Straitjacket Fits formed in Dunedin, New Zealand in 1986 and were a prominent band in the Flying Nun label's second wave of the Dunedin Sound.
Like many of their stable-mates, the band hailed from the southern city of Dunedin. They formed from the ashes of The DoubleHappys, a band comprising Shayne Carter, Wayne Elsey and John Collie. The tragic accidental death of Elsey saw Carter and Collie join forces with David Wood (ex-Working With Walt) in 1986 to form Straitjacket Fits. Andrew Brough (from The Orange) signed on the following year, adding a foil in the form of pop sensibility to Carter's more raucous songwriting. From their inception, the sound of the band was marked by the seemingly incongruous but highly effective pairing of Carter's rough abrasive voice and strident guitar and Andrew Brough's saccharine-sweet vocals and pop hooks.
1987 marked the release of their first EP. Life in One Chord defined their sound, spending 10 weeks in the Top 50. All four of the songs are justifiable New Zealand rock classics, none more so than the astonishing "She Speeds", which was to become the band's hallmark song. Its edgy lead vocal (from Carter) was underpinned with a dynamic jagged guitar and stabs of strings which tumbled into a churning melodic chorus on which Brough's voice soared. The exact opposite approach was taken on "Sparkle That Shines", its gentle downbeat melody sung by Brough giving way to a chorus laced with Carter's knife-edge harmonies.
The band left Dunedin, briefly moving to Christchurch, before making the shift to the country's main marketplace, Auckland in 1988. Their first album Hail was produced by Terry Moore (a former member of The Chills) and was released later that year (it would later be re-released on CD accompanied by the four songs from Life in One Chord). The band's first overseas venture, to Australia, came in 1989, followed soon by a tour of Europe.
In 1990 the band started work on their follow-up album Melt (produced by Gavin Mackillop), probably their finest album, and one which was to produce moderate hits with the Brough composition "Down In Splendour" and Carter's "Bad Note For A Heart". The following year the band was back on the road with an extensive tour. The band supported My Bloody Valentine in Australia and The La's in the US but the strain was beginning to show, with reputed "musical differences" between Carter and Brough. Brough left the band at the end of the tour and was replaced by guitarist Mark Petersen.
1992 saw the band release the EP Done. Done made it to number 11 on the New Zealand Top 40 singles chart. Produced by Tony Cohen in Melbourne and without Brough, Done was an altogether louder and guitar driven record. The band then moved to California to record their third album Blow, with producer Paul Fox. The album was released in 1993, and starts where Done left off, but lacked the carefully balanced dynamic that had always been evident in the interplay between Carter and Brough. It produced the singles, "Cat Inna Can" and "If I Were You". A US tour culminated with an appearance on Late Night with Conan O'Brien on 11 November 1993 but the writing was largely on the wall for the band and they decided to go into a semi-permanent hiatus, following their appearance at 1994's Big Day Out.
Also in 1993, the band contributed the track "Brittle" to the AIDS-Benefit Album No Alternative produced by the Red Hot Organization.
In 1998, a self-titled CD was released. Its 16 tracks were all previously available on other releases; the CD is essentially a "best-of" compilation.
Post-Straitjacket Fits, Shayne Carter has found more success with his band Dimmer, whose music bears surprisingly little similarity to that of Straitjacket Fits. Allowed more complete control of the music's sound, his new band's music is sparser. Gone are the strident guitars, and what remains has a decidedly funky, jazzy edge. The remaining members have taken a lower profile. Andrew Brough released one album with the band Bike before moving back to Dunedin and retreating from the music scene. John Collie became a photographer of some note who has exhibited his work widely.
In 2001, as part of the Australasian Performing Rights Association's 75th anniversary, a poll was conducted to vote on New Zealand's top 100 songs of all time. Straitjacket Fits' song "She Speeds" was named at number nine, and "Down In Splendour" at number 32, and "If I Were You" at number 88 on this list.
In 2005, Straitjacket Fits reformed without Brough for a brief series of concerts around New Zealand.
In 2008, the band received the New Zealand Herald Legacy Award at the Vodafone New Zealand Music Awards, and were inducted into the New Zealand Music Hall of Fame. In his acceptance speech, Carter said "To all the artists out there who are brave enough to think outside of the square - kia kaha."
David Wood died suddenly, on 17 November 2010. A service for David was held at the Pt Chevalier RSA on the following Monday. He left behind a wife and two children.
Shayne Carter (guitar/vocal), John Collie (drums), David Wood (bass)
1987 to 1991
Shayne Carter (guitar/vocal), John Collie (drums), David Wood (bass), Andrew Brough (guitar/vocal)
1991 to 1994
Shayne Carter (guitar/vocal), John Collie (drums), David Wood (bass), Mark Petersen (guitar)