Features

Gentle Hour: Snapper?s Peter Gutteridge

WES HOLLAND* of [The Sand Pebbles](/articles/3710444) flew from Melbourne to Dunedin to track down and corner Snapper’s Peter Gutteridge for an impromptu interview. The cult NZ anti-hero held forth on the darkest music he’s made, his qualms with ?The Dunedin Sound? and the great many things that bore him and/or piss him off. Photo by *BRUCE MAHALSKI.


Hermetic. Indisposed. Out of action. Dead?

?Ahh, that’s the million dollar question – where in the world is Peter Gutteridge??

Despite never setting foot outside his native New Zealand, Gutteridge has become a renowned figure in international music circles. He spent time as a member of Dunedin bands The Clean, The Great Unwashed and The Chills, but his best work is the music he did with Snapper – a band he formed in the late ?80s after being frustrated with the notion of ?The Dunedin Sound?.

Fans include The Jesus & Mary Chain and Stereolab; the latter’s Tim Gane once told me they were his second favourite Kiwi band, and that in the ?80s he ?couldn’t believe how similar Stereolab and Snapper sounded.? Hoboken tastemakers Yo La Tengo covered Snapper’s ?Gentle Hour? [in 2009](http://www.youtube.com/watch’v=U6TzdUDwsf0), while Wooden Shjips often include [a version](http://www.youtube.com/watch’v=fwxCbE3T7q4) of Snapper’s biggest hit, ?Buddy?, in their set.

I’ve wanted to interview Peter Gutteridge for years. He’s notoriously reclusive and Snapper’s output is mercurial at best – two albums, an EP and some singles. Had they broken up? Was Peter still making music? I had to track him down. Numerous emails, phone calls and Facebook messages to people all over the Dunedin music scene turned up nothing.

I decided I had to fly there and pick up the search in person.


First things first – I didn’t know for sure that Peter was even in Dunedin. I’d found an old Facebook profile he (or someone else) had set up that listed his current location as Auckland. Still, at 11.50pm on Saturday, November 3, I boarded the plane to Dunedin.

My first breakthrough was bumping into Michael Morley of [The Dead C](http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/TheDeadC). I’d met him in the nearby suburb of Port Chalmers and asked him if he’d seen Peter. ?Ahh, that’s the million dollar question,? he said. ?Where in the world is Peter Gutteridge??

?He told me Peter didn’t have a phone, and the best way to get in touch would be to drop in. As an afterthought he said, ?Bring cigarettes.??

He put me onto Dunedin-based photographer Kate Van Der Drift. She knew people in town and, despite hearing that Peter had been in Auckland and had also recently been on an intense drug-treatment program, he was definitely now living in Dunedin and was doing great. I was stoked.

The next clue was discovering that Kate’s boyfriend recently found out he was a cousin of another Dunedin-based guitarist; Chris Heazlewood (King Loser). Heazlewood had been playing with Gutteridge on-and-off for years (most interestingly in the mid-?90s live incarnation of Snapper). I gave him a call and he was keen to help. He told me Peter didn’t have a phone, and the best way to get in touch would be to drop in. As an afterthought he said, ?Bring cigarettes.?

That evening I rocked up at Heazlewood’s house. It was cold and starting to get dark. I’d prepared no questions, and was nervous. I’d never even seen an interview with Peter. What was his speaking voice like? How did he interact? Was he going to be into the idea of an impromptu interview?

We arrived at Peter’s place and Chris knocked on the front door. No answer. Knocked again, louder. Still no answer. ?He must be asleep,? Chris said. ?I’ll go around the side and wake him.?


Chris bashed on the window. ?Peter, it’s Chris! There’s a guy from Melbourne who wants to interview you! Get up!?

About 10 minutes later the door slowly opened. Peter looked tired, his hair was a mess and his facial expression was blank. He didn’t say a word. Chris repeated to him: ?So this is Wes, he’s a writer from Melbourne and wants to interview you, right now.?

Peter started to close the door without saying a word. But before the door shut, Chris yelled, ?He’s brought cigarettes!? The door opened. Peter turned around to walk inside. Chris and I followed into the lounge. Chris shook my hand, said goodbye to Peter and wished me luck. With that he was gone. I was sitting on the sofa in the house of one of my favourite musicians, alone and unsure I was even welcome.

