As he releases his latest book on New Zealand music, Gareth Shute is living the Kiwi rock'n'roll dream, kind of. He talks to Shane Gilchrist
It's late on a Wednesday evening in London when Gareth Shute answers the phone. The call comes at a good time: New Zealand band the Sneaks has just finished practising in the flat's lounge.
The Sneaks are preparing to be backing band to fellow Kiwi performer Lawrence Arabia - aka James Milne - as he supports Canadian singer-songwriter Feist.
Shute - whose new book, NZ Rock: 1987-2007 is released this week - is on the homeward stretch of a tour of the United States, Europe and England, playing trumpet and trombone with the Brunettes, who Milne is a sometimes member of. Given the imminent release of his book, the tour timing hasn't been great, Shute concedes. He hasn't even seen a final copy of it.
"It is a little bit unfortunate, but if I didn't have the book out I would probably hang around America a little bit longer ... I'm keen to get home and a) see my girlfriend; and b) to do a bit of follow-up on promoting the book."
In his mid-30s, Shute has been in a number of bands, including the Tokey Tones, the Ruby Suns, the Conjurers, the Investigations, Dictaphone Blues and the Cosbys. He also helps out at Auckland-based independent label Lil' Chief Records. So he knows where artistic idealism and rockbiz reality meets for aspiring Kiwi groups.
"You just do it for more pure reasons to start out with. You don't feel that pressure to sound like Babyshambles or whoever it is now ... I think the more underground bands in New Zealand travel quite well, because when they come overseas they are doing something a little bit different."
NZ Rock has two main themes: home and away. New Zealand bands' international experience and a healthy domestic situation are examined extensively through 11 chapters, often through the words of the musicians themselves.
Ranging from the scene-setting "Out of the'80s" to the closing "Taking on the World", Shute covers other bases, too. The growth and splintering of various Flying Nun acts is examined in detail, as is the expansion of independent record labels, mainstream hit-makers and more recent garage-rock riff merchants.
At more than 350 pages, the book continues the thread of a story picked up by John Dix in his Stranded in Paradise: New Zealand Rock'n' Roll 1955-1988 and David Eggleton's more recent Ready To Fly: The Story of New Zealand Rock Music. Shute's motivation was simple: he saw a need to fill a gap.
"It was a project I wanted to do because I just felt that period of time was important and wasn't very well covered. I quite liked Stranded in Paradise ... it was a pretty enjoyable read and covered all the bases before that, to a point."
Shute had previously written Making Music in New Zealand and the Montana Award-winning Hip Hop Music in Aotearoa. He knew his latest release was going to involve a lot of work. Thus he wasn't too devastated when he found his services in the Ruby Suns were no longer required. "I was secretly relieved that I'd be able to get more into doing my writing and not have the music clashing with it so much," he says.
Shute dedicated much of last year to researching and writing NZ Rock. A part-time job at Auckland Public Library gave him access to a range of source material. Having written a rough draft on a band, he'd send it "to as many people as I could" to get facts checked. He also interviewed many of the book's subjects.
"With this project, it is about 110,000 words ... I always knew it was going to be big. The previous two books I did came out one year after another. For this one I gave myself a lot longer than that.
"It's nice to give yourself that room to get into some of the stories and actually express more about the band. I've found some previous books have struggled with that. The last thing I wanted was just a paragraph on each band. That was part of the reason for the 20-year span. I just tried to use the chapter headings to make it cohesive."
Who: Gareth Shute, rock historian and sometime Brunette
What & when: NZ Rock: 1987-2007 (Random House, $45, pbk) out tomorrow.