A brand new rock school is opening its doors in Auckland. Could it produce the next great wave of Aotearoa music?
Pianos sit perfectly still, guitars lean gently against their stands, amps are turned off and drum kits are gathering dust. Right now, on a sunny Tuesday morning, the only noises being absorbed by the Portuguese cork walls at 311 Manukau Road are soft footsteps echoing around the historic former post office. In the quiet, soundproofed surrounds of Chiron Rock School, you could hear a pin drop.
After 3pm, all this will change. Here, in a building that recently underwent a $5 million makeover, it’s hoped a new generation of young musicians will be chiselled into chart-topping, radio-dominating guitar giants. Could New Zealand’s first permanent rock school help build a wave to rival our last great era of rock music, when The Datsuns, The D4, Elemeno P and Blindspott dominated the mid-2000s airwaves?
“That would be the dream,” admits John Eady. The voice of the musician and educator behind the initiative is on the phone, talking The Spinoff through a tour the development. Someone in his family caught Covid, so he’s isolating at home. Despite not being able to show it off in person, Eady’s clearly very proud of what he’s helped build. “We did the entire place in three and a half months,” he says. “We came in … $10,000 over budget.”
No expense has been spared in the epic build of Chiron Rock School. One hundred bails of silencer Pink Batts are stuffed into the walls, covered by 20 tonnes of gib and 300 tubes of acoustic sealant. Every room is fully soundproofed and triple glazed, with its own wifi and humidifier. No one will be able to hear what’s going on from the outside of the building.
Inside, there are 12 studios and an area for mini concerts and “kiddie raves”, with several full-time tutors on hand and musicians like Fur Patrol’s Julia Deans signed up to run workshops. Kids will be dropped off after school, then set about making as much noise as they possible can. One of the tutors, Max Earnshaw, says this would have been “the absolute dream” when he was a kid. “It’s fantastic,” he says.
Yes, the name is misleading. This isn’t a school exclusive to rising rock stars. Eady hopes bands mix with budding pop stars, R&B singers and classical players to allow collaboration and experimentation. “We start them from absolute square one, no prior musical experience whatsoever,” he says. “It’s just getting kids who have that interest and getting them galvanised.” Band camps are on offer during school holidays, and scholarships are available for those who can’t afford it.
Eady hopes it quickly becomes part of the infrastructure, a foundational pillar providing support for an industry that’s had it tough lately. “The rock market is massive and it’s not particularly well supported both in terms of education or opportunities,” he says. Kids will learn instrumentation and songwriting, but they’ll also learn logistics, the nitty gritty of being in a band, stuff like performing a soundcheck and talking to the press, the stuff they’ll need to do once they leave school.
“That’s stuff that’s not taught,” says Eady. “That’s definitely stuff we will be looking into.”
Two years of the Covid-19 pandemic has been brutal on New Zealand’s music industry. Lockdowns have seen hundreds of gigs cancelled, forcing artists large and small off the road. Many in the industry, including those who provide critical concert services like lighting and PAs, are returning to full-time work in other sectors to help pay the bills. Some wonder if the industry will ever look the same again.
Yet, one bright spot is the amount of infrastructure being introduced to help support the industry’s future. Big Fan, Joel Little’s recently-opened Kingsland studio, is being run as a community project to provide jobs, studio space and support for fledgling artists. It’s also hoped those who use it will get the chance to rub shoulders and share tips with some of Little’s celebrity clientele, like Khalid, Imagine Dragons and Taylor Swift.
It’s hoped Chiron Rock School will become another cog in that wheel, says Eady. Right now, school-leavers wanting to chase a career in music are left to do it alone. “It’s up to them to forge their own way,” he says. That means the most successful are the ones with the most confidence and experience. His school will help give them that. “It’s not just about producing the next era of rockers. They’ve got to be well-rounded musicians as well.”
Isn’t turning rock into a business going against the genre’s rebellious roots? Eady laughs. Yes, he says, it’s true. But it depends on how the school’s run, and what the outcome is. That’s something they may not see for five years, as Chiron’s students develop their own sound and progress to become full-time touring artists. “We’re not hard-out businessmen,” he says. “The key focus and core goal here is to get the kids engaged.”
Yes, there’s still room for kids to express their rebel yell — within reason. “If they want to be a rebel, they can be a rebel… as long as they don’t go breaking too much stuff.”