Jayrem – The ‘not Flying Nun’ 1980s Kiwi record label

May 24, 2024
7 mins read

To celebrate NZ Music Month GARY STEEL digs up a rare 1986 interview with Wellington record label owner Jim Moss.

Gary Steel – Tell us a little about yourself.

Jim Moss – I used to live in Masterton. I’ve been in Wellington for about 20 years. I came into it from the wholesale point of view. I’ve been involved from the record company side for the last 10 years. The retailing side was simply a means to an end. It was to enable me to do what I’m doing now.

I was originally in a band. Well not, I never played an instrument, I was a singer in a group. The band was called The Tellstars, woo-hoo. I’ve got this photograph… a very prominent lawyer in Wellington was a member. We used to do these terrible songs, like ‘We Say Yeah’, a Cliff Richard song. We had three microphones and all dressed the same. We got paid, we didn’t play for fun. Thirty shillings. That was 24 years ago.

When I was a kid I had the biggest record collection. I was a voracious collector of records. I had a special aerial so I could listen to 2HE in Sydney. I always wanted to do this. It just took a long time before it came to fruition.

1981… five years ago this April, we released the first Shadowfax record.

Gary – Has the music lived up to expectations of music coming from NZ?

Jim – I’m never ceased to be amazed at the variety of music. The people that come out of the woodwork with tapes. A lot of these things never become records. I still have a wonderment at how many people are engaged in this activity. The breadth of material in different styles has pleased me. The inexperience is very frustrating to deal with. The major disappointment is the failure… a certain lack of commitment to stick at it, by a lot of bands. Their expectations tend to be unreasonable. They expect to get too much too soon. And I don’t think all that can be put down to youthful enthusiasm… there is a certain fantasy that probably all people who want to make records live in, and that disappoints me, because you only start to see how a band develops its own style… They’re only just beginning to develop their own style and they break up. I’m not talking about a business point of view either. Perhaps one member decides to go overseas or joins another band and there obviously wasn’t a lot of substance between the people for it to stick together.

Gary – Why do NZ bands have such an atrocious record of breaking up?

Jim – There isn’t a structure within the country. The finance, an ongoing reliable live scene, record companies tend to run hot and cold. These tend to be excuses. I’m not saying a lot of them aren’t true. But I think if someone is going to make a career out of being a musician they’ve got to sit down, if they do have any commitment, and look at… This is what I want out of life, this is what I want to be in three years’ time. I guess I’m being presumptuous in saying that everyone should think that way. They should be realistic about the situation, and say ‘I can’t hope to work 12 months of the year in the first two years of my career, so this is the way I’m going to have to go about doing it’. They set certain objectives. Things just seem to happen, they just drift along, that’s why they break up, there isn’t any plan. Christ, if Jayrem Records was to give up or close down every time we didn’t have a successful record, we wouldn’t have lasted a year or two. I think, well fuck I’m committed to what I’m doing. I question the people that come in here and they want to do this and that, and they have two or three setbacks and breakup!

Gary – Jayrem isn’t a lending institution?

Jim – It varies. With some we do. We financed the Dread Beat & Blood and Aotearoa records. I had an immediate feeling about their commitment and salability.

One of the important things in NZ music is that the independent companies like Flying Nun and Jayrem have been going for five years now. That’s a long time, particularly for two independent companies that have their own distribution, to be still sticking at it. A lot of labels have come and gone.

Gary – The label’s lasted, a lot of bands haven’t. Why don’t companies invest in cultivating bands?

Jim – I should only talk about the independents, because the majors have thir own very serious problems in terms of looking at new acts. They have the whole corporate thing. They’re run by accountants who are interested in Top 10 acts, they’re not interested in cultivating new people anymore. In a sense we are cultivating these people by being available. Just to listen, lecture… Flying Nun is a good example of a label that has nurtured a few lives bands. Until recently we ha a lot of difficulty in saying no to bands, and released too many records.

Gary – Are the local scene’s limitations responsible for Jayrem looking overseas?

Jim – Yeah. We’ve had a lot of criticism for being involved with heavy metal music. Our heavy metal is as good as overseas heavy metal. We’ve developed a very good relationship with all the important independent heavy metal people around the world. I’ve got a very good chance of selling NZ heavy metal records in quite good numbers overseas. So… I forget what your questions was! To make reasonably produced recordings in NZ… you can’t get your money back. You’ve got to look internationally. We can sell records by Maoris to Maoris, but there’s a whole market out there that wants to hear what the indigenous people of a country have got to say about things. The last two years in particular we have been very aware when we listen to a record to look at its potential overseas.

