According to its government's Web site, New Zealand’s population density is 14 people per square kilometer. (The U.S. population is more than double that—31 people/km2.) Needless to say, concentrated masses of human beings aren’t particularly easy to come by out there.
“New Zealand is pretty far-removed from anything that would warrant being in a band, and you can’t really tour there,” lead singer Nick Johnson says. So it’s little wonder Cut Off Your Hands waved goodbye to their island home and hit the road to tour the sometimes overcrowded yet always far more plentiful cities of Europe and the U.S.
The Auckland natives don’t shy away from acknowledging the requisite NZ influences, however. The seminal Flying Nun Records and its stellar roster, which included bands like the Clean, the Chills and the Bats, helped to define the jangly indie pop for which the country gained a reputation in the 1980s. What Johnston calls a recent rediscovery of that groundbreaking sound continues to exert its influence on the country’s younger modern bands, and he appreciates the fact that NZ’s insular nature fosters groups that start up in order to make the kind of music they want to hear rather than the more clichéd output of “NME hopefuls”—a lot of the bands that permeate the English rock scene. And perhaps as a result of that headstrong Kiwi independence, COYH are sort of tough to nail down. While their Indie Pop melodies are firmly in place, listening to the band’s more aggressive Post-Punk approach can leave one wondering how the rough edges developed.
“There was a real Dischord thing going on, and At the Drive-In was big when we were getting started a few years ago,” Johnston said. “So the point of this band was to be somewhere in between the Stooges, At the Drive-In and straight-up pop—like the Talking Heads, the Beach Boys and the Beatles.”
While all aforementioned bands may firmly occupy their own poles on the sound spectrum, COYH manages to incorporate the best of each and navigate their ship right down the middle in a way comfortably suited to their Frenchkiss Records home, notable for other (sometimes) melodic yet slashing groups like Les Savy Fav and Sweetheart. The convergence of Pop harmonies, danceable bass lines, thundering drums and jagged guitar—and the boyish charm and enthusiasm with which these gents play it all out—seems to be a viable formula in these mid- to late-2000s. And these guys do it better than the comparatively stiff Bloc Party ever did.
Monday night’s show upstairs at the Southgate House on this, COYH’s first stateside headlining tour, was a sparsely attended affair (kind of like a microcosmic New Zealand—by my head count, 15 people per Parlor-sized space). Despite low attendance, however, the band delivered a loud and intimate set, sounding at their poppiest pretty damn Strokesy and at their finest like a slow-burning post-hardcore band fronted by a more frenetic Morrissey, hitting their peak on a noisy, tense ballad called “Nostalgia.” They did their damage in less than 40 minutes, got off the stage and spent the next 40 minutes graciously hanging out with the fans. I’m pretty sure they personally thanked each and every one who showed up. They’re hoping to draw a bigger crowd when they return to the Southgate House with Viva Voce on Sunday, June 7. But there’s little doubt they’ll still be as friendly as ever—just so long as you don’t mention “Flight of the Conchords.”
Hear them here.