Tuesday, April 05, 2005

Robbie Muir Interview

Interview conducted by Jim Ebenhoh
@ Parsons Bookstore/Cafe
Wellington, New Zealand

Robbie Muir is a New Zealand-born-and-bred bassist and guitarist who began his Dunedin-based musical career during high school with Alastair Galbraith in The Rip. A few years later, he joined the influential but short-lived band Plagal Grind with Alastair, Peter Jefferies, and David Mitchell (guitarist for the 3Ds). Robbie is perhaps best-known in the States for collaborating with Peter Jefferies to generate two singles in the early 1990s on Ajax Records --1991 Catapult/Fate of the Human Carbine 7” and the four-song Swerve double 7” that came out a couple years later. As these singles made inroads into college radio, with hapless American DJs trying unsuccessfully to pronounce “Muir”, Peter Jefferies and Alastair Galbraith developed significant solo careers in Europe and North America, and the 3Ds achieved some recognition both overseas and in their native country. Meanwhile, no-one heard anything else from Robbie Muir. Those who had relished the swoon, churn, and heartache of the singles with Peter Jefferies or any of his work with Plagal Grind often wondered what became of Mr. Muir. Was he toiling away on his own music in relative obscurity? Those who knew Robbie's guitar and bass work knew he was more than an Andrew Ridgeley to Peter's George Michael. With ample musical talent, chances were he was quietly producing some work in the shadows, much like Alec Bathgate has done while fellow Tall Dwarf Chris Knox has been visibly indulging in Casio-driven audience molestation.

(l-r) Robbie Muir, Peter Jeffries (promo photo) Posted by Hello

The truth, it turns out, was not so dramatic as the imagined scenarios, but was nonetheless intriguing and unexpected. One day while surfing the net at his NZ government job, U.S. expatriate Jim Ebenhoh came across a photo of a professional-looking bureaucrat pointing to a computer screen, proudly showing off a new on-line land information system—Robbie Muir had apparently become the New Zealand Registrar-General of Land. After confirming through a mutual acquaintance that this was indeed the same Robbie Muir who had been a “muso” in Dunedin in the late ‘80s, Jim arranged to meet his fellow civil servant over a ginger beer at an empty bookstore cafĂ© and talk about his musical past and his more recent life experiences. -Jim Ebenhoh

[Note: Text in brackets was from a brief e-mail follow-up.]

Jim Ebenhoh: Do you often get interviewed about your musical past or anything?
Robbie Muir: Uh…I don’t.

JE: Do people even, do people in central government, do they know, sort of, about your musical background, or that you made records that are popular in the States?
RM: Some people, yeah, but I mean it’s, I don’t think it would be common knowledge, and it sort of depends on whether or not it’s something people are interested in…Ultimately, it’s sort of the “undercover” side of the music scene.

JE: Yeah, I mean I don’t think even when Ajax redid the Catapult single, I don’t think they did more than a thousand, it’s not the sort of thing where, I mean, I don’t know how many were actually sold, but it’s probably not very well-known even within New Zealand…
RM: Mmm…it’s a boutique kind of enterprise.

JE: So I was going to start kind of at the beginning and ask how you ended up being a musician in Dunedin in the first place. Did you go down there for studies, and learn music while you were down there…?
RM: I was actually born in Dunedin.

JE: Were you?
RM: Yeah, so I grew up there, and I got into music primarily through my friendship with Alastair Galbraith, because we were school buddies from way back.

JE: Really? Before Otago or anything, I mean before University?
RM: Before University, yeah well, we were in primary school together, so it means we go back that far. And yeah so it just kind of evolved from that. And both Alastair and I were a little bit musically inclined, he more so than I. He was doing formal violin lessons and piano lessons and what-not, to quite a significant level, I think, in terms of the grades and so forth that they go through, whereas I was more casual in my musical endeavours. And then when we were teenagers we got interested in music, naturally enough, about the time that everyone absolutely in the world was forming bands in Dunedin, so it was a bit of a natural thing, yeah.

JE: You were a little bit younger than sort of the first generation of Flying Nun bands, like Graeme Downes [Verlaines frontman] and that…
RM: Yeah yeah, a few years behind

JE: But you would have been influenced by that hugely…
RM: Oh yeah, absolutely, all that was going on around us, and although we were a few years younger, we weren’t so far behind that first wave that we didn’t get inspired by it and feel like having a go ourselves. And there were plenty of people around who were slightly older, perhaps in more established bands, that were very supportive and helpful and friendly—it was an easy thing to get involved in—the scene was a fairly welcoming one in that way.