Gary – Wasn’t Wellington’s gold era in the ‘60s?

Jim – Record companies were making a lot of money in those days. Companies like EMI were producing records on huge budgets. They weren’t making any money on them, I might add. I’m talking the Jim McNaught, Annie Whittle, Craig Scott, Mark Williams. The record companies were making big profits in those days. You had radio playing… radio in those days was so predisposed to New Zealand. It was New Zealand music before overseas music. The horrific part is you hear them today being played, and the production’s terrible, and you take in today’s produced New Zealand records, and they start telling you there’s not enough bottom end… you’ve got to talk about the mood of the country. They were more affluent times. Life was pretty easy. Entrepreneurs ruled, not accountants. The entrepreneurs of yesterday had a calculator back at the office. Today they have them with them. There was a lot of seat-of-the-pants stuff. Most of it came off. Music isn’t quite as important as it was in those days.

Gary – Are we still producing the good pop songs?

Jim – We have the ability to make those good pop songs. They’re not being recorded because the industry is not prepared to put money into it while we have the radio stations… In the last five years, the multinationals… and ultimately that’s where all the money comes to make the big pop records. And when you’ve finished the record, you spend more money on the video than you did on the record, which was something that was never a factor.

Gary – If the scene was otherwise healthy, would that substantially alter the success of Jayrem?

Jim – Yes. We would have to take a big step onwards, and get more capital. We would be prepared to put it into bands. Everything’s there, but to go and spend even five thousand dollars on a single to have some snotty nosed programmer tell you there’s not enough bottom end on it or that it didn’t research well… it’s heartbreaking. I’ve had it happen too often. I would much rather redirect my energies, so that I didn’t have to rely on radio.

Gary – It doesn’t make sense to lose money.

Jim – The whole point is to make a profit to invest.

Gary – What sort of sales does the average Jayrem record have, and do they sell more in Wellington?

Jim – You’re talking about selling probably 1500 copies. The best ones sell up to 5000, the worst down to 400. I used to get very dejected about it. The more I go overseas.. people go ‘what, with three million people, that’s amazing.’ The Chills, number 10 on the indie charts. Rough Trade hadn’t sold 1500 copies. So… and we’re talking about full page spreads. There’s a reggae band that we’ve licensed that we’re going to sell more in New Zealand than they’ve sold in England. A band called The Natural Ites. The guy told me how many they’d sold in England… They’ve been going for years, they had a hit, they’ve got into the regular Top 100. We do very well, even though tomorrow I’ll go back to being absolutely despondent about the sales we have. Sales? 50 percent in Auckland, 35 percent in Wellington. Where you’ve got a Wellington band, the initial sales are in Wellington, but after three or four months it evens out. You probably sell more heavy metal here, because of its traditional strength.

+ The above interview took place at Chelsea Records in Manners Mall, Wellington, on the 4th of March, 1986. Jim was a fast-talking and voluble interviewee and the interview transcript consists of “highlights” from the cassette recording, which may still exist in a box somewhere. In contrast to Flying Nun’s Roger Shepherd – another record store guy – Jim already felt like he belonged to a previous era, and he was already around the age of 40 when in 1986 (he was born in 1946). This gave him a useful perspective on the scene, however. Jayrem never had the hip cache of Flying Nun because the label never had a distinctive aesthetic. Instead, its roster was eclectic and wide-ranging. It was an important label, however, releasing some of the first te reo recordings as well as local reggae artists, female singer-songwriters like Jan Hellriegel, electronic music by the likes of The Body Electric and Tin Syndrome, seminal pre-Ardijah outfit IQU, post-punk by the likes of Flesh D-Vice and Unrestful Movements, and the indigenous hip-hop of Upper Hutt Posse, amongst many others. Jim always razzed me for having introduced him to US Kiwiphile Ron Kane, who convinced him to release the all-time worst-selling Jayrem album of Ron’s band The Decayes. I believe that some years back Jim moved to the UK to be with family, and that Jayrem was official de-activated in 2011.  Check out the full Jayrem discography here, and read AudioCulture’s profile here.


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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