Talking Shop with.. Cockspurs Vintage

Natasha catches up with the weird and wonderful proprietors of Cockspurs Vintage.

Why did the chickens cross the road? To get to Cockspurs Vintage!

The local gang of chooks, based in Auckland’s Titirangi Village, certainly have good taste!

“They’re like our village security, says Labretta Suede, one half of the dynamic duo behind Cockspurs Vintage. “So, they fit in well with our theme and love of the odd-zotic, “

Titirangi’s that kind of place. Cars stop to let chickens cross the road, everyone knows everyone, and the roundabout is a place to spruik your local businesses, the odd garage sale or display a protest banner. 

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It’s a very friendly area to set up shop, says Labretta.

“There is much waving and chatting to our neighbouring stores and locals. We have a wonderful community in Titirangi, so there are a lot of laughs! 

“Even our dog Zero has become a well-known celebrity and is synonymous with our store and community. He spends most of the day by my side and greeting customers. Only to be reciprocated with a “NAAAWWWW, he’s so cute”….

It’s the only reason he comes to work with me. We are well-known as a pet-friendly store, so people love to bring their animals in adding to the quirk of it all. “

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How did the idea for your business come about?

 Both my husband Johnny and I are avid vintage lovers and collectors with a fondness of the bizarre.

We’ve both loved classic styles and design along with B-grade art and rock ‘n’ roll culture since we were young. We’ve been obsessed with hunting for junk from birth really. 

 

When we moved to New York City with our band ‘Labretta Suede and The Motel 6’ we were transported into another world – a world where the holy grail of vintage was staring you right in the face; from exotic fineries, rarities and the odd-zotic to the just plain cool.

Then I started working in a very large and popular vintage store where I soon became manager.

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As we toured the USA with the band Johnny and I would barely sleep as we were driving from town to town to playing shows by night, while stopping to check out every thrift, salvation army store, antique stores and estate sale by day.

We dragged our poor bandmates along and filled the tour van up with treasures around them. On one tour we couldn’t even see our bandmates in the back anymore. It was seriously amusing. 

So, after seven odd years of filling our little NYC apartment with all kinds of crazy with a wall of boxes holding the whole place up, I guess we were on a mission.

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Were you selling online or at markets before you made the plunge into opening a bricks and mortar store?

We started Cockspurs Vintage out of our home when we first returned to New Zealand because we returned as broke and unemployed musicians returning to what felt like a retirement village for arts and culture.

So, in typical Labretta style, I found a shop space in an area that needed a face-lift and the council again were trying to rip down all the heritage buildings in the area. I not only opened the store there but I also began an all-out campaign against the council’s idea to rip down the 1920’s Oags building in New Lynn. So this area really struck a chord. 

However, there was not a lot of foot traffic but we did get a lot of support from friends and vintage lovers. I think the excitement of us returning after a very successful and long time abroad was a selling point.

The shop survived two years before we went into stall-and-market mode only for a few years.

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 How difficult was it to achieve your vision? 

The vision came very naturally for us – manifesting the culture and aesthetic of the store with the stock that encompassed our personal style and taste.

We handpick each item, so we know the back story of each garment and aim for A+ condition.  I feel we were well ahead of the curve here in New Zealand with the next wave of vintage and what that looked like in the form of a store and attitude. After closing the New Lynn store, we’re now located in Titirangi. 

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It’s a tricky business in New Zealand as it’s a conservative country. The Auckland landscape has also drastically changed too with the raising of rent prices and lack of shopping and cultural hub areas. They have all been taken over by restaurants and mall culture. 

Thus, many of us weird and wonderful stores that do exist have been spread out all over the city, or the just don’t exist anymore. So, unless you find the right hub that supports you, you become a destination store and that’s not ideal. Also, seeing the shift away from a generation of self-expression in youth culture comes into play. 

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What other products or services do you provide?

We stock authentic men’s and women’s wear from the 1920s – the late 70s for the most part. 

The services we provide include dressing musicians and actors for red carpets, shows and events.

We are also are a wee hidden secret to many film productions costume departments and designers. Therefore, you can book an appointment if you can’t make it during our shop hours for larger events. 

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Where do you source your products from?

The United States is where we have collected the bulk of our stock but we have now been branching out while on our European tours too.

