Mikey Havoc’s brow is beaded with sweat. In a couple of hours, Havoc and his band, Push Push, will play their first gig together in 24 years. His phone trills with texts and calls about the guest list and Havoc is struggling to sit still and concentrate on the conversation. “I am f—- excited about tonight,” he says, sitting alongside the stage at Burger Fuel’s corporate headquarters, where Push Push will play this intimate comeback showcase. “I am feeling…” He tails off, and exhales. “I feel in a bit of a mental haze.”
In the years since Push Push opened for AC/DC at Mt Smart, had their three top ten singles and an album that reached number three, Havoc has presented radio shows, conceived madcap television, done a bit of acting. But right now, it feels like we’re back in 1991 again, Havoc no1 in the charts, but still signing on and driving a Mk 1 Escort, relentlessly touring down the country in an old Bongo van and staying in s–box hotels. Did they make any money? “Shit no.”
For two decades after Push Push split, its five members never found themselves in the same room together. Havoc, who was then just Michael Roberts, and bassist Steve Aplanalp first met when they were five; they collected guitarist Andy Kane and drummer Scott Cortese as 11 year olds at Rangitoto College; guitarist ‘Silver’ a little later. It was Aplanalp who first mooted some sort of reunion about three years ago. Havoc, at first cautious, was surprised how much fun it was. For a long time, he says, he had avoided that chapter of his life. “I didn’t listen to the album [A Trillion Shades of Happy, 1992] for ten years, not once. I was really worried I would listen to it and be embarrassed by it, or annoyed at the production, or think the lyrics were dickish…when I did listen to it after all that time, I thought ‘this is awesome, I don’t care if anyone else in the world likes it, this is really cool’.”
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Energised, he beings talking about people who say their music defined their youth, or that a particular guitar solo was the best they’d ever heard, that Song 27 was the greatest slice of music ever. It evokes what must have been a powerful youthful ambition. There was, Havoc says, this thing back then of being considered ‘not bad for a New Zealand band’. He wanted more, to be a “proper going concern”. The others wanted to move permanently to Australia, and he didn’t: he thought they would get submerged into the Aussie pub rock scene and that their prospects were better trying to make it from home. “But maybe that’s what I told myself. Maybe I was scared to leave home. But I do love this country and it does have a lot to offer.”
It has, despite the zeniths and nadirs of Havoc’s subsequent career, had plenty to offer him. His music connections gave him a leg up into radio with student station bFM. He’d won new radio broadcaster of the year by 1997, and shortly after was being profiled in Metro by Tim Wilson as a sex symbol, or to be precise, a sex symbol to “women in their 30s in advertising”. He isn’t any more, he thinks, but he’s proud he still has the Samsonian hair, long after genetics suggests he shouldn’t. He segues into an anecdote about the surprising sexual appetite of a particularly-inoffensive middle-aged international musical star, who reportedly “knocks off three housewives a night”. A conversation with Havoc, it seems, contains these enjoyable byways. Licensing laws, our child abuse problem and the crapness of reality television will also be surveyed in the next hour.
Regrets? He’s had a few. A lot, actually, but why discuss them? So we don’t touch on his decade-long relationship with Shortland St actor Claire Chitham, because what more is there to say that hasn’t been traversed in other profiles? But I do ask what there is in the annals of Havoc he’d most like to live down. It’s the parking tickets. “I don’t get why it was such a big f– deal to be honest,” he says. In 2009, he was sentenced to 230 community service after reportedly accruing $20,000 of parking fines and almost the same again in court costs, and advanced the novel idea of DJing at the Auckland University Student Union to serve his time. “That was a shitter that one. It was the most abuse I have received in my life over anything… everyone was so holier than thou. Everything else I back myself on. Whether I get it right or wrong I back myself. But that was a shitter. There’s lots of things I probably would change in my life, but you just move on, and hopefully don’t do it again.” He laughs.
