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Myself, ourselves

Musicians are managing themselves and inspiring each other

Photo by Andy Morley-Hall

As indie musicians blaze their own trails, shedding labels and taking control, Age Pryor is finding commercial inspiration in a much earlier generation of artists—band leaders like Duke Ellington and New Zealander Epi Shalfoon, who toured the North Island in the 1930s and 40s.

The experiences of those touring musicians—who often combined the roles of employer, booking agent, tour manager, arranger and lead musician—have a new relevance for independent Kiwi artists. “They’re great examples of people balancing the business side with the creative side,” Pryor says.

What’s the appeal of managing your own career? “It’s the natural state for a musician,” says Pryor, at home in Wellington after signing off the packaging for The Woolshed Sessions, an inspired collaboration of local musicians. “The music industry has changed hugely over the past few years. Artists have the opportunity to sell directly to retail distributors, through electronic downloads or at gigs. It’s a different way to sell music.”

Though Pryor admits looking after mundane commercial matters can be a drag, the payoff in control and quality makes it worthwhile. For The Woolshed Sessions packaging, the musicians were able to work closely with photographer Andy Morley-Hall and designer Tim Fraser from Creature. Without label pressures, they decided to initially release just 1,000 CDs, each hand-numbered. A more general release will follow.

Sessions was recorded in a Nelson farmhouse, where Pryor and fellow musicians Andy Hummel, Justin Clarke, Al Fraser, Lee Prebble, Peter Hill, Brett Skinner and the angel-voiced Jess Chambers laid down some soulful, country-tinged pop. Pryor enjoyed the collaborative approach—something he’s familiar with from projects like Fly My Pretties and the Wellington International Ukulele Orchestra. “You get this special quality from collaborative groups because of the sharing involved,” he says. “Instead of being precious about ‘their’ project, everyone is giving and taking. It generates a feeling of gratitude among the musicians that transfers to the audience immediately.”

Like the Fly My Pretties records, there’s a raw integrity to The Woolshed Sessions that’s unique to purely creative projects. It also has an essential Kiwi quality—as one song gets underway amid chatter and a voice commands silence, a rock’n’roller replies promptly: “Oh … sorry.” That’s authenticity that can’t be manufactured.