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Serene Spirit: An Interview with East Cape Calling’s Zac Winterwood

We talk to the co-founder of the brilliant New Zealand label.

A picture tells a thousand words. Or so they say. In the case of East Cape Calling, this much is true. Greenery. Splendour. Paradise. A place we all want to escape to. And the artists harnessed by East Cape Calling feed into these ideas. Where imagery almost transcends sound.

The New Zealand label, founded by Zac and Holly Winterwood, appeared on our radar late last year with the release of Adam Casey & The Liminal Choir’s, Nether | Aether. A dark, ambient improv’ sprawl that echoed post-rock legends, Labradford.

From this moment our interest was well and truly piqued, and alongside the exquisite imagery and landscapes surrounding Zac and Holly, it was evident that East Cape Calling was a label that would consistently release the kind of records we like.

East Cape Calling began in 2020, starting with release of compilation, From Our Corners, as well as three separate releases from Zac and Holly’s beguiling project, Winterwood (Painted Night, Mataora and Sketches in Monochrome).

The releases which have followed have been equally enthralling; many of which having featured throughout these pages and are discussed in the forthcoming paragraphs.

This interview has been in the works for most of 2022 (as you’re about to find out via the opening question). However, it’s worked out for the best, with East Cape Calling releasing several new albums during this time.

So with that, after months of back and forth with label co-founder, Zac Winterwood, not only do we have a clearer picture of the East Cape Calling story, we’ve just about covered the first half of this year, too.

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Sun 13: Firstly, Happy New Year to you both. How did you spend the festive period?

Zac Winterwood: “Well, thanks to how busy the year has been thus far, it is now June, and we’ve only just finished answering these questions. But since you’ve asked…

“We had a relatively quiet Christmas period. Mostly staying out of the sun, and spending time bringing a new rescue dog into the family. We love retired New Zealand working dogs, and have become caretakers/parents to three of them. They’re delightful creatures with so much love to give, in spite of having led difficult lives working under some harsh conditions.

“Holly is well into the first year of her Masters in Music Therapy at Victoria University in Wellington. It’s been an amazing study thus far, and I’ve been able to vicariously learn bits and pieces of information about music therapy, which is a fascinating field. We’ve been undergoing a period of adjustment while we see how balancing study and full time employment will change our daily lives.

“After a number of personal difficulties last year, things came to a head, which luckily also led to me finding a diagnosis for ADHD. It has been quite a relief, but at the same time it sends one into a tailspin as the mind naturally goes through a process of reframing a lifetime, and multitude of difficult experiences I’ve faced in trying to exist in society on a day-to-day basis. Where does the individual begin and the disorder end? Are the two separate? In conjunction with appropriate medications I have been in the process of making dietary, physical, and routine changes to better manage it. This has been an interesting start to the year to be sure.”

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S13: Can you tell us how you came to start East Cape Calling?

ZW: “A while ago I used to operate a tiny DIY label named Dreamland Recordings. Which I started when I was 22 years old and living in Melbourne. Due to my age and inexperience the label didn’t have a specific conceptual theme about it, beyond knowing I wanted to work with ambient and experimental music. The releases were basically the result of discovering artists I really clicked with. Originally it started as a series of mini CD releases featuring various forms of ambient music, with the first release being one of my own recordings. It was an excellent series of works featuring artists like Aidan Baker, Dead Letters Spell Out Dead Words, Pablo Reche, and fm3 (not too long before they constructed the Buddha Machine) among many others.

“The label existed for another decade, and then eventually closed in 2012, coinciding with some life changes. This was the same year Holly and I met. Not too long after, we started making music together. During 2013 we spent time travelling and exploring. And in April of that year we visited New Zealand, primarily for a family reunion, which wound up planting the thematic seeds of East Cape Calling, and the idea of creating our own label, with the intention at the time being to specifically to release our own music.”

S13: I think behind all good labels is the name. How much deliberation went into naming the label?

ZW: “Haha, well we did dwell on it for some time. It was important to find something which meant a great deal to us. And this process of thought and meaning, really spending time on ideas with a fine tooth comb came into play much more once we hit our thirties.

