Ermehn - Walking Away from the Path of Blood
Author: Melanie Selby (photography by Jos Wheeler)
Indeed it is a musical drive by shot with expletives and physically confrontational topics including bank robberies, gang fighting, shootings, tinny houses, crack whores, drug dealers and the like.
This was going to be a challenging deviation from the usual interviews of skinny rock'n'rollers, clad in tight black jeans and desperately trying to sound dangerous.
If Sony BMG's press release is to be trusted this guy was responsible for establishing the methamphetamine trade here in Godzone. Oh, and it also mentions he was a patched member of the notorious King Cobras gang for four years.
That's some bad ass publicity angle for a major to take and I was expecting to meet some well-muscled tattoos with a serious chip on at least one shoulder, and x-rated dialogue - someone a little bit scary for a nice middle class girl from Christchurch like myself.
Boy, was I in for a surprise. A polite, eloquent man greeted me, shook my hand, removed his beanie and was immediately keen to get the point across that the person written about in the press release was someone he was five years ago - back when the album was written and recorded.
"I'm sort of like Mike Chunn - you've got to know me before you judge me," explains Ermehn, perhaps confusing his tele ads a bit. "The guy on the album is someone I used to be and that person is still a part of me, but there's a time and a place to be a gangsta, just like there's a time and place to be a musician or a dad or whatever. I don't walk around swearing at everybody or swearing in front of my kids (he has two) or my mum or dad. It's not like that at all. When I swear on the album it's just to make a point - people react to swearing. It's like yelling out 'fire'."
Prior to any involvement in the drug and gang lifestyle, music played an important part in Ermehn's life. As Herman Lotto in the mid '90s he was part of the Otara Millionaires Club, sharing writing credits for we r the o.m.c along with the Fuemana brothers, also involved in the 'Proud' album and touring party with Radio Back Stab.
His own debut album 'Samoans Part II' was released during this time (1998) on Deepgrooves, licensed through Sony and distributed by Festival. But not long after Ermehn's gangsta life took over.
"In Otara basically when you've got nothing the only thing on the table at the time is either going out and hustling, selling drugs and joining a gang - or joining a rugby club and becoming a great rugby league star. I fell into the pitfalls of the hood and ended up hustling and put my music aside and just embraced the darkness.
"I came out of it a few years later and I thought I'd do an album. I had the money at the time and I thought, well NZ On Air aren't going to give me the money, so I funded the album on gangsta money - so it is a pure gangsta album."
In fact Ermehn's indie label Heart Music received a $10,000 grant from the Pacific Business Trust for his album. The label also got a $20,000 grant from Creative NZ in 2002 supporting the composition and recording of three new albums by him, Dam Native and Khas (Tha Feelstyle - who coincidentally featured on 'Samoans Part II' as The Field Style/Khaz!). In the same CNZ funding round Heart Music was also offered a $10,000 grant towards the development and rehearsal of live shows by the same artists plus DLT, King Kapisi and Black Sam.
Ermehn says the decision to give up his drug-fuelled lifestyle came about after talking to old gangstas and seeing where they were at in their lives.
"At the end of the day, you either end up in a grave or in jail. I kept doing bad things. It's like your mother telling you not to do something but you keep doing it anyway. I woke up and snapped out of it. I'd had a couple of close calls - death I suppose - threats from other gangstas and a couple of drive-bys and it was a wake up call. It put my life into perspective.