24 Aug 2019

The Mixtape: Charlotte Ryan

From The Mixtape, 4:00 pm on 24 August 2019

Christchurch native and music industry veteran Charlotte Ryan is the new host of RNZ’s flagship music programme Music 101. She joins us on the RNZ Music Mixtape to select some of her favourite songs, and to share stories from her long and varied career in music. 

No caption

Photo: RNZ / Claire-Eastham Farrelly

Music 101’s new host Charlotte Ryan has done almost every job you can think of in New Zealand’s music industry. Among her many roles: working as part of Neil Finn’s management team, hosting radio shows on 95bFM and Kiwi FM, running her own publicity company, and working at Flying Nun and Warner Music. 

She joins us for the RNZ Music Mixtape so we can get to know her ahead of her first Music 101 show on Saturday, August 31st. 

1. The Marvette’s - ‘Too Many Fish in the Sea’ (1964) 

Tony Stamp: We're going to try and squeeze seven songs into this hour, which is a new record I think. So let's get straight to the first one. Why have you chosen this? 

Charlotte Ryan: Well, I grew up in Christchurch, in a musical family. Neither Mum or Dad played instruments very well I don't think, but they loved music. There was always music going, records playing and everything. 

Mum was really into Joni Mitchell and Carole King, and beautiful folkie stuff. Dad was into great rock and roll, like The Rolling Stones and Queen and The Who, and he also loved The Big Chill soundtrack. We had it on tape, and every time I could, I'd put it on. 

It's such a fantastic soundtrack. I think soundtracks are underrated. I think they are such an art, to choose music that complements an emotion or a scene. 

‘Too Many Fish in the Sea’ is off The Big Chill soundtrack. When I was about eight years old, I choreographed a dance to this. I was eight or nine, dancing around the living room holding my hairbrush up to my mouth, I knew every single lyric, and I still know all the lyrics today.

TS: So how long were you based in Christchurch? 

CR: I was born and raised in Christchurch. I lived out on a farm just out of Christchurch, and I left when I was 21. I was working at [University of Canterbury’s] RDU at the time, and then I got offered a job at [Auckland University’s] 95bFM. They were both student radio stations. 

TS: And prior to that, were you involved in the music scene down there? 

CR: I tried to be. I worked at RDU; I loved that. I also worked at Channel Z, which was a really cool station back then. 

I was at university at the time. I knew I had to get a degree, but any chance I could, I'd be hanging out at these radio stations. 

Everyone wondered why I never did a broadcasting degree. I did a Bachelor of Education. I trained to be a primary school teacher, a music teacher. 

TS: Did you study music at any point? 

CR: I played music for many years. I play the piano, and I sang in the school choir and things, for many years. But I'm not very good at improvising. 

And I think to be in a band you've got to be really good at improvising. 

TS: What's your main memory of hanging out in Christchurch? I assume you started going to gigs and stuff? 

CR: Absolutely. We were very lucky in Christchurch. The music scene was super cool. I mean, at that time The Bats were playing all the time, Salmonella Dub and Shapeshifter; they were both in their really early days as bands. Ladi6 was down there. 

At university, we'd always have lots of orientation shows. 

The Dux de Lux was my number one hangout. Anyone that was into music went to the Dux de Lux, and you could almost turn up by yourself and know you'd bump into someone, but you'd also see really, really good live music. 

There were lots of great venues. It was a very healthy time for the Christchurch music scene. Dance music was big; drum and bass and house music. So I was fully ensconced, yeah.

Charlotte Ryan also works as a DJ in her spare time

Charlotte Ryan also works as a DJ in her spare time Photo: Supplied

2. Shapeshifter ft. Ladi6 - ‘When I Return’ (2004)

TS: You mentioned Shapeshifter, and I'm going to take that opportunity to jump into song number two, which is Shapeshifter, featuring Ladi6, ‘When I Return’. How do you want to introduce this? 

CR: Well, from RDU I moved up to 95bFM in Auckland, and I worked there for about two-and-a-half years as their band manager. That's where I met many of my great friends now. 

Towards the end of my time at bFM, I started working really closely with Ladi6. We just sort of started hanging out, and I'd say, "Oh, you should do this, you should do that." I'm good for telling people what they should do in their music careers! 

She said, "Oh well, do you want to just manage me?" And I had never thought of that before, so I started managing Ladi6 and her band, Verse Two. Verse Two had Scribe in it, Julien Dyne, Parks; it was an amazing band. 

