Songlines Across New Zealand
  FRANKIE STEVENS INTERVIEW 30 11 2007
 
SANZ: Now you started your music career early. starting out in a band called the sine waves later to be called the insects then moved on to cabaret what 
influenced you to change from being in a band to do cabaret
FRANKIE: Well I didn’t move into the cabaret scene till quite a few years after that. Like I said the first band was a group called The Sine Waves at Heretaunga College. Pretty much like the Rockquests and everything else that they call rockquest today nothings changed we were all doing it then a whole lot of years ago. Um the insects was a kind of a play on words “In” hyphenated Sects like the in people as opposed to the beetle and that kind of insect. I left to go to Australia to join a group called Peter Nelson and the castaways out of um originally from Christchurch and Peter Nelson was going to Asia so they needed a new lead singer so they asked me to join them and I did, they already had two hit records in Australia so I walked into a very successful rock band and they were rock blues basically. The band I left replaced me and became The Formyla with Wayne Mason and their biggest hit of course was Nature and that was voted the most successful song in sixty years, I don’t know how you do that it’s all about taste but Wayne's a beautiful song writer and that’s where alot of the Upper Hutt music started. I joined The Castaways and we had a number of records in the Australian charts and that was all rock based right through to the mid Seventies
SANZ: Did it feel odd going from being in a band to going solo
Frankie: Yeah because band cultures are usually made up of a whole lot of different personalities and when you're dealing in four or five guys in a band you’re usually dealing in especially those days a certain amount of drugs and alcohol women and good times had by all and that caused a lot of clashes with bands that’s why you saw alot of bands break up when they had just made it basically and they had just become successful and then all of a sudden BOOM gone cause the personality clashes just happened. So yeah it was kind of strange but in a way it kind of made it a lot easier cause I only had myself to worry bout and beat up
SANZ: Now I spotted you in pulp sport a while back how did you come to do that
Frankie: Well the guys asked me if I’d do it really, they showed me the format that they wanted to do. It’s a show based on adlibbing around a story and I liked the concept of that and they were also taking the piss you know they said well you know we don’t want to come on if you can’t laugh at yourself and take the micley out of yourself and I mean I do that anyway so I don’t take myself too seriously apart from what I do for a living and they are very funny those guys very inventive and I really enjoyed doing that. I think it showed people a whole different side to myself I spose here’s this guy swearing and carrying on.
SANZ: How did you come to be involved in NZ idol
Frankie: Well I think they looked around at people who had credibility in the industry over a long period of time and who could actually stand in judgement on young performers without ripping them apart or destroying their dreams or aspirations and that's what I basically tried to do. If I didn’t like somebody I told them I didn’t think they were up to making a living in the industry or be successful in it and when I heard somebody who had something different I supported them and I had the credibility through being in bands over the years working with some of the worlds best musicians and having success in the recording industry, television industry and the event management side of things as well I do have the credibility so people might not agree with my choice but really at the end of it falls down to personal choice
SANZ: What have you been up to since NZ idol
Frankie: Doing things like Pulp sport doing alot of corporate work I’m involved with pushing New Zealand music on the concert series like summer hummer concerts for kids that usually go to small centres where kids can’t afford to see the best bands. We charge the kids five dollars for the kids to see bands like Atlas and top bands of the day Opshop or whoeverthey may be on a big stage with a big sound system
SANZ: what has been the most memorable moment in your music career
Frankie: Surviving the whole lot really. There’s individual moments that are fantastic and they come and go. To pinpoint one really there’s good and there’s bad but living and working and succeeding in an industry that has a reputation for being tough on the soul not to mention the wallet and everything else and seeing it become a credible industry to make a living in and that your mother and Father don’t turn around and say get a real job anymore because music has become legitimate and people see that music and what musicians provide to people is soul food for them not just the singer.
