First published in Rip It Up, August 1984
The Mockers are feeling a little spoiled. After years of folding themselves in the back of vans or, more recently, squeezing into a minibus, they have two nice, new rental cars for this tour. Touring in comfort …
Guitarist Dean Hazelwood puts his foot down, counts off the miles per hour on a downhill stretch. A ton! It transpires that the two cars, both with stereos, were actually cheaper than a minibus.
Singer Andrew Fagan and Mockers’ manager Ian Kingsford share the back seat, engaging in their usual duet of abuse. In a short time we’re rolling southward into Rotorua, the ugly way to approach the town.
Waiting along with the rest of the band and crew at the DB Rotorua are Dee, Carolyn and Claire, three Hamilton girls who are following part of the tour. They’ve been consuming the contents of their room’s fridge and offer cheery, messy greetings.
Fagan sips an orange juice, looks around. The middle-aged barmaid from the public bar comes through with a thick envelope from “The girls of McKillop College”, and four pieces of paper to be signed by the band.
“I do hope there’s nothing rude in the letter,” she says as Fagan marshals the band into the signing. The envelope is opened – one of the letter’s author’s declares she’d like to marry keyboardist Tim Wedde (with Fagan as best man) “and have lots of little Rolands”.
The girls complain that the band isn’t doing an underage gig in town. It’s something the band is conscious of – this “underage tour” isn’t quite that way because of a communication breakdown with the booking agents. It’s more like another pub tour …
Andrew Fagan leans up against the wall on his hotel bed, laughs and jokes. Not surprisingly, he’s not hard to draw on the band, himself or life in general.
Things are beginning to take off for the Mockers now – is this what you always thought would happen?
“Yeah, the reason I kept going was because I always knew that at some stage this would happen. To what extent it would happen is another matter. But I knew we had to give it until we had ‘industry backing’, until we had an album out, the Radio With Pictures interview, the Radio With Pictures special. Those things that I’d always seen the ‘big’ bands as having, a sort of acknowledgement. But how big we’d get in terms of actually pulling people I never knew. We’re still finding out.
“When we recorded the album last year we weren’t nearly as big as we are now but I anticipated that when the album came out, with all the hype that would go along with it, we would find out whether we were going to be big or not. And that’s happened. So I’m glad we’ve hung on. To have recorded the album and pulled out then, when it was financially disastrous, living on $10 a week sort of thing, wouldn’t have been giving the band its fair fun.”
How important to you is that kind of commercial success?
“I don’t really regard it as my own success, I never have. I acknowledge it’s necessary if you’re playing the status game. You say, ‘we want to be as big as we possibly can’ because it’s a personal ambition. In that plan of things you need industry backing. When you see what you’re establishing, like full-page ads in Rip It Up, that’s great as far as getting the band big but it’s got nothing to do with me. We put the songs together for the album but if we’d done it the way we did our first couple of singles, off our bat, regardless of the quality, it wouldn’t have been anywhere near as successful. There’s lot of good bands with good songs in this country but they don’t all have the industry backing that would put them in the public eye. That’s why we held on to the old singles like ‘Good Old Days’ for the album, because they’d get appreciated by many more people than they were then.”
Do you feel you made mistakes early on?
“No. The way the band functioned then was purely because we wanted to. And we were just learning how to write songs, how to arrange and play them. We couldn’t have jumped into it three years ago.”
What about the other side of things, creative fulfilment?
“With the songs it’s the same way it’s always been because Gary Curtis has always been out of the limelight but he’s still writing most of the songs. We’re far more selective now and we’ve gotten to the stage where we have a whole set full of good, original songs, which we didn’t two years ago. We did Jam songs when we played at Sweetwaters in 1980.”
So Gary’s position as songwriter-in-absentia hasn’t changed. Will it be affected if the band moves overseas?
“It won’t change. We could be living in Palmerston North, we could be living in New York. Gary’s there in Wellington and I’ll be down there occasionally for a week to get the tunes off him or he’ll send a cassette up. What has changed is that the band never used to have confidence in arranging the songs but that’s the forte of this band.”
The production of Swear It’s True was lightweight and the band has been pushed as very much a pure pop band. How do you feel about that?
“Well again that’s another one of the trappings that go with moving into a realm where you’re not funding your own records. The album was light but I think – from discussions or arguments – that will be sorted out in the future. Glyn Tucker, who produced it, and Trevor Reekie, weren’t really aware of our live sound, I think. I think the first time it dawned on Glyn was with this live album when he came to see us a few weeks before the Mainstreet thing and realised we had a lot more punch live than he’d been getting out of us in the studio.”
