Live at The Step Inn, Brisbane 2008
|Labels||Flying Nun Records
Festival Mushroom Records
Warner Music NZ
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 1994-2012. It began as an umbrella name for jam sessions and home recordings, with various members and guests, but became a more settled four-piece rock band (especially from 2006–10, when only the bassist changed). 37 musicians played a part in Dimmer's 18 years, with Carter the only permanent fixture.
All four of Dimmer's albums were admired by critics, and all earned multiple New Zealand Music Award nominations. Non-album singles were released in 1995 and 1996, with debut album I Believe You Are A Star not following until 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.
- 1 1994-96: Crystalator and Don't Make Me Buy Out Your Silence
- 2 1997-2001: I Believe You Are A Star
- 3 2003-06: You've Got To Hear The Music and All Looks the Same At Night
- 4 2006: There My Dear
- 5 2007-12 Degrees of Existence, the Last Train to Brockville, and the end of Dimmer
- 6 After Dimmer
- 7 Credited musicians
- 8 Discography
- 9 References
1994-96: Crystalator and Don't Make Me Buy Out Your Silence
Straitjacket Fits split in 1994, "brought low by the vagaries of the international music industry". Interviewed in 2012, Shayne 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."
Two non-album singles were released by Dimmer in the mid-90s:
- A 7" single, "Crystalator" (b/w "Dawn's Coming In"), mixed in 1994 and released in 1995 by Flying Nun (New Zealand) and Sub Pop (USA). Lou Allison played bass and Peter Jefferies (This Kind of Punishment, Nocturnal Projections) drums on both tracks. "Crystalator" also appeared on the Flying Nun compilation Pop Eyed in 1996.
- "Don't Make Me Buy Out Your Silence", released in 1996 with "Pacer" and "On the Road" as b-sides. There were no other credited musicians, and it was Dimmer's last Flying Nun recording. The video for "Don't Make Me Buy Out Your Silence" received NZ On Air funding and was directed by Steve Morrison.
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." Carter has called the period from 1995 "a lost weekend that actually lasted for six years".
1997-2001: I Believe You Are A Star
Carter moved to Auckland in 1997 and, inspired by "new music [including] avant-electronica and whatever else was fresh and non-mainstream", switched from playing rock music to producing tracks on Pro Tools.
"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."
- Shayne Carter, 2009
The writing and recording that eventually became Dimmer's first album ("[the song] "Smoke"...took about four years to write") took place at Carter's homes over a number of years, with drummer Gary Sullivan (JPSE, Chug, The Stereo Bus) the other main participant. Locations included the former Ponsonby Road premises of the store Beautiful Music, then later Norfolk Street, where Carter spent an advance from Sony Records to have a metal container installed in his backyard by crane.
In 1999 the first release from these sessions, "Evolution", came out as a CD single with "Sad Guy" and the Tryhard Remix of "Evolution" as b-sides. The song's video featured Carter's father playing an older version of Shayne. It was directed by Darryl Ward and funded by NZ On Air.
It was two years before Dimmer's debut album, I Believe You Are A Star, which included "Evolution", was 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". The album had a seven-week run in the New Zealand album charts, starting at #17 and getting as high as #13.
I Believe You Are A Star received high critical acclaim, including a 5-star review from the New Zealand Herald that called it "a dark wonder", "a great album", and "one to which all other New Zealand albums in 2001 will be compared". It was especially noted for its electronic feel, "introverted minimalism" and its contrast to the rock music Carter had made before. As reviewer Nick Bollinger put it in The Listener, "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."
Videos were made for "Seed", "I Believe You Are a Star", and "Drop You Off".
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", and by music critic Gary Steel (writing in 2016) as Carter's "masterpiece". At the 2002 New Zealand Music Awards Dimmer was nominated for Best Music Video (for "Seed") and Best Album Art.
2003-06: You've Got To Hear The Music and All Looks the Same At Night
You've Got To Hear The Music was released in 2004. At that year's New Zealand Music Awards it won Best Rock Album, and Dimmer was named Best Group (as well as being nominated for Album of the Year, Single of the Year ("Getting What You Give"), Best Cover Art, and Best Music Video). The album spent five weeks in the New Zealand top 40 album charts, peaking at #19, and earned Gold certification.
