Supergroove is being honoured with the New Zealand Herald Legacy Award tonight and inducted into the NZ Music Hall of Fame. Here, the members of the band - now reunited for a summer tour- talk about the madness of their 90s teen heyday to Russell Baillie.

They started out as so many bands do, by playing the blues. They finished up seven years later having blazed a trail around the world, then imploding after attempting to take their sound in a different, mature direction. In between, Supergroove became heroes to a generation of local music fans and inspirations to those coming up behind them.

But the band's foundation stone wasn't the older musicians they often supported in their early days. It was The Blues Brothers movie.

No, there wasn't a lot of actual blues in the 1980 comedy but it showed a young Karl Steven how to put on a show.

At 14 he was already a music geek and he played too - keyboards and harmonica. He dragged in Selwyn College school mates Tim Stewart on trumpet and his friend Nick Atkinson on saxophone for a jam - the pair's honking singing partnership continues today as duo Hopetoun Brown.


Atkinson: "Karl seemed impossibly cool. He had a Fender Rhodes electric piano, just like the one Ray Charles plays in The Blues Brothers and a life-size Elvis Presley cardboard cut-out. I think he might've tried to teach Tim and I The Peter Gunn Theme from the Blues Brothers soundtrack. We all started dressing like Jake and Elwood from that moment on."

Stewart: "We got kicked off the cenotaph in front of the museum when we were busking by a war veteran who felt we were disrespecting 20,000 dead soldiers. Shortly after that humiliating episode, Susan Devoy gave us 10c, which buoyed up our spirits somewhat."

Supergroove is featured on the cover of this week's TimeOut:

Little Boy Blues soon had a growth spurt and became The Low Down Dirty Blues Band.

Guitarist Ned Ngatae joined on guitar, and was soon replaced by Ben Sciascia. Ngatae's mate Che Ness (later Che Fu) came in on vocals, as did bassist Joe Lonie and drummer Paul Russell. Russell left the band soon after the release of 1994 debut album Traction, finding his Christianity at odds with rock 'n' roll. He was replaced by Ian Jones. As the adolescent band practised in a Ponsonby garage and gigged more, they quickly moved away from being a young fogey blues group to something matching their adolescent energy levels and a world where rap and rock were finding common ground.

Steven: "For months, though, we just kept idling. We'd spend all day every Sunday in the garage, eating amazing lunches at the takeways, but not really getting any better. Finally, we decided to practise Thursday nights as well and then we really started making some progress. It was still shit, but it was shit in motion."

Stewart: "I remember playing at [then High Street nightclub] The Box one night in the early days. It may have been 1990. It was the first time doing the show became instinct rather than playing the arrangements and doing the moves. That seething little sweatbox of a bar was totally electrifying to me. I was feeding off the crowd's energy for the first time and pumping straight back at them. I wanted more of that."

The blues-based material gave way to funk, soul, rock, hip-hop mixed with teenage exuberance and the New Zealand accents of its odd-couple tag-team twin-vocal frontline.

The blues band moniker had to go. Hello Supergroove.


Soon came their first big break and television appearance. After playing an ad agency Christmas party they scored a commercial ad for Eta Munchos starring Australian league legend Mal Meninga.

Lonie: "It's terrible and embarrassing on every level, but it was actually a big break for us and it's true that you do have to start somewhere. It ended up being our first video and our first piece of published recorded music. On early tours I remember getting requests for it so we ended up playing the jingle live a few times to please the crowd. We were happy to do it because it stretched our material out an additional 30 seconds."

But if it was hard to take the young Supergroove too seriously from the outside, inside the band they were men on a mission.

Lonie: "We had an unusual drive, ambition and refuse-to-lose attitude that seemed to be rare at the time in people so young.

"My own theory on where this drive came from was from our band leader, Karl. He was an inspiring leader and his attitude spread through the whole band. Individually we may have been lacking in confidence, but together we were supremely confident, and definitely given to over-confidence at times. It got so that if something didn't work, we would smash it out and grind it down until we felt that it did. No amount of hard work was too much for us. We liked it. We welcomed it. It gave us something to do and something to focus on."

Atkinson: "Karl really was the impresario in those early days. He had limitless imagination and ambition. By the time we were 15 we had personalised screen-printed T-shirts with our nicknames on the back. I was The Medicine Man and my logo was a stethoscope. We were already planning and rehearsing our sets and moves on stage. It was business time."


Stewart: "One of our defining characteristics as a band was our seriousness. It always was. We didn't play two sets, sometimes three, every Sunday for laughs. There was no back-up plan. We just figured you worked like hell with no compromises, kept going and you'd be as big as U2."

Steven realised things were getting serious when he got a demand from another band.

