The Black Dog and Unity In Music

Static Era band photoYou can feel the chills creep up your spine, spread out across your shoulders and crawl down your arms. The music is loud, deafening (but if it’s too loud, you’re too old), it’s moving through your body. It’s the moment you’ve longed for, waited for, lined up outside the venue for, watched the seconds tick away for, waiting for the download or tearing the wrapping off the CD case.

It’s that moment where everything melts away from you, where nothing matters but the music as it moves through your body, the chills, as they prick the hair on your arms. You forget everything, the fear, the pain, the anxiety, all of your worries can’t touch you here, not inside this song.

Emma G, the charismatic front woman of Static Era, is one of many that bleeds onto a lyric sheet in search of those moments, but also in search of something that’ll bring us all together.

“We’ve got this tool to unify people and get people hooked,” she says, “and that video [‘Addicted To A Dream’] is a bit heavy and it’s based on a few life experiences and we wanted to make sure that we were able to give people an idea that, ‘hey, look, we’re human, we’re all human, we’ve all been through stuff but there is a way out and there is hope.’ You go through trials and tribulations but at the end of the day you have the power to control your destiny.”

‘Addicted To A Dream’ is the new music video, about an abusive relationship, and getting out of it, but it isn’t only abusive relationships that are in Static Era’s firing line – they know their music brings people together and they also know how to use it: against the Black Dog.

“Coming from New Zealand,” Emma says contemplatively, factually and with a certain gravity, “where our youth suicide rates are really high, and the second highest rates of suicide in New Zealand are middled aged, Pakeha, men it’s really important for us to say, hey, look [suicide and depression] do exist and it’s really important to us [to talk about it].

“We don’t want to pretend that we’re all bubble gum and candy floss or whatever. We want to be able to identify these things and say hey, once I know who you are and what’re you’re doing, let’s kick it to the curb because there is a way out.”

For Emma, music was the way out. It was the Constantine to her demons and now, she wants to use to exorcise whatever’s lurking in the depths of everybody’s minds.

“I decided I wanted to be a songwriter when I was nine years old and the reason why is because I have a condition called hydrocephalus so in my life time I’ve had 10 brain surgeries (having brain surgery’s not at all that fun, don’t recommend it). It was during one of these stints in hospital where I turned to songwriting as a way of dealing with my demons.”

Though she laughs at not recommending brain surgery, her openness, vulnerability, in those moments isn’t something you can experience and then walk away from unaffected.

“Over the years,” she continues, half solemnly, half as though imparting a great truth of the world, “I’ve realised that we’re all going through some sort of battle and trying to find that one thing that to hold us all together. So to me, the most important thing about music is that ability to be a voice for those going through a struggle.”

“Everybody wants to be heard,” Emma says, seriously, not oddly seriously, but the gravity has returned to her voice, “but nobody wants to listen…”

It feels like an age old truth, just like Twitter can be like standing in a crowded room with everyone talking to themselves, we all want to be saved but no one wants to do the saving.

For those that do reach out a hand, it can be a minefield of disaster, but that can’t put you off.

“Chris [Yong, guitarist] is a lot more tactful than I am,” Emma laughs nervously, “I’m really blunt but the underlying thing is as long as you’re honest about your experiences and about where you want to go and what you’re doing, I think that’s the best way to approach anything.”

She sums it up succulently, better than I ever could, hell, better than most people ever could.

“Music is one of those things that brings people together and if we can use that as a tool to help save the world, awesome.”


Music Is My Boyfriend

Emma G and Chris live at Backbeat.

He’s always there when I need someone to talk to. He understands when I need to yell and scream, or be soft, vulnerable, strong and confident – better yet, he gives me what I need to be able to do all of those things.

He introduces me to people I never thought I’d have the privilege to meet, and he shows me that even the most seemingly different of people can be brought together simply because he exists. Yep. The best (and by far the longest lasting) relationship I’ve ever had is with music.

