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3.   Methodology


3.3.8   Interviews

In Chapter 2, the problems of popular music analysis were outlined; the

conclusion was reached that popular music is fundamentally similar to classical music, but sometimes diverges in its practices. The hardest task for the analyst is walking this tightrope and understanding when traditional analytical tools and theories are less appropriate. To assist in this process, the songwriters of Nature’s Best songs were contacted and, where possible, interviewed.

Sara Cohen points out that popular music researchers have often embraced journalistic and socio-statistical sources which provide some insight into how the music is received; however, fewer researchers have examined the personal aspects of producing popular music.37 Negus’ Producing Pop is one exception that focuses primarily on industry issues.38 Cohen argues that there is a need to consider the “people and their musical practices and processes” which would

“emphasise that popular music is something created, used and interpreted by different individuals and groups.”39

35 Dai Griffiths, “From Lyric to Anti-Lyric: Analyzing the Words in Pop Song,” in Analyzing Popular Music, ed. Allan F. Moore (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003), pp. 39-59.

36 Comparing, for example, Tim Finn and Neil Finn in Split Enz and Crowded House, with Bic Runga, Shona Laing and Dave Dobbyn as solo artists.

37 Sara Cohen, “Ethnography and Popular Music Studies,” Popular Music 12, no. 2 (1993), 127.

38 Keith Negus, Producing Pop: Culture and Conflict in the Popular Music Industry (London:

Edward Arnold, 1992).

39 Cohen, “Ethnography and Popular Music Studies,” 127.

Cohen works, by and large, from an ethnomusicological position and is thus more concerned with music as a social activity, rather than a specific text. This can be a frustrating approach. In one case, she discusses Jack Levy, a Liverpool Jew, and reaches the rather general conclusion, “Music reflects social,

economical, political and material aspects of a particular place in which it is created. Changes in place thus influence changes in style.”40 It is not considered whether a listener would or could identify any music as being specifically from Liverpool.

Whereas Cohen’s ethnographical work focuses on social and biographical details, the interviews for the present study began with the musical texts and their composition. Questions were formulated around analytical details that were relatively open to interpretation, such as unusual harmonic progressions,

melodic lines, modulations, instrumentation, production features, and so forth.

The interviews revealed multiple compositional approaches, ranging from

“that’s just what we did,” to specific reasons for a particular detail, either musical, stylistic, or pertaining to the lyrics. Songwriters were also invited to speak more generally about music in New Zealand and other stylistic and cultural issues. Given the focus on “New Zealand music” in this thesis, it seemed pertinent to ask whether the songwriters identified with such an idea.

This method is similar to four studies. In The Beatles as Musicians, Everett refers to primary and secondary sources —studio outtakes, manuscripts and published interviews — to better understand how The Beatles’ songs were composed.41 That said, Everett’s analysis is still undertaken from a distanced standpoint like most analytical work. The authors analysed the texts in

conjunction with songwriter interviews (in Downes’ case, ‘with himself’) and

40 Sara Cohen, “Sounding Out The City: Music and the Sensuous Production of Place,”

Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers 20, no. 4 (1995), 444. For a more insightful ethnographic-analytical combination, see Sara Cohen, Decline, Renewal and the City in Popular Culture: Beyond the Beatles (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2007), pp. 55-59.

41 Walter Everett, The Beatles as Musicians: Revolver through the Anthology (New York:

Oxford University Press, 1999).

were thus able to ascertain why particular features appeared in the songs. This technique helps bridge the gap between the songwriter and the analyst.

Musicians were initially contacted through email; most had promotional websites that contained a “contact” link, either directly to the artist or to their manager. The musicians were given an overview of the research, which included the aims and reasons for interviews. Subsequent arrangements were made to meet in person or talk by phone or email. Early in the project, Mike Chunn was interviewed; he then contacted other musicians and recommended they participate in the project.

The interviews lasted between thirty minutes and two hours. Although brief questions were prepared, most interviewees spoke freely without prompting. As well as discussing musical details and songwriting craft, they often offered historical information around their music. For example, when discussing The Front Lawn’s ‘Andy,’ Don McGlashan began by recounting his time in New York during the mid-1980s, in which he was exposed to Irish folk music. This experience encouraged a more stripped-back approach to songwriting, as heard in Songs from the Front Lawn.

At times, interviewees made mistakes, such as recalling historical events or musical details inaccurately, although these did not impact significantly on their views. It was necessary, however, to treat some comments with a degree of critical suspicion. One songwriter, for example, explained that he only wrote

“original music — if I find traces of another song while I’m writing, I throw the song away.” The underlying point is obvious enough, but at face value, the comment is absurd. To take this statement and use it as evidence of ‘unique’

New Zealand music, for example, would be misleading. In other cases,

songwriters held strong opinions on people or other artists in the New Zealand industry. Although these opinions are informative and valid, one must be aware of each interviewee’s own agenda.

The interviewees are quoted in this thesis by name with their permission.

Because of the sole musical focus, there was not enough space to include the

contextual information from the interviews, fascinating as the stories were. The benefit of the interviews was that they encouraged rounded interpretations of songs and provided greater perspectives on issues within New Zealand music.

Thus, many of the ideas put forth in Chapter 5 were influenced by the interviewees’ views, even if they are not quoted directly. This relates, in particular, to artists discussing their influences and stylistic compasses; this information shaped the arguments concerning New Zealand styles and

indicators. Similar conclusions may have been reached without the interviewees, however, it was reassuring to have ideas supported and challenged by the people about whose music this thesis is written.