“To provide more context on where the name of the label comes from, Holly is of Maori/ Scottish/ Irish descent, and we attended a family reunion of her Maori family on her mother’s side. Her grandmother was born in the tiny town of Te Araroa in the East Cape area.

Te Araroa Township. (photo credit: Holly Winterwood)
Te Araroa. (Photo Zac Winterwood)

“The Bay of Plenty, the town of Te Araroa, and the East Cape in particular are our favourite places in the entire country. Te Araroa, and the East Cape has a majority Maori population, and it is untouched by overpopulation, gentrification and in many cases, even modern technology. In fact many of its inhabitants still primarily live off the land, keeping alive various hunting and fishing traditions.

“There is a wild, untamed energy and spirit unlike anywhere else, and you can feel truly lost in the landscape, in a comforting fashion, should you feel the need to.

Pakihi Valley. Viewed from the East Cape Lighthouse. (photo credit: Zac Winterwood)

“It’s a place we’re always feeling drawn to, as it offers us so much clarity and insight. When we’re away for too long there is an aching to return there, which we try to do as often as we can. Hence the label’s title. East Cape Calling reflects our geographic and spiritual pull towards being in this country, and to the East Cape in particular, and it also reflects what drives us to create music and art.

“There was a period of time where we contemplated East Cape Calling as the title for our music project, but in the end Winterwood was the right fit.

Pohutukawa Tree. East Cape. (Photo Holly Winterwood)

“In regards to the amount of time we took from concept to finally making a start on the label… We’re introverted outsiders, and lead a lifestyle which unfolds within our own unique time schedule. This schedule is intertwined with our art, meaning that we rarely work in a chronological manner of: ’Write, rehearse, record, master, release, perform/tour’. We tend to move all over the map, recording in short bursts, followed by long periods of inactivity, or partially completing a project, and then stepping into another one entirely. This also reflects our aversion to ’time’, and ’new’ mindsets which can unfairly be used to judge music. The music we make is an amalgam of different times and practices. The majority of which we keep close to our chests, as we’re conscious of how easy it is for things like pitching, and explaining to mislead and create falsehoods and erroneous impressions of what the art actually is.

“With all of that in mind, we didn’t fully enact East Cape Calling until March 2020, which coincided with the first New Zealand lockdown. Spending lots of time at home, and finding clear heads afforded us the ability to make some firm decisions regarding how to proceed, and make a firm beginning.”

S13: From afar, it feels like a very brave decision to start up a label during a pandemic. Was this something you thought about before starting up?

ZW: “To be honest it never crossed our minds. We felt that it could be a positive thing at a time where so many people were finding a new attachment and value in music. We only thought as far as taking it in small steps. One of which was to begin to release digital works initially.

“Our first release From Our Corners was reflective of, and a culmination of many artists we’d discovered over the 2018, 2019 period. Beginning the process with a compilation felt like a good starting off point, and a means to collaborate with others. From Our Corners was a simple, humble goal, and quite a learning experience after being away from the concept of record labels for so long.”

S13: Your band Winterwood features on the label as well, which ties in nicely. Do you see the label as a curation of sorts? Like… it could be another chapter to the particular sound that you inhabit?

ZW: “Yes, you are correct there. As mentioned, the original intention was to only release Winterwood works, but it’s just more fun working with, and showcasing other people. Especially artists we feel aren’t represented in a larger sense.

“We do curate in a specific way, and tend to seek out artists, rather than being approached. We work with younger artists, as well as artists we came up with from decades past. Stylistically there is some intangible spirit, mood, atmosphere we look for, which informs our decision making process. Finding the people we wish to work with usually involves some kind of ’ah ha’ moment.

“You will have noticed these words: ‘Time Place Landscape Spirit’ contained in our promotional materials. This is an excellent summation of the qualities music can evoke for us. They inspire and guide us in regards to how we create music, and how we decide to work with other artists.

“Your point also carries weight in relation to From Our Corners. One of the contributing artists, after hearing the entire album said that they felt as though the album was nineteen tracks made by one band, with each track featuring slightly differing instruments and techniques, but with a unified spirit weaving throughout the album. I found this feedback intriguing, and somehow right on point.”

Holly and Zac Winterwood

S13: Adam Casey & The Liminal Choir have featured on these pages during the past couple of months. How did the label come to work with him?