My relationship with music began when I started writing songs at five years old. Growing up in Whaingaroa (Raglan), I was surrounded by music – blues, rock, country, hip hop, ballads… everyone my mother knew was following their bliss – and they were doing it well! But that’s not why I started writing music – not really.

I was born with a rare condition called hydrocephalus – which literally translates to “water on the brain.” It means that I have a cyst in the middle of my brain which blocks off the exit way going down my spinal column. Everyone’s brain floats in water and this water is changed daily, but because of my cyst, water can enter my skull, but it doesn’t have anywhere to leave. So I have a tube (called a shunt) going from my brain to my abdomen to drain out the water. It’s pretty awesome technology – but it doesn’t come without its faults. As a result of my shunt I’ve had 24 operations in my lifetime (not bad for a 26 year old) and 10 of these have been brain surgeries; yes, I am freakin’ lucky to be alive! It’s pretty badass – but not something I’d recommend! And this is why I started writing music; to express myself in the only way that I knew how – creatively.

Funnily enough, I started out writing pop music, with the aims of being a solo artist, but after moving to Auckland, it soon became evident that pop music wasn’t – and never really has been – my main buzz. I’ve never been that sit-down-and-shut-up kind of girl and I think a lot of people have this perception of pop princesses. I’m far too loud, opinionated and in your face, specially considering where my lyrical content began – and that’s why Static Era is perfect for me.

Some of the Static Era songs I wrote when I was a teenager (think ‘So Sore’ and ‘Cold’), but now Static Era has become an identity all in itself and the boyfriend or music grew, changed and developed with me. Chris (guitarist of Static Era, and one of my best friends) and I now do a lot of the songwriting in collaboration with each other, and it works well because we push each other to do better lyrically. ‘Nobody’s Toy’ for example – at first it was a song about taking the higher road and walking away from life’s problems or issues, and then it transformed into this beast, telling life’s problems to essentially fuck right off. ‘Fire Away’ is also a result of the Chris and Emma writing methodology – a song again challenging life to bring it on and try us, but knowing full well that we, the listener, are stronger and can take it. My boyfriend grew from vulnerability to a solid entity of strength, truth and self-belief.

Being able to write, sing, record, and perform these songs is the icing on my relationship with music. Why? Because it’s the culmination of why I do what I do; to connect, share, empower, and be part of something bigger; our audience, and music lovers everywhere. The biggest compliment I’ve ever received is from a complete stranger thanking me after a concert and telling me that not only did they feel they truly knew and understood me, but it was as if I was singing directly to them – giving them the strength to move forward, succeed and be the best they could be. THAT is what it’s all about.

This post was also published on interview

Static Era

Hi Ms G and Mr Yong, the last month or two has been pretty productive for Static Era with the release of the video for Addicted To Dream and playing on stage alongside international heavy metal band Anvil. After Christmas there’s more, with the ‘Music Is Dead’ event. Could you tell us a bit more about that please?

Chris: Towards the start of 2014, Emma and I discussed releasing a third single from Dare To Fail and doing a meaningful story-based video rather than another performance video.

Midyear, the other two band members decided to call it a day for personal reasons and I got involved as a candidate during the election. We’d already started the planning process for the video but because of the complexity involved, it took a lot longer to finish than anticipated.

After the election, I was able to refocus on music so I reached out to the Distorted Twenty event promoters, we released the video and, of course, confirmed our desire to be part of the Music is Dead event.

It’s been a very challenging year but we’re still here and have some ambitious plans lined up for 2015.

Emma G: It was awesome playing with Anvil too – I’ve been following them since I watched their documentary a few years back, so it was incredible to play alongside them. They were heaps of fun. It was a particularly epic way to end such a full on 2014 – now that we’re moving into 2015; I’m excited about where the Static Era road is taking us.

Lets just go back a bit – It’s a terrible cliché question but to give readers who may not have heard Static Era an idea – what’s your sound and what are some of your highlights over the last four years?

