The idea? Every day in May, to mark NZ Music Month and 38 years of his own rancid opining and reportage, Gary Steel will present something from his considerable behind. Personal archive, that is. This week, Steel regurgitates a short story on the much maligned and more or less forgotten The Narcs, originally published in my independent ‘arts & entertainment’ freebie TOM sometime in 1984.
THE NARCS KNOW their business bible. Any band that begins its interview by complimenting the reporter on the latest issue of his magazine is halfway to buttering up the old hack.
Actually, these fellas ain’t half bad at the act of being polite. And if I’m sure they’d fail the MENSA test, I’m half as sure again that I would too.
Anyone who knows of The Narcs will know by now they came away smiling from the recent Music Awards, with trophies for the ‘public vote’ Most Popular Song Of The Year, plus Single Of The Year (both for ‘Heart And Soul’) and award-by-association for Dave McArtney’s production of their debut album Great Divide.
So what’s the fuss? Beats me too. A three-piece, The Narcs came out of Christchurch some five years ago playing Oz-rock inflected rabble-rousing ‘people’s’ music, and proceeded to work the NZ circuit harder than nearly any other band. The best description I can summon for early Narcs is a Status Quo for the youth market.
Then… OVERNIGHT SUCCESS. Yes folks, it could happen to you! CBS picked up The Narcs, nurtured The Narcs, primed The Narcs for commercial success. And the rest is instant history. Later, keyboardist Liam Ryan joined, fleshing out the sound and resulting in the polished production which is Great Divide.
I talk to The Narcs’ Tony Waine. I ask them what it’s like being nurtured by CBS.
“That’s not entirely correct,” one of them responds.
“CBS were a straight company, with good marketing ability. It took us almost three years to get them interested in us.” Liam says they are quite happy to be nurtured by the record industry, as if my statement/question had implied some implicit suggestion of corruption.
They talk of how positive it is to maintain close contact with a company, and of how disciplined their work style is.
“If someone was to hangout with us for a week they’d see how hard we work… though quite a lot of it’s not to do with playing.”
I ask if the close record company contact brings about an industry orientation to the music. The answer is no.
“We’re into being fit… We’re sporty. We don’t hang about house bars all day. We like doing ski tours… getting out in the fresh air. That inspires us for writing. The single most important thing we do is write songs. For recording, we like to think that nothing affects us.”
They explain their recording process:
“We go to a four track in Coromandel every so often. You pay low prices and can record over long periods of time. There’s no responsibility, you can play the most stupid things, experiments, you start creating, it’s organic.” Yes Liam. And later come the big Auckland studios.
How about the album? Says Andy: “It’s a good representation of the band as it is at the moment. It sums up the year beautifully.” Liam again: “It was really good not to do a headbanger or a record which you knew was going to go into the Flying Nun sale bins.”
The Narcs describe their new, Liam-added sound as being unashamedly “more contemporary and commercial.” And that’s just about it, really, coz they’ve gotta go to Radio Windy, and I’ve gotta go get some fresh air. And maybe some breakfast. GARY STEEL
NOTES: I cringe when I read this now. They seemed like really nice guys, and maybe their music wasn’t really that bad, but back then there were only two ideological roads to follow: alternative and cool (Flying Nun, etc) or commercial and derided. I notice Great Divide is now available digitally. Must have a listen.