Blending electronic minimalism and pop sensibilities, The Response is one of New Zealand music’s best-kept secrets. With multiple appearances at the Electric Avenue music festival, having received airplay by Radio Hauraki, as well as having released a steady stream of music over the past decade, The Response has gained a loyal cult following.
With the recent release of their single “40,000 Day and Night” off their forthcoming new album, set for release later this year, we sat down with Andy and Victoria Knopp of the Christchurch based band, The Response, to discuss the new album, how they approach songwriting, moving to Canada, and their quirky live set up.
How was Electric Avenue?
Andy: “Yeah, it was so cool. It was just so big! I can’t believe how many people were there.”
Victoria: “It was really crazy getting the Covid alerts at like 10 p.m. in the middle of all of that. It was such a great day, it always is just an awesome festival.”
Congratulations on the new single. Tell me a little bit about what was the inspiration behind the song and how it came to be.
Andy: “A lot of our songs begin with sound experimentation, just like twisting knobs and playing with recordings until something sounds weird. I was playing with some drum beat ideas and the drumbeat has got this weird sound, I don’t even remember where it came about, it’s just a bunch of weird things put together. I didn’t like it at first, but Vic was keen.”
Victoria: “I was a fan.”
Andy: “(laughs) Yeah, yeah she came in from the next room and was like “What’s that? Play that again.” I was like “really?” and then it just carried on from there. It just evolved from that one sound design experiment beat coming together. Then just fill in the blanks from there, experimentation keeps going, the lyrics start to flow from that. I approached the bassline using that sixteenth note arpeggiation on the analogue synth just like pulsing along, and that is a really good way for us to play live because Vic plays all the bass with her feet.”
Victoria: “Like a keyboard, a chromatic keyboard.”
Andy: “It’s like a big black box with arcade buttons that you play with your feet, you know C, C#, D, D#, so you’ve got to keep the basslines pretty simple. So we keep on trying to figure out ways to make that work for us because she’s playing with her feet while she’s playing the drums.”
In terms of the lyrical meaning behind the song because it struck me as being a little bittersweet.
Andy: “The song is quite upbeat, juxtaposing a triumphant chorus ending with “I guess we never really had a chance” is pretty, as you say bittersweet. We always like to make our songs as open to interpretation as possible, hopefully, they can be taken in many different ways, but this is a very specific lyric. The title of the song, 40,000 day and night, is talking about the fact that 40,000 songs are released on Spotify every day and trying to poke your head about above all that noise is quite overwhelming.
Victoria: “I mean we love music and we do music for fun because we love it not because we want everyone to hear us, but it’s a strange industry.”
The music video had an old school stop motion feel to it. Did you make that yourself?
Andy: “Yep, we make pretty much all our videos just by ourselves. That one was one of our faster ones to do. Honestly, I’m always proud of our videos. I love them to bits but it’s always such a daunting, horrible experience, coming up with a good video clip idea. If you go on YouTube and you look at your favourite band’s video clips, and if you’re sitting there objectively, probably like 90% of them are garbage. And so these are your favourite bands doing garbage with unlimited money and you’ve got to try and figure how to do it yourself for no money and it to not be garbage, it’s quite a daunting task.
So the song is going to be on your fifth album which is set to be released later this year. Could you tell me much about the album?
Andy: “On Our last record the goal was to start every song from a non-guitar centric point of view. I’m a guitarist, I’ve got a degree in guitar, that’s what I always gravitate towards, but I really wanted to change things up. So our last record is very guitar-lite, at least in terms of the writing of the songs, this one is moving back towards that and brings a bit more of the quirkiness into the songs.
Victoria: “Because we’re a duo and we perform as a duo we try to not have drums that sound too real because people see someone not playing the drums, but they hear something that sounds like drums, and they think “That’s wrong. I don’t like that.” So, we’ve been leaning more and more over the years to weirder and more digital sounds, we’ve been pushing more guitar sounds as well. I think the majority of the songs are a bit more fun on this album, they’re all miserable if you look at the lyrics, they’re all bittersweet, but, we’re trying sonically to go a bit more fun.
Andy: “If you’ve never seen us play live we are pretty stationary because we’re triggering stuff with our feet, Vic’s playing bass and drum pads at the same time, so we can’t really move around a whole lot, so we try to make the music danceable so that the audience can dance and we can stay still and concentrate.
Do you self-produce all your own music as well?
Andy: “Yeah, always have.”
You describe your sound as electronic minimalism, but you’ve also had some radio play by Radio Hauraki which is typically more of a rock radio station so how did that come about?
Andy: “We were just as surprised. Getting played on Radio Hauraki was super cool, but we did not expect that at all.”
