Thought Creature and Full Moon Fiasco

These four pieces chronicle my time with Will Rattray, lead singer of Full Moon Fiasco and Thought Creature. Will invited me on tour with Full Moon Fiasco in 2010, which introduced me to South Island rock music culture and changed my life. I still haven't left the South Island. 

Groove Guide editor Leonie Hayden commissioned the first article in 2010, which introduced me to the band and began our friendship. That article landed the band the cover of Groove Guide. The following three stories cover being taken along with Full Moon Fiasco and Thought Creature on their South Island tours in the weeks that followed. The first appeared in New Zealand Musician in 2010, the second appeared in Canta in 2012, and the third was published in the Christchurch zine Cheap Thrills in 2016.

Listen to Cosmic Palms by Full Moon Fiasco

Newtown Trippers

First published in Groove Guide in Issue 332, 11 August 2010, New Zealand. 

Will Rattray's band Full Moon Fiasco hails from Newtown and their first album came out this week – but other than that, news on the ground is next to nothing. The only solution is to show up and see what happens. 

Newtown is a neighborhood in Wellington that has got, how shall we say, a reputation. As an early arrival, "Don't live in Newtown" echoed until it became a common refrain. But sitting outside a cafe waiting for Will Rattray, this place doesn't look so bad. The strangeness is all part of the fun of finding a new band. It's like the poet Shel Silverstein said, "Anything can happen, child. Anything can be."

Though I was beginning to get very tired of having nothing to do, so I look to see what I've got in my bag. One yellow copy of Alice in Wonderland. After half an hour I was considering, in my own mind, whether the pleasure of another coffee would be worth getting up and ordering again, when a boy in a brown scarf wanders by and starts talking to friends. Nose over Alice my eyes slide between them. 

"Here for an interview," the boy with the brown scarf says.

I raise my hand. "That's me."

"Sorry I'm late." His eyes are red. Was recording with last night until three am. 

"Is this a piece for the new band?" asks the friend. 

"I guess. What is the old band?"

"Thought Creature," said friend says.  

Instead of a destination we wander instead. We start climbing a hill that seems to never end. 

"I think Newtown is so dreamy and surreal," Will purrs. A place where one forever stumbles into friends. "Full Moon Fiasco was supposed to be nothing more than a side project," he admits. "I was trying to explore something entirely inside my head." But one by one he found the outfit filled out by friends. Now Full Moon Fiasco has the backing powers of drummer Isaac Mawson, Alice Macklow on the keys and bassist Aidan Craig. 

"This band came together in the strangest way. I met Isaac when he was living with my girlfriend. He was sitting there in the room, not saying anything – which is unusual for Isaac. And I just looked at him and out of nowhere said, "You're a drummer, aren't you?'"

The wandering just kept wandering. We pass kids playing football and climb past the zoo. Wonder if the monkeys think that we're in cages too. We see South Island mountains and surf in Lyall Bay. While Will talks of four tracks and analogue tape. 

"Though that's not to say analogue is better than digital per se. But one thing I'll say for it is that analogue leaves more room for accidents. One of my favorite parts on the album is when I accidentally recorded on a section of tape that already had something on it. Moments of chance like that give back the human element."

American composer John Cage was a big fan of chance. "When our intentions go down to zero," the avant garde artist once said, "suddenly you notice the world is magic." 

It's late at night and the moon sits fat and low over Wellington glittering. Outside it's all dark, but underground with the kids, the music is happening. It's happening like 1952, when John Cage took over Black Mountain College with friends. Or when Yayoi Kusama wandered New York and calling her kimono presence Walking Piece in 1966. As sticks hit the skins and silks are tossed in the crowd like confetti, there's the intangible feeling as the sound moves sideways that you're inside something. 

What is this place, where psychedelia is born again? Perhaps Lady Alice had a hint. 

"I must be getting somewhere near the centre of the earth!" Alice cried, tumbling down in the blackness, after deciding to go for it and leave her languid afternoon to chase the White Rabbit. "I shall have to ask them, 'Please, Ma'am, is this New Zealand?" 

