Songlines Across New Zealand
  Simon Sweetman 23.10.2012 via Email
 
What inspired/is the story behind the book 
The book is called On Song: Stories Behind New Zealand's Pop Classics - I talk to the musicians and songwriters behind 30 of the songs that I feel have helped shaped an idea of New Zealand music. I also bring my thoughts to each song, the book tells the story behind each song, how it was written, what it has come to mean. In truth, the main thing that inspired the book was a deadline. That's ultimately what inspires any writing. And as it's my first book I can say that part of the inspiration and story behind it has been my whole life and all the listening I've done up to this point.
 
Had you always wanted to write a book about music
I'm not sure about always - but certainly since I was a teenager, devouring music books and music. Definitely. For the last five years I've been blogging every week day at Stuff.co.nz with Blog On The Tracks so in some sense I've already written several books but it's definitely a different discipline writing a book, one that comes with its own rewards and frustrations. I'm very proud of the book and very glad I did it and was given the opportunity to do it. 
 
How long has this book been in the making
Well the book takes in my whole life of listening but it was a commissioned piece. The publisher, Penguin, came to me with the suggestion for the book. So the whole process has taken just over a year. I spent the second half of last year making song selections, researching and interviewing and the book was written - mostly - between November of last year and January of this year. I then had another burst of writing across March-May and from there some editing and the usual trimming and shaping process. It has gone quickly - been a whirlwind year, especially when you factor in the birth of my first son. I wrote most of the book with him in a bassinet beside me - or stealing glances as I checked on him. My wife became, immediately, the most amazing mother. And has always been an amazing support to me and for me. So there were some fraught times and a lot of sleepwalking - as I worked a 'real' job too in and around parenting, blogging, reviewing and book writing. But it's done now. 
 
Are there any stories that you would have liked to have heard that did not make it into the book 
I'm really pleased with the stories we have in the book - it feels a great balance. Indie artists and Flying Nun, established "legends" of the scene. Some newer writers, male, female, Polynesian, rock, hip-hop, bands, solo artists - there are a lot of the usual suspects and obvious contenders in here and then a few surprises. With a limit of 30 there are always going to be things that were missed out - the book hopefully opens a dialogue up for readers; gives them a chance to respond, to wonder what else might have been included. Maybe there'll be a second volume? I think that would be great...
 
How did you get into music journalism/music blogging 
It was always something I wanted to do. I started writing articles for student and community papers through high school and university, politics and sport reports to start and some general features. Then I moved into reviewing arts - theatre, books, movies just as much as music. And then I started to focus on music writing. From there I found a few platforms, I've reviewed music for TV and radio as well as print and online and then the opportunity to write a daily blog for a mainstream news website was made available - or at least it was something I put myself forward for. And over the last few years I've become known more as a blogger I guess. But I'm always trying to stretch the definition of a music blog. I do a lot of in depth interviews on the blog as well as reviews of old and new product, previews, rants and raves - again it's about creating and making a dialogue. 
 
 
What has been the most memorable moment in your 
And is there a moment you’d like to forget
There's no one memorable moment. And probably no one moment I'd like to forget. For every free ticket to see Neil Young or The Roots or Bob Dylan there has been a request to review Hot Chelle Rae or Donny Osmond or Isla Grant. It's a job at the end of the day - and like any it comes with perks. There are good days and not so good days. I consider myself very lucky to have spoken with some of the legends of music I have interviewed; people who could never know how much they have meant to me through their music: Elvis Costello, Mark Knopfler, George Clinton, Mavis Staples, Kristin Hersh, Dave Dobbyn and so many others. I've seen some amazing shows and I always look forward to an album arriving through the letterbox that will make the world just a little bit better for me for a long or little while. And then there have been a small handful of interviews that didn't go quite to plan, albums that have been boring, gigs that have felt like a chore. These are very small complaints in the scheme of things. 
 