Around two long stints with bFM, a bit of acting, and owning city-centre bars, Havoc was behind a string of television shows which mostly bore his name and mostly came in tandem with Jeremy ‘Newsboy’ Wells. TV, it seems, is a fairly distant prospect. There’s a bit of a rant about reality television and patronising audiences, some praise for offbeat newcomers Vice TV. Havoc’s last television outing was an out-of-character role fronting a sober documentary series, Are you my Tribe?, in 2010, which investigated the stories of Ngai Tahu, Tuhoe and Ngapuhi. He enjoyed it and he’d like to be considered for more work like that. “TVNZ sat on them for two years before they broadcast them. Two years. Two f— years. They showed the guy with the world’s biggest testicles twice during that time.”
His relations with bFM finally dissolved, in 2010 another Metro writer, Steve Braunias, found Havoc on hiatus and back home with his mum Bev on the North Shore. The profile painted Havoc in a pitiful light. Havoc fires up at what he sees as Braunias’ betrayal: he’d admired his work, felt the result was a hatchet job. “F— him. It hurts. It definitely hurts. It made me look like someone who had f– out somwhere. I hadn’t. I was just taking time to think about stuff.” Havoc says he had made a deliberate decision to move in with his mum, review life, and wait for the right opportunity. He also had bladder cancer at the time, which didn’t help. Professionally, he suspects, the story didn’t help him. But anyway, the right opportunity came shortly after when Radio Network executive Mike McClurg rang and offered him a gig with Radio Hauraki. He was stoked.
That contract wasn’t renewed when it came due last December, “because I messed with the playlist too much”. Initially, he tries to be guarded about the divorce: “I’ve told them what I think about it, and they know.” But Havoc has never been particularly skilled at not spilling to journalists, so he soon tells us what he thinks about it as well: that when he first started working there, Hauraki was the “deadbeat dad station, like ‘we have to invite Hauraki, Oh God, I hope he doesn’t drink, but we have to invite him’. That sorta vibe”. And then it improved (his role in this improvement is implied) and it had become a good station, but it still has the potential to be so much better. “It’s not about me playing what I want to play. It’s about what is the best thing to play. But that’s probably what they perceived.” And: “Other people think they’ve got better ideas and they are the people in charge.”
Someone once said to him, he recounts, that you can’t eat roast credibility, but he’s “really proud that so far, I haven’t had to compromise myself.” He’s pleased he’s never had to be one of those hosts who contorts themselves around apologising for playing music they can’t stand. Alex Behan, who succeeded him, described Havoc as “the man they couldn’t control”. Havoc tries that for size, and eventually says: “I think you will find that’s not true.”
His mum had always told him to get a trade, just in case. He never did. He liked radio too much; he liked TV too much. So he hasn’t really worked lately, he says. But there is something “exciting” coming up that he can’t talk about, but which appears to be radio-related. He had, he admits, almost given up on ever being back on air. “I wanted to make sure that I didn’t shock myself with that information one day, so I had to get my head around that”.
He’d had a similar stern talk to himself about the prospect of fatherhood. When the now one year old Kyuss, his son with fellow DJ Georgia Cubbon, arrived, it was “almost the exact moment” that he had come to terms with the fact he might never be one. He says he had always longed to be a dad, even in the crazy days. “I had my quota a long time ago. I had it ten times over. Having a kid was always the thing I was most interested in.” Thus far it has been a “profound experience.. everything changes”.
Havoc is undoubtedly in good form. “I’ve always been in a pretty happy place, to be honest,” he says. “The stuff I do, I’ve been really lucky that 99% of it I am really proud of. I’ve made some dumb decisions in life and made some really great decisions but I have been lucky in all of what I do.”
He looks around, ready to stop talking and begin his soundcheck. “It doesn’t actually click in my head. I am 47 this year, and just about to go do a gig with my old school band again, and we just released a song. It’s really weird. But it’s cool.”
Push Push’s EP, Talk to Me, is out now.