You kind of need to know your stuff too as things are not so easy to source. Also, a lot of people are into the vintage game of wheeling and dealing, so it’s not as easy and as fun as it sounds. 

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 How do you promote and market yourself? 

Markets are one of the best for advertising for us – as you are a real-life magazine. People get to view and touch the stock while meeting the owners. 
Facebook and Instagram are always your friends in the retail game but we are reluctant to do too much online as with vintage you really need to feel, touch and try it on.

I would hate to get the backlash of a bad reputation because the description did not add up to the buyer’s expectation. 

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One bad review can be so damaging to any small business. 

We still value customer satisfaction and offer a full service experience. Vintage stores can be magical and can transport you to another creative time and place. It can really open up the imagination or sparks a memory. It’s quite charming so why take that away from it all by becoming just like the rest of the fast fashion industry.

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Can you describe the aesthetic you try to achieve with your interior/ window display etc?

It has a warm western flavour with a lot of quirk, complete with a local gang of chicken. 

I play the music I like which works thematically in the store as it is all a representation of our taste and flavour but possibly the more milder and poppy side of our music taste. 

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Our little Titirangi store has a flood of natural sunlight on a summers day. I use warm lighting and simple tones as to not detract from the merchandise. We hand make our own price tickets, labels, store signage, sign writing, fonts, logo. I have an ace artists up my sleeve with Johnny Moondog by my side and he brings my ideas to life. So it really is a cottage industry. A true Mom & Pop Store. Ha! 

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What do you find the most satisfying about what you do?

Transforming peoples days or lives through a magical find or an outfit that can make them the belle of the ball. I believe in our excellent grade of stock and how unusual our pieces are. Along with stand-out, knowledgeable service. I still love the trade and sharing that with others. 

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From a buyer’s perspective it is so satisfying finding those supernatural pieces that make you cream your pants a little. Knowing that piece will add to the culture of the store. Squeal! 

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How do you see the future of retail? 

Retail will always be strong but shopping locally and in stores has definitely changed with the swipe of the finger on your phone.

I don’t claim to even complete with the internet or online retailers. I actually don’t buy much in the way of online shopping personally and don’t really see the appeal.

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There has also been a small swing back to people visiting actual stores. So if we can contribute to making it normal again then we ain’t going anywhere but you do have to support small businesses like us.

Liking us on Facebook doesn’t cut it!  Which means actually visiting the store, writing a review of your experience at the store and buy something no matter how big or small. 

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Do you sell online as well as maintaining a bricks and mortar store?

No – the odd things sell from a post I might put up from time-to-time but I feel I spend enough time online with everything else in life.

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I enjoy interacting with people face-to-face because god you can have some laughs. An online presence is important though but so is a community of like-minded people supporting one another.

Word of mouth is GOLD! 

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In the closet with Labretta Suede

Welcome to the sixth installment of our In the Closet series! This week Natasha steps inside the exotic wardrobe of Labretta Suede and the Motel 6 frontwoman Labretta Suede.

Although we’ve been friends for well over a decade, my first memories of Labretta Suede go back to my teenage years in the early to mid-90s. 

Even then she still rocked her trademark look which was part Ronnie Spector, part Bettie Page and part Poison Ivy. 

There was the same enormous black beehive, winged liquid eyeliner, ripped fishnets and short shorts –and the same raucous laugh that could be heard several blocks down the road!

More than 25 years later and she’s barely changed style-wise. As the diminutive but feisty frontwoman of Labretta Suede and the Motel Six (read our interview with the band here), she’s notorious for appearing on stage in outrageous, barely there ensembles. However what you might not know is that Labretta is a longtime lover of vintage clothing and has amassed an incredible collection thanks to many years touring the USA and the world.

Alongside her hubby Johnny Moondog, they’re also the proprietors of Cockspurs Vintage, a boutique specialising in true Americana vintage (catch them vending on the second floor of the Rebel Roundup markets this weekend).

Read on to find out why she prefers to be a purist, how she developed her signature style– and why you should never leave a good frock on hold at the thrift store! 

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You seem to have a great wardrobe. Wanna take us on a tour of your closet?  
 
Home invasion much?  OK – I’ll give you a sneak peek then. Come on! Down the rabbit hole we go….  

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Photo by Megs Moss.

 What would we find within?  
 
