Former Zed frontman Nathan King talks to SCOTT KARA about finally heading out under his own name
At 29 years old and "scraping the big 30" Nathan King has a slight hint of grey coming through in his stubble. But with his fluffy helmet hair and boyish face he still looks like he could be in his old band Zed.
In the early 2000s the Christchurch boy rock band's debut, Silencer, sold more than 50,000 copies and songs like Glorafilia and Renegade Fighter made them household names. But the follow-up, 2003's This Little Empire was nowhere near as successful and they split up in 2004 when, as King puts it these days, "we had pretty much come to the end of the road as a band".
While old bandmates Ben Campbell and Andy Lynch went on to form Atlas and release their debut album Reasons For Voyaging last year, little has been heard of King.
Not that he's been kicking back or lacking inspiration. Next week he releases his debut solo album, The Crowd, an album he started recording way back in 2005.
As he noted on one of his Myspace blogs earlier this year: "It feels like a long road."
The story goes that soon after Zed split he did "the impetuous child thing" and went straight into the recording studio with producer Brady Blade - who produced Brooke Fraser's 2003 album What To Do With Daylight - and recorded a bunch of his own songs.
"I quickly figured out I did want to keep writing and recording music and I'm one of those impulse people who just gets in there and does stuff," he says.
He thought the album was ready to go then but realised his recording efforts were a purge of ideas rather than something solid. He's glad he waited. While some songs, like the spiralling and psychedelic The Mystery, have survived from 2005, much of the album was written in the last three years.
During this time he and his wife Rachel moved to London for two years and came back to New Zealand earlier this year in time to have their baby Ruby.
While in London they flatted in Westminster - "We were neighbours with the Queen, which I was quite stoked about. She was only 400m away" - and King gigged, continued writing songs and resorted to cold-calling influential people in the music business. In London this meant talking to lawyers who tend to wield a lot of power in the industry. "I guess they're deal makers and deal breakers. It's really weird."
Basically, King was starting all over again.
He got in touch with John Statham, a lawyer who represents the likes of Oasis and Radiohead.
"We had a meeting with him and he liked it," he says.
Living and working in London also meant he had time to hone his songs and he was never short of people giving him advice on how to make the album better.
"It gave me a chance to really critique what I had done and get some great feedback from a whole bunch of English people, like record companies and management companies. And by the time we got to the end of two years in England I just had this urge to record a bunch of new stuff for two reasons: I couldn't go back to New Zealand with something I recorded two years before, and a whole bunch of new tunes had come about while I was over in England.
"My sound had distilled a little bit and I had a better understanding of what songs I wanted to keep. It was a really hard process, and having to swallow that bitter pill of people saying, 'It's good but keep working'."
Meanwhile, Statham scored King a bunch of showcases and at one of these gigs some people from Ignition Management, the company behind Oasis and Neil Finn, turned up.
"The feedback we kept getting was sonically [the songs] sounded amazing but everyone who heard it was confused about where to peg it. Is it pop? Is it rock? So the album at that stage had a really diverse range of sounds on it, and there were some quirky songs on there which is cool but ..."
But save them for B-sides and bonus tracks?
"Yeah," he laughs. "So I just sat down and began that writing process again with a clearer idea of what I wanted to create rather than blatting out what I thought sounded good. Throw-away pop songs were something I was more into as a teenager and that was quite evident with Zed songs. But there is definitely a lot more gravity to the lyrics of this album now that I've grown up."
The result is a record of big, uplifting and melodic rock songs. "I love wide open sounds. I guess I like cheesy 80s ballads but brought into the noughties - big epic things but in a cool way. So songs like Obvious, the opening track, is quite a big song, and The Mystery was always a special song so I knew that should stay on the album."
The infectious single Never Too Late was one of the last songs he wrote before heading back to New Zealand. "I knew I needed a song that captured the essence of the album and would be a great first [single]. Lyrically, I was at that point of thinking that it's been a really long road and it's important to keep on going."
As he says, it has been a long road, but he's optimistic about the future.
"I'm not ignorant to the fact the next 12 months is quite an important time in my life and quite a lot of the story will be written. So I'm nervous but excited."
Who: Nathan King
What: Former Zed frontman goes solo
Debut album: The Crowd, out Monday There is definitely a lot more gravity to the lyrics of this album now that I've grown up.