Inside A Music Industry Couple's Charming Waiheke Island Home
Waiheke-based couple Lisa Paris and Peter Baker call some of the biggest names in music friends and spin records on weekends. Sarah Downs meets two of our local industry’s best buzz-builders
By the time the ferry docks to whisk them back to their home on Waiheke, it’s often the empty sound of the water that’s most appealing. The lapping melody soothing. Gushing whitewash a form of meditation.
Both Lisa Paris and Peter Baker work in the music industry — they’ve each done so with a bonkers passion for more than 25 years — so there’s a constant influx to listen to, analyse and, most importantly, promote, promote, promote every day.
“The work stuff is so intense that by the time you get back on the ferry to go home, it’s such a relief,” says Lisa. “The water washes it all away.”
Lisa is owner of The Label, a music and event PR company established in 2006 that represents international artists like Angel Olsen, The National, and FKA Twigs, and home-grown talent including Nadia Reid, Tiny Ruins and her total song crush right now, Dunedin groovers Soaked Oats, who she also manages.
On top of this, Lisa has been the festival publicist of Womad for the past seven years. The role had been a dream of hers since having her mind blown at the first Womad in New Zealand at Western Springs Park back in 1997.
“I’d never been exposed to anything like it,” recalls Lisa. “It was like being transported to the most beautiful global village. I went by myself and spent the entire day there.”
Hooked on music since day dot, she idolised her older brother, Stephen, who was the type to forgo savings for Pink Floyd records. The siblings would sit in their parents’ 70s-style lounge in Invercargill, shut the door tight and worship the player.
“He used to have one of those 70s light boxes that flashes lights in time with the music and I thought it was ah-mazing,” laughs Lisa.
“Then, as I got a bit older, my cousin from Dunedin would send me mixtapes. At the time, all that was around in Invercargill was lots of AC/DC, so all of sudden I was hearing Straitjacket Fits, The Clean ... stuff like that.
“My cousin worked in a record shop and I remember going in to visit her when I was about 13. I saw this guy flicking through records and thought ‘I could try that’. It felt unbelievably cool and grown-up.”
Lisa first met Pete working at the ECM Music record store in St Lukes mall back in 1997, when he was a rep for Flying Nun Records. Her cousin, Lesley Paris (the one who sent her the mixtapes), was the drummer in legendary Dunedin band Look Blue Go Purple and went on to be general manager of Flying Nun. She soon sent Lisa a husband too.
Pete’s now the managing director of independent music distributor Rhythmethod, which started life in a windowless suburban garage with little more than a dial-up connection, a fax machine, and a flimsy box of CDs.
Nearly 20 years on, his company is New Zealand’s largest distributor of independent music, delivering multi-platinum local acts Fat Freddy’s Drop, The Black Seeds, Ladi6 and Shapeshifter to name a few. Then there’s international royalty such as The National, Queens of The Stone Age, Radiohead, and British chart-topper Adele.
“It’s not all just listening to cool music and drinking Red Bull,” says Pete, “but to now be the person who handles the sale of New Order and Joy Division records in New Zealand is pretty special. To think that what I do is contributing to those incredible people’s livelihood.”
He’s a dedicated 80s kid when it comes to music but confesses David Byrne’s American Utopia show at Spark Arena last November was “easily one of the best performances I’ve ever seen, hands down”.
Pete’s first job in the industry was at one of Virgin’s retail stores on Oxford St in London. He worked his way up from unboxing Jane Fonda workout VHS tapes out the back.
“I told a few white lies to get through the door but the guy was Australian and claimed we needed more people from the Pacific,” he says. “I quickly figured out by working in music retail that most music I loved came from independent labels.”
The couple work in the central city, just down the road from each other, and describe their island commute lifestyle of five years as “ideal”. Biggie Smalls, their five-month-old pomeranian terrier/fluff child comes on the ferry too, toted in a stylish vintage wicker carrier bought from the Waiheke markets.
“We had been looking to buy a house for over two years, constantly going to auctions and losing out,” says Pete.
“Then we visited Waiheke and it felt totally right moving to live on the island and still does. I can’t see us leaving.”
The house, a 1950s-style wooden charmer, was originally built in Howick. The story goes the guy was a boat builder, hence the heavy wood design, and had it shipped over to Waiheke for his family. “When you walk in the wood feels really warm,” says Lisa. “It has a lovely cottage feel.”
A lover of second-hand, she’s furnished the inside with fabulous retro op-shop and Trade Me finds and added colour with hand-painted kitchen drawers, and Orla Kiely patterned wallpaper. The property also solved their hardest challenge — finding somewhere to store their, but largely Pete’s, 5000-plus record collection.
They only found out after moving in that the garage had been soundproofed by the previous owner who used do audio work.
“It was meant to be,” says Pete.
Inside the dimly lit den, records cloak every inch of wall space and are stacked neatly on custom-made shelves. They’re alphabetised in genres, with some split between Pete and Lisa’s collections.
There’s also Pete’s vintage PX 200 Vespa parked in there right now — a self-indulgent Trade Me purchase and overdue for a first hoon down to the beach.
“It’s really hard to combine record collections when you’re married to someone,” laughs Lisa. “It’s a BIG deal.”
Pete still treasures the thrill of second-hand record stores. His most obsessive hunt kept him looking for five years.
“There’s a blues guy called Ted Hawkins. I’d been around the world twice looking in record stores across America, Canada, and London for his records,” he says.
“Then we were in a couple of shops in Brighton and I found two of his albums for £5 each. I think with the second one I let out a little yelp — and blues isn’t even a genre I really like.”
Ask Pete to pick an all-time favourite record, however? That would be like culling off a child.
“There are records that mean a lot to me because they’ve been part of my music career,” he says. “Records that I really love. Or records that were about the hunt. If there was a fire, I’d have no idea what I would do.”
One does catch his eye — a test pressing of Fat Freddy’s Drop Based on a True Story album and one of only five copies made. The band’s debut album has sold more than 150,000 copies, currently nine times Platinum and is New Zealand’s highest-selling independent local release.
“That record was a defining moment for Rhythmethod and is such a huge part of my career,” he says.
“It not only changed their life but everything about that record changed me, to some degree, as a person.”
Pete’s not kidding. Inked on his right bicep is a tattoo of the band’s name in the same cursive font as the album cover.
“I vowed to my team at work that if its debut hit number one I’d get a tattoo,” he says. “After three weeks there was no way they were letting me not get it, so off I went to the tattoo parlour.
“With the Freddy’s crew, it’s a bond that’s been built over 20 years and now feels like family. For me, the relationships you get to form are the most important thing, business aside, in the industry.”
Lisa agrees: “I think owning your own business is a struggle, there’s not a lot of money in music but just to be able to work with these creative people every day is such an honour and a pleasure.”
Off the clock, you’ll find them playing records together at events and bars. A recent gig was opening for Bic Runga and Lawrence Arabia at Waiheke vineyard Goldie Estate last year. Their regular spot was Golden Dawn, one of Auckland’s best bars, before it closed for good.
“There’s no mixing or scratching; we are what they call ‘Selectors’ and we’ve been lucky to play records and have a lot of fun,” says Lisa.
“It’s such a great way to enjoy music and interact with other people who enjoy music as well.”
Lisa has a penchant for 7-inch records — her “teeny tiny ones” — and Pete has his hefty stash of regular 12-inch ones.
“It’s the only negative of living on the island,” says Pete. “Having to carry these large bags of records over — and even turntables.”
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