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Zed Yuko and Andrew in studio

Zed, Yuko and Andrew in the studio

White Lies and Other Small Mercies (2017)

In 1985 Johnstone was pumping gas at Mobil Hillcrest on the far Southern edge of Hamilton City. Late one night Brookes pulled up in van filled with band gear. “You’re a musician?” asked Johnstone. Brookes replied in the affirmative and Johnstone said, “I‘m a musician as well.” Brookes, “I have a studio just around the corner on Morrinsville road. It’s called Tandys. You should call in some time.”

Brookes (a Scotsman by way of Auckland’s North Shore and Rotorua) was already well established and had scored Hamilton’s first chart hit of the modern era with his band Step Chant Unit. ‘Painting Pictures’ had been released on Wellington’s Jayrem label and had cracked the national top 30. An appearance on iconic Kiwi music show Radio With Pictures had followed.

Cambridge born Johnstone was with Waikato pop/rock band Three Men Missing. By 1988 both were free of their bands and looking to experiment with sound and in each other found a like mind. Brookes produced numerous EPs for Johnstone before they embarked upon an ambitious album project called The Wallflower.

Johnstone wrote and sang, Brookes engineered and produced, twice. The completed album attracted the attention of Grant Hislop founder of iconic Hamilton radio stations The Rock and The Edge and he paid for the album to be re-recorded at his brand-new “state of the art” digital studio the Zoo (built and run by Brookes).

Still the most ambitious recording project ever undertaken in Hamilton, The Wallflower (1995) sold 250 copies on cassette before disappearing from view. The two friends exhausted by the shifting tides of life went their separate ways.

In 2015 the pair met up again in Auckland. The old chemistry was still evident and in a blink the two found themselves behind the desk at Brookes’ home studio on Auckland’s North Shore talking about music. It turned out they had more in common musically than they had previously imagined.

1960’s TV themes, long forgotten advertising jingles, top forty radio, musicals (in those days every middle-class home in New Zealand had at least one cast album from a Broadway or West End show in the record cabinet) and movie scores.

While Brookes was coming to terms with his father’s Hank Williams albums, Johnstone was digging his mother’s Bacharach, Carpenters and Righteous Brothers while soaking up the Jimmy Webb and Glen Campbell songs then a fixture on Radio Waikato. Later Brookes discovered Lee Hazelwood, Devo and 1980’s British new wave synth bands while Johnstone was exploring the sounds of country rock pioneer Mike Nesmith and alt-country band The Amazing Rhythm Aces.

Over numerous rounds of tequila the pair also realised that many of their favourite tunes, both pop songs and themes had been played by the hit making L.A studio session band The Wrecking Crew and a new favourite band was added to their collective list of influences.

One day a week for the last two years Brookes and Johnstone have sat behind the console laying down tracks faster than they have been able to process them and as time has passed have watched their sound evolve and change.

Creativity does not diminish with age nor does enthusiasm and the formative sounds of one’s youth are impossible to escape and here in the early reaches of the 21st century, Brookes and Johnstone have taken that cornucopia of sound swirling about their collective psyches and have shaped it into something that continues to surprise and delight both of them.

A cinematic retro-flavoured 60’s/70’s pastiche, ‘White Lies and Other Small Mercies’ harks back to the glory days of the Wrecking Crew. Produced, written, arranged and played by Brookes and Johnstone. Lead vocal Johnstone, backing vocals Nina McSweeney and Brookes.

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