ZW: “I’ve known Adam Casey since 2005 or thereabouts. After seeing his band, Seascapes of the Interior, I wanted to work with him, and wound up booking him for various gigs in Melbourne. Like many musicians in Melbourne we had a peripheral relationship, usually only associating at concerts and then not seeing one another for long stretches. But we finally got to know each other better once Holly and I worked with him in his recording studio over a number of years. He’s an extraordinary artist, musician, collaborator, engineer, educator, and human being. We have learned so much from him, and He from us.

“He has strict quality control, and won’t do anything unless he can accomplish the full vision, and scope he sets out with. We communicate regularly, and it’s been great to have finally worked together on two releases.

Nether | Aether is a superb achievement, and fulfilled one of Adam’s key points of abandoning the use of six string guitars in favour of double, and electric bass guitar. It’s a mesmerizing low-key experience, very evocative of the quiet, late evening atmosphere. I often joke with him that: ’It’s like Labradford, only with emotion.’

Adam Casey(photo credit: by Katie Walsh)

“His latest release as (photo)sphere takes another turn again. Adam’s previous music has always engaged with the aesthetics present in ’ambient music’, but photo(sphere) is the first album in which he fully immerses into this musical tradition. Photo(sphere) is indebted to Eno, for sure, but moves away from his conception of ambient music. These musical pieces as tonal explorations, sonic poems, or, more explicitly, musical vignettes that fleetingly fly by you. They leave something behind in the listener that is perhaps more profound than the pieces of music themselves.

“Conceptually, the album explores the perception of the detritus of the past, positioning the barely perceptible movement left behind by various elemental forces into full focus, be it a flower that shakes after a bird has leapt off it, the silver dust that sprays across the deep ocean floor from the fluke of a whale, the impression of a body in a dune, the flickering residue within our eyes as we squint up at the sky.”

S13: Barnaby Olivers album, My Arms Are Hollow Tubes, is another of ECC’s 2022 releases, and is yet another gem. Can you tell us how you came to collaborate with Barnaby?

ZW: “I met Barney in Melbourne in 2005. I’d heard his name come up in relation to his ’Wall of E’ electric guitar ensemble. Which consisted of him wrangling together 17 players, and then proceeding to have them play the chord of E major over and over again for 45 minutes while he conducted them through various movements. I thought it was daft at that point, but when I saw it in action I was amazed! Amongst many other things he also held a group improvisational performance of Gavin BryarsJesus’ Blood Never Failed Me Yet featuring some of Melbourne’s finest players at that point (including Adam Casey). And notably he recorded a series of ambient, repetition based, lullaby albums for his infant son, which we’d love to release, as they’re awfully good.”

Barnaby Oliver (photo credit: by Andrew Cosgriff)

“Over the next half of that decade I would book gigs with him involved and after a time we started collaborating on bits and pieces. I was only able to fully grasp his talents when I joined a band he played in named The Immediatists – a three-piece consisting of guitar, violin, and drums. I came in to play bass for a period of months. The Immediatists did provide me with a good escape, and quite a bit of fun. We spent most of the time playing together in rehearsal studios, with Barney recording every session, which I’d then edit down into album length works. The Immediatists made some of the craziest music I’d personally been involved in. And there were no rules. Every studio session, and performance was improvised, and anything went!

“I learned a lot playing with those folks, and came away with an artistic mindset which I still practice from time to time. ’Spend some time playing the worst music you can. Explore ugliness, detunings, bad techniques. Crash your car into the ditch, and then get out into the ditch and get muddy’. I stand by that, and encourage any musician to give it a shot. You will learn wonders about yourself as a player.

The Immediatists: L-R: Steven Marton, Barnaby Oliver, Zac Winterwood, Sam Geoghagan (photo credit: Andrew Cosgriff)

The Immediatists is where I really got to discover Barney’s brilliance. And although we’ve not seen each other in over a decade, he remains one of my favourite musicians, as he can play anything. Insofar as he will always come up with interesting ideas, or some approach you would never think of. He’s a great improviser, and never shies away from pushing any envelope, or providing an unexpected blast of distorted electric guitar during a quiet section in a performance, or ripping half of the strings off, only to play the remnants at high volumes creating a sound similar to chiming bells.

