A talent for survival
Jason Kerrison made a calculated risk before putting himself in the public eye. If attention was what he wanted, he surely got it.
The singer and guitarist created his own maelstrom by announcing plans to build an "ark" in preparation of the end of the Mayan calendar year. Anticipated by doomsdayers as the end of the world, December 21, 2012 rolled past without a glitch.
A year on, Kerrison's views remain largely unchanged. "I absolutely stand by those beliefs I had then," says the frontman of rock-pop outfit OpShop and founder of funk-groove band The Babysitters Circus.
"The whole concept of it being the end of the world . . . I never said that. What I did say was it's the end of time, that's an entirely different thing. It's the end of the calendar and the start of a whole new sequence.
"The Gregorian calendar will catch up one day."
OpShop's hugely successful 2011 album was titled Until the End of Time, hinting of Christchurch-raised Kerrison's long-held beliefs. He's been spouting the need for disaster preparation for a while.
These days he speaks of the danger of comets coming our way, and a need for humanity to mature and look up rather than sit with our "heads buried in the sand".
The ark was apparently a ruse to get our attention. Well, almost. "About 97 per cent of New Zealanders haven't gotten anything prepared in case a national disaster hits," he says. "But instead people got caught up on how far the ark's going to float down the hill."
For the record, it's not an ark Kerrison's building but a resilient home made from shipping containers and shotcrete, a sprayable concrete that can deflect heat. The construction's designed to take any natural or man-made disaster, the details of which he remains coy.
What he will tell us is that it's being built in modules atop a hill with 320-degree views, 20 kilometres south of Kaitaia.
He won't discuss the associates he's building it with. But it will house him and his family, with additional space for an addiction treatment facility. Kerrison's calling it the Great Northern Retreat.
It will undoubtedly take several years to complete and will cost "a f...load".
"It will hopefully take any natural or man-made disaster."
So committed is Kerrison to his cause, he even put his 14 month-relationship with Italian girlfriend Lara Vettor on the line with the entirely unromantic gift of a disaster survival kit for her birthday.
"She wasn't prepared," Kerrison says. "I thought she would find it funny, she found it abhorrent."
The relationship survived the fallout. "She's lovely," he says. "Fiery and passionate." He also admits to putting on six kilograms since the love affair began, due to the incredible amount of Italian food the couple consume.
Whereas it may be easy to share details of your personal life when you are in a loving new relationship, it's been tough at times. Kerrison is also going through a divorce, but he doesn't shy away from the attention of women's magazines - coverage which has geared up a few notches since sitting on the judging panel of New Zealand's Got Talent.
"I guess I made a conscious decision if I was going to get involved in the entertainment industry, that commodifies those relationships," he says.
Still, he's careful about protecting those around him, but as for himself - "I'm pretty much an open book anyway."
NZGT's second season wraps up on TV One tonight, the third large-scale local talent show in two years. Kerrison says its conclusion is timely. "I would say before I got asked to do New Zealand's Got Talent that I had talent show fatigue, it's one of the reasons I turned it down in the first place.
"I felt we weren't up to that stage of writing a show that wasn't just a facsimile of a great formula, I thought we're so small, we don't have the resources.
"But there's been a huge shift, the cost of production is so much less these days."
Although he says he had the best show on TV over the last four months, soaking in grassroots talent, he is undecided about judging a third series if asked. He would prefer to get out gigging.
Kerrison's heading to Germany in June to support OpShop's single All I Ask, and is planning to release a solo album in March. "I don't want a lush production, I want it to be very simple - acoustic guitar and a voice. It's an exploratory place."
After basking in the success of OpShop and its three chart-topping studio albums, the band has decided to give it a rest. "I love what OpShop does but we're going to take a break. I reckon at least a year, maybe two, maybe longer than that, time will tell. We've each got projects and families."
Churning out single after hit single ebbed away at the creative juices of the band until it became
a chore. "I want to have a rest from feeling like it's an obligation compared to something I love," he says. "It's almost like having a relationship with your girlfriend or something and thinking, we need a break."
Enter The Babysitters Circus, the concept formed when Kerrison and bandmates were "literally babysitting the OpShop manager's kid".
TBC, comprising Tim Skedden, Jamie Greenslade, Selwyn Leaf and Kerrison, launches its debut album Everything's Gonna Be Alright in New Zealand this week (see below to receive a free download).
The first single from the funky retro-feeling album of the same name remained in the top 40 charts both in New Zealand and Holland for several months.
And Kerrison says his latest project is a definite break from the smooth, laid-back, crowd-singalong vibes of OpShop, but that's the point.
"This is as different as you can possibly imagine from OpShop. The only similarity is an acoustic guitar."
The Babysitters Circus is more upbeat and full of old-school 1980s and '90s funk and groove. It's chatty and colloquial in places. The debut single, the band's name, the look, the overall vibe appears to be geared at pulling a younger audience. The band members even each have their own characters, from Kerrison's DJ Noise Controller to Skedden's funky Mr Don, Greenslade's hiphop style Maitreya, and the jazzy Mr Leaf.
It oozes good old, light-hearted fun.
That was the only rule in this ‘break all the rules' venture. "It's something else to keep me interested in music," Kerrison says.
"It's not really melancholic or trying to be OpShoppy, it's the antidote to that."
Carrying along a similar vein is a role he plays hosting discos for children. The Baby Loves Disco concept was imported from overseas by friends of Kerrison who dragged him into the mix. It's all very quaint. The adults can have a cocktail or wine and chill out while their kids keep amused under supervision on the dance floor.
"It's an opportunity for everyone to hang out and for parents to feel like their kids are in a safe environment," says Kerrison.
There's a feel good factor in the work but it's also a chance for Kerrison to fine tune his skills on the decks after first dabbling at age 14.
"If it's a ‘spooktaculur event' or Halloween, it's nice to see the adults having a great time."
But DJing for kids is still a challenge. "Kids need something fresh rather than the Crazy Frog or What Does the Fox Say."
Surprisingly what goes down best is a bit of old school, with the likes of the Monster Mash and Michael Jackson having the best dancefloor pulling power.
"That's part of my role in The Babysitters Circus, is to make sure I'm cranking those tunes."
He's come a long way from his OpShop heyday, playing kids discos and spouting civil defence messages. But Kerrison laughs off suggestions he's lost his cool, even if the question does throw him a bit.
Stroking his chin, he thoughtfully considers the suggestion that public opinion of him may have changed. "I had a cool factor?" He's stunned. "I think it's hilarious.
"Fonzie's cool, I'm not sure he still is," he mused. "Everyone's entitled to their opinion but I don't consider myself cool and probably never have and I'm not sure that I will."
Kerrison is slow to categorise himself and appears open to suggestions. He finds an idea and floats it, unwilling to let it define him.
This becomes apparent when he discusses Kiwis' disaster prep derelictions and his own lack of faith.
"I'm aetheist." He backtracks, admitting he knows little of religion. "I'm not a naysayer to God.
"I believe in love," he goes further, "I'm probably a hippy," perhaps a bit too far.
"I don't know what I am, man."
Sunday Star Times