JE: Were you in The Rip with Alastair?
RM: Mmm.

JE: Was that something that started in high school?
RM: Yeah, that was the first proper band I suppose that we were in.

JE: Was it just the two of you? I don’t know much about them…
RM: It wasn’t—we always had a drummer, but I suppose Alastair and I were sort of the core of it, and the most steady line-up was with Alastair and myself and Jeff Harford.

JE: Was he in Bored Games? [first band of Straitjacket Fits frontman Shayne Carter]
RM: He had been in Bored Games prior to that, yeah, and I don’t think he had done a heck of a lot in the interim. Then he joined up with us, and I can’t remember how long we stayed together in that lineup, but it must have been two or three years.

JE: And one EP came out of that, right, the Timeless Piece EP? That’s the only one I’ve seen…
RM: There were two EPs. The Timeless Piece one was sort of The Rip proper, in terms of an EP of that band. The second EP was more probably experimental Alastair Galbraith, and I had some involvement in that as well, but it wasn’t really an EP of the band; it was more an EP of Alastair songs and what-not.

JE: Were you doing bass throughout that, or do you play lots of instruments?
RM: Mostly bass, I mean I played bass in the band, in a fairly rudimentary fashion, and some guitar—I think there was one song where I played a bit of guitar for the band and on that second EP.

JE: Because, I don’t have any of The Rip…I know that Roi Colbert’s doing an NZ Indies Auction right now, and that Rip EP’s doing pretty well, but I’ve just got a compilation of Alastair’s stuff that this guy in the States put out—the Seely Girn one or whatever—but it’s got some Plagal Grind on it, it might have one Rip song on it, I forget which one it is—Starless Road or something.
RM: That would be, yep, that would be from that second EP.

[JE: What sort of venues did you play with The Rip?
RM: Mostly pubs, but anything and everything really. Lots of gigs at the Empire - probably the best venue in Dunedin at the time in terms of the general mood and atmosphere - also our practice rooms were just down the road so it was kind of handy. We also toured a little, playing in Christchurch and Wellington a few times.]

JE: How did Plagal Grind come about? Was that hot on the heels of The Rip…was it just an expansion of The Rip?
RM: It wasn’t really, I mean there was quite a gap between The Rip finishing up and Plagal Grind starting, as I recall, I think it was probably…it would have been a couple of years in there, where the Rip wasn’t doing anything—it was just disbanded. And Alastair was doing music with various people and I think had basically formed what became Plagal Grind with Peter Jefferies and David Mitchell.

JE: Were they both more recently moved down there, I mean they weren’t born and bred in Dunedin?
RM: They weren’t born and bred, I mean Peter Jefferies came from the Taranaki/New Plymouth scene.

JE: That’s where my wife’s from.
RM: So you’ll know about that, and Dave Mitchell was obviously from the Auckland scene and they were in Dunedin right about the same time and obviously had a lot of common in terms of musical interests with Alastair and so, yeah, they had more or less formed the group, and I must have run into them; I think it might have been them playing somewhere with that line-up, and I went to see them, and got talking to Peter, and he was pretty instrumental in coaxing me along to join up…it didn’t take that much encouragement. I was a bit itching to get back into it again.

JE: So had you done much after The Rip?
RM: No, not really. I mean, I was at University and had been focusing more on just getting that sort of stuff out of the way, and so it must have been towards the end of my stint at University that I joined up with Plagal Grind, playing bass again, and yeah, that worked out really well—I mean, it was fairly short-lived, but while it lasted it was a lot of fun, and really neat to be in another band with Alastair and of course some different people as well with different ideas.

JE: Cause it’s referred to now as, you know, a “supergroup” of that era…it probably wasn’t known as that at the time.
RM: Not at the time, no. It was never presented as such. But it had an interesting mix of musicians and styles.

JE: Each musician’s so distinctive eh?
RM: Yeah, and Jono Lonie was another person who was involved for a while, right at the outset, and he had a different style again. I forgot how someone described it—cosmic or a similar description. He used a lot of guitar effects, which Dunedin musos tended not to.

