The members of Australian future soul band Hiatus Kaiyote have unveiled Choose Your Weapon (Flying Buddha/Sony Music Masterworks), their most opulent, expansive and ambitious project yet.
In a short time, this quartet has embarked on an odyssey that began in bohemian Melbourne and has taken them to the Grammy Awards and beyond.
Hiatus Kaiyote's story begins with a girl toting a novelty guitar. Bender, as everybody calls him, was hanging out at Gertrude's Brown Couch in Melbourne's groovy inner-suburb of Fitzroy when the striking Nai performed solo. "I didn't know what she was gonna do because she was there with this really whack pink guitar," Bender remembers drolly. "She started the set explaining that her guitar was locked in someone's house and she couldn't get it, so she had to borrow this one. It was like this child's pink shit little nylon guitar. She just started playing and singing and I was like, Whoa, what is this? This is crazy! I was instantly blown away by the voice and the complexity of the tunes. I'd never really heard that combination of elements before. Straight away I was like, Oh, man, I gotta do a band with this girl." He business-carded her post-gig but Nai, having no formal musical background, was initially unsure about collaborating, worried her songs were "a bit weird". In fact, the fantastically named Hiatus Kaiyote came together over time, its members encountering one another fatefully in various bands, cafés, and share houses. Bender, who'd made it his "mission" to seek out complementary players, found that challenging. Says Nai, "I was ready to give up on the whole band idea, because the musicians were amazing – like, really gifted musicians – but it needed more than that. It needed emotional connection to the music – but with creativity." She retreated into her beloved desert… Hiatus Kaiyote eventually crystallized after the quiet Pez joined, along with his curious roomie Simon. "Once we were all in the same room playing, it was just like, This is what it's supposed to be like!," Nai enthuses. Hiatus Kaiyote jammed on their now Grammy-nominated song ‘Nakamarra’ – which Nai had just penned about a friend devoting herself to working outback with Indigenous Australians. "I still bring in songs," she says, "but we can come up with shit from scratch together – and that's way more rewarding. Usually the best stuff comes out when you're just kinda winging it." Indeed, Hiatus Kaiyote isn't merely a soul/funk/jazz collective – it's a boldly unconventional paradigm, with Nai a singer/songwriter, and Bender, Simon and Moss all instinctive musicians and bedroom producers. Hiatus Kaiyote issued their acclaimed debut Tawk Tomahawk, of authentic homemade grooves, via Bandcamp – and shot a mesmerising bushland video for ‘Nakamarra’. Meanwhile, they started to attract influential industry fans starthing with Taylor McFerrin whom they supported at Melbourne's historic Esplanade Hotel ("The Espy"). Simon recalls, "We got off stage and he was just like, What the hell was that?" The Brooklyn jazz-hopper championed Hiatus Kaiyote in an interview by the blog From Paris, which later profiled the band. Taylor also shared their music with BBC tastemaker DJ Gilles Peterson (they'd later win "Best Breakthrough Act" at his Worldwide Awards) and Anthony Valadez at California's KCRW. The Roots' Questlove proclaimed their music "undeniable". "It really went gangbusters," Nai says. Even Prince tweeted about Hiatus Kaiyote. Salaam Remi, the esteemed producer who's liaised with Amy Winehouse, Nas and The Fugees, determined that Hiatus Kaiyote be the flagship signing to his Sony imprint Flying Buddha. Hiatus Kaiyote repackaged Tawk Tomahawk with a new version of Nakamarra featuring a verse by Q-Tip, the legendary member of A Tribe Called Quest. They subsequently became the first Australian act to receive a Grammy nomination in an R&B category ("Best R&B Performance"). "Just to be propelled into that kind of platform and welcomed into that lineage is validation in itself," Nai muses.
