Melbourne-based future-soul band Hiatus Kaiyote have been on a bit of a whirlwind adventure in the last year, signing to Sony’s new imprint Flying Buddha and being crowned Best Breakthrough Act 2013 at Gilles Peterson’s Worldwide Awards. Not only that, they have an upcoming North American tour this summer that will feature two dates supporting Erykah Badu and D’Angelo, plus a performance on The Tonight Show w/Jay Leno. They also re-released their debut album Tawk Tomahawk yesterday, containing a new remix of Nakamarra featuring Q-Tip. This month we met up with Nai Palm, Perrin Moss, Paul Bender and Simon Mavin from the band for a chat. Nai Palm also performed two tracks for us which we filmed. Check the words and music below.
Tawk Tomahawk is officially out now, including the new version of Nakamarra with Q-Tip. You can grab it over at iTunes, and don’t miss HK live on the Tonight Show on 24 July.
So you’ve just come from a show in Berlin, how was that?
Simon: It was awesome. We played at this huge expo for Berlin Fashion Week in a dis-used airport. When we started the set it was a beautiful sunny day but by the time we finished it had gone completely dark and there was lightning in the sky. It was a really crazy gig.
So what makes a good show for you?
Simon: That! (laughs).
Nai: Just, you know, creating a natural disaster! But the funny thing is this is the third time it has happened. We played a gig at the Thornbury Theatre in Melbourne and right after we played the theatre caught on fire and they had to evacuate the whole place!
Well it seems like that can only be a good omen! So how do guys approach songwriting?
Simon: When we started the band, Nai had been writing heaps so we started learning her songs, and then once we’d got a bunch of that stuff under our belts we started writing some stuff together.
Your music is quite technical. Are you all at the same level of musicianship?
Nai: I think it’s a combination of different forms. Paul and Simon have studied extensively, been through music institutions and jazz school to learn what stuff is. Me and Pez grew up listening to a lot of eclectic music so we naturally have that intuitive understanding of polyrhythms, complicated time signatures and chord structures just from listening. We can play it just from feeling but Paul and Simon can actually dissect it, and it’s that combination of pure idea but also knowing what we’re doing that works.
How would you describe your music?
Paul: Everyone seems to able to put a name to it except for us!
Nai: We have a couple though – Wondercore or Multi-dimensional Polyrthymic Gangster Shit.
How would you explain this ‘cant put a name on it’ sound?
Paul: There’s so much influence that you can’t pigeon-hole it. The concept of bringing an idea to the group with no need for explanation of where it has come from and then the group expanding it – that’s how the sound happens. We didn’t sit down and say we’re gonna be this type of project, it’s just what we were feeling at the time. It could be Indian influences, it could be African influences, just whatever is giving us a buzz.
So what are some major influences for you all? Are there any unifying ones?
Simon: There’s so many.
Pez: A lot of Hip-Hop, J Dilla, ‘Future Beats’.
Nai: Me and Pez have a pretty strong West African influence. A lot of Malian music; Fatoumata Diawara, Rokia Traore, Tinariwen. I feel like Mali is the birth place of music almost.
Why is the Melbourne scene buzzing so much right now?
Paul: Yeah it’s popping! I think the experimentation is making it so good. People are pushing their own projects and ideas really strongly without any compromise or any need for it to fit into any type of genre. Australia’s different because it’s so big. Musician’s that flock to Melbourne from Tazmania, Perth, Adelaide, Brisbane, New Zealand, all over the place, have no connection before they get there. Everyone gets their own idea about music before they come and every couple of years you’ll always get an influx of a couple of musicians that are really original and want to do their own thing.
Nai: And because people are from everywhere there’s no specific tradition that’s been there for hundreds of years. It’s whatever you want. I also feel like there’s different hubs in time as far as artistic births, so just how Paris was in the 20s, Melbourne is going through a particular creative boom. And it’s a community. I’ve heard in New York it can be really competitive because there’s so many people and you’ve got to be the best to work. In Melbourne it’s like “Oh what are you doing? That’s amazing!” and everyone supports each other. Because of this family vibe you do feel comfortable to approach music however you feel like, and you can explore more contemporary ideas because you know it’s gonna be embraced by the community.
