FROM THE ARCHIVES – Shayne Carter, 2009

June 26, 2010
5 mins read

A noisy Sandringham café is the venue for a wide-ranging conversation between Gary Steel and Shayne Carter on the occasion of the release of the Dimmer album Degrees Of Existence

Shayne – Beauty combined with a bit of attitude – even though it’s a terrible word – to me that’s fuckin’ cool man. I don’t like irony in music. Anyone can be ironic. To me irony is being afraid to say what you actually mean. I like people who saying what they fuckin’ mean. We all think something but very few of us say it. We’ll take a diplomatic interpretation and present that. The stuff I respect is gut feeling stuff, even if I don’t necessarily agree.

Witchdoctor – What’s ‘Cold Water’ about?

S – That’s about people who stand around dissing other people, I hate that. I think it’s quite cowardly. Anyone can do that, can say ‘that’s shit’. That’s an easy game. Actually explaining what you like and why, that’s a lot more interesting. It’s a shopping list, I always forget the lyrics to that one! You’ve always been a straight talker, good on you! What I hate is duplicity, I’ve always respected straight talkers. The whole New Zealand thing is keeping it at arm’s length and keeping it to yourself and all that kind of stuff.

WD – What about ‘Comfortable’?

S – I dunno, I guess it’s kind of a love song! Yeah I love that song, it’s one of my favourite tunes on the record, I love the lyric. I’m real proud of that tune bro, I love the fact that it’s simple, but kind of deep at the same time. It is what it is, and there’s no flab. It’s probably my favourite song on the record. I’ve always had this theory that a good lyric will look good on paper, will have a kind of symmetry to it, and that’s one of those lyrics. That one, and ‘What’s A Few Tears’ from the previous Dimmer album. I’ve written weak lines, but that one kills me, it’s fuckin’ good.

WD – How do you think this album sits in the rapidly expanding catalogue?

S – Yeah, I wasted a bit of time there in the beginning. I eventually got there. This album and Star are my two favourite Dimmer albums. The second one’s alright but it’s also got some tunes I can’t stand. I relate this record back to the first one, even though it’s a very different record. It does have that level of experimentation. Even the imagery on the cover  – same blue hue, same light coming down, same pattern. It’s definitely the rockiest one I’ve done, and the “bandiest” one I’ve done, because the band’s got really good. I really wanted to make a record to capture some of that stuff. To me it sounds pretty much like a classic rock lineup.

WD – What are the plans?

S – No idea. I’d really like to go back overseas. The last trip was so liberating, so refreshing. New Zealand can just get so small. It’s like you put your record out, play two weekends of shows and that’s it. And then get told Channel Rock’s not playing your record, that’s the end of that. There’s this whole community of like-minded people around the world.

I heard this great interview with Robert Wyatt recently and he said this really great thing about the record industry. He said in the music industry you’re basically presented with this thing that you either sell a million copies or you’re a failure. And he said what I do is make my music and there are enough people in the world who will hear that music and like it and appreciate it, and there’s enough of them to enable me to do what I do. He said I see myself as a cottage industry because that’s what I am. And I can totally fucking relate to that, that’s exactly right, in New Zealand if you’re not played by Channel Rock your record’s deemed a failure, as evidence of Dimmer being dropped by Sony after that first record. To me that record wasn’t a failure, it was a fucking triumph, and it’s been vindicated by time. So when I heard Robert Wyatt saying that I thought that’s the truth. When I went overseas I found that people liked exactly the same stuff that I liked. They liked the weirder stuff, the more interesting stuff, and it was a great affirmation, and actually made me more confident about what I do, because you’re in New Zealand all the time, you’re up against this wall of indifference, people asking you why you’re not more friendly. [laughs]. But you are. And getting out to the real world you realize that the stuff of yours that has got to cut through is the stuff that you know to be true. So that was really good for me to know bro. I also feel part of the furniture here y’know. I don’t want to be part of the furniture, what a boring fate.

WD – The next step would be becoming Jordan Luck.

S – I’m keenly aware of that mate. Going onto game shows and all that kind of stuff. I’m not interested mate.

WD – Is it on Flying Nun or Warners as such?

S – It’s licensed to Warners here. I don’t even know if Flying Nun exists at the moment. I’ve just licensed it to them for New Zealand; I’ve got the rights to the rest of the world. Suits me, they leave me alone, they give me an advance. But the whole landscape’s changing isn’t it bro, on a monthly basis.

WD – Is it making life different for you? Is that one of the reasons you’re doing gigs here and there before the release?

S – No that’s just typically bad timing mate. Fucked up timing. Kelly had to go to America [she’s married a Nashvilleian], so we had to do these dates now. But even us getting to America, that was purely through MySpace, you know? And there’s no middle man. If we were sitting there waiting for a record company or promoter to ring us up and ask us to tour America we’d be waiting a very long time. We communicated directly with other musicians. It’s great. Even stuff like Protools are eliminating the middle man, meaning that musicians can make their own record. I firmly believe the music industry as a model… in 50 years years time people will look back and say ‘how the fuck?’ I saw a thing the other day, writers in the 1920s got one percent of their publishing rights. How the fuck did that ever happen? But how did it ever happen that record companies could take 85 percent of the profits for these things that cost $40 each but cost $2 to make, and they take all the money. All this copyright law stuff, that’s not for the musician, that’s not for the artist, it’s for the people who always make the money, the corporations. And it makes it even more obnoxious that it’s presented as this noble protection of artists thing. They don’t give a shit about the artists bro. Artists, Hendrix said it once: they’re like rags you pick up, ring dry and throw away. That’s the way it is. It’s like any big business, they’re not there to be nice to the worker, they’re there to be as cost-efficient and make as much money as they can. It’s a harsh business. I’ve had so many friends destroyed by it, dreams dashed on the rocks. Music is treated so cynically.

Steel has been penning his pungent prose for 40 years for publications too numerous to mention, most of them consigned to the annals of history. He is Witchdoctor's Editor-In-Chief/Music and Film Editor. He has strong opinions and remains unrepentant. Steel's full bio can be found here

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