Since the album’s release you’ve become notorious for your schoolgirl following …
“Yeah. It’s funny – like most males, I grew up despising the bands the girls used to like, like the Bay City Rollers. Which was fair enough but I now acknowledge – and it wasn’t until a couple of years ago that I actually started listening to anything prior to 1977, to the Sex Pistols – that some of those people did write good songs and their arrangements were good, even though they were pretty boys and they were a girls’ band and all that. Idealistically it might be horrible but it’s true that if you’ve got good songs then the next step for a girl following – or even a homosexual following (laughs) – is looks. That’s not saying that we’re all wonderful looking because we’re all moderate looking. The way you carry yourself is probably the most important thing there. The next step is putting yourself in front of the audience and playing schools was very important for us in that respect. The young ones are great because they don’t harness their enthusiasm. It’s as if they haven’t learned the social games yet. When they start going to pubs they begin to learn that you don’t squeal, you don’t let out your immediate emotion. Even though you still might feel like that when you’re 35 you don’t let it out, because that not right … at least in this culture.”
Do you think you would have liked the Mockers when you were 14?
“It’s sort of different now from early punk days. You’re not presented with such a strong subculture. Look at Billy Idol – he’s a commercial punk rocker. He would have been laughed at back then. But no, I definitely wouldn’t have liked the Mockers …” (gales of laughter).
But, particularly in this country, there is strong alternative music available. Why isn’t it picked up as much by the kids now?
“Because it’s not so mass-media obvious as punk was. And for kids that’s the way it’s got to be. The kids don’t see the other side of things, like the Flying Nun bands, because the majority of them aren’t sufficiently switched on to sort out what’s happening in music – they just take what’s put in front of them. Now if the kids were presented with those bands on a high scale, as it was with punk rock, the anti-establishment thing, they’d become aware that the whole pink suit thing is a big wank – which it is. But my motivations are different now because I’ve never done it before. I mean, I don’t mind looking like the clichéd 1975 rock poser because it’s amusing for me, I’ve never done it … But for me now, it’s a progression. We’re writing pop songs with good melodies and that’s something I couldn’t do when I started out with the Ambitious Vegetables. The only thing we had going for us was energy – we just got right into it. Even the showmanship thing has been a progression for me personally.”
Have you felt much pressure with the growth of the fandom thing?
“The only pressure’s been in the practice room. We’re putting more time into arranging songs because we know that the chances are we’ll record most of the new songs we write, which wasn’t the case before. We don’t want any filler. The other side of it … not really, because I’ve always had this mental escape. I always to have the back door open so I can jump out. If it all fucked out tomorrow I know I’ve got something else I’d like to pursue. Sometimes I wish it would fuck out so I could pursue it. It’s alike a safety valve, it takes a lot of pressure off. If I felt this was the be-all and end-all, I’d probably be an alcoholic by now.”
Someone suggested to me that you’re only doing all this so you can buy a big yacht and sail around the world. Is there some truth in that?
“There’s a lot of truth in that. But whatever the motivation is, I’m doing it. Some people might be doing it so they can go to all the ritzy parties or buy their mansion.”
What appeals to you about the sea enough to make you live in a little boat on Auckland Harbour?
“Well, it sounds so airy-fairy and silly but there’s … another dimension that attracts me. I loosely label it a spiritual thing. I enjoy sailing but that’s a different thing, that’s actually doing something, but just being there all the time. It’s not that I’m claustrophobic about living in a house in a street – but it’s like this guy who lives in a boat down there that he’s called My Garden and it really is. You look out your window and you’ve got this whole bay around you. The tide coming and going is interesting and when it blows, you have to watch which way it blows from as to whether or not it’s going to be rough that night. It’s almost like a natural sort of excitement that you get from the elements around you. I find it quite interesting to see what’s happening around me. It’s an alive place to live. Once you get over the initial discomfort, of course.”
When you were interviewed on Radio With Pictures this year your demeanour upset quite a few people. Why did you act that way?
“Well, ten percent of it was I knew a lot of people would come away thinking, ‘He’s completely out of it’ – which I wasn’t. I sat as I sit right at this moment, totally relaxed. It wasn’t that I was familiar with Karyn [Hay] or anything – I know Karyn, but I just didn’t follow the rules of doing a television interview. I didn’t sit up straight and watch what I said, I just relaxed. It’s funny – most of the other people who live in boats on the harbour, they’ve been isolated from society so long they’ve developed different social mores and attitudes, and they didn’t see anything wrong in the way I acted. Whereas a lot of people thought I was half out of it, one guy who lives on the harbour said he thought it was great that I was so relaxed. I was informal in a very formal situation and that’s what upset people.”