OUT NOW: Full Moon Fiasco – Cosmic Palms

SEE THEM LIVE: Full Moon Fiasco

Sat Aug 14 2010 – The Basement, Auckland (Golden Axe, Pikachunes, Cat Venom – all ages)

Wed Aug 18 2010 –  The Blue Ice Cafe, Franz Josef

Fri Aug 20 2010 – Chicks Hotel, Port Chalmers (Bad Sav + more tbc)

Sat Aug 21 2010 – Media Club, Christchruch (early show – all ages)

Sat Aug 21 2010 – Goodbye Blue Monday, Christchurch


After the article was published, I found the band at their Auckland gig and was invited on the South Island leg. The photos on this page – and the following two pieces, published in New Zealand Musician in 2010 and Cheap Thrills in 2016, were what eventuated. 


Local Talent  Full Moon Fiasco

New Zealand Musician

For the last six years Will Rattray has traveled in endless circles around the islands, bringing the swamp rock thump of Thought Creature to towns as far flung as Franz Josef. That band carved its identity on the road, then proceeded to release their first album, Teleport Palace in 2008. The fact that this was only two years back at first makes Rattray's forays into a side project sound strange. 

"But I see Thought Creature as this really simple idea – where the rhythm and melody are controlled by the drums and the bass. The guitar can come in and supply parts, but the presence of the music isn't reliant on it. That is a particular sound – but I wanted to see where my mind would take me outside of that place."

So Rattray locked himself in his bedroom with his four-track. Eighteen months passed. Twelve tracks manifest. Thus was born the Full Moon Fiasco project. Though conceived in solitude, the project has since grown into a band that puts thunder in the sound. The band includes Alice Macklow from Kittentank on the keys, Aidan Craig on loan from Red Country on the bass and Isaac Mawson of Red Country and The Pick-ups on the drums. 

When Full Moon Fiasco plays in Wellington the kids dance 'til they're dead, but elsewhere news is spreading slow. In Franz Josef the bar staff said they liked it but the drunk crowd playing pool only stopped to request them to turn it down. In Queenstown the place emptied out after the second song and but was packed again in minutes when the stereo came back on. 

"Wow, there's actually people here," Alice Mackow said as the band walked in for an in-store performance at Records Records in Dunedin. That night they played Port Chalmers at The Chicks Hotel and at the end, one of the locals who had come over from the port smiled over his beer, "Hey, this is really good!" The only ones at their Christchurch all ages show were three boys, shoulder to shoulder, transfixed in the front row. Later that night the crowd squeezed into Goodbye Blue Monday for the tour's last show. "I love this band!" A boy in the audience was heard crying to his friend in the silence before the first note. 

There are three hundred copies in the album's first printing. Rattray sells the CDs at shows – or at least he does when he remembers them (thanks to the support of up-and-coming Auckland label Muzai Records, you can also get the music at stores). One day, perhaps after touring America, the band hopes to sell vinyl instead. 

"The only New Zealand records are made of acetate," Rattray mourns. Then his eyes light up. "Though you know what you could do with that? I would sell those records with a stamp – and there would be boxes that you could stamp to track how many times you have played it. Like you could only play it so many times... and then it fades away." 

And you remember that everything Will Rattray says sounds strange. Strange, but in the best possible way. 


On the Road with Full Moon Fiasco

First published in Cheap Thrills volume 2, 2016, New Zealand.

Much has already been said about Flying Nun, and most of that is myth.  What of the bands who came after? What about them? 

Moving to Wellington in 2010 without any job prospects wasn’t the smartest idea in the financial sense. The only steady job I managed to grab was writing two freelance articles a week for Groove Guide, which was based back in Auckland.  Writing about unknown New Zealand bands was fun. There was no research needed; there was nothing on the internet. You just had to show up and see what happens. 

Six months and couple dozen pieces in, the editor sent me to Newtown to write something about a new psychedelic rock band called Full Moon Fiasco 

After half an hour of reading Alice in Wonderland while waiting for the lead singer outside a cafe, he at last sauntered past with red eyes peering out over a scarf. 

"Sorry I'm late," he said. “Was recording last night until three am.” 

And I recognised him. Not in a “Hey, I’ve seen you before” or a “Hey you’re famous” kind of way, but rather with the familiarity you feel when you find a new best friend you just hadn’t met yet. We were kindred spirits. 

"Is this for the new band?" A friend outside at the cafe asked. 

"What's the old band?" I asked. 

"Thought Creature," he said.

Ooh. Full Moon Fiasco was unknown but that name I knew. Their debut album had come out the year before; I found it on MySpace before moving to Wellington and loved it. 

Full Moon Fiasco was supposed to be just a a solo act on the back of Thought Creature, his other band. But one by one he found the outfit filled out by friends. 