And then after managing Ladi for about a year or so, Shapeshifter said, "Do you want to manage us?" And we also all had this Christchurch connection, which was really nice. So when I was managing both of them at the same time, this song was a collaboration that we all worked on, or, you know, I helped sort of get together. 

Then when I was managing Shapeshifter, we released the Riddim Wise LP, which is such a great Shapeshifter album. 

So this song has a lot of history for me; helping make the music video, doing the promo and everything.  

And lots of people will recognise it because it's such a brilliant song, it did incredibly well both locally and internationally. It's a classic.

TS: After you had stint managing artists, you went on to work at a whole bunch of record companies. 

CR: Yes. I loved management, but I realised it wasn't quite for me. The money is really sporadic, especially for such young artists, and at the time it was really early days for Ladi6 and Shapeshifter. 

I was also eager to learn more, I guess, and learn from others around me. So yeah, I got a job at Festival Mushroom Records, which ended up being bought out by Warner Music. 

I moved up to Warner Music, which was fascinating. I was the strategic manager. I made compilations as a job, which is almost a dream. 

I did an emo music compilation, as well as things like Office Party One, Two, Three. They were very successful. 

It was literally just all the best party hits. But there's lots of complicated things. You've got to get rights to put the songs on, so that took up a lot of time. 

I was also the label manager for Rhino Records, this really cool American label that does all these old legacy acts; so I got to do box sets and really, really cool repackaging and re-releases. 

I was also looking after Flying Nun.

No caption

Photo: Supplied

I pitched to my boss at Warner and said, "Oh look, Flying Nun's about to have their 25th birthday. We have to do something. Everyone thinks Flying Nun is dead because it's been bought by Warner Music. This is terrible. Let's do something." 

My boss, Jerry Lloyd, said, "Okay. What do you want to do?" And I said, "I want to do a box set." He was awesome. 

It definitely wasn't a money-making project, but I ended up working with [Fyling Nun founder] Roger Shepherd, which was such a pleasure. We put together this 25th birthday anniversary box set; four CDs, and all this cool artwork. That's when I started working with Flying Nun quite closely. 

I ended up leaving Warner Music to have a child, but I have always continued my work with Flying Nun, working with them on the odd project. 

Well speaking of Flying Nun, let's go to song number three. It is a classic from The Clean, 'Beatnik’. 

3. The Clean - ‘Beatnik’ (1982)

TS: It must have been really tough to pick just one song. 

CR: It was very, very difficult. But I guess this song, for me, epitomizes the joy that music brings me. This song, when I put it on, it's loose, but yet it's quite fast, and it's got a great pace, and it just makes me want to dance around.

TS: You set up your own publicity company, and you worked with artists like Lawrence Arabia and Connan Mockasin. How long were you involved with those projects? 

CR: Lawrence Arabia was a friend before I started working with him. We're both from Christchurch, but our friendship was forged in Auckland. I think it might have started at Festival Mushroom Records when he was making music under the Reduction Agents moniker. 

I worked with James [Milne, aka Lawrence Arabia] for perhaps five or six years. It was on and off, working on various projects. 

I loved working with lots of local artists. I did the Laneway publicity for three years, which was cool because I worked with a lot of local Flying Nun artists, and other local bands, as well as some internationals. 

Then I did a couple of international publicity gigs. Radiohead; that was amazing. 

The security behind backstage at Vector [now Spark Arena, in Auckland] was so intense, but the show was amazing. 

I had to, quote/unquote, “escort the photographers to the photo pit” for three songs, so was right up the front. That is one massive perk of being a publicist, I got to watch him from two meters away. Yeah, it's pretty cool. 

TS: 'Him' being Mr. Yorke. 

CR: Mr. Yorke, with his ponytail. I think he had quite a good ponytail that night. 

TS: He’s still got that. I was skeptical about the ponytail on a... what is he? 50-something now? 

CR: I'm into it. 

TS: But he really owns it. 

CR: It's quite thick.

4. The Mint Chicks - ‘Sleeping During the Day’ (2006)

TS: Let's go to another Flying Nun band. Gone but not forgotten, it's The Mint Chicks and ‘Sleeping During the Day’. 