SANZ: Is there a moment you’d like to forget is there any chance you can tell us about it
Frankie: There’s a lot or those moments you know I don’t really believe in forgetting I think you tuck them away in your memory and hopefully wont repeat the mistakes or go near it again so na there is nothing really that stands out that was soo bad that I was traumatised for life. It’s part of surviving and part of living
SANZ: What would you prefer to do work and record in a studio or perform live
Frankie: Ohhh Live every time
SANZ: what would you say is the best thing about performing live
Frankie: The instant feedback you get from it. In studios usually take up alot of time, alot of rehearsal prior to that for the product you’re trying to put out. Alot of angst with studios and there’s release it just takes ohh so long it’s like being on a movie set to record thirty seconds of dialogue can take you all day if the director doesn’t like it. On stage with all things that can go wrong, the sound, the lights with an audience you are getting instant feedback on your performance of what you do and that is the reward you either get asked back to repeat it again or you don’t and nobody buys your records.
SANZ: If you had the chance to go back in time and repeat your musical career over again would you take that chance
Frankie: No. No how can you go back and repeat anything like that. No I wouldn’t it all goes down in the book that we all have. You live and learn by it. If there was ever an opportunity to hold at a certain age absolutely I mean everybody has an age where they feel better, where they’re mentally tuned up physically strong without being too old or too young where nobody takes any notice of you. So yeah absolutely that would most probably be in the mid thirties for me
SANZ: what are your thoughts on the nz music scene now compared to when you started out
Frankie: Its changed unbelievably everything's based now on the singer/song writing bands originality and that I think is fantastic absolutely fantastic in all facets too in Te reo, in Polynesian music, in mainstream New Zealand music it’s healthy the musicians are of a better standard today there’s no doubt about that because we were all learning on the job
SANZ: And the younger generation or artists have learned from that
Frankie: Yeah but here’s the bent though we were better live musicians, better performers, better tuned into the crowd and there’s a number of reasons for that one alot of venues in those days a lot of youth clubs, the rock clubs you name it they’re all there the night clubs always had live music today they don’t have a lot of live music and alot of those venues like you look along here (Frankie points along to the area of clubs we are chatting near) all these venues here you tell me how many live bands play here (slight pause) you’d be lucky to find one it’s bad music, drink, booze and party so it doesn't help the musos. Musicians may be better musically but if you look at when all the great original music was really happening, sounds from a guitar, from a fuzz box to right on through to vocal mic techniques were all learnt along the way and you learned all those techniques and you invented a lot of that stuff and if you look at all the classic songs that everybody listens to will they be listening to classic rap in Forty years
SANZ: No
Frankie: Will they be listening to house music some will be but you know a lot of the classic stuff the great stuff from the mow town area right through to the Rolling Stones to Led Zepplin to those originators of the style that everybody else came from and bands today have a derivative of you know Neil Finn to me is a great New Zealand songwriter puts out some great songs but he’s very poppy. Anybody who tries to tell me that Neil Finn is an innovator of music I’d disagree with them. I think he’s a craftsman he writes fantastic pop songs and he’s come out with some essentially really really good ballads and he surrounds himself with really good people. Split Enz were most probably more original
SANZ: Definitely with their stage set up and presentation
Frankie: Absolutely and that era aswell had room for originality I mean great songs are great songs and they’ll stand the test of time and that’s what Neil Finn does he writes some good songs. But my favourite New Zealand songwriter is Dave Dobbyn he just writes world class songs and he hasn’t had the world success that I would have liked him to have because I think he’s absolutely world class. And most probably the best hook line writer and by that I mean chorus would be Jordan Luck so we got plenty of fine songwriters. Evermore are a band that are writing good songs now and I think with a bit of luck will have international exposure outside of Australia because success in Australia is nothing new for New Zealand bands, you know we had that forty years ago nothings changed. So these guys have got to get to the states like Neil Finns done they got to get to Europe. You know the most successful New Zealand performer record wise is most probaby John Rowles. In England he a number 2 and a number 7 in the British charts
SANZ: I didn’t know that
Frankie:Yeah in the British charts in the early 70’s and that’s when records were selling by the half million to a million record units huge units and you got success on the world stage so if you ask anybody who knows New Zealand music they’ll tell you that
