I finished school in Hawke’s Bay and moved to Wellington for University. I didn’t really know exactly what I wanted to do – but I was always interested in writing, so I figured I’d be a journalist. My plan was to do a BA in English and then apply to journalism school. In my second year at Vic I decided I would get some writing experience. And I headed to Salient. And I wasn’t really sure that I could write features or interviews – or anything really. I’d published a few stories in the school yearbook, I’d contributed one or two articles to the local free weekly rag. And I wrote poems. Heaps and heaps of poems.
I figured I’d be able to sell myself as a music reviewer at Salient – based on always being obsessed with music, from the age of about five or six. It turned out the editor that year had gone to my high school, and he let me review a couple of albums. I then reviewed some films too – it seemed to be going okay…
The next year, I carried this on – and figured I’d try and get some work elsewhere, so wrote to NZ Musician mag – a freebie that focuses entirely on local stuff – and as I was writing my intro letter to try and sell myself I figured that I better try and have an angle. I told the editor that I had been reviewing for Salient, and told some lies, and said I was the main reviewer – which was not even close to true, I think I’d done four or five reviews max, at that stage. I also wrote that I had “specialist jazz and blues knowledge”. Of course I didn’t, but I was – and still am – a fan of those genres. It worked. The editor wrote back, sending me a couple of CDs and telling me that he was “taking me on my word as a jazz and blues specialist!” For the first time, I had a deadline and a word limit. I had to write these two jazz albums up for NZ Musician and I had to do it in 150 words each. It was so hard. I spent hours trimming my reviews down from 500 words to 300 to 200 to 180, 160, 157, 153…
But I ended up doing reviews for NZ musician every issue for a couple of years.
Next I wrote to Capital Times (no longer around, a free weekly rag) and scored a column writing about local music. I turned up to an ‘interview’ with a little briefcase. I had nothing to put in it, and no reason to carry it – I added an apple and a couple of CDs, a notepad and a pen – just to give it some sort of weight. I made up the idea on the spot that I could cover the local scene with a regular column. It’s the sort of thing you see in movies or read about in books. So you give it a whirl, you know…
This got me writing some CD reviews too and reviewing a few gigs but my column was hard to keep going. And I resorted to making up bands that didn’t exist. I enjoyed myself. And when things got tense because they were receiving letters saying things like “how come we’ve never heard of this band _____”. I would kill off the made-up group. And use my next column to talk about how Wellington had missed its chance and due to personal differences ________ had broken up. Ridiculous.
I had the beginnings of a portfolio, so I ditched my BA while I was about halfway through – and applied to the local journalism school. I had been doing some other writing around this time too, I did some news stories for Salient, and I was getting poetry published in a few small journals and in a couple of notable places too. Even some short stories…
And though I was enjoying writing reviews, I really still just saw it as a chance to boost up my list of published writing and create a bit of a track-record.
I was accepted into journalism school – but I had an idiot-year. I dipped out. Took it personally when the head of the school told me to stop wasting my time writing reviews. Besides, the shorthand classes were at 8am or something!? I went back to varsity. Then dipped out of varsity – and decided I was going to be a music-writer. Whatever that was.
It was a pretty stupid thing to want to be.
When I couldn’t get enough work I joined some covers bands, made a living for a while touring around the North Island playing in an Irish band. There was also work in a few music stores, back when they existed, a couple of bookstores too. And, briefly, a video store, pre-DVD days.
One day, I emailed the person that I figured was in charge of the reviews at the Evening Post, a paper that existed in Wellington for a time before merging with the morning Dominion to become The Dominion Post. I told the person in charge that he was a great reviewer – and then went on to say that everyone else that reviewed for the paper was terrible.
I got a phone call within five minutes of sending this potentially damning, impassioned and utterly absurd email…
And the guy said, “so, you think you’re pretty good, huh?” To which, I very timidly squeaked, “ah, yeah, kinda…” And he told me that if I thought I was so good, I should go up to his office and collect a pile of crap CDs that no one there wanted to touch. The assignment was to review them all in one week. So I did. About 30 CDs, 135 words on each. It was a big assignment. I went for it. Loved it.
This was 2001. When the papers merged, I figured I was toast. I’d done about two gig reviews. I remember my flatmate asked me if I could try get tickets to see Fear Factory since he was a huge fan. I tried. It turned out that was exactly the sort of gig that no one else at the paper really wanted to touch. I had runs on the board as a gig reviewer. But would it last when the new paper was created?
Well, I got more work. Though to call it work is pushing it – I reviewed CDs for no money. And gigs paid a tiny amount. It took months to arrive. Invoicing at their end was a disaster. They would lose your invoice – tell you it was made out wrong, try any old thing, including arguing that you’d in fact been paid. It was pretty easy for them to see I hadn’t. They need only look at my clothes.
The main thing though – as I saw it – was that I got to carry on. I did a few features, interviewed a couple of people, more and more gig reviews, some book reviews again. Whatever I could and whatever they needed. And always on time. Deadline was sacred.