Lingerie and corsetry, feathers, bullet belts, ripped fishnets, leather things with zips, pristine 1920s, 1930s, 1940s and 1950s evening dresses. Authentic 60’s dresses and  playsuits, Las Vegas show girl sparkly dresses, cowboy boots, 1950s -1970s short-shorts, 1940s – 1970s Westernwear, 1910- 1960’s Hollywood glamour night slips, all the way through to custom-made Spanish flamenco dresses from Barcelona that I bought when I was 19 years of age.

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Photo by Megs Moss.

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Photo by Megs Moss.

 Are you a vintage purist or do you wear repro pieces occasionally too?  
 
I am more purist than repro. I tend to not buy newly made items of clothing. The world is over flowing with too much cheaply made, slave labour clothing and junk as it is. Consumption needs to stop!  

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Not to say that all repro is cheaply made, as much of it is not and I have a few custom made pieces from high-end repro designers. I think many of them are brilliant and it’s nice to see quality fabrics and beautiful styles reproduced again. Especially when I see someone in the mainstream wearing it and I can finally not be offended by bad fashion. Ha!  

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Growing up as an artist with my love of the bizarre has kept my heart true to indiviual asthetics. I am horrifed by this era of comformity and lack of imagination when it comes to expression, or rather lack there of.  

What are some of your most prized pieces in your vintage collection and why?  
 
Hmm.. tricky. I have some amazing pieces that often are too sentimental and valuable to me to ever see the light of day. Although, my go-tos are my old beat up leather jacket which has seen me through many an escapade.  However, my short-shorts collection, my on-stage, two-piece outfits and my sparkly dresses have been what I am most famous for.  

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Then there is my handbag, purse and clutch collection.  My love for wicker hand bags is a bit out of control. My fur and velvet handbag/hand warmer muffs. Mmmmm…. Nothing like good accessories.  
 
My sterling vintage Amercian Indian jewelery keeps me grounded and provides endless facination in my day-to-day when meeting people. Again, some never see the light of day as it’s too dear to me and I have lost many a family heirloom at shows/gigs and mosh pits. So, perhaps this punkabilly has learned a few things over her years around the moon.  

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Any noteworthy recent purchases?  
 
The last trip to Melbourne took the cake. While mincing around in one my favourite stores, I hear my husband say while pointing to a garment hanging on the wall, “check that out! You have to have that and I know that it will fit you”. He then frantically asks the shop attendant to pull it from the wall and the tag said ‘on hold for Sally’.

My husband was adament. “Whose Sally? Has she put a deposit down?” The shop attendant called the owner as I tried on the dress. She hung up with a very unconclusive answer …until, she saw the dress on me and said “WOAH! You said you were playing a show right? Ok, I agree you have to have it”   So, I handed over very little- in my opinion- for the dress and boy were we excited. My husband more so.  
 
Here it is!

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Photo by Megs Moss.

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Photos by Megs Moss.

How did you first become interested in vintage style?  
 
Being that I am vintage in age…teehee… I still own and wear those items I first bought which are now deemed vintage. You could still buy cool punk labels right off the racks with stores like Bluebeat and Vivian Westwood. 
 
I still own them but I always had a very unique style from when I was young and I have pretty much looked the same since I was about 12. Winged eyeliner, pale face, red lipstick with a punk/goth/country style and themes throughout my dress code. I have always been tiny but curvy, so have had to be creative about fashion.

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As newly made off-the-shelf clothing never fit nor did it suit me and admittedly still doesn’t. Ever since I was a child I would always go thrifting and op shopping with my mother and I would chop and alter things to fit me. My mother to this very day sits and helps me come up with outfits and creations. She gives me ideas on the best way to sew or cut the fabrics. It’s still some of our favourite bonding time.  

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What is it about vintage clothing that appeals to you the most?  
 
The quality of the fabrics, the styles, the patterns and cuts. They are feminine and flattering and oddly most vintage fits my slight but shapely physic purr-fectly. 

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How does it make you feel when you wear it?  
 
Being that I wear it most everyday I guess that is a loaded question.  Different outfits give you different super powers. Some can be drop-dead sexy, where others can be wholesome and cute. I do love my dangerous bad girl outfits but the next day could be wearing a gorgeous 1930s evening dress that gives me that same sexy dangerous feeling by with elegance. By in large I like to feel outside of society, as I do like the exotic and other worldly….  

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What are your favourite eras when it comes to vintage clothes? 
 
Well, the era’s that truly suit me are the 1910-20s burlesque style, a touch of the 1950s more casual styles, with cuts that are high waist but I feel I can be a bit small for 50s styles and they tend to look a bit matronly on me. The 1960s are super cute on me and late 70s punk are my go-tos.  
 
As a musician and in my early career as a burlesque performer I have had a great affinity with the 1860s- 1930s burlesque styles. I have a big crush on the broken down Hollywood glamour look but for me it’s not about singling out one era.  

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Where are your favourite shopping haunts and why?  
 
Most of mine are sadly not in New Zealand. They are mainly based in the USA with a few in Melbourne, Australia. These shops are eclectic and I get giddy with excitement just knowing we are going to visit. Stopping in to visit these stores are as important as our shows and gigs when we are touring the globe. 

Sadly, many are closing down or do not have the calibre of quality anymore, due to the vintage trend spiraling into the mainstream. Although, this is only part of the issue. It is just simply getting harder and harder to source as we move away each year from those finer eras.  

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What are your general thoughts about op shopping and vintage shopping in New Zealand?  
 
You can definitely find some good finds in New Zealand when it comes to kitsch household items, deco mirrors, retro furniture and curios. 

However, New Zealander’s have always been fairly casual when it comes to fashion and design. Thus, the design was never as detailed as clothing or furniture made in the USA or Europe. When my parents first arrived to NZ in the 60s from Greece, they looked like the mafia with their beehives, A-line dresses and three-piece suits.

My parents still giggle about how New Zealander’s would wear stubbies and jandals just about anywhere. One of my fathers friends got sick of seeing him in a suit and cut his tie right off his neck at a party. So, I think I definitely acquired my sense of style from my lineage.  My grandfathers were both shoemakers too.  

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Photo by Carlos de Treend from The Juice Lab.

What are your holy grail pieces?   
 
Not telling…. A gal needs some privacy in her long lost search.  Ie: back off bitches it’s mine! Teehee!  
 
Fave labels/ fabrics/ outfit types?  
 
Leather is a true love for me. Sorry vegans but for the most part it is vintage. Thus, saved from the landfill by being reglamourised by yours truly. I have never been a label basher, or rather labels have never concerned me. I like what I like and it’s all in the hunt and the find.  unnamed-1
 
Whose closet do you envy and why? Who are some of your style icons and influences?  
 
It would have to be a combined envy of Bettie Page, Siouxsie Sioux, Zsa Zsa Gabor and a little of Daisy Duke.  

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The Queen of Curves: Bettie Page.

Bettie Page for her risque, wild but always sweet sensibilities. Siouxsie Sioux for her extreme dark edge and uniquely appropriated fabrics.  Zsa Zsa Gabor for that always overly dressed hollywood sparkle and style. Daisy Duke for her sexy hillbilly casual charm.  

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Daisy Duke

Can you remember the first vintage piece you bought? What was it?  
 
Growing up in a immigrant family with four children there were a lot of hand me downs that I appropriated and being the only girl I got my mothers cool hand me downs. I would ritualistically sink them in a boiling pot of black dye. Mmmm…. that smell but they never did come out black, Always charcoal, deep purples and deep blues, which made them more interesting still. I certainly stood out at high school in a sea of Guns & Roses T-shirts.  

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Labretta and Johnny Moondog  with members of the Hallelujah Picassos.

I remember my high school outfits fondly but as for my first purchased vintage item, it must have been a leather jacket or some kind of undergarment. As I do remember spending years looking for just the right leather jacket. Or maybe it was records? I was and am still a vinyl junkie.

How do members of the public react to your getups?  
 
It’s a swinging pendulum really. I either get complimented all day about my style or people take a wide berth. I prefer the latter. Not good with compliments. Thanks New Zealand for that affliction.  

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Do you wear vintage to work as well?  
Yes!  

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How is your style received in the workplace?  
 
Mostly people are intrigued as to what I will wear the next day. I seem to be a bit of a runway model for many and a person of interest. It’s healthy and fun and gets most people out of their workplace modes and opens up some really fun conversations. So, I feel I get to know a lot of my co-workers on a deeper level.  

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Photo by Carlos de Treend of The Juice Lab.

Does your vintage obsession extend into other areas too such as home decor, car, accessories and other collections?  
 
Yes, my husband and I are lifers. We have 1950s-built home, decor is broken down Hollywood glamour. I have owned my 1963 Dodge for over 15 years and my husband is a fan of vintage cars and motorbikes too. Complete with two red dingo Kelpies …one is vintage the other a newby.  It’s a colourful household!

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Anything that you’d never be caught dead wearing? 
 

Gray marle and sweat pants.  

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Catch Labretta Suede and the Motel 6 live at the following gigs:

February 17 and 18, Rebel Roundup, Pukekohe Park, Auckland.

March 1st, Stiff Little Fingers, The Powerstation, Auckland

March 17, St Patrick’s Day, Kentish Pub. Waiuku, Auckland.

 

 

Big Fish in a Small Pond: Labretta Suede and the Motel 6 ‘Bait’ EP Release launch party

On the eve of their first Auckland gig in over a year, the feisty frontwoman from “ass-whippin’ high-kickin’, low down rockin’-an-a-reelin’ rock’n’roll” band Labretta Suede and the Motel 6 talks to Natasha Francois about being underdogs in the scene, why their new EP contains their best material to date and why they’ll be making a commotion in the ocean on March 18.

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It’s been a while since Labretta Suede and the Motel 6 last played live in Auckland. Why such a long time between gigs?

We’ve been focusing on our overseas touring circuits and since our return (from NYC three years ago) have been on tour to the US and the EU a few times with various releases. Along with being invited to festivals in Australia too. Working on new material, hence the release of our new EP Bait and spending time with friends and family after so long.

We’ve  felt a little out of place being back in Auckland. So much has changed. In the six years we were away it doesn’t feel like the city we left behind. It seems to have lost its edge and its hangouts. So much revolves around money. The days of going to the local to debate, create art, philosophize and form bands seems to have gone. Many of our old haunts are not what they used to be and we can’t afford to go to them anymore.

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How did you come up with the idea to charter a boat for a live gig? Was it quite tricky logistically to pull off?

Being that the EP is named Bait I was toying with a few ideas. Logistically, after so many off-the-rails shows for us it’s doable but crazy expensive. I find it so odd that being that we are all live in the City of Sails, hiring a charter for such an event is so wildly overpriced but fuck it, when do you ever get to go a boat cruise with ya mates and a fun band? Not every day. Not every New Zealander has a bach and a boat. I’m from immigrant stock, so no luck with the bach and beach house for me!

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So, is this your first gig on a boat?

No, we have played a few boat cruises of sorts. A highlight being a steam paddle boat on the East River in NYC. This adventure took us around the Statue Of Liberty as a part of the Mermaid Parade celebrations. The Mermaid Parade is a HUGE event! It’s the opening of Coney Island Beach for the summer.

What can we look forward to at the upcoming EP release party?

Expect a night to mark our 13-year anniversary as a band. This four-hour evening on the high seas of Tamaki Makorou (Auckland) includes delicious antipastos in your ticket price, bad ass rare and intoxicating music from DJ Tito Tafa of Rebel Soul Records and the one and only DJ Toilet Tits (Barber Dan). Affordable, delicious cocktails from our sponsors Sailor Jerry. With a main meal of loud, loose, good-fun rock n roll, featuring new songs from our EP and old, favourites and a lot of heckling I’d imagine.

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Tell us about the new EP Bait

Our new EP was supposed to be a 7” but the pressing plant we were booked in to press the 7” moved without telling us and therefore lost our booking. Extremely stressful situation when you have a whole two-month US tour booked. Thus, I had to think quickly and I put together the EP, which arrived a day before the tour started. Wild!

It’s partly recorded in NYC with our US band members Capt’n Gerry on drums and Max Speed $1000 on bass with Matt Verta-Ray of Heavy Trash and Speed Ball Baby fame engineering again. Matt recorded our last 7” and most of our Dirty & Dumb album too. We have a great working relationship with him, he even features on guitar on the song Bad News.

The two newest songs Bait and Etiquette For Suckers, were recorded in Auckland at Roundhead Studios with Troy Ferguson producing  and engineered by Jordan Stone. Always a fun duo to work with! We had worked with them when we came back for a brief tour in 2012 for our Dirty & Dumb album release and recorded a live-to-air for BFM’s ‘In Sessions’. In which we caused a fire from the bass cabinet blowing up mid recording. Can’t take us anywhere…

The EP was all mastered by the extremely famous, talented and charming Ivan Julian of bands such as The Foundations, Richard Hell and the Voidoids and he has also performed with the Isley Brothers and The Clash.

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Have you played many of these new songs live before?

We have played some of the EP in the past in New Zealand and much of it on our last tour releasing the EP in the US last year. It’s always fun to break in new material.

How has your sound evolved from all the international gigging?

As a band we have grown and I actually think we can play now. American’s have such an advantage, as they are raised playing instruments from birth with their roots and folk influences. Whereas in New Zealand, my generation mostly started picking up instruments in their teens and it was considered rebellious by our families, so were offered very little support. It made for good songwriting though!

As a band we have really hit our stride and will go toe to toe with any band no matter how big or small. We’ve had the great fortune of sharing stages with many of our heroes and have played our hearts out, out of desperation (in need of money and food) and for absolute joy and glory playing to sold-out venues. We tour extensively and by touring I don’t mean a weekend away. I mean four months plus, on the road, in a van, coast-to-coast US and Europe.

I guess we’re not the New Zealand band that many people might have seen some years ago… We are brave, risqué, quirky, cheeky, cocky and most of all fun. We are a real crowdpleaser!

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Who’s in the current lineup?

Myself and (Johnny) Moondawg of course along with our original bass player JL (Jamie Vodanovich).

On drums we have Stuart Kett who has been working with us on and off since our return to New Zealand and our rock solid Capt’n Gerry from New York City who has been with the band for something like seven years

You guys are toasting 13 years together as a band this year, what do you put your longevity down to?

An absolute love of what we do. Moondog and I are no weekend warriors, we believe in the music we play and the ethos of being outsiders and underdogs and not compromising on the music and atmosphere we create and deliver. Doing everything on your own is a trial and it’s been a hard road at times but all-and-all rewarding.

Knowing that we have done it all on our own merits is a pretty special feeling that no one can take away from you. I am so glad we never signed with Sony, EMI or Capitol Records when the offers arose. We stuck to what we believed in and stayed true to ourselves. We have never even been a government sanctioned with a NZ music grant either. Everything has been off our own backs and that keeps you fighting fit.

13 years of music and touring has been a great vehicle to see the world and mix with our kind of people all over the globe. It has been mind altering and opening meeting and performing with people we admire and who have been huge influences in our music and lives… So yeah, at times it’s kinda of like living the dream and being eternally childlike and open minded. Therefore, giving both ourselves and our audience a real sense of joy and excitement because we still love what we do, and no show is ever the same. We are still loose but just well shaped nowadays.

I gotta tell ya, there are so many people in the world with excellent taste in rock ‘n’ roll that open their minds and their homes to you as a musician. These people are the people that keep rock n roll alive and kickin. I would never deny them a high-energy show with everything that we got. It’s the least we can do.

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Where do you see yourselves in another 13 years?

Who knows? Being that we don’t plan on stopping, there have got to be a few stones unturned. A nautical-themed country album anyone? Ha! Although, in all seriousness I do want to highlight my vocal range in the coming years, so we might end up a bit more accessible as a band. 

What are your favourite nautical themed songs?

The Ship Song – Nick Cave

The Fish – The Superbs

Creature From The Black Leather Lagoon – The Cramps

Commotion in the Ocean – Dee Dee Ramone

Favourite nautical-related movies?

Jaws – Moondawg’s favourite ever movie, EVER!

Creature From The Black Lagoon

This Life’s Aquatic

Sponge Bob Square Pants in Spanish

Battleship Potemkin

Any doco about the Loch Ness Monster. I have been obsessed with Nessy since I was 5.

Finish this sentence: “It’s not the size of the ship but the……………..”

Monster’s in the ocean!

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WHAT: Labretta Suede and the Motel 6, Bait EP release party on the high seas.

WHEN: 18th March 2017.

WHERE: Berth 14, Viaduct Harbour Basin, Auckland (Boat departs at 7pm with boarding available from 6.30pm – don’t be late!)

TICKETS: Available from Under the Radar.

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