JE: Yeah, more atmospheric.
RM: More atmospheric, but I quite liked that—it added something different to the music again. Yeah, but that lineup with Jono didn’t last too long—it sort of merged into the Peter, Alastair, David, and Robbie setup.

(promo photo) Posted by Hello

JE: I think I’ve seen one photo of the band all together and, I don’t know, it may be from one of those Alastair compilations, but you’re all sitting on the roof somehow somewhere.
RM: I think it was in Port Chalmers. It might have been the flat that Peter was sharing with Bruce Russell [of Dead C, Handful of Dust] at the time, a big old two-storey place.

JE: Such a beautiful place out there—I love Port Chalmers.
RM: It’s so amazing.

JE: When my wife and I lived in Dunedin we lived mostly in North East Valley and then kind of just up Stuart Street, just up from Records Records , but always wanted to move out to Port Chalmers but didn’t have a car, so…
RM: Yeah, well that would be pretty prohibitive, but no, it’s a lovely spot. It’s got a nice atmosphere. So you’d know Bruce would you?

JE: Um, I’ve met him before, I don’t know him personally. He probably wouldn’t…he owns a record shop in Christchurch, or he did run a record shop in Christchurch; I think that’s where I bumped into him.
RM: He was at University around about that time, and he was involved in the music scene, and obviously he got Xpressway [great record label circa ‘88-‘91] off the ground, so…

Port Chalmers, New Zealand (photo by JE)Posted by Hello

JE: Were you all living, I mean, Dunedin was close enough to Port Chalmers that you probably didn’t all have to live in Port Chalmers, but did people tend to gravitate out there just because it was the place to be?
RM: Not really, no. I think it was actually more towards the tail end, for me anyway before I left Dunedin, that people were living out there. Prior to that, most of the focal point had been in and around Dunedin itself, in and around the Varsity where most of the people were living.

JE: Were a lot of the other, well, like, were Peter and David, were they in University or like, how was it--the fact that you were a law student in part of this music scene? Was that fairly typical for people to be doing sort of this fairly professional degree at the same time that they were part of this music scene?
RM: It wasn’t terribly unusual, but it wasn’t typical either, I don’t think. I mean, a lot of the people I played music with weren’t at University. Alastair was studying at the time. David and Peter weren’t. Peter was a full-time musician and has been as long as I’ve known him, which is quite an admirable thing. And David the same, I mean, he was pretty much involved with that. So it was a real mix, you know, some people were doing other things and doing music when they could, and for other people it was what they were doing.

JE: Did Plagal Grind tour much around New Zealand, or was it kind of pretty much a Dunedin-oriented thing?
RM: Pretty much Dunedin-oriented, I mean, partly because it wasn’t together for all that long, but I think we might have gone away once…I’m just trying to remember now—it’s a bit of a struggle. I think we might have played in Christchurch, once.

JE: You must have only been together for about a year, then.
RM: Yeah, and that was fairly early on in the piece. I think Jono Lonie was still part of the group at that stage, and otherwise the rest of the performances would have happened in Dunedin. But there weren’t that many.

[JE: What was your favorite gig with Plagal Grind?
RM: I think it was a gig we played at Chippendale House - a performing arts venue run by a co-operative in Dunedin - nice crowd, fairly relaxed kind of set up.]

JE: So it sounds like, from what you’re saying so far, that you guys weren’t just musical collaborators, like someone put up an ad, you know: “Bassist Wanted”. It seems like you were all kind of friends.
RM: Yeah, it was more through connections and networks of friends that it evolved rather than something that had been deliberately established as a band.

JE: You didn’t have a promoter saying, “I’m going to assemble the new Port Chalmers super-group…David! Robbie!”
RM: No, no, no. It didn’t happen that way—it was much more understated.

JE: When did you record what came out as singles with Peter, the Catapult and Swerve songs? Was that after Plagal Grind wound down, or was that sort of around the same time?
RM: It was, I think, towards the end of Plagal Grind, as it was winding down. Peter and I got along fairly well and, again, shared a lot in terms of the same interests around music and stuff and seemed to work quite well together as sort of a “rhythm unit,” I suppose, for the band. And I’d been a fan of Peter’s music for a long time.

JE: Nocturnal Projections? [Peter Jefferies’ first band with his brother Graeme, later of the Cakekitchen]
RM: Nocturnal Projections, although it wasn’t that that introduced me to his stuff, but it was…the name has completely escaped me now…

JE: This Kind of Punishment? [Peter Jefferies’ second band with his brother Graeme]
RM: This Kind of Punishment! Yeah, I saw them play live and was completely blown away.