“I met the drummer when he was living with my girlfriend. He was sitting there in the room, not saying anything – which is unusual for him. And I just looked at him and out of nowhere said, "You're a drummer, aren't you?'" 

Instead of a destination we wandered instead. We started climbing a hill that seemed to never end. We passed kids playing football and climbed past the zoo. We wondered if the monkeys thought we were in cages too. We saw South Island mountains and surf in Lyall Bay, while Will talked of four tracks and analogue tape. 

"Though that's not to say analogue is better than digital per se. But one thing I'll say for it is that analogue leaves more room for accidents. Moments of chance like that give back the human element."

American composer John Cage was a big fan of chance. "When our intentions go down to zero," the avant garde artist once said, "suddenly you notice the world is magic." 

What had been a meeting over coffee had now stretched on for eight hours. Will handed me beers all afternoon. At the time I wasn’t much of a drinker, but for my favorite band I'll accept. We followed his Thought Creature bandmate Danny home after passing him on the street. I asked what was going on with the band.  

“Don't tell anyone,” Will said. “But we're recording our second album, in the bottom of a boat that's getting renovated.” 

As the sky turned dark we rolled on down the harbour. That night, lying in the hull of a tugboat, listening to early live recordings of The Chills, felt a bit like Alice must have. 

"I must be getting somewhere near the centre of the earth!" Alice cried, tumbling down in the blackness, after deciding to go for it and leave her languid afternoon to chase the White Rabbit. "I shall have to ask them, 'Please, Ma'am, is this New Zealand?" 

Eventually said I had to be getting home, and I did. I had to go home and scream about meeting him.

It was around then that I discovered my recorder broke during the interview. I wasn’t a very good journalist. That meant I couldn’t rely on quotes to write the piece, which had been a crutch of mine at the time. Instead I painted the scene. I wrote about how being with Will felt like being a part of something. Still I couldn’t have imagined what was going to happen next. 

* * *

First the editor put the story on the cover of the next magazine. 

Later that week I was celebrating my birthday up in Auckland – which coincided with the first tour stop for the band. 

Will danced over to where I stood at the gig. He must have liked the article, because he invited me to the South Island with the band. 

“Do you want to come?” he asked. “There’s room in the van.”

I hesitated. My best friend, a drag queen at the heart of my novel, had just bought flights for the same dates to visit me in Wellington. 

Will’s face fell. “Maybe... we can fit both of you,” he suggested. 

But when I suggested it to my friend, he didn’t see the same opportunity I did. “Do I want to ride around in a smelly van with a band for five days? No thank you.” But then he took my hand and looked into my eyes so I knew that he meant it. “But you have to,” he insisted. Our plans dissolved; he didn’t care. I fell in love with him all over again for how he held with an open hand. 

He kept his flights, too. While I flew into Christchurch he stayed in my room and took my friends in Wellington out dressed up as drag queens. Meanwhile the band was waiting at the airport with a trailer and a white van. 

* **

The back seats were ripped out and the floor was covered with blankets. Will was in the back with an arm around a redhead named Alice; she played the keys and was also his girlfriend. Up front the bassist, Aidan, was driving and his girlfriend Amy was riding shotgun – she owned the van. Isaac the drummer I knew a bit already, because I had gotten his name wrong in the article and apologised profusely to him at the gig. “That's all right,” he said back softly. Danny was there too; he doing sound for the band. Squashed next to him was a petite brunette with a wide smile. She was doing light and video projections for the gigs. Her name was Erica, but her stage name was Lady Lazer Light. She came with a lot of baggage. One of her favourites was a spinning wheel that she set up like a projector; once her foot got pumping, it transformed a series of still images of moons and explosions into animations behind the band. 

The spinning wheel was big though, so it didn't come out until Dunedin. 

I don’t know why I’m here. I don’t, really. 

“I didn't realise...” I say with a start. “That this ... was pretty tight.” There's the band, a friend to do sound, the VJ, the girlfriend – 

"and the writer!" Erica finishes, lighting up. She's looking at me. 

The first stop was Franz Josef. 

A girl trotted towards us as we carried amps into a bar dotted with pool tables. “I can't believe it! This town has been dead for the last four days – dead. You are the first signs of human life we've seen! This is so exciting!”

“South Island tours are weird, man.” Will said once we had set up. “Often you are playing to no one – and I mean NO one.” 

While we waited I opened my laptop to work on the few pieces I still had to finish for the week.  

“I didn't give you much notice,” Will said. “Sorry about that.” 

It was about thirty-six hours, possibly less. 

