I N T E R V I E W
Stu Rice of Chuganaut
by Ian Duggan
One of the major aims of Hamilton Underground Press is to enable musical and artistic happenings in Hamilton. One way of facilitating this is if new and current bands can gain insights from bands that have had success in the past, on how they went about promoting themselves and how they found their success. As such, I am undertaking a series of interviews with Hamilton musicians, from a variety of genres, who have found success in a variety of ways.
In this interview, I talk with the former guitarist and vocalist from ‘Chuganaut’, Stu Rice. Chuganaut was formed in Hamilton in 2002 and was active until 2010. Among the achievements of the band was a slot at Big Day Out, opening for Iron Maiden in Auckland, playing gigs in Australia, and releasing an album. But how did they go about it?
HUP: Playing in front of large crowds would be the dream of most bands. How did you go about getting the band noticed in a way that allowed you to get slots at Big Day Out and supporting Iron Maiden?
Stu: The underlying part about getting those slots came through us engaging with our fans enough that they would go out of their way to help us. The Big Day Out and the Iron Maiden slots came about through radio and/or online voting competitions and we pushed hard to get fans voting and spreading the word.
[To gain those fans] we produced all our own promotional material and asked friends and their friends to help us in various ways — sticking up posters, handing out flyers, word of mouth endorsement, etc — we arranged (or were occasionally asked) to do radio and newspaper promotions and interviews. We tried to put on the best shows we could without spending a fortune on crew. Not that we couldn’t have used the help, but budgeting meant doing more ourselves. It was hard work, but worth it. We were strengthened by it and we learned what we did or did not want. We were always energetic and engaging at every show and were creating quite different styles of music to the majority of generic radio ‘hits’.
HUP: One really novel way you guys promoted yourself, which I think really helped you enter the collective consciousness of Hamiltonians, was with ‘Chuganaut News’. How did that idea come about?
Stu: My parents took an interest in the band and began helping us in a lot of different ways and promotional material was important. Along with posters and merchandise, 'Chuganaut News' was a side project my mum took on herself. I think it started as an occasional print for advertising in cafes, similar to that 'coffee news' one that you see around. Then around the time we started playing some gigs at schools and we found that the kids liked the newsletter, [so] she started doing it more regularly. It became a handy advertising tool.
HUP: I didn't realise you played at schools. How did you go about organising those gigs, and do you think it was worthwhile thing to do?
Stu: We basically just rang them and asked if they wanted us to play there at some point. The first one we did was at my and [drummer] Lil’s high school-Fraser. Then we expanded to others that caught wind of us doing it. The school gigs were pretty cool fun and they certainly had an impact on the kids. To this day I still have some of the kids from the time recognise me and say how cool it was having us play there. They often remember teeny little details that I wouldn't have thought were interesting but it really meant something to them, impressionable minds...
HUP: So success doesn't come overnight. Your support slots came through first developing a fan base and engaging their support. How long had you been gigging and promoting yourself before acquiring the support slots?
Stu: We had been gigging and touring since '02. It took us a year or so to refine our material and the energy and style we wanted to put into our shows before we entered and subsequently won the local ‘Waikato Battle of the Bands’ in '03. Then with the newfound fan interest we went on to enter and also win the ‘World Battle of the Bands’ competition in '04, which in turn helped us to get the opening slot at the Big Day Out in '05. Various touring years later, we called upon our fans again to vote for us to open for Iron Maiden in ’09. Without them we would not have achieved any of it.
HUP: Right now you are playing with a covers band, ‘Ruckus’. And I note that you have an extraordinary number of likes on your Facebook page. Have you promoted this band differently (i.e., did you learn from past mistakes?), and how important now is the internet for promotion?
Stu: When Chuganaut started a Facebook page, Facebook was still quite new and we didn’t know how to harness its potential at the time. So it never got rolled out with much effort. Then we entered our hiatus and it was somewhat forgotten. With Ruckus we went on an online promotion and sharing mission when we first formed, and a generous amount of the likes would have come via our bass player Brendon; he is great at promotional stuff and knows a lot of people through his work, a lot of whom must've clicked like for us. We have also gained a lot of interest in the last year. More people than ever use the internet for promotional reasons nowadays.
See the Ruckus website: https://www.facebook.com/ruckusnz
And Bands for hire: http://www.bandforhire.co.nz/
B O O K
Girl in a Band: A Memoir
Before going into any detail I should probably come clean. Two of my idols are called Kim. Both play the bass guitar, and I love the bass guitar. As much as I love Kim Deal of Pixies and The Breeders, I really, really, really love Kim Gordon of Sonic Youth. I was therefore foaming at the proverbial to get my mitts on a copy of her memoir, Girl in a Band.
The book spans Kim’s whole life more or less, from childhood days being bullied by her now-committed brother, Keller, to the reasonably recent split from husband of 30 years and co-conspirator in indie-rock legends Sonic Youth, Thurston Moore.
The striking thing about this book for me was just how fragile and sensitive Kim has been for all these years. The fact that she has spent the best part of three decades centre-stage in one of the world’s most revered noise-rock bands is surprising at first, particularly if you have been fortunate to witness Sonic Youth live. However Kim is very candid at explaining the release she gets when playing, and we learn that for her, standing in the middle of such a wonderful cacophony of noise was real escapism, and in many ways a magical and safe place to be away from the pressures of home life.
Along with the personal recall, there are namedrops aplenty – too many to mention here, but the affinity Kim had with Kurt Cobain of Nirvana certainly strikes a chord and reminds us that whatever fame does to a person, we are all human and have basic needs. There is a real human quality to this book.
As you might expect, ‘Girl in a Band’ contains plenty of Sonic Youth history too. An insight into many songs/videos/albums/lineups/gigs is included for the SY geeks like me, and many of them are truly fascinating and shed light on the inner workings of what became a legendary rock band. Kim’s side projects - Free Kitten and launching skater-chic brand X-Girl - also feature and remind us that there is way more to Kim Gordon than being Mrs. Thurston Moore and being just a girl in a band.
Overall I enjoyed this book immensely and would recommend it to anyone with even a passing interest in the band or alternative music of the last 30 years. RS