CR: Definitely gone but not forgotten. The Mint Chicks were such a special project for me because I got to work on Octagon, Octagon, Octagon, Fuck the Golden Youth, and Anti-Tiger, which were their three early EPs before their [breakthrough] Crazy? Yes! Dumb? No! 

I got to do really cool things for them. I don't know if you remember, but the Neilson brothers [Reuben and Kody] were pashing on the cover of Rip It Up magazine. It was terribly controversial, and in fact lots of supermarkets took the magazine off the shelf. 

Actually, maybe they weren't kissing on the front, but they were burning the New Zealand flag as well in the background of the photo. Anyway, it was a really, really crazy publicity campaign, but some New Zealanders didn't take it very well. 

TS: I was looking today at that photo of Ruban Nielson with the chainsaw onstage at The Big Day Out. I was thinking, "That's crazy." 

CR: He is naughty. 

TS: That is so naughty.

CR: He is very naughty, I know. And it was... It's very bittersweet sometimes working with really creative artists, because... Same with Connan Mockasin. You'll be, like, "There's this great opportunity over here; will you do it?" And they’ll just be, like, "Nah. I just want to do this over here." 

TS: You mentioned earlier the birth of your daughter. 

CR: She's 11 years old now. 

TS: I think it was after her birth you continued to do publicity, but it was more freelance?

CR: Yeah. I left Warner Music to have a child, and then I decided quite quickly that I didn't want to go back to full-time work. So I set up my publicity company and just worked from home. 

I was still doing the odd radio show on bFM. It was a really, really nice time. 

5. Neil Young - ‘Only Love Can Break Your Heart’ (1970)

TS: When you sent through these songs you mentioned that your daughter used to know all the words to this and sing along. I mean much like you did, aged eight. 

CR: So at the age of four, she knew all the lyrics to this song. And it was just... Obviously, I play Neil Young a lot, or I had done, but just to have a little voice singing it to you, and she'd do it all the time. So cute. 

Wait until you hear the song. It's a real tearjerker. But she still sung it as a sort of performance at family events and things until she was about eight or nine. Now she's 11 she's a bit more self-conscious sadly, but yeah, it's a gorgeous, gorgeous song.

TS: Let's talk about your most recent job, working with Neil Finn. It’s been the last three-and-a-half years for you, doing a wide range of stuff, based at Roundhead Studios in Auckland.

CR: Yeah. I was the assistant to Neil and Sharon Finn, and so any project they did, or anything they did really, I was part of. I was there to coordinate. 

I helped run their businesses, their charities, their property, and of course, Roundhead Studios. 

When I came on board, it was an okay studio. It wasn't making money, it was quite quiet, and over the last three years it's suddenly become super busy, so I've spent a lot more time probably running the studio than management stuff. 

But when Neil, for example, did his Out of Silence live streams, where he live-streamed the recording of that album to the world, I was the producer for that. So I'd hire everyone, and send out the invites for guests. It was really, really a crazy, manic, busy time, but what an experience. 

TS: And you must have seen so many great artists coming through those doors and hanging out. 

CR: Yes! When I started at Roundhead I really wanted to target some cool artists that I loved, so I started making a few phone calls. We ended up getting some really crazy bookings from big international artists that were coming through town.

Charlotte Ryan and Marlon Williams, during Charlotte's time working with Neil Finn

Charlotte Ryan and Marlon Williams, during Charlotte's time working with Neil Finn Photo: Supplied

I guess partly because the way recording works has changed. When Katy Perry tours, for example, or a massive artist like that, their tour will take 11 months of the year, potentially even longer, but they still need to keep releasing songs... to stay current in a sense. 

We figured out that lots of them are actually writing on the road, so we started getting in touch with touring artists and saying, "Remember that we’re here if you want to record." 

And of course, because it's Neil Finn’s studio; a musician has built this studio, it's just a dream, beautiful place to record in. So we've had Katy Perry. We had Pink. 

We had Migos in. Migos, this hip-hop group, one of them is married to Cardi B. Married? He’s with Cardi B anyway. 

If you could dream up every crazy hip-hop party situation, that was them in that studio. They got in there at 1am in the morning after their show, and they left the next day at 3pm in the afternoon. 

Luckily I didn't have to work those hours, but I rolled in at about nine in the morning and just said, "Everything okay?" They sent me out for McDonald's. I've never spent so much money on McDonald's. And then they sent me out for Dunkin' Donuts. 

And honestly, that's only part of the story. It was such a wild, wild time.

