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Home is where the art is

7 March 2022
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Mousey performing live at wine cellar with guitar in hand
Mousey playing live at Auckland’s Wine Cellar. Photo: Connor Crawford

Sarena Close, aka Mousey, is one of a growing number of musicians coming up in the Christchurch creative scene. Interview Josie Steenhart.

2022 is already shaping up to be another big year for the Ōtautahi-based singer-songwriter, with the release of her second album My Friends this month, a nationwide tour to follow in April, and the recent signing to leading New Zealand independent music publisher Native Tongue.

Mousey (named from a line in the David Bowie track ‘Life On Mars’ – “the girl with the mousey hair”) grew up near Rangiora and attended jazz school in Christchurch before kicking off a diverse musical career.

She has played in multiple bands, taught piano at local schools, sung as a backup vocalist on Tami Neilson’s Sassafrass album and opened for The Chills, Reb Fountain and The Beths.

Her debut album, Lemon Law, was nominated for an APRA Silver Scroll Award and the Taite Music Prize.

You’re a Cantabrian, yay! Tell us a bit about living there…

Yes, I am a proud Cantabrian! I live in New Brighton and have also spent a lot of time working in the city. I love it here. There’s such a calm energy about the creatives, maybe because the rent is cheapish and the traffic is mild (for a city).

It feels like a real community and super conducive to creativity! Everyone in the arts community is so supportive even if what you are creating is vastly different.

And you made your new album there also, right? Tell us a bit about the album generally, and the process of making it…

While my last album was about being let down and being a let-down, this album is about being let down but being loved.

I initially hoped the album was going to be light, cute and wholesome. But even though there are many ‘sweet’ songs on the record, my year was really hard and some of my long-time friends left me with some nasty scars – so obviously the record reflects that too.

I wrote the majority of the songs while camping in Golden Bay on a trip last summer. My husband Chris [Close, Mousey drummer] and I go every year to rest, unpack and plan the year ahead – turns out I had a lot to unpack!

I recorded the new album with Lyttelton producer Ben Edwards at The Sitting Room, along with my core band – Chris on drums, David Cloughley on bass guitar and Terence O’Connor on electric guitar. It was actually the first time we have all played together, since I mainly used session players for my first album – super exciting!

It took about four months to come together as Ben and I mixed the whole thing too. It was such a fun, exhausting, vulnerable, complicated and wonderful experience. We are both extremely proud of what we achieved.

Why is it that Lyttelton is such an amazing scene for music/creativity do you think?

Lyttelton has always seemed to draw in amazing creatives. Maybe a big drawcard is that Ben’s studio is there. He has helped facilitate recordings at good rates for a lot of talented young people.

Tell us about working with the likes of Ben and other local creative talent?

As I mentioned above, I love Christchurch and the musicians here. My new album is called My Friends so I wanted to have as many local talents involved in the process as I could. Along with Ben, friends Christchurch lo-fi pop multi-instrumentalist Pickle Darling and Lyttelton-based violinist and composer Anita Clark play on the record. They are brilliant!

Musician, Mousey outside on lawn with puppy
Sarena Close, aka Mousey, lives in New Brighton, Christchurch. Photo: Chris Close

Do you think growing up/living in Canterbury has influenced your music or your processes or anything along those lines?

Absolutely, yes! Instead of being pressured to be a commercial success I’ve been encouraged to seek out my own flavour and do whatever I want. If I had grown up in Auckland I think my music would be quite different. I’m so glad that I’ve had the freedom to explore and to be myself.

What’s next – generally, music-wise, whatever…

I love writing for pop artists so I’m looking forward to doing more of that with the help of my publishing company, Native Tongue. But when it comes to Mousey, I’m just taking it easy! No doubt there will be another album after this but I’m not in a rush at the moment.

Favourite local spots to visit?

I try to go to as many gigs as I can. The scene needs support and is hanging by a literal thread despite there being so much accessible talent here! Space Academy, Blue Smoke, Darkroom and Wunderbar are great places for original music.

And to eat/drink?

I’m a sucker for Mumbaiwala when it comes to food, and I can’t go past Rollickin’ without getting a double scoop of Hokey Tokey Pokey or No Cow Chocolate.

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