New Zealand musician, Jason Kerrison recently completed his first solo tour around Australia, debuting songs off his first album #JKEP1 and showcasing his past hits. I spoke to Jason about this exciting year and what’s to come.
Jason, you were recently toured in Australia for the first time. How was your Australian gigs go?
Yeah, it was my first tour. I don’t know why it’s my first tour – I guess, being in bands in the past, it’s a lot more expensive bringing bands over. [So] it’s kind of nice to be able to be mobile and be able to be at a whole bunch of places over a couple of weekends, so it was good. Gosh, I can’t remember the name of the guy who played before me, but he was so good. He was ridiculously good! You know, when you see people so good, and you’re like, “why am I bothering to get up now?” Ego steps in, “I told you you shouldn’t have turned up”. [laughs] But I had a ball. It was really cool. All good people there.
Teneriffe Festival in Brisbane was fantastic! And then I played at a place called The Triffid, that is owned by one of the fellas from Powderfinger. [It’s] a great venue. I saw a band called the Church play in there that same night.
[The Yarra Hotel] was interesting. Sydney was interesting, as well – it was really bizarre, but there were [some] really cool people [there] I played in a lounge, like I played in someone’s lounge. It’s called Live n’ Lounging, apparently there’s a bit of a home circuit thing going.
What was it like playing in someone’s lounge? Is that the weirdest place you’ve ever played?
I’ve played in some pretty weird places – it’s probably up there though. It was intimate and it was really cool because they made soup and stuff, so we got to have soup and tea. [In a] what do they call it? A “schooner?” No, they call it a “pot”, that’s right. A pot or a schooner*. I thought he wanted me to smoke a pot. And I was like, “oh no, I got to play, man. I got to play, dude”. [laughs]
* A “pot” or “schooner” is a glass of beer in Australia.
Were most of your audience in Australia from New Zealand, or where there many Australians there singing along as well?
Well, because it’s my first tour really, it’s a matter of trying to connect with where my audience would be.I think the guys who look after my booking at the moment [are] still working that out as well, so it’s a bit of hit and miss here and there. I’m confident we can all tweak [the show] to find where my audience is.
But we’ve had people drive two hours to come to the show in Sydney. She knew all the previous Op Shop songs, and had some favourites she wanted me to play. And, of course I’m going to play them, she’s come all that way. So, that’s really interesting, really bizarre, right?, that someone would know those songs and drive that far to see me play. Really cool [and] really humbling, actually. And singing along to the lyrics like, “Wow, that’s pretty cool!”
You mentioned your former band, Op Shop. You originally started out as a solo act before you were in a band – why did you decide to go solo again?
I’ve been in a band for a long time, [so] it was time for a change. We’ve done some pretty cool things with a couple of the different bands I’ve been in, one of the bands [being] Op Shop, which some people in Australia might know. We had a couple of songs on Nova and Triple M or something a couple of years back and another band called The Babysitter Circus, which got a song called Everything’s Gonna Be Alright, which is currently on the Coke Life ads, and I think it’s been played on radio at some point. We did pretty well.
I just got to a point where I think dynamics had changed so much from being in a band with guys for so long. Families took precedence, as they should, and it just meant that I was probably more upilly-mobile and ready to jump on a plane to get to a gig perhaps more than most, so it just felt like the right time.
Are people embracing you as a solo artist and your sound, as well?
It’s funny, I’m trying to work out what my sound is. I don’t really know. But I’ve said it’s singer-songwriter stuff with acoustic renderings, electronic renderings rather acoustic songs and it kind of is. It’s really just me playing songs but having a bit of a play around on some new software instruments that I’ve got that are really wicked. There’s one called Nexus 2, which is just mind blowing! You don’t need bands anymore. You don’t need anything. They’ll be software where I will just literally type the words in into a computer or app and it’ll give it a flavour, genre and a note range that I’m sure it’ll be able to sing it itself, which is incredible.
Isn’t that a bad thing as a musician?
Yeah, but it’s great if you’re not a musician – and that’s the problem or not a problem. I guess, that’s the challenge. People can basically write entire symphonies on their phones these days and you don’t really have to have had any experience in it. It kind of disenfranchises a lot of people who have spent a lot of time learning how to do it, but that’s technology and you’ve just got to keep on top of it and keep doing what you do.
So, have people embraced me as a solo artist? It’s really only my first year and I’m kind of just really finding my own feet, let alone be really concerned if people are embracing it or not. I saw today though that my latest clip has had fifty-odd thousand views, so that can’t be too bad.