JE: Graeme’s an amazing guitarist.
RM. I mean, the combination of Peter and Graeme was pretty powerful musically and probably in some ways they’re both at their best when they’re together playing. Certainly, you know, there are some classic moments where they’ve converged where it’s produced some stunning stuff, This Kind of Punishment and all those bands. It was due to other people in the band as well; it’s just the whole combination that was very powerful music—unlike anything I’d ever seen before. And they played with a lot of passion and drive that wasn’t always evident in some of the bands that were around in Dunedin at the time, because a lot of it was a bit more low-key, so that was quite exciting too. And yeah, so that…

JM [to departing cleaner]: Do you want us to hit a switch or turn off lights or anything?
Cleaner: No, that’s alright. Cheers.
RM: So that’s really what got me hooked onto Peter’s music, and then Peter and Alastair did a bit of stuff together after that. It was actually Peter and Graeme who helped Alastair with that second Rip EP; effectively, they recorded it on their four-track. So that’s how I got to know Peter—that’s how I came to run into them again in the early stages of Plagal Grind, and then following that, with that history, and having played a bit of music with them in Plagal Grind, you know, it was fairly easy to drop in to actually do some stuff with him in terms of recording.

JE: Did Peter write all those--Swerve, Catapult and all those--or was it sort of a joint writing effort?
RM: Peter wrote all the words, and Peter had the musical vision behind it all, and what tended to happen was quite often we’d start with a little bit of music I’d come up with on the guitar, just sort of doodling around, something that seemed quite insignificant to me but something that I enjoyed playing, and Peter would just build on it and, again, tends to be one of those people who can sort of see the end product out of a little snippet, you know?

JE: Is that what happened with The Fate of the Human Carbine? Did you write the guitar thing that goes [sings triplet riff from the recording] ?
RM: Yeah, yeah.

JE: ‘Cause he, I read something where he was interviewed, and he said that’s just like, that was just what made that song, you know, it sounded like he must have taken that and just kind of built…
RM: Yeah, there was a lot of that about it in the approach—his ability to build on things and to see the grand scheme in terms of what the song could be just based on a combination of a few notes or ideas, and with that strong lyrical talent, he could fill in the gaps around the music and overlay a set of words that really sort of pulled the whole thing together. So that was all pretty exciting. Yeah, I mean, his talent around that stuff was, and still is, really strong.

JE: When I look at the liner notes for his album, ‘cause that single came out again on the CD version of his album, and it says that it was recorded from 1988 to 1990…so it obviously didn’t take you three years to record it—it must have been sort of, lay down a track and then get back to a little while later, or just the finishing touches?
RM: It was pretty sporadic, yeah, yeah, but always with Peter sort of driving the thing along; he’s the great motivator when it comes to those sort of projects. So, yeah, it might have taken a while, but usually in bursts of concerted effort.

JE: That single, the Catapult single, is the first thing I heard both from Peter and yourself—really the first thing I heard from New Zealand other than I think the Bats and the Clean when I was a DJ at Harvard WHRB in ’91, and it was like a HUGE hit at our radio station; it was one of the first records that Ajax put out, and I don’t know how it got to our station, but I remember it going to number one...
RM: Oh, did it really?! Which side of the record?

JE: The thing was, compared to a lot of singles, that was one where it was split right down the middle…
RM: Is that right?

JE: I would go in one week and play Catapult, and I would go in the next week and play Carbine, and then back and forth, and in the end when we listed the top ten for the month or whatever, we didn’t list one song—it was Catapult-slash-Carbine because it was such a…
RM: Combination…

JE: Powerful sorta…yin and yang of the whole thing.
RM: That’s nice--I didn’t know that actually.

JE: Yeah, it was huge. This was in Boston, and just down the road was the MIT station, and WMBR was really into the NZ stuff at the time. Since then I think the hot spots for music of that ilk from NZ has spread out to California and Chicago and probably everywhere, but at that time I remember thinking, “Nobody else knows about this except us.”
RM: And you were probably right.

