I grew up down south in a little place called Cape Foulwind, just outside of Westport. My parents are definitely not musical but there was always music around. I still can’t describe the feeling, but I remember from a very young age that playing and listening to music always made me feel really good. My siblings and I all started piano lessons around age five and as the years went on everyone dropped off, but me.
At age fourteen I picked up the guitar and became absolutely addicted to it. It came with me everywhere, I just couldn’t put it down. I started off just singing to myself, because I was too shy and never thought I could actually sing. It probably wasn’t until after high school that I realised I was hugely serious about music.
My first gig at age sixteen was amazing. I used to work as a kitchen hand in a bar and they knew I was keen on playing guitar so my boss offered me a gig. I will always remember it because they paid me fifty dollars and I could not believe it. I was totally mind blown that they were going to pay me to sing some songs. I’m sure it would have sounded awful and been absolutely terrible, but I played for hours and hours.
When I was about eighteen I remember overhearing a conversation while I was sitting around a campfire and singing some songs, where somebody said I could be a professional. To be honest, I had never actually thought about it, but it sounded like a good idea so I made the decision to give it a go as a career and see what happened.
I had one year at the Nelson School of Music and then came up to MAINZ and transferred over to Auckland University where I studied for a couple of years, then I went to Canada and worked in the mountains for a few years. I did want to be a musician full time, but in my mind I was waiting for a record label or management company to pick me up. I was literally playing shows and just waiting, because that’s how I thought it worked, which it turns out it doesn’t. Once that penny dropped, I worked out that I would have to do it for myself. I didn’t know how to make an album, I just knew that I needed to make one, so somehow I managed that and then set up my own label Cape Road Recordings. I don’t know whether it was stubbornness or stupidity, but here we are!
There’s no X-Y-Z steps with music, you just have to make your own way. You can look at people around you and see what they’ve done, but everyones pathway is slightly different. I reached out to a lot of people in the industry that I admire and they were all very generous with their time and help so I was able to work out all of the things that I needed to make it happen, but I definitely didn’t understand how any of it worked. It felt like I was running forward with my eyes closed, but if you keep heading towards what you want to achieve then it eventually does happen in some way. I think I have a fairly good understanding of how it all works now which makes it no less busy, but more relaxing!
There has definitely been hard times where I’ve found being an artist a struggle, but I’m committed. About ten years ago when I decided to become a musician full time I also decided not to have a back up plan, because I knew that if I did, it would be too easy to fall back on. I think that has set me up really well because I am very forward thinking. Having all of your eggs in one basket is very high risk, but that’s a good thing. Personally, I feel that if you’re totally invested in an idea, you work really hard towards it and if you’re reasonably onto it, then it will happen.
Performing for me is the drug, I suppose. That’s the buzz and the thing that keeps me going. People often say to me, ‘you must get tired,’ but honestly, I get so much energy from shows and the people I’m performing to, I don’t know how I could get sick of it, which I think means that this is what I’m meant to be doing. At the moment it still feels good, so I’ll keep going until it doesn’t. Luckily, with my type of music it isn’t really fashionable, so I feel like because it’s not in fashion, it’s not going to go out of fashion either.
The biggest advantage of being a self-managed artist is that I can move really quickly on things because I don’t need to talk to anyone else. It’s very streamlined in that way. I also know that things will get done and I know what’s going on with everything, which is good and bad. The biggest disadvantage is time-management. When I’m not on the road, most of my time is spent doing admin. By nature I’m a reasonably organised person, so that helps, but the separation between the creative side of it and the back-end can be quite hard. I think managers and the jobs they do are amazing and there’s hundreds of people that would do it a lot better than me. There are some big artists that represent themselves and it is do-able but I think it’s nice to have that separation. I’m definitely not anti-manager or high and mighty about being self-managed. I take my hat off to them, I think for me it was more a case of necessity. It has definitely become easier and I feel fairly confident that I know what I want and need and I’m quite happy to ask for that, but I also pull other people in to help me with different aspects which has worked for me so far.
Over the years I’ve watched my friends buy homes and go down that pathway, but as artists it feels like we’re in a constant risk cycle of reinvesting our finances. You might make some money off one tour, but that then goes into the next album. I would never change what I’m doing, but sometimes knowing how much you’re risking on a fairly constant basis can be a bit of a psychological battle. Also, because of the nature of touring and being away so often it’s hard to establish a constant community, so there’s a sense of feeling slightly homeless a lot of the time which can be challenging if you’re not in a good headspace. Mostly I keep on the sunny side of things and as long as I’m staying healthy then I feel very lucky.
The New Zealand music industry itself is a great community. We all know each other really well, we’ve all got each others backs and you work with people a lot more here. When I go into other territories I’m only there as a touring artist so I don’t feel like I’m a part of those scenes, because you’re in one night and out the next, but Australia I suppose has a similar scene to us. I think anyone who feels competitive about music must be quite weird because everyone is so different, even in the same scene. I like to think that it’s healthy that I have never experienced or seen that sense of competitiveness throughout the industry.
In terms of advice, it comes back to that idea of not having a back up plan. I know this wouldn’t work for everyone, but find whatever your passion is and then just go for it because life is too short. Time just disappears and other things get in the way, then before you know it ten years have passed. Whilst lots of people aren’t lucky enough to know what it is they want to do, if you do know, then that’s three quarters of the battle, so just go for it. Get all those eggs, put them in a basket and break down the things that you’re most afraid of and you’ll realise that most of them aren’t actually that bad.
Another concept that has really helped me is that when you think you’re not worthy or good enough, think about your idols and the people that you admire who are doing what you want to be doing and remember that they are just people. We often put these people on pedestals and act as if they’re untouchable gods, but logically when you break it down in your mind, Bruce Springsteen is just a man that writes songs, that is literally what he is. It’s not about comparing yourself to them, but to realise that we all have the potential and capability to achieve our goals.