Iconic New Zealand indie Flying Nun Records is ready to raise its game in the Australian market.

Although the pioneering label — founded by Roger Shepherd in 1981 — enjoys cult status around the world, director Ben Howe and general manager Matthew Davis acknowledge that there is room for improvement when it comes to it nearest overseas market.

However, with a roster that encompasses new talent such as Wax Chattels and Fazerdaze, together with a host Flying Nun legends, both are confident that company is well placed to continue to build its Australian business.

Flying Nun’s Australian heyday was in the early 1990s when Festival/ Mushroom bought a 50 percent stake in the business and a Melbourne office was opened. The first decade of the 2000s was a quiet period for the record company, but the label received a new lease of life in 2009, when Shepherd — with the help of Neil Finn — bought back Flying Nun from Warner Music. Howe, who had provided a home for a number of former FN acts at his Arch Hill Records label, came on board in 2012 and he and Davis went on to establish a sister distribution company Flying Out, which now includes both a record store in Auckland and online retail operation.

According to Howe, in an ideal world NZ and Australia would be treated as one market, but he admits that hasn’t always happened, with New Zealand labels tending to focus more on the bigger international markets.

“Our business is growing in Australia and we have strong connections across the indie market in particular,” adds Davis. “It’s just about getting the right acts.”

Ben Howe
Ben Howe

At present, the Australian market is handled directly from Flying Nun’s Auckland offices and the company is happy with the set-up. Howe says the label has looked at having someone on the ground in Australia, but for now the only international Flying Nun office is in New York.

While the focus is naturally on New Zealand artists, the label would love to bring more international acts on board and with a number of local acts citing Flying Nun groups as major influences, Australia would seem to be a good place to start.

“It would be cool to have a great Australian band on Flying Nun,” agrees Howe. “We have looked at some in the past, but the timing hasn’t quite worked out. When you are in New Zealand and you are looking to sign U.S. or Australian bands, there is a lot of competition and you have to get in early. And if you’re not right there on the ground it can be hard.”

Partnerships with like-minded international labels is another option. For example, Wax Chattels, who will be performing at this year’s Bigsound, is a joint signing with U.S. label Captured Music and is currently completing an extensive U.K. and U.S. tour to promote their self-titled debut album. Howe says working in partnership with international labels abroad is a good way to maximise the benefits for everyone involved, although the company has a worldwide distribution deal with the Secretly Group, so the company is equally comfortable going it alone.

For now, Flying Nun is focusing on its current roster. As well as Wax Chattels, the label has higher hopes for Fazerdaze, which recently has made good in-roads into the South East Asia market and has a number of new signing in the pipeline. New albums are also due from Flying Nun veterans The Verlaines and The Bats, and the company will be stepping up its reissue program in the next 12 months.

Last month, the label gifted its collection of master tapes to the Alexander Turnbull Library for digital preservation and is looking forward to reissuing many of its prized albums on vinyl, including Body Blow, the 1991 hit from Headless Chickens. “Our reissues have been very strong in Australia,” says Davis. “Bands like The Bats, The Clean and Look Blue Go Purple have done well, and I think the Headless Chickens reissue will also go well there.”

Ben Howe, Michael Brown and Roger Shepherd at the Alexander Turnbull Library
Ben Howe, Michael Brown and Roger Shepherd at Alexander Turnbull Library

Flying Nun founder Shepherd is still a director of the company and has been very much involved in the preservation partnership with the libary. However, both he and Finn also provide a valuable sounding board for signing new artists as well.

“It’s really great to be able to talk about artists with Neil because he is interested new music and artists,” says Howe. “Roger’s very active on the reissue side of it but like Neil, he is interested in new artists. I guess we’re quite lucky in having a nice selection of people to bounce ideas off.”