JE: Yeah, maybe. When did you first get an inkling that it had sort of an international following—that something you had done in sort of just inauspicious circumstances, it had just, you know, exploded?
RM: I remember Peter talking about it—I mean, he’s always been much more networked into the scene than I’ve been, so when stuff like that came to light it was usually through Peter talking about it—he’d made contact with someone who’d found out about it. But yeah, I think it was surprising to both of us actually, but neat, you know; it was quite an exciting thing to think that somewhere on the other side of the planet people were listening to your little old single that you’d recorded in some dodgy basement.

JE: Were those recorded at the famous Fish Street Studios, or was it kind of just random places?
RM: You’re testing my memory again here…I think Catapult/Carbine was something we recorded, again, on Peter’s four-track or someone else’s four-track, in a flat that Peter was living in the center of town, underneath a ballet studio, I think, from memory…It was a typical musician’s apartment that wasn’t really teed up for living in, but Peter managed to turn it into his flat anyway…

JE: And studio…
RM: Yeah, so, it was fairly cavernous…quite good acoustically because of that…fairly sparse. Because Peter was never really interested in that much more than the music that was going on around him, so it was all fairly utilitarian. And yeah, I used to sort of trot along there, and we’d spend usually a day and a night working on stuff, and if things were going well just sort of carry on until it was finished kinda thing. Long, tiring sessions—lots of cigarettes and coffee.

JE: Did you get behind in your studies ever because of the music?
RM: Not really, because it was, again, fairly sporadic and fairly short intense bursts rather than something that would swallow up whole months at a time.

JE: You’d cue it up for the holidays, or something, or you’d manage to balance it out anyway.
RM: Yeah, fit it in around other things. And it was at a stage where I think my studies were winding down, like I’d more or less broken the back of my degree, so I probably had a bit more time on my hands anyway at that stage.

[JE: How did you enjoy playing live compared with recording?
RM: Playing live when things were working really well was pretty hard to beat. Recording was a different sort of satisfaction. I found the process of arranging and building up songs on tape really satisfying, particularly when working within the constraints of a basic four track set up because it kind of forces you to strip things down to the bare bones. Peter was a maestro at getting the most out of fairly primitive recording technology - extremely patient and meticulous. Getting a great result with these limited tools was immensely gratifying.]

JE: When did you head off to…you headed off to Australia at some point didn’t you?
RM: No.

JE: When did you leave Dunedin?
RM: I left Dunedin in ’89. I came up to Wellington at that stage, and I’ve been here ever since.

JE: Oh really? Was that the end of the musical collaboration with that scene, or the end of musical collaboration in general for you?
RM: It was certainly the end of that musical collaboration pretty much with Dunedin and people in that crowd, although I kept in touch with Peter after that, but I can’t remember whether we actually did anything musical since then…probably not…though I may have…it’s hard to recall, I may have gone back down to Dunedin and done a day or so with him here or there, I can’t remember. There was quite a bit happening over that time. But by and large it sort of came to an end. I did a bit more musically once I got here with some other people—this guy who I met fairly soon after arriving in Wellington—Brett Jones, who used to be the bassist for Nocturnal Projections. So that was like kind of a happy coincidence; I just met him through a friend of a friend, just a completely different track, through back to the same band—someone coincidentally who had played with Peter. Brett was a really good guy and, again, a very talented musician, and he was I suppose a bit like me; he had been quite heavily involved in music earlier on, and then had broken away from it a bit and was quite keen to get back into it, doing something probably on a little more casual basis, so we fairly quickly started playing together; initially mostly just for our own entertainment, but we eventually got hold of someone to drum with us, and played a couple of times around Wellington and at New Plymouth. [Note: band’s name was “Codhaven”]

JE: Were you playing bass and he was playing guitar?
RM: No, Brett was playing bass. We chopped and changed a little bit, but basically he was playing bass and I was playing guitar and doing a little singing…for a change…yeah, so that was fun.

JE: Do you have anything recorded of that?
RM: Um…

JE: That you want other people to listen to?
RM: We did record stuff…it would just be a mission to find at this stage, but yeah we did. We went to Writhe Studios—the guys who…

JE: Recorded Bailter Space?
RM: Bailter Space, yeah. They had quite a good studio set-up there, and we just paid for some time basically and went in there, because Brett was working and I was working, and we thought it would be just good fun to lay down a few dollars and spend some time doing some recording, so we did...

