Three Northland acts are in the running for New Zealand's top songwriting award alongside stars such as Lorde and Bic Runga.

The trio - Alien Weaponry, Troy Kingi and Teeks - have made the top 20 cut for the prestigious Silver Scroll award, which is organised by the Australasian Performing Right Association (Apra).

The songs are Waipu thrash metal outfit Alien Weaponry's hard and heavy Urutaa (Plague), sung in English and te reo Maori, Cold Steel by Kerikeri's Troy Kingi and If Only by Far North singer Teeks.

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The 20 finalists were chosen from more than 200 nominees by a 12-strong judging panel looking for songwriting talent rather than commercial success.

Alien Weaponry was formed in 2010 by brothers Lewis, 15, and Henry de Jong, 17, and Ethan Trembath, 15. Lewis (guitar/lead vocals) and Henry (drums) attend Bream Bay College while Ethan (bass) goes to Otamatea High School.

The band has chalked up some remarkable successes - including winning the national Smokefreerockquest and Pacifica Beats last year - but this is their first time on the Silver Scroll shortlist.

A "surprised and honoured" Lewis said the nomination felt like a defining moment for the band.

"It made us realise that maybe what we're doing could be quite big. It was the moment I realised this is what I want to do as a life-long career. We've always been a serious band, but now it's got to a point where we have to commit."

Urutaa, the band's first single, was released late last year.

Lewis said the song had created a gateway between the heavy metal and Maori communities.

"There's a lot of Maori metalheads coming out of the woodwork," he said.

Kerikeri's Troy Kingi started out as a dive instructor and high school kapa haka tutor; a part in a movie based around Bob Marley's only visit to Aotearoa spawned a series of film roles, including as All Black Piri Weepu in The Kick and in Taika Waititi's Hunt for the Wilderpeople.

The singer-songwriter's first solo album was last year's 22-track double-disc Guitar Party At Uncle's Bach. Cold Steel is a collaboration with Mara TK (full name Mara Te Kahika), a member of Electric Wire Hustle and Fly My Pretties, and son of Northland guitar legend Billy TK.

Rising star Teeks (real name Te Karehana Gardiner-Toi), whose deep, soulful voice belies his 23 years, featured in the Northern Advocate a few weeks ago. He grew up in Opononi and Doubtless Bay and had his first taste of songwriting through Taipa Area School band Ahomairangi. If Only comes from his debut EP, The Grapefruit Skies.

Others nominees in the top 20 include Lorde (for Liability and Green Light), Shayne Carter, Fazerdaze, Lawrence Arabia, Chelsea Jade, Bic Runga and Cut Off Your Hands. A vote by Apra's 10,000 members will decide the winning song, which will be announced at the Dunedin Town Hall on September 28.