Steven: "[A band of a similar name] phoned me up, pretty soon after we changed our name to Supergroove, to heavy us into changing our name again as it was interfering with their bookings. I was pretty scared, just a kid on the phone with an actual musician. He made some vague obliquely threatening reference to extreme consequences but I sensed that we might not really wake up in the Waitemata Harbour wearing concrete slippers so we just went on regardless.

"Still, as far as I was concerned we were on the map - some adult guy from another band had heard of us."

So too had the band's manager Stuart Broughton, who took them to BMG Records, which tested the waters with a run of increasingly successful increasingly infectious singles - Here Comes The Supergroove, You Gotta Know, Scorpio Girls and the hook-laden number one Can't Get Enough.

The singles were supported by repeated national tours that saw them bringing their high-energy show to thousands where ever and whatever age they were.


Che Fu: "I think in most places we were doin' up to three gigs a day - an in-store, a school, and then the main show, during New Zealand's coldest winter ever at that time. We were also our own roadies, so venues with stairs were met with a collective groan as we loaded in daily and nightly. I came home hella buff."

Sciascia: "At a gig in Queenstown, Joe and I effortlessly scaled opposing speaker stacks during the Scorpio Girls intro. The first verse was moments away, I leaped from the stacks - seriously, we were nuts - and landed perfectly in time. Except I didn't. I launched myself directly at the ceiling, which pummelled into the stage. After that, I confined myself to objects six foot or lower."

Lonie: "I liked the crowd surfing in the early 90s. It was unpredictable and exciting. We're up there on stage trying to generate as much excitement as we can, but the music can only take it so far. We saw some people do some pretty gnarly things at times, and we'd get caught up in the physicality of it, and throw ourselves in. I remember a gig in Christchurch when we all did it at the end of the show. The crowd took great care of us and carried us all the way to the back of the room, where they put us gently back down on our feet, nice and close to the bar."

Atkinson: "We got quite good at breaking stages. If we were feeling a little belligerent we'd jump up and down on the stage until it cracked. I remember the interior of Lasers Coliseum in Invercargill looked like a bomb site after a show there. Everything inside was wrecked. We were a little worried about what the owner would say. He looked a bit bemused and said he'd had a brilliant time.

"It was pretty exciting when we took home $20,000 in cash from the door for the first time. I was the band treasurer and on the road we'd have to hit the bank on Monday. I looked like a hoodlum-skateboarder with an actual big sack of dough. The banks never batted an eyelid, but they'd always take me into a back room to confirm the count. I've never seen that much cash before or since. It seemed so ordinary at the time."

The band headed to Parnell's York Street Studio with producer Malcolm Welsford for the recording of first album Traction, which debuted at the top of the New Zealand charts and stayed there for a more than a month as it went on to sales of five times platinum - more than 75,000 copies.


They were now the biggest band in the land.

Stewart: "The crowd in the Supertop at the Big Day Out in 1995 stretched all the way to the back of the tent and was surging like a tidal pool. We thought that they were there for the band that was on after us. It was quite a shock to walk out afterwards to an empty tent. As I recall, Joe fell over almost instantly from sheer excitement."

With the backing of BMG, Supergroove were soon aiming off-shore. Initially, it was looking promising. They headed through Asia, India, South Africa and into Europe.

Fu: "When we played our first Aussie show, the crowd didn't know who we were, after which they were wanting an encore. Ding."

Atkinson: "We had this epic 17-hour drive from Adelaide to Sydney. We left Adelaide at around 11am and arrived in Sydney at around 4am. As we got FM reception for Triple J in Sydney, You Gotta Know came on the radio and the lights of Sydney hove into view. It was a beautiful moment."

Stewart: "Playing in the Baden-Baden Opera House [in Germany] was pretty awesome. The place was festooned with baroque ornamentation. There were three balconies above us peering down. We really got into it. Afterwards, there was a fantastically classy party at a train station. It was one of those nights that make you feel like a rock star."


Lonie: "One time in Germany, Ian ripped half of the feathers out of a pillow to create the perfect dampener for his kick drum. In an effort to be tidy he placed the remaining feathers in a bucket, which remained backstage.

"During the set, Karl went and found the bucket and tipped it over Ian's head. Ian was dripping with sweat, and the sweat made the feathers stick to his body. He was completely covered. He stopped the song, and did an amazing leap over his drumkit, which sent a flowing cascade of feathers into the air. Still coated in feathers from head to toe, he ripped the mic away from Karl and bellowed into it 'Behold! I am Chicken Man'. This was when we were starting to lose our minds. About 300 nonplussed Germans seemed to think so."