How much of your public behaviour is premeditated?
“Not a lot, really. I have problems doing videos because it’s rehearsed and premeditated and I find it hard to function convincingly like that. If I’ve learned a poem I might spout it if there’s a gap but even a lot of the things I say in verse just come to mind depending on what state of mind I’m in. But lately I haven’t been putting on nearly as much of a show, particularly in pubs. I’ve felt that because we’ve been in the public eye people start to expect that of you all the time and I’ve toned down a lot. We don’t have to work as hard to get their attention – and that’s what I want, whether they’re heckling or throwing bottles or whatever. People accept me for what I am now because it’s been endorsed in the media. We’ve sold so many records and people see all these heads bopping up and down and they think we must be good. There won’t be many people who have the guts to sit down and say ‘this band is shit’. It’s like the emperor’s new clothes and it’s such a big factor.”
Young girls are turning up to concerts wearing black nail polish, emulating you. Do you ever feel a responsibility in the sense that you can influence fans?
“It’s really only dawned on me of late that some people are very impressionable, especially at a certain age. It frightens me the power an individual can have in that situation. Being aware of the fact and being frightened of it is probably a good thing. It’s not as if I’m going to try and lead people out and say ‘follow this cult’ or anything, but I can see how people could do it. I went to a lot of churches when I was young and I learned that a lot of people, not just the ones who go to churches, are easily led. If you tell them things in an earnest way or in a way that’s been endorsed by the church structure, by other people around them, by the media, then a lot of people will accept it. Younger people can be particularly impressionable. So yeah, how I’m aware of a responsibility that I wasn’t before.”
Your singing voice has often been a target for criticism.
“Quite rightly so. I see myself as a victory for the mediocre singer. I’m still at the stage where people are telling me I should get singing lessons, just for my pronunciation and things like that. I haven’t got a good range but I haven’t actually used most of what range I have so far. I’ve got quite a low voice and in the past we never used to write songs using my full range because we’d always be playing support gigs and have really bad monitors – they’d be written that way because you could never hear yourself any lower on stage. I’d really like to write stuff in the studio that used my full range. ‘After the Rain’ would never have been a slow as it is if we’d played it live first – I still sing it quite badly live. But I think the ‘out’ for those of us who haven’t got great voices is in learning to express emotion, and I’ve got years to learn there.”
Were you worried about the prospect of a live album and TV special?
“I was, very much, because I’d never seen or heard the band live. To be honest, I was impressed, especially with the Shazam! one. I thought we were in the same category as bands who’ve had those specials before and I didn’t know if we were going to be. But the band’s tightened up a lot, especially with Tim joining – he adds a lot of fullness.”
Fagan’s current project is the publishing of a book of poems he wrote in July and August last year. He intended publishing them but lost interest after they had been written, feeling “purged” with the simple act of putting them to paper. Some friends in Wellington have offered to finance the printing of 500 copies, however. But why does a lyricist need to put his words in a book?
“Gary’s writing some nice tunes but these were things that wouldn’t fit in with them. It’s not that the lyrics I write to Gary’s songs are throwaway but they’re just a different area. The poems are mainly observations about the people around me. I tend to do that quite often.”
The book will be sold in small-scale fashion, as the early Mockers’ singles were.
“If I did it through those industry avenues it would probably sell a lot more but it would also probably sell to a lot of people who wouldn’t really take it in and that worries me. It also worries me that people might see it as cashing in on the band’s current success but I wrote it when it was still $10-$15 a week stuff. I wouldn’t want people to think I was trying to cash in because that’s not the idea.”
The curiously designed bar at the DB Rotorua is comfortably full – 200-plus on a Tuesday night. The dancefloor fills almost immediately; couples wend their way around the tables towards the front, smiling.
“The band that came through the other week, hardly anyone danced – and then only right at the end,” says an old school friend, now living in Rotorua. Mockers’ manager Ian “Hippy” Kingsford says the last time the Mockers played here they got 60 people.
As the band members clamber back on stage to the shouting for an encore, Fagan shoots back a loaded grin to where I’m standing at the side of the stage. Careful Andrew, it doesn’t do for pop stars to get too objective …