Chris Mac is the bass guitarist for Six60, finalists in this year's Vodafone New Zealand Music Awards. The hugely popular act will be the first New Zealand band to headline Western Springs Stadium in February.
1 Six60's original bass player Hoani Matangi left to become a professional rugby player. How did you end up replacing him?
I'd been working as a school music teacher and ended up having a heated argument with my boss in a staff room. It's fair to say I'm not a good employee. I've been fired from a few jobs. A young teacher who saw what happened told me about this band that needed a fill-in bass player. I'd never heard of Six60 but I needed the money. It was supposed to be for a three-month tour but they decided I was a good fit so I stuck around. That was 10 years ago.
2 Do you have similar musical influences?
Not at all. Marlon grew up listening to metal, Matiu's background is soul and R&B, Ji was classic rock and Eli liked Brit Pop and punk. The music we listen to on a day-to-day basis is so different you'd find it hard to believe we're in a band together. But that's what makes it work. We have a nice push-pull between the various influences.
3 There was a gap of a few years between Six60's first and second albums. What happened?
We moved to Berlin for six months for a record contract with Sony which we left because it just wasn't working. We've managed to get out of contracts twice which is pretty difficult to do in the music industry. We also went through a tough time internally. Every band goes through growing pains at some point. Ours happened at the five-year mark but we're in a pretty healthy space now.
4 Has bringing in a bunch of consultants, including the All Blacks' mind coach, helped?
Definitely. In a relationship between five different people there's always going to be conflicts. Everyone grows and changes. We're all in our early 30s now with different priorities. We had to figure out a way to keep working together in the same direction. It really helped to say, "We're not going to accidentally get on the same page. We have to do this on purpose". Quitting would have been easy but we're all tenacious and ambitious. Our mentality is always, "How can we do better?"
5 What is Six60's relationship with the media like?
Until recently, the trend in the media has been to not mention us at all. Our first year at the music awards we won the same number of awards as Kimbra but the next day the headline was 'Kimbra's Big Night'. We were never industry darlings or a critic's band. We came up through the touring route so the media didn't discover us. It never irked us too much but since we announced the Western Springs Stadium gig it's reached a point where they can't ignore us any more.
6 What's next for Six60?
Matiu and Marlon have been in Los Angeles doing writing sessions with a bunch of producers. Those guys are running hot on song writing at the moment. They write sketches we work on together in the studio. We're getting better at allowing our songs to be what they are without trying to move them into something we think people might like more. If it's going to be a pop song, stop fighting it. Often the most authentic songs are the most accessible. There's a level of instinct that goes into that but also a level of craft.
7 Growing up in Darwin, did you show early signs of becoming a musician?
Yes, I was raised by my dad and my grandparents, who owned a theatre, so most of my early memories are of falling asleep backstage at plays or orchestra rehearsals. They'd put on soirées and get me out in a little tuxedo to sing opera and play the violin. I hated it actually. I quit music for a few years. When I did go back I'd discovered punk. Dad was Pentecostal Christian so I wasn't allowed to listen to rock music. He needed a double bass player so we made a deal that I'd play for his orchestra if he bought me a bass guitar.
8 How did you end up in New Zealand?
I came over to meet my Mum when I was 19. As soon as I met her I realised I didn't have a massive gap that needed filling but it was really cool to find out we have so much in common, like a shared love of the same comedy styles. I lived with her in Invercargill. I love Invercargill. I met a great group of friends there and my wife. I consider myself a New Zealander now.
9 Is it hard juggling family life with being in a band?
I'm the only band member with a wife and child, so sometimes it's a little annoying for the others to have to schedule around the fact I've got to do the school pick up at 3pm. The longest I've ever been away is a seven-week tour last year. That felt like forever.
10 You started stand-up comedy in Dunedin. What style of comedy did you do?
It was taken from personal experiences. Talking about things like my weight problem. I used to be 120kg, almost double the weight I am now. At the time I thought, "I'm the fat guy and that's just how it is. Some people are fat and some aren't. That won't change". I didn't know anything about nutrition. I signed up for a weight-loss programme thinking I could lose maybe 5kg to not look so disgusting in photos but after I started seeing results I thought "maybe I could have a better goal". It was so hard at first but then I got too thin which wasn't healthy. I'm still pretty obsessed. I'm currently in therapy because I need to get to a point where it doesn't occupy so much of my head space.
11 Are you prone to obsession?
Yes. When I became I drummer, I got absolutely obsessed. I'd play for hours and hours by myself, just going over loops. I did the same with bass. I get obsessed with people, too — comedians, musicians. I'm currently obsessed with Dave Dobbyn. I heard Be Mine Tonight for the first time this year. I couldn't believe how good that song is. It's f***en crazy! So then I had to dive into the full Dobbyn rabbit hole. That's one of the benefits of growing up without rock music. I also got to "discover" Chicago recently. I love Peter Cetera.
12 You interviewed the Prime Minister on The Project in July. How did that happen?
I've hosted a fair bit of radio since high school. I love doing TV too, so I emailed The Project and offered to do a story on Homegrown. They said, "Yeah, why not". It turned out well so I got to cover Rockquest, which Jacinda was attending. I felt terrible for taking up her time. It was 7pm, she was heavily pregnant, I thought "she's got to be buggered" but she was very gracious. I was so proud I got to do that. I'd love to do more broadcasting.
• Six60 are finalists in this year's Vodafone New Zealand Music Awards, Thursday November 15, Spark Arena. www.nzmusicawards.co.nz