about 6 years old. He was one of those guys who taught everything. He played everything kind of averagely. But back then he was a god to us.
TWD: I was listening to your latest EP, Cairo Knife Fight II. Listening to the music and reading the titles and listening to the words, there are some heavy or intense feelings. Like the first track "The Violence of Action." What's something you think worth fighting for? When might violence actually be necessary to accomplish something? Have you ever experienced that?
Nick: Yeah. Protecting the honor of a woman seems to be something that's worth fighting for.
Aaron: Absolutely. Obviously family. There's lots of ways to fight for something.
TWD: How about on the opposite side of that, there's that one line that says "We'll wonder how we came to this." Is there something that people are obsessed with and putting their energy into that you just don't get?
Nick: Yeah. I got lots of people that I know in my life that make me wonder if I'm unaware of myself living that same life. Someone who's putting their obsession and their time and their intense passion in something and you look at them and go, "Can't you see where you're going? It's not going where you think it's going, it's going somewhere completely else." So I'm constantly wondering, "And I'm doing that?" That's my little anxiety thing that spins around in my head at night. Am I blind to my own path in what I'm doing? 'Cause it's part of the thing that happened with our management. We were going in different directions and we didn't even realize until about 48 hours ago. So it's freaky, it's scary to think about how you could be completely looking at things the wrong way, or a way which isn't good for you, but you don't even know.
TWD: You guys have had a lot going on in your heads and lives lately, it sounds like.
Aaron: Yeah, it's been intense.
Nick: It's been a full on year, this one.
Aaron: We're both from Christchurch, we both suffered the Christchurch earthquakes. So you talk about the intensity of the album, you can connect the dots there. We were right in the thick of it. It was disastrous, that whole thing. And it's still going on.
Nick: We almost didn't make the EP. We were almost like "Oh, this is just too full on." I was having really bad wrist problems. I did the whole EP with wrist braces on. I couldn't move my wrists at all. I had to play like that (gestures stiffly). We almost called it off 'cause we were thinking "Man, everything at home is so fucked up."
Aaron: We were driving to practice through a city that was completely in rubble.
Aaron: But we're just trying our best to carry on. In those situations, the best thing you can do is try and carry on.
Nick: Yeah, it's what you do.
TWD: What was something you read or saw, maybe when you were a teenager, that was very eye-opening that changed how you viewed things?
Nick: It sounds kind of wanky, but I met this girl who was much older than me and she was a really big fan of that writer Milan Kundera. She gave me the book Immortality to read and it just completely blew my mind. I never had any experience like that before, and the fact that it was coming from an older woman, it's making you so much more grown up and so much more aware of the world and that kind of stuff. That really spun me out. It's really profound. I bought that book again since that time just to see if it would do it again.
TWD: Did it?
Nick: Yeah, it always does. The same with The Age of Reason and those European stories of love and loss, that kind of thing which I was dealing with at the time. That was a big experience. Classic, I guess.
Aaron: I'm a native New Zealand Maori, I grew up in a Maori upbringing. We had these things called tangis, which are basically funerals, but our funerals last three days. Lots of people come and we take them into this traditional house called a marae. I've grown up going to those things. Very interesting experience. Like one day I was talking to my grandmother and the next day going to a tangi, it's quite full on. Death in modern culture is quite a full on process, I think this helps a lot of Maori kids.
TWD: On the opposite side of that, there are all these distractions and things we sometimes escape into, maybe for fun sometimes. What's something like that for you?
Nick: TV shows.
TWD: What do you like?
Nick: Oh man, The Wire, The Sopranos, Battlestar Galactica, Deadwood. (Aaron laughs). I love that shit, man. I chop a whole season a day. 13 hours, just like that. My girlfriend is kind of obsessed with Battlestar Galactica. But when I told her I was into it, she was like "Fucking gay aliens in space." And I was like "What?" "Fucking gay aliens in space, it's just stupid." And then I show it to her and she's absolutely obsessed with it now. She wants to be Starbuck. So that's my thing. Just obsessively watching TV shows and DVDs.
Aaron: Same here.
TWD: There are a lot of good ones. You mentioned aliens, I'm going to try and do this with all the bands, see if we can make a little playlist: There's an alien spaceship that comes to earth, you have to give them a song or two to represent humanity. What would you want that to be? What would you give to the aliens?
Aaron: I'd give them "Third Stone from the Sun" – Jimi Hendrix.
Nick: Yeah that's a good idea. Hmm, I don't know, man.
Aaron: You're going to get that a lot.
Nick: I've been obsessively listening to for about 3 years that song "Burning Beard" by Clutch. It's kind of crazy, but I'm just completely obsessed with it, man. I love everything about it. I'd probably want to play that. If you want to represent the Earth, I think you'd have to go back to someone like Jimi or the Beatles. They got to make it in.
Aaron: Yeah, the Beatles.
TWD: Give me a random question and I'll ask the next band, I'm going to make a chain.
Aaron: (Laughs) This is great.
Aaron: Who would you shag…No, that's a dumb one.
Nick: It's a good idea, I'm just drawing a blank, man.
Aaron: What about something like "On Episode 19 of The Wire, what did blah-blah mean," something like that.
Nick: Ok, yeah. Something from Battlestar would be good. Ask them "Who was the 13th Colony?" Don't give them any references.
For more on Cairo Knife Fight, check out their website here. And be sure to check back for the rest of the interviews!