Robin Hinkley says he was nine when he first dreamed of putting out a solo album. He has finally achieved it, as Sharkness, but there have been plenty of other musical adventures along the way.
His mother was musical director at the Fortune and Court Theatres down south "and she'd drag us kids into musicals; I guess that was quite an influence".
Hinkley says he and his big sister would get very excited about the idea of putting out a tape each. Tessa Rain, who was in Fly My Pretties, beat him to it last year but this Thursday at Mighty Mighty in Wellington, a gig supported by Claude Rains - another band with Hutt links - doubles as the launch party for Coat of Arms.
With a mix of "synthetic pop, frenetic rock", hillbilly and some more mellow folk songs and ballads, Hinkley says its varied nature was initially a headache but became the album's hallmark.
His first serious foray into music was fronting Bleakhouse. Inspired by Radiohead in particular, the band belted out rock tunes with "a lot of distortion".
The sound was "a bit dark and grim.
"We had no money and I was probably going through a 'poor me' phase but we had a lot of fun."
He recalls tying a karaoke microphone to a broom handle and leaning it up against a chair. "It was that kind of shambolic operation."
To get better musical gear he needed money and so embarked on a law degree and was admitted to the bar even though by his second year of study he realised it wasn't for him.
"I've got this thing about finishing things . . . which has proved useful with this album."
His next band was Good Laika, which put out two well- received albums. Trouble was, it tended to snaffle up the lyrics and tunes Hinkley had in mind for his overdue solo album.
Band members such as Jason Fa'afoi (The Stereo Bus) and Mathew Armitage (The Cactus Family) were busy with other musical projects and life in general, so Good Laika tended to meet up for a couple of weekends "out in the wop wops somewhere" to play, then they'd record the next weekend.
It was great fun, and Hinkley says it combated his inclination to "over-polish" his music.
He and his partner Jen Lyons, a performance vocalist studying at Victoria University who contributed synths, backing vocals and a whole lot more to the solo album, moved to the Hutt seven years ago. Hinkley teaches at the Raphael House Rudolf Steiner School, where he finds the pupils and what goes on in the classroom an inspiration.
His performance moniker Sharkness came from a poetry exercise where he got the youngsters to do a praise of an entity or subject that is usually bad- mouthed.
The first single on the new album, Cobra Jacket, hit No 1 on Radio Active's charts and is winning solid airplay on Radio One, bFM and Radio Control. It's also on i-Tunes.
Peter Pandemic, a song "ruminating" on the subject of when are we supposed to be a grownup and independent is to be the next single.
Danger, one of three songs at the end of the album written most recently, and with which Hinkley feels he has really achieved something "fresh for myself", has a bluegrass feel.
"It's kind of a relentless, high- speed, quite foreboding song."
That driving sound is also in Little Fish, Big Teeth, inspired by a time when Hinkley thought he needed to escape teaching to concentrate on music, and he and Good Laika band-mates went to film a video in Mumbai, and ended up in a cat-and- mouse scenario with authorities which seek to charge huge filming fees. The video was eventually shot on the rooftop of an apartment building favoured by Mumbai police families.
Hinkley says lyrics with real meaning, and songs that "crack through the outer surface people generally present to each other", rather than "fobbing people off with repeated lines", are what appeal to him.
The result is music that is far from run-of-the-mill. Perhaps that's why the coat of arms on the album cover illustration features not the usual lions, eagles and scales of justice but a stuffed rabbit, a ship's life preserver and a disco ball.
- Sharkness/Coat of Arms launch gig, 8.30pm, Thursday, November 15, Mighty Mighty.
- Hutt News