The Tuis take flight

By Russell Baillie

It would appear, long after the question was first put, we finally have an answer. Yes, comedy is the new rock 'n' roll.

Comedy duo the Flight of the Conchords figure heavily in the nominations for the 2008 Vodafone New Zealand Music Awards.

Now working stateside on the second season of their HBO sitcom, the Grammy-winning, Emmy-nominated musical comedy duo of Bret McKenzie and Jemaine Clement are vying with rock and hip-hop acts in this year's Tuis which will be held at Vector Arena on October 8.

The Wellington pair are up for best album, best group and - most curiously- "breakthrough act" with their self-titled album of songs which all featured in the first series of their TV show, many having been long-term residents in their live act.

FOTC's presence gives this year's nominations a wildcard factor.

Among the other major nominations it appears that groups are out, hip-hop is (slightly) back, and there's a new Finn on the block.

Unless you count the Conchords duo, no bands feature in the album of the year.

That means despite being TimeOut album of 2007 and acclaimed elsewhere, the Phoenix Foundation's Happy Ending isn't going to repeat the left-field takeover of the awards the Mint Chicks managed last year - though the Phoenix Foundation do have three other nominations (best single, best group, best rock album).

And for his work on Happy Ending Wellington studio boffin Lee Prebble last night took away the best producer and best engineer in the technical awards. Those tech divisions were judged by a panel of experts rather than the wider industry and media voting pool.

The leading Tui nominee is Tiki Taane and his debut solo album Past, Present, Future with its multi-genre mixes, hit single and its video earning him six nominations - including best album, best male solo artist and breakthrough artist, best roots album and best Maori album, among others.

The next big contender is Liam Finn with five nods for his debut solo effort I'll Be Lightning, which has him figuring in the best album, best rock album, best single, best video and best male solo artist - that last category having been won by his Uncle Tim last year.

Older, established acts who dominated the Tuis in past years are finding the competition tougher.

Shihad have three nominations from album Beautiful Machine, Scribe's second album Rhymebook figures in just the best album and best hip-hop categories and Anika Moa's In Swings the Tide has her nominated for best album and best female solo artist.

All of which might raise some questions about FOTC's nominations and whether they fit into a celebration of New Zealand music on the homefront.

Their album has certainly sold well locally - 20,000 copies, which puts it slightly behind Taane (21,000) and Moa (23,000) - though it gave the group the highest-ever chart placing (No 3) by a New Zealand act in the American top 10 when it was released in May.

The band released the album through legendary Seattle label Sub Pop - also home to Kiwi acts The Brunettes and The Ruby Suns - and it was then released in New Zealand through independent distributor Rhythmethod. Predictably, the company's head, Peter Baker, says the Conchords should be in the Tuis, which doesn't have a comedy album category, the category they won at the Grammys with an earlier EP.

He says they're aren't just a comedy act.

"I think they have crossed over. I think their music is of a wider and greater appeal, and it's not just folk music or comedy music, it's popular music."

But without the TV show, would they be contenders?

"The album would have been successful but the show definitely opened the door to a whole bunch of households who perhaps weren't familiar with them. So without the show, the rise of the album may have been slower but I think it would have got there."

It's more likely that because of FOTC's overseas profile - and the reflected glory back home - they'll take away the international achievement award (nominations of which are not announced beforehand). Which is slightly ironic for a couple of guys and a mate playing a band and its manager who are perennial international underachievers.

- NZ Herald

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