"I thought about it, for –"

"About two seconds?" Amy finished for me, and laughed. 

“You guys are different!” One of the bar staff cried after the sound check. “What's your name?” 

Will and Isaac bickered in a corner before the show. “I bet she has Garage Band,” Isaac said. He walked over to my laptop. “Would you mind using your computer to record this set?” 

I had never opened the programme. “So long as you set it up,” I replied, “sweet as.” 

There were four people playing pool when the band started. First they covered their ears. One in a baseball cap approached the band. 

"It's GREAT,” he screamed over the music at Will as he played. “We LOVE you guys, but could you turn it down just a liiiiiiiiiiiittle?" Danny smiled politely.

By the third song the man was more adamant. "HEY MAN, I'M TRYING TO BE NICE HERE." The guy is in Will's face. The bar staff tell him to go away.

At the end of the set, no one is left. 

Isaac paced around the parking lot of the hostel. “Is there water around here?” He pressed. “Some body of water?” 

Alice ignored him. “We're booked for five, but you can sleep with us,” she promised. “There's enough beds. They'll never notice.” 

The next day we headed off for Queenstown. 

Mountains rose out past the road like the rolling chords of their set. I leaned my head against the window and felt complacent. Somewhere along the road we got out to stretch our legs. Isaac and Aidan threw snowballs at Danny as he took a piss.

Amy crosses her arms. "Do you think they're nice to you because they want you to write something?"

“I don’t know what I would write,” I said. There's not much to say about driving in a van around an island.

In fact, that's perhaps what is the most striking about all of this. I had projected all this romance and fantasy onto being on tour with musicians, but it's all so familiar. In fact, I had already done all of this. Drive around in vans. Pass joints from the front to the back. Stare out the windows; smile at Arthur's Pass. Most of being on tour is spent sitting together in silence, listening to the same thing. I'm carrying amps up stairs just like I did when I played guitar as a kid, but this time the amps are theirs. My camera is in my hands. In New York my friends covered their faces. Here no one pays attention as I lift the lens. Click. I'm a tour photographer for a band.

In Queenstown there's already a crowd at the bar. 

A man at the bar licked his lips. “So.” His face spread into a smile. “How big is the band?” 

“Oh,” I said. “They’re huge.” 

We decamped outside to a wooden table near the fire after sound check. Danny drummed the opening rhythm of the band’s biggest song onto the table with his hands. In place of a cymbal, he clinked his ring against a beer glass. Will blushed and smiled shyly; the rest of us joined in. 

A table full of kids nodded their heads along as the band played their first song,. Amy and I smiled. Yes, some people are into it. They left when the song ended. Nevermind, I guess. 

My laptop is open. I wrote to the rhythm of the band. I also recorded their set. 

Once the band finished a Shapeshifter song blared out of the speakers, and the bar was flooded again within minutes. 

That night the plan was to stay with Will's little brother Sam, who manic energy exceeded Will’s by a factor of ten. He had a job on the ski fields, which was finishing in a week. Sam crowed about how at night the kids who ran the lifts would race snowmobiles through the powder pushed off the freshly plowed runs, which they called the drifts. 

“The MOUN-TAIN!” Isaac howled, arms outstretched. 

Sam could take up three max; Isaac, Danny and Will called dibs in an instant. 

“We can't have a torch,” Sam said. “Otherwise security would see you and go, ‘Hey what's that random doing up there?’ But I know the mountain,” he promised. “Stay behind me and you'll be fine.” He also said something about acid.

I sensed the hairs standing on Alice's neck. “Guys?” she asked. “I'm not going to say anything other than trust your instincts, all right?”

“I'm not going to –“ Sam started to protest.

“Just listen to your instincts.” Alice interrupted Sam.  “That's all I'm going to say.”

There's only one hitch in the plan. Everyone is drunk and Alice won't drive them up the mountain. They could drive themselves, there's just the little problem of gas. You have to drive through town to get to the gas station, which is not a good idea in Queenstown when rip roaring drunk. The clock is nearing two am. The boys don't want the plan to end. 

Wait a minute – I’m sober. “All you need is someone to drive you to the gas station?” I raise a hand. “I’ll do it.”

Isaac threw a fist into the air. “That's the kind of attitude I like!”

The boys slide into the car, and I drive them to the gas station so that their night dreams will not die, and so too will they not die getting stuck gasless halfway up the mountain. Yet the whole time, I'm wondering: Am I doing the right thing? Or is this enabling? Allowing their antics to skirt the cops so they can drive tripping balls on acid halfway up the side of mountain, to snowmobile in the blackness to the top and fall down some drifts? What if Will is the next Syd Barrett? Am I killing modern music?

