Tracing the legacy of a New Zealand music institution.
“On a musical level, certain records mean a lot to me; all the Tall Dwarfs stuff, early Clean stuff and a bit later on The Chills and the Headless Chickens. There’s a whole heap of records that stand up as being pretty good that came out of it — I’m happy.”
Flying Nun Records founder Roger Shepherd had just left the label in July 1997 and was approached for an interview by Rip It Up, a bi-monthly New Zealand music magazine. He spoke to writer John Russell in no uncertain terms about the empire he had kindled and nurtured.
Twenty-one years on from that interview and Shepherd has re-aligned ties with Flying Nun. Meanwhile, Tall Dwarfs’ debut album, Weeville, is still as relevant as ever while The Clean’s Anthology continues to shake the homes of lo-fi lovers all around the world.
In 1981, Shepherd made a bold $300 investment. Today, Flying Nun continues to wade through New Zealand’s grasslands for the next prodigious talent. Tracing the label’s ageless chronicle to today, we’ve uncovered the ten songs that best encompass the Flying Nun legacy.
The Clean – ‘Tally Ho!’ (1981)
The cream of Flying Nun’s flourishing crop, jangle pop outfit The Clean made stellar record after stellar record. They’re often the first band that comes to mind when music discussion wanders east of the Tasman Sea and their debut single ‘Tally Ho!’ put this green, burgeoning label on the map.
Straitjacket Fits – ‘Down in Splendour’ (1990)
Dunedin’s velvety jangle pop sound was turned on its ear with the inception of charming four-piece Straitjacket Fits. They took Flying Nun’s residence in Dunedin and whipped it into a frenzy behind a jarring paradox in its makeup. Shayne Carter’s brusque vocals and guitar juxtaposed a more melancholic Andrew Brough who enlivened the band’s pop capability. ‘Down in Splendour’ is an archetype of their majesty.
Aldous Harding – ‘Imagining My Man’ (2017)
Kiwi songwriter Aldous Harding emerged with a poignant self-titled album in 2014 and consolidated her music grace with a stellar sophomore release. Her orchestral purveyance was taken up a notch as Harding cryptically detailed her rapport with love and other toxic realities on Party. ‘Imagining My Man’ is a contemporary Nun masterpiece.
The Chills – ‘Pink Frost’ (1984)
There’s an underlying acquaintance between The Clean’s ‘Tally Ho!’ and this song, one of The Chills foremost tracks. ‘Pink Frost’ fronted The Chills single-writing tendency and the jittery riff Chills frontman Martin Phillipps wrote for ’Tally Ho!’ couldn’t alleviate a grip on this 1984 track.
The Courtneys – ‘Tour’ (2017)
Flying Nun made a habit out of releasing non-NZ records in the early to late ‘90s — Stereolab, Pavement and Sonic Youth all recipients — however, The Courtneys are the first non-NZ band to be signed by the label. And yes, it’s not surprising that they released one of the best lo-fi albums of 2017 with ‘Tour’ it’s fuzz pop general.
Tall Dwarfs – ‘Breath’ (1990)
Prior to 1990’s Weeville, Tall Dwarfs had released a seminal run of EPs. They unveiled seven in as many years but it wasn’t until the advent of their debut album, that they started making serious waves. 1981’s ‘Nothing’s Going to Happen’ was probably their most famous track, nevertheless, psychedelic dream ‘Breath’ jumped from Weeville like a sore thumb.
The Bats – ‘North by North’ (1987)
This minimalist lo-fi masterpiece is lifted from The Bats’ 1987 album, Daddy’s Highway. The bassline batters on like a repetitive tick but that’s not a downfall, it simply caters for a greater dancefloor cadence. In The Bats, Robert Scott found another vehicle for low fidelity exploration away from The Clean — this track is as Flying Nun as it gets.
The 3Ds – ‘Outer Space’ (1992)
The third wave of Flying Nun records, The 3Ds rose to the top of New Zealand’s charts in the ‘90s and garnered international recognition for their boisterous fuzz pop. Their most single-friendly track, ‘Outer Space’ consolidated this outfit as sure-fire party starters.
The Verlaines – ‘Death and the Maiden’ (1983)
Linguists basked underneath The Verlaines’ philosophical brow — the band’s name a nod to French symbolist poet Paul Verlaine. Throughout the ‘80s, Graeme Downes had found an irrepressible songwriting stride which didn’t crowd his ability to write a pop hook either. This is ‘Death and the Maiden’.
Pin Group – ‘Ambivalence’ (1981)
Pin Group was Flying Nun Records’ first signing and it couldn’t be more fitting given their unassuming, cloaked identity. Flying Nun spurred from humble beginnings and Pin Group were the archetype of humble. They played live shows in Christchurch between May 1981 and January 1982 and that was it. ‘Ambivalence’ was a hypnotic stroke of genius.