Is it easy to make a music career for yourself being based in New Zealand?
It’s probably as difficult as it is for anyone in any place these days. Yes, it might be a little more expensive to get anywhere because of the tyranny of difference, but I think it’s vastly different to even ten years ago where you had to send a CD across the world. Now I can just email it to you and it can be there within ten-fifteen seconds or quicker.
The game has changed [so] it depends what your success metrics are. People aren’t buying music anymore. Ten years ago, you’ve gone from a 30-million dollar industry to something that’s half that actually. 15 billion, I think it is now. So no ones getting paid – well, they’re getting paid half as much. Maybe the other thing is that something like 76% of all global revenue is made by 1% of the artist, so 99% of us are strapping over what’s left – so that can’t be healthy.
So isn’t that bad as an musician in New Zealand when it is so small?
Yeah, exactly. It is interesting. We do get access to the rest of the world where potentially you wouldn’t have once but so does everyone else. Everyone who’s making music on their phone or laptop, which is, I love the whole idea that the cost of production has gone to virtually zero but once again, people are left going looking through music libraries or repositories trying to find what works for them – but I think they’ve found that, that’s the tyranny of choice now. People have got too much choice so they are quite keen to be told what they should like. Whereas we all thought it we had more choice we’d find what we like but I don’t think it’s really worked out like that.
This year you released your debut album, #JKEP1. Where did the title come from?
The name firstly #JKEP1, there’s so much stuff out there that’s just getting lost, so how could I categorize it so people can find it later on? That was really it really. It was just #JKEP1 and I noticed when I put that into search mechanisms, a whole bunch of stuff comes out, which is really cool. It shows where people have talked about it, how they’ve talked about it and it’s kind of easy to track down stuff, which is really cool [and] it validates the concept in a way. But it also means, in terms of in putting a bit more work into a solo career over time, hopefully [I can] have #JKEP2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10. Then people can see that develop over time. My aim really was and is to get an EP out every six months or so. I should really pull my finger out and get into that over the next month [laughs]
So you’re not working on anything now?
I kind of am, but we’ve just finished a Babysitters Circus new song that’s gone to radio at the moment. I’ve got another band called Fungi, which is a group of friends from 15 years ago who we’ve got back together as a rock band. One of our songs is going off here in New Zealand. I’ve got some other business-y things and shit involved, so [I’ve] just go to find a couple of days to write it and it’ll be all good.
I’m trying to write a book at the moment actually about, like a DIY guide for the music industry and entrepreneurs. Just pass off things. I’ve been to about eight different conferences in the last year, all over the world, and I take hundreds of pages of notes and I get them all distilled and compressed into good research notes and then I’m putting those into a book. So that would be cool getting it out and passing that on to people so they don’t make all the mistakes I made. Then we can review it and we can all do better at it. I’d like to have it out before the end of the year, but you know these things, who knows, [we’ll] see how we go.
You’re making competition for yourself.
Oh shit. That’s right. I’ve got to shelve the book idea. That’s right. [laughs] Thanks for that. I hadn’t thought of that.
You sound extremely busy.
Kind of. I just finished this really cool thing for Toyota Global, which is really exciting. It’s called Feeling the Street. You can go to feelingthestreet.com [to] see the result [and] the work that we did. They brought six buskers from all over the world, out of 300 buskers, and they had 17,000 people vote for their favourite buskers. I think they had something like 22 million views/eyes on it over the last couple of months. I’ve been the music producer on that project as well, so that’s been really full on. It looks like we’ll be doing it next year as well, so we’re just setting everything up and a trip to Japan later this year, among other things. That’s actually been really busy. You know when you’re busy but you just don’t feel busy? You’re just got stuff to do, [but] it’s fun? I’m very lucky, I have to admit that. I’m really fortunate in that regard.
You Want Me As Me, is the current single, I read that you described it as “about finding who you are and not compromising on who you want to be.” Is that right?
Kind of. Songs are weird things because on different days, it might mean different things to me. On that particular day, when somebody asked me that, it was, and that hasn’t changed too much. I’m happy with how that song has gone generally. It’s still getting played on radio here. I’m not sure how it’s done in Australia. I’m not sure if it’s been picked up, but it’s interesting because I’ve noticed that out of something like 70% or maybe 60-70% of all the views on YouTube, are actually from Australia. Who knows where it’ll go actually, but I [am] committed to keep coming over often now.