Steven: "Playing in Mumbai [then Bombay] was pretty much mind-blowing. We had only toured New Zealand and Australia up to that point and it was the first of many moments in which the world completely outstripped anything our tiny brains were prepared for and bludgeoned us into adulthood through its awesomeness.

"We were told we were the 12th international act to play there - the first was the Police, and if the crowd didn't like you, irrespective of overseas success or whatever, they'd boo until you left the stage.

"Our rider arrived frozen into the centre of a three-foot square block of ice.We had to wait for about 40 minutes until it was melted enough to get the beer. Then the crowd started to chant "start the f***ing music" and we came out and did a riotous gig to about 4000 men and 20 women all of whom seemed to be dressed in white. Then the police whacked the crowd with five-foot long bamboo batons until they all left. We weren't in Auckland anymore, Toto."

Their rap-rock mix had got them an international foothold - Traction sold 30,000 copies in Indonesia. But as their exhausting first eight-month international campaign ended, Steven and his main co-writer Lonie were already uneasy with the rap-rock approach.


They wanted a musical rethink. Less of the brassy, party-hearty stuff, more considered reflective songwriting. That led to the surprise firing of Che-Fu and Stewart in early '96.

Stewart: "I was kicked out the same day Che was. I didn't see that one coming. That was a 'floor dropping out from underneath you' moment. I got working on stuff pretty quickly though and started singing, which seems to have panned out okay. I made peace with the boys as soon as I could after they broke up. After all, they were my best friends. It would have been quite limiting to hold a grudge over it. They regret it, they said sorry. I accept that and now we've moved on."

Fu: "I'm totally at peace with it now. I'm glad that we're able to play music, and hang out together still as friends. For me playing shows together was always the best part about being in the band, and we're lucky to have the opportunity to still do it."

Che Fu's first post-band single, Chains, with DLT, went to No1 which set him up for a run of well-received solo albums, his backing band the Krates including the band's original drummer Russell who has since gone on to play with Brooke Fraser, Anika Moa and the percussion stage show Stomp.

Steven: "It was awful. But it's wonderful to all be over it and friends again; it's a blessing that i never really expected but hoped for, for about 10 years. "Imagine a bad divorce, an epic falling out among best pals, and everyone going away hating each other. That's what it was like, except that the press keep asking about it and people consider it of public interest on some level. I think we all learned a lot from some terrible times."

Lonie: "I regret how I behaved, but I've made my apologies and the people I hurt have been gracious enough to accept them and move on. It's a huge relief to me that we are all friends again. For 10 years there, I never thought it would happen. It was a constant source of pain for me, and it was holding me back. It's hard to try and be creative without taking risks, and sometimes what you have to risk is being an asshole.


The remaining quintet went on a national tour in support of the debut album. But with the record getting a muted reception at home, and facing the drudgery of yet another Australian tour, Steven decided to pull the plug.

Atkinson: "We were so young. I was 22 when the band broke up. You just lack a few emotional bones at that age, especially boys. It was sad it imploded. Karl had a huge amount of pressure on his shoulders; as a seven-piece, we were on the cusp of something pretty big overseas. That's how it felt from inside the game."

Sciascia: "Young males are probably not the most thoughtful - or caring - members of society and when you toss in endless touring, global record deals and delusions of grander, it's likely to go wrong - in fact, it's a pretty common cliche. People and situations change but the way we handled things was misguided and messed up. We'd all worked so hard, only to flush it down the toilet - what a shame."

The band reformed for live shows in 2007 - they're part of the summer Winery Tour line-up where they may well be playing to the kids of the kids they played to 20 years ago.

But was being in Supergroove in those early days as fun as as it looked from the outisde? Depends who you ask.

Steven: "For me the responsibility was too much for me to relax and enjoy myself. It was a pretty dark time for me. I kind of put everything else to one side ... .friends, family, love, everything except the band and that was great for the band, in some ways, but left me a pretty one-dimensional and unhappy young man. Thankfully, it was during those days that I discovered reading books and philosophy and stuff and so the world started to get broader and deeper in ways that would eventually bust me out of the shadows and let in some light so a few things could grow.


Fu: You hear the phrase "being in the zone' or "in the pocket". In this band you became the song. Seven dudes getting seriously into it. It lasted as long as the song did. Was it fun? Shit yeah."

Who: Supergroove, New Zealand's biggest band of the early 90s
What: The New Zealand Herald Legacy Award at tonight's Vodafone New Zealand Music Awards. Tonight's televised show includes a tribute performance by a group including Hollie Smith, Iva Lamkum, Ria Hall and Tali.
Also : Supergroove are on this summer's Winery Tour with Dave Dobbyn, Don McGlashan Anika Moa starting at Mills Reef Winery on Saturday, January 24.

- TimeOut