JE: It would have been quite different than Dunedin four-track…
RM: It was completely different, and the results kind of showed that too. But that was fun, and at the time it seemed like a reasonable record of the stuff we were doing. But it wasn’t something that we thought seriously about releasing at any stage.

JE: Do you play music much anymore? Just around the house or anything?
RM: Not at the moment. [I still play guitar for my own amusement. Can't really picture myself doing any more recording but I suppose anything's possible given the right circumstances.]

JE: Do you listen to other people’s music a lot?
RM: Yeah, um, I don’t actually go out to listen to live music very much. Your life sort of fills up with other things pretty quickly, as you’d know with a wife and…do you have kids?

JE: No, not yet, but it fills up anyway.
RM: It does, it does, with work, and the last few years my wife and I have had a couple of kids as well, so, that side of things gets fairly full-on. But I still listen to music a lot. My tastes are pretty conventional at the moment actually; I’m listening to a lot of alternative country music, like Gillian Welch and Ryan Adams.

JE: Oh yeah? I’ve heard a bit of them.
RM: As opposed to Bryan Adams.

JE: Yeah, I know, I know the difference, luckily! There’s a band from the States that someone’s been sending me, called Iron and Wine that also sounds really really nice, and you know there’s Bonnie Billy, the Bonnie Prince Billy version, Palace Brothers and all that. The thing about being in NZ is all that American music’s so much more expensive. In the States you pay $10 and get a CD, here it’s, all the imported stuff’s like…
RM: It’s a fortune, isn’t it?

JE: $35 and that sort of thing, so I’m not listening to as much music as I used to either, I’m still hunting down, I kind of know what I like from a certain era, I’m still sort of looking for that last find to complete the…
RM: The back catalogue.

JE: Yeah, the back catalogue sorta thing.
RM: I still do a bit of that occasionally too, but I quite like sort of happening across stuff, like National Radio’s really good, just listening to the National programme on a Saturday morning, and once every few weeks they’ll play a song that’s usually a little bit fringe-y…

JE: Just in between their programs?
RM: Yeah, and you know occasionally it’ll be something that sorta piques my interest, so I’ll go out and buy the CD, and so I’ve picked up a lot of stuff more recently that way, and that’s quite a neat way to find music, because it’s just sort of “random,” and it hasn’t come recommended by anyone…

JE: ‘Cause they don’t do, National Radio doesn’t do whole music programmes for the most part do they? You couldn’t tune in and listen to a four-hour, I mean unless it was “Sounds Historical”?
RM: Yeah, yeah. They do a music programme on Kiwi music which is quite good; it sort of focuses on local stuff…

JE: Oh, is that “HomeGrown”?
RM: Yeah, yeah, and I’ll tune into that occasionally too, but it’s more the stuff that just sort of comes through randomly over the air that’s quite nice to hunt down…

JE: Just before the news they’ll put on some strange stuff…
RM: Yeah! “Actually, that sounds good!” Chris Smithers is another one—have you heard of him?

JE: Nuh-uh.
RM: Yeah, he’s a blues guitarist who apparently mics up his foot and so you sort of get the percussion as well, just incidentally, as well as this amazing guitar.

JE: Is he American?
RM: Yeah, he must be, yeah. Yeah, my tastes have gotten pretty mellow.

JE: Did you ever hear the Cat Power version of your song “Carbine”?
RM: No!

JE: Really? Are you interesting in hearing it?
RM: Yeah.

JE: Yeah, I’ve got a copy of that album; I can tape that song for you or something.
RM: That’d be great.

JE: Because it’s a different take on it anyway. Have you heard much Cat Power?
RM: No—what are they like?

JE: Um, well, they’re…just with the tapping you reminded me of her because she’s basically a guitarist singer/songwriter and she does a lot of real sort of sparse sort of things where it’ll just be her sort of tapping her foot and singing but really sort of acheing, in an acheing sort of tone, so it’s a bit—I mean, she’s from Georgia, so her voice has sort of that countryish twinge [tinge—ed.], but I think her backing band was a couple people from Sonic Youth, so it’s got that whole indie cred too. They’re huge in the States.
RM: I’m sure I’d like it, from what you described.

[JE: What’s in heavy rotation in your home collection at the moment (besides Ryan Adams and Gillian Welch)?
RM: Current favorites are Grandaddy, Golden Smog, Chris Smither (all National Radio finds!), Johnny Cash, Greg Brown and that Loretta Lynn /Jack White collaboration CD - Van Lear Rose. Last live concert I went to was the Gillian Welch/David Rawlings one in Wellington late last year - it was fantastic.]

