Cory Newman never stops talking. Even when you’re talking. But when you’ve been through as much as he has, it’s not surprising he has a lot to say.
The 17-year-old lead singer of Gisborne punk rock band, Sit Down In Front wasn’t expected to survive infancy.
“What do I have? How long have you got?” He works through a list which includes cerebral palsy and hemiplegia or partial paralysis which means he has limited use of his left side.
But he’s okay with all that – for the most part.
“It is part of what makes me unique and special. I'm at peace with it. However, if someone offered to make my left hand side work properly that is probably the one thing I would want fixed, having to do things with one hand drives me crazy.”
As we travel around his beloved hometown though, it’s clear that Cory always finds a way to get where he wants to go and to do what he wants to do.
It was in his school music room at Campion College in the city’s northwest, that he found the confidence to pursue his punk music dream. “It echoes a lot of the Kiwi spirit. Just giving things a go, doing it yourself.”
The room is a picture of creative chaos. Instruments adorn the walls, tables and floor. Sheets of music sit on stands waiting to be read, unfinished schoolwork is scattered on a desk. Wide aisles on either side make it easy for him to navigate his wheelchair. It is Cory’s idea of heaven.
“When I was younger it was an escape. It’s not now. It’s never just background music, music is a big part of my life.”
What started as a place of refuge for a lonely 12-year-old, became a place of possibilities.
Cory got his first vocal coach at Campion and the following year, asked his friends Rikki Noble and Jackson Clarke to form a band. The lineup has since expanded and changed but the core trio remains the same.
“Sit Down In Front is built on childhood mates and just a mutual love of what we do. Choose a job that you love and you’ll never have to work a day in your life,” he says thoughtfully.
Across town near the city’s port, Cory directs us to a massive old shed. It doesn’t look much from the outside. It doesn’t look much on the inside either. But for Cory, it’s a studio. A set. A stage.
“Welcome to the most rock ‘n roll shed in Gisborne,” he laughs.
Over a period of three weeks, local production designer Josh O’Neill, Cory’s dad Carl, Carl’s dad Garth and anyone else they could rope in, worked to transform this huge empty space into a replica of the Oval office.
It was the set for their Don’t Push the Button music video. With first time funding from NZ On Air, the attention to detail was incredible, right down to then President Donald Trump’s hamburger socks.
“On set it was amazing cause it looked almost exactly like the real deal. Conspiracy theorists would have had a field day,” says Cory as we skirt around walls tagged with ‘Con waz hea’. Nobody seems to know who Con is.
Cory on the other hand is the band’s songwriter.
“I decided to write an anti-nuclear war song because nuclear war is scary and wrong.”
He says songwriting helps him to make sense of the world and he often does this by pointing out things that don’t make sense. Early hit, First World Problems is about “problems that aren’t”.
It also pays not to do anything stupid in front of him in case you end up in a song. Watching an errant driver while on his way to band practice one afternoon, Cory remembers thinking, “Mate you ran a red light in front of the wrong guy. You’re going to be immortalized in the title track of an album.” It was called Red Light Runner.
The band has chalked up three New Zealand top ten singles in their four-year career and played Spark Arena in 2019, opening for Aussie rock legend, Jimmy Barnes.
But a short drive back over the Turanganui river is the venue they call home.
Tucked away on Banks Street, we find Smash Palace Bar. The first thing you notice is the full-size plane suspended above the roofline. Inside, floor to ceiling, there’s a lot more to see - owner Darryl Monteith calls it “Gizziana”. Think of a DIY MOTAT with cocktails.
“It’s the best damn live music venue in New Zealand,“ says Cory as we sit in front of one of the two intimate stages. A pub with a family atmosphere, Smash Palace is a place for all comers to learn their stagecraft. “It has heart and community around it and young bands are given the support they need to get to the next level,” adds Cory.
Whatever the next level is for Cory Newman and Sit Down In Front, he’s ready. In the meantime, there’s one more year of high school with gigs to be scheduled when their school calendar permits.
Cory loves being on the road but home is never far from his thoughts.
“I love travelling and waking up in a new place every day but also wish that I could shrink people I care about down and put them in my pocket and take them with me.”
You can learn more about Cory and Sit Down In Front’s success, tomorrow on Sunday, 7:30pm on TVNZ1