Alex Casey talks to the key players involved in one of the greatest moments in New Zealand television history.
Erin Simpson is playing air guitar beneath guttural groans. A kid is doing enthusiastic devil horns. A death metal band is playing against a purple sequin background. It was 4.30 in the afternoon, 2010, when TV2 aired one of greatest episodes of kids television this country has ever seen. Erin – dressed in low-slung baggy jeans and various coloured hair extensions – punches the air, slightly offbeat with the closing chord. “How about that, eh?” she asks nobody.
The Erin Simpson Show was an after school magazine-style show for kids, airing from 2009-2013. Although host Erin Simpson entertained big name guests including Justin Bieber, Jamie Curry and Kimberley Crossman over the 770 episodes, it was Christchurch death metal outfit Blindfolded and Led to the Woods that sent the show global. Sandwiched between craft segments and holiday giveaways, a compilation video of the band performing live in studio has now chalked up over 500,000 views on YouTube.
So how did a death metal outfit end up in what Erin Simpson describes as their version of “a Rainbow Bright hell”? Was it an orchestrated viral stunt or a genuine producer fumble? And, eight years on, how do the key players feel about it? I needed to know absolutely everything.
“How it started was that we used to try to have as many musical guests on the show as we possibly could,” Erin Simpson tells me, “especially with live performances.” Working late nights at Whitebait studios in Christchurch, the Erin Simpson crew would often hear a band practising in one of the storage units nearby. “We thought we might as well try out the band that we’d been hearing three nights a week for so many weeks,” says Erin. “I don’t think we knew exactly how heavy they were at that stage, but we approached them anyway.”
One of the producers ran down to the unit one night, and asked if they would be interested in performing live on the show. The band was called Blindfolded and Led to the Woods, a death metal group comprised of five men in their early twenties. Nick, bass player and band manager, remembers the first encounter with the producer well. “We questioned her a bit, because right next to us was a much more…” he pauses, “radio-friendly sounding band.
Blindfolded and Led to the Woods was far from the show’s usual target audience. “We understood it was like a spinoff of What Now? – at least that’s how it was described to me,” says Nick. Despite their reticence, the producer maintained that the show was keen to cover other styles and genres. The band agreed to do it, being extremely careful to declare their status as a death metal band at every opportunity before filming.
The episode was recorded live on a Tuesday, scheduled to air on TV2 the following Friday afternoon. “For live bands, it’s quite a big set up,” says Erin. “There’s a rehearsal, but you really only get one shot.” As the band began practising, Erin remembers a quiet sense of doubt seeping in. “We were like ‘oh my god, what are we doing? Is this alright? Is this looking after the youth of today?’ We didn’t even know if it was okay to be on television.”
Nick remembers sensing a similar doubt from the technicolour platform. “The guy who was doing sound told us that, as soon as we started playing, the producers looked at each other like ‘who the fuck booked these guys?’” Although there was a terse background discussion, Erin says they reached the conclusion that the band was fine to perform. “We agreed we were supporting young Kiwis with a passion and a goal who were working hard,” she says, “so it was all good.”
I ask Erin if the band’s name might have been an early clue that they were darker than your average boy band. “I don’t know,” she replies, “how do you get heavy death metal out of that?” Nick maintains that the meaning is intentionally ambiguous. “We leave it up to the listeners to interpret it however they want to. People associate it with something sinister, but I always joke that you could be blindfolded and led into the woods for a kids party with fairy bread.”
Erin recalls the atmosphere was “epic” when the band began their live performance. “I remember jumping off a couch, there was a lot of headbanging,” she says. “It’s some of our best work.” Nick remembers one distinctive crew member behind the camera, who was seemingly there on audience vibes patrol. “He was a middle-aged dude who looked a bit like a drill sergeant. In between takes, he kept telling the kids that they had to go crazy. It was so funny.”
The drill sergeant needn’t have worried. With live death metal comes the circle pit, and The Erin Simpson Show was no exception. “This little girl got hit by a flying elbow and started full-on crying,” says Nick. “We were up on this platform just looking down at all the chaos.” For their closing number, the band played a mysterious song called ‘Portraits’, which to a non-death metal listener sounds akin to a possessed bear being disemboweled.
“They did promise us there were no swear words in the song, but whether or not they slipped something in there I’ve got no idea,” says Erin. “I couldn’t make out a single thing they were saying the whole time.” Although he can’t remember the exact lyrics of ‘Portrait’, Nick was able to shed light on the song’s key themes. “From memory, that song is literally about whether portrait or landscape is the better orientation.”
At the very end of the episode, Erin declares that the school holidays have begun, therefore “it’s dance time!”. In the background, Blindfolded and Led to the Woods can be seen lumbering their way through a choreographed hip hop dance to the show’s upbeat theme tune. “For me, that’s actually the funniest part of the show,” says Nick, “we thought it would be hilarious, and it absolutely was.” Erin says she knows people who still hate her for making them do that dance.
The episode aired the following Friday, with the band firmly believing that their performance was going to get cut. It didn’t. They secured a copy of it on DVD, edited together the parts that they are in, and uploaded it to Youtube titled Technical Death Metal Band on Kids TV Show. The clip climbed quickly to 300,000 views. “We saw the views going up and lots of death metal bands chiming in saying ‘oh my god, this is so cool’,” says Erin. “Other people left really confused comments like ‘why is this on a kids television show?’. We didn’t really know the answer to that.”
The impact of the clip became clear when Blindfolded opened for Aborted, a Belgian death metal band, after they had gone viral. “The singer walked right up to our vocalist Stace and said ‘you’re the guy from the kids show.’” He’s far from the only one to recognise them at a gig. “It’s funny because those kids who were there that day are now old enough to come to our shows,” says Nick. “There have been a couple of guys who have come up to us and pointed themselves out in the video.”
Both parties look back on the performance as a career-defining moment. “Me and my producers never forgot it,” says Erin. “We thought we had made this huge mistake but it’s actually one of the best things we’ve ever done.” The band have had a more tumultuous relationship with the viral clip. “We started out thinking it was the most hilarious thing ever, and then we started hating it,” says Nick. “Now we’ve realised it’s never going to die, so we might as well embrace it.
In fact, eight years later, the band have re-ignited the essential moment by inviting both Erin Simpson and her ex-Bachelor NZ partner Zac Franich to attend one of their shows as VIP guests. “Now that we’ve realised it’s never going to die, we thought we might as well embrace it,” says Nick. “Just when you think you’ve escaped the clutches of it, it always pulls you back.” Along with working on a new album in 2019, they’ve set themselves another ambitious goal.
“Our mission now is simple: we want to make Erin Simpson the most death metal celebrity in New Zealand.”