Robbie (right) at his current gig Posted by Hello

JE: Ok, so we’re both, I guess, “civil servants.”
RM: Yes.

JE: How does it…I dunno…does it feel strange to be a high-ranking civil servant now after having been part of an underground music scene, or did the transition seem seamless enough that you don’t feel like you closed one door, and then totally…
RM: No, no. It hasn’t been that abrupt, or traumatic really. You know what it’s like; it just sort of happens. You move away from your hometown and get involved in other things, and work starts to take up a bit more of your life, and you go where it takes you.

JE: You didn’t burn all your records and say “Screw this! I’m gonna become the Registrar-General of Land”?
RM: No, no, nothing so dramatic—it wasn’t a revelation like that. But it’s interesting to reflect on the past and things you’ve been involved in, and it’s always nice to [Jim coughs] that you were either playing music with or that you used to go see play…

JE: There’s something about that time of being like 18 to 24 when you’re just ripe to be influenced by all this music, you know? Maybe it’s because you’re not working 40 hours a week yet, and you don’t have kids or whatever, but I just, even though I wasn’t a musician, I think back to my times at Harvard radio, and just the amount of music I was taking in, and the way it reflected—the way I gave it meaning based on various things that were happening. I have the same, sort of, even though I didn’t have a traumatic sort of switch either, I kinda think “Wow…” [tape ends mercifully as Jim blathers on with his existential observations]

We kept talking for a while. Robbie said he’s not in close contact with any of his old musician pals from Dunedin, though he did keep in touch for a while after moving to Wellington. He said Alastair called him up to see if he was available for the Plagal Grind one-off reformation for the Sound of Dunedin festival in 2000, but Robbie couldn’t make it and so David Saunders of the 3Ds took his place that weekend. We talked about the Dead C, including Bruce Russell’s penchant for the atonal and Robbie Yeats’ “mad” drumming. Robbie insisted that I was the only person he’s come across in the civil service who knows his music, other than the odd person who comes across one of his records in a second-hand store and wonders if that’s the same Robbie Muir they know from work. We talked about our day jobs, so I found out what New Zealand’s “Registrar-General of Land” does, and he found out that I don’t yet know exactly what I’m doing at Wellington City Council. We also promised to trade a bit of music in the future. A really nice, easygoing guy—neither a too-cool-for-you indie hipster nor a stuffy square bureaucrat. Cheers Robbie.
-Jim Ebenhoh (April, 2005)

· The Rip (with Alastair Galbraith and others): Timeless Piece EP (Flying Nun: 1983)
· The Rip (mostly without Robbie): Stormed Port EP (Flying Nun: 1987)
· Plagal Grind (with Alastair Galbraith, Peter Jefferies, and David Mitchell): Plagal Grind EP (Xpressway: 1989)
· Peter Jefferies and Robbie Muir: Catapult/The Fate of the Human Carbine 7” (Xpressway: 1989 and Ajax: 1991)
· Peter Jefferies and Robbie Muir: Swerve double 7” (Ajax: 1992)
· Guitar on “Snare” from Peter Jefferies: Electricity CD (Ajax: 1994)

Several tracks from the releases above have appeared on other albums and compilations:
· “Catapult” and “The Fate of the Human Carbine” are on the Peter Jefferies CD The Last Great Challenge in a Dull World (Ajax: 1991)
· The four songs from Swerve are on the Peter Jefferies compilation CD Chorus of Interludes (Ajax: 1996)
· The compilation Making Losers Happy (Drag City: 1993) has two Plagal Grind tracks: “Receivership” and “Blackout,” as well as the Jefferies/Muir recordings “Catapult” and “The Fate of the Human Carbine.”
· The compilation Xpressway Pile=Up (Xpressway: 1990) has two other Plagal Grind tracks: “Midnight Blue Vision” and “Yes Jazz Cactus”
· A compilation of early Alastair Galbraith material entitled Seely Girn (Feel Good All Over: 1993) has two other Plagal Grind tracks: “Vincent” and “Marquesite Lace,” as well as “Midnight Blue Vision” and “Yes Jazz Cactus.” It also has a 1986 Alastair Galbraith song, “Indigo Journeyman,” with bass added in 1989 by Robbie.