Russell Baillie writes about movies for the Herald

Roger Shepherd recalls his life with the Flying Nun label

This year’s big important NZ rock book has arrived and it’s by the guy who founded Flying Nun. Here, he comes Clean about why and how he wrote it.
Roger Shepherdfounder of Flying Nun and author of book In Love with These Times.
Roger Shepherdfounder of Flying Nun and author of book In Love with These Times.

The man who wrote the book on releasing alternative music in New Zealand and the wider world has now and gone and done just that.

Roger Shepherd, founder of the Flying Nun label, looks back at his life and career in the music business in his own rock'n'roll memoir.

In Love with These Times: My Life with Flying Nun Records is the story of how Shepherd went from Christchurch record shop guy to releasing records by The Clean, the Verlaines, Straitjacket Fits, Headless Chickens, The Bats, The Chills and many more from the 80s on.

The Clean.
The Clean.

It's also the story of the struggle to maintain the label's financial health and alternative integrity as Shepherd took the label to the UK under the wing of Australian backers, Mushroom Records and his departure from the company he founded, along with its revival in recent years.

But it's more than a rockbiz account. Shepherd charts his own life from quirky Aranui kid to teenage punk convert to, eventually, a music industry refugee and family man.

Shepherd writes frankly about dealing with the manic depression that had affected his life and career.

But most of In Love with These Times is a DIY story - about how his appreciation and excitement for the South Island bands of the post-punk era - especially The Clean - somehow became the greatest back catalogue in Kiwi rock.

We asked Shepherd a few questions about the book ...

So you've written a book. Which must be a satisfying feeling. But how are you feeling about it going out into the world and people reading it?

I started off writing it as a sedate little affair along the lines of a sensible "the history of my life and Flying Nun and whatnot" plan I had devised, but I soon found it had a life of its own. Writers talk about finding their voice and I think I found mine and fortunately there was only one of them and I was familiar and comfortable with it. It was me.

And what do you think those involved in various Flying Nun acts over the years will think of the book? Do you care?

Part of the initial sedate approach was about caring too much. But soon enough I could see that it had a life of its own and that largely revolved around being honest and truthful about how I saw things. This largely manifested itself in focusing on my own life and failings and if some other people got sucked into that, so be it.

I think I am a soft all-forgiving fan at heart and that was what Flying Nun was built on. So if I speak plainly or honestly about someone else then yes I really do mean it. Let's keep in mind I am writing about the music business and yes, I have met many plonkers and some tragically self-destructive talents as well.

But generally I dwell on the good sorts, Chris Knox, Doug Hood, The Clean, the helpers, all of the bands, the good people who worked in the Flying Nun office, the ones who made it all happen in such a spontaneous and wonderfully great way.

This book works because I realised I had to write my story rather than worry about everyone else's. Of course I care and I want to see those other stories heard very much.

The Headless Chickens.
The Headless Chickens.

In the book you discuss some of your own mental health issues. Did that take some bravery to write about? Was writing the book therapeutic in itself?

In hindsight I can see that the whole Flying Nun adventure wouldn't have happened without my manic depression. Only a mad person would have undertaken such a foolhardy scheme and then stuck with it.

But back then it was largely a subtle influence that slightly altered my perceptions regarding risk. I was slowly marching on Moscow but not trying to kill any civilians in the process. I am what is called a rapid cycling manic depressive.

Up and down very quickly. The ups were productive and rather enjoyable but I wouldn't recommend the downs. I was diagnosed when I lived in the UK, when my wife noticed that sometimes I wasn't so much delightfully eccentric as downright barking.

We had children and it needed to be sorted and it was with the default but little understood medication, Lithium. And as they say, drinking is like throwing petrol on the fire, and I always liked a drink. So I stopped.

I'm not sure writing the book was in itself therapeutic but I certainly did learn a lot in the writing of it. I got better at writing, organising myself and concentrating as it went on and all that self absorption and reflection did make me understand myself a whole lot better. It has been a good thing.

Knowing what you know now, what advice would you give the Roger Shepherd of 1981?

Tricky question. In 1981 there was no one in New Zealand who could give advice because there was no proper music business and everyone was remarkably ignorant, unwise and naive. I could say "be a real bastard" and really push for the best dollar so more income flowed back to the bands through harder-arsed deals.

Of course I would not have had any understanding about what I was being told and simply ignored the advice and if I had taken it on board it would have all been over within the month.

The Verlaines.
The Verlaines.

If the book was a Flying Nun album, EP or a Flying Nun song, which one would it be - other than, that is, I'm in Love with These Times?

In Love With These Times rang true as a title because of the ironic nature of the song, lyrically and musically. Best of times and the worst of times etc. Initially I liked the sound of Hold On To the Rail but ultimately I wasn't ready to be writing that particular book just yet. Many would see the wisdom in calling it after the Verlaines' song Crisis After Crisis.

Personally my appreciation of music has never been hugely lyric-focused. To be honest most rock lyrics are appalling so I like the sounds of loud guitars over the top of a weighty determined rhythm section with a few abstract mumbled words to mix it up, or is that to focus things, I get confused. Electrified guitar noise and loud is how I like it.

Yep, I still rather enjoy giving people the fingers while blatting down the motorway at 100km/h plus while listening to The Clean Point That Thing Somewhere Else, but I do it in a much more sober and sane way now.


Who: Roger Shepherd, the founder of the Flying Nun label
What: His memoir In Love with These Times: My Life with Flying Nun Records
When: Out now on Harper Collins, $36.99

- TimeOut

Get the news delivered straight to your inbox

Receive the day’s news, sport and entertainment in our daily email newsletter


© Copyright 2016, NZME. Publishing Limited

Assembled by: (static) on production apcf04 at 28 Oct 2016 13:02:55 Processing Time: 860ms