My Arms Are Hollow Tubes was completed in 2007, and I had a hand in sequencing the tracks at the time, which I can still remember vividly, as I did the majority of the sequencing during my shitty day job. Barney then shopped the album around the world, trying to find a label for it, but to no avail. It did wind up making the FatCat Records demo reviews section though.

“Time went on, and the album was never released in a proper capacity, beyond a few copies available at gigs. When East Cape Calling had gotten up and running I kept having his album on my mind, and then finally contacted him late 2021 to see if he’d like us to release it.

“My Arms… stands on its own, as occupying a distinct sonic universe. Yet it also acts as a showcase of the aforementioned talents and techniques of which Barney is capable, on both electric guitar, and piano. It was important to release the album as a fully realised document with care, including having the tracks mastered, choosing the right cover imagery, and the right package to present it to the world. We achieved that goal and are very happy with the results. Making contact with Barney again was a pleasure, and he was able to find some closure on the matter. Our dealings also stirred him into getting back into the studio to create a new solo album which we’ll be releasing in the future.”

“Special thanks must go to the painter Rosalie Jurczenko, who lives around the corner from us, and happens to be a highly talented painter of abstracts. Rosalie listened to the tracks, and put together a few selections of paintings she felt tied in with Barney’s music, and between the four of us we landed on a cover. She also created a set of five watercolours specifically tied to the album. We have turned those into prints which are included as a bonus in each package of the CD. So no five copies are exactly alike.”  

Barnaby Oliver’s My Arms Are Hollow Tubes’ CD edition
(photo credit: Amelia Lyon-Eady)

S13: From afar, New Zealand has always deeply been associated with jangle-pop thanks to the likes of Flying Nun. With a label like yours, I feel like it breaks down the boundaries and redefines that there’s a lot more going on in the country’s music scene. Do you see it this way?

ZW: “Yes I would agree with that. New Zealand is home to one of the highest populations of inspiring weirdos and eccentric artists (I say that in the most flattering way). Due to the country’s isolation, and primal landscapes, the creative world here has really flourished and carved out an interesting niche for itself. There is a lot happening musically, on many tiers: mainstream, alternative, underground, and then even further south than that, to the extent that you may never uncover some of it. Due to our own geographic isolation and workload we’ve barely been able to put ourselves out there much to either interact with local artists, or to scratch the surface of this vast world of music and sound. But we continue to try, and the label is reflective of that.

“Our favourite area of interest is the resurgence of traditional Maori instruments. Which has a rich and ancient history. Maori instruments create an otherworldly sound palette which packs an emotional punch, especially when you can experience them in person. We’ve dabbled in collaborating with practitioners in this craft, and are looking forward to doing so again in the future.”

S13: It feels like the landscape of New Zealand is very influential to the label. Would you agree?

ZW: “Absolutely! We’re based in a rural location on the lower north island, with access to all types of natural phenomenon and wonders: mountains to the south, and west, ragged coastlines to the east, and patches of forest in the centre. It’s all quite close together and easily accessible. We’ve amassed our own small library of photography from around the country, which has gradually begun turning up in some release artwork. And we’re also collaborating with a local photographer: Amelia Lyon-Eady, who has been documenting the regions surrounding our town. We will be working with her on photos for a poetry book which will accompany a new Winterwood album to be released later this year.

“We have also dabbled in capturing some field recordings from our area, which have turned up in a new Winterwood album. There are lots of ideas and approaches to explore, but we just need to find the time to bring them to fruition.”

S13Obviously Bandcamp is a big winner out of the pandemic, giving voice to both independent artists and labels, alike. How important do you think Bandcamp is both in the present and future for independent music?

ZW: “It has been, and continues to be vitally important for artists and labels. A standout factor to us lies in the ability for ownership and customisation the platform allows, which other platforms do not. Unless one chooses to sell directly through a fully designed website of their own. With enough thought and design, an artist can turn a bandcamp page into their own unique corner of the music world. And the artists embracing this aspect in a big way, will imbue their pages with a distinct tone, making listeners wish to keep on returning to spend time there. At least I know that much is true for us. And thankfully there are so many who have done that. When we browse through our bandcamp collection, I feel as though it’s the digital embodiment of North Laine in Brighton. An area I used to love frequenting in my teens hunting for collectible vinyl.

