My move from New Zealand to France occurred in April 2018. I came here for a number of reasons, most prominently, to pursue my relationship with then girlfriend, now wife and baby-mama (to our little wee daughter), Alix. But that’s jumping ahead a fair way. In the lead up to departure from my homeland (a magical place that I love immensely and am deeply connected to), I had become a bit tired of my lifestyle. I was ready for a big change of environment and alongside the desire to travel Europe extensively; I had this burning ambition to live here in pursuit of an ongoing musical dream. I had spent many incredible years working as a musician back home and I felt really curious to learn if that might be a possibility elsewhere. Granted, it's unlikely I would have chosen France had it not been for the fore-mentioned French woman. Holding a UK passport I suppose I might have otherwise ended up in London. But now, a few years down the track, I am very grateful it all turned out the way that it did… And here’s why (broadly).
I moved here without knowing anybody besides Alix. When I first arrived, we moved into a really old and classically Parisian apartment in the 20th arrondissement. The area is called Belleville, which translates to “Beautiful City”. Historically, Belleville was (and still is) a ‘working class’ neighbourhood. It’s also one of the cheaper areas of the city, with many artists living and practicing there too, so it is quite run down, having avoided some of the big architectural makeovers of the 60’s and 70’s. Belleville was a settling place for a large Chinese migration in the 1980’s and there are also strong African and Middle Eastern communities residing there. It’s a real mixing pot, known for its cultural vibrancy. We lived at 60 rue Piat, right around the corner from where Édith Piaf was born and Jim Morrison was buried. Through the blue door and up the red spiral staircase… We had the Parc des Buttes Chaumont (a landfill and sewage dump following the 1789 Revolution, converted into a beautiful park in 1864) just five minutes walk from our house – my daily running destination. The neighbourhood was packed with cheap restaurants, local farmers markets, bars, live music, street art, festivals, cafes, art initiatives and the hustle–bustle of it all happening. People of all backgrounds where mixed up and going about their business and (especially during the summer) there was always a sense of life. It is what I consider to be one of the more interesting parts of Paris: a little dirty, a little gritty, but overflowing with colour – the perfect landing point for my “big change of scene”. I spent my days there walking in the streets, falling deeper into love, writing my music in the sunshine and recording demos of new songs in our apartment, with the windows open wide.
My wife and I spent our first European summer together travelling around, whenever we had the chance. Most weekends we would get out of the city and visit new areas of France, or further afield in Portugal, Switzerland, Greece, Italy, Spain, Denmark, Germany, Belgium, England, etc. We have built so many happy memories together throughout these times and it's been a dream. Inspiration for some future writing, no doubt. One of the things I have loved most about living here is the extent of the access throughout Europe. Everything is so well connected and it’s easy to move around, even on a limited budget like my own. When you're based here for a decent amount of time, you can see and experience a huge and varied amount.
Alix comes from from a small and beautiful town at the top of the Loire Valley called Châteaudun, which is where we got married, just there in the town hall. The wider area is known for its long string of medieval castles (more than 300 – some dating back to 10th century). It’s also famous for its wine and fresh produce in general, sometimes referred to as the “Garden of France”. Last summer we moved down there for a few months, awaiting the birth of our baby. We lived with Alix’s parents and it was just so blissful. The small French towns offer something really different from Paris and the time just seems to move more slowly. In Châteaudun, there’s more access to nature (one of the things I miss the most about New Zealand), with a big woods near by and Le Loir (a river). We would hire kayaks and row ourselves round, swim in the pool, walk in the forest and eat, eat, eat – seemingly endlessly.
By this stage, work on recording my second album had begun. My money was running out, so I skipped the winter here and returned home to replenish funds with a national tour. I started by recording all of the basic acoustic guitar tracks in the garden shed at my parent’s house in Christchurch. The final month of the trip was spent down in Dunedin, tracking drums with Ryan Finnie and living with my friend Sam McKean out in the seaside paradise of Macandrew Bay. It was a special time, although it felt strange to be away from Alix during the initial months of the pregnancy. In hindsight, the timing was right and it was a move well played, both financially and creatively too. I returned to Châteaudun and set up camp in my sister-in-law, Jeanne’s horse themed bedroom, with a beautiful view out over the back garden. Somehow I managed to smash out all of the bass tracks there before my life would change forever.
Our gorgeous little girl, Violette, was born in Vendôme, a town close to Châteaudun. She was just a wee one, weighing in at a little over 2.6kg. This has been one of the most spectacular experiences of my entire life. Following her birth, we moved back to Paris. This time to the 15th arrondissement, right next to Bir Hakeim bridge and only two blocks away from the Eiffel Tower. It's been an interesting contrast to life in Belleville. We are happy to have an apartment that's more comfortable and practical for bubba life, but we sometimes miss the vibes of where we were before. However, there are a great many enjoyable things about the new neighbourhood too... I have far more home studio space and better access to recording studios in the area (where I’m now spending most of my days). La Seine river is at the end of the street (for running) and I've managed to find much more work here as a freelance sound engineer and guitar teacher. So all good!!!
The whole time I’ve been in Europe, I’ve been consistently writing new music. Since arriving I think I have written or finished nearly 80 songs, or strong ideas for songs at least. The change of environment has given me inspiration I could never have imagined before taking "the plunge". I’ve honed in on my craft and come across many new avenues of creative exploration. Above all, I'm proud to have allowed myself the chance to attempt some serious, long haul, focused development of my passion. The album I’m currently making will have been recorded almost entirely in Paris over a two-year period. That’ll truly be something to think back on with an easy smile and a tingly rush of joy, having ticked a mighty goal off the dream list. But it hasn’t all been so easy…
The challenges of France (from my personal experience only):
Wrapping up :
Since arriving just two years ago, so much has changed. I’ve somehow found myself a tremendously special ladyfriend and daughter, the start of a happy little French-Kiwi family who warm my soul. To watch a little one grow and realise there’s no place happier than with that child and her mother. The strength and power of love is the ultimate gift and finding from all of my time here. We’ve seen so many new places together and experienced so many new things that I almost struggle to keep a clear record or memory. As for music, I will be perfectly honest here. I came with an ambition of playing a million shows across Europe, hoping to sign up with a label and have more ‘success’ than I’ve found so far. It hasn’t worked out that way. My sights were set high in that regard and although I’ve worked extremely hard, it hasn’t happened. In fact, just as I begin working on booking a European tour with my friend and booking agent, Corona Virus hits hard and cripples the musical world for the foreseeable future. Almost got there, might yet still, who knows??? Some dreams have failed and some hard lessons have been learned too, the truth is I'm at peace with it all. I have performed nearly fifteen concerts in Paris and one in Berlin (some of the best, most intimate solo gigs I’ve ever done). I’ve un-dammed a well of new musical material for the future and I’ve made my second record, mostly in the clouds of isolation. You never know what you might find I suppose. It feels like I’ve unlocked something that I wasn’t able to see before. I’ve been able to let go of some things that I may never have been able to otherwise. The hardest part of the bungee is deciding to jump off the bridge. The bridge is safe, the jump is unnatural and the fall risks everything. The pure thrill comes next. I’d recommend taking that leap to anybody who is considering it, or anybody who feels like it’s something they need to do. I wish you great luck and fortune for it in fact. I can’t wait for whatever's coming next. I can predict a peek of it already, but not so much that I'm too content. It’s going to be good times for sure, thanks France!