As music director for this year’s Silver Scroll Awards, Shayne Carter’s job is to design song reinterpretations of the five finalists for the best New Zealand songwriting. He spoke to Calum Henderson about the skill of covering a song, writing his book, and not really liking awards shows.
The midday temperature in Dunedin is 3 degrees and the hills around the city are covered in snow. Shayne Carter is parked up at Aramoana Spit at the head of Otago Harbour, looking out over the beach as another band of hail rolls in. This is where he has to come to get cellphone reception these days.
“It’s only about a minute down the road so it’s all cool bro,” he reassures me. He is currently living out at Aramoana while working on a book, “a sort of memoir thing” which he says is his project for the year. I am phoning about his other job: Music Director for the 2017 APRA Silver Scroll Awards.
This year’s ceremony is being held in Dunedin on the 28th of September – the first time the event has been held in the southern city. Carter is one of Dunedin’s most well-known musical exports, having formed bands The Doublehappys and Straitjacket Fits there in the 1980s. Fast-forward 30 or so years, ‘I Know Not Where I Stand’ off his most recent album (Offsider, the first to be released under his own name) is one of the Top 20 songs nominated for this year’s Silver Scroll.
But back to Aramoana Spit and the hailstorm and the deserted beach. ”It’s really packing up out there,” Carter reports from the comfort of his car. “It’s pretty cool actually.”
For the full list of the 20 songs nominated for the APRA Silver Scroll Award see the bottom of the story.
The Spinoff: You are the music director for this year’s Silver Scrolls. What does that mean?
Shayne Carter: That means pretty much that you get to curate the acts and arrange the music. So basically it’s a curation job where I pick acts that I like or think represent good pockets of New Zealand music, that kind of stuff.
So you get to choose who comes and performs the covers of the five finalists…
…And then there’s the classical award, and the Māori song of the year as well, and a couple of other bits and pieces. I think the whole idea is to maybe get people who aren’t just going to do straight karaoke versions of the tunes and who will put their own angle on it.
The Top 20 has just been released – is your mind already whirring with possible matches?
To be quite honest I’d kinda thought about who I’d like to perform anyway, and I pretty much decided without ever actually seeing the list of songs. Because if they’re good musicians or they’ve got a good attitude they’ll be able to do anything with whatever they’ve got really. But yeah, it’s a good list of songs.
Can you reveal any of the artists you’ve got up your sleeve? Or is it a secret.
It’s verrrrry top secret. Very important. Only people in the industry are allowed to know. [Laughs] Nah, yeah I think we’ve got to keep it under our hats so it’s a bit of a surprise when it does happen.
You’ve been on both sides of the Silver Scrolls covers equation – a couple of Dimmer songs have been performed in the past and you did The Swingers’ ‘Counting The Beat’ in 2015. What’s it like hearing one of your songs reinterpreted like that?
It’s really cool. I think the last one was when Demarnia Lloyd did my song ‘Degrees of Existence’. She did it really different, it was really stripped back with a little five-piece vocal unit and drums and bass. I really loved it. She had her own take on it which was completely un-rock, unlike the original. What I liked about it is when you hear someone doing your song – especially singing your lyrics and hearing your lyrics coming out of someone else’s mouth – it’s almost literally like stepping outside yourself. One thing I liked when I was sitting there watching that performance was that I thought ‘hey that’s actually a really good lyric’. It was kind of validated by someone else singing it, because when it’s all in your own head you’re just sort of an idiot stumbling around.
What was it like covering a classic like ‘Counting The Beat’? Did you feel a lot of pressure to do it justice?
Yeah, totally. When I did ‘Counting The Beat’, you know – that’s been in a supermarket ad for I dunno how many years and I thought man, this is actually a really cool tune, it needs to be reclaimed from the supermarket aisles. It’s this song about obsession and sort of slightly unwell motivation. It’s got nothing to do with skipping merrily along grabbing your packet of Weetbix. So I wanted to take it back from that and I’ve always really respected Phil Judd as a writer and musician, so I wanted to honour him by making sure this version of his song kicked.
This will be the first time the Silver Scrolls have been held in Dunedin – will that play a part in the musical direction?
There may be a bit of South Island in the mix but I dunno, I’m not really into parochialism. It’s just sort of more picking people that you like really. But I think it’s cool that it’s being held in Dunedin because fuck man, music’s not an Auckland-centric thing is it? In fact I think Auckland’s actually anti-making good music and any people who do make good music there are doing quite well.
You were one of those Auckland musicians until quite recently. How come you moved back to Dunedin?
My mother actually passed away about a year and a half ago, so I really wanted to come down and spend some time with my family. And also I’d lived in Auckland for a really long time and I was basically just feeling really over it. There wasn’t a lot for me to relate to walking down Ponsonby Road you know? I’ve actually really loved it back down here again – the place feels a lot different as an older dude than it did when I wanted to escape as a younger dude. I really appreciate the elemental nature of the fucken land down here bro. It’s awesome. I tell you what, I’m sitting right now on the spit at Aramoana looking at the ocean. In Auckland I’d walk out from my house onto Great North Road to a Caltex.
So now you’re based out at Aramoana, and I heard you’re writing a book – is that true?