Before this interview, I read your bio on the New Zealand’s Got Talent website, and it says “he even boasts Boy George as one of his biggest fans.” I was wondering, what does that mean?
Firstly, I have no idea who writes those damn bios. I’ve got no idea. What would that have come from? Oh, that’s right. I got called one morning from one of those crazy, wacky, morning breakfast shows, that everyone has in every nation. First thing in the morning they’ve gone, “Oh my God, we’ve just seen on social media that Boy George has seen your photos and he thinks you’re hot. What do you reckon?” I’m like, “What? Who?” Then they started playing Karma Chameleon and I was like, “Oh God, that’s right.” I’m like, “Wow. I guess he’s got good taste.” What do you say? I can’t remember what I said but they’ll be picking up on that, I guess. I should have done something about that. It could have been a really good lead.
You were a judge on New Zealand’s Got Talent from 2012-2013. What’s it like being a judge instead of a performer?
A lot easier actually. It meant that I got to sit in the best seat in the house with two people next to me up on these high podiums and see everything. But it’s quite a bizarre situation to be in. Firstly, I never felt like I was qualified to sit there and “judge” these people. And yet I knew if I did that it would help me pay my mortgage, so It felt right that I should do it in the end [laughs] so conversed by the commercial of it really. It ended up being a lot of fun.
I actually turned them down the first instance because I just didn’t think that New Zealand would be able to match the production value of everyone else around the world. And to be fair, for the first year, it was amazing. They did an incredible job. I think London [the] based-franchise ended up using New Zealand as a rosetta stone in some ways to help make sense of the other franchises. With New Zealand being so small, it’s a very limited talent pool. It’s terrible saying scraping the barrel, but that’s along those lines, you know – you just need to give it time to replenish.
Considering some people might come on and put their heart and soul into an act who might not be that good. Is it hard to give them honest feedback if they’re not actually that good?
It is but I chose to see it in such a way that I just tried to be very respectful of the fact of what you’ve just said there. It’s difficult getting up and playing for anyone anywhere – especially in that kind of environment where it’s highly critical. I just felt like it was best to be authentic with people, whether I was right or wrong, I knew if I was authentic with people in the moment with them, then whether they got to the wrong edge of the stick during their performance or not, I was being true to it. And what would happen would happen from there.
I didn’t really go into it with a strategy of how to do it other than hopefully be honest and be respectful of them. The only thing I’d say is, we had something that was called a “shit sandwich.” I would say something that would kiss the highlights of what they’d done in their performance, then focus on something that perhaps needed to be worked on, and then finish up with something that celebrated the performance again – so they felt good about it walking away …. hopefully.
What’s been your highlight gig or most memorable?
It’s pretty easy for me. You would have heard of the Christchurch Earthquakes, right? After the first major earthquake, a friend of mine and I [were] at a party when it all happened [and] we couldn’t believe it. Devastated. I’m a Canterbury boy, so that’s where I grew up. It’s where I went to school, it’s where I have a lot of my first memories, first kiss, first this, first that.
We’re just musicians, we can’t pick up a wrench and help on infrastructure – we just don’t have that skill. I decided in that moment to just start texting everyone on my phone to see if we could put together, not even necessarily a fundraising gig, but actually just a fun gig so that everyone in Christchurch could just have some space to be with the music and the community and celebrate that.
We put on a gig called Band Together and we had 30 different bands over a period of 9 hours. [We] invited everyone along and put [it] all together in six weeks. We had about 160,000 people turn up. I played on it as well, so it was probably the best moment of my life. I just couldn’t believe it. It was so cool just seeing people happy when they had every right to be something other than that. That was pretty cool. That was pretty special. That’s why I think I got the Queen’s Birthday honours to be a member of the New Zealand Order of Merit from the Queen.
What goal would you like to reach, as a musician?
I would just like to keep doing what I do – pay the bills [and] the mortgages. I own a farm up North. I’d like to commercialize the water coming off that. If anyone needs 20,000 litres a day, let me know. That’d be handy. I’ve fortunate to be able to find the caliber of things to do that I love other than music. I’d love to be able to keep doing that. I get to travel a lot. I’ve been to Singapore three times this year, Australia five times, LA this year and I’m going to Europe another three times this year. I can’t complain from anything, apart from the aeroplane food occasionally but honestly I feel really stoked. I wouldn’t want too much more. I’m pretty happy.