Minuit (‘Midnight’ in French) had their genesis in Nelson in the late 1990s. Vocalist Ruth Carr sang and played drums in various bands that changed and morphed, eventually becoming Minuit, with multi-instrumentalists, producers, and samplers Paul Dodge, and Ryan Beehre. At this point in the band’s metamorphosis, there was a fourth member, Lance Tighe, who was their vocalist, while Carr played the drums.
When Carr took over on vocals, they added a drum machine and the guitar, bass and drums based first incarnation of Minuit became a dance and beats three-piece.
As a singer, Carr took her inspiration from Nina Simone in phrasing and delivery. She is a singer with a social conscience, volunteering (with partner Dodge) in Kosovo for the UN in 2000. They followed this up with aid work in East Timor the following year.
This new focus of Minuit also made use of a sampling machine that Beehre bought to break away from the acoustic material they had been associated with. Minuit became linked strongly to the breakbeat scene, but as Dodge told NZ Musician in 2003, “We wanted … a more soulful sound to come out of Minuit”, as they were also influenced by seminal releases by Tricky and Massive Attack.
A number of self-released EPs Sonic Experience (1998), Silver (1998), Luck (2000), and Except You (2002), followed.
A move to Auckland the following year came about after doing their own thing their own way. Playing a gig in the city led to television spots on the Space and Squeeze shows, which in turn led to record label interest. For the release of debut album The 88 (2003), Minuit signed to Tardus Records, liking the family feel of the label. Carr and Dodge then moved to Auckland, with Beehre staying in Nelson. The 88 featured many of the songs off their EPs, and included what would become a classic song for the band, ‘The Boy With The Aubergine Hair’, from their Luck EP. The 88 was a gold selling album in NZ.
The EP netted them the bNet award for the Best Electronic Release in 2005, as well as a NZ Music Awards nomination for Breakthrough Artist.
Attention was given to the band’s look, much to Carr’s disgust, and she stopped reading reviews. “One of the first things I read on the internet was a review … where the reviewer said ‘who does the girl from Minuit think she is? She’s got a haircut like Meg Ryan’. I thought I’m never reading anyone’s opinion ever again.” Regardless of hair critiques, Carr’s stage presence was undeniable, and her enjoyment of her music evident.
For Minuit’s next move, they recorded The Guns EP the following year, which included the breakthrough single ‘I Hate Guns’. The Guns was a limited edition release, which sold out in its first week. The EP netted them the bNet award for the Best Electronic Release in 2005, as well as a NZ Music Awards nomination for Breakthrough Artist in the same year. The Guns was originally going to be followed up relatively quickly by their second album, The Guards Themselves, recorded in 2004-5, with Carr and Dodge now based in Wellington.
However this wasn’t to be, as Carr was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer – the prognosis was bleak. While receiving treatment, a surgical pipe paralysed her vocal chord, and it looked like she wouldn’t be able to sing. This meant a delay for the album and any touring. Carr’s recovery re-ignited her enthusiasm for her work, and when they did release The Guards Themselves in 2006, the band toured for the next couple of years, internationally as well as locally.
The Guards Themselves was written on a computer, and then mastered by Emily Lazar in New York. Locally, the album charted at No.12, and produced two dancefloor hits in 2006 – ‘Fuji’, and ‘A Room Full of Cute’.
The years between 2006 and 2009 were a hive of activity for Minuit. They played in various locations around the globe, the highlights being Prague, where 300 people came to the gig, and knew all the words to ‘Fuji’, and Berlin, where Carr described the German fans as “horrifically cool.”
In 2008 another opportunity arose internationally, the chance to release their material in the United Kingdom. The band, again, went their own way, but found support from UK-based Doll House Records, and released the compilation album I Went to This Party and There Were 88 Guards with Guns. With digital distribution as well, their audience expanded, and their sales increased. Around the same time, Ruth also recorded vocals with American electronica duo The Crystal Method and English producer Rennie Pilgrim.
The track that gained most attention was ‘Aotearoa’, a song not especially patriotic, but inclusive.
2009 saw the release of Minuit’s third long-playing album Find Me Before I Die a Lonely Death Dot Com. Recorded at Beehre’s Nelson studio, the album wasn’t as rooted in dance and beats – there were instruments, both electric and acoustic. Lead single ‘Wayho’ even had a swing feel to the rhythms. The track that gained most attention was ‘Aotearoa’, a song not especially patriotic, but inclusive, Carr describing it as “we are ‘a New Zealand’, we can chose to be what we want.”
‘Aotearoa’ was used as the backdrop track for both Television New Zealand’s 2010 Waitangi Day Coverage, and the broadcaster’s Heartland television channel. The video accompanying the song featured thousands of unedited snapshots of New Zealanders. Internationally, it was used in episodes of Bones, and Being Human, while the album track ‘I’m Still Dancing’ was used in an episode of Grey’s Anatomy.
Over the next two years two remix compilations of Minuit material were released: Dance Music Will Tear Us Apart in 2010 was a selection of tracks re-worked by both Dodge and Beehre under their DJ names, Gimme a C!, and Funkin’ Slowcuts (respectively). A follow up in 2011, Dance Music Will Tear Us Apart Again, was part of the summer remixes season.
At the same time, Carr released her book of lines, poems and thoughts I Felt Like a Fight, Alright? The book included her thoughts on her cancer diagnosis, and was often a candid, emotive outlet for her creative muse.
The band recorded the sounds of the islands, as well as gypsy brass, mariachi horns, and voices of the children from a Haitian orphanage.
Another string to the band’s bow came in early in 2012, when Minuit collaborated with Gareth Farr’s traditional Balinese Gamelan – Gamelan Taniwha Jaya – performing at both Homegrown, and WOMAD festivals.
As well as being a musician and writer, Carr is also a furniture maker, and this inadvertently led to Minuit’s fourth album Last Night You Saw This Band. Carr took her crafting skills to Rarotonga for a few months, swapping her knowledge for scuba diving lessons. Living cheaply, and simply, she found inspiration in the way of life, and the band recorded the sounds of the islands, as well as gypsy brass, mariachi horns, and voices of the children from a Haitian orphanage. Beehre recorded a Nelson harmonica player to add to the textures. Last Night You Saw This Band was released at the end of 2012, and again, defied expectations, being described as often very relaxed. Lead single ‘Book of the Dead’ harked back to a classic Minuit dance sound and showcased dark lyrics that referred to Carr’s illness, while ‘The Love That Won’t Shut Up’ had elements of guitar-based garage rock. As an altruistic touch, a percentage of the album’s sales went to Kenbe La Foundation in Haiti.
Minuit started off 2013 with gigs, including a successful performance at the Catlins River Festival. In New Zealand Music Month Minuit played May gigs in hometown Nelson and Golden Bay, and Carr joined Dave Dobbyn later that month for his “Stories Old and New” show, swapping a song with him.
Minuit played their final shows in November 2014. The shows were released in full on YouTube.
Ruth Carr has worked on films The Hobbit, King Kong, and Australia as a furniture maker, and in the textiles department.
Ruth Carr - vocals
Paul Dodge - multi-instrumentalist
Ryan Beehre - multi-instrumentalist
Doll House Records