14 Nov 2020

The Mixtape - Shayne P Carter

From Music 101, 6:00 pm on 14 November 2020

In a Covid-affected year requiring "survivalism", Shayne P Carter has teamed up with old friend Don McGlashen and revived his boyhood love of chess.

Carter began playing music as a teenager at Kaikorai Valley High School and has been a member of the bands Bored Games, The Doublehappys, Straitjacket Fits and Dimmer. The New Zealand music icon can also add multi-award-winning author to his life story.

Shayne P Carter at Aramoana

Shayne P Carter at Aramoana Photo: Supplied

His no-hold-barred memoir Dead People I Have Known won the E.H. McCormick Prize for best first work of General Non-Fiction and he also won the Ockham New Zealand Book Awards General Non-Fiction Award earlier this year. 

Shayne has been inducted into the New Zealand Music Hall of Fame and was awarded the New Zealand Herald Legacy Award at the 2008 New Zealand Music Awards.

RNZ's Nick Bollinger says of Shayne: "To me, Shayne Carter really stands head and shoulders above pretty much the whole of the Dunedin scene. I mean, there were some other brilliant musicians, don't get me wrong. But that was the era when shoe-gazing was at its peak - they wore black jerseys, stared at their shoes, and strummed their meaningful, heartfelt songs.

"But Shayne was different. Shayne was a rock star, and he knew it. He was actually aware of his charisma and what it meant to be a performer."

He chatted to Charlotte Ryan about life and his journey so far, as well as the music that made him.

Shayne Carter

Shayne Carter Photo: Ebony Lamb Photography

Shayne says his year has involved organising things and then cancelling them. He believed lockdown would prompt him to be supercreative and write a triple album and another book but he was too distracted.

"I basically see this year as survivalism really for everybody - physically, mentally, probably spiritually."

A residency in Bangkok last year has inspired him to get into Thai cooking. The bizarre Covid-dominated year has also turned him into "a chess nerd" and he has started swotting chess problems - it's much more appealing than reading about Donald Trump and Covid-19 in The Guardian every day, he says.

Chess is a solitary pursuit and involves studying games from 200 years ago.

"Chess is this game of eternal mystery and almost infinity. Generally, no two games are alike... I guess chess is quite scientific and mathematic to a certain degree but it goes beyond that - it's also very creative and mysterious as well which is why people get totally obsessed with it and just nerd out on it."  

Supporting old friends, new talent

He has recently played guitar in old friend Don McGlashan's band which has been touring the country. In two weeks' time they will record McGlashan's new songs in a Lyttelton studio.  

Shayne also likes working with and encouraging young musicians "because they're the ones you pass the flame to".

"I do a bit of mentoring as well ...it's a good energy to be around with the kids who are quite unsullied and really purely into what they do.

"I'm not greedy about the information. Whatever they want to know and whatever I know I'll tell them - they can do with it what they want. It's just this form of wisdom that you pass on."

Shayne says the instruments, practice areas and recording facilities in high schools these days are hugely beneficial for the development of young musicians and in contrast to his own experience where it was self-taught. None of his musical or writing knowledge was taught by others.

"I just found out myself just through being interested."

Classical music fan

He has a great love of classical music, "listening hard for years" until he understood it.

"It's really affirmed my belief in the power of music and just in the power and long-standing nature of good art. The good stuff lasts. I love the fact that stuff from 300 years ago can really touch me in a real way..."

He says one of the most interesting aspects of lockdown was how much people missed visiting an art gallery or going to watch music and it made them realise how valuable the arts are.

Music and art are "uplifting for the soul", essential for people's spiritual wellbeing, he says.

Shayne adds that "fun projects" have involved adapting some of his songs so they can be played by several of the country's orchestras.

Writing plans

Dead People I Have Known by Shayne Carter

Dead People I Have Known by Shayne Carter Photo: Victoria University Press

Carter hopes to write some sports essays and also something funny.

"Most of my favourite bits from my own book were the funny parts - they just made me laugh."

He says he has "nothing to hide and also nothing to lose" when it comes to writing and it's a great position to be in.

"I don't have to answer to anybody - this is the payoff for the artist's life. There's also the drawbacks and the financial insecurities and blah blah blah but I've got no boss. I can say what I want and it's really great."

He has told a couple of critics to "stick it" because he doesn't need them and he is not prepared to put up with their "rubbish".

He has been honest about any of his mistakes in life, he says, so he doesn't see why he should be judged by others.

"One thing I really hope that came out in my book... I really hope that love wins out in the end and I felt like it did - my love for my people and their love for me and that's all that matters... I would like to think that despite its cheeky edges, it's quite a compassionate book."