Being based in Wanaka is both a blessing and a curse, according to Danny Fairley and Martine Harding – aka Arma Del Amor – who have just released their debut album Onna Bugeisha.
On the plus side, they agree it’s a fantastic place to live but they do miss not being able to interact regularly with other music makers. “Wanaka is amazing but I definitely struggle not having other musicians to sit down and jam with,” Fairley admits. “When we flew to Wellington to mix the album, we got to hang out with all these musicians and you come away feeling really inspired.”
That said, if they hadn’t live in a place Wanaka the pair may not have ended up getting together. Fairley says: “We met each other when we were still playing folkie music – acoustic songwriter stuff – then Martine moved to Auckland and I started making electronica. Then she came back down for a visit and we were like ‘let’s have a jam and see what we can do’ and that’s when we first smashed out our first two songs.”
They began playing as Arma Del Amor in 2013 and as well as releasing two EPs, they have since built a stellar live reputation, playing at festivals such as Rhythm & Alps, and supporting the likes of Shapeshifter, Rüfüs, Ladi6, Kora and Six60.
Blending ambient electronic soundscapes with dancefloor friendly beats, Onna Bugeisha was produced and recorded by the duo and mixed by Benny Tones in his Wellington studio Organik Muzik Workz.
“It’s probably been about two years’ worth of songwriting,” says Harding. “We only finished writing the last song in January this year but there have been a few songs that have been written for two years now. So, it’s nice to have it finally pieced together on an album.”
As far as the songwriting process goes, Harding is responsible for the lyrics, while Fairley looks after the music. “Danny will generally the instrumentation and music, and present me with a demo which I will then write lyrics to,” she explains. “Sometimes Danny will have a skeleton demo that he presents to me and we build it from there together. Or sometimes we sit down and find something to start with together.”
You go through using the computer for everything and and you forget what it’s like to touch a real instrument.
Soundwise, Onna Bugeisha is built mainly on Fairley’s analog synths, although he is still a fan of more organic instrumentation. “Pretty much every sound on it is either an analogue synth or a digital synth with analogue effects. But then on about four or five tracks there are brass, strings, real drums, even a choir.
“For me personally, I feel like I am going back to the acoustic instruments but with a blend of electronica. You go through the heyday of using the computer for everything and after that everything becomes very computer based and you forget what it’s like to touch a real instrument.”
Although very much a collaborative process, the pair agree that they don’t always see to eye on the music they make. “I grew up very much listening to pop music predominantly – R&B, soul and stuff like that – and that is kind of where my vocal inspiration comes from,” says Fairley. “When we write together, Danny hears that a lot in my melodies and phrasing, so he does pull me up on it. But he does it in a good it’s in a good way – it makes sure I am not totally on one side of the fence.”
And while Arma Del Amor can feel a little isolated at times down in Wanaka, Onna Bugeisha does boast one starry collaboration with a neighbour, P Diggs of Shapeshifter fame, who provides the vocal for ‘Undertow’.
“He lives in Cardrona Valley, which is just down the road from us,” recounts Fairley. “We were lucky enough to get to play some shows with Shapeshifter two or three years ago and we have become close friends with them.
“We this one song which Martine wasn’t really vibing on because the key of the song was different from which Martine usually goes into. So I asked Diggsy and fired through the demo, and he rang me and said ‘I’m in the area now, I will come around’.
“And he just smashed it out; he just walked in, the mic was set up and he just listened to it and then wrote the lyrics. He probably did his whole part in about half a day!”
- Onna Bugeisha by Arma Del Amor is out now