“We’re really a band for the people” Chris Mac from SIX60 ponders during our chat before they performed in Brisbane on their recent sold out Australian tour.
The New Zealand five piece have deservingly had one of the biggest years of their life. They kicked off the year by playing to a sold out crowd at Western Springs Stadium to 50,000 people and also became the first New Zealand band to ever do that. From there they finished their third studio album and embarked on their biggest headlining tour to date. Kicking it off in Europe, the band returned to Australia for a sold out run before heading home for a massive milestone stadium and arena tour. But with all their success, they haven’t forgotten where they’ve come from or why they get to do what they do.
Their newly released self-titled album is one of their most vulnerable and experimental collections yet. They showcase many different sides of their artistry while also diving deeper into the roots and using tradition Maori instruments in each track.
I recently chatted to Chris Mac and Marlon Gerbes from SIX60 before they soundchecked for their sold out Brisbane show at Eatons Hill Hotel. We reflected on the creative process behind their new self-titled album, explored the layers of their live show and the differences of touring different regions and talked about their forthcoming debut film. Check it out HERE;
TB: Your third self-titled record is out now and captures a diverse amount of feelings and emotions amongst some euphoric sounding production. So as a band what was your goal with this record and what did you want this record to represent for you personally?
MG: The concept that we start with is that we let the music lead the song to a point where the song has formed a bit, and from there we write a hundred different variations and ideas until we have a good body of work to dive through.
We look at the different ideas we have and carefully select the ideas that we think show a different side of us to listeners and has a good variety, consistency and flow in them for us to explore further.
TB: Album opener ‘Never Enough’ is a track that immediately commands listeners attention and brings a euphoric rush to the forefront. So how did this song come together and why did you want to open the record with it?
MG: We actually didn’t do the track listing until the very end, but it just felt right.
CM: That song was always a front runner to the be the first song because it just made sense. The energy is perfect, and the song also starts with the Maori horn, and that’s a traditional instrument that would be used at the start of a war or a greeting.
It just felt like the first track of the album from the moment I heard the demo.
MG: We like to start strong with high tempo and high energy.
TB: It feels like a track you would open a show with too?
CM: We actually do in this new live show! It’s just got a real good energy and momentum behind it. Like even when we were playing the song when it was unreleased and people didn’t know it, it still just felt right and they loved it.
TB: Throughout the rest of the record, ‘Ghosts’ leans towards a moodier and grittier production while ‘Long Gone’ delivers some slick chilled out vibes and then ‘Raining’ offers some gospel elements. So what was the hardest track for you guys to get sonically “right”?
MG: Probably ‘Tomorrow’.
CM: That went through a lot of changes, and took a lot of time. It’s no longer a baby, it’s an adult, it’s seen some things *laughs*. It took a while because I got really attached to a particular version of it, and it was hard to let go and embrace the new vision. But now I love it.
All songs have a genesis and they evolve over time and it can be hard sometimes letting go to the old ideas as you kinda fall in love with something. But you almost have to evolve with the song sometimes.
MG: On the back of that though, you then have songs like ‘Long Gone’ which came together in five minutes and they don’t need much shaping as they are already “there”.
TB: Reflecting on the record and the layering of emotions and sonical soundscapes, what would you say is the most vulnerable moment for you personally?
MG: For me it would be ‘Ghost’. That song is about moving forward from your past self and away from bad habits and situations in the past that used to weigh you down. It’s about getting rid of the bad energy but realising that those experiences will always be apart of you. So that song for me is probably the most emotional.
CM: Yeah, that song is a pretty deep one. But I think sonically as a band, ‘Raining’ was kinda vulnerable because it leaned into reggae in a way that we hadn’t done for quite some time. So I think every one was all excited about it but was also nervous about putting it out and seeing the reaction from people.
TB: It’s good to have some diversity and show a growth though a record though
CM: Oh 100% and that’s why we decided to lean into that sound and show listeners that side of us again. But it’s really interesting that you picked up on the gospel elements of ‘Raining’ because we usually just go straight the normal reggae layering but for that song we did add a gospel inspired choir section to do something different.
MG: It’s funny because that choir section is actually just us boys layered over each other *laughs*.
TB: This record hears you guys using a large amount of traditional Māori instruments within the production, so what inspired you guys to sonically focus on that? And were these instruments you were all acquainted with beforehand?
