Mike McLeod is the man behind The Shifting Sands which was (to begin with) his own psychedelic pop-project, from New Zealand. However, it turned into a larger project involving many notable artists from Dunedin that helped him recording and master it, each one of them lending their strength to the music via the instruments they play. With the help of these artists, his first album Feel was released in April. I asked the man about his influences, the artists who helped him, what it’s like living in Dunedin and much more.
Hello Mike! Could you tell me about your band The Shifting Sands? You played in The Alpha State before, but when did your musical venture really start?
– I think I started playing the piano when I was 5 or 6. I’ve always loved music, and have fond memories of singing along on family car trips to The Beatles. They’re some of my earliest memories.
I noticed that you’ve collaborated with many notable Dunedin-artists, which position did each of them have and were you happy with the result?
– Yes, I had a number of lovely people playing on the record. David Kilgour (The Clean, The Great Unwashed) played guitar on a few songs, Robbie Yeats (The Dead C, The Verlaines) plays drums on half the album, Robert Scott (The Clean, The Bats) plays bass on a few songs, Lesley Paris (Look Blue Go Purple) drums on a song, Jay Clarkson (The Expendables, Breathing Cage) plays guitar on a couple of songs, Tom Bell (David Kilgour and the Heavy Eights) plays bass on a few tracks and recorded half the album, Tony de Raad (David Kilgour and the Heavy Eights, Lanky) plays guitar on quite a few songs, and played bass on a track. Tex Houston (The 3Ds – Hellzapoppin, The Clean – Mister Pop) recorded the other half of the album, and mastered the album. They all did an amazing job, and lended their various flavors to the album, which helped to make it what it is.
What would you say is the essence of the music you make?
– Hmm. I’m not really sure what essences are! I think Aristotle was wrong about essences (see Aristotelian Essentialism)! But, I think if I were to describe the kind of music it is, I think it is psychedelic pop music.
You’ve recorded your debutalbum Feel in multiple locations, could you tell me about the creative process behind it?
– The album was a solo project to begin with. I did three main tracking sessions, one at Albany Street Studios, which is a pretty professional outfit run by the University. I believe the room is a replica of BBC2, and it has a nice, clean, and crisp sound about it. As it is run by the University, it has a number of rules and formalities about it, which can make it a less enjoyable space to record if you want to relax and have fun. We (David Kilgour, Tom Bell, Tony de Raad, and I) were kicked out of a session by some moronic security guards one night, who couldn’t see that we were a bunch of adults trying to work.
Anyway… We also tracked a session at Burlington Street, which is a church hall that Tex has access to. It’s a nice space, it sounds good, and is comfortable. The third tracking session was in the lounge of a flat that I lived in at the time, up above the city of Dunedin. From there, we recorded a bunch of overdubs in bedrooms and lounges about the place, and Tom and Tex mixed their tracks from home. We mastered the album at Tex’s place. It’s always a pleasure to hang out at Tex’s, enjoying a nice cup of home roasted espresso.
What inspired you musically to seek the path of psychedelic pop?
– Discovering the psychedelic pop music of the 60s and 70s from the box sets such as Nuggets were a progression from the psychedelic moments I always loved hearing in The Beatles. I guess that’s when I first fell in love with psychedelic pop.
Since this first release is a collection of songs written by you, will you be releasing any other material this year?
– Yes. The Shifting Sands have been recording recently. I’m touring the USA in August and September in another band (The Blueness) and will be getting some 7”s pressed while I’m over there of a new single and a b-side. The Blueness are putting out an album this year as well, which I’ve been helping record and mix, as well as play on. I also drum in a band called Bad Sav who will be putting out an EP this year as well.
Where do you find the inspiration when you’re writing your songs? In what way did the influence entwine with the music?
– I find inspiration everywhere. In people quite a lot, from situations, interactions, movies, books. I guess there’s always some background music playing in my head which interacts with these moments. Obviously the lyrics that come from these influences end up as the vocals to the songs, so they entwine there.
So, now after your first release – will you be playing live anywhere? If so, will the musicians you collaborated with follow you?
– We’ve been touring New Zealand this year, playing shows all over the country. We’re playing some more shows here in July. The live band is myself, Tom Bell, and Jake Langley. The other collaborators from the album don’t join us live, it’s hard enough to tour as a 3 piece, there’s no money in it!
It also seems like you’ve got quite an oriental touch to the album, namely the song The Kitchen Sink – and some riffs here and there reminding me of it. What do you think is the best thing about the oriental sound and in what way did you think about combining it with the more western-styled music?
– I’ve always loved the moments of The Beatles that have incorporated eastern instruments. I’ve also loved the eastern, or oriental sounding modes that appear a bit in The Clean, and much of David Kilgour’s work. The best thing about the oriental sounds is that they sound so mystical and groovy. If you find yourself writing pop music, but don’t want it to sound too straight down the middle, it’s nice to look for something to add flavor, or to twist the sound a bit. These eastern sounds do a great job of this I think.