Then came some TV and radio work as a reviewer, also other newspapers and magazines, some book reviews, a wee stint doing theatre criticism (which I loved), occasional film and DVD reviews too, the odd feature or interview/profile…always just chipping away.
I wrote under a pen-name for a while and had this insane year (2008) where I was doing a Saturday morning chat on Newstalk ZB, I was on the Good Morning TV show, I wrote for the Dom Post, I was back doing reviews for NZ Musician, other freelancing included Rip It Up and Real Groove, and I had my blog at Stuff…oh, I also had a full-time job. So it was quite an insane schedule.
There was also a stint writing advertorial-type stuff and restaurant reviews, almost any job going that involved a bit of writing.
But the big thing – really – was the blog at Stuff. It grew. And grew. And then it grew rather eventually got some. It wasn’t ever much, but the started paying. I worked full time and wrote the blog at nights. Often really late at night.
When my son was born someone wrote a comment “good luck managing a blog every day with a kid in the house” – that was all the motivation I needed. I thought of that on the nights when I was exhausted, and I kept filing my copy. I never missed a day after Oscar was born. I wrote. And wrote. I talked on the radio. The TV gig carried on for a bit – until the show was moved to Auckland, then eventually cancelled.
Oh yeah, then Penguin contacted me about writing a book. I didn’t know much about that – but I guess it was always an idea, a dream, whatever…
I wrote On Song in a few months all up – counting research and interviews. I wrote the first chapter when Oscar was one week old. It was published about a month or so before he turned one.
That in itself is now a decade ago.
Nearly a decade ago I started this website – for all the leftovers! I was bored of getting paid nothing to write about quite shitty music for the paper so I stopped reviewing CDs for them and started writing about things I felt like writing about here. I’ve been at that ever since.
I’ve added in my own poems and stories and blog posts – I can do whatever I like. So why not.
The goal, when I started the site, was to earn something from advertising. But years of saying that certain sacred cows were definitely for the slaughter meant it was hard to draw any sponsorship or ad-dollars. So this quickly sunk down into being a passion project. I sunk down into full-time work, and then quit that to be a stay-at-home dad. That was going so well.
And I even got a chance to write about being a dad. I loved this! I wrote a handful of columns for The Spinoff – when they had a parenting section. One of them was about that Robbie Williams incident. Robbie didn’t like my review of his gig. This was 2015. It blew up, briefly. Was a whole thing. And the paper – and Stuff – really didn’t have my back. When I wrote a parenting column for the Spinoff, a year after the review, I was fired on the spot by Fairfax. No phone call, no (real) reason. Just “thanks for your column, we don’t need it anymore”.
By that point, I’d started a podcast. I love doing my podcast. If I could earn anything from it at all I’d be so thrilled. But it’s just not what happens. And I’m a shit businessperson – as you’ll know from what you’re reading now, if not earlier.
So with no freelancing money at all, and no job (just being a stay at home dad – which I still loved) I decided to go all in on the podcast.
And I’m still doing that. Nearly 300 episodes now. I wrote up some interviews still – but preferred now to record them and share them.
I returned to full time work, then dipped out again – well, I kept working, just a different kind of work. I became, for a brief time, a nanny. I loved this job. I looked after a wee child that needed special care and I loved my time doing that. Writing could fit in and around it. So could podcast interviews.
The great plan was to research and write a biography of Phil Judd. Or a book about him – if not an actual biography. I got Phil’s blessing. And hours of him on tape. I met with some of the other ex-Enzers and some of those interviews, or bits of them, are part of the podcast series. But I couldn’t find a publisher, and the sliver of a deal that I thought I had went south. And I can’t afford to write the book that I want to write. Time-wise, money-wise. It is on the shelf. Indefinitely. I still want to tell that story somehow, in some way, one day.
Every day I find something to write for this site. I’m slowing down on music reviews. But the poems have really started to tumble out again the last few years. I haven’t tried to fight it. So I publish them here. And then I started doing open-mics and readings again. And I even released a book of poems.
Oh yeah, there are some e-books too. They’ve basically been a disaster. Lol.
The new venture this year is Substack – a subscription newsletter that goes direct to inboxes. The people that receive it in their inbox pay a wee sub to me. I’m grateful that anyone does this. Blown away. But at the same time, it’s hard work for not much all up. You feel like you’re cap in hand, always.
I turn up for radio segments at RNZ – reviewing albums, doing longer-form features. Again, I love this work. I’d do it always if I could. But radio requires many voices. And they don’t want mine fulltime. That’s okay. I guess. It has to be…
And every now and then someone asks me to write something for somewhere else. I recently wrote about New Zealand movie soundtracks for a film publication. I’ve had a job writing promotional record reviews for a store. I sometimes do transcriptions.
Every day I try to write something. Every night I post something.
I should slow down. I know that. I should stop. Probably. In some ways I feel like I have. In other ways I feel like that could never happen, will never happen and I get told that I’m writing more passionately than ever before.
That’s very nice to hear. It’s an amazing feeling to know you’ve been read.