By REBECCA BARRY
Rodney Fisher's hair is evidence of his fixation with change. It's been spikily gelled, messily fluffed, liberally shaved and, now, it's randomly bleached. The goodshirt frontman runs a hand through the floppy brass tufts that escaped a recent violent hacking.
"It's good to change," he says. "I used to be obsessed with changing my room around. When you get a haircut your head feels lighter and you go into this other kind of zone, do you know what I mean? When you shave your head you really notice. The energy kind of changes. I feel it every time I get a haircut."
There are plenty of noticeable changes to the Auckland band's sound on their second album, Fiji Baby, possibly inspired by this latest headspace. But one thing stayed the same - the unusual location, where they also recorded their debut, good.
The band have been widely acclaimed here and in Australia. They have a deal with a major record label and were nominated for New Zealand's most coveted song-writing award, the Silver Scroll.
Yet they still chose to record most of the album in a garden shed measuring two by three metres, where the computer shares a socket with the washing machine.
"It's more of a lean-to," suggests drummer Mike Beehre mimicking the "dugga-dugga-dugga" of the whiteware. "When that gets going you know about it."
Fisher and his brother, guitarist and sampler Murray Fisher, are happiest in this makeshift workshop that sits behind the Grey Lynn flat they share.
It is familiar territory, cheaper than a regular studio and ideally suited for random flashes of inspiration.
It also allows them autonomy - EMI give them promotion and distribution but they are essentially an independent band, releasing everything on their own label, Cement Records.
"You can do nothing for a couple of days," says Fisher. "But then spend 12 o'clock til 5am working on stuff if you want to." Armed with his favourite Beach Boys songs, the shed was also the perfect place for Murray to develop his production skills, experimenting with dramatic mixes and recording methods and leaving the song-writing to Fisher and Thomas.
Fisher hazily sang Cold Body Blues, one of the album's more ambitious understated tracks, two metres from the microphone.
"I was playing a guitar and it sounded like a Rhodes [electric piano] and then we went to the Rhodes and changed it around," he explains.
"And that just inspired the rest of the song. So in that case we used the production as a song-writing tool. It helps you to write songs that otherwise wouldn't exist."
Goodshirt are used to doing things their way. Since forming in 1999 they haven't bothered with a bass player (ironic considering keyboardist Gareth Thomas' brother Matt plays bass in the feelers), preferring the more malleable low notes the synthesizer can produce.
Good, released in 2001 revealed their eccentric line-up worked - the fuzz-pop on Blowing Dirt, the banal but catchy branding exercise of Green ("Got a good shirt ... ") and, of course, the syllabically wacky, romantic number one hit, Sophie. Even fans of the Rock radio station liked it.
Aided by an award-winning music video in which the band members steal all the furniture from behind a young woman's back as she sings along - Sophie (written and sung by Thomas) propelled their aspirations of a gold-selling album (7000 copies) to nearly double platinum (30,000).
"After signing with EMI there was a lot of enthusiasm for that song but we didn't really expect it would do that well. We were shocked," says Fisher. "We were so new to the whole buzz and we didn't really know how certain songs would go on radio or how much faith the programmers would have."
Nor does it faze him now that he is probably destined to perform the song for the rest of his days. "I think it's important to play songs people want to hear. And it's a good song to have because it helps to structure our sets."
After spending 38 weeks in the New Zealand charts, good became synonymous with the quirky exuberance of bands such as the Cars, the Eels, Supergrass and Regurgitator. Their music doesn't gloat behind aggressive guitars or arrogant solos.
Proof of that are the matching white space suits they used to wear to every gig.
"We look at music like looking at a picture, really," Fisher explains. "We are inspired by visual things as much as we are inspired by listening to music. When we started out I was wearing some real shocking stuff, big spikey pants."
"Yeah, Rodney likes to dress up," offers Beehre. "He used to wear dresses to art school."
Fisher: "I really like the ideals of say, Talking Heads, the notion of pop culture and stuff like that. There's something about finding something you want to wear and wearing it at every gig so that it becomes iconic. I want to start developing that part of what we do. We haven't really explored that very much."
Right, which explains the floor-length, gospel-style orange robe he saucily unzipped during a gig last year, and when he pulled off Chippendale moves while taking his shirt off.
"You become a character, eh, you kind of become someone else. And it's good to be able to have something that you can take off. It sort of alters your psyche."
If there is anything particularly mind-altering about Fiji Baby though, it is the cover art. Goodshirt pride themselves on being a visual band. Fisher and Beehre met at art school, Thomas is an architect and Murray is a photographer. They worked with a graphic designer to complete the retro-inspired artwork.
Beehre relishes the idea the cover image is not immediately obvious but jumps out at the eye.
Fisher also likes to toy with the existential, despite his penchant for childlike lyrics: "When we went to Hamilton I said, 'Just pretend it's a holiday', and you said, 'Yep, I'll just pretend it's Fiji, baby'."
He is fascinated by contradictions, claiming there is a dark side to many of their fruity, upbeat songs. Cold Body Blues, for instance, is an ominous tale of lone strangers sitting in their cars on Ponsonby's Hopetoun Bridge.
He writes ambiguous prose: "I'm drowning in your desert flame," and warped lyrics that almost parody emotion: "Like cement we go on and on and on ... "
Overall, Fiji Baby is a more adventurous album than good.
The band sought clarity by drawing out the silent spaces in the mellower tracks, to the point where some of them, including Cold Body Blues and Fall became "dangerously minimal". Not all of them would make suitable live choices but there are plenty of frantic numbers to complement their sartorial choices, the snappy Buck It Up, the memorable Lucy and the slightly absurd Fiji Babyamong them.
Fisher says conflict has helped to make this a more solid album.
"Because we've been together for about five years now you get used to the relationships in the band. It's kind of like we're all brothers. You get that kind of closeness when you go through intense things like recording an album. You tend to love and hate. We secretly write songs about each other."
* Fiji Baby by goodshirt is released on February 23.
By REBECCA BARRY