The New Existentialists

Our day 20 song for New Zealand Music Month comes from Auckland outsiders The New Existentialists, with the title track from an unexpected album of ‘works in progress’ called “Didn’t Have Time”

The New Existentialists are the Auckland ensemble of George D. Henderson (The Spies, The And Band, Mink, The Puddle).

Best to use the words provided to set the context for this release: “In 2019 The New Existentialists began recording demos for their second album during practices, raw unformed things that the world was never meant to hear. Ongoing curiosity saw these tracks added to over the subsequent months, and new ones recorded. When pandemic requirements prevented further band recording New Existentialist producer and synth-man Fraser completed the choicest tracks, leaving us a month later with this 10-track mini album. Quite unexpectedly, the New Existentialists had returned to the live-with-overdubs recording ethos of the early Puddle.”

The best music George D. Henderson produces is done in the moment, on the fly, on the edge, imperfect, unfinished.  That makes sense for someone whose lifelong aesthetic – whether by choice or, more often, by force of circumstance, has been about capturing the essential spark of music creation over creating a glossy audiophile music commodity.

That frustrates some of those who appreciate his art. As notorious NZ music critic curmudgeon Gay Steel once wrote of an album he liked by Henderson’s long-time band The Puddle. “I wish, however, [the] budget extended to a producer, and rehearsal time, and someone to sweat over the arrangements.” 

For the perpetual outsider of NZ rock, his recordings – as The Spies, The And Band, The Puddle and now The New Existentialists – have usually been made under various financial, physical, practical and temporal constraints and exist as the product of their circumstances. Fittingly, that is also the theme of this song “Didn’t Have Time”

In 1991 Bruce Russell (The Dead C/ Xpressway Records) explained in a review   in NZ music weekly Rip It Up: “While his career may be largely unknown to the majority of even those well informed insiders reading these pages, the fact is that since the mid-70s George Henderson (poet, nutritional theorist, connoisseur of the esoteric) has been constantly engaged in an obscure but utterly uncompromising investigation-cum-pilgrimage through the ‘secret’ side of music, thought and the fine arts in this country. The most obvious expression of this has been in music… Though all too often better appreciated by other musicians than by the public, George’s music is at heart pop. Those who snapped up The Puddle’s 1986 EP “Pop Lib” will know that he has few peers in NZ for a catchy melody or an incisively pithy lyric, as well as a unique guitar style and a talent for off-the-wall arrangements.” 

Henderson, now in his 60’s, and making music for over 45 years, is still questing for esoteric knowledge like a curious child trying to understand the universe and his place in it. In the process he’s still finding new corners to turn and ideas to explore in his lifetime “investigation-cum-pilgrimage through the ‘secret’ side of music” and in the process still creating weird and wonky and wonderful literate pop and rock music.

NZMM 2020