This makes Rowland and his band, the odd short hiatus notwithstanding, a true pioneer within a local context. Of course, there have been other New Zealand-based bands ticking all the boxes we usually associate with goth, but most have been short-lived, and Disjecta Membra is surely the granddaddy of them all.
The earliest incarnation of Disjecta Membra took shape in a suburban Hamilton garage in 1993, with Rowland and bass-playing neighbour Dave Jones eventually recording a few demos by mid-1994. Encouraged by those demos getting some exposure on local student radio station, Contact 89 FM, in August 1995 the band played its first live “gig” in the salubrious surrounds of a Hamilton East, Jellicoe Drive flat. The band line-up included Rowland (vox/guitar), Paul Kennedy (keys/guitar), Ben Cauchi (bass), and – in true Sisters of Mercy fashion – a drum machine called “Deus ex Machina”.
In late 1995, early 1996, the band recorded further demos with local producer Dave Lowndes of Theta Productions, and that material attracted the attention of Melbourne-based Heartland Records, who offered the band an album contract. That became Achromaticia, was released in July 1997 and distributed internationally by labels such as Nightbreed (UK) and Resurrection. Tracks such as the early single, ‘Cauldron of Cerridwen’, and album cut, ‘Skin Trade’, advanced the band’s overseas profile considerably after being picked up by various specialist (darkwave) clubs, and over the next few years Disjecta Membra began to feature on various international compilation releases, firmly establishing the band as Aotearoa’s premier goth-rock export.
So much so, when iconic artists such as The Mission, Pete Murphy (Bauhaus), Peter Hook & The Light (Joy Division/New Order), and Mick Harvey (Birthday Party/Bad Seeds), visited these shores in relatively recent times, Disjecta Membra was the most obvious poison of choice when it came to filling a support spot.
The release of Achromaticia in 1997 coincided with Rowland’s move to Wellington, and naturally that came with its own challenges for Disjecta Membra, not the least being pesky line-up changes, of which there had already been a few. Bassist Ben Cauchi was replaced by Jacob Sullivan around this time, who would play an important role in the band’s evolution. Not only as Rowland’s “right-hand-man”, but as frontman for like-minded Wellington outfit Reserved For Emily, who regularly gigged and toured with Disjecta Membra.
There are perhaps too many subsequent line-up changes to document in any extended detail here, but one key arrival in 1998 was Sullivan’s replacement, Jason (Jaz) Murphy; then bassist with Jordan Reyne’s live outfit, Dr Kevorkian. Again, Dr Kev regularly played on the same bill as Disjecta Membra, and Murphy would become a mainstay of the band for years to come.
Another important addition in 1998 was Mark Hamill, perhaps better known as “Hidee Beast”, the original drummer for hard-rocking Wellington band, Head Like A Hole. When the time came for Disjecta Membra to commence recording on a follow-up album, having had a stint as the band’s live sound tech, Hamill was able to offer valuable production assistance at his own (home) studio. However, those sessions didn’t really go according to plan, and the (notionally titled) Sibylline Leaves album was abandoned before it could be completed.
The live band became a five-piece through much of the late 90s period, and although gigs were irregular, one significant international support slot Disjecta Membra secured came in September 1998, when the band supported Death In June at Wellington’s Indigo bar (now San Fran).
With the band line-up being more fluid than ever across the early 2000s, Rowland busied himself with a number of side projects; these included collaboration and involvement in bands such as Winterland, Rose Petals And Confetti, and Black Virgin Milk. He also co-founded a small label and artist collective called Mediatrix alongside musician, designer, author and multimedia artist Jason Just. He threw himself into live event promotion and became heavily involved in running the annual Darkness Gathering, an international dark music and performance festival held in Wellington from 2000 to 2005.
Disjecta Membra’s overseas profile has always remained high within dark post-punk communities
Although Disjecta Membra has never toured internationally, the band’s overseas profile has always remained high within dark post-punk communities, thanks largely to a number of key tracks getting exposure or featuring on gateway compilation and label sampler releases. In 2007, a terrific cover of Th’ Dudes classic ‘Walking In Light’ featured on She’s Lost, a digital compilation release to celebrate NZ Music Month 2007. It was an album which brought together like-minded local artists offering up covers of their own favourite New Zealand songs.
If there was anything even remotely resembling a regular live line-up of the group from 2007-09 (which there wasn’t), then it would have been: Michel Rowland (guitar, vocals), Kane Davey (guitar, bass), Vivian Stewart (guitar, bass), Russell Dench (keyboards), Izzy Te Aho-White (bass), Daniel Cross (guitar) and Dan Smart (drums).
The period between 2010 and 2013 was less productive for Disjecta Membra, with Rowland’s focus diverted to precious family-related projects and the not-insignificant development that he became a father. Yet the 2013 digital release of a single called ‘Death by Discothèque’ and the online availability of the first expanded reissue of Achromaticia was the catalyst for a resurgence of interest in the band, both at home and overseas.
The aforementioned Peter Murphy support slot on the New Zealand leg of his Mr Moonlight World tour followed. By this point ‘Death by Discothèque’ had started to develop a life of its own after it featured on a well-received Finland-based Gothic Music Records sampler album, This Is Gothic Rock. An EP of ‘Death by Discothèque’ remixes followed in 2015, as did a deeply personal collaboration with Rob Thorne on the wonderful, genre-defying digital single, ‘Whakataurangi Ake’.
An EP called The Infancy Gospels appeared in November 2016, and the band capped a remarkably productive spell by supporting The Mission in both Wellington and Auckland in December of that year.
In 2017, Rowland briefly turned his attention to yet another project, Dreams Are Like Water, which released one solitary, yet truly excellent dark shoe-gazey EP called A Sea Spell, featuring Rowland’s partner, Rosebud, on vocals.
When celebrating the 20th anniversary of the release the Achromaticia album in late 2017, it was reissued in a heavily expanded multiple disc format. It included a huge amount of previously unreleased material – demos, covers, live recordings, and interviews – and offered genuine insight into the evolution of one of Aotearoa’s more unique bands. The artfully designed, beautifully packaged set was the culmination of many years of hard work for a band that has often struggled to gain traction locally, but one that has steadily built up an extensive and loyal fanbase overseas – as is so often the way for bands operating within niche genres.
More work was released in 2018; another remix EP, with ‘Madeleine! Madelaine!’ (from The Infancy Gospels) being the beneficiary of some inspired makeover treatment, and the release of a Trump-baiting, sample-heavy ‘Russian Dossier’ version of the band’s Boney M cover ‘Rasputin’ (yes, really) appeared on the latest Ascension Magazine sampler.
Where to next? That’s a question Rowland was coy about answering, which probably means we can’t rule anything out, and as we are propelled forward to the cusp of a new decade to await the next chapter, it seems certain that Disjecta Membra’s book is far from closed.
Michel Rowland - vocals, guitar
Paul Kennedy - keyboards, guitar
Ben Cauchi - bass
Jason "Jaz" Murphy - bass
Jacob Sullivan - bass
Matthew Tamati Scott - guitar, keyboards
Kane Davey - guitar
Isobel Joy Te Aho-White - bass
Dan Smart - drums, samples
Vivian Stewart - guitar, bass
Russell Dench - keyboards