Today, Hiatus Kaiyote present Choose Your Weapon – imagining the future past, and juxtaposing the acoustic and electronic, over 18 tracks and a 70 minute musical adventure. Again self-produced, this sophomore album honors soul music's history while reveling in its experimentation and globalization of sound. This album, in many ways, was born on stage -- "Most bands generally write their album as they're making it, whereas we already had so much material that our fans were familiar with, so we owed it to them to actually document it," Nai states. Nevertheless, the band did freely explore in the studio, serendipity their muse. And the outfit fully utilized their accumulated vintage synthesizer. "The synth is a really interesting bridge between live instrumentation and production because it's electronic, but essentially it's still an instrument," Nai observes. Above all, Hiatus Kaiyote, tracing the missing links between Rotary Connection, J Dilla and Flying Lotus, chart their evolution on Choose Your Weapon. "With our first record, we'd been together six months or a year," Nai says. "So you put a couple of world tours under your belt and then you try to produce a record, it's a whole other thing." Intense live, ‘Shaolin Monk Motherfunk’ is synth-funk boogie with a subversive prog-rock breakdown. ‘Borderline With My Atoms’ is quiet storm balladry evoking Minnie Riperton. Nai has depicted the serpentine ‘By Fire’ as "a burial song", the former fire-dancer, who lost her father in a house fire, reclaiming the element's life-giving over destructive force. Hiatus Kaiyote approached one of their idols, orchestrator/composor/multi-instumentalist Miguel Atwood-Ferguson to put his “one man orchestra” on ‘The Lung’. The album's poetic lead single ‘Breathing Underwater’, was conceived for Stevie Wonder, Nai reveals. "All of our icons kept hearing our music – and Stevie's my favorite one. So it was like, What if Stevie hears one [of the songs]? None of them are good enough! We need to write a new one especially for Stevie. That's why I have the key change turnaround – 'cause he's king of that." However, the lyrics tell of something else. "There's so many love songs, but I wanted to make one that was about really simple forms of love that aren't necessarily romantic – like the love of a cactus that can survive for over 100 years without water and then, when it rains, it blossoms in minutes," Nai suggests. "People always use metaphors to express their love, but the metaphor is its own love within itself – and it is its own universe… So it's like a love song to everything." On sequencing Choose Your Weapon, Hiatus Kaiyote realized "how epic every single song is," says Bender, every one with intricate layers and its own "vibe". "It was just like a huge, massive, complex puzzle." As such, they've created spacious interludes. In the past Hiatus Kaiyote have playfully dubbed their transcendent hybrid of jazz, psychedelia, soul, R&B, funk, hip-hop, electronica and worldbeat "multi-dimensional, polyrhythmic gangster shit". Today Bender proposes the eccentric "wondercore", Hiatus Kaiyote's music is less a genre than an immersive experience – a trip. For Nai, the "key" descriptor for Choose Your Weapon is "cinematic". "We definitely see the music as habitats – and each song is its own. It's very visual."
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Blossoms are - Tom Ogden, Charlie Salt, Josh Dewhurst, Joe Donovan and Myles Kellock – a five-piece band from Stockport, who in a relatively short space of time (forming in late 2013) have become one of the hottest live bands on the circuit, performing at festivals including SXSW, The Great Escape, T in the Park, Latitude, Reading & Leeds as well as two shows in Tokyo. In 2016, Blossoms played at the iconic Glastonbury Festival and reached #1 with their eponymous debut album.
Starcrawler are a Los Angeles rock & roll band formed one year ago when Arrow de Wilde first met Henri Cash on the high school yard in Echo Park. The rhythm section of Austin Smith and Tim Franco came soon after, found on the streets of Hollywood. They play rock & roll music heavy and loud and their incendiary performances resemble the children of the Cramps, the Yeah Yeahs Yeahs, and Alice Cooper. "Ants," a song they recorded days after first playing together, was quickly discovered by London DJ Matt Wilkinson and debuted on Apple Beats One radio just as the band were playing their first few shows. The DJ loved it so much, he played it twice in a row. Soon after, it found its way to Sir Elton John, who spun it on his "Rocket Hour" radio program, as well as to Zane Lowe, who played it to further accolades. Much media interest both from the music and fashion worlds has quickly followed. "Ants" & the forthcoming "Used to Know" are from an early session recorded by Steven McDonald (Red Kross) and document the unhinged beginnings of the group taking their first steps into the public eye. They have only now found the time to take a breath and are recording their more fully realized debut LP at Pax Am studios in Hollywood with Ryan Adams producing, due out later this year. As a group, Starcrawler embodies that strange archetypal mojo that one finds in certain gangs of young rockers, only once or twice a generation; all the while still kicking and screaming as they sprint toward finding something new and entirely of their own. The band consists of Arrow de Wilde on lead vocals, Henri Cash on guitar, Austin Smith on drums, and Tim Franco on bass.
