Cult guitarist Roy Montgomery on Flying Nun, grief and embracing mistakes: ‘It’s an existential thing’

Beloved by the likes of Dry Cleaning and Grouper, Montgomery’s life has been hit by more than one tragedy, stories he traces in meditative instrumentals

‘I consider the music moonlighting’ … Roy Montgomery.
‘I consider the music moonlighting’ … Roy Montgomery. Photograph: Maeve Montgomery McCarthy

While travelling through the US in 1994-5, Roy Montgomery recorded two albums, Scenes from the South Island and Temple IV, which would set the tone for three decades of maverick work by the quietly avuncular New Zealand guitarist. “My partner Jo had died in 1992, and I felt I owed it to her to travel and deal with what had happened,” he says, via Zoom from his home in Christchurch. “I sub-let an apartment in New York from a friend with a four-track recorder and lots of effects. It was lonely, like solitary confinement, but it was good that I just sat there and processed what had happened, and turned it into something.”

The mesmeric guitar instrumentals he recorded in that apartment marked a turning point in Montgomery’s fitful musical career. Thirteen years earlier, his band Pin Group had released the first single on now-legendary independent label Flying Nun, later home to key Kiwi underground artists the Clean, the Chills and the Verlaines. Pin Group’s post-punk primitivism – which earned him the nickname “Roy Division” – was shaped by Montgomery’s realisation that he “wasn’t wired to be a virtuoso, so I should concentrate on ideas and experimentation”.

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