The Verlaines were formed (in any sort of meaningful way) in 1981 by a young Dunedin student Graeme Downes. First appearing on the now infamous Dunedin Double EP, which launched the career of several Flying Nun bands. Since then, the band, named after French poet Paul Verlaine, have released nine albums, countless singles and an EP while gathering fans around the world with songs that combine classical composition, romanticism and pop.
After a series of singles and an EP, the band released their first full-length album Hallelujah - All the Way Home in 1985. Just like their early releases, at the heart of these songs were tales of drunkards and romantics all punctuated by guitar blasts and instrumental flourishes. It was the perfect debut for a band that would continue on for over 30-years to a career, filled with constantly building intensity, all the while refusing to stick to one pitch or tone. Even the more straightforward songs can’t help but take unexpected turns, and it is no wonder that tracks such as “The Ballad of Harry Noryb” and “Phil Too?” rapidly became highlights of any Verlaines’ show.
By 1987, the band was ready for album number two, and for many the resulting Bird Dog is considered to be their finest work. It features both some of the bands’ most uplifting and introspective work. Built around mournful ballads and explosive guitar strumming, the album is unforgettable and unmistakably the Verlaines. Yet, despite its complexity, Bird Dog sounds effortless and is a testament to the band’s craftsmanship and Graeme Downes’ sophisticated song writing abilities.
In between the two albums, the band and Flying Nun decided to release a compilation of their early singles and EPs. First released in 1987, and reissued in 1993 with bonus tracks, it opens with the irrepressible ‘Death and the Maiden’, a song that for many is archetypal of the group’s deft ability to capture a pop hook. The album also features their first two tracks, ‘Angela’ and ‘Crisis After Crisis’, recorded on Chris Knox’s infamous four track and released on the Dunedin Double EP. It was a showcase of the unstoppable song writing skills of vocalist/guitarist Graeme Downes. From the single ‘Doomsday’ through to their perfect love song ‘Joed Out’, it had all the elegant and often magnificently moody elements of the Verlaines.
For their third release, Some Disenchanted Evening, Graeme Downes and co. decided to take a more traditional rock approach to song writing. The result was eleven tracks, stripped-back to reveal the gossamer beauty that underlies the band - - and one that could be bitterly sardonic at times. By this stage, the Verlaines were developing an international following, as their intricate pop songs caught the ear of college radio listeners and other fans around the world. Eventually leading to the release of Ready To Fly (1991) and Way Out Where (1993) on US label Slash. Having gone through multiple line-ups over the years, the band then went on an extended hiatus, before Downes gathered together the troops for 1997’s Over The Moon. However it was not till 2003 that they released another record on Flying Nun, with their career retrospective You’re Too Obscure For Me, which was followed up a few years later by Pot Boiler (2007). Which proved, that after over three decades of making music, Downes maintains the innate ability to mould sophisticated pop and swinging melodies.
Despite all the changes, and with songwriter and guitarist Graeme Downes (now the senior lecturer of contemporary rock music at the University of Otago in Dunedin) still at the helm, the band continues to regularly record with new album Untimely Meditations out now.