NZOA newmusic single november 18

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June/July 1993

by Neil Reid

25 Years Back: Push Pushing Off

by Neil Reid

25 Years Back: Push Pushing Off

Push Push are sick of being messed around and are moving to Australia this month. [Published in NZM 25 years back, July 1993.]

Since the five-piece rock sensations’ debut single, Trippin’, soared to number one in the charts two years ago, Push Push feel they’ve suffered the infamous NZ tall poppy syndrome, and the music industry hasn’t given them the support they deserve.

They will arrive in Australia without a record company behind them – they effectively tore up their contract with Festival Records late last year, accusing Festival Australia of not supporting them during their last tour there in September. Both the band and their manager Steve Morice have worked in record shops, and rhythm guitarist Silver says that experience showed them that Festival was doing something wrong.

“We know what things are expected from a record company, and Festival Australia weren’t committing themselves like they should have. They weren’t happening enough,” Morice said at the time. “I’m stuffed if I’m going to get this band to sell records for Festival when they can’t be bothered doing some work themselves – they’ve just pissed us around.”

Vocalist Mikey Havoc didn’t mince words either. 

“They treated us like fucking rock stars when we had a number one single. But when we went over there the second time, Song 27 was at number 58 in their charts, and they just couldn’t be bothered with us. We kind of decided then that we couldn’t do much more for each other. The best thing to do was leave our contract.”

Leaving Festival also meant the death of Tall Poppy, an independent label set up by Morice and Tim Foreman (of Airforce Studios) as a vehicle for Push Push releases, after numerous rejections from NZ labels. Tall Poppy extended in June 1991 to include These Wilding Ways. At the time of the label’s demise These Wilding Ways had lost several members and didn’t consider signing another deal with the indie.

The Pushers are confident they will succeed across the Tasman, despite not having a label when they first arrive. They’ve been planning the move since they completed their mammoth tour there in September. They played at least five gigs every week for two and a half months all over the continent, as well as supporting Diesel on tour.

“Ever since we got back I’ve wanted to return there,” says Silver. “Our plan is to get set up domestically, i.e find jobs, ‘cos musos can’t just go on the dole like you can over here. The law says you have to be there for at least six months and have held down a job for another month. I think most of the other guys are just going to get part-time jobs but I’ll need to find a full-time one ‘cos I need some new gear.

“Our girlfriends are coming over as well which will be good because we’ll have someone there to give us emotional support when things get hard. Then we’ll just play as much as we possibly can and get all of the companies along to the gigs. We don’t expect anything overnight. It may take us six months or even a year to get the sort of deal we’re after. We need a contract which will give us money to record an album, and some dosh to market it well. That’s where the last one went wrong, because we had no money to market and promote it.

“We’re basically following in the footsteps of Split Enz and Dragon – we need to be recognised as an ‘Australian band’. One thing is for sure – we’re going to do some serious damage over there.”

Havoc says Push Push are well-suited to the Australian music market.

“Part of the reason they like us is you can groove to our music. Musically they are behind NZ. There are these two clubs – the Cathouse in Melbourne and the Cobra Club in Sydney – and they’re just like the Powerstation was four years ago. The punters look at us and go, ‘Gee, you guys are fresh and inventive.’ I thought there’d be 20 other good bands just like us but there weren’t. That gave us quite an uplift ‘cos it meant we were still original.”

Industry quotes are hard to come by, but according to one executive with a major label, Push Push’s chance of emulating their Kiwi success overseas is largely up to the band.

“Their success, along with a couple of other bands, was instrumental in creating the N.Z. music scene again, but just because they’ve made it in N.Z. doesn’t automatically mean they’ll be able to do the same in Australia. There is a certain amount of reluctance for Australians to accept success in NZ. It’s almost like, ‘So what if you had a number one album in NZ – that doesn’t mean you’ll have one here.’

“If Push Push never had the success they had in N.Z. they would have just as much chance of securing success over there. Their record is really just a launch pad, but ultimately it will all come back to their abilities and how good their songs are.”

Push Push won’t be leaving NZ full of good memories. They’re bitter that since the release of Trippin’ this country’s music industry has tried to destroy them.

“We’ve been let down by the music scene here,” Havoc says. “It really fucks me off that there are so many people who don’t believe we deserve all the success we’ve had.

“There’s this stupid bunch of fat, old, has-beens in the Kiwi rock scene who have never achieved anything and they certainly can’t bear to see anyone doing well. We’ve been labelled a corporate-glam bunch of faggots by this industry. That is just crap. People that scoff at us would all freak out if they knew how much work we’ve done to get to where we are.”