If you could go back in time and do what you've done in your writing/blogging career all over again would you and would you do anything differently  
I doubt there's really anything I could have done differently - maybe requested a bit more money up front, you tend to do a lot of things for free with this gig, earn some goodwill and then be exploited after you're hooked into publishing and thinking your furthering your name. That said, it's harder to get the work these days and everyone has their own platform and forum with blogging and such. I'm very grateful that I've carved out whatever niche I have for myself. And that I've done it very much independently as a writer working for a range of publications and shows, providing a range of content. It's been hugely challenging and rewarding. And I love it. 
 
Now you have interviewed a lot of kiwi acts, who have been some of your most memorable/favourite  interviews been 
So many of the interviews for the book were very memorable - three hours in Dave Dobbyn's studio after I was promised one hour. We chatted about jazz and Brian Eno, I was given a tour of his guitars and drum kit, we talked about his family and life outside of music - and then we talked about so much music. Dobbyn is one of my musical heroes and I had spoken to him before on the phone for what I thought was a very good interview. But to meet him and be made to feel so welcome was very special. Later that same day I spent several hours with Jordan Luck, talking about his career and again, music in general. We had beers on the deck at his house and he played me a private version of the song 'Victoria'. He is a kind-hearted and enthusiastic man and one of our greatest songwriters. And - still on the same day - I had dinner with Jan Hellriegel and her fiance. We talked about Neil Young and New Zealand music across the 1980s and 1990s. We talked about her music and her return to music.. That, all up, was a very special day. It was also my first real indication that the book was going to happen. I was already working on it - but this was my proof (to myself) that I had something. That was I involved in something worthy and special.
I also really enjoy interviewing Anika Moa. I've chatted to her a few times and one time, memorably, she interviewed herself for my blog. I think she's talented and funny and I have enjoyed getting to know her across a few formal and informal interviews and meetings.
 
Is there anyone you haven’t interviewed that you would really like to interview?
Yes. I'd love to chat with Neil Finn - he's one of my musical heroes and it's always been a goal to speak with him. There are plenty of musicians internationally and locally that I'd like to talk with. The list is long. I feel very fortunate to have ticked a few off the list.

What are your thoughts on NZ’s got talent?
I don't really have any thoughts on this show. It's not a show for me. I hope the people that watch it are enjoying it. I hope the people that appear on the show can manage to get on with life after their bubble has been burst. 
 
What are your thoughts on those types of shows overall 
They seem to have very little to do with music. 
 
What are your thoughts on the whole copyright bill debacle
It's an interesting time for music. We have to remember that there was music long before there was a music industry. And there will be music long after there is a music industry. 
 
What are your thoughts on you tube now compared to when it first appeared on the internet
It's an essential part of my day. It's an amazing go-to for research. I find for interviews it is particularly crucial. You can usually find an interview snippet from anyone that you are asked to talk with. This means you get to hear their voice and in a way you get some read on what their body language is like, how they carry themselves, their tone. This is all helpful and reassuring. And for music it is very handy. But I use it only for clips - reminders of things to listen to and to send out ideas to others. I'm not much interested in listening to computer-sound. I still prefer, where possible, a stereo system that is not tied to my computer.

What are your thoughts on digital downloads vs. the good old cd 
I don't miss CDs as a piece of product - but they are a lot easier to deal with as a reviewer. You stack them up and work through the pile, a visual/visible reminder of the music you need to get to. It's easy to forget when it's just files. I also do a lot of listening to music on drives and CDs are still good for that. But my favourite format for music is the brand new vinyl that comes with a download code. That's really the best of both worlds. If I don't want the music on my iPod or have it already then I can give the code to someone else so they experience the music while I have the LP for when I want to sit down with the album. 
 
In your opinion what do you think makes New Zealand music stand out from the rest of the music around the world
There's no one exact New Zealand music but in the glimpses when we really get it right I think we're capable of putting across a worldview musically and lyrically that you don't hear in other songs. Artists like Rhian Sheehan and SJD are great examples of composers that don't try to put across a New Zealand sound but it's inherent in what they do. The same is true of Martin Phillipps and Graeme Downes, or Bic Runga and Dave Dobbyn. My favourite New Zealand songs take me instantly to the place - the coastline, the psyche, the defiance, the beauty and the ugliness of being a New Zealander and being in New Zealand. And I'm always grateful for that reminder. 
 
