An Interview with Thistle Group, a.k.a. Claire Mahoney
THISTLE GROUP is comprised of Claire Mahoney, an Auckland, New Zealand-based musical unit of one. I heard her amazing two-song demo on the Stabbies Bandcamp page, and was immediately zonked out to this crude, experimental, multi-dimensional musical lunarscape that’s alternately lulling, jarring and transfixing. Or at least her music inspired me to imagine I was.
Granted, her output to date is the equivalent of one (long) 45rpm single, yet both tracks have been favorites on Dynamite Hemorrhage Radio, and enough of a mystery wrapped in the proverbial riddle that it made sense to go directly to the source to try and piece it all out. I sent Ms. Mahoney a set of questions this month, and she was kind enough to let us all in on how she creates her music.
Dynamite Hemorrhage: On the Thistle Group tape there’s some very pleasant, lo-fidelity layering that connects different parts of the songs/pieces together, which is then interrupted by jarring guitar and vocals. How did you put all of it together, and what can you say about the overall sound & feel you were looking to put out there?
Claire Mahoney: The tape was recorded live from one of the first gigs I played solo. I started making up vague songs from tape loops that a friend and I had made for another project and then playing around with them, often slowing them down and layering guitar and vocals over the top.
I enjoy the wonkiness of overlapping the same loops to create texture and working with everything
falling in and out of time. I see the vocals as adding another texture and use them as an instrument for layering. I try to create movement and contrast by using the warmth of tape loops and fragile vocals with a harsher guitar butting in and breaking it all up. The use of repetition is also an important element for creating an overall sound. Music that I respond to and influences me often
uses repetition and is very simple/primitive in its form.
Dynamite Hemorrhage: When you play live as Thistle Group, what are you packing – simply tapes and a guitar, or is there more that you’re able to do as a solo performer?
Claire Mahoney: I primarily use a reel to reel with tape loops which forms the structure that I build upon. Sometimes I’ll just use that with some vocals over the top, or play the same songs with a guitar or keyboard and some walkmans. I’m used to working with limitations and I don’t like to
over complicating things. It’s also important that it’s able to be adaptable as I hardly own any of my own gear so I’m constantly trying to put something together with what I can find at the time.
Dynamite Hemorrhage: What’s the response been to you as a solo live performer to date?
Claire Mahoney: A friend described the last set I played as feeling like trying to get out of a deep medieval well. I think that’s the best response and most accurate description so far. It always feels like it’s on the verge of falling apart at any moment and sometimes it does. I’m interested in
playing with the notion of failure and navigating a space between something working or not and being okay with it.
Dynamite Hemorrhage: Does Thistle Group/Claire Mahoney collaborate with anyone else under that name, or plan to?
Claire Mahoney: I’ve always seen Thistle Group as a primarily solo project but not exclusively. My sister Louise and I played a very off the cuff show together a few months back under Thistle Group. I was tired of playing the same set and I hadn’t had any time to practice so we quickly threw something together using the same songs but really fucking with them. Lou’s got incredible stage presence and one that I find quite unpredictable in a really great way.
Dynamite Hemorrhage: Tell us a bit about the groups you’re in and/or have been in previously; which are still active, and which have been documented with vinyl, tapes, online downloads etc.
Claire Mahoney: I moved back to Auckland at the end of 2011 and soon after started It Hurts with
Angeline Chirnside and Beth Ducklingmonster. We were active 2012-2014 and put out a couple of tapes, one on Angeline’s labe Clean Teeth and the other on Albert’s Basement. There’s also a 7” on Soft Abuse. Before that I hadn’t really played or anything apart from having a few jams with friends.
The last few years (until recently) I played drums in Olympus with my pals Pat Kraus and Stefan Neville. Those two had been doing Olympus for years and had put out a record but it really only became a live band when I joined. It was very casual, we played live maybe a handful of times and often did weirdo covers of our own solo stuff.
Dynamite Hemorrhage: Your music’s ended up on Stabbies, who chronicle some pretty intense and interesting juxtapositions of New Zealand experimental and rock-based music. Would love your thoughts on their role in your “scene” and for musicians like yourself.
Claire Mahoney: Stefan has been on board since I started playing with It Hurts. He recorded us numerous times and was always very supportive of what we were doing. When I decided to release the Thistle Group tape he offered to put it on the stabbies bandcamp.
Stabbies has become active again recently with heaps of great stuff going up on the bandcamp page. Lots of it is old material/ friends but he’s just put out a new 7” by Ben Holmes which I highly recommend.
Dynamite Hemorrhage: How much of an ongoing concern is Thistle Group? Are you planning on making music under that name repeatedly, from here on, or was this year’s tape a one-shot deal? If it’s not, where are you taking Thistle Group in the months to come?
Claire Mahoney: I’m slow and do things in my own time when they fit in. I’ve got a bunch of songs that are piling up that I’m going to record over the NZ summer when I get some time off. I’m also planning to do some touring in Japan and maybe Europe in the first half of 2017.
Dynamite Hemorrhage: It’s always a bit of a stretch to ask someone how much their art is “informed” by their surroundings, but I guess some people are and some aren’t. How does Auckland and its environs come into play for you – and/or how does greater New Zealand?
Claire Mahoney: I’m lucky to have some supportive friends here in Auckland. It’s a small scene but most of the time I don’t feel like that’s a problem as we have a larger community all over the world that we’re in touch with. Auckland is where I grew up, it’s my Tūrangawaewae. I can see two volcanoes from my bedroom window and the sea is close by, those things are important to me.
Dynamite Hemorrhage: Why “Thistle Group”?
Claire Mahoney: The name Thistle Group came from something I reading about a group of female artists who had gone under the name Thistle. The writer referred to them as the ‘thistle group’ and for some reason that name stuck with me and felt right for a solo project.
Dynamite Hemorrhage: What does Claire Mahoney do in her non-musical life?
Claire Mahoney: I’m terrible with a routine so I can only think of what’s been happening today. That’s involved changing my car tyre with my elderly neighbour giving instructions, going to work for a few hours and finishing some plan drawings, coming home and having a nap, then spending some time in the garden this evening.