In the morning I woke up somewhere between a mattress and the floor to find Danny curled into a ball on the floor. Will was passed out mouth open on Sam’s bed. Next to him was a splayed out Isaac. They made it.  

“Though getting back down was... I had my doubts,” Danny conceded. “Sam was driving back down like a madman, teeth chattering... sometimes stopping from hallucinations.”

“You could tell when he was hallucinating,” Will agreed. “You could tell.” 

Oh, to hear them talk about the peaks. They went to the top of the mountain, and sat above the clouds. In every direction the clouds formed an infinite sea, dotted with islands made up of mountain peaks.  

Next stop on the tour was Dunedin. “The dark star,” Will mused as we slithered over the hills into the twinkling lights of the valley. 

I have a friend to stay with, I tell the band.   

Alice smiled. “Well, we've actually got this great place in Dunedin. It's like a marae, with beds, and sheets, and mattresses for everyone. And we're leaving,” Alice continues, “the next morning at seven am. So it'd be best if you just stayed with us. 

I've been kidnapped by a band. 

By “marae” Alice meant Chicks Hotel, a crumbling 200-year-old pub in a little coastal suburb of Dunedin with blood red walls. It was the local pub for members of The Clean and The Dead C. One of the rooms we were staying in was called the Murder Room since the 19th century, when a sailor shot his wife and her lover through the window after climbing up the fire landing. 

Danny hated being there alone. “This place gives me the creeps.” 

He wasn’t alone for long. This time there were three bands. Kids come from all over Dunedin. The place was packed. 

“Hey!” A drunk man at the bar cries midway through the set. “This is really good!”

For the first time in my life I felt like drinking, the start of a habit I have kept ever since. 

Christchurch is the last night of the tour. When Will asks, “Are you set to record?” the meter is already spinning. 

There were only four kids at the all-ages gig in the afternoon, but the four who were there were really into it. 

The bar that night is packed. “I love this band!” Someone cries over the crowd before the set has started. 

As I listened to the set that night, I realised I would never get sick of this. I could listen to this set every night. These kids are beautiful, and the songs get better every time I hear them. I had one in my head all day; I'm aching for them to play it. When it finally comes on I run around manic. We had only been on tour five days, but even so I was going to miss it.

Carl Jung protege Mirea Eliade believed that all the stories in the world boiled down to two myths: the nostalgia for a paradise lost, and the fantasy of its imminent restoration.  Even Ovid, Seneca and Virgil wrote of the golden race that lived in this paradise, where life was simple, and the people self-sufficient. 

It’s an easy fantasy to return to for those still suffering the consequences of industrialisation, which the Decadents decried way back when as assembly lines turned men into objects. The artisan vanished, faith plummeted. In its place rose a secular, mercantile and entrepreneurial spirit. Onwards, capitalism! Onwards, individualism! They call it the fin de siecle, they saw it as the end of civilisation. 

We hear that kids today are more selfish and narcissistic than past generations. All kids care about today is being rich and famous, without putting any effort in. We are attached to our devices, which only keep us lonely and separate.  Yet we caused none of that. So why is our generation considered a self-absorbed, money-hungry piece of shit? We have fallen from the age of consumption, but we don’t mind. We reject that culture of acquisition. We can’t afford it. 

“Our neighbourhoods have vanished!” bemoans the generation before us. “The profit motive has taken precedence over relationships!” “There are no longer social connections!” 

They must be blind. They cannot see what is in plain sight. 

The next day we drifted to eggs benedict and the gardens, solemn behind sunglasses. Everything is dumped out of the van. The trailer is sent back. We're ready to leave the island. 

Will thanked me for coming.

“I'm so happy to be here,” I said.

“This has been the best tour I've ever been on,” Danny said. “The most fun. The most relaxed.”

“I wanted it to be something like that,” Will said. “I wanted... to have it be somewhere people could be. Besides, rock is written for the future, and the people who are there listening.” He pointed to me laptop, “are the reasons that it's remembered.” 

That was how the tour ended, with the band that adopted the reluctant novelist. 

We will never be famous. But so what? We know about each other, and that is enough. 

Date: 2010–2016 Client: Groove Guide Role: Freelance writer URL: Tags: music, MUZAI Records, New Zealand, Wellington