Q&A | Arthur Ahbez has fun with knobs & buttons, on Volume II

An old soul – who would love to control the Duniverse – Arthur Ahbez tailors tunes using the fine threads of psychedelia, folk and sitar. With roots in New Zealand’s Coromandel Peninsula, a region that has helped many locals and travellers alike to realise what life’s really all about, Arthur has just released his second album, Volume II, and is itching to tour it beyond Aotearoa. Sarah quizzed him about music, recording, and seeking out the Spice Melange.

Where are you from, and what’s been your experience of making music in NZ? Do you find the industry to be supportive of independent artists?
I’m from a small coastal town on the Coromandel Peninsula of the North Island in New Zealand, but my last decade has been spent in the city of Auckland, and this is where I have spent my time writing and playing. As for the experience – in NZ – it’s been fine so far, but I feel I’ve amply squeezed everything from it, so it may be time to flee overseas, and jostle my creative cadaver to awaken anew.

How did you start out making music, and what are your memories of making and releasing your first album, Gold?
I first started making up my own songs when I was around 18 or so, just noodling around on the guitar but not writing any lyrics. The first actual song with words I wrote when I was 21, and from then on began learning about my own creative processes and the ups and downs of trying to create original material.

Making Gold was a rather special time for me, as I was so excited to be able to finally record my works and have the freedom of crafting it myself without having to bear the financial cost of hiring out a studio. With that, unfortunately, came the pitfalls of working alone and wading through crippling self-doubt as I tried to complete the album.

Who else was involved in the making of your second – latest – album, Volume II?
I was fortunate enough to have the help of some very talented people. In particular, on the second track on the album, ‘The Painters Portrait – Part 2’. This track features some Indian tablas played by the sagacious Basant Madhur from the Sagram School of Indian Music – he is my sitar tutor.

“It may be time to flee overseas, and jostle my creative cadaver to awaken anew.”

It also features a saxophone solo which was recorded by a Germany-based artist called Peculiaroso. He contacted me on Facebook from Berlin after he heard Gold, and also shared with me some of his music. After seeing him play sax I invited him to play on the album and the result is special indeed.

Volume II was recorded on an 8-track tape machine. In a fast-paced digital age, why move slow?
I don’t really consider working on tape a slow process, if you know what you are doing. Digital recording has some huge advantages when it comes to editing and scalability, for example, but for someone such as myself who enjoys older technology, I find working with tape a really satisfying experience.

The limitations of 8 tracks on a machine mean you have to get really creative within those limitations in terms of your sonic landscape, whereas on a digital audio workstation (DAW) you have an infinite number of tracks you can work with.

Having restrictions on the amount of layers you can add to a song can be a really good thing, as a lot of popular music these days is oversaturated with so many different effects and such that the essence of a song can be easily lost, and it is much easier to hide a shitty song behind a veil of ostentatious production.

What are some of the pros and cons of working with an analogue tool?
All those knobs and buttons! Does it not look like fun?

Have you spent much time touring internationally? What have been some of your favourite times, being on the road – or just playing live?
I recently wrapped up a 7-date nationwide tour of New Zealand which was pretty fun. The band and I got to play to some great dancing crowds, and it is always rewarding making new friends and fans along the way. I actually quite enjoy the travel, as I’m getting to see New Zealand again for the first time since those childhood vacations, and reconnecting with how beautiful and diverse the nature in our country is. We have yet to tour internationally, but I am aiming to get us over to the USA next year.

It seems apparent that, musically speaking, you’re an old soul. If you could pick another time to live, other than now, when would it be and why?
I would go 10,000 years into the future and get on the Spice Melange. The Spice extends life. The Spice expands consciousness. The Spice is vital to space travel. He who controls the Spice, controls the universe!

Good answer. Who are some of your favourite artists, in terms of those you consider inspirations and catalysts for your own sound?
Neil Young has always been one of the major influences for me musically and philosophically. From what I can tell, he has always made his career and artistic decisions for the sake of the music, regardless of what anyone else thinks or if his audience actually likes it or not.

“Having restrictions on the layers you can add can be a really good thing… it is much easier to hide a shitty song behind a veil of ostentatious production.”

He is a pure creative, and I really respect that. As a live performer he has an amazing talent for cultivating raw energy from his band and the audience to take the music somewhere real and unrefined. I thrive on this and try to employ such measures at my own shows.

Any up-and-coming NZ artists you’d recommend our readers check out?
I highly recommend checking out the new 2-track EP from Ounce and also Dave Weir’s new single.

Arthur’s latest album Volume II is out now. Get it via Bandcamp.

Sarah Illingworth is a freelance journalist and Editor at Impolitikal. She has an MSc in Poverty & Development from the University of Manchester. Read more by Sarah.