Since I’ve already read a bit of your life-story in another interview, I’d like to ask you: where do you feel that you are now? How have you progressed over the years? At what are you aiming for in the distant future, what’s the ultimate goal?
– Well, I’m pretty good right now! I’m settled here in Dunedin, I have good employment, a cosy cottage, and I have a nice lifestyle and great friends. My aims are to continue much the same way as I have been doing so, I’d like to keep making Shifting Sands records every year or two.
What other band would you like to lend your hand to if they’d ask for your help?
– Well, if The Beatles had wanted a guest vocalist, I’d certainly have lent a hand!
In another interview you answered the questions above about why you’ve integrated that sound within your music, but I’d like to ask you about where you’ll be going with these influences? Do you have anything in mind for the future?
– Well, my musical influences change a little over time as I discover different music, and my tastes change somewhat. So, I imagine the strong influences will always remain influences. I hope the future contains more good influences!
What did you want this album to be when you were thinking it out, writing songs and recording? What would you say are the general subjects taken up besides island-life?
– The songs are to do with friendship, relationships, staying up all night going stir-crazy, and cynical social commentary mostly. I wanted the album to be well performed and captured, and I guess I was ambitious with the number of guests I wanted to incorporate.
This album reflects the sorrows, joys and melancholy accompanied with many more elements. Do you think it’d be different if you’d be living in a big city and not on an Island?
– Well, I think there is an affinity with the water and the ocean that comes through in this album. I’m not sure if it would have been different if I’d been elsewhere. Dunedin is a small city (125,000 people) but the South Island of New Zealand is a pretty massive island! But yeah, sure, I imagine the music would sound different if I’d had lots of different geographical influences.
What would you say are the most positive things about living on an island and what are the most negative?
– Again, it’s funny to think of us living on an island. The south island is 150,000km2. I love living by the coast, I love to drive out to Aramoana, and around the West Harbour of Dunedin. I can’t imagine life without a trip to the sea every couple of days.
So, what other influences would you like to get in, that you haven’t managed to get in yet?
– Hmm. I’m not sure about that, I think the next album will be a bit of a progression from the last, so a few new influences might end up coming through.
What do you think about the aesthetics of your album? It feels like it resonates very good with the name of the band and the album name. But who made the cover and what was the inspiration for it? Did you like how it turned out in the end and was it any different before it was finished?
– Tom Bell, who recorded half the album, and plays bass on the other half, took the photographs for the cover. They look great I think! They definitely suit the aesthetic of the band. The photographs were taken using long exposure times and using various lights. They are pretty abstract, and psychedelic. I’m really happy with how the album looks.
In what decade would you feel most at home if you’d go on a time-trip back a maximum of 70 years, musically?
– The 1960s I’d say, but if the time machine misfired and spat me out in the 70s, that would be ok too.
What would you say is the number one thing that keeps your train running when it comes to music? In what way would you say that music affects you? Do you have any particular album or song that’ll break you down emotionally?
– I just feel a compulsion to make music, I want to do it all the time! I’m not sure what fuels that fire really, but I ain’t complaining. I enjoy it immensely, especially in the studio. I can’t think of many better ways to spend a day then recording with the band. Well, I think music just makes life better! Can you imagine life without music? God, it would be awful! I put it on when I’m happy, I put it on when I’m sad, angry, whenever, and good music is always good medicine. Nick Drake’s Pink Moon would be the album that comes to mind when I think of a tear jerker.
Have there been any obscure influences on your debutalbum under this name? Something everyone should check out?
– I think the albums that I was listening to the most when I recorded this album were The West Coast Pop Art Experimental Band, Volume 1, and Love’s Forever Changes. They’re probably not that obscure to some people but definitely worth checking out!
What other bands in the same genre would you sincerely like to recommend to the readers of this blog?
– I’ve been really impressed by a young Dunedin band called The Scattered Brains of the Lovely Union. They’re miles apart from The Shifting Sands musically in many ways, but I’d still dub them psychedelic pop.
So, are you planning on coming to Sweden anytime to play live?
– I would love to come to Sweden! But we have no plans at the moment. Please make us an offer though, we’ll be there in a flash!
What beverages and/or food do you generally eat and drink when you’re in the process of having a long time recording and hard-work in front of you?
– We’re fans of single malt whiskey, boutique beer, and nice Pinot Noir or Shiraz. We also get pretty into our cooking, the last time we had a long recording session we slowly roasted an organic free-range pork roast.
Thank you for this interview! Do you have any last words?
– Thank you, it’s nice to know people are listening and enjoying what we do!
Listen to his debutalbum under the name The Shifting Sands over here:
You can also find him over here: