Ian Henderson is proving it is possible to be successful
recording, promoting and releasing music from a basement in
Dunedin. Hamish McNeilly discovers how the underdog is
producing music heard around the world.
They are listening to our music over there.
People in far-flung towns and cities across the globe are
buying LPs, CDs and downloading digital songs from a
And the music?
Opposite Sex, The Puddle, Males, The Dark Beaks, Trick
Mammoth, The Prophet Hens, The Shifting Sands, all released
on boutique Dunedin-based label Fishrider Records.
And that music was more than likely recorded, promoted,
released and dispatched from the official headquarters of the
fledging label, the basement of Ian Henderson's Dunedin home.
''It is small-scale, it is arts and craft but the really cool
thing but there is certainly a lot of interest around the
world in what we are doing here in Dunedin ... I am trying to
be a conduit for people to pay attention because there is
some world-class stuff happening in this city.''
But why start your own label?
''The reason I do it is so I can hear the music I want to
And now others are tuning in to the music billed on the
Fishrider website as ''literate, melodic psych pop, no wave
and whatever other kinds of DIY subversive pop take our
Just this month a New Jersey radio station contacted the band
Males for an interview, as their recently released debut mini
album had held their number one spot for the past fortnight.
Mr Henderson said he would love nothing more than to see a
bigger label come in and sign the band up ''because there is
a limit to what I can do''.
''They are the Dunedin band that, I think, could travel the
world and play at festivals and all that sort of stuff.''
Pre-sales alone meant their album Run/Run/Run/
Males/Males/Males was heading towards breaking even
''which was always the first target'', he said.
He said one thing he always hated about the music industry
was everybody else made the money, before anything trickled
down to the musician.
''That is so wrong. The musicians are the ones who create.''
Mr Henderson, a self-employed trainer by day, said the skills
he has learned over the course of his life that had nothing
to do with music had stood him in good stead for the music
''Project planning, networking - there is a whole lot of
skills here that I can apply to my passion for music.''
That passion for music saw him officially join The Puddle as
their drummer in 2007. The cult band is fronted by his older
brother George and received rave reviews for its recent
The Puddle had several earlier releases on Flying Nun, a
label that served as an inspiration for Fishrider.
''Flying Nun came from nowhere ... established a label from
nothing and did things very unconventionally.''
He said the do-it-yourself ethic of independent labels such
as Flying Nun and Low Hum encouraged him to record an album
by the Dark Beaks, but those demos were ignored by other
''I still wanted to put it out, and I thought: 'It can't be
that hard', so I looked up on the internet how to release
records and I just did it. There was no plan to start a
That led him to coin the name Fishrider Records, inspired by
one of his other passions; surfing, and the fish-shaped
surfboard he favoured.
''It sounds corny to me now, but there are worse names.''
So now, with CDs of the Dark Beaks' Spill Your Heart,
he was faced with a problem facing music labels all around
the world - ''how do I sell it?''He recalled advice from
Flying Nun pioneer Chris Knox, who said for an underground
alternative band in New Zealand selling 100 copies was pretty
''So when you minimum CD run is 500, I knew I needed to think
beyond New Zealand, and I knew from the Flying Nun days there
were people all around the world who like that particular
sound and style of music.''
Now it was a case of marrying those fans with the music.
And while contemporary bands did not want to be labelled with
the ''Dunedin Sound'' often associated with the city, the
label's home city helped garner interest.
Using the internet, he was able to locate overseas radio
stations likely to play New Zealand releases, and magazines
and blogs that could review the Dark Beaks' album.
''To my surprise people really, really liked it. And it was
them that made the connection with Dunedin bands like The
Verlaines, Sneaky Feelings - which didn't sound like any of
those things - but that indicated the interest in independent
guitar music from New Zealand.''
While music sharing over the internet meant major labels were
not making the money of yesteryear, the internet helped
generate interest in releases from the boutique Dunedin-based
''My whole business model was based on physical items, CDs,
and most recently LPs, and there's not really any cost
associated with digital.''
Older bands, such as The Puddle, sold more physical items
such as CDs and LPs than newer bands, such as Opposite Sex
He began releasing The Puddle records on Fishrider, and it
was the album The Shakespeare Monkey ''which took
everyone by surprise in getting attention around the world''.
In the case of Opposite Sex, he came across the band when
supporting The Puddle in Gisborne, and the members mentioned
they were coming to Dunedin.
''I said: `'f you do come down, I will record you in the
studio', and that was the first new artist that I wasn't
directly involved with.''
That recording was sent to reviewers but was largely ignored
until major overseas publications began praising the debut
album from the now Dunedin-based group.
''When it got a four-star review in Uncut and got
played on BBC radio, people here started to pay attention to
it. That is kind of the way people are here. Maybe people are
too self-conscious about music in some respects, and have
difficulty in accepting that something from here can be as
good as from overseas.
Unlike the 1980s and '90s, when music lovers would often
discover an album a couple of years after it was released,
the digital age meant ''everything was quicker and more
''There is an initial period of high interest and activity
but that drops away pretty quickly, now.''
At the time of writing, the Opposite Sex album had been the
biggest seller for the label, but the key for any release was
to keep on getting attention for the band, with a new single
or video every six months.
Initially bands tended to sell more vinyl to all the
enthusiasts, but then digital started selling to similar
levels and CDs eventually sold more than vinyl.
''People talk about CDs dying, but that is really crap,'' he
The record label's vinyl came from the United Kingdom, which
was cheaper for freight than from the United States, but ''it
is very expensive to make''.
To help keep distribution costs down he had forged
relationships with other boutique labels in key markets. The
new Trick Mammoth CD was pressed and then distributed from
''Everything about Fishrider is totally with my money. I
don't get any support from New Zealand on Air or anything
like that. It is my money, out of my pocket, but more
important than the money, which after all is only money, is
the time involved.''
So while he was prepared to absorb the loss of any record, he
also shared any proceeds with the bands much to the dismay of
his accountant - ''he always shakes his head''.
Any money made was far less than the musicians spend on
instruments or travelling to gigs ''because the young bands
on the label have huge student loans and work part-time''.
''They make music that make a lot of people happy, but it
costs them money to make music, because they are giving up
At the end of last year he began to think whether he ''should
be focusing on more productive things''.
However that Christmas he heard some demos from up-and-coming
Dunedin band, Trick Mammoth, and ''I just thought this was
This year he met the band at the record shop Portil, where
they explained how difficult it was to record on a solitary
Nek minnit, the band is recording demos at Fishrider HQ.
Mr Henderson said he often went out to see live bands, and
''people get worried when they are out and there are live
bands on and they don't see me ... so they come and check to
make sure I am still alive''.
While there was potential for Fishrider bands to tour
overseas it presented a massive hurdle in terms of costs and
''Most of the people I work with our students. They have
study commitments and are deeply in debt with student loans,
so touring around is not an option.''
The growing interest in the label meant he was now receiving
demos from bands all over the world but had no interest in
being a conventional label.
''I have two rules that I operate by, I have to really,
really, really like the music, because if I am going to put
the time and money into it I have to passionately believe in
''The second thing is I have to know the people and like the
people. I don't ever want to do it as a business, and I don't
want to deal with people who have unreasonable
While some bands, like Males, could fit comfortably on a
major label roster able to promote them around the world,
others were more suited to staying on a boutique independent
This month the label released a free 2013-14 Fishrider
Records' sampler, featuring a cover familiar to many
Dunedinites, of a dinosaur slide at a city park.
The logic of samplers was that people would then support the
artists by buying their albums and going to their live shows.
''People who go out and see live music, which isn't as many
as it was in the '80s, are actually starting to realise what
I have been saying for the last year and a bit ... this is a
pretty special time to be in Dunedin.
''It may well be all over in a year or two.
Dunedin is such a unique place. It is such a small city and
has such a high transient population because of the
university ... bands tending to come and go quite quickly.''
But is clear that Fishrider is here to stay, largely because
of a simple factor that motivates Ian Henderson.
''It is a belief that the underdogs can also have their day
Seven picks: Ian Henderson picks seven magnificent
Fishrider songs. -
• Trick Mammoth - 'Pinker Sea' (from Floristry)
• Males - 'Lucky Too' (from Run Run Run/
• The Prophet Hens - 'All Over The World' (from Popular
People Do Popular People)
• The Shifting Sands - 'Pixies' (from Feel)
• The Puddle - 'The Vitalist' (from Secret Holiday/
• Opposite Sex - 'La Rat' (from Opposite Sex)
• Robert Scott and Adalita Srsen - 'That's What I heard'
(from split 7" single with The Puddle)
Glowing praise for...
''The new wave of New Zealand pop begins here, it's
remarkable, leaping from seasick waltzes and crunchy postpunk
to ADD-pop (see the hyper opener La Rat) 4 stars
''Opposite Sex is the most charming thing you've heard. We
thank New Zealand for this gem.'' - Our Favourite
The Prophet Hens:
''I really like that. I'll be playing more tunes from that in
future, no doubt about it.'' - Marc Riley BBC6music
''It places [George] Henderson squarely where he has long
deserved to be: among the pantheon of Kiwi rock deities ...
it's impossible to deny the charm of these 17 tracks." - 4
stars Otago Daily Times
''Franticness with a deft touch, an
embarrassment of impeccable melody hooks, Males Males
Males/Run Run Run is still another entry in the premier debut
class of a very prolific 2013 and certainly the liveliest.
Kind of record that, really quite literally, makes you feel
aliver than alive.'' - Caught in the Carousel