The best bands are named after animals. You’ve got Foals, Grizzly Bear, Eels, Modest Mouse, Gorillaz, the Wombats and, when you think about it, even Snoop Dogg. Joining this Animal Collective (see what we mean?) is a new musical species from New Zealand named Opossom
Emerging from the wilderness of Auckland, Opossom is the new project of former Mint Chicks
frontman Kody Nielson. While the Mint Chicks oozed adrenaline with their hyperactive take on art-rock, Opossom is a much more docile creature, one which sees Kody team up with NZ pop star and girlfriend Bic Runga and ex-Mint Chicks bassist Michael Logie to create luscious pop-inflected psychedelia. Ahead of an Australian tour with White Arrows and Jinja Safari, we caught up with Kody to talk life post-Mint Chicks.
The Nielson brothers go their separate ways. Kinda.
If you’re like us, a deflated sigh escaped your chest when you found out the Mint Chicks had broken up back in 2010. At first, you were probably like, “What?! Really? Shit…”
while wondering what would fill the void left by the innovative noise rockers. They’d just moved to Portland in the US, so everything should have been cool, right? Well, not really.
“We were all ready for a break,” offers Kody in his thick New Zealand accent. “We’re all still friends and everything”.
With the Mint Chicks splitting amicably, Kody and his brother, Ruban (also a Mint Chick) started writing again, this time in isolation of one another.
“We weren’t showing each other our music as we were going, like we usually do. I didn’t even know he was still making music and he didn’t know I was making music”.
But all was revealed when Ruban emerged with his new band, Unknown Mortal Orchestra
, who delivered pop hooks with a lo-fi ‘60s swagger on their self-titled debut LP. Unbeknown to Kody – who had been busy producing albums for Bic Runga and Auckland punks the DHDFD’s - he was soon to be drawn back to his brother like some kinda weird cosmic music magnet.
“I didn’t actually know it was Ruban the first time I heard Unknown Mortal Orchestra,” Kody admits. “I was quite excited at this new band that sounded like what I was into, and I was like, ‘Hang on, they’re from Portland?’ because I was on their Bandcamp page. I was still looking at it and then my dad walked in the room and he was like, ‘How did you find that?’ and I was like, ‘Oh, it was on the radio. Doesn’t this guitar sound like Ruban?’ and my dad was like, ‘That is
We’re not sure if Kody has shared that story with his brother (it would be a little awkward, right?) but things are obviously cool between the two, as Kody has frequently played drums on tour for Unknown Mortal Orchestra.
Ruban may have been the first to release new material post-Mint Chicks, but Kody’s slow-brewing output has certainly been worth the wait. Opossom’s debut album Electric Hawaii
is like riding a wave of various tones and textures: traces of Kody’s Polynesian heritage, lo-fi garage rock, blissed-out psychedelia and slick retro pop all come bubbling to the surface, swirling about in your headphones. Written, recorded and mixed by Kody, it’s an expansive and free flowing listen.
“It’s a continuation of my own songwriting, but it’s a lot different,” Kody says. “I didn’t want to restrict it to anything. When I was recording it, I wanted to make it sound the way I wanted and just deal with everything later, as opposed to the Mint Chicks where we were writing for a specific audience. We were more restricted in the Mint Chicks in terms of the arrangements, like we were a straight-up punk quartet guitar band.
“I write most of my music on piano, so in the Mint Chicks I would have to transpose my songs from piano onto guitar and that would always make them sound quite different. But this time I was writing for piano, recording it for piano, and arranging the drum beats myself to make the rhythms that I wanted to play along to”.
In a live setting, Kody is joined by girlfriend, vocalist and multi-instrumentalist Bic Runga and bassist Michael Logie, who collectively bring Opossom songs to life.
There’s nothing worse than when you go and see a band play live and they just stand there, unflinching, staring straight ahead, not interacting with the crowd and essentially playing songs from their records note perfect. It’s boring. The best live music is about expression and spontaneity. Like, it’s cool when you hear the drummer fuck up the intro to a song or the vocalist forget the lyrics to the new single and awkwardly smack his head on a lighting rig – that unpredictability is what makes live music exciting, something Kody has garnered a reputation for.
“The Mints Chicks were a real high-energy band. It was always like we were really trying to push it in every way we could at the time”.
‘Push it’ doesn’t come close to conveying the sporadic onstage antics of his previous incarnation; try ‘batshit crazy’ instead and you’re getting close. Like kids verging on a sugar fit from mixing red cordial and sour worms, Kody and Ruban were known to scale PA stacks, tussle amongst each other and pulverise equipment (there’s even an infamous account of Kody bringing a chainsaw onstage at the NZ Big Day Out
in 2005. Yes, that shit cray).
“I just wanted the band to be balls-to-the-wall,” Kody says. “I don’t really know how to explain that but we had the right energy for it”.
But Kody is older now and his punk rock days are behind him, so naturally he’s toned down the physicality of his live shows to suit the cruisy pace of Opossom’s music.
“Now I think that’s what I’m enjoying most about this new stuff, that I get to be able to play the drums and put all that energy into playing an instrument now. I think that’s more satisfying at the moment”.
While you and I may have inherited our parent’s pasty complexions or dinner party-debilitating allergies, it’s safe to say Kody’s family passed on some rather nifty songwriting genes to the young Nielson. Not only is Kody’s father a gifted trumpeter/saxophonist, but his uncle is also a famous Hawaiian reggae singer called Braddah Waltah
, who’s credited with starting a genre known as ‘Jawaiian’ (a mix of Hawaiian and reggae). Meanwhile, his mother is a Hula dancer from way back.
“I grew up in New Zealand but my mum is from Hawaii. I think with this new stuff I’m going to get more into traditional Hawaiian music and try and learn a bit more about it, to bring a different more roots-y style into the mix”.
And finally, just how do you pronounce the name?
“I just say o – possum, but everyone seems to have their own different way of pronouncing it,” Kody laughs, “which is weird because I always thought it was o – possum. Some people think it’s like a silent ‘o’ and all this. As long as it’s spelt with the ‘o’ instead of 'u’ that’s the main thing”.
OPOSSOM TOUR DATES (with Jinja Safari and White Arrows):
Wednesday 8 August - Astor Theatre, Perth
Thursday 9 August - Uni Bar, Adelaide (all ages)
Friday 10 August – The Hi-Fi. Melbourne
Saturday 11 August – The Hi-Fi, Melbourne (under 18s)
Wednesday 15 August - ANU Bar, Canberra
Thursday 16 August - Uni Bar, Newcastle
Friday 17 August - Metro, Sydney (all ages)
Saturday 8 August - The Hi-Fi, Brisbane