WHATS AN EASTERN?
The Eastern are a string band that roars like a punk band, that swings like a gospel band, that drinks like a country band, that works like a bar band, that hopes like folk singers, and sings love songs like union songs, and writes union songs like love songs, and wants to slow dance and stand on tables, all at the same time. Whether roaring as a thunderous seven-piece band or swinging the loud lonesome sound as a smaller combo and having played over 2000 shows in their storied 15 year ramble, The Eastern can hold it down in all settings for all comers.
The Eastern have played in every nook and corner of the good isles of New Zealand, and have broken strings and dented floors in parts beyond, Australia, Europe and the United States. From Papanui to Portland, Shirley to Switzerland, they’ve seen more than their share of stages, street corners and bars but treat any opportunity to hold it down and play as a gift and one they’d be fools to waste. They play like they mean it, like it’s all they know how do…because they do and it is.
They’ve toured with Steve Earle (twice), the Old Crow Medicine Show (twice) and the Lilʼ Band of Gold as well as opening for everyone from Fleetwood Mac to the Jayhawks to Jimmy Barnes to Justin Townes Earle as well as Hayes Caryll, Jim White, John Doe, Victoria Williams and Vic Chestnut.
Having delivered up four albums (‘The Eastern’, ‘Arrows’, ‘Hope & Wire’ and ‘The Territory’), three e.p.’s, and of course the aforementioned hundreds and hundreds and hundreds shows, The Eastern garnered a reputation as NZ’s hardest working and most honest to goodness band, one that embraced an old-fashioned ethic of people and shows over posts and playlists. They gather converts and friends wherever they or their records land.
Thrillingly the rolling, rambling, spirit raising atmospheres they project in their live shows have endeared them to the hearts of many. It’s obvious they care about the audience as much as the songs.
They make friendships and family wherever their songs and stories ring out. The trust they’ve built between themselves and the folks who come and hear them is something they’re rightly proud of and they remain thrilled and amazed it’s that relationship that has been able to keep their wheels on the road and their bellies fed, not least the fact that as the years pass the threat of their former day jobs coming back to capture them fades back into the ether.
Due to start recording their third album in February 2011 plans were waylaid by the Christchurch earthquake, instead they gathered up friends and singers alike in their home town of Lyttelton (Christchurch’s port) and began work on the charity record ʻThe Harbour Unionʼ, the album debuted in the top 20 of the NZ Chart, was nominated for New Zealand country music album of the year and has proved to be a wonderful vehicle through which The Eastern and their friends can trade music for donations to the Christchurch earthquake fund.
2012 saw the release of ‘Hope and Wire’ their most realized record yet. A bold double album that reached Gold Status, climbed to #2 in the NZ charts, debuted at #1 on the NZ iTunes chart and most importantly endeared itself into the hearts of the bands loyal following. All of this was done on the hint of smell of an oily rag, no marketing budget, no videos, no funding, just the band translating the goodwill they have received into something tangible. Their song ‘State Houses by the River’ became one of APRA’s best five songs of the year and fought it out for the silver scroll songwriting award, one of the rare times a song of social commentary has found itself in such a position in NZ. The Song ‘Hope and Wire’ became the inspiration for Gaylene Preston’s primetime six-part TV drama series about the Christchurch earthquake ‘Hope and Wire’ and the band found themselves not only providing the soundtrack but also starring in the show.
The years following saw the band complete more intensive laps of the country, Australia as well as tours of Europe and beyond. In the middle of all that sustained madness and road work they released their fourth record, ‘The Territory’. Released in October 2015 it hit the NZ charts in the number 2 position and spent 5 weeks in the top 10, became the number 1 country album on the NZ iTunes charts. It picked up reviews that are made the band blush and swell with pride in equal measure. With terms such as “Triumph” and “National treasure” flying about ‘The Territory’ appears destined to hold the strongest place in The Eastern’s canon with No Depression calling it “One of the meatiest albums of the year, from any band, anywhere!” and described the band as “One of the best modern roots acts from any country”.
After a brief spell catching their breath, and with lead writers McGrath and Shanks carving out some solo work, The Eastern are back in the ring and the swing, punching above their weight as ever, shaking hands and cracking stages as they’ve always done, building things for the right reasons always and ever after from the grassroots up. A people’s band playing people songs as honest and as furiously as they can.