This album featured 19 musicians other than Carter, included backing vocals from Anika Moa and a returning Bic Runga, strings arranged by Graeme Downes, and (on "Getting What You Give") the Fat Freddy's Drop horn section. Dix describes You've Got To Hear The Music as "another evolutionary step - as different to its predecessor as Dimmer is to Straitjacket Fits." Audioculture notes its "pronounced soul and groove influences".
Critic Russell Baillie, in a four-star New Zealand Herald review, called the album "not quite as gripping or experimental as its predecessor", but said that "with its bent grooves and odd wiring, You've Got To Hear the Music is an album that stays intriguing on repeat listens." In MZ Musician magazine, Jacob Connor noted that "Dimmer's electro-folk musings simmer to a laconic groove", and said that "a restrained elegance makes the music replayable". He concluded that the album is "a rewarding recording from a national treasure."
"Getting What You Give", "Come Here", and "Case" all had music videos made.
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: There My Dear
Following the Straitjacket Fits reunion tour of 2005, Carter returned to playing guitar with more traditional rock line-ups.
“My first albums as Dimmer were quiet and introverted as a kickback against all that rock glory. But Dimmer’s been going a while now and when I went back and felt that rock glory, I thoroughly enjoyed it.”
- Shayne Carter, September 2006
Despite changing away from the electronic music-making approach of the first two Dimmer albums, Carter kept the name for this new phase. By this time the only previous Dimmer release to come from a rock-style line-up, the "Crystalator" single, was 11 years old. Carter later said that "for a while there, I rejected my past. I’ve kind of come full circle and embraced it again."
In 2006 Carter put together a Dimmer line-up that he described as "pretty much a pick-up band": guitarist James Duncan (SJD, Punches), drummer Dino (Constantine) Karlis (HDU), and bassist Justyn Pilbrow (Elemeno P). He had songs that he'd already written on guitar, and after "two or three weeks' rehearsal" the band recorded the third Dimmer album, There My Dear.
"I’m not a computer programmer. I couldn’t be fucked doing drum patterns, and all that kind of stuff. The songs were quite raw, and I didn’t want to overdo it. I just wrote it, put together a band and taught them the songs and we recorded it live."
- Shayne Carter, September 2006
There My Dear was released by Warner Music NZ, debuting at number 7 on New Zealand's album charts (Dimmer's first and only top-ten placing, and the start of a seven-week run) and receiving two nominations at the 2007 New Zealand Music Awards, both in technical categories. Aspects of the album, most obviously its title and thematic origins in a relationship break-up, were inspired by Marvin Gaye's Here My Dear. Videos were made for singles "Don't Even See Me" and "You're Only Leaving Hurt", the latter directed by Gary Sullivan (who appeared on every Dimmer album except this one) and granted $5,000 from NZ On Air.
In a four-star review for the New Zealand Herald, Scott Kara said: "This is a break-up album which at first may seem too maudlin, both musically and emotionally. [...But] then there's Carter. He's not so brooding on There My Dear, his guitar lurches and breathes to full effect...And his songwriting is tops...Carter is often held up as New Zealand rock royalty. On There My Dear he confirms himself as a soul man as well. Although they're sad break-up songs, Carter sounds pretty happy to be playing them. It's a feelgood album with a soul kind of feeling." Critic Simon Sweetman called it "one of the great break-up albums".
2007-12 Degrees of Existence, the Last Train to Brockville, and the end of Dimmer
After There My Dear was released, bassist Justyn Pilbrow was replaced by Kelly Steven (later known as Kelly Sherrod). She had been a member of Voom and was already James Duncan's bandmate in the duo Punches, the two having first played together in The Pencils. Carter, Duncan, Steven, and Karlis remained together until Karils' departure in 2009.
Their 2007 trip to the USA, which included performing at South By Southwest, was Dimmer's first tour outside New Zealand - Carter hadn't played in America since Straitjacket Fits in 1993. Shows in Australia followed later in the year. 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."
The same four began recording Dimmer's fourth and final album, Degrees of Existence, in Auckland in 2008. Sessions lasted until 2009. Karlis moved to Berlin during recording, so Michael (Mikie) Prain (Die! Die! Die!) and original drummer Gary Sullivan played on two tracks each. The album was released in July 2009 and Sullivan stayed with the band for the touring that followed, including dates in the USA.
