The enforced isolation of Covid-19 lockdown was good for some, among them Nicholas Clayton and Reuben Brady (aka Nic and Reuben), musical compadres whose Spotify description reads, ‘…two old-fashioned lover boys making music.’ The Wellington duo used the time to create a new album subsequently released at the end of June, one they have appropriately titled ‘Pass/Time’. Margaret Gordon had a chat with them.

Living in a flat with three others, plus Pat the cat, Nic and Reuben put their lo-fi techniques to good use, building up every aspect of the 8-track album’s music themselves and recording it all at home.

“It’s all on the laptop. It’s all just Nic or I coming up with some chords and being like, ‘Hey, what do you think?’ And then building a song around that. And our rooms are opposite each other… so we have a lot of time together to do that.’

Their music is eclectic, as are the influences. They enjoy everything from English singer-songwriter King Kruel and Canadian synth pioneer Mort Garson, to metallers Helmet, and fellow duos like American experimental rockers The Garden, and the late English indie rock act Her’s.

Of their recordings so far Big Wow has got the most attention. The song’s summery feel reflects its own creation as Reuben explains.

“It was a real sunny day and we had the house to ourselves and we just went to town and just pelted this track out. And like, got a bit more confident on the mic and did a bit of yelling, you know? And then it just like, got picked up by people. It’s always a hoot live. It’s just the catchy one, but it’s a dear, dear favourite for us as well, just because of how it came out.”

Nic and Reuben started an ‘early bromance’ at their Wellington high school, but only made music together in Dunedin where Reuben studied economics and finance, and Nic studied medicine. It was a meeting on the library steps that sparked things off.

“I randomly was just like, ‘Do you make music?’ And he was like, ‘Yeah I do actually.’ And I was like, ‘Yeah, me too!’ Reuben comes from a production sort of background and had been making lots of beats, and I’ve been very songwriter-y and had been like writing songs. I just sent him a few of those and Ruben was like, ‘Yep’. And we were like, on it like bomber after that really!”

Both came to music without much training, but there was music at school for Reuben while Nic has a musical family.

“My dad’s a pretty good guitarist. My uncle was like a phenomenal guitarist. My aunt is an opera singer. My cousin is like a flamenco guitarist. My other cousins are really good drummer. I wasn’t really interested in it when I was younger. And then the genetics kind of helped me to sit in my room and figure things out.”

According to Reuben, when it comes to live shows they’re ‘in good hands’, the Nic and Reuben show expanding to a five-piece with the addition of Dunedin friends Liam Doyle, Reuben Scott, and Jack Berry. Though the others live in Dunedin he says it doesn’t take long to get show-ready.

“We’ll book them a flight like a few days before, and then we’ll just spend a good day thrashing the set, or for maybe two days or whatever. But as I say, the new songs we play are quite easy to play and they’re incredible musicians, and we know the songs backwards. So it’s all pretty easy.”

Their best show to date coincided with the end of NZ’s country-wide Covid lockdown.

“That was great for me because that was just a sold-out gig and that was our first headline! And it was like the first thing I had done since lockdown, so like the first night out, and it just felt really cool to kind of do that,” says Reuben.

Doing everything from writing to recording to cover artwork is part of their ethos, the cover art for ‘Pass/Time’ emerging from Nic’s medical studies.

“I stole that from one of my pathology books. It was a very sickly man and I just traced it.”

“We really kind of take pride in having hands-on throughout the whole process,” says Reuben.

The duo’s first fully produced music video, for the album’s third track Stuff, is a hilarious green screen romp made by their friend Oscar Keys.

“He like really politely listened to us for half an hour rattling off these really shit ideas,” Nic explains. “Then he was like, ‘Yeah, that’s all really good but then how about this?’ And that was what we did.”

With a disembodied face appearing in a toilet and plate of spaghetti, among other places, the ‘fun’ shoot was actually a little challenging for Reuben.

“I got a bit cranky at the end of it. You know, my skin was feeling a bit yuck, but we made it through. And I have quite sensitive skin so it really hurt. But that was fun.”

For Nic, the secret to their collaboration is the way they respond to each other’s offerings, creating a musical safe space.

“I have no discomfort in any way, shape or form with taking something to Reuben and being like, ‘Here you go.’ Because like I know, without fail, 100% of the time, he’ll always love it. You know we’re really fortunate in that sense.”

The duo are committed to making music but don’t yet have aspirations to grandeur. As Nic puts it: “We’ll continue to play music today, tomorrow and the day after, but not the day after that. No, just jokes! But like, we’ll continue to do that. And if tomorrow you remove Nic and Reuben from the internet, that’d be fine. You know, like, it’s so fine. We just like making noise.”