Yet this sonic approach first emerged back in the late 80s, giving birth to Auckland group, The Malchicks. The group had a solid fan base throughout New Zealand, but faded before they could make good on their early promise, disappearing in a haze of echoing, dreamlike guitar notes.
The Malchicks were originally formed in 1989 by Coralie Martin (bass player and singer) along with her friend Mac Hodge and flatmate Miranda (Bobby) Makin (who was coerced into being the band's singer). Martin recalls the band morphing over their first year of existence: "We then auditioned the freaky and fabulous Lorna on drums. A little while later, Mac asked Matt Dalzell along for a jam and he became our second guitarist. Mac decided after a while that he wanted to devote himself to his other band, Zombie Boy, and I have to say we weren't really upset by that as sound-wise he was going in a different direction from the rest of us. However, we missed the fullness that two guitars gave, so when we saw Simon Matthews playing as a guest guitarist on one of The Nixons' songs at a gig we jumped on him."
The band put a more atmospheric spin on the twisted guitar manipulation of indie acts like Sonic Youth and Dinosaur Jnr and this was a timely decision since there were a number of acts coming through from the UK with a similar idea in mind – Lush, My Bloody Valentine, and Ride all released music with drifty, washed-out vocals buried under layers of twisting guitars. Martin had an ethereal singing voice, which suited this style of music well and this was shown to great effect on their first track ‘Vanilla‘ (off the bFM Freak the Sheep compilation, 1991). At that time, their drummer Lorna Kittel decided to leave the group so they brought in high school student Jason Ennor – via an advert in RipItUp.
The second single ‘Drive’ became a student radio favourite.
The Lotus EP (1991) was a compact summary of the group’s aims and was recorded at the Lab by Mark Tierney (Strawpeople). The music video for the single, ‘This Too Will Pass’, received some television airplay but it was the follow-up ‘Drive’ that became a student radio favourite. Martin’s vocals coasted on a drifting bed of guitars, as she sang about the otherworldly feeling of driving a long distance late at night. The band had always taken inspiration from literature – their name was taken from the Russian slang used by characters in the Anthony Burgess novel A Clockwork Orange (“malchick” is Russian for “boy”) – and the central track of their Lotus EP – ‘Lotus Eater’ – was inspired by Storming Heaven: LSD & the American Dream by Jay Stevens (who compared the USA population in the sixties to the soporific lotus eaters of Greek myth).
The EP was released by Christchurch label Failsafe, which was an odd choice for an Auckland band, but they were encouraged by the energy and enthusiasm shown by owner Rob Mayes. They soon became a flagship act for the label (along with Love’s Ugly Children) and toured the country, even playing some large shows as an unlikely support act for The Exponents.
Dalziel was enthused after seeing his heroes, Sonic Youth, play in Auckland, but immediately after the show, Ennor announced he was leaving the band. The Malchicks pushed forward, even attempting a show without a drummer, though they eventually convinced Ennor to be involved in the recording an album.
By the time the recording sessions began, Dalziel and Martin had split up and yet the recording still proceeded as planned, with the appearance of a few new songs that were clearly about the decline of their own relationship. Recording engineer Chris van de Geer did a lot of work to piece together the embryonic songs into full pieces, working on the structure of each track with Ennor before recording the other parts.
Mercury (1995) had some great moments, with the spiralling, wavering guitars never sounding better.
Mercury (1995) had some great moments, with the spiralling, wavering guitars never sounding better than on tracks like ‘Head to Head’ and ‘Weatherman’. Yet the album came out with a whimper, with no touring line-up to back it. By the time the first single, ‘Milestone’ was released, Matthews had moved to the USA and Martin was living in Japan, though she still managed to supply footage of herself journeying through the Japanese countryside for the music video. The only member of the band to continue in music after the decline of the band was Ennor, who went on to drum for hardcore group, Muckhole.
Yet the sound that the Malchicks were trying to create eventually came back in vogue in the new millennium (thanks to new groups like Space Ventura and Trick Mammoth) and it therefore seems worthwhile to unearth their music once more and remember them – both as the fine act they were and the great act that they could have been.
In December 2019, Failsafe Records released a Malchicks compilation as double-CD and digital download under the title, Everything. It included both the Lotus EP, Mercury, the single ‘Vanilla’, and seven unreleased studio tracks.
“Simon and I were separately dealing with stuff that had been in long-term storage and found boxes of recordings, masters, final mix-downs, and live stuff on different formats – cassette tape, DAT, reels … It turned out they were technically salvageable, so Rob Mayes applied some serious magic to the remastering and in the process suggested a different song order, which I think is great and makes me feel like it’s not only harmonically richer and better balanced, but is very much a new product. Yes, there is material I wrote and recorded as a teenager, and some of that is identifiable, but it’s all part of the process of developing as a musician, songwriter and as a band, all part of Everything.”
After Lorna Kittel had left the Malchicks, the drum stool was briefly occupied by Mark Pollard (from the Nixons) and he helped write a number of the songs on the Lotus EP. Jason Ennor then took over on drums, though he finally left the Malchicks to form a new band (Love Buzz) with two other musicians with connections to the Nixons – their sound engineer Andrew Buckton and Brendan Hooker (flatmate of Nixons’ singer Sean Sturm).
Matthew Dalziel - vocals, guitar
Coralie Martin - vocals, guitar
Simon Matthews - guitar
Jason Ennor - drums
Lorna Kittel - drums