In our recent review of Edge of the City, the impressive new album from Greg Fleming and The Trains (New Zealand) we said “This is resolutely a landscape of concrete and streets, traffic lights blinking through the Auckland drizzle and people struggling with work, dreams and love” and it is that noir quality that he has brought to his songs that makes it such a great record. Edge of the City is available now via Luca Discs and on Bandcamp and we recently caught up with Fleming to find out a bit more about the man and his music…
What was the album that first led you down the dusty path of Americana music?
Not so much an album as seeing bits of Bob Dylan’s Rolling Thunder Revue on TV when I was a kid. Dylan with the white face, the bandanna and the acoustic singing like his life was on the line. I’ll never forget it.
Do you have a favourite gig you’ve played?
Playing with Townes Van Zandt was amazing – 1989, I think here, in Auckland. It was my first solo gig. I was nervous, and it probably showed, but Townes listened and came up afterwards and told me “Greg, don’t ever stop writing”. He ended up inviting me back on stage the next night. But right up there is the album release gig for Edge of the City we played last month – we did the whole album front to back with many songs reworked from the record – more Lou Reed than Lefty Frizzell – but it worked.
How did you learn to play your instrument?
Totally self-taught on piano and guitar. Today I still have to ask the guys in the band – “what’s the name of this chord?”. D sus 7th still means nothing to me. If memory serves I learnt like this – I’d play along with records then take the record off and keep playing. The song would go somewhere else completely. At some stage I realised I was never going to sound like the record I was playing along to, so soon I skipped that part and just started writing my own songs. At least then I’d be right all the time! I’d often try to sound all the harmonies, which I think informed my guitar playing because guitarists often tell me I play the guitar like a piano – I don’t know that they meant it as a compliment!
Do you feel there is a strong country music community in New Zealand?
That’s a hard one. Yes there’s the trad country community, and the folk club circuit and festivals, but I’ve never really been a part of that. This year there’s been some good records coming out of more the alt-country angle – bands like The Eastern, The Grifters, Great North and Delaney Davidson. I’m also looking forward to new records by Miriam Clancy and Ted Brown both of whom lent their talents to Edge of the City.
What has been your favourite americana release this year?
I’m liking Temple Beautiful by Chuck Prophet (which is another record inspired by a city – San Francisco – same as Edge was inspired by Auckland). I recently discovered Hayes Carll after watching a crappy movie called Country Strong. Who wrote those songs? I asked myself as I fast forwarded to the movie credits and discovered one of the great country talents. I heard a couple of Kacey Musgrave’s songs which really impressed and I’m looking forward to hearing her debut record. For some reason this year I keep going back to Wilco’s Summerteeth and Dylan’s Time Out of Mind. Just as influential are books like Willy Vlautin’s superb Lean On Pete, the short stories of Sam Shepard, writers like Daniel Woodrell (who wrote the novel Winter’s Bone), and my fall-backs – crime fiction, film noir and jazz.
What are your aspirations for you/your band over the next 12 months?
Sadly we’ve just lost our bass player Andrew B. White, who was a driving force in releasing Taken and who co-produced Edge of the City. Andrew’s now based in Canada and is working on opportunities for the records there but it means we’re currently looking for a new bassist. Once that’s been sorted I’ve got a stack of new songs to try out. I’ve written them on a big sheet on the band room wall. I’m also looking at opportunities to work Edge of the City more, taking the album on the road would be fantastic, I’m just working out a way to make it work financially. I’ve had a couple of informal discussions and have given a 20 track disc of rough demos for the next record to a producer friend so that’s in process as well. Recording and releasing the next record as soon as possible is a priority.