Interview with Martin of God Bows To Math
Despite all the hype that goes around being a rock star most bands find success not through some mystical muse but by years of dedication and hard work. God Bows To Math is one of those bands that embraces the challenge and embodies the spirit of DIY. They have been building a name for themselves across New Zealand and Australia for their incendiary live shows and explosive brand of noise-rock. Last year they helped the Shanghai band Pairs to tour New Zealand and now in a reciprocal effort This Town Touring brought them to China. We checked in with guitarist Martin Phillips to ask him about the tour and find out why it is that the most interesting and unique things are often created out of the mundane.
First things first, when you say god bows to math, just what kind of bow are we talking about? For example, one where you place one hand behind your back and place one foot in front of the other, like how gentlemen would bow to hot girls in 17th century Europe? Or feet together, hands at your side, like a Japanese business associate welcoming you at the airport? Talk me through this one…
I always imagined it was something altogether more theatrical, with fluid and exaggerated arm movements ushering in the next act.
The name itself isn’t ours, we stole it from ‘Double Nickels on the Dime’, I love the song as it maintains an air of mystery (in both the music and the lyrics) always seemingly resistant to definition. Phonetically I think it sounds great as well (anything more than four syllables is wasting my time) and it means we sit on record store shelves near HDU and Godspeed.
Death From Above 1979 used to tell people they met on a pirate ship/ in a gay bar/ at a Sonic Youth concert. How did you guys meet?
We once tried to tell a radio show host that we met in a public toilet in Panmure. It fell pretty flat at the time and served to reinforce the fact that none of us are ever going to take off on the professional comedy circuit.
The actual answer is a little bit more boring but I think boring has a bad reputation. Sometimes the most mundane things are the best.
I met Tom when my family moved up to Auckland and I had to switch high school for the last year or two of my school life. That was about ten years ago now, at various points we’ve worked together, lived together, and played in bands. I took up guitar in my last year at high school, Tom had been in the school band and I knew he could play drums. One summer he had access to a local church so we jammed on Black Sabbath riffs one afternoon (Tom guaranteed his ticket to hell in the process, but I’m Catholic so I’m still okay), had a great time and decided to form a band.
We met Cuss through his old band Sherpa who played at our second ever show. He filled in a couple of times when we were left in the lurch and about four years ago we convinced him to join permanently.
You can see what I mean when I describe it as boring. As nice as it would be to have some fantastical origin story involving an alien invasion, the Knights Templar and the large hydron collider, at the end of the day I think the longevity of a band really does hinge on being able to spend long periods of time in a smelly confined car together without getting into fisticuffs. Having two awesome people that are dependable definitely wins out over crazy origin myths.
I know a heap of kids based in Asia who haven’t been to New Zealand, so please, paint them a picture; what’s the scene like there? What are the logistics of putting out records, doing shows, doing tours?
It’s a bit difficult to compare to what’s happening in China since this will be our first time over there. I imagine things aren’t too much different when you get down to the bones of the matter.
New Zealand has nice scenery, and generally everyone is fairly easy-going. More than anything, it’s a small place both geographically and in terms of population and this has it’s own positives and negatives. The music community is very tight-knit but there isn’t a lot of choice when it comes to playing different cities etc. There’s enough of a distribution channel to be able to release independent music although the chances of making money are always verging on non-existent. There is a plethora of amazing artists that usually sit a little too far outside the mainstream to be easily found. Around the country there are a bunch of really great supportive venues (Lucha Lounge or Whammy in Auckland, Mighty Mighty and Puppies in Wellington, Space Monster, Queens, Chicks Hotel and darkroom all spring to mind). Most of the effort that gets put into putting on shows and running venues is a labor of love.
If anyone is interesting in coming over to NZ to play shows or even just to holiday feel free to get in touch (godbowstomathband AT gmail DOT com).
God Bows To Math at MAO, Beijing
How did three upstanding young men like yourselves fall in with those dograts Pairs?
As with most people who know Rhys there is a long and complex story as to how we met (note: there isn’t really; it’s all fairly straightforward).