Are there any kiwi acts who have slipped off the radar/face of the earth who you would like to make a come back 
I think that Bressa Creeting Cake, Stereo Bus and Superette were all very fine bands. I almost think they all need their time again and/or a second chance. I still entertain the idea that Phil Judd and Tim Finn might work together and recover the spark of their most exciting collaborations - Finn needs collaboration to be truly successful and Judd needs the platform so that he can be taken seriously, so that people can be reminded of his worth. Some days I think he's our greatest musician.
 
if you had to choose a NZ band/solo artist to represent NZ overseas who would it be  (and what song of theirs would you think could represent that band)
Too hard to pick just one but you hear the best of the Flying Nun music and wonder why it wasn't taken up in larger numbers here and overseas. The first Dimmer album was special - I think almost anything from that could stand up, still, on the world stage. And I think the trilogy of albums from Dave Dobbyn in the mid/late 1990s (Lament For The Numb, Twist, The Islander) is an extraordinary body of work.

What would you consider a classic NZ song in your view
Well, I've written about 30 of them in my book. And there are many more besides...but one I often think about as simply a great song is "Slipping Away" by Max Merritt and the Meteors. 
 
who would some of your favourite NZ bands/artists be to listen 
Besides anyone that I have already named here I would have to mention Chris Knox, The Clean, Lawrence Arabia, The Phoenix Foundation, Bailterspace, Paul Ubana Jones, Straitjacket Fits, The Chills, Prince Tui Teka, Hello Sailor, The Mutton Birds, The Front Lawn, Split Enz and so many others...

What would your favourite NZ cover song be (eg mine would be The Mutton Birds cover of Nature and Tex Pistols Game Of Love)
Again, a lot of great covers, Quincy Conserve did some great covers as did a lot of the great Kiwi working bands of the 1950s and 1960s. I think The Mutton Birds really nailed Nature and in my book Wayne Mason talks about that; about how much he really loved their version. There can't really be much more to say, praise-wise, if the original's writer is happy with your version, right? 

(hard question) What would be your Favourite NZ song/songs overall (I am guessing this could end up being a hard/long list)
I can say, without question, that every song in the book - all 30 of them - mean something to me. Many of them are, to this day, personal favourites. Some of them are very well known songs, Slice Of Heaven, Don't Dream It's Over, Gutter Black, others are perhaps lesser known, more obscure, more leftfield - Emma Paki's System Virtue, Jan Hellriegel's The Way I Feel, Space Waltz's Out On The Street, Lawrence Arabia's The Beautiful Young Crew. But there are so many songs that didn't make the book - we had a rule of one song per artist - so the book's introduction is called Bold As Brass, after the Split Enz songs. One of the first songs to really have an impact on me - I couldn't believe what I was hearing as a young kid listening to the Enz Of An Era compilation. It was mind-blowing.

What is your all time Favourite NZ album/albums
Again too many to name but Dimmer's first album and Bressa Creeting Cake's self-titled debut are special for me. As is Superette's Tiger and SJD's Songs From A Dictaphone, Southern Lights and Dayglo Spectres. The Phoneix Foundation has managed to get better with every album - and I like all of their albums. So I very much look forward to their next album and to the forthcoming SJD record. Rhian Sheehan is making astounding music every time and there are many Kiwi compilations that I love, Pop-Eyed and the Topless Women Talk About Their Lives soundtrack are two examples. Recently I've fallen in love again with Daddy's Highway by The Bats. And The Clean's most recent album Mister Pop is perfect. 
 
What was the last NZ album you purchased
A brand new vinyl version of Daddy's Highway by The Bats. It came with a download code. Bonus.
 
Thanks for your time all the best
John
Simon Sweetman is the author of On Song due out 24th October 2012 from all good bookstores
http://www.penguin.com.au/products/9780143568162/song

 
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