So the other day I was sitting in class with my laptop, googling my own name to pass the time (Shut up, it's not lame, everybody does it...Right? Right??), and I came across this nice little article about us in NZ Musician Magazine. I hadn't seen it, because well... who reads hard copy magazines these days? Not me. Anyway, it's kind of sweet, and it features a stellar nerdy quote about technology from yours truly. Yay. I google myself and I love computers. My life is GOING OFF. Also they made a photo of us look purple, and that pleased me. Anyway this is a terrible post so yeah... Enjoy.
Author: Stephanie Gray
Lil' Chief Records are riding a wicked west coast swell at the moment, their established acts attracting attention and critical acclaim all over the northern hemisphere. Now, as Stephanie Gray reports, the notoriously incestuous label have widened their pop gene pool with the addition of nocturnal synth + vocal couple Little Pictures.
With the intensity of young love Johanna Freeman sings: 'I wish I could tie a string between me and you / I'd pull on the string whenever I felt confused.'
There is no doubt she's singing to boyfriend and bandmate Mark Turner - the song is from a debut album that is as much a dedication to their togetherness as it is a well-crafted collection of electro-pop.
When the 20 year-old Wellingtonians play I Wish I Could Keep You live Mark triggers samples of Johanna's vocals, sneaking them in between words as she sings, to an effect that Johanna confides she finds a little creepy.
Creepy maybe, but it's a charming technique that had a house-full of Dunedin indie-kids jumping up and down with synchronised 'hip hop hands' recently. More than an enjoyable way to stay warm down south, this is a response that Little Pictures have come to look forward to from the Mainlanders.
"I like the South Island because it's less intimidating - more like our tour in Australia," says Mark."People are excited about you being there," Johanna adds.
For that reason the twosome tour out of town as much as their university timetables allow - a mission made easier by the fact they can fit all of their gear into one guitar case. It's the touring musician's dream - to fly unhindered by excess baggage and, as a couple tuned into each others energy levels and emotions, free to do as they please. But it hasn't always been so - until the middle of last year Little Pictures was a three-piece, with friend James Halborow adding drums.
Quietly but assuredly Johanna and Mark started planning for the breakaway two-piece electronic act they would call Owl + Owl, in allusion to their nocturnal tendencies. They kept the act's original name in the end, tucking 'Owl + Owl' away as a name for the album that has now followed their self-released EP 'You and Me and My Amplifier'.
Having shaken off the shackles of a drum kit, Little Pictures shaped their new sound around the monophonic tones of a Moog synthesiser, programmed beats, a glockenspiel and his-and-hers vocals. They then stripped back even further by sampling the Moog - the legendary brand's latest Little Phatty model - into an electronic sampling pad. It's a minimalist set-up that keeps people guessing. As does the way in which Mark triggers samples - joyfully thwacking the inconspicuous black pad with drum sticks next to Johanna who, in gaps between glockenspiel and singing, blows shiny bubbles that float across the ubiquitous divide between band and audience.
"It's exciting to play with stuff that people don't necessarily understand. People see me hitting the pads and there's always a musician in the front row who will come up and ask if I'm actually doing anything," smiles Mark.
"It's fun to make things more mysterious," Johanna adds.
Because it's Mark that holds the sticks, people wrongly assume that he's the songwriter - much to the annoyance of both. They are equally infatuated with technology and pop culture, happily trawling blogs and forums and working their experiences with, and knowledge of new media into their university assignments.
"Lots of people like to talk about gear, but I'm more interested in the social shaping of scenes and looking at how people use technology," Johanna explains.
To fine-tune Little Pictures' sound and style they looked into what other musicians were doing, watching YouTube clips to suss instrumentation. With refreshing honesty, they admit to culturally sampling and taking others' arrangements for their songs.
"We can't sample in the way DJs like Girl Talk can, so we try to recreate things we like," says Mark, who like Johanna listens to a lot of hip hop, and grimier artists like Dizzee Rascal. Being the nice young stars they are, Little Pictures give as much as they take - uploading their mp3s as free downloads and sending a cappella tracks to anyone keen on remixing.
"We'd love it if someone downloaded our song and borrowed a riff or a verse and built a new song around it. So our stuff is there for the taking," Johanna offers.
This is an ethic that Lil' Chief Records must be comfortable with; 'Owl + Owl' was released by the Auckland pop label after co-owner Jonathan Bree saw the band performing at Camp A Low Hum last summer.
"We were quite surprised at his interest, because Lil' Chief has The Brunettes and The Ruby Suns - these lush bands with layers of sound," says Mark.
Clearly the label do like what they hear and are propelling Little Pictures into the wake of those acts, with an American tour taking in Seattle and Portland among other cities.
There's a video clip online of a beaming Johanna and Mark reading aloud the email from Bree asking them to join the label. Recorded late at night after coming home from a gig and logging on to find the good news, the video nicely sums up the zeal and techno-savvy that shines through Little Pictures' music.
Little Pictures - I Wish I Could Keep You