27 May 2008

Playing Hard to Get

Eddie Rayner interview, 1988

By Chris Bourke

Rip It Up (New Zealand) September 1988

In the final concerts of Crowded House’s recent Australian tour, drummer Paul Hester went into a rap: “We’re making records / Ed’s making babies / It’s been fun / But it’s coming to an end.”

As always, Eddie Rayner is fending off tempting offers. The latest is to join Crowded House as a permanent member. Affable and accommodating, he’s worked with musicians ranging from the Angels (a month was all he could stand) to Paul McCartney (a “creative disappointment” he’s talked about too much already).

It’s a matter of priorities, he explains. He loves the music and the band, but he wants to do his thing, and Crowded House theirs. And Rayner isn’t interested in the “bullshit” required: the touring, promoting, record companies, managers. Then again, Hester’s farewell isn’t the first time the band has said goodbye to him.

“When Split Enz broke up, there were heaps of things I’d wanted to do for years,” says Rayner. “My wife Raewyn [the Enz’s lighting director] wanted a family, and we’ve now got two little boys, one just a few weeks old.

“When you’re in a band as committed as Split Enz, you can become very blinkered. You think about the band and not a lot else. I had to take control of my own life, and not get dragged along by the band. So I sat down and made a list of priorities. I wanted a family, to write, and have my own studio. Touring came a poor last. I love it, and it’s necessary, but you’ve got to think about it, otherwise you end up doing it forever.”

Rayner has an eight-track, all Midi, studio at his home in Melbourne. He’s been working with Brian Baker, an Auckland songwriter based in Australia – “we’ll probably become one of those awful duos” – and recently he wrote and compiled the soundtrack for the film Ricky and Pete.

“It’s a comedy about two middle-class kids from Melbourne who go into the outback to pull the wool over corporate eyes. It was an in-house affair: Schnell Fenster played the songs, but Crowded House got the best part of the music, the driving scenes. I wanted to do them, but fell in love with their ‘Recurring Dream’.”

He’s trying to adhere to his priorities. “The family comes first. I get offered lots of sessions, but don’t really like that too much, I’ve never worked as an employee.” He also likes to have some quality control – “When I do some crap, I know it.”

An instrumental album is in the works, though after doing a few tracks, his interest is waning. “It’s not as fulfilling as working with a bunch of people.” With characteristic candour, Rayner describes his instrumentals recorded with Split Enz as “just appalling. Awful. When I look back at them, I wonder how they got accepted.”

Rayner says he got all his musical training in Split Enz. “It was a great environment to learn in. Otherwise I’d still be doing cabaret. I learnt so much from Tim, Phil, Neil, Rob – the amount of creative talent was staggering.

“We were incredibly wayward musically. And we used to stumble along, with no game plan. These days young players know so much about the industry, publishing, recording, before they even start.”

Ironically, Rayner seems most at home playing live. During the theatrical shows of Split Enz, or the spontaneity of Crowded House, he’s always got an appropriate line to colour and connect the looser moments. “There’s a lot of covering in the band – that’s why Neil has asked me to join. The whole band likes jamming a lot, and it’s just about my favourite past-time.

“I’ve bluffed my way right through. Some great jazz musicians have invited me to play with them, and I’ve said, ‘You’ve got to be joking!’”

One of our earliest electronic keyboardists (and still probably our best), Rayner regards the day Split Enz bought their Mellotron as ancient history. “The old days” for him are 1980, when he graduated from monophonic synthesisers to a Prophet and Jupiter 8. “I like to have new stuff when it comes out. I don’t read manuals, I hate them.” Still, he’s proficient at listing his gear for techno buffs:

“I’m still using bits and pieces,” he says. “Lots of modules. A DX7, C2P50 piano keyboard with weighted action, through a MXS piano module. An MKS 80 Super Jupiter, S612 Akai sampler, D110 Roland S330, all through an Akai Midi patch bay – and I’ve finally got a Korg stereo mixer!”

As a child in Howick, east Auckland, Rayner had only four piano lessons, though his father was a “brilliant” player, taking on any big-band hit at parties. “I’d love to be able to do that – when someone says ‘play a song’ you can carry the tune and be the whole orchestra. But you’ve got to spend years playing.”

At university in th eearly 70s, while his peers “got serious” with their studies, Rayner joined his first band at the behest of his friend Steve Hughes, bassist with Tramline. “I owe it all to him. We went down to Kingsley Smith’s and bought a Vox organ.” Early bands included Hungry Dog (within initial Enz guitarist Wally Wilkinson), Orb, Cruise Lane, Stuart and the Belmonts (with Brent Eccles, now drumming with the Angels) and Space Waltz. “For a while I was with Space Waltz and Split Enz: so was Mike Chunn”

Ah, Space Waltz, our glam rock pioneers, and the most entertaining moment of TVNZ’s recent nostalgic music weekend. The Bowie posturing of Alistair Riddell still has surprises, as it did in 1974’s New Faces programme. “ ‘Out in the Street’ should be in an art gallery,” laughs Rayner. “We actually did an album. It’s a laugh a minute – you gotta read the lyrics! But some of those old Stebbings or EMI recordings still sound great on radio.”

He ruefully mentions recent Rip It Up ads from overseas buyers seeking classic local records. “That shits me. To think of a few years back when you could go into a store and buy any New Zealand record from the bargain bins …

“I always think about coming back to live in New Zealand. But I probably never will.”

Postscript: Rayner returned to New Zealand to live in 1993. In 1996 he launched Enzso. More recently he has been leader of the house band for New Zealand Idol. Here is Space Waltz, from 1974: when this was first shown on a TV talent show, the nation was shocked – then sent the single to No 1.

No comments: