This week, we’re looking back at some of the biggest hits of the 2000s as we chart the changing fortunes of the NZ music industry in our special project Don't Stream It's Over. Today, Karl Puschmann speaks to Rodney Fisher from Goodshirt.

"Yeah, we stuffed up that one, eh," Rodney Fisher laughs.

At a cafe near his home in West Auckland Fisher is describing the way his band Goodshirt didn't break up.

"We could have done a big, grand, 'we're breaking up' gig and tried to fill out the biggest venue we've ever done, but we didn't really do that."

Instead one of the quirkiest, original and, let's face it, unlikely alt-pop acts to ever burst on to the New Zealand music charts shuffled out of the scene with little noise and next to no fanfare.

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So, when asking whatever happened to Goodshirt, the answer is... nothing. In theory, at least, they're still going.

"We always thought we'd make more music," Fisher says by way of explanation. "But we did reach a point where we needed to not be around each other. You reach a point where you're going, 'oh, this is getting a bit hard now. It's not much fun'."

Things started almost too easily. In 2001 the band's debut single, the infectiously fuzzy power-pop of Green and its inventive, super-quirky video, captured the country's imagination and propelled the unknowns straight into the charts.

That rapid success still blows Fisher's mind.

"How did we manage to pack out the Kings Arms when we pretty much only had one song on bFM?" he muses.

To be fair, it was a helluva song.

"Yeeeeah," he hesitantly agrees. "But there were other great songs around."

Intentional or not Green was also a canny piece of band branding, with it's repeated yelped chorus; "Got a good shirt / Got a good green shirt."

"We really should have called the song Good Shirt," he laughs.

Green announced their arrival, but it was Sophie, the low-key, quietly psychedelic ode to unrequited love as viewed from behind the bushes that took them to No1, and their debut album Good to No5 in the charts and on to platinum sales.

A few years later, in 2004, they released their gold-selling second album Fiji Baby, which housed more songs that became classics of the era; the Kiwi-as romance of the mostly acoustic title track and the bouncy sing-along of Buck It Up.

Having conquered their home territory, world domination was the next logical step. But Goodshirt's all-or-nothing attempt to break the international market left the group jaded, and worse, close to broke after investing heavily in getting themselves overseas.

"It's quite a hard thing to do. It's really risky," Fisher says. "A lot of people wouldn't do that in business. Take everything you've got and throw it into flights and hope for the best."

So what happened? Was Goodshirt just too eccentrically 'Kiwi'?

"We found we couldn't stay somewhere long enough to make an impact before we were moving on to the next place because we couldn't afford to stay too long," Fisher says.

A prime example is the band landing a plum support slot opening for Modest Mouse in London. A huge opportunity that came with a big problem; the gig was a month away. Reluctantly, they had to turn it down.

"We just couldn't stay another month in London. We had absolutely no money," he sighs. "That sort of thing was just too common."

030204SPLGOODSHIRT1 Auckland band Goodshirt Supplied by EMI, 03/02/04 NZH 7feb04 -
030204SPLGOODSHIRT1 Auckland band Goodshirt Supplied by EMI, 03/02/04 NZH 7feb04 -

The band toured Australia and Japan to encouraging noises but found themselves trapped in a sort of expat purgatory in the make-or-break UK market.

"Anything we did was always just an expat fest. It was really hard to infiltrate any other interest. It felt like we were playing the hits to people that already knew us. We couldn't break into a new market.

"And Kiwis in the UK can be... a bit kind of..." he trails off, selecting his words carefully. "A bit cringe, you know? We appreciated people coming out to see us but we had to do gigs and not advertise them in certain places. Just to try and get it back to being seen as a new band. That was really hard, to be a 'new' band, because we weren't a new band. We'd already done something."

It was love, ultimately, that would tear the band apart. At a mate's wedding, Fisher performed an acoustic rendition of Goodshirt's hit Fiji Baby for the happy couple.

Also at the wedding was Zane Lowe, who at that stage wasn't a superstar DJ, but was one-third of the folktronica act Breaks Co-Op.

Impressed, he asked Fisher to join the group as a performing member. Fisher accepted, toured New Zealand with the group and then moved with them to tour the UK for six months.

"And then I just wanted to stay over there, so I stayed there," he says. "That put quite a big halt on any Goodshirt activity."

Lest he be cast as a villain, he explains: "Everyone was getting pulled in different directions." The hiatus was inevitable.

When he eventually returned home, he says the change in the once thriving music scene was palpable.

"It was really obvious there was a gap, that it wasn't connecting. When I came back from London I was like, 'what the hell's going on?'."

Fisher reckons two things need to happen to reignite that Kiwi spirit that once dominated the airwaves.

One would be funding for smaller gig venues, "because no one's ever looked at the live aspect as being something worth funding. There's a lot of costs, so you just don't make any money from smaller live shows".

And the second would be more radio support for local acts.

"It's arguably such different times because of the way the internet works, but radio is still really powerful in New Zealand," he says. "People are still in their cars a lot. I think the general public have that perception that until you're on the radio and you're hearing it all the time that you're not as big as these international artists. But when you were on the radio you were seen as equals.

"When there was that support there, people did love it. People felt that pride in local bands. So the people missing out are the general public of New Zealand, of having that sense of identity."

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