Here I was thinking I was cliché.

11 Apr

We play music well in New Zealand.

For most local musicians, attracting the star manager, trendy label, famous producer, and proactive publisher are all inspiring milestones on an exciting journey to extraordinary debt.

So when I say we ‘play music well’, what I really mean is we’re good sports about it. Eventually, we all get real jobs, and our bands break up, and we start new bands, and sometimes we play to a heaving Kings Arms, and sometimes we play at a friend-of-a-friend-of-a-friend’s birthday party in the courtyard of his girlfriend’s coffee shop. We get paid and we pay for things. The nights roll into one another and everything seems to swell around an album release date. We meet people who want to help us with the next album and we have meetings with them.

But we all eventually come to understand that trying to turn a profit in the local music industry is like trying to have sex on ecstasy. No matter how close you think you are, you’re embarrassingly mistaken.

The recreation is the reward.

New Zealand’s lack of popstars is one of the reasons our local product has been dismissed for so long by local radio, and in turn the public ear. Our musical icons are strictly limited in numbers and it seems a difficult set to join for anyone who is not the childspawn of a pre-existing popstar (see: Liam).

So if it’s so hard to ascend to musical infamy, and even harder to turn a profit, what gets New Zealand musicians out of bed in the morning?

The truth is, there is an important legacy in this country to uphold – one that was born knowing it was never going to make any money. This has given artists the freedom to fail. It inspires musicians to veer away from commercially-proven formulas. It encourages songwriters to release their ideas with a raw and refreshing lack of polish, and it commands the respect of audiences, even when performed on an intimate scale.

Of course, this theory won’t satisfy all.

There will be those who work with music, or want to work with music, or who have bought Herne Bay houses with the royalties from music. Some of these people will have facilitated New Zealand music, financed it, promoted it, and distributed it to the world.

But even the most financially successful of them will tell you that the New Zealand music industry is no place to seek one’s fortune. The money is a byproduct of a lifetime sacrificed to the act of music. The recreation is the reward.

Forget popstars. Maybe if there’s one thing New Zealand could strive to be 100% pure at, it’s our musical integrity. Your move, New Zealand On Air.

But that’s an argument for another post (and one that many have discussed in great detail). In fact, this is where I plan to depart this whole music subject for a while. Another advertising awards season is approaching and I must redirect my focus to which Account Manager is tonight dressed by Zambesi and other such nonsense.

So as hard as it’ll be to finish so abruptly, and as likely as I am to have to omit some important names, I’m going to try and leave one last list. This one is dedicated to some of the hardest-working local musicians I haven’t got around to featuring yet, many of whom battle regularly with the concept of sending their labour out into a world that may never want to pay for it.

My advice? Go to see some of these kids play live some time, and take home a record just to show ’em you believe in them.

I was fortunate enough to be in the same US city as Timothy Blackman while he put the finishing touches on his album Everyone Needs Something To Hold On To. So my first listen was through laptop speakers in a darkened hotel room, which even now seems the perfect setting for this earnest collection of songs about emotional and physical distance, coupled with the crippling introspection that comes with letting go. The years abroad have greatly influenced Tim’s craft, which has lead to a more ambitious (yet meticulously pared-back) album. If I were making a feature film about a modern love whose spirit transcends oceans, while manifesting itself in a pathological distrust and mutual infidelity, this album would be my soundtrack. Umm, anyone want to help me write a movie?

Luckless stands on the cusp of an album release with a perspective strengthened by the confidence that only comes from a successful reinvention. Every song in Ivy’s set has been carefully assembled to affect an air of doomed mystique, an aesthetic that seems for some reason to be otherwise absent in the Auckland scene. Over the last few years, Ivy has been brave enough to discard songs in batches to make room for new ones. It sounds an exhausting process when you say it like that, but if the rest of her live set translates to record as well as this first single does, hers will be a very exciting album indeed.

While we Aucklanders thought we had our ears to the ground, the French For Rabbits EP, Claimed By The Sea snuck up on us all. Maybe that’s because this EP sounds like it should have been made in Kingsland, with its dreamy blend of twee folk pop and reassuring shoegaze. But alas, this band hails from the land of post-ironic-hip-hop and improvised-meditation-beats, the rebelliously cool, yet infinitely restless, Wellington. I think if I lived in Wellington it would be nice to roll down my t-shirt sleeves a while, hole up somewhere cosy, sip a hot chocolate and listen to this EP.

Cool Rainbows is a solo project that has recently exploded in both scale and sound. With his new album Whale Rocket, Djeisan Suskov takes a very natural next step in wake of the exceptional but (presumably) long-defunct Trees Climbing Trees.

As far as I am concerned, Tiny Ruins can do no wrong. It’s hard to imagine how Hollie could improve the collection of songs you’ll find on her album Some Were Meant For The Sea. You can hear in Hollie’s songs a level of perfection that is only achieved by tirelessly dragging them between live venues.

The first time I saw Paquin I swore I’d never play guitar in front of a crowd again. Tom Healy has brought his artistic touch to local music in all kinds of ways, but his own band is thusfar my favourite of his projects. Even before the songwriting, there is a level of musicianship here, a level of sonic understanding, an appreciation of dynamic effects and textures, that sets this band apart from any other band I’ve seen. If Paquin is where the Auckland sound is heading, I am more than happy to run along behind the bandwagon.

I’ve heard Simon Comber described as the best lyricist in the country, but I worry the description detracts from his musicianship and musical craftsmanship. Simon has adopted dozens of the lessons left by the masters of Flying Nun and provided them a sophisticated, modern home. He’s also built up a highly-respected back catalogue, and made fans of a league of highly-respected musicians.

I began this series of posts by saying there is nothing more important than the music that is being made right here and right now. But Dictaphone Blues is a local band that seems in many ways to transcend New Zealand music, and in some ways, this decade. Ed’s brand of psychedelic pop is unusually clear in its vision. Live, these guys are masters of the art. But as much as I love watching them play, I always leave with a nagging feeling that Dictaphone Blues would be even more captivating on a bigger stage. Seeing them open for Broken Social Scene certainly cemented that. I honestly believe they’d hold their own on Letterman. Somebody call Letterman. Do it.

This was post 3/3 on the subject of New Zealand’s local musical product.
Read post 1/3: If There Was A Movie About The Two-Thousands This Would Be A Scene
Read post 2/3: Fire On The Radio In Your Hotel


One Response to “Here I was thinking I was cliché.”


  1. Fire on the radio in your hotel. « The Shortest Word. - April 11, 2012

    […] Categories Uncategorized ← If there was a movie about the two-thousands this would be a scene. Here I was thinking I was cliché. → […]

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