Q&A with Tin Palace

Solomon Powell 9/10/21

From left: Jimmy Kay, Robbie Mulligan, Luka Francis-Murray. Photo / tinpalace.co.nz

Tin Palace, a project spearheaded by font-man Robbie Mulligan, is a group making self-described “absurdist-pop-funk”. The band consists of Robbie on lead vocal and guitar, Tom Brehm on bass, Luka Francis-Murray on drums and Jimmy Kay on lead guitar. Robbie and Jimmy have been making music together since intermediate school, being involved in the music competitions scene from a young age. Jimmy, only 14 at the time, was one of the youngest players at the 2011 Bay of Islands Jazz and Blues Festival. Also, in 2014, as a year 12, Robbie won Zeal’s national singer-songwriter competition. The duo sat down with us and spoke about their first musical experiences, the role music competitions played in their upbringings, their new concept album, and more!

What were your first musical memories and influences from growing up?

Robbie:

I don’t know if it’s a memory, but I know that the first story of music involving me was when I was a when I was a kid, and I used to cry. My dad would pick me up and he would play the Beach Boys. He said that it was the only good parenting he did, he would sit and rock me to the Beach Boys. So definitely my dad’s influence played a part. A lot of old stuff. He grew up in the 60s, so there’s lots of Beatles, Rolling Stones, Robert Johnson, Jack White, Eric Clapton, all that kind of stuff. Blues really sucked me in. Blues, and that early pop song writing with guitars and bass. So I guess the first songs that I remember being conscious of was like R.E.M. songs and Rolling Stones songs. 

And what about musical idols?

Jimmy:

For me its Tony Iommi from Black Sabbath. My first like proper electric guitar was an SG, and that’s the reason why I got it, because it’s the same as his guitar. I just liked the sound of his guitar. I was like, I want that. And I still have it today, the guitar. I’ve had it for 12 years now, its my baby.

Robbie:

I guess for me, I don’t know if I can narrow it down to like one. Because I feel like when you have those really strong influences, they act like mentors in your life, right through your musical upbringing. And you kind of move through them. And as you’re moving through your life it might be like something worked for six months, and sometimes no longer.  But there was this guy, Skyscraper Stan, he was a musician and he really levelled up my lyric writing. He was writing these folk songs, but he was writing them in a way that was really new, and he was constantly trying to push the envelope with his rhyming schemes and how he moved through lyrics. And that really helped me at a time when I was writing a lot of songs, but not spending a lot of time thinking about the lyrics. After getting really into Skyscraper, I was like, oh, well, okay, the lyrics are out there. I think that’s one of the things that pushed me into song writing.

Robbie and Jimmy, you guys met during high school, and were involved in the music competitions scene from a young age. Given you grew up as standout stars of that scene, do you think those experiences had much of an impact on you musically?

Jimmy:

I feel like it pushed me to try and be better. There were always a couple other guitarists like my year that were always trying to level up to me. Tobin Taylor, for one, he’s now one of our good mates. We played together in many different formations. So he defiantly pushed me a lot.

Robbie:

You’re trying to grow up as fast as you can, right? You’re trying to get to a stage in which you’re palatable to the full public, and not just people who are close to you, or close to you and who are supporting you. I guess that competition thing is important in the sense that it forces you to try to get good quick. And you’re trying to think, well, how can I? How can I add things or do things in a certain way that will elevate me above the rest?

Jimmy:

Our first competition experience was actually me and him in intermediate school. We just did this medley of all these songs that we mashed together. It’s the best video, I think my dad still has a video of it. Its crackup. But I guess, in intermediate school, it was out first little taste of, oh, we can actually do this.

How did you come up with the idea to start a band?

Robbie:

Yeah, so it started in Uni. I was doing the commercial music degree, and I got to the end of second year, and they were telling us that we have to do this big project for the third year. So all of the majors have to do like a big, major project for the third year, we you basically spend your first six months kind of planning it, working it out, and then second six months making it happen. So I moved in with this guy called Harry in third year. And Harry was basically just like, fuck man, let’s do some song writing. So we started writing songs together, and we wrote a song called Pipe Dreams. And after that were just like, man, like, let’s do it, let’s do a band.

How did you come up with the idea to do a concept album?

Robbie:

Well after that I went to a mentor session that we had at Massey as part of the degree. And I was sitting with Devin Abrams, who produces for Drax project, and I sat down I was said, look I’ve got all these ideas for songs, and I’d really like to do like a big work that is kind of cohesive. And he’s like, well, why don’t you do a concept album? Because everybody loves a concept album. That gives you a good sort of like pathway where you can try and keep all the songs on this path. And then when you promote it, it’ll give people something to talk about because they can talk about the story and they can talk about the themes that run through it and stuff like that. I was like yeah, that’s a great idea.

So when Jimmy joined the band, how naturally did he get integrated into everything that was already happening?

Jimmy:

I went to my first band practise with them, and Robbie’s like you’ll be fine, just play like how you normally play. And then we had a random jam, and I ripped into a massive solo, and Luca was just like . . . “yeah”. So it just started growing from there. It’s a great place to have ended up, because Robbie and I just work well together. I don’t know what it is…

Robbie:

We’ve just been playing long enough together that we don’t even have to say anything anymore.

Jimmy:

We can literally just be playing, and we both just stop at the same time, we don’t even look at each other, and we just walk off the stage. Then I think, how did we do that?

Robbie:

That’s the magic of it right? That’s why we keep doing it.

In what direction do you see your music heading in the future?

Robbie:

We’re a little bit on the maximal side at the moment, like probably trying to do a little bit too much. But we’re aware that. We’re trying to pull it back just a touch. Trying to find those core tenants, because we’re still learning. We’re still figuring it out. Every day. And then the other thing is trying to tell a story. That’s a really important thing for me, with lyric writing. Like we were talking before about Skyscraper Stan. People don’t make political songs anymore. There are exceptions though. I mean, Dartz is a great example of a band that is, as well as Dr Reknaw. Some bands like that, some of the guys coming out of Wellington certainly are. But on a large-scale people seem to be really turned off political music. So it’s not that I want to be political. But I want to try and tell stories. We want to try and make people think in new ways and do our best to say things that haven’t been said before.