A Roland drum machine was playing on a constant loop – I got the impression Peter always left it on. In amongst used bowls and cigarette butts were old Snapper posters and some worn, obscure wall-paintings (I later found out Peter enjoyed to draw).

Peter was in the kitchen. I could see him wiping out a mug and diluting a soup.

He walked into the lounge, sat down and asked, ?So, do you make music??

?I play in a couple of bands, one’s called The Sand Pebbles??

?And what sort of music do The Sand Pebbles make??

Anxious, I uttered a line I thought would get him on-side.

?I guess you could describe it as sounding like the trippiness of psychedelia and the??

?I take hallucinogens. I take them on a serious level. Not for amusement.?

He interrupted. He didn’t like me saying that. ?There’s that word! If I had a dollar for every band that I’ve heard in the last couple of years call themselves ?psychedelic?. Bands think that using a bit of feedback and an effect pedal somehow makes them psychedelic. It’s bullshit.?

I was stunned. He was spot-on. And The Sand Pebbles never called ourselves psychedelic. We’d usually say ?flower punk? or ?slightly delic?. There’s nothing I hate more than bands calling themselves psychedelic, and yet I’d done that very thing. I didn’t know how to come back from that.

There was a long pause. Thankfully Peter moved on. He asked, ?So how do you view music here??

How do I view it?
Well, quite frankly I find the whole discussion around ?psychedelic? music to be bullshit. It’s just a term. There are only a few bands that do anything remotely psychedelic. They’re either trance or they are people like [The All Seeing Hand](http://the-all-seeing-hand.bandcamp.com).

My favourite psychedelic bands are from the ?60s.
I don’t think any of that was psychedelic. I mean, it was just experimental rock and roll.

Some of it – maybe. Some of it – it was touched upon. Because many people were close to the experience. Most people take hallucinogens and never take them again. That is the common thing. They have a brief phase in their life when they take them. I, on the other hand, take hallucinogens. I take them on a serious level. Not for amusement. I enjoy them, but they’re actually a means of contact with nature.

Does that influence your music?
Only in that everything I ever do affects my music. But in regard to psychedelics, it’s more like what it shows me about life. The interconnectedness. That I’m linked to something much greater than myself. That affects my music and what I sing about. Which is not psychedelic experiences, but the way that I feel about things.

There’s a huge picture of Jesus here in the centre of your lounge room.
I won that in a raffle. And it’s an appalling picture of Jesus. It doesn’t mean anything to me.

Do you believe in God?
I believe we are probably God ourselves. I don’t know about God at all. I’m not into religion. I do believe in spirituality, for want of a better word. I believe in a thing called the great mother of the universe.

?People didn’t think about the sound of things, people put on guitars and then clanged out stuff. I just got tired of a guitar sound that wasn’t thought about.?

So I’ve read that the idea of the so-called ?Dunedin Sound? pissed you off, and that’s why you formed Snapper.
It did. People didn’t think about the sound of things, people put on guitars and then clanged out stuff. I just got tired of a guitar sound that wasn’t thought about. I had my own personal style. I mean, I wrote [The Clean’s] ?Point That Thing [Somewhere Else]? at 17. That sort of sums up where I come from. I love textures. I love Indian music – now that’s true psychedelic music without having to give itself a term.

A lot of rock music leaves me cold. It’s anal. It’s self-indulgent. That’s it. But there’s great stuff too. Rock music is only rock music. I mean, I play it, but I play other stuff too. My taste is pretty universal.


What did you think of other bands from Dunedin around the time Snapper formed?
I didn’t find a lot of the music here particularly inspirational. I liked certain bands. I liked [The Stones](http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/TheStones(NewZealandband)) a lot. Bits and pieces. And I love The Clean. There are quite a few other bands as well – but out of Dunedin, no. I found that whole idea of territory rather boring. The obsession with ego. That really bored the fuck out of me.


Michael Morley and I were chatting about some of your piano-based stuff – genius.
A long time ago I did stuff on piano. I recorded a couple of pieces that I haven’t released yet. They’re all untitled. Done in a period where I was doing a whole lot of – well, psychedelic stuff – in a respect – more sort of earth-based spiritual music.

What’s the best piece of music you’ve ever created?
They’re all related to each other. They’re all extrapolations of each other. I haven’t got an actual best. They’re all explorations of the same theme.