Victoria: There is another band that we produce and that band had some airplay on Radio Hauraki as well, I’d been in touch with the programme director and said “well you might also like this.” And he’s like “I do, I’ll put that on.” But, actually, I don’t even know how our other band got on Radio Hauraki and still don’t even know.”
Next year is going to be the tenth anniversary of the release of your self-titled album. In terms of your approach to songwriting has it changed much over the past decade?
Andy: “In some ways no, and in some ways yes. We’re still essentially a bedroom band producing ourselves. We still write the songs, record them, get them how we like, and then wonder what the heck we’re going to do, try to play them live; we work backwards and figure that out later on. When we began, I remember our first gigs, just the two of us. We had to take a car each because our cars were just so full of music gear. Vic played the double bass which already takes up a lot of room, we had two glockenspiels, keyboards, multiple guitars, harmonium, it was just too much gear.
Victoria: “It was also a much different sound, a lot more folky sounding.”
Andy: “And then we started experimenting with more electronic sounds. The real difference for us was when we moved to Canada having the luxury of a car was no longer there. So we had to figure out how to get to gigs with just a small suitcase, so we just peeled everything right back and figured out how to do it in a way more compact way.
Victoria: “Also our apartment was tiny and we had neighbours on four sides for the first time, and we’re nice people. We didn’t want to annoy everyone so we changed a lot about the way that we wrote melodies to make it quieter so that we didn’t have to sing as loud.”
Andy: “Back in Christchurch on our first album we had two amps and I would crank them up as loud as possible to get some really nice tones, there was no way that was going to happen. So we went more and more digital, so it’s all in the box now, we used to have some outboard gear and all that stuff is very compact now and I think we’re much better for it.”
Speaking of which, when you play live, obviously you have quite a full sound but it’s just two of you on stage. Victoria you play the drums with your feet, for example, that’s unusual. At what point did you start doing that and was it hard to learn?
Victoria: “Yeah, it’s always hard to learn any new song on it or anything. We’ve been slowly transitioning, we had a few drum pads and I was playing those for some songs, and then Andy found this foot-controlled bass synth on Trade Me and bought it. He was like “We’ve got a gig next week do you reckon you could play it?” And I was like “No, definitely not.” But, I learned maybe three or four songs for that gig. It just became a part of our sound, and it was cool because it just opened us up to being able to do lots of different types of music, it constructs how we make songs and how we want to sound. I spend most of the set standing on one leg, I play with my foot and then I just play drum pads on a standing spd pad, and I do backing vocals. Andy plays the guitar and does main vocals and also triggers loops and samples.
You two met at Jazz School, right?
Victoria: “Yes, we were in the same performance class, I played the double bass, Andy played guitar. So we played lots of music together, and played in lots of bands together and then at some point because we were the backup band, I suppose, you’re always at the whim of the people you are playing with. So we played with a few bands, and you put in a lot of time and effort and then for whatever reason the front person can’t do it anymore or want to go in a different direction. We just decided we didn’t want to do that anymore and thought “what if we were the whole band?” so that’s how we started.
You’ve recently moved back from Canada. In terms of the New Zealand music scene, what is it like having been a part of that left for a couple of years and then come back to it? Has it changed much?
Victoria: “We’re in Christchurch and we left maybe four years after the quakes, that was a really crazy time. Christchurch had gone through its initial time when everything stopped and then everyone was going full bore to make things happen and have a vibrant city. Then it curved off again and no one wanted to go out and no one was wanting to do anything ever, and so we left during that period of time and went to a city where the music scene was incredibly vibrant, it was mind-blowing. Coming back we knew it was going to be a shock to the system, but it wasn’t; it had levelled out and definitely improved a lot since we left. Honestly, the last two to three years have been so great here it’s just been picking up and up, there are so many cool acts, it’s been so great seeing it progress since then.
Andy: “Definitely, and there have always been good acts around Christchurch, but maybe more and more the public is getting to know them, which is really key I think, they’re no longer as underground, they’re still underground but it’s not as underground as it once was maybe.”
What are your plans for the rest of the year?
Victoria: “We have our new album.”
Andy: “The only thing holding back the album is coming up with some video clips. When we bring out the album, we’re not looking at booking a tour at this stage, due to lockdown reasons. We did a tour for our last album, which was really fun, being able to play in some different venues around New Zealand. We will be more active in terms of releasing content, videos, and songs. We’ll do some local gigs, we’ll see about further afield than Christchurch, but certainly Christchurch. We’re at the whims of Covid at this stage.”
Victoria: “We also do quite a lot of production for other bands.”
Andy: “Exactly, we’ve been producing a few different bands and recording some bands coming up.”
Check out their latest release below.