Chris: If Evanescence collided with Stone Sour, it would sound like Static Era – gutsy female vocals with edgy guitar riffs loaded with attitude.

Highlights have been being a headline act at Music in Parks 2014, getting an email from a father whose daughter said Emma was like a real life superhero, supporting Anvil and creating such a meaningful video (obviously with the help of others) with Addicted To A Dream.

Emma G: 2014 has been an incredible year for me – both on a personal and musical level; which to be honest, are pretty much one and the same. Releasing Dare to Fail was a huge thing for me personally, because I’m so passionate about pushing my personal boundaries and encouraging people (and myself) to push back against judgements, obstacles and adversity. I particularly loved touring NZ with Aussie metal band Vanishing Point earlier this year – met a few skinheads in Wellington, but soon showed them that dark chicks can be metal too! Haha.

You formed in 2010 and changed the bands name to Static Era in 2012. What other important changes both personal and professional have helped to shape the band to date?

Chris: Music is a journey. Personally, I was musically lost in 2010 when my band Redline went on hiatus after 7 years. The only other time I had felt that way was after I left Tadpole in 2003. I was pretty demotivated with music and it was this new music project with a highly motivated Emma that kept me going.

In 2013, Emma and I realised we really wanted Static Era to be something that inspired and empowered people. I’ve always tried to look on the bright side and Emma has such an incredible background story of overcoming personal challenges that it made sense to express that more through the band.

Our EP Dare To Fail has much stronger messages around those values, the title actually comes from a quote, “Those who dare to fail miserably can achieve greatly.”

Emma G: to add to what Chris has said, I’m lucky to know so many inspiring people myself. I work with a huge range of people through youth work, and teaching music – and it has only added to my own drive to inspire, empower and encourage. Music is one of those rare forms of magic that has the power to create and destroy – we, as Static Era, try to create strength and destroy negativity.

You have featured on the Kiwi Hit Disc twice. What was your process to be successful with that and how did it help the band?

Chris: You can apply to NZ On Air for Kiwi Hit Disc consideration. If it’s not a busy month for them, you have a good chance of being included but remember they need prioritise what they fund first.

It’s helped provide some extra exposure for us but we’re still looking, like most local bands, to get that break with commercial radio.

Often bands ignore or are just unaware of things like elements of websites and marketing. You have an email list where if fans sign up they receive free downloads of your music. Could you explain how this works and the benefits of it, for the readers out there that are musicians themselves?

Chris: I remember the days when MySpace was a musician’s best friend, then it tanked and that was a valuable lesson. The problem is if you rely on social platforms, if they change their rules or disappear then you’re left with nothing.

An email list may not be as trendy as Facebook but you own it and have a direct way to communicate with your most engaged fans. Facebook posts that are unboosted are reaching less and less people, it’s their rules and they can do whatever they like.

If smart businesses have a customer database they can email, bands should be the same. Bands and startup businesses share very similar challenges.

Emma G: I’m not gonna lie, Chris is the man at this kind of stuff. I’m forever learning about the whole internet thing – it’s an evolving beast that Chris is far better at taming than me!

Emma – you are involved in music in a few ways, not just strictly as a muso but also through your work with helping youth. You are a tutor at Te Wananga O Aotearoa and a Youth Empowerment Coordinator (what a great job description) with Raise Up Puketapapa. Could you let us know a few of your fantastic achievements and also how overcoming your own obstacles in life has related to your music?

Emma G: Haha. You make me sound a lot more impressive than I think I am! I’ve been teaching vocals since I started my own business at the age of 17 (self professed geek!). After moving to Auckland in 2010, (and selling my soul to the corporate market for a year), I decided to throw my life into the grip of fate, so I quit my job and became a full time busker and musician. Shit, if I can survive 10 brain surgeries, what the heck did I have to lose? Haha.

