Twelve Questions: Mike Chunn

Mike Chunn, 61, was a member of Split Enz and formed Citizen Band with his brother, Geoff. He quit performing when his agoraphobia made travelling impossible. He now heads the Play It Strange Trust which teaches songwriting to schoolchildren.

Mike Chunn says playing music with his sons and close friends helps ease 
his disappointment at missing out on earlier performances.  Photo / Dean Purcell
Mike Chunn says playing music with his sons and close friends helps ease his disappointment at missing out on earlier performances. Photo / Dean Purcell

1. How do rock stars age?

We're lucky. In my social circle, as youngsters we all wanted to be All Blacks. And we still go quiet when they walk in the room. I recently met Waka Nathan. I went to Howick to pick him up and you could see [rugby] was still an integral part of his life but he can't play it any more. He can't run out on the field. But I can. I can put my bass on and go play ENZSO concerts with Eddie Rayner - we played better than ever in those because we're not trying to play and be rich and be good, we're just trying to be good. Being old and being a musician, there's no downside to it.

2. What do you miss most about performing?

I miss everything about performing. My phobic disorder robbed me of a life of performances. My heart still holds an angry spirit from my head overriding it when I was 28. Mind you, I play enough now to quiet the disappointment within. I usually play with my sons and a few dear friends. We're not too bad, you know.

3. How did agoraphobia affect you?

It's the fear of what you are leaving, not the fear of what you're going to, which is what most people think it is. It's the fear of being somewhere where you can't get back to somewhere safe. Auckland was the safe place for me. I lived with it for 18 years but didn't have a name for it until 1984. I thought I had a mental illness or madness. I got it at a time when I was having a deeply stressful experience and a couple of drug stimulants made me susceptible. It was 1974. I had a big panic attack in Wellington and that was the start. Planes were the worst for me. I've turned back from a plane door, walked back to the airport lounge to have another vodka, surreptitiously because it's 8.40am, then back to the door, back to the lounge again. In the end the plane flew off without me and I was drunk. Drunk but happy.

4. Did the Split Enz guys know what was going on?

I was brilliantly secretive. When I left the band my son was 2 years old and [they] thought I couldn't hack the pace. The other clever thing I did was to secure an endless stream of tranquillisers. I'd take them morning and night to ward off panic attacks. I was the sleepy guy in the back of the bus. After I left the band I got back to Auckland and felt good again. So I set up Citizen Band with my brother and before you know it we were playing Wellington and Christchurch and ended up in Sydney and I just couldn't do it.

5. Do you travel these days?

Now I happily travel. I could go to the moon. I've had fear since but I haven't had a panic attack for years. I remember when it left me. I had just got the job as head of the Australasian Performing Rights Association (Apra) and was in Sydney taking tranquillisers, driving along Military Rd. My boss had just said to me "The thing about Apra is security", which I'd never had in my life. And I was driving and thinking "I've got a great job, I can provide for my family" and I felt [the agoraphobia] just leaving me. I can't explain it, but that was the moment.

6. How would you describe the Otahuhu of your childhood?

Otahuhu was in the countryside then and all the trees that are now so big were short and spindly. The late 50s and early 60s found a real lack of adventure there. No trees to want to climb. No one seemed to have big plans. It was super-boring. I was saved by the Beatles. My brother and I spent God knows how many hours sitting around with a guitar and a drum and a piano playing music. I learned the piano but we taught ourselves everything else.

7. What is the worst aspect of living in Auckland today?

Auckland is like Wellington exploded by a giant grenade. There are pockets of character and colour but the connectedness is lacking. One suburb will have an inventiveness. Another danger. Another has people hiding in homes hoping no one builds a corner pub near them. What suburb is that? Remuera [where Chunn lives]. You hear people saying "Oh, I've just been on holiday in Paris and we sat on the footpath drinking Pernod and it was wonderful". Then you get a notice in your letterbox with an application for a liquor licence and they're all, "We're not going to have hoons around here smashing windows".

8. Why do you want to teach kids songwriting?

The idea just came to me one day. I was asked to speak to Year 12 and 13 students at a secondary school and I asked how many played sport, and about 75 per cent put their hands up; and I asked, "How many think you might be able to write a song?" and only two put their hands up. And yet at my 8-year-old daughter's school they all put their hands up for the song. Something happens between those ages. It's the death of the imagination. In New Zealand we just don't have a societal belief in teenagers pursuing crafts of the imagination. The word "song" just wasn't in the New Zealand curriculum.

9. But you and the Finns and Dave Dobbyn and Peter Urlich all went to a very traditional school - why didn't your imaginations die?

We had Brother Ivan who was inspirational. He created a universe for us [at Sacred Heart College]. And we were living in the spotlight shone by the Beatles.

10. Which Split Enz song would you like never to hear again?

I love every one of them. To the bottom of my heart. They are the craftwork of three genii. Though if you asked me to choose between listening to It Never Ceases to Amaze Me and Stuff and Nonsense it will always be Stuff and Nonsense.

11. How would you describe your wildest party?

I know the details of many wild parties that I didn't attend! But there have been wayward, exciting ones, usually with a musical subtext. Last New Year's Eve there was a major sing-along - 12 of us - followed by a mass nude swim at Buckeltons Beach with the tide out. What's so wayward about that, you might ask. But the tide was out!

12. What is the strangest thing about you?

I advocate for singer-songwriters in my world of Play It Strange, but I can't write songs or sing.

- NZ Herald

© Copyright 2014, APN New Zealand Limited

Assembled by: (static) on red akl_n1 at 20 Sep 2014 22:06:47 Processing Time: 670ms