You recently did an Indie-Gogo campaign to raise money to perform as SXSW. Were you surprised with the response?
Nai: Yeah, and the crazy thing is, not everybody was from the US. People in Europe donated and we weren’t even going there on that tour. But they want to see us succeed. That’s really amazing.
We noticed that some of our favourite musicians had been donating too. I think Andreya Triana was one?
Nai: Yeah, we also had Timeboy who does visuals for Strangeloop and Flying Lotus.
Paul: And DJ Jazzy Jeff!
Nai: Yeah! There’s different perks that you get for donating and he wanted these hand-written lyrics and he’s the only one who wanted them and I had to write it knowing that Jazzy Jeff was reading this!
So was it at SXSW that you eventually met the right people that led you on to getting signed to Sony?
Simon: Most of the stuff happened before that actually. I guess one of the things people go to SXSW to do had already been in place for us; we already had the agency and the label thing was rolling on.
Pez: Yeah the path had already been set and it was just a cool way to start the tour.
Nai: And I got to meet Erykah Badu! She walked up to me singing Nakamarra and gave me the biggest cuddle.
Wow! That must’ve of been a dream come true. And now you’re supporting her and D’angelo on your North America tour?
Paul: It’s two shows with them, one of them’s also with Busta Rhymes!
Is that what you’re most excited for?
Nai: (laughs) I’d say more terrified.
Your lyrics are really interesting Nai. Do you always stay true to your intentions of a message behind a song?
Nai: Always. It takes me forever to write lyrics. Usually, instead of one metaphor it’ll be multi-layered and the way I shape a word can be interpreted in many different ways. For instance Kaiyote is a made up word but it kind of sounds like peyote and it kind of sounds like coyote and involves a listener’s creativity. So there’s many layers to it and I’m almost OCD with it, where one line has to have five different layers to it visually and audibly.
So what is the actual meaning behind your name?
Nai: Well ‘Hiatus’ is a pause in time – kind of like a matrix vibe, how they capture that freeze frame and you get a full panoramic view. It’s a molecular pause in time to absorb your surroundings. ‘Kaiyote’ is expressing it in a way that has almost Native American Indian shamanistic characteristics. It insights that, but it’s not specifically that, and it activates a listener’s imagination as to what it actually is. I feel like it’s one thing to create, but it’s two-sided, and how somebody perceives something warps what is was originally and it’s a celebration of that rather than “oh you’re interpreting it wrong”.
So is there any deeper meaning behind your album album name Tawk Tomahawk?
Nai: It’s funny because sometimes I come up with something and, as it becomes more familiar, I find different meanings. We did a thing online about Tawk Tomahawk where we asked our fans “what do you think it is?” in celebration of interpretation and the amount of depth that people gave was amazing. But Tomahawk, the word, actually came from my pet hermit crab who had flames painted on her back.
Would you say that you experimented with Tawk Tomahawk?
Pez: A lot of the album is experimental-based. Even the recording process of songs that had been written before is still experimental in terms of how we were going to record it. And then sometimes in those session we would have offcuts of things that would turn into songs themselves.
Nai: Also, we wanted it to be a cohesive piece. So instead of song end, song start, song end, we wanted it to be a transition and a journey. We like glimpses of ideas because you haven’t really had your fix and you want to listen to it again but it’s kind of a whole piece so you have to go through it again to experience it like that.
Are you approaching your second album like that? And is there a timeframe for it?
Pez: I think we’re going to have some things that we had from the last album, it’s all up in the air at the moment but I think we’ll have some continuation of the last style. They’ll definitely be some new flavours in there though… actually you’ll just have to wait and see! We’re really excited because we’re working with a special friend of ours who has got some really good gear and we’re getting a lot of interesting tones from it. If you listen to a lot of hip-hop, it’s a sampled material form of that era, and we’re getting those tones with the equipment we’re using now, which is really exciting.
Nai: We’re releasing Tawk Tomahawk officially, so for the time it takes that to do its thing we’ll be working on the album.
What are you most excited for in the next 6 months?
Pez: Recording the new album.
Well we look forward to hearing the new album and seeing you back in London very soon! Last thing, have you got any Melbourne artists that we should know about?