“Bandcamp really is the only way to make any kind of direct living from selling your music and the level of transparency is higher than any other platform I can think of. Again, regarding the ownership angle, there are so many options and ways for one to dictate their own terms: with customisation, and adjustable pricing being the most important.”

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S13: What is the label’s plan for the rest of 2022?

ZW: “So the difference between 2021, and ’22, is a more focused degree of planning and strategy. 2021 was fraught with personal difficulties, and the release schedule was more sporadic and impulsive as a result. With the exception of the final two releases for ’21: amongleaves, and Adam Casey. Working on these two albums had a very positive effect on the label’s operation. This also came down to the Adam Casey factor. As we said above, he is very dedicated, and through our regular interactions and release planning of his album, we became more strategic as a result, and invested more time into perfecting the label’s visual identity. As well as beginning to work more with audio and video promotion.

“We have also been examining realistic expectations for what the workload entails in releasing music, and have adopted a ‘release every second month’ system this year. This has resulted in a schedule of five releases, (with a possible sixth slotted in if we find the time for it). Being cautious and realistic is key, especially when we want to create hand assembled physical releases. Assembling anything by hand can become old and tiring in a hurry, and factoring in appropriate timing for assembly has been important. We also don’t wish to release an overabundance of material in too short a time.

“We are in the early stages of planning a new release series where we invite artists to create works under specific minimalist creative conditions, which should prove interesting. There are also plans for some limited edition releases, where we revel in the medium of cassettes by inviting an artist from a previous year to drastically reinterpret their original work both via the medium of tape (either 4-track recorders, or reel to reel), which we’ll then release as a limited edition cassette.

“We recently founded a separate Bandcamp page specifically for Winterwood works, with the first album Exploratory Guitar dropping in February, and the second Falling Tide in May. We arrived at this decision after East Cape Calling has gradually morphed into a more inclusive, outside artist operation, with a varied release slate each year. As such we’re most likely to only include one Winterwood release per year through East Cape Calling, and in the spirit of not overdoing things in one place, it only makes sense for our own music project to have its own avenue where we can feel free to release more works in a more impulsive manner, without affecting the schedule and planning we have in place for ECC.”

S13: There’s also a sneak preview for your next release, right?

ZW: “From May onwards we’ve been taking a short hiatus to tend to other life related matters, but we shall be returning in August with our third release for 2022. Thanks to the continued support of Sun 13 we would like to bring you this wee sneak peek at what we have coming up next.

“Mysterious Kiwi, Wellingtonian artist Tofujice brings us Who Am I When I’ve Lost My Place In The World. An ecstatic, maxed out, yet beautifully abrasive and immersive three track album, which we found so interesting that we had to devise a new category for it: ‘Punk Ambient’.

Tofujuice - Who Am I When I’ve Lost My Place In The World

Who Am I When I’ve Lost My Place In The World has been a really interesting and healing piece of art to make. I was asked to make a release for East Cape Calling Records and it just so happened that at the time my entire world was falling apart around me. With hindsight I can see that everything that was leaving me was doing so because in order for something to be built, everything that was there previously must be destroyed, but that doesn’t change the fact that watching everything you know and love turning to dust in your hands is a pretty uncomfortable experience and uncomfortable experiences make good art.

“It’s been a real puzzle attempting to create something that sufficiently encapsulates the unique pain and bliss of the death and rebirth of the self, the innate desire to grow pitted against the ever present call of self destruction.

“With all that said I knew I needed to push myself if I was to create something that I felt aligned with these ideas and communicated them in a way that felt authentic.

Tofujice - Who Am I When I’ve Lost My Place In The World

“In the same way that I had to pull myself apart to understand how I worked, I had to dissect my music and my creative processes to understand how I create art and how I can communicate the mess in my brain through my art. Because of that, and because with everything going on around me I knew I still needed to make art even though there were times I seriously did not want to, I got the opportunity to step outside of my comfort zone and make music that I wouldn’t of made otherwise and for that I’m very grateful.”

Tofujuice is noises made by Winter Kneale. Coming August 2022 on digital and cassette formats.”

For more information on East Cape Calling, visit the label’s Bandcamp page.

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