Esther Stephens & The Means

‘We’ve got a telepathic connection’

Words: Tom Goldson
Photography: Vicki Leopold

An Auckland three-piece with the biggest roster of featured vocalists take the plunge and go monogamous. Have they found The One?

It’s inevitable that musicians cruise for connections, to share the love and get their music heard. In the swinging scene this closeness cultivates, The Means have had more partners than most. Between them, the band has worked with vocalists including Hollie Smith, Moana Maniapoto, Maisey Rika, Bic Runga and Tama Waipara, and MCs in the Young, Gifted and Broke collective. And Esther Stephens, who was first Means-tested in 2013.

In January last year, Stephens, who also works as an actress, and the Means – Abraham Kunin, Tom Broome and Marika Hodgson – opted to formalise they’re relationship. They’re recording a debut album in New York and New Zealand; we caught up with them in Auckland. 

THE RED BULLETIN: When did the four of you decide to forsake all others? 

TOM BROOME: I think it must have been at the Red Bull Sound Select gig we played in Wellington last year, right?
ABRAHAM KUNIN: Yeah, it was becoming clear that we should be a four-piece – not The Means with Esther as a guest vocalist. We love collaborating with other artists and will continue to do that, but we really want this band to be the four of us. 
ESTHER STEPHENS: I’m lousy at being a solo artist. I’m a pack animal, and when I’m with these guys I feel the most engaged, I feel the most excited about music. I can do what I do best.

Why not bill yourselves as ‘The Means’? 

es: I love that these guys have created a really strong identity outside of me or my involvement, and the fact that we’ve now come together makes us twice as strong as a band. The Means already have such a fantastic flavour and identity, which is one of the reasons why this marriage is so exciting.
ak: We’ve spent so long confusing our audiences about who we are and what we’re doing. We get to work with so many great vocalists, but it’s a unique thing when we’re with Esther; that’s when it reaches the full potential of our powers. 

How does the music differ from how it turned out with other vocalists? 

ak: Esther has something that I’ve never seen or played with in any other musician. It’s like there’s no ceiling for where the music can go when everything’s aligned; it seems infinite, which is amazing. There’s a good telepathy between the four of us, rather than the three of us backing someone.
es: That’s what it is, eh: we’ve got a telepathic connection, and I think our best songs come out of a collective writing process, where everyone’s bringing different suggestions to the table and tweaking things.

‘It’s like there’s no ceiling for where the music can go when everything’s aligned’

Esther Stephens & The Means

The line-up (from left) Abraham Kunin, 29, guitar, Esther Stephens, 29, vocals, Marika Hodgson, 26, bass, Tom Broome, 28, drums  

Is that connection impeded by the fact that you’re living in Melbourne? 

es: Sometimes I think we were less productive when I was here. There’s something about living in another country that means that you really utilise the time that you have with one another. Fortunately I’m back here a lot for acting work and to make music with these guys.

Does having an actress as lead singer add more show to your business?   

tb: I do think that Esther’s awesome at embodying the intent of a song, and I’d say that comes from her acting. Everything she’s doing with us is her own music so it’s probably easier to be inside of, but from our experience of playing other people’s music, I think she’s dramatic…
es: I’m a big fat show-off, yeah.

All four of you are in demand as individuals. How do you stay committed to the group? 

es: It sounds cheesy, but the relationship metaphor is perfect for us. We have a deep love for one another, so we make sure we make the time. There’s a romance in what we do, in that we love working together and we love the music that we make, and that romantic connection allows us to overcome any obstacles or competing schedules.

After a year together, how do you see your future panning out? 

es: Well, I’m back in New Zealand for a chunk of time to work on a television series, so it feels like the universe is on our side. We want to make the most of the next few months and just be as creative as possible. We’re going to get some fresh stuff happening and continue to evolve as much as possible, in as short a timeframe as possible, so that what we do next is more than the sum of our parts.

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02 2015 The Red Bulletin 

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