Eventually, I discovered I missed teaching, and came across an ad for a vocal tutor (kaiako) at Te Wananga o Aotearoa. Applied for the job, and got it! Which has been a phenomenal privilege – being able to do music for a living still, but with the added benefit of gifting knowledge, empowerment, positivity and strength; funnily enough, the same qualities that Static Era aims to promote.

I’m exactly the same with my youth empowerment crew. Building a stronger future generation through the power of music – there’s not much cooler than that.

As far as overcoming my own obstacles, I think everyone has their own demons to a degree. I’m lucky that music has been such a valuable tool when it came to dealing with mine – whether it was expressing my struggles with severe depression, or trying to deal with the pain of loss, abuse or surgery. The magic of songwriting and music, however, is that it always gifts you with the option of overcoming those obstacles – coming out on top as a champion against your own struggles. Being able to incorporate that into Static Era, teaching and youth empowerment is a blessing.

Chris: Let’s not forget Emma G also received a New Zealander of the Year Local Hero award in 2012 for inspiring others through music and an I Am Auckland award in 2014 for best youth worker. She’s extremely modest about these things.

You have also been involved with the X-Factor. How is that going and do you think it will affect the band activities in any way?

Emma G: I’m not actually allowed to talk about it! Haha. But it’s an exciting challenge, and I’m looking forward to whatever 2015 has in store for me, and Static Era!

Chris: When Emma and I talked about her entering X-Factor, I said at the very least if people learn about you and it helps to build your profile then it will be worth it. It will definitely be an experience and anything that may come from it is a bonus.

Chris as the guitarist for the band, do you write the songs, or are they shared between members?

Chris: I am an active songwriter and always have been since Tadpole. The degree of my involvement can vary between songs and there isn’t a set methodology we use in Static Era. Ideas can be developed in several ways.

Emma G: diversity is the spice of life yo! We like to mix it up!

You (Chris) were in NZ band Tadpole a few years back, and did really well there. What did those years teach you for what you do now?

Chris: I’ve realised how little I understood about the music business back then. I’ve also learnt that if you believe in what you do, just go out there and do it.

Don’t be fooled into thinking you’ll make a living from your original creative works anytime soon in NZ, financial success is a jackpot and you’ll need to invest far more than you get back. Tadpole was successful yet I was on the dole.

Treat your fans like gold, even if you only have 10, because to them you are a rock star.

Time for a serious question for Chris: better guitarist – Chris or Scooby?

Chris: Scooby for sure, he is a living legend with many hidden talents!

Do you have riffs that you write that don’t suit the band, and what do you do with those? This question could apply to both of you – I know Emma you have a decent sized acoustic repertoire as well …

Chris: Yes I do and at this point in time, they stay on hard drive until I figure what to do with them.

Emma G: Haha. Yeah, I’m the same. I’ve written over 300 songs in my life – and they’re definitely not all rock and roll! I’ve even got a rap hidden somewhere too. Who knows? Limp Bizkit is still a thing, right? Haha.

Back to Music is Dead: Have you played with any of the bands before and which bands are you looking forward to hearing that you haven’t heard live before?

Chris: Yes we have. I haven’t seen Braves, Thin White Lines or Dead Beat Boys so keen to see them live.

Emma G: Yeah, I’ve heard some awesome things about TWL. I’m just psyched about hanging out with some epic and like-minded rockers!

Are there any other projects coming up that you can hint at?

Chris: Emma and I have discussed releasing a Static Era album in 2015, we just need to work through the logistical challenges to make that happen.

Emma G: The fun never stops!

What would you like to say to fans coming along to Music Is Dead?

Chris: You are the lifeblood that keeps local music alive and enables artists to chase their musical dreams. We are in this together so lets get together at Music is Dead and make magic happen.

Emma G: I’m just looking forward to seeing and meeting everyone. It’s still kind of weird to think of it as having fans, because to me, when it comes to music, we’re all just kinda one big family – brothers and sisters of rock and roll. Let’s do this!