Silver, the band’s philosophical member, says it’s crazy that other people aren’t proud of Push Push’s success. He thinks their NZ triumphs will help them to be an international music force. “If you can’t sell to your own country then I don’t think you will be able to sell your music anywhere else in the world. What we’ve done here means we can now have a crack overseas, knowing we’ve got a great track record to show companies who may want to pick us up.”

Not many bands can boast the phenomenal achievement of the Pushers: everything they released has gone gold. Trippin’ was at number one for six weeks, Song 27 made it to number seven, and What My Baby Likes debuted at number four in the charts. In 1992 they were voted Best Band of the Year at the RIANZ music awards. Havoc admits he’s blown away by the band’s track record himself.

“I’m buggered if I know what our recipe for success is. I suppose our songs were just really good. We spent about two months in our practise room trying to get Song 27 right. We were really hesitant about releasing it because it was a swirling epic… we didn’t want to be called another Extreme.

push push

What My Baby Likes did well because people were hungry for more of us. That’s the reason we put the album out so quick. People were asking us when our album was going to come out, when Trippin’ went to number one. We were like, ‘What album? Well, we’ve got the songs but you may have to wait about five years.'”

They are probably the most successful homegrown band since the Mockers, but not even that success has enticed local instrument distributors to endorse the whole band. Silver says that is one thing that does nark the band.

“Only Scotty is endorsed. He just got a new set of Remo drums from Frank Gibson Percussion last week, so he’s pretty rapt.”

For the record, Silver plays a Les Paul guitar through a Marshall 2000 series pre-amp. He also uses a Roland GPA effects pedal. Andy Kane has an Ibanez guitar and an Ensoniq keyboard. He uses both Peavey and Marshall amps. Steve Ablanalp uses a Warwick bass while Mikey Havoc screams into whatever mics are around.

Push Push was formed in the mid-80s by then 14 year-old Havoc and his 15 year-old cousin, Ken. Current lead guitarist Kane and bassist Ablanalp made up the original line-up. Silver, and drummer Scott Cortese, joined in 1990.

“We were at the stage where you need something to occupy your time,” Havoc remembers. “We didn’t like sports and we thought a band looked like a fun thing to do. We dreamt of getting really good and making heaps of money out of it. I remember saying, ‘I want to have a number one single by the time I turn 20′. Trippin’ made it to the top before my 20th birthday.

“We were influenced by Poison, Motley Crue, FasterPussycat and LA glam stuff like that. For a while we were true glam-rockers – you know, wearing make-up and using pyrotechnics when we played. We were the only band in NZ doing that at the time. I suppose if we lost a bit of creativity for it, at least people began to hear about us.

“The only reason we released Trippin’  was that a lot of people were coming to see us play, and that was the song we usually opened our live set with. It seemed to go down well, so we recorded it. We hated Blondes, so we put it on the B-side, so people would buy the single and we’d never have to play it again. I remember sitting around our manager’s table the night before it was released, saying, ‘Shit, I’ll be stoked if it sells 1000 copies.’ We never expected the fame it brought us.”

Trippin’  sold more than 5,500 copies, and it was the first original Kiwi song to reach number one for seven years. It was also Festival’s first platinum single since Blondie’s 1981 hit, Heart Of Glass. At the time of the release, Havoc was working in a Queen St record store, and as Trippin’ rose in the charts he was even accused of rigging them.

“It went to number three and all of a sudden some record company people said I was hyping the charts. I got rung up at my record shop by the chart board, and they asked me if I’d rigged them! I said, ‘No. I’ve sold this many in this length of time, and I’m not really trying that hard’.

“The next week they triple-analysed the charts to see if I’d rigged them, and Trippin’ went to number one. I was telling people to buy it, but I was only one counter in NZ – I couldn’t have swayed the charts that much.”

Push Push say their manager Steve Morice should get as much credit as them. Since he took on the job in 1990, the band have been able to totally concentrate on their music. No longer do they have to worry about mundane things like poster printing.

“He’s doing all the shitty things that we used to do,” Havoc laughs. “With him, the band really is a six-way thing. At the moment Steve is in Melbourne promoting the band to record companies. He has got a real love for this band and it still blows me away that a 35 year-old guy can get into the type of music we play.”

Push Push are supremely confident about their future. Just a couple of weeks before heading off to Oz the band were busy back at Airforce, recording a new song, tentatively titled Change No Change – written as a soundtrack for a proposed “dreamy” short film. The film makers are still seeking funding, so no one knows when the song or the film will see the light of day.

Andy Kane describes the song as “the most aggressive we’ve recorded yet,” and all agree it’s the best sound that they have got from Airforce Studio. Recorded by Tim Foreman, engineered and mixed by Nigel Foster, it sounds every bit as much a hit as Trippin’.

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