MG: We didn’t actually! So how that all came about was that we actually did a remake of our song ‘Don’t Forget Your Roots’ in Te Reo Maori and we worked with this lady and she sent us a few different sounds and showed us some different instruments that we could incorporate into the song. We didn’t end up doing that with that song but it got us thinking when we were in the studio finishing off this album of what sort of impact we want to have.
It was a very last minute addition to the process but we starting adding these new instruments to the songs and it all came together beautifully. It’s really subtle but it means a lot to us as we are now taking New Zealand to the world in a whole different way.
CM: Because they are samples of old indigenous instruments, they add this earthiness and pure grounded quality to what is a pretty slick production. But it somewhat feels grounded because of this which I think is amazing.
TB: You’ve released all three of your albums as self-titled records. Why have you decided to not give them traditional names and run the release structure like this? Because I think you guys have confused a few people…
CM: *Laughs* Yeah… we’re sorry about that *laughs*. Look, there was a thought process early on that we wanted to let the fans name the albums with their own reflections and emotions.
A lot of people call the first album the “gold album” and the second album the “colours album”. So it kinda gives back to the fans in the fact that it allows them to name the albums and
But also this even goes back to when we named the band as everyone in Dunedin just called us the SIX60 boys as the address of our rehearsal space was 6/60 Castle Street so whenever we went anywhere they would be like “oh the 6/60 boys are coming”, so it just kinda stuck.
So in hindsight we’re really a band for the people.
TB: In July you guys announced that you will be releasing a film through a brief little teaser trailer. So can you guys spill any details on what we can expect yet from the documentary?
CM: Well, we actually watched it for the first time altogether in Sydney the other day! We had a private theatre, and to be honest it was a little weird to see it.
TB: Is it candid?
MG: Yeah it is! We all got pretty emotional and cried during it *laughs*
CM: I feel like it’s a perfect introduction to people who don’t know us, and it’s also a grea watch for people who do know us as you get a grea insight to all the behind the scenes. We haven’t done a lot of that before. We have let too many people behind the curtain in the past so it will be exciting for people to actually get to know us.
TB: Your live show has quite a warm energy surrounding it, but how would you personally describe the current live show and the main objective you have with it as a band?
MG: It’s all inclusive. There are ups and downs. It’s really a show with different kind of acts and parts to it. It’s a show rather than a gig.
CM: It’s always been a goal of ours to put on a show rather just a selection of songs together. I think we are better at it now than we have ever been.
TB: Your live show has grown a lot over the years, and particularly in New Zealand you’ve gone into playing arenas and stadiums. So as a band have you found it difficult to adapt the live show to the different regions and the different sized venues within the production aspect as well as the level of show you want to deliver as you grow?
MG: I feel like for me it’s a different approach, but the goal is the same. When you’re in a club show they see everything really close up and you also see them, so the reaction speed is instant and you have to kinda adapt. Whereas with the big arena and stadium shows everything is so far away and there are different ways to do everything and to connect. So you have to really work together as a unit I feel.
TB: With a high energy injected into the show and your passionate fans embracing the songs, what has been the craziest, funniest or weirdest thing you’ve seen when you’ve looked out into a crowd mid-show?
CM: There’s always one way too drunk guy or girl who is just going way over the top. And then especially in Europe there just a dude there watching with their arms crossed.
MG: And they’re always right at the front!
CM: Yes! And you know that they are enjoying it but they’re just standing there. That’s always the weirdest thing to see.
TB: Let’s play a little game of rapid fire questions. Just answer these little questions with the first thing that comes to your mind. Okay?
CM: Love it!
MG: Let’s go!
TB: The emoji that best describes our new self titled album is…
TB: Pineapple on pizza is…
CM: It’s okay
MG: It’s good!
TB: The messiest member on tour is…
MG: *points to Chris*
CM: Yeah, it’s definitely me!
TB: Our pre-show pump up song is…
CM: *Laughs* Well, It’s actually “Pretty Good At Drinking Beer’ by Billy Currington and ‘Red Solo Cup’ by Toby Keith! We literally listen to those two songs every show.
MG: They have very literal lyrics *laughs*.
TB: One Australian slang word I still don’t understand is…
MG: I get what “Fair Dinkum” means in context, but still.. why? *laughs*.
SIX60’s new self titled album is out now