I was listening to the [first Snapper EP](/news/4574077) the other day. It still sounds great. Huge. It holds up.
My music has this hypnotic element that doesn’t date. The basis of Snapper is something very old. All my music is. Like ?Point That Thing?? [co-written by Peter] encapsulated ideas going back to early Arabian and Indian music. Snapper has an honesty about it. There’s something very genuine there. I never tried to copy other bands; I’ve just done what I’ve done. Followed my own course.


My favourite Snapper song is ?Cause of You?. Mind-blowing.
?Cause of You? is one of my favourite songs. It’s one of the pieces that I like doing. It’s simple, got to the point. Hypnotic. You could really put stuff over it. And I guess that whole wash of distortion within distortion; there are so many fragments that sit over the melodies. I like clean stuff as well – but I like adding some dirt.


Did Snapper ever play overseas?
No, I have never been offshore. That’s something I’m going to do. As far as I can. I’d love to go to India – it’s a spiritual heartland where much of the heart of the music I play comes from.

What music did you listen to as a kid?
I grew up listening to a lot of ?60s radio and was introduced to rock music. I loved Bolan and Bowie. David Kilgour [of The Clean] introduced me to a great deal of great guitar music like The Velvet Underground. He’s got a wonderful sense of taste.

?You can’t lie with music. If you lie, it’s very apparent. If you sit there bullshitting on a guitar, it’s obvious.?

What did you learn from The Velvet Underground?
I admire what Lou Reed’s done greatly because he’s moved around a lot. He’s known for a lot of different types of music. In The Velvets he developed the rock and roll coda perfectly. His simplicity and his sophistication was extraordinary. He developed a rulebook. A rulebook that could be taken apart and refashioned, but he got down to the hub of it. A lot of other people did too, but when you think about the period, it wasn’t in fashion. It was just what he did. What they all did. Hence their problems with record companies. Now of course, people respect that very thing. You can’t lie with music. If you lie, it’s very apparent. If you sit there bullshitting on a guitar, it’s obvious. It’s as boring as fuck.

How did you learn to play guitar?
I picked it up and started doing it. I like people who can really play. Who can have feel. Feel the sound. That’s everything. And have a good sense of melody. There’s a lot of music I can sing to.

Why did you leave [The Chills](/icons/3940232) after just a few months?
It was too controlled for me. There wasn’t enough room for me to really explore stuff. It was too regimented. I’m not a particularly technical guitarist, but I like certain sounds. Certain rhythms. I’m interested in drone music as well as melody. I don’t like to pigeonhole myself too much. I just found that with The Chills I just couldn’t go with their aesthetic. It bored me.

Will you record new music?
You bet ya. I’ve put together a new Snapper line-up and we’ve been recording over the year, bits and pieces. There are records to make. I write a lot of music, I write easily and fluently. I’ll leave it at times too.


When are you at your most creative?
When I’m not thinking about it too much. I do have hyper-creative phases where I can easily write three or four things in a day.

?I love playing live. I feel completely at home on a stage. That’s where I’m meant to be.?

How did you settle on rock and roll as your main musical outlet?
I really couldn’t play anything else. Not as well. Rock music allowed me the freedom to just do it, and no other music would have allowed me that freedom. Everything else was just a bit too strict. Some forms of jazz are OK. And I can play jazz to a degree, in my own way – it’s very freeform, it’s very me, but I can play it. But I’m not that interested in playing in a jazz band.

There’s some rare footage of Snapper playing live in the ?80s. Incredible – a wall of noise and colour. Do you like playing live?
I love playing live. I love playing to an audience. I feel completely at home on a stage. I don’t get nervous. That’s where I’m meant to be.



Another of my favourite Gutteridge moments is your solo album recorded in ?86 and released on Xpressway in 1989, Pure. How was it different to the stuff you did with Snapper?
I did Pure myself. I did it on a four-track and it was much looser. The things upon it are first versions. Things created then and there. Painting onto tape. Which is a good way to do things and I must do more of it. Any tech flaws in them are made up for by their – freshness. They’re complete freshness. I’ll never be able to do exactly that again. Each performance I do is different to a degree. I don’t try and replicate exactly any song. You have your bare bones and you have your structure. And you use that, as your channel for the things outside you, and yourself, and others. Then all sorts of things happen.


