From the agricultural swamplands of Hamilton, New Zealand, Disjecta Membra was formed in December of 1993 by Michel Rowland, in the garage of friend and neighbour, Dave Jones. Between April ’94 and March ’95, Michel (vocals, guitars, misc) and Dave (bass, keys, misc) recorded Disjecta Membra’s earliest demos.
Encouraged by hearing themselves on local student radio, a live trio was formed with the addition of Paul Kennedy on second guitar and keys, with bassist Ben Cauchi stepping into Jones’ shoes from July 1995. Unable to find a drummer, the plot was resolved with the introduction of a Kawai R-50 drum-machine, dubbed Deus ex Machina.
Cutting teeth on Bauhaus, Banshees, Joy Division and Cure covers alongside staple originals, between ’95 and ’96 the band steadily built up a live following in Auckland, Hamilton, Wellington and Christchurch.
Ben and Michel formed the core of Disjecta Membra-ship during this period as other bandmates came and went; Kennedy left to pursue a fruitful career in music industry services, replaced briefly by Scott Barnett. With producer Dave Lowndes of Theta Productions, near the end of 1995, Michel and Ben recorded Disjecta Membra’s ‘Theta Sessions EP’ demo tape, self-released in February 1996. The demo caught the attention of Paul Cook at Heartland Records in Melbourne, Australia, who offered the band an album deal.
Tamlyn Martinovich settled into the role of live keyboardist/occasional second bassist in mid ’96, while an upgraded Deus ex Machina (now a Dr Rhythm DR-5) also took on extra synth and sequencing duties. Near the end of the year, Disjecta Membra re-entered the studio with Dave Lowndes to produce the promo-single ‘Cauldron of Cerridwen’, followed by the album ‘Achromaticia’, before the band relocated to the nation’s capital of Wellington to see in the New Year.
The single version of ‘Cauldron of Cerridwen’ appeared on the Heartland label sampler ‘A Bouquet of Barbed Wire’ in February of 1997, followed by the release of ‘Achromaticia’ in July. Further promo tracks lifted from the album included ‘Skin Trade’ and the Deus ex Machina remix of ‘Cathedral’, appearing on various compilations issued by Heartland and their UK partners Nightbreed Recordings between ’97 and ‘98.
‘Achromaticia’ and its singles attracted invaluable support from specialist club DJs, radio shows and fanzines in the UK, US, Germany and Australia, ultimately securing the album’s international fan-base and Disjecta Membra’s long-standing reputation as New Zealand’s front-runners in the ‘gothic rock’ genre.
Perhaps more enduring than the promotional singles, however, was the band’s cover version of ‘Rats’ by The Haunting; an early nineties goth/post-punk band from Hamilton, New Zealand, who had been a significant influence on the formation of Disjecta Membra. ‘Rats’ remains a firm favourite with Disjecta Membra followers today, and one of the few songs from the album that the band still play live at the majority of shows.
Ben and Tamlyn each took their leave of the band over the course of 1997. Jacob Sullivan replaced Cauchi for the Achromaticia promotional tour of New Zealand (July-August ’97), simultaneously fronting touring support band, Reserved For Emily. Shortly afterwards, Michel and Jacob also recorded the one-off compilation track ‘Antoinette Marionette’, joined by guest string players, and produced by the band’s touring sound engineer, Mark ‘Hideebeast’ Hamill of Head Like A Hole (HLAH).
Years later, ahead of the Achromaticia Twentieth Anniversary re-issue (2017), live footage from Jacob Sullivan’s time in the group (April 97-February 98) was compiled to give ‘Cauldron of Cerridwen’ an "official" video (Ben Cauchi-era video having all been lost or degraded beyond retrieval).
1998 saw Disjecta Membra reconfigured as a five-piece band, while recording got underway for a projected follow-up album, ‘Sibylline Leaves’. Hamill left HLAH and shifted to an electronic drumkit, becoming Disjecta Membra’s first live drummer, while doubling as producer for the new album sessions. Guitarist Barnaby ‘Barnowl’ Dromgool and bassist Jason ‘Jaz’ Murphy were both co-opted from Jordan Reyne’s band, Dr Kevorkian, while Croatian-born classical pianist Petra ‘Pee’ Škorić replaced Martinovich behind the keyboard stand.
Live highlights included playing support for Death In June’s only New Zealand show, amid the usual array of goth/punk/fringe events between Wellington and Auckland from 1998-2000. Barney quit the band in December of ’98 and was briefly replaced with Vivian Stewart, before Alex Mein Smith became a more stable feature from 1999-2000. But ongoing personality clashes and the oft-noted “revolving door policy” on membership had taken their toll, and efforts to complete the ‘Sibylline Leaves’ album were ultimately abandoned.
“Some have described Disjecta Membra’s leader Michel as controversial, others painful and arrogant. Is he New Zealand's answer to Andrew Eldritch? Is Disjecta Membra ‘Michel and The Hired Goons’? A membership spill – just one of many if Disjecta Membra myth is to be believed – caused the wheels to fall off.”
– Haydn Black, Aether Sanctum (Australia)
Frustrated, Michel left Wellington, joining Auckland band Winterland on guitar.