Degrees of Existence spent four weeks in the New Zealand album charts, peaking at #18 in August 2009. It was selected by the New Zealand Herald's music reviewers as the year's second-best album. Amplifier called it "possibly the best album Mr Carter and co have released", and placed it (along with guitarist James Duncan's solo release, Hello-Fi) in the Top Twenty Albums of 2009. Critic Graham Reid said Degrees of Existence was "better and more consistent than that Dimmer debut [I Believe You Are a Star] and also than most of the Fits' later material...A real keeper of depth and intensity." The titular single "Degrees of Existence" was shortlisted for the 2009 APRA Silver Scroll Award (Dermarnia Lloyd of Cloudboy performed it at the ceremony) and the next year Degrees of Existence was nominated for Best Rock Album at the New Zealand Music Awards.
In 2011, Carter's 'Last Train to Brockville' tour saw him play songs from his full career - Bored Games, The DoubleHappys, Straitjacket Fits, and Dimmer - with backing from Sullivan on drums and bassist Vaughan Williams. At the time Carter said that he had been composing melodies - "about 50 pieces of music" - which he expected to lead to another Dimmer album.
Before this putative fifth album ever happened, in 2012, Carter decided to end Dimmer and operate under his own name. A four-piece consisting of the 'Brockville' trio plus James Duncan played Dimmer's two final live shows in Auckland and Wellington.
James Duncan recorded his second solo album, Vanishing, in Berlin and released it in 2012. He also remained part of SJD's band, and teamed up with Carter again in 2016, this time playing bass for the 'Offsider' tour of New Zealand.
Gary Sullivan remains a key collaborator with Carter, drumming on the Offsider album and on the tour that followed its release. In 2011-12 the pair had both been a part of The Adults, a project led by Jon Toogood and also including former Dimmer recruits Anika Moa and Nick Roughan.
Dino Karlis joined Brian Jonestown Massacre. He plays drums and percussion on the albums Revelation, which was recorded in Berlin 2012-14, and Musique de Film Imaginé. He also remains part of HDU, the members of which reunite occasionally.
Kelly Sherrod (née Steven) moved to Nashville, and was based there while she and James Duncan (who was still in Auckland) worked on the first Punches album in 2011. She joined Ryan Bingham's band in 2012.
Other than Shayne Carter, 35 musicians are credited with appearances on Dimmer recordings. The scale of their contributions run from full band members in the era from 2006, to 21 people who appeared on only one or two songs. A 36th, bassist Vaughan Williams, never recorded with the band but played in the final live line-up.
Band members (2006-12)
|There My Dear
|Final live shows
|Guitar, vocals||Shayne Carter|
|Bass||Justyn Pilbrow||Kelly Steven||Vaughan Williams|
|Drums||Dino Karlis||Gary Sullivan|
Others credited on Dimmer recordings (1995-2009)
Ordered by total albums played on, then total songs. Numbers represent the tracks on which each musician played.
|There My Dear||Degrees of
|Gary Sullivan||Drums, fruit||—||All||4,5,6,8,10,11||—||4,9|
|Nick Roughan||Guitar, loops, organ||—||10||1,8,10,11||4||—|
|Bic Runga||Backing vocals||—||2||6,7||8,9||—|
|Anika Moa||Vocals, Backing vocals||—||—||1,2,3,7,11||1,2,3,4,7,8,9||—|
|Anna Coddington||Backing vocals||—||—||—||1,2,3,4,9||10|
|Andy Morton||Keys, drum programming||—||2||3,6,7||—||—|
|Mike Hall||Bass, flute||—||3,4,5,6,9||—||—||—|
|Ned Ngatae||Guitar, bass||—||—||2,3,7||—||—|
|Sean Donnelly||Strings, synths, loops||—||—||5,7||—||—|
|Michael (Mikie) Prain||Drums||—||—||—||—||2,8|
|Jessica MacCormick||Backing vocals||—||—||7||—||—|
|Heather Mansfield||Chime bars||—||—||—||6||—|
|Backing vocals||—||—||—||—||10 ("Too Far
Gone to Care")
|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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