CAIRO KNIFE FIGHT began life as the solo recording project of drummer Nick Gaffaney (DIMMER / FAT FREDDY’S DROP / GOLDENHORSE) and after several incarnations solidified as a duo comprising Gaffaney and former WETA frontman Aaron Tokona. In a short space of time the band’s unique sound and sheer sonic wizardy on stage has established their reputation as one of New Zealand’s must see live acts. With a new EP ‘II’ and new music video for ‘The Origin Of Slaves’ there’s never been a better time to catch up with vocalist / guitarist Aaron Tokona…
NZRock: I love the massive sound you’ve got going on with this EP, ‘The Secrets Of Sin’ almost made the speakers fall out of my car doors! Are you stoked with the final recording and did you capture the CAIRO KNIFE FIGHT sound exactly how you wanted?
Aaron: Yeah for sure we’re stoked at how its turned out. It’s an awesome thing to have a vision for something and then be able to connect that vision to an awesome recording studio and an amazing engineer. Writing the songs is one part of the pie but then it takes a team of people with really specific skills to make the pie mean.
NZRock: The last track ‘The Secrets Of Sin’ builds to a point where you’ve got both lead and rhythm guitars going hell for leather at the same time. Seeing you’re the only guitarist, do you have to sacrifice one of those when you’re playing live or do you have tricks for getting around that?
Aaron: Well actually what your hearing on the record is laid down live in the studio! That probably sounds like bullshit but apart from some sonic layering on guitars Nick and I pull it off with a bunch of loop pedals between ourselves and we’ve come up with a few tricks to pull it all off, but I wont be discussing that here! Haha!
NZRock: Single chords that ring for long time durations, two chord progressions etc, you’re using that stort of stuff to create some amazing and powerful soundscapes. Do you think that in some ways less is more when it comes to writing music?
Aaron: Yeah for sure. Interestingly enough when you break down what is seemingly complex music it’s all surprisingly beautifully simple. A good example of this is THE MARS VOLTA. Sure there’s a lot of musical dexterity going on there but everything underneath it is really quite simple, RADIOHEAD is another good example of this particularly on the last three albums. I think it’s more about the quality of ideas. I like soundscapes and they are kinda easy to create on a guitar with a delay pedal at loud volumes. I think Aotearoa has a awesome history of big sonic guitar bands, two of my all time favourites are BAILTER SPACE and HDU. Two chord guitar driven soundscape kings.
NZRock: There are a lot of cool textures in the music on this EP like the backwards guitars at the end of ‘The Opiate Of The Living’. Did you come up that stuff in the studio or did you have all of the ideas for that down beforehand?
Aaron: Songs sometimes come purely based around the sound of a guitar pedal, that’s how ‘The Opiate Of The Living’ came about. I up graded my loop station to the Electro Harmonix 2880 4 track looper. There’s a thing on there that reverses your loops, Was pretty obvious but worked awesome, and now I can pull that part off live pretty easily.
NZRock: What inspires the music that you’re writing in CAIRO KNIFE FIGHT? When I listen to the EP it’s like a combination of bands that I love like KYLESA, MASTODON, AMPLIFIER (UK), SOUNDGARDEN, WETA, QUEENS OF THE STONE AGE…
Aaron: Well apart from the obvious influences in our music and as corny and chessy as it sounds, for me it’s more about all the stuff outside of music that inspires me these days. Family buzz, friends buzz, all of that stuff. I don’t actually listen to much if any ‘Rock’ music these days. I think mostly for CAIRO KNIFE FIGHT it’s more about the musical relationship Nick and I have, The music that comes out of us is the music that comes out if ya know what I mean!
NZRock: This new EP really transcends the other CAIRO KNIFE FIGHT recordings that you’ve done previously. It just radiates ambient, psychedelic, stoner rock elements. Do you think the band’s sound has evolved into something completely unique?
Aaron: I hope its evolving cause that’s the goal. Were still a fresh and kind of a new band. Were only two EP’s into to what I hope will be an extensive recording career. I’m grateful and excited to be in a new band embarking on a new journey. Although we’re not there yet I think Nick and I have a shot at creating something unique for ourselves and hopefully everyone else. Im just stoked to be a part of it. The start is always better than the end.
NZRock: You and Nick spent some time hanging out with Josh Homme (QUEENS OF THE STONE AGE / THEM CROOKED VULTURES) and John Paul Jones (LED ZEPPELIN / THEM CROOKED VULTURES), what advice did they impart to you guys? I hear vibes from QOTSA in the CAIRO KNIFE FIGHT music at times.
Aaron: They didn’t really give advice. I think being chosen to support them out of a pool of bands that sent them their recordings and then play those gigs with them and hang out was awesome enough! Actually the unspoken advice I took from it them was to just keep doing what were doing. Interestingly I found out that those guys actually listen to and choose themselves who they want on there bill! That’s a good size compliment I reckon, and then to hang out with John Paul Jones, Dave Grohl and Holme for a little bit after the gigs was a bonus as usually real rock star’s don’t usually bother with that shit!
NZRock: At one stage CAIRO KNIFE FIGHT was a six-piece band. What ultimately led to you guys downsizing to just two members and how did it change the dynamics of your band? What’s better about being a two-piece?
Aaron: It was all about the practicalities of what it takes to run a six-piece band that makes pretty uncommercial obscure music really. You just can’t sustain something like that particularly in New Zealand. As soon as we changed to a two-piece everything changed for the better most importantly the music. There are pros and cons to the two-piece buzz, the pros are obvious everything cheaper and musically there’s more space. You do have to work harder creatively which is choice but sometimes it sucks! On the whole its all a pretty mean buzz.
NZRock: On Facebook you guys were asking fans for their suggestions on the cover artwork for CAIRO KNIFE FIGHT II. How’d you come up with the final design of a guy all bandaged up?
Aaron: It was a guy called Barney Bewick from Indium design. He’s come up with all of our stuff. He’s choice really good at what he does and what he come’s up with really seems to tune in with our music.
NZRock: Whats being done to establish CAIRO KNIFE FIGHT outside of New Zealand?
Aaron: Well we’re heading back over to New York this October and then over here over there and over wherever buzz really. I only really find myself getting excited by all that stuff when I’m safely through customs and on the plane! In New York we’ll play the CMJ music festival which we got 8 gigs around New York city and hopefully well be able to do a little run up the coast. Meanbuzz.
NZRock: Just for all the NZRock fans out there who were wondering about WETA, what’s the happs there? Any chance of you guys doing another album or is that not on the cards?
Aaron: Well we did our little reunion buzz and that really put that whole thing to bed for me. There were plans being developed to do another album and tour and get that whole ship up and running again, but I realised just at the end of the reunion tour that it was actually a time had and done and I had moved on personally and emotionally from the whole thing. The only thing that I really loved about getting back together was being on the stage with my little bro on bass. That was all worth it. Him and I and my youngest brother on drums have a dream to start a band sometime. I hope that happens!