Hungry to play Q’town

Quirky quartet: Michael Cathro, Ben Sargeant, Paul Cathoro and Theodore Francis, of Ha the Unclear, will bring their lyrically-laden tunes to Queenstown this weekend

Things will get a bit zany when Auckland-based band Ha the Unclear bring their distinctive vocals and lavish lyrics down to Queenstown this Saturday.

Frontman Michael Cathro brings to life witty, off-kilter stories — from astronauts trapped in orbit, to love through the eyes of furniture pieces — with a singing voice proudly coloured by the Kiwi accent.

To round out the indie-rock band, he’s joined by brother and bassist Paul, drummer Ben Sargeant, and guitarist Theo Francis.

‘‘It goes back a way — three of us played in another band together in Dunedin and it was more of a noise rock band, and when we finished up, I’d all these leftover songs that were more poppy,’’ Cathro says.

The band’s next iteration started off a ‘‘bedroom sort of outfit’’, where Sargeant would use a cardboard box as a drum kit and a shovel head as a snare — ‘‘a homespun kind of thing’’ — as a way for the trio to play the leftover songs.

‘‘We just figured we’ll start playing them live and it just picked up from there and kept growing,’’ Cathro says.

A move to Auckland saw the band pick up the missing piece of the puzzle in Francis, and take it to the next level with funded studio time and a producer.

‘‘It kind of helped us focus our ideas a bit more … so that made a huge difference in terms of how we then viewed what an album should be.’’

For Cathro, who ‘‘noodled around on the guitar and stuff’’ at high school, his musical calling lies in word-smithing lyrics.

‘‘When I left school, I met a couple of friends who were, what I considered, proper musicians and that gave me confidence to play live and play around more with song-writing.

‘‘I’m always wanting to push myself writing-wise — I’m not experimental with sound, but in terms of what I’m writing about or what kind of world I want for a song, I’m always interested in experimenting with it and trying to be fresh for myself,’’ he says.

‘‘If I can build a foundation with the lyric, then the music comes a lot easier.’’

In 2018, Ha the Unclear had two albums under their belt when something as unexpected as their songs happened.

‘‘I was at work and I got a random email from this French person,’’ Cathro says.

‘‘[It said], ‘we really like your music, we would love to release it’ — I thought it was spam.’’

It turned out to be music label Think Zik!, a subsidiary of Universal, and they were serious about signing the band.

‘‘So me and Theo went [to Paris] for two days, met the label and they were really cool.”
Cathro says the label saw an opening in Europe for the band’s music — an opportunity they couldn’t pass up.

‘‘But of course, what happened is that our music was ready for release and the pandemic hit.’’

While Covid’s delayed the band’s leap into Europe, they have recently re-released their single, Secret Lives of Furniture, to New Zealand and newly launched it overseas, and an album is scheduled to drop in January.

He says he’s excited to get on the road for their upcoming national tour, first stop Queenstown, after two tour cancellations in the last year.

‘‘We’re just really hungry to play shows.

‘‘Because it’s been such a delay, we have heaps of new songs that we’re touring … you learn a lot about a song playing it live, so it’ll be good to play these songs and find out what they’re about and gauge the audience response and then look to record them later.’’

Ha the Unclear, supported by Killergrams, Yonder, Saturday, 9pm. Free

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