EXCLUSIVE: Salmonella Dub premiere new music – and front up on all that Music Hall of Fame drama

Hussein Moses talks to Salmonella Dub’s Andrew Penman about their brand new collaboration with Beat Rhythm Fashion’s Nino Birch, and finds out exactly what went down between the band and the organisers of the NZ Music Awards.

If all had gone to plan, Salmonella Dub would’ve been inducted into the New Zealand Music Hall of Fame tonight. The band were approached about receiving this year’s Legacy Award at the New Zealand Music Awards, but they made headlines when they turned the offer down after clashing with award organisers over who would take the stage to perform one of their songs.

At first, the band were told they could choose an artist themselves but were soon informed that their selection – ‘80s Wellington act Beat Rhythm Fashion – would be too obscure for TV audiences. Organisers suggested that Ladi6 or Trinity Roots would be more appropriate, but the band stood their ground and were soon dropped. Sharon O’Neill will receive the honour instead.

Andrew Penman, one of the founding members of Salmonella Dub, issued a statement when the dispute went public, saying that they were a young band and not yet deserving of the award anyway. “We feel it would be more fitting to be invited into the NZ music industry’s award ceremony in 2043 when we celebrate our 50th birthday.”

That was three months ago. I had been in touch with Penman at the time and he told me he wasn’t interested in saying more than he already had. Besides, in a fortuitous turn of events, the squabble had inspired some new music. Salmonella Dub had been working with Nino Birch from Beat Rhythm Fashion – the same band that had found themselves in the middle of all this drama. The interview would have to wait.

A couple of days ago, I heard back from Penman who said that the collaboration was done, dusted and ready to be heard. It’s called ‘World She Waits’ and it was inspired by global issues, corporate greed and land right clashes in Aotearoa and with the tribes affected by the Dakota Access Pipeline in the US.

Now would be a good time to finally talk as well.

Walk me through the events that led you to turn down the Legacy Award.

We were offered the opportunity to choose our own presenter and an iconic or current New Zealand band that would play one of our tunes on the night. We had a great discussion about all the possibilities, right from, god bless him, Fred Dagg, who was one, and The Clean who were another. Of course, The Clean were going through the same thing. We weren’t aware at the time that they’d turned it down twice before, but they were still debating whether they were going to accept the APRA one.

Our most influential, heartfelt band of the ’80s that we listened to leading into the formation of Salmonella Dub was Beat Rhythm Fashion. The other one would’ve been the Skeptics, but once again, god bless him, David D’ath is not around. It’s a lot of those sort of acts that are, for us, the groundbreakers of a contemporary music voice for that era. So we decided on Beat Rhythm Fashion and we made contact with Nino Birch through Rob Mayes of Failsafe Records who’s an old mate back from the Christchurch music scene. It all fell into place. Beat Rhythm Fashion were actually working on a new album.

This was all in discussion with the Music Awards people and they quickly said ‘we don’t know who you’re talking about but we’ll have a think about it’. There was a u-turn from the Music Awards people, basically. The producer of the show, which I can only assume is Vodafone or TV3, basically turned their nose up and said it doesn’t fit the demographic and they said we’d need to have someone like Ladi6 or Trinity Roots. No disrespect to either Ladi6 or Trinity Roots, but that wasn’t the way we were thinking. We wanted someone that was influential in our embryonic stage. I just said well, if we can’t have Beat Rhythm Fashion then sorry I won’t be there. And that was it.

What was the reaction like from the organisers when you turned down the award?

I got no response. I emailed them back because it was kind of a heat of the moment thing and I said ‘look, the other guys might represent but I’m not going to front up if you can’t honour what you’ve offered us’. If we can’t have who we deem to be iconic and significant, that’s kind of a complete u-turn on the kaupapa of what we were offered. I had to ring Adam Holt [Universal Music] to find out what was going on and he said ‘They’ve dropped you. They might consider you again in the future, but they’ve dropped you’. Simple as that.

How did you feel when you heard that the Beat Rhythm Fashion performance had been rejected for being too obscure?

It was just absolutely bizarre. And it’s sad. I would rate them alongside all of those ‘80s iconic bands. We were heavily influenced by the punk scene coming out of the UK, which of course brought with it the digidub and electro that was going on, right from Kraftwerk through to old stuff like 23 Skidoo and Can. Alongside that, we were obsessive about following the development of New Zealand music: The Enemy, Bored Games, early Shayne Carter stuff, and what was going on in Christchurch with the Gordons. It was an exciting time because live music was actually alive and creative, and it was significantly reflective of the culture at the time.

Was there part of you that felt like it was too early to be inducted into the Hall of Fame anyway?

Absolutely. I hadn’t even done any research on it when this all came through and I looked back and went ‘hang on a minute – Split Enz haven’t even been inducted’. There’s a heap of bands like The Swingers that should be inducted well before us. I didn’t want to deal with the media about this, except I was chased by someone from Stuff. I got bullied. I got told that my wife’s Facebook post, that had gone out to all our friends explaining what happened, was going to be quoted. I said ‘hang on a minute – that’s a private Facebook page’.

The only thing I could think to say was that for us, we’re only 25. We’re only halfway. It would be more appropriate to celebrate our legacy on our 50th which is in 2043. Meanwhile, there’s a heap of other acts that need to be acknowledged.

You’re about to celebrate 25 years together as a band, so you would’ve experienced your fair share of industry bullshit in that time.

I understand where the industry’s coming from. We’ve known it for years because we’ve been through it all. There’s the commercial side versus the creative side. Unfortunately, when it comes to awards, it’s about the commercial side. From our end, it’s about keeping your feet on the ground and building from the ground up. It’s like building music from the rhythm section up.

So out of all this, you end up teaming up with Nino Birch from Beat Rhythm Nation on this new song ‘World She Waits’. Can you explain the Aunt Daisy connection that’s in there?

Aunt Daisy was, of course, a classic iconic Kiwi radio DJ in the ’50s and ’60s. Her radio shows are hilarious because she talks so fast. She might be talking about a recipe or what to do for Christmas or something, but it’s just name dropping brands all the way through it. It’s such unsolicited, hilarious, product placement. For us through the writing process, we always have a working title. This one was ‘Driving Aunt Daisy To Meet Nino’s People’. We just thought it was a cheeky euphemism for the New Zealand recorded music industry. We’re going to take the record industry to meet Nino because they need to meet him.

Some of Nino Birch’s lyrics were inspired by the Dakota Access Pipeline protesters. How did these sorts of global issues become the backbone of the song?

It’s a global thing, but it’s also localised for us. Our biggest fears and concerns here in the mainland of New Zealand have been watching what’s been going on over the last 10 years particularly around water rights, the over consent of water, and the absolute abominable ruination of our rivers and landscape, right from pine forestry through to dairy farming. Alongside that, of course, are the big issues around cultural respect for local iwi. It’s just terrible. I think Nino’s lyric “save our sovereign rights and sacred lands” is very poignant. I mean, we’ve got to. Someone’s got to take a stand. We’ve got to stand up for it.

How does it feel now you’re 25 years into the game? Is it something you’ve stopped to think about?

As I say, it’s marking the halfway point for me. I’m 50 now and I’ve been cheekily saying I’m halfway through life. I’ve got another 50 to go. The band’s got at least another 25. I expect to still be on stage on my 75th. It’s great watching artists now – and once again, he’s another one that’s passed away – but people like Leonard Cohen still do it right into their late-70s. I’m proud that we’re still doing it and we have this vision to keep doing it.


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