Welcome to New Zealand’s loudest school
A brand new rock school is opening its doors in Auckland. Could he produce the next big wave of Aotearoa music?
Pianos are perfectly still, guitars are leaning gently against their stands, amps are off and drum kits are gathering dust. Right now, on a sunny Tuesday morning, the only sounds absorbed by the Portuguese cork walls at 311 Manukau Road are soft footsteps echoing around the historic old post office. In the quiet and soundproof setting of School of Chiron Rockyou could hear a pin drop.
After 3 p.m., all that will change. Here, in a building that recently underwent a $5 million makeover, it is hoped that a new generation of young musicians will be chiseled to become chart-topping, radio-dominating guitar giants. Could New Zealand’s first permanent rock school help create a wave to rival our last great era in rock music, when The Datsuns, The D4, Elemeno P and Blindspott dominated the airwaves in the mid-2000s?
“That would be the dream,” admits John Eady. The voice of the musician and educator behind the initiative is on the phone, talking about The Spinoff through a development tour. Someone in his family has caught the Covid, so he isolates himself at home. Although he can’t show it in person, Eady is clearly very proud of what he helped build. “We did the whole place in three and a half months,” he says. “We came in…$10,000 over budget.”
No expense was spared in the epic construction of Chiron Rock School. One hundred balls of Pink Batts silencers are driven into the walls, covered with 20 tons of gib and 300 tubes of acoustic mastic. Each room is fully soundproofed and triple glazed, with its own wifi and humidifier. No one will be able to hear what is happening from outside the building.
Inside, there are 12 studios and space for mini-concerts and “kiddie raves,” with several full-time tutors and musicians like Julia Deans of Fur Patrol signed up to lead workshops. Children will be dropped off after school and then start making as much noise as possible. One of the tutors, Max Earnshaw, says it would have been “the absolute dream” when he was a child. “It’s fantastic,” he said.
Yes, the name is misleading. This is not a school just for rising rock stars. Eady hopes the bands will mingle with budding pop stars, R&B singers and classical musicians to allow for collaboration and experimentation. “We start them from scratch, with no prior musical experience,” he says. “It’s just about attracting kids who have that interest and galvanizing them.” Music camps are offered during school holidays and scholarships are available for those who cannot afford them.
Eady hopes it will quickly become part of the infrastructure, a fundamental pillar providing support to an industry that has struggled of late. “The rock market is huge and it’s not particularly well supported in terms of education or opportunity,” he says. Kids will learn about instrumentation and songwriting, but they’ll also learn about logistics, the nitty-gritty of being in a band, stuff like doing a sound check and talking to the press, stuff they’ll have to do once they leave school.
“It’s something that’s not taught,” says Eady. “It’s definitely things we’re going to look into.”
Two years of the Covid-19 pandemic was brutal on the New Zealand music industry. The closures have seen hundreds of gigs cancelled, forcing artists big and small off the road. Many industry players, including those who provide essential gig services like lighting and sound systems, are returning to full-time work in other sectors to help pay the bills. Some wonder if the industry will ever be the same again.
Still, a silver lining is the amount of infrastructure introduced to help support the future of the industry. Big Fan, Joel Little’s recently opened Kingsland studio, is run as a community project to provide jobs, studio space and support for budding artists. It’s also hoped that those who use it will get the chance to rub shoulders and share tips with some of Little’s celebrities, like Khalid, Imagine Dragons and Taylor Swift.
It is hoped that Chiron Rock School will become another cog in that wheel, says Eady. Right now, school leavers who want to pursue a career in music have to do it on their own. “It’s up to them to forge their own path,” he says. This means that the most successful are those with the most confidence and experience. His school will help give them that. “It’s not just about producing the next era of rockers. They must also be complete musicians.
Isn’t rock a business going against the rebellious roots of the genre? Eady laughs. Yes, he said, it’s true. But it depends on how the school works and the result. It’s something they may not see for another five years, as Chiron students develop their own sound and progress to become full-time touring artists. “We’re not hard-core businessmen,” he says. “The main focus and main objective here is to get the kids involved.”
Yes, there is still room for children to express their rebellious cry — reasonable. “If they want to be a rebel, they can be a rebel…as long as they don’t break too many things.”