Yeah. I managed through some mutual friends to score this place to come out and stay here for a bit. So my plan is to actually sit here this year where I’ve got no internet and I’m not exhausting my brain on the crap that the internet consists of, and where I have to stand at the end of my driveway or drive to the car park to use my phone. That’s a really good circumstance to write under. So I’m chipping away at a sort of memoir thing that I hope to have done by the end of the year. It’s a great environment to do it in. I wake up at 4 or 5 in the morning and I just go hard, there’s no distractions.
What’s the writing process been like?
It’s been really interesting because I started out at the beginning of the year and it took me about three weeks to write one really shit paragraph. I realised it’s because I haven’t actually written prose – you know, spending 8 hours a day, that’s how much per year I’ve spent on it over the last few years. So it took me quite a while to sort of grease the gears and unblock the oil pump, but once I got into it and started doing it for a couple of months it started opening up. It’s a lot of work, it’s like making an album.
Do you remember the first Silver Scrolls you went to?
To be honest, man, I haven’t actually been to that many. Maybe I’ve been to about three or four. I waver in and out when it comes to going to awards nights, I kind of have to force myself to go to that kind of thing. I think I only went once one of my songs was nominated and they asked me to go along.
And it was better than you expected?
It was pretty much what I expected [Laughs].
Was this back in the Straitjacket Fits days?
No, Straitjacket Fits were never nominated.
Really? That is a travesty.
Yeah it is a travesty mate, that’s why we never went. That was our own silent protest, we went ‘ah fuck that’ [Laughs]. Look, I only like awards when they’re being given to me. Then I think ‘Oh, OK, there’s something to this’.
But you like the Silver Scrolls now, right?
I’m still not really a big awards dude, I don’t think music is a competition, but as far as an evening goes I kinda like it because it’s a rare opportunity for the community of people who all sit around alone in their rooms to get together and be socially inadequate in one big room together. I always enjoy it – more just for the sense of community as opposed to the actual performances. Not to undermine my own very important contribution this year, but the performances to me are almost incidental.
One of the songs off your last album (2016’s Offsider) has made the top 20 this year, how does that feel?
Yeah, it’s good man. I think [Offsider] was reasonably obtuse and probably required a bit more listening than people have got time for, because it doesn’t really fit in with anything. But that was the whole idea. So it’s nice to have the quality of what I think is a nicely-written tune recognised, it’s cool.
Looking at your competition there’s a lot of relative newcomers on the list. Do you still keep up with new music these days? Last I heard you were fully immersed in the world of classical.
I still hear new music, but I certainly don’t track it down with the fervency I did as a kid. I don’t really feel the need to be currently up with everything, but you know, fuck man, there’s always good shit happening. There’s always people pushing the envelope and as a musician you’ve got to be aware of what’s going on otherwise you get left behind. But at the same time, just because it’s been made in the last five years doesn’t mean it’s better or more valid than great music that was made 200 years ago. Great music is eternal bro.
The 2017 APRA Silver Scroll Award Top 20:
Close Your Eyes, written by Bic Runga and Kody Nielson, performed by Bic Runga
Cold Steel, written and performed by Troy Kingi and Mara TK
Don’t Worry ‘Bout It, written by Kingdon Chapple-Wilson, performed by Kings
Green Light, written by Ella Yelich-O’Connor, Jack Antonoff, and Joel Little, performed by Lorde
Hate Somebody written by Nick Johnston, Philip Hadfield, Brent Harris, performed by Cut Off Your Hands
Horizon, written by Hannah Topp, performed by Aldous Harding
Hundred Waters, written by Grayson Gilmour and Cory Champion, performed by Grayson Gilmour
If Only, written by Te Karehana Toi, performed by Teeks
I Know Not Where I Stand, written and performed by Shayne P Carter
Liability, written by Ella Yelich-O’Connor and Jack Antonoff, performed by Lorde
Life of the Party, written by Chelsea Jade Metcalf and Leroy James Clampitt, performed by Chelsea Jade
Little Did She Know, written by INF aka Amon McGoram, SPYCC aka Daniel Latu, and SmokeyGotBeatz aka Isaiah Libeau, performed by SWIDT
Lucky Girl, written by Amelia Murray and Gareth Thomas, performed by Fazerdaze
O Heathcote, written by James Milne, performed by Lawrence Arabia
One and Only, written by Brooke Singer, performed by French For Rabbits
Rainbow, written by Louis Baker and Bradford Ellis, performed by Louis Baker
Richard, written and performed by Nadia Reid
Sober, written and performed by Lydia Cole
Sunday Best, written and performed by Seth Haapu
Urutaa written by Lewis de Jong, Henry de Jong, Ethan Trembath, performed by Alien Weaponry
The APRA Silver Scroll Award will be presented at Dunedin Town Hall in Dunedin on Thursday 28 September. The other awards presented on the night are:
APRA Maioha Award, celebrating exceptional waiata featuring te reo
SOUNZ Contemporary Award, celebrating excellence in contemporary composition
APRA Best Original Music in a Feature Film Award
APRA Best Original Music in a Series Award
The Spinoff’s music content is brought to you by our friends at Spark. Listen to all the music you love on Spotify Premium, it’s free on all Spark’s Pay Monthly Mobile plans. Sign up and start listening today.
The Spinoff Daily gets you all the day's best reading in one handy package, fresh to your inbox Monday-Friday at 5pm.