SANZ: what would you say makes NZ music unique compared to say music from America
Frankie: There’s nothing unique about New Zealand music to me it’s unique to New Zealanders, it’s unique if it’s cultural. What is cultural European music you wouldn’t have a clue would you
SANZ: No
Frankie: New Zealand music will be judged in the end by the success on the world stage this is on the success of what they do around the world and how many people know about them do they have a number one in Brittain or the States, do they sell a lot of units, do they become successful in those parts of the world that’s how you judge on a world basis cause that’s how we look at American bands and English bands. Now what’s cultural about some of the English bands? Do you know if I played half a dozen unknown songs to you but they’re great songs by great bands or great singers you wouldn’t be able to tell me which country they came from if it’s all in English would you. So New Zealand music unless it talks about New Zealand in the song like Parihaka and Dominion Road that’s New Zealand music but it’s still based on rock premise. Would Dominion Road sell overseas... it’s a great song
SANZ: Well there are bands overseas who have covered Dominion Road
Frankie: It is a great song Dominion Road why the hell not whta’s the difference between Dominion Road and Abbey Road ? Abbey Studios and EMI that’s the difference
SANZ: If you could choose a nz band/artist to represent nz overseas who would it be and which of their songs
Frankie: Well it wouldn’t be one it would be a number of them ahh Dave Dobbyn would be one simply because he has the ability to stand there with a guitar and move people with the strength of his songs and his voice. I think he’s got a great rock voice and Hinewehi Mohi she had an album out called Oceania because of her cultural pop bent jeez we’ve crossed the board. There actually is you’ve got the Kiri Te Kanawas and all that and they’re doing it, there’s so many good ones that do it internationally who are not heralded who go to the cultural concerts in the other parts of the world and take our culture of New Zealand to these music festivals and they never make alot of money and they never get a huge amount of publicity back home and they do it and love it they love what they do.
SANZ: What would you consider a classic NZ song
Frankie: Blue Smoke that’s the first one that was the first considered pop song ever recorded in New Zealand so I look at that as the start. But jeez there’s so many loyal is another one I mean it’s over exposed on television but the songs still a beautiful song and a great song and very New Zealand in all the meanings.
SANZ: would you consider it an iconic song aswell
Frankie: Ohh definitely absolutely oh Hoki Mi is an iconic New Zealand song that pretty much every New Zealander sings when they’re overseas when you get a few drinks into them and away they go cause it reminds them of home. You know I mean there’s so many but Blue Smoke would be the first and loyal would most probably be the second
SANZ: Do you own any of your brother jons albums
Frankie: Absolutely yep. I negotiated his first contracts when I was living in the states all over the phone so yea. Johnny is one of the best rock singers to ever come out of New Zealand he has a great rock voice. He just finished a tour with Noiseworks when they reunited. They were his band in Australia and did a sold out tour and they’re looking at doing another album. They broke up because of drugs basically when they just reached their height overseas and Australia. So yes I do and I’m not biased because I judge him on the same value as I judge everybody else. Can he sing, Is he a good songwriter absolutely good band absolutely is he professional does he love what he does you bet your ass he does.
SANZ: What was the last NZ album you bought
Frankie: The last New Zealand album I bought was Oceania by Hinewehi Mohi but I download a lot of New Zealand songs on Itunes I’m a big supporter of paying to keep the music going.
SANZ: If you could do a duet with another NZ artist who would it be and why
Frankie: Well my brother comes to mind probably because of family and the similarity of voices even though I’m a baritone and he’s a tenor. The blending of voices within a family is always pretty close for example the Finn Brothers and Evermore you can tell that the closeness of the harmony in the tone. In the new breed Hollie Smith because I’m from a soul backround and she has depths of range and soul that I think haven’t been exploited and may never be unless she goes to the heart of where her music comes from and thats the states. Duets are hard to sought of say really.
SANZ: what are your plans for the rest of 07/08
Frankie: Well I got a couple of things to do. I got christmas in the park in Auckland coco cola Christmas in the park that is. Christmas in the park here in Tauranga which I’m looking forward to with Jackie Clarke And Tina Cross. Now there’s two strong female icons in New Zealand music and what they haven’t done is not worth mentioning and a couple of corporate gigs then chill.
SANZ: Thanks for that.
Frankie: My pleasure.


Frankie and I after the interview

 
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