Mace’s songs are smart, irreverent, and darkly comic takes on life in Aotearoa. He adds a dose of storytelling to draw listeners into a slightly disconcerting world, describing his music as “whimsical ballads, blistering pop gems and melodramatic reptilian lounge folk.”
At an early age he shared the stage with Dame Kiri Te Kanawa, in ‘Carmen’
Born in Canada, Otis Mace – or Richard Lello to his parents – moved with his family to New Zealand in the 1960s. His musical leanings were informed by his parents: his mum sang in a choir, and his dad was a born story-teller. He learnt classical guitar at primary school, and was in the choir at Mt Roskill Intermediate. The choir was chosen to be the children’s chorus for the opera Carmen at the St James, so at an early age he shared the stage with Dame Kiri Te Kanawa. He branched out to playing rock guitar at 13, and began writing songs when he was about 15.
Mace explains how he got into gigging: “I was lucky to be flatting with some of the musos in The Plague and the Whizz Kids. My band Rex Reason and The Rationalists did some gigs at Zwines, Island of Real and XS Café, and when Blam Blam Blam was formed I got to open for them on several tours. Being a solo opening act was great, I was playing electric guitar and writing my own songs, sometimes with lyrics from Richard von Sturmer.” (Von Sturmer wrote the lyrics for Blam Blam Blam’s anthem ‘There is No Depression in New Zealand’.)
Mace’s international travels began in 1979. Upon returning to Canada for eight months, he met Canadian punk pioneers D.O.A (aka Dead On Arrival) in Ottawa, where they asked him to open for them. “I also hung out with them in New York and saw them play there – well, I should say almost saw them live because both nights their gig was shut down by the fire department.”
He returned to Auckland in 1980, continuing to hone his songwriting skills, with a few twists. He wryly says that, “despite my best efforts, my single ‘Mecca’ – the old Gene Pitney song (Mace’s version was arranged by Don McGlashan) – was a Top 20 hit in 1981.” It was around 1984 that he started to add “Guitar Ace” to his stage name – “it just rhymed so well and sounded very show biz.”
In 1985 he headed to Melbourne, playing pub gigs for five months before returning to Auckland and forming the Psychic Pet Healers, alongside holding down a day job at TVNZ as a driver and autocue operator.
The Psychic Pet Healers quickly picked up an underground fan base, releasing two EPs, Little Critters (1986) and Heavy Petting (1986). During this time, The Psychic Pet Healers led their own New Zealand tours, and toured with former Poet Laureate David Eggleton; Mace undertook a few solo tours too. Other highlights included opening for Billy Bragg, Violent Femmes and Screaming Blue Messiahs. From 1990 an audience favourite was his shaggy-dog tale, ‘She Makes Me Feel Better Than Townes Van Zandt’.
Next was the Jabber and Hoot album in 1991, with Helen Adams contributing fiddle, and Chris Knox producing the song ‘Declaration’. In 1992 Mace joined Arthur Baysting for a songwriting tour of universities, demonstrating a “do-it-yourself” technique where, during an hour-long workshop, the audience helped write a song.
“If Otis Mace is ever to score on the hit parade it will probably be with the anthem ‘Effort, Money And Time’.”
In 1996 a collection of Mace’s songs, the Quick album (Jayrem) was released, and a number of tracks did well at student radio. Quick’s best-known song, ‘Effort, Money and Time’ was written much earlier, with Richard von Sturmer at the beginning of Mace’s solo career. Mark Amery wrote in Quote Unquote magazine (November 1995), “If Otis Mace is ever to score on the hit parade it will probably be with the anthem ‘Effort, Money And Time’.”
His travel lust hadn’t waned, and in 1997 Mace moved to London, with his musical output ranging from busking to playing numerous shows at the 12Bar Club in Soho – as well as a number of hops to Europe. Drawn back to New Zealand in 2005 due to his parents’ failing health, Mace quickly enmeshed himself back into the Auckland music scene.
Mace released Bird in Bush Road on Powertool Records in 2007. The album was named after a street in Peckham. Two tracks had been written by Richard von Sturmer back in the early 1980s, and the album was co-produced by Mace, McGlashan and Ed McWilliams (Bressa Creeting Cake). Reviewer James Belfield called the album “small and perfectly formed piece of steady-plucked whimsy.”
This was followed by the 2008 EP Two Black Cats (Powertool), and two split 7" singles: one with Australian band Green Circles, and another with US musician Greg Franco (Man’s Body, Rough Church).
2012 was another busy year for Mace internationally. He toured Catalonia, Spain, and the UK, and played a series of solo gigs in New York and Los Angeles. Upon returning to New Zealand his output didn’t let up, with the release of the Country Tree album in 2012 and the Balaclava EP in 2014.
Mace has performed twice for Auckland’s Parnell Rose Festival, Auckland Council’s Music In Parks, and in 2022 opened for Don McGlashan’s Bright November Morning show at Auckland Tāmaki Makaurau’s Powerstation. His most recent band was Otis Mace and the 1B4s with Robert Halcrow (The Managers, Unity Pacific, Ocean Beach) and Troy Stanton-Kerr (Ocean Beach).
In 2023 Mace still resides in Auckland, and helps to run Onehunga venue Room 1. His band is The Otis Mace Combo, a three-piece with Mace, John Segovia on bass and Rick McShane on drums (with occasional harp from Andrew Campbell). They play regularly across Auckland Tāmaki Makaurau.