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Interview: Best Bets
Guitar Pop From New Zealand
Best Bets are a power pop band from Aotearoa, New Zealand. Formed by Olly Crawford Ellis and James Harding (Transistors), they released their first EP Life Under the Big Top in 2018, with James’ brother Luke and Matt Phimmavanh rounding out the lineup. Joe Sampson (Salad Boys, T54) joined afterwards. Their debut album On An Unhistoric Night is out now via Melted Ice Cream and Meritorio.
James Harding Interview
There are a lot of great bands playing guitar pop around the world these days—but there are many different terms for it. How do you describe your own music?
James Harding: We mostly just call ourselves a power pop band.
How do you feel about genre labels in general?
James Harding: In an ideal world we'd all be able to form our own view of what a band sounds like but people seem to have this innate need to put things in a box. So while I'm not a huge fan of labels, I realize they can be useful and I guess my previous response is evidence of that.
“My personal favorite band is The Replacements. Hearing ‘Let It Be’ for the first time was a lightning bolt moment for me.”
Who are some of your biggest influences?
James Harding: We all love ‘50s rock and roll, ‘60s pop and garage, ‘70s punk, rock and power pop, ‘80s indie and jangle pop, and ‘90s alternative—so if you throw elements of that grab bag together it starts to form the sound of our band.
In terms of specific albums, I’d say each of us has our own favorites but there’s certainly a lot of common ground for us to dance on. Off the top of my head, we all love stuff like Present Tense by Shoes, the three Big Star albums, the early Elvis Costello records, Cat Power’s first bunch of albums.
At practice the other night we started talking about Forever Changes by Love and we were theorizing that the reason it's such an incredible album is that every time you listen to it there's something new to discover. Olly said he could listen to it 100 more times and the 100th listen would still be the most enjoyable, and I think that's so true. I've never heard anything else quite like that record.
My personal favorite band is The Replacements. Hearing Let It Be for the first time was a lightning bolt moment for me.
What's the local music scene like where your band is based? Any other local bands we should know about?
James Harding: We live in Ōtautahi Christchurch in the South Island of Aotearoa New Zealand and there's a great scene here. It’s super tight and everyone seems to play in each other's bands. Our label Melted Ice Cream is a good place to start for anyone interested in what’s going on down here. Some great local bands off the top of my head are Wurld Series, Hög, Violet French and the Horrible, The Tacks, Ben Woods Group, Imperial April, Nervous Jerk, and Little Fang.
Anyone who likes our band should check out the Transistors, which features me and Best Bets drummer/singer Olly, and Salad Boys, an amazing jangle pop band which is one of our bass player Joe's many projects. Everyone in Best Bets has played in Salad Boys at one time or another, to my earlier point!
What's happening for your band right now? What's next?
James Harding: During the pandemic we've amassed something like 50 new songs, and we put our focus into doing demos over a number of sessions while shows weren't really a happening thing. We're now getting started on recording our second album, and have earmarked a selection of songs from that huge batch that we think will work well as a package. Once that's done we'll decide what to do with the rest of them!
I used to kind of dread recording but now I love it. Everyone contributes in our band and we just get together and have tonnes of fun.
Three Artists Recommended By James Harding
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