Live at The Step Inn, Brisbane 2008
|Labels||Flying Nun Records|
|Past members||Shayne Carter - guitar, vocals
Gary Sullivan - drums
James Duncan - guitar
Vaughn Williams - bass
Kelly Steven - bass
Dino Karlis - drums
Dimmer was the name under which New Zealand musician Shayne Carter (formerly of Straitjacket Fits, The DoubleHappys, and Bored Games) recorded and played music from 1995-2012. Beginning as an umbrella name for jam sessions and home recordings, various band members and guests appeared on Dimmer's albums and in its live line-ups. From 2007-2009 Dimmer was a settled four-piece band. Over the full 17-year span, Carter was the only permanent member.
Dimmer's music was admired by critics and all four albums earned multiple New Zealand Music Award nominations. The first Dimmer single was released in 1995, with debut album I Believe You Are A Star following in 2001. In 2004 You've Got To Hear The Music was named New Zealand's Best Rock Album for the year, and Dimmer named Best Group. There My Dear saw Carter return to playing and recording with a live rock band in 2006. Final album Degrees of Existence (2009) was recorded by the longest-lasting version of the band. Dimmer's final shows were played in 2012.
Straitjacket Fits split in 1994, "brought low by the vagaries of the international music industry". Interviewed in 2012, Carter said that "I was completely over rock. The Dimmer thing was totally anti-rock and I became interested in not only the groove thing but doing quiet music as well."
Carter moved back to Dunedin, later saying that he "dropped out, I suppose" and "wanted to get grounded after all my running around". While there, he began using the name Dimmer as "an umbrella thing...with me as the common denominator". The first Dimmer music came from jam sessions in Dunedin. Carter explained in 2012 that "I used the name Dimmer because I thought using your own name was really uncool."
Dimmer's first recording was a 7" single, "Crystalator", in 1995. It was released by Flying Nun in New Zealand, and by Sub Pop in the USA. It also appeared on the Flying Nun compilation Pop Eyed in 1996. A second non-album single ("Don't Make Me Buy Out Your Silence") followed in 1996. Through the second half of the 1990s "[there was] the odd Dunedin solo gig but, for the most part, Shayne Carter disappeared from the public eye."
2001-06: I Believe You Are A Star and You've Got To Hear The Music
Carter moved to Auckland, and switched from playing rock music to producing tracks on Pro Tools. He left Flying Nun, struck a deal with Sony Records, and recorded music at home with drummer Gary Sullivan. The result was the first full-length Dimmer album, I Believe You Are A Star, released in 2001. The writing and production of all but one track ("Sad Guy") are solely credited to Carter. Five other musicians (including Bic Runga) appear in what The Listener called "hardly essential cameos".
I Believe You Are A Star received high critical acclaim, including a 5-star review from the New Zealand Herald. It was especially noted for its electronic feel, and its contrast to the rock music Carter had made before. As reviewer Nick Bollinger put it, "Carter could have ridden the momentum they [Straitjacket Fits] created by promptly launching another axe-wielding line-up. Instead he cleared the decks, and began a long process of finding, and then refining, a whole other concept. ... The computer is the primary compositional tool here. Harmonic figures circle repetitively, vocal lines are spare and dislocated in an electronic landscape. Like hip-hop, the music seems to be led by the rhythms."
Reflecting on the response that I Believe You Are A Star received, Carter said in 2009: "After I put out the first album, there’s all this ‘it doesn't sound like Straitjacket Fits’. Well, no, it doesn't. That's why I quit the band - because I didn't want to be doing that. [...It] actually took me five or six years to put together. That came on the back of the Straitjackets, and I think I was disillusioned with the whole music thing at the time. I wanted to figure out a lot of things in my head."
Released seven years after the last Straitjacket Fits record, I Believe You Are A Star is described by music historian John Dix as "one of the great New Zealand 'comeback' albums". At the 2002 New Zealand Music Awards Dimmer was nominated for Best Music Video (for "Seed") and Best Album Art.
In 2004, You've Got To Hear The Music was released. It featured more musicians than I Believe You Are A Star, included backing vocals from Anika Moa and Bic Runga, strings arranged by Graeme Downes, and the Fat Freddy's Drop horn section. Dix describes this album as "another evolutionary step - as different to its predecessor as Dimmer is to Straitjacket Fits."
At the 2004 New Zealand Music Awards You've Got To Hear The Music won Best Rock Album, and Dimmer was named the Best Group. Dimmer was also nominated for Album of the Year, Single of the Year ("Getting What You Give"), Best Cover Art, and Best Music Video. The album was certified Gold in New Zealand.
In 2006 a compilation of tracks selected from Dimmer's first two albums was released internationally by Rogue Records. All Looks the Same At Night included one disc of 13 songs, and one of seven music videos.
2006-12: There My Dear and Degrees of Existence
Following a Straitjacket Fits reunion tour in 2005, Dimmer's final two albums saw Carter return to playing guitar with more traditional rock line-ups. He later said that "for a while there, I rejected my past. I’ve kind of come full circle and embraced it again."
In 2006 There My Dear was recorded after "two or three weeks' rehearsal" by a Dimmer line-up that Carter described as "pretty much a pick-up band". Moa and Runga returned as backing vocalists, with Don McGlashan also a guest, playing euphonium on two tracks. There My Dear was released by Warner Music NZ, reaching number 7 on New Zealand's album charts and receiving two nominations at the 2007 New Zealand Music Awards, both in technical categories. Videos were made for singles "Don't Even See Me" and "You're Only Leaving Hurt", the latter directed by long-time Dimmer collaborator Gary Sullivan and granted $5,000 in funding from NZ On Air.
From 2007-2009 Dimmer was a stable four-piece band (Carter, guitarist James Duncan, bass player Kelly Steven, and drummer Dino Karlis). Their trip to the USA in 2007 was Dimmer's first tour outside New Zealand - Carter hadn't played in America since Straitjacket Fits in 1993. Dimmer continued performing live into 2009, appearing at Auckland's Homegrown festival in March. Comparing 2009's Dimmer to the incarnation that had recorded There My Dear, Carter called it "a far more confident band, and a far more together band. We are actually quite close as people."
Degrees of Existence, released in July 2009, was recorded by the same four. It was nominated for Best Rock Album at the 2010 New Zealand Music Awards and named by the New Zealand Herald's music reviewers as the year's second-best album. Titular single "Degrees of Existence" was shortlisted for the 2009 APRA Silver Scroll Award.
In 2011, Carter's 'Last Train to Brockville' tour saw him team up with Gary Sullivan, who had played drums on the first two Dimmer albums, and bassist Vaughan Williams to play songs from his full career - Bored Games, The DoubleHappys, Straitjacket Fits, and Dimmer. The next year, 2012, Carter decided to end Dimmer and operate under his own name. Guitarist James Duncan, from the 2007-09 line-up, joined the three who had played the 'Brockville' shows for two final live shows in Auckland and Wellington.
|2001||I Believe You Are A Star||
|2004||You've Got To Hear the Music||
|2006||There My Dear||
|2009||Degrees of Existence||
|"—" denotes a recording that did not chart or was not released in that territory.|
|2007||All Looks The Same At Night||
|Year||Title||Peak chart positions||Album|
|1996||"Don't Make Me Buy Out Your Silence"||—|
|1999||"Evolution"||—||I Believe You Are A Star|
|2003||"Getting What You Give"||—||You've Got To Hear The Music|
|2008||"Degrees of Existence"||—||Degrees Of Existence|
|"—" denotes a recording that did not chart or was not released in that territory.|
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