IF a plan to get a tattoo of Invercargill Mayor Sir Tim Shadbolt’s face on the Four Square man’s logo doesn’t scream “I love Invercargill”, Six60’s bass guitarist Chris Mac doesn’t know what will.
While most people would look at Mac’s retro pink shades, ripped printed jeans and leather jacket and pick he’s a little more prolific than the average Joe – his heart, and his pride is very much in the deep south.
So much so, he insisted the band host a hometown premiere of its movie Till the Lights Go Out in Invercargill, a place he once called home and still felt like it was.
“When I walk into a pub here it’s always a little bit like a Western movie, everyone stops when you walk in the door, the guy stops playing the piano… someone’s just about to throw a dart – not really, but that’s what it feels like,” he said with a laugh.
When people click who he is – not Chris Mac the award-winning New Zealand music star, but Chris Mac the young lad who worked at the Invercargill YMCA and married Mel from Wallacetown – a few yarns are shared over a Speight’s and the rest is history.
Originally from Darwin, Australia, Mac moved to Invercargill aged 19 to meet his mother for the first time.
“[When I first came] here it was like the shed version of the airport.
“Everyone was wearing farm socks and people were rocking up in gumboots and I was like, this is really New Zealand’.”
Now a self-confessed advocate for the city, it didn’t take long before he was hooked on it.
“I spent a lot of time on a friend’s farm here so I was very integrated into [Invercargill life].
“I made a really good bunch of friends so it felt like home really quick.”
After working as a music teacher across the ditch for several years, he got a job in alternative education at the Invercargill YMCA.
Many of the young people he worked with had been kicked out of school and had nowhere else to go.
“I don’t know why they hired me, I was just a kid myself but I think they thought there was a lot of cool elements I could bring – you know, I taught music, I did a lot of acting growing up.”
Throughout the years, he got to know the kids on a personal level and watch them grow as people.
“Sometimes it was really hard, we’d have to take the van and go to grab them when they didn’t show up because it was illegal for them not to go to school.
“The system can be so tough, some of these kids would end up homeless really learnt so much there.”
With Invercargill being generally known as a conservative town, he was grateful to be immersed in the “deep” indigenous culture tied to the land.
“There’s a real cultural element to it so within moving here, I think I had a better education on Maori culture than a lot of New Zealanders at the time.”
At 21, he met his now wife, Mel.
“I’d been out busking and got enough coins for two coffees… so we went to Zookeepers.”
Within six months, they got married, and not long after had their daughter, Stella.
A move to Dunedin about 10 years ago was what led him to meet the Six60 boys – a jam session he never expected would lead him to where he is today.
“I just remember their manager at the time sitting me down and saying boys really like you so if you want to stay…’, I was like ‘OK cool’.
While touring the world playing music was always going to be a dream come true, Mac still loved coming home.
“I go to the same op shops, the same bars, it feels really nice to come back to a place that feels like home.”
A “big fan” of Sir Tim Shadbolt, Mel drew the line at him getting a tattoo of the mayor.