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An interview with Nicole Gaffney - Musician/ Visual Artist

January 14, 2019

 Tell us about yourself in your own words. 

I’m Nicole Gaffney. I’m from Auckland, New Zealand, originally from South Africa. I play music. I play in an emo pop punk band called Carb On Carb and I rock out on the guitar and I sing and that’s what I do. I also do posters sometimes and I went to art school and it was a waste of time but now I use my degree to make posters.


What is your creative process and how has it changed over time?

I use a guitar and I make up little songs with my phone and I hit the recorder and go “nah nah nah nah” all the time. There are so many recordings on my phone of me just sitting at the bus stop humming and making up little melodies. Then for guitar I just sit there and I write them. I usually like to be alone when I write songs and sometimes I just rip off pop songs and I make them into pop punk songs or whatever. When I was younger I was in an all girl band in high school called Moron Says What, that was a very collaborative thing and it was very much going to practice and writing a song together and kind of critiquing it all the time which would get us nowhere. So now I just write a song by myself and I bring it to James and then I say ‘this is the song’. Here it is. Or he’ll bring me some songs and I’ll be like ‘I don’t like this bit, I don’t like this bit, but I love this bit, let’s work on it’. 


Carb On Carb is a two piece with just yourself and James. How do you make the songs sound like a full band?

We used to just play through a guitar amp and it sounded really flat. Just like a guitar and drums and it was pretty shambolic. Now we play with a huge pedalboard. It’s got this pog pedal which is an octave pedal and you click on that and it makes the same notes you’re playing, just an octave lower or an octave higher. It makes it really bassy. Really good. We have this other pedal that’s a loop pedal and we just loop guitar lines through that. So if I do a little noodly guitar line, I loop that and then I play stuff over the top so it sounds like there are 2 guitarists. We have an overdrive pedal for distortion and we also plug in through the bass amp now. We run a guitar amp and a bass amp now not just a guitar amp anymore and we use a splitter pedal for that.


What sort of themes do you explore through your music and lyrics and what inspires your songwriting?

I think, when I first started writing music it was very much songs about my dog, how much I love my dog, and stuff like that. I still love that. Then I wrote some angry songs, because I was 22 and I was angry at men and the world. Now I write songs for my friends. This album we’ve put out is songs about the struggles I’ve been through and the struggles my friends have been through and trying to uplift people. It’s very much a coming to terms with growing up and also continuing to grow and learn. You just keep learning and you keep bettering yourself instead of just being stagnant and staying still. It’s always good to keep going and learn new things and also meet new people and have different experiences about different people.


What do you as an artist stand for?

I just want to inspire other people like me and young people. I want to make sure that people who come and see me play and consume my art feel nice afterwards or they feel happy or sad or something. I just want people to feel something. I stand for feeling things.


Carb On Carb are a busy touring band. How did things get to this point where you’re spending most of your time touring?

It’s quite hard in New Zealand, we don’t have a good living wage. We have a very bad working situation and it’s really hard to find jobs, so there’s not really much keeping us tied down to it yet. Except for my amazing family and friends, there’s no reason really to be slogging it out working a minimum wage job for $16 an hour when I can come to Australia and pursue my dreams and play shows and get paid okay for it and then just go back home and do fun stuff. I’m just at this point in my life where you kind of have to just go for it and i’m really lucky I’ve got really supportive friends and family and when I don’t have the money I will just stay at friends houses or family houses, which I’m doing at the moment. It just doesn’t make sense to go live in New Zealand and work like a dog and get nothing for it and then not even be happy. 


Where else have you been?

Lots of places. We went to China, Singapore, Malaysia, The States. We’ve been all around Australia - even Perth, and New Zealand obviously.


Do you have plans to go elsewhere?

Only Australia at the moment because it makes the most sense money wise but if something comes up I’d love to go to Europe.


You were recently involved with the organisation of the first ever Girls Rock Aotearoa. Tell us about the experience.

Basically I had the idea for a while. I saw Girls Rock camps happening in The States for a while and thought they looked amazing and exactly what I wanted to do. I want to teach kids how to play music and I also want to teach young women and trans and non-binary kids to just be really confident in themselves and be happy and also critical of the world. Then a friend of mine told me about a camp happening in Canberra. I went and I made some of the best friends there and had the best time ever and then in New Zealand it turns out there were a couple of other people who had the same idea. We all just met up, we hung out, worked really hard for an entire year, trying to get funding, trying to get everything sorted, trying to get kids applying and stuff… and it happened! We did it January this year and it was awesome but very hard work and I loved it. It was really good. Very rewarding. It was everything that we all wanted and the best compliment we received was “this was what I wish was around when I was a kid”. So I think we’ve done well because that’s what I want. I want to create the world that we wish we grew up in. That was really sweet. It’s the best.


What is the biggest obstacle you face when expressing yourself creatively?

I think the biggest obstacle is myself. Always doubting yourself. I think that’s a thing we’re conditioned to do - is just be doubtful of your talent, but I think that’s just a very easy hurdle to jump. I mean it can be very hard at times but when I have very nice supportive people around me it makes it a lot easier.


What is the best piece of advice you could give to young women and queer folk who want to make art or music or just be seen and heard?

Probably just don’t really worry about what other people think. Just putting yourself out there is a huge thing to do and even if it isn’t perfect - even if it isn’t exactly what you wanted to be out there - it’s always good to just put yourself out there and take that step forward because that’s the hardest thing to take that first step. Then everything after that is easier. Just try and have a thick skin I guess. Taking the first step is the hardest but it gets better.

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