What do you want a Snapper audience to experience?
Truth. A true experience. That’s all I’m after. Something that has a lot of veracity to it. Something that has feel. Depth. Power. And a sense of creation to it. And a sense of love. I believe that music without love is a pretty shallow thing. It doesn’t have to be pretty. I think of my own music as a battle cry in a love song – that’s where the psychedelic influence does come into it. You’re connected to that greater whole of things.

I do [Qigong](http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Qigong), which teaches you about the real nature of things – the energy field around us and how to hook into it. I can’t imagine life without it now that I do it. I’ve done Tai Chi for 20 years but I would say it’s only in this last year that I’ve learned what it’s really about. It’s not just a set of exercises; it’s sort of how to control energy. Like in my hands, right now. I can feel it like a ball of energy.

Anyway, Wes. You’re from??

Melbourne.
Melbourne? There’s been a contingent of people from Melbourne who’ve come over here. There have been more of you. I’ve been running into people from Melbourne for the last year. One day I’ll go there.

Dunedin’s a bit small. It’s a great town but it suffers from conservatism. Our own city council is not particularly friendly towards music. It doesn’t realise what it has. It’s literally scared of it. It’s disgusting. It’s appalling. It fucks me off. It’s time they shifted over and grew up.

?I play, that’s what I do. That’s my tool. That’s my gift. You can cause a vibration.?

That, at the heart of things, is also one of the concerns – the way things are. Things need to change. We need to free ourselves from this rather appalling reliance on oil. The rather soulless way we live. The way that we are brought up to be consumers is appalling to me. Really appalling. I am deeply angry about the way that the powers that be exploit populations, exploit this planet. Exploit nature. That all pisses me off to the core. As I get older those are my two main concerns – people and the environment. And that’s why I play. Plus I play, that’s what I do. That’s my tool. That’s my gift. You can cause a vibration.

So music can change the world?
You can’t escape a note.

How do you view the Snapper LPs you released in the ?90s: A.D.M.* [1996] and *Shotgun Blossom [1992]?
They are what they are. A.D.M. was the darkest thing I’ve done. It was a pretty dark piece of music. It was a hard period in the world’s history. I have a song I wrote recently called ?You Forgot That I Was Human?, which sums up where I come from.


Do you like living in Dunedin?
At times. There’s some nice people, there’s quite a beautiful environment. But I do find its conservatism does irk me. And I run into those victims all the time.

Does it garner creativity?
It’s there. It’s in the background as a driver. But I’d rather play from a sense of joy that just frustration. I’d rather sing a song about joy that it be a battle cry. But it isn’t all the time. It can be a celebration. It’s a mix of all of those things. It’s an unusual place. There’s a lot of power in the land here. It’s a very powerful natural place. There is something going on here spiritually that interests me.

A lot of people jump free of all sorts of things. I used to be on a methadone program and I jumped free of 220mg of methadone after that. I just jumped it. Using psychedelics. But also after doing weeks and weeks and weeks of music that dropped me into a kind of a state where the world kind of disappeared for a while, while I got on with the real stuff.


Have you ever thought about writing a book?
I do. I write. I’m always writing. It’ll happen. It’s easier to speak to be honest. I get a lot further just speaking to people. For example my texts to people are not ordinary texts. They’re part poetry, part other things.

You’re one of the few people I know who doesn’t own a computer. Is the internet a good thing?
It is what it is. It’s a thing of our time, and it can be a useful tool. It can be a great way for people to contact each other and there are great tools within it. But it’s also become an amusement. A way of filling in time. And that’s what I’m not happy about. I prefer real life. You can have friends on Facebook, but are they going to share dinner with you? Are they going to cook dinner with you? Are they going to be there when you’re falling through the floor? They’re not.

An email can be a lifesaver, but so can a pair of arms and a real voice. I prefer a real experience to anything on a screen. I don’t do computers very well. I understand them, I appreciate them, but I don’t do them that well. I don’t even do houses very well. I don’t like straight lines much. I like curves. Things are way too straight.

+

####Snapper’s self-titled 1988 debut EP will be reissued on limited 12? vinyl through Flying Nun and Arch Hill for Record Store Day this Saturday (April 20). In February Snapper played a [joint event](http://www.archhill.co.nz/profiles/blogs/arch-hill-flying-nun-grill-playing-times) hosted by those two NZ labels. Wes Holland drums for The Sand Pebbles, whose latest album is 2011?s [?Dark Magic?](/releases/2000927).