The Bats: “Still Flying High.” Interview by Tony Mitchell


New Zealand’s Flying Nun label veterans the Bats, who have now been together 35 years, since forming in Christchurch in 1982 after the temporary break-up of the Clean, whose bassist Robert Scott became the Bats’ lead singer-songwriter, along with ex Toy Love bassist Paul Kean, lead guitarist Kaye Woodward and ex-Builders drummer Malcolm Grant. Scott later moved to Dunedin, but the Bats continued with their three other members remaining in Christchurch, producing a glorious blend of folk-pop which has remained resolutely popular. In Flying Nun label founder Roger Shepherd’s recent book In Love With these Times, he states: ‘No one sounded anything like them, and they won over a sizeable audience largely on the back of their live shows’. These live shows have been in the USA, the UK, Europe and Australia as well as New Zealand, and they are premiering their latest album The Deep Set at the Sydney Festival on January 29 along with a string section, following on from sold-out shows by the Chills in 2015 and the Clean in 2014. They are also playing the Northcote Social Club in Melbourne on the 28th of January. I spoke to Robert Scott and Paul Kean on email.

Cyclic: In his book, In Love with these Times, Roger Shepherd says ‘It says a lot about the Bats’ strength as a band that they survived it all and continue to play and record, on their own terms, when it suits them and fits in with the rest of their lives, jobs and families’. Is this a fair assessment? (He doesn’t mention the Christchurch earthquakes here).

Robert Scott: Yes The Bats have managed to have a long career as we choose when we we want to do things. We are all busy with our own things such as work and families and have had long breaks in between projects. NZ is a small market so we can’t play that often. I guess the earthquake did cause a delay in things a bit and a few good venues were lost as a result.

Cyclic: I guess the earthquakes have affected you in all sorts of ways, but three of you still remain in Christchurch, where the music scene seems to have survived. What are some of the ways it has affected you?

Paul Kean: Christchurch is an exciting place to live despite the damage from the shakes. Lots of rebuilding going on that will make it one of the safest and healthiest place to live – new bike lanes and people focussed central city. More green spaces. We’re a small city – it only takes 10 minutes to get into some countryside from most places. Inspiring – mountains, sea, braided rivers, big skies, plains and 4 distinct seasons.

People have come closer together because of the shared quake experiences and an instinctive swell of supporting one another after the quakes hasn’t really faded. The city is feeling more cosmopolitan with engineers, workers and artists here for the rebuild. Music is alive and well. Lots of great new bands and no shortage of places to play on a smaller scale. We also have a good large venue for touring acts in Horncastle and Airport Museum Auditorium (although the acoustics aren’t great) and coming on line are a few great new medium sized venues being built in the Performers quarter (they tried to call it a Precinct!). Our wonderful Town Hall is also being repaired.

Cyclic: You recorded The Deep Set, the new album, in The Sitting Room in Lyttelton, where Marlon Williams has also recorded. How would you describe the experience?

Robert Scott: The recording took longer than expected for various reasons. There were delays on the part of the engineer, and with myself being in Dunedin that does slow down things a bit. Overall it was a good time recording and the songs mostly came out the way I wanted. Of course there are always things one wants to change in hindsight.

Cyclic: How did the title The Deep Set come about?

Robert Scott: The title came after I threw a lot of ideas around. I spent quite a bit of time coming up with possible titles. I like titles with several meanings.

Cyclic: The lead single ‘Antlers’ sounds quite familiar in terms of your previous music, although Kaye’s lead is quite prominent. What is the song about? (it’s often difficult to decipher your lyrics). Antlers suggests a connection with Invercargill…

Robert Scott: Antlers is quite typical of a Bats song, it was written in Makarora [a small community within the Queenstown-Lakes District of the Otago region of the South Island of New Zealand]where there is a lot of deer hunting, I was staying in a place where there were a lot of sets of antlers on the wall so I made up a story involving antlers.

Cyclic: I think you were last in Sydney (at least I last saw you) when you were playing mostly your 2011 album Free All the Monsters at a ‘dinner party’ in Newtown, at a venue called Notes which has now closed down, which must have been 2012. Is that right?

Robert Scott: Can’t remember that gig in Sydney in 2012, but we probably did play there, my memory for gigs is not the best.

Cyclic: You’re playing with a string section at the Sydney Festival. Will you rehearse beforehand?

Robert Scott: Yes we will have two rehearsals with the string section [Violin and cello]. We played with them in Christchurch this year, it went pretty well, it can be hard to hear the strings when we are playing live.

Cyclic: You’ve maintained a good relationship with Flying Nun and had a few reissues. Do relations continue to be good?

Robert Scott: Yes things are pretty good between us and FN. It is great that past releases can be made available again for the fans.

Cyclic: I first heard ‘North by North’ at the Power Station in Auckland in the mid-1980s, and was immediately hooked. It was also used as a theme for an ABC drama series a few years ago. Do you still enjoy playing it?

Robert Scott:Yes North by North is probably our most popular song, it has a strong hook so works well on TV I guess.

Australian Tour 2016
Saturday 28 January @ Northcote Social Club – Melbourne – The Deep Set album launch with special guests Loose Tooth+ School Damage.
Sunday 29 January @ The Sydney Festival – Sydney

The Bats will also be celebrating the 30th anniversary of their debut album Daddy’s Highway (1986).


About Author

Tony Mitchell is an honoraray research associate at the University of Technology, Sydney. He has edited a number of books: on global hip hop (Global Noise, 2001), on Australian Popular Music (Sounds of Then, Sounds of Now, 2008), and New Zealand Music (Home Land and Sea, 2011). He is currently co-editing a book about Icelandic music.