Back in early 2008 his old band (Bang Bang Aids) came over to NZ for the second time to play a couple of shows. Somehow they ended up on a bill at one of the worst venues Auckland has ever seen (The PR Bar – R.I.P) and the promoter asked me if my band wanted to play. At that stage I was in a band with Tom and a couple of other friends playing music that was quite different to GBTM, after we played our set (my memory is fairly hazy as this was over five years ago) one of the BBA guys came backstage and said “man, you guys are pretty s**t ay”. We then witnessed BBA’s set and half of our band thought it was one of the best things we’d ever seen and the rest were tied between ambivalence and outright hatred of what these rats were doing to music.
That spelled the end of that and shortly after we formed GBTM (this is a very simplified version). So Rhys is partly responsible for breaking up our old band. Thankfully when Pairs came over to NZ in 2012 we managed to join them for most of their tour without imploding.
Pairs release in NZ through MUZAI and that’s how we really got close to each other, touring with them was incredibly fun. Both Rhys and F are fantastic human beings and very skilled musicians.
This 7″ release is joining the dots between a number of scenes; the UK, Australia, New Zealand and China. Why is it important to make the effort to branch out and do something beyond your own scene?
It’s really nice to be collaborating with people who share the same attitude towards music. I think having people from different parts of the world involved makes it feel like something bigger than it probably is which is a great feeling. There’s a sense of camaraderie that’s cross-cultural in releasing independent music. The other great thing is that when we finally do get to travel and play music we meet these amazing people that we already know quite well. We were lucky enough to go to Australia a couple of times and hang out with Shaun (tenzenmen) and when we get to China we’ll hopefully meet Nevin in the flesh as well.
I really respect what Genjing does in bringing together artists from different parts of the world. Tenzenmen and Bomb Shop have the same sort of approach and MUZAI is increasingly working with overseas artists. It would be really great to bring some more NZ artists into this sort of fold. It also keeps things more affordable since the cost is split between more parties.
God Bows To Math with Carb on Carb, Pairs and the Rat On Swamp Dog crew at Harley’s, Shanghai
What do you think kids in NZ can learn from Asia based bands? What can the world learn from kids in NZ?
One thing about the most of the Chinese bands I listen too is that they don’t seem to fit neatly into a particular genre (I’m talking of bands like P.K.14 or Duck Fight Goose), that’s one thing I picked up on. I think that’s a good attitude to have, there’s nothing worse than having one poor version of some international band in your city, which definitely happens (there’s always one Lightning Bolt, one Godspeed etc).
I’m not sure what anyone can learn from NZ kids, I don’t really speak to kids much so I am probably quite out of touch with what’s currently happening. I think being a small country New Zealand bands have the bonus of not worrying about signing to a major or achieving fame and fortune. There is an expectation that you have to work incredibly hard to make anything resembling a living from music (see Die! Die! Die! for an example) so bands generally don’t have to worry about financial concerns when writing and touring, it tends to make the music more adventurous without such concerns. Even the ones who do make a living tend to retain their own unique approach.
What are you expecting from the China tour? Will this be your first time coming to Asia? Aren’t you mad that This Town Touring didn’t hook you up playing some children’s parties?
Oh goodness gracious me, I think if we played children’s parties there would be a few concerned parents out there. I’ve always preferred audiences that are old enough to drink alcohol since that tends to make their view of us more favorable (alcohol+loud noise = more favorable opinion of our music).
We don’t have many expectations going into the tour. It’s going to be an incredible life experience for us and at the end of the day we just want to go somewhere a bit different from NZ and hang out with some old friends while we’re at it.
Once the vinyl is out there, it’s there forever. It doesn’t biodegrade, you can’t delete it by accident; what’s the significance of this 7″?
It’s our first release on actual vinyl (we’ve had a few lathe cut releases) and the first time we’ve done something with this level of collaboration across different labels. On a personal note it’s been something we’ve been working towards for nearly two years and we’re incredibly proud to finally have it out in the world.
After the release and the tour, what’s on the cards for GBTM?
Once we get home we are playing a show with a friend’s band from Australia and then maybe one or two other shows over the holiday period. We’ll be taking it fairly easy on the gig-front. We have finished the writing and almost finished the recording for our second album so we’ll spend a bit of time on the post-production side of things.
With the next one we want to put it out on vinyl so it’ll take a while to get the money together. The idea is to have it out next year sometime if possible and to tour it once it is released. We’re hoping to tour a bit farther afield as well as maybe heading back to Australia or China. Once that’s done it might be time for a break but I guess we’ll see what happens.