6. Neil Finn - ‘Second Nature’ (2017)

TS: Well, you’ve chosen a song by Mr. Finn. How did you narrow it down to this one? 

CR: It's not necessarily my favorite song of Neil's. I love Neil Finn, I was a massive fan before I started working with him. One Nil I think is a brilliant, brilliant album that came out when I was working at RDU, and this track is kind of like ‘Sinner’ from that album, which is just... Oh! 

I almost played that but decided to go with something more up-tempo. ‘Second Nature’ is off Out of Silence, the album Neil released when I was working for him. 

We live-streamed the recording sessions, then I toured with him to various places while he performed the album, so special. 

It was recorded with the Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra or players from there, and it's so gorgeous. If anyone hasn't discovered it, they should. It's a beautiful, beautiful album. 

I remember the recording of this song really, really well because Neil wanted a choir. He thought of some singers that he wanted and he also asked me, "Who do you think? Who are some good singers in town? Who should I get?" 

And it's those moments working for him where you're, like, "Oh my god. I'm just helping," you know. 

But he ended up choosing the most incredible singers. I won't remember them all if I try and name names, but I remember one of the members was sick one day, or perhaps overseas, and so we had to get in Tama Waipara. 

Anyway, Tama ended up on the recording and you can hear his voice, I can hear his voice in this. And you can hear the other choir's voices and they are all such superb musicians, yeah. It's awesome.

TS: Let's go through your broadcasting career, or at least part of it, because there is so much to it. I think you and I first met when you were hosting the show Morning Glory, which was on the Auckland student radio station, 95bFM. 

CR: That was such a fun show. It was 9am or 10am until midday, dream hours. And yeah, I truly loved it. 

It’s definitely the show that a lot of people remember me for. It started off as a blank slate. I had to sort of create this, "magazine-style" show, so I just thought, “What do I want in my dream magazine? What do I want to hear?” 

And I guess because I'd been a young mum listening to Radio New Zealand at home all day, I really loved the idea of features and interviews and things like that. So I did my own version of it on 95bFM. I won a Metro Award for it, which I was very proud of.

Charlotte Ryan and Sharon Jones at the Kiwi FM studios

Charlotte Ryan and Sharon Jones at the Kiwi FM studios Photo: Supplied

TS: After that, you did another show with a great name, Afternoon Delight, on Kiwi FM. 

CR: That name came out of Morning Glory, which has some innuendo, and so does Afternoon Delight. I did the afternoon show first, then breakfast after that. 

Sadly, I was at Kiwi FM for two years, maybe two-and-a-half years, and then it closed down. 

TS: Then you popped up on our TV screens when you were on The Paul Henry Show. 

Yeah, so Kiwi FM closed, and MediaWorks was, like, "Oh well, where shall we put her?" And The Paul Henry Show was just starting. It was all new and flash... Multi-platform! Online, on TV, and on the radio. 

So I got a job as their social media producer. I was really into social media, probably from my radio days and things. But it was really crazy that I ended up on TV every day.

Charlotte Ryan and Hilary Barry, during Charlotte's time on TV3's Paul Henry Show

Charlotte Ryan and Hilary Barry, during Charlotte's time on TV3's Paul Henry Show Photo: Supplied

Paul kind of got me on to be the young person he could debate with about various topics. 

I'd come up each morning and say what was trending overnight, and what was the latest craze on the Internet. It was a really fun job, and because it was live, because it was TV, it was really, really cool and fast-paced, and lots of laughs. 

But the hours got to me; because for a show that started at 6am, especially with TV because you need an hour for makeup and hair, I started work at 3.45am. And then you'd finish at about midday or 1pm PM, and with my daughter I just couldn't handle the hours. 

So I did it for a year and that's when I got a job with Neil Finn. 

7. Unknown Mortal Orchestra - ‘Ffunny Ffrends’ (2011)

TS: Let's go to your final song. To be honest, this strikes me more as a song that a child would sing along to. It's ‘Ffunny Ffrends’, by Unknown Mortal Orchestra. 

CR: This album was definitely a favorite in our household, and I think it must have come out when my daughter was around four or five, or something like that. It's such a cheeky, fun song. It's sneaky, and it's got a good rhythm. 

TS: Well, we're really looking forward to you starting as host of Music 101, Charlotte. Let’s go out with Unknown Mortal Orchestra. 

CR: Thanks for having me.