"I’m Not in the Real World Right Now” - Dealing with Disruption
“Every time it comes along, it’s like a new existential crisis... It's really taxing on our mental health.
“It needs to be mentioned that none of us are very healthy right now. It’s pretty destructive, in a way that makes you consider taking up the government on those apprenticeships to be a builder or something.”
Jonathan Pearce’s words are an unfiltered assessment of the brutal impact the pandemic is having, even at the top table of contemporary music in Aotearoa. And a timely conversation for Mental Health week.
The revered live showpiece for excellence in songwriting at Auckland’s Spark Arena has been already pushed forward until 10 November, in the hope the nation has dealt to Delta by then.
Two of the five outstanding APRA Silver Scroll Awards finalists have been battling through the lockdown with their tour plans disrupted, live music endangered and venues in peril.
Producer and ace guitarist Pearce is the driving force behind The Beths, whose shimmering bittersweet pop song penned by the brilliant Elizabeth Stokes - Jump Rope Gazers - is the third time he’s made the cut for the top award.
Singer-songwriter Anthonie Tonnon’s slow-burning ballad - Leave Love Out of This - is also the title of a fine album, but his touring plans have been shunted to later in this traumatic year, in the hope alert levels will allow full venues.
Pearce co-wrote and produced the Tonnon masterpiece, which has been years in the crafting.
The two great mates hooked up on Zoom with The Big Idea - discussing how they handled the depths of lockdown.
“I’ve found it hard to kind of commit to things,” Pearce opens up. “I’ve been able to do a lot of listening and able to play a guitar a lot. Trying to find inspiration and to be in a good head space. I’ve struggled so far to find anything that will last longer than the lockdown.
“I don’t know what the psychological explanation for that is … pretending that life is on pause and life will reset after lockdown stops. And that will be satisfying because I’ll be back in the real world.
I’m not in the real world right now”.
Tonnon performs and records his unique and captivating music at his home in Whanganui, with less restrictions. But the latest Government rules have only opened up venues outside of Auckland to 100 people.
“It really highlights for me … musicians are really dependent on the elimination strategy. I'm really happy to be doing Level Four and Level Three and I wouldn’t have it any other way than we’re doing it really. Because Level One made everything possible.
“I got quite creative last year during the last lockdown in August when I had a show in Whanganui. We did three shows of 80 people instead of one show of 240 at the Opera House.
“We had over a hundred people buying virtual tickets to watch a show online but it had a live audience there. It was only just financially viable because it was a solo show”.
The Beths have bridged the void with a morale-boosting album - Auckland, New Zealand 2020 - reminding fans how essential and thrilling gigs are, with a vibrant, kick-ass showcase of their indy pop-rock anthems at a sold-out Town Hall.
Jonathan Pearce (far right) with The Beths. Photo: Amanda Cheng.
But their tour plans starting with a series of gigs at the city’s much loved Whammy Bar are on hold indefinitely.
Pearce laughs “We had a long conversation about this about a week ago that went until two in the morning as our conversations quite often do .. a great gift.
“It’s pretty shit. We’re personally okay. We don’t have to sell off guitars to keep up the payments.
“It’s immensely disappointing for people who’ve bought tickets for your show”.
Tonnon’s captivating album, his first in six years, was released during happier times. “But gosh, it’s funny how quickly I got used to Level One, and I had the privilege of releasing an album in Level One.
Anthonie Tonnon. Image: Kristy Pearson/Daniel Blackball Alexander.
“Now I have planned a band tour and looking at the numbers the only way a band tour works to make that work and everyone gets paid is you need to sell 200 tickets.
“What is a little frustrating to me .. it seemed we had this path set on elimination. But as soon as you enter lockdown, you kind of enter this waiting room and on the other side it might be a completely different world, and you talk about other things than elimination.
“From an art point of view .. a suppression strategy wouldn’t work for us in the same way”.
Last year’s Silver Scroll Awards ceremony was transformed into a unique and intimate virtual event by musical director Julia Deans in the wake of Auckland’s August outbreak, with online performances at different studios and locations throughout Aotearoa.
But make no mistake - the hope for an in-person ceremony is much more than glamorous frocks, fashion-statement suits and a bartab. It’s an occasion that resonates with these two contenders for the big prize in 2021.
Pearce recalls “I went to my first Silver Scrolls when I was 18 or 19 years old. The band I was in then, called Artisan Guns, got nominated. We were a high school indie band and got into the top five somehow.
“It felt kinda relevant and switched on and pretty special. It felt immediately like I was among my peers. Peers of a slightly aloof indie band.
“That was more than ten years ago now, and I don’t think terribly much has changed. It’s still essentially run by musicians and songwriters for their peers,it’s a great celebration.”
Tonnon, also a previous nominee, relishes the sense of community.
Remembering his first time at the Silver Scrolls, “I was kinda bemused about how I got invited I had just moved to Auckland as a 23 year old APRA member. I think the reason was I was the only person within walking distance of the Town Hall that was a genuine representative of Dunedin. I think I helped kinda tick a regional box.”
“It is amazing, as the years go by, you get to know other people from genres outside of what you do. You develop a respect and a rapport with people you wouldn’t expect to when you were starting out in music. It’s the most wonderful thing.
“The speeches are always incredible, the performances are always incredible. There’s always a moment when I’m pretty close to tears.
“The singer from the Netherworld Dancing Toys - Malcolm Black - he gave such a memorable speech. And at the end he said ‘what you do is such a noble thing.’ And gosh, that meant a lot at the time. It meant a whole lot more a few months later when he died, and you realised he was doing that speech knowing that he didn’t have long.
“It’s a very special time … it’s a very genuine event.
“It’s also very clever too .. they could just not do a top twenty and a top five and just announce a winner. But they’re really interested in growing a career at the awards”.
These are feelings and a sense of belonging that are needed more than ever.
Fingers crossed Alert Levels subside enough to bring these two friends - and for one night, competitors - together with their peers as they vie to have their artistic creations go into the exclusive canon of kiwi songs.
The top five songs for the main award are voted on by members of APRA.
All Your Ships Have Sailed, written and performed by Troy Kingi
Hiwa-i-te-rangi, written by Maisey Rika*, Callum Rei McDougall, Chris Chetland, performed by Maisey Rika
Jump Rope Gazers, written by Elizabeth Stokes, Jonathan Pearce, Benjamin Sinclair, Tristan Deck, performed by The Beths
Leave Love Out Of This, written by Anthonie Tonnon and Jonathan Pearce, performed by Anthonie Tonnon
Turangawaewae, written by Stephen Harmer, Maisey Rika, Troy Kingi, Tenei Kesha (10A), performed by Tipene, Troy Kingi, and Maisey Rika