One of the most rewarding things Flying Nun’s Ben Howe has found on his travels is when people enthuse about the label’s newer acts like Fazerdaze as well as the legendary bands of the past.
“It’s a nice feeling – people talking about our past and our present,” he says.
Of course, with a label as iconic as Flying Nun, the two are inseparable. But both he and general manager Matthew Davis reckon the record company has found the perfect balance.
So old school fans will be delighted to know that a vinyl reissue programme ‘In Love With These Times’ is on its way, along with new studio albums from the likes of The Verlaines and The Bats. At the same time, a new generation of fans have welcomed the arrival of acts such as Wax Chattels and Fazerdaze to the roster.
“We’ve got some really good new artists and they are doing as well as any other Flying Nun artists of the past,” says Howe. “An artist like Fazerdaze can sell out shows in Japan, in London in New York and that’s great. I think we’re in a really good place at the moment.”
This year, the label’s main priorities so have been the self-titled debut album from Wax Chattels – the company’s first joint signing with esteemed US indie Captured Tracks – and Kody Nielson’s Birthday Suite, although last week Flying Nun unveiled its latest signing Indi – aka Indira Force, best know for her work with Doprah – who will release her debut album in September.
Label manager Matthew Davis says a number of new signings are also in the pipeline, one of which will probably get a release towards the end of the year. “We have also got some new projects on the way,” he adds. “The Verlaines have a new album that they are working on which should be ready by the end of the year and The Bats are going into the studio in October for a new album.”
In addition, Flying Nun aim to step up its reissue programme, starting with the Headless Chickens’ 1991 hit Body Blow, and Superette’s only album Tiger, which was first released in 1993.
Both are expected to be issued at the end of the month and will be double LP sets; the Headless Chickens release will include some remixes and EP tracks, while the Superette bonus disc will be made up primarily of demos and tracks earmarked for their never completed second album.
“We are going to start a series called ‘In Love With These Times’, which will basically be made up of albums from our catalogue that we think everybody should own,” continues Davis. “All of them will be on vinyl – though some of them will be on CD – and we think they will be at a good price point.
“It’s just a way of making sure that more of the catalogue is available to a wider range of people and give a bit of structure and direction to our reissue programme.”
The full line-up of releases are still to be confirmed but Davis says 4-5 projects are currently underway and the company is looking at around six releases a year under the In Love With These Times banner.
The reissue plans follow on from the donation of the label’s masters to the Alexander Turnbull Library, which was overseen by Flying Nun founder Roger Shepherd (pictured far right with Howe and curator Michael Brown). The latter’s focus has been on reissues of late, but Howe says both Shepherd and fellow shareholder Neil Finn also continue to provide valuable insights on possible new signings.
As for the business itself, Flying Nun is seeing solid growth on the digital front, but the physical format remain the biggest category.
“In terms of the total actual turnover, physical and vinyl is still the biggest chunk – vinyl in particular – but it’s also expensive to make, so there isn’t the manufacturing costs with streaming,” Howe says. “It’s interesting to see how some new territories opening up through streaming. Fazerdaze in particular has had good success through Southeast Asia and actually a lot of streaming out of South America. In the case of Fazerdaze, it’s been YouTube driven, so it’s an interesting cocktail of different things.”
Davis agrees that streaming platforms such as Spotify are helping Flying Nun reach a wider audience, particularly when tracks get playlisted. However, commercial radio support remains a much trickier proposition.
“Stations like Hauraki have been quite supportive but it’s hard and the music we release doesn’t quite fit commercial radio. In general, NZ music is finding it hard to get on the air and radio is still really important. When you look at a band like Six60, they’re headlining Western Springs and a huge part of that is getting that commercial radio play and their audience.
“Commercial radio also makes up a very large percentage of public performance royalties and if you are not getting played on it, that is a lot of money that is not going back to local artists. I think it is something that we should keep pushing – ultimately, it is good for everybody.”
With sister company Flying Out – both the record store and distribution arm – also continuing to see good growth, Howe and Davis say that overall the Flying Nun group is in robust health.
“We’re profitable and we’re definitely growing, but I would say it’s never easy,” says Howe. “That’s the nature of the music industry.”