No matter how you cut it, there’s nothing routine about New Zealand punk rockers Sit Down In Front.
They’re young – still in high school no less – but can throw down their political and social critiques better than most adults. Their frontman uses a wheelchair, yet possesses more energy and momentum than any other frontman that comes to mind. They’re dressed to the nines in a devil may care style, but they’re smart – wicked smart, as BLUNT would discover speaking with vocalist Cory Newman.
Already, Sit Down In Front have released two albums: 2018’s Red Light Runner and 2020’s Confessions Of A Pie Thief. They’ve also clocked up considerable stage time supporting the likes of The Chats, Cold Chisel, and Head Like A Hole. So, as a whole new audience gravitates towards the band with the release of their new single ‘Don’t Drink Bleach’, we’ll need to go back a few years to truly get a handle on this origin story.
“I’m actually going to take you a little bit further in time, to 2017,” Cory begins. “Well actually, how about we start 2015.”
The year would be an unexpected sliding doors moment for Cory who was unable to attend a planned school ski trip, “because of the logistics of getting up the mountain was just going to be too damn hard” on account of his cerebral palsy, which requires the use of a wheelchair.
This created an unlikely opportunity – an opening in his teenaged schedule and the first in a series of potential setbacks that only presented more opportunities. “Dad said he would look for something else for me to do. He said, ‘Keep an eye out. Here’s the chance for you to plan a cool trip away or something.'”
And in no time at all, the universe began to conspire.
“I saw this ad announcing AC/DC were coming to New Zealand. I sort of vaguely knew who they were. I saw this ad and I was blown away. I was like, ‘I’ve got to go and see that.’ Then dad was like, ‘I think we can make that happen.'”
And they did. Cory would attend the show with his father and uncle. The concert was far from perfect; the set was plagued by a power shortage forcing the band off stage after two songs, but Cory had seen all he needed to. “I thought, ‘This is cool. I love this. I want to be like these guys.'”
Once back home in Gisborne, Cory wasted no time bringing his newfound dream to life. Like most, he began mucking around in high school bands, none of which lasted more than five minutes, one even less than that: “We broke up halfway through the gig in front of a hundred people.” But after searching high and low for like-minded bandmates, he found what he was looking for right in his backyard, literally and metaphorically.
“It was just built on childhood mates. Jack, the guitarist and I, have known each other since we were tiny babies. We also got Rikki, the drummer, who’s also an old family friend. So we were just bored. Three bored teenagers in a garage. It sounds like every rock band ever right?” With the addition of bassist Roman Benson, the band was now fully realised.
“It just grew from there, as we hoped it would.”
A total lack of gear didn’t stop them from getting straight to work. Pushing through without a drum kit, and wielding the microphone from a SingStar video game set, Sit Down In Front got to work, and it didn’t take long for them to find their footing or Cory to find his muse – being pissed off. His uncanny ability to look at what’s happening around him and turn it into song fueled their first original release, ‘How Mean Would It Be To Have Cream’.
“I was on a camping trip and we had this dessert, which was nice, but it was a little bit dry because it didn’t have any cream or anything, or yoghurt with it. My mom went to the campground shop and they just sold their last bottle of cream…I was pissed off.”
Though the song would end up buried within the folds of their debut album, Cory clocked something special about the tune. He approved of it, it made him feel good, and that was the only real quality control he needed. “Writing that first original song sort of made me realise this band was going to last.”
Cory was 13 years old at the time, and in the years after he would retain his keen eye for what irked him, but naturally the things that irked him became more lofty, more pointy, and more urgent. With Sit Down In Front, Cory wanted to become the voice of society.
“As I got older and more politically aware, the lyrics gradually evolved. I mean, it’s just everyday observations of the world around me.”
Cory points to the band’s more recent work as an example of how the subject matter became more high concept.
“‘Don’t Push The Button’, our last single, which was when Trump and Kim Jong-un had their war of words; the game of whose button was bigger. I was in the States at the time, funnily enough. It just caught my imagination, so I just wrote these lyrics and it just went from there.”
Cory returned to the same creative well for the follow-up single, ‘Don’t Drink Bleach’, which was inspired by Trump’s remarks that injecting bleach could cure COVID-19. “Bleach was just me venting at the stupid comment, by the stupid guy on the mic. That’s not going to get us out. I’m like, ‘This is not helpful, screw you.'”
Whether it’s catching a hoon running a red light, the leader of the free world acting like a petulant child, or heckling Cory and co. while they’re on stage – a story Cory shared with us as the inspiration behind a forthcoming single ‘Get Off The Stage’ – Sit Down In Front have proven their ability to turn lemons into lemonades since their inception. It’s become a superpower of sorts, which this young band uses with incredible effectiveness to make sense of their surroundings.
“Do something dumb in front of the lead singer in Sit Down In Front, you’re going to regret it,” Cory summarises.
And you better believe us fans are going to love hearing you getting buried via song for it.