Martyn Pepperell talks to Alexander Green of Wellington electronica act Groeni about their new album, Nihx, and new sandwich and coffee shop, Good Boy.
At the end of March, Groeni, the vocal electronica project of Wellington musicians Alexander Green, James Paul, and Mike Isaacs, released their debut album Nihx. Around the same time, Groeni members Green and Paul opened Good Boy Food + Drink, a hole-in-the-wall sandwich and coffee spot located at on Riddiford Street in Newtown. Most afternoons, you can find them behind the counter, serving up delicious, considered sandwiches and filter coffee, and cheerfully chatting away with the regulars.
Nihx is one of those dark and touching albums an introspective band crafts through countless late night studio sessions and an obsessive level of reflection. Across it’s soaring running time, effortlessly combining the atmospherics of experimental post-rock with the synthy squelches, shuffling rhythms, and heartbeat pulse of UK garage, house, and techno. All of this rests as the backdrop for Green’s haunted, harrowingly beautiful falsetto. It’s a work of craft and art, where almost every noise, sample, or lyric, was painstakingly written, crafted and manipulated into the form you hear on the record.
Green initially began Groeni as a solo project in 2012, quickly bringing Paul and Isaacs into the fold when he realised he’d been asked to play live shows. Since then, they’ve released three considered and moving EPs, worked closely with Australian music collective Wondercore Island, and boutique German record label Project Mooncircle. Over those six years, they’ve played concerts and festivals across New Zealand, and Australia won acclaim from tastemaking music radio stations like BBC3, KCRW, and Triple J, and diligently honed their craft.
In a series of stolen moments between constructing sandwiches and pouring coffees and winter soups, Green walked me through where things are at with Groeni and Good Boy, how Nihx came together, and what might come next.
The Spinoff: Nihx is out, and Good Boy is open. What’s your headspace like at the moment?
Alexander Green: I get really absorbed in the [creative] process. In most processes actually. It becomes all I can think about. I love it wholeheartedly, but after having a break over summer, it’s now started to dawn on me how much that obsession can crush other aspects of life and kinda suck for people around you. So yeah, after two years of being in the hole, I am so happy man, the happiest I have been in a long time. I feel like I have come back to life emotionally and socially after quite a dormant period. Focussing on other, more immediate things feels really fucking nice right now, and I feel really comfortable. Thanks for asking.
After Nihx, for the first time, I’m kind of scared to go back into that place, but I’m still damn excited to get back into writing and producing, as grinding and isolating as we can make it for ourselves. I need to find the balance somehow or tweak the approach. Ultimately, I guess that sacrifice makes it all worthwhile when you come out the other end. If that trough weren’t such a long grind, I wouldn’t be ripping hang tens on this peak right now perhaps? Maybe I’m just selfish?
Nihx explores the characteristics of points of conflict between opposing forces. Can you expand on how you fleshed this concept out in your composition, performance, and lyrics?
There are two distinct elements in the production – harsh lo-fi aggressive sounds and pretty melodic textures and pads. The lyrics deal with situations that kind of examine these conflict points – self-sabotage, addiction, divorce, abortion, grey areas between black and white ideas, things that remain unanswered, the chaos of middle ground. The push and pull of dark and light thoughts, which is where the name eventually came from. Originally it was Nyx, which got vetoed and changed to Nihx so that we didn’t name the album after a cosmetics giant. Having spent two years on it, little things would pop out of the woodwork working with this as an overarching theme to tie it all together.
Did your listening tastes change much while you were working on Nihx? Is there a relationship between what you listen to, and what you make, or is it an inverse thing for you?
I really didn’t listen to a lot while we made this record. I remember readily seeking out something along the lines of Chopin and Satie but with a bit more weirdo-harmonic. I approached [local jazz musicians] Dan Hayles and Jonathan Crayford and they both immediately recommended [60s Catalan composer] Federico Mompou. I had a bit of a binge on [his piano suite] Musica Callada in the build-up to beginning the album. Other than that, not a hell of a lot. Not that it was a conscious decision to remove myself from music but for whatever reason maybe I didn’t have time to sit and listen to records. Recently I’ve been back on a music bender. Over summer was listening to a lot of 80s pop, post-punk, and acoustic stuff from the ’70s. Working in the shop lets me listen to music all day and defo catching up on lost time.
Who did you work with for the art direction on this project? Have you got any interesting music videos planned?
We did the cover and concept stuff ourselves. I started learning 3D modelling and was planning on making a bunch of videos that followed the album, like an animated emblem for each tune, but we ran out of time and had to call in the pros. We have a video coming out with Russian digital artist Maxim Zhestkov. He is incredible and really seemed to resonate with and interpret the concept and brief we gave him.
Nihx follows the release of three EPs, Groeni, Hewn, and Hinde. In a sense, I guess they mark out different eras for the band. What did you learn from those experiences, and how much of that did you take into the album?
I think it’s important to think about longevity as opposed to making something current, not get fucked up by trends and surroundings, and to have a strong concept that lasts the distance of the production line. This time, we kind of had stages to how we worked. We’d write a song, and if it’s a good song or idea take it to the next stage – production. Then we’d review how it fits into the bigger picture. A lot of stuff got cut. It was a way we could quality control every step of the way and ensure we kept the bigger picture in sight.
Let’s talk about Good Boy, your sandwich and coffee shop. Why was this the right time to do something like this?
It just happened. We had always flirted with the idea of opening a venue. We were having a beer at [a bar in Newtown called] Moon, and saw the advert for the spot we’re doing business out of. We discussed it and the next day talked a little more seriously, then it snowballed. The next thing, we were signing a lease and scraping paint. It is so much fun. We have met so many lovely people. I’m falling in love with Newtown all over again. The support is amazing. Newtown is special, man.
You’ve lived in Newtown for a while now, and help out with running the Newtown Avenue stage at the yearly Newtown Festival. What’s your relationship with the suburb like? Did the people and the place have any influence on Nihx?
Honestly, during the making of the record, I spent so much time inside by myself I could have been anywhere. So musically, up until now, nah. But being in Newtown and amongst its beautiful people every day now, going forward, I don’t see how it couldn’t influence our music, especially with regards to things like empathy, well-being, and our awareness of poverty and social structures. I think we’ve exhausted the whole inward struggle-wank ambient electro fester. It’s starting to feel like we should be thinking about other people.
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