Phum Viphurit is a singer-songwriter based in Bangkok, Thailand. He writes charmingly and irresistibly inviting music—his interpretation of alternative indie-pop soars with buoyant melodies and comfortably familiar themes of finding your own voice and exploring your place in the world.
Phum gained international recognition in 2018 from his dance floor-filler single, “Lover Boy,” following his sleeper hit, “Long Gone,” in 2017, with an accompanying music video directed by Phum himself. The latter single was off his first studio album, Manchild, released under Thai independent record label, Rats Records . The nine-track LP navigates coming-of-age discoveries of self-identity, first love, desire, passion, and building his dreams from his native of Thailand and New Zealand, where he was raised.
His meteoric rise to international recognition paved for three highly successful overseas tours headline shows and premier billing at music festivals—in Asia, Europe, and the United States, as well as sold-out local shows in Thailand. He’s set out to return to Europe in Summer 2019 following a second sold-out Asia tour in Spring 2019, which includes Japan’s Summer Sonic Festival and his sold-out headline show at Esplanade in Singapore, which was attended by 1,600 fans.
Phum’s music has reached an international audience, gaining a record-breaking 16 million streams on Spotify across 65 countries last year. On his latest single, “Hello, Anxiety,” Phum approaches a somber topic with an interior perspective—and adds texture with lofty synths and funk elements to his signature brand of soul and indie-pop. It was released in March this year, with already 5 million views on YouTube.
Yo La Tengo’s uninterrupted 30-years-and-counting career is unparalleled in its creative breadth and refusal to rest on laurels. Ira Kaplan, Georgia Hubley and James McNew have enjoyed success entirely on their own terms – playing the world’s best concert halls, museums, and dives, collaborating with everyone from Homer Simpson to Ray Davies, from Chris Elliott to Yoko Ono, portraying the Velvet Underground in I Shot Andy Warhol and composing scores for Adventureland and the films of Jean Painlevé, and even creating a holiday tradition unto themselves with their series of Hanukkah shows at Hoboken, New Jersey’s legendary club Maxwell’s, from which they’ve donated hundreds of thousands to charity.
Yungblud has injected an unruly vitality into the musical landscape, setting his social commentary to a guitar-fueled sound. With his powerful energy and unhinged charisma, Yungblud, otherwise known as Dominic Harrison, spent much of 2018 on the road, bringing his message of anti-conformity to a fast-growing and fired-up audience.
Born in Yorkshire, Harrison picked up a guitar at age two, began writing his own songs at age 10, and moved to London to kick-start his music career. Arriving in July 2018, his debut full-length album 21st Century Liability found Yungblud channeling his outrage into songs both confrontational and immediately infectious. “This last year’s just been mad; I feel like I’m building something real: a community of people who feel like they can be themselves, no matter what the world tells them to be.”
Now at work on his sophomore album, Yungblud has begun drawing inspiration from the stories fans have shared with him on the road. “I’m so inspired by stories like that—it’s exactly the kind of liberation we need to move the world forward,” says Harrison. “My first album was me introducing what I’m all about, and now that I’ve done that, I want to make it more about the people I’ve gotten to meet. Instead of just having everyone listen to me scream, I want the music to be like a conversation—so we can all come together and build a community that’s undeniable.”
Following the band’s 2012 tour DeVotchKa frontman Nick Urata was left feeling conflicted. On one hand, his band was as popular as ever, playing their critically-acclaimed songs from over seven albums to fans at sold- out shows around the globe, and Urata was enjoying a burgeoning career as a film score composer, with a GRAMMY nomination already under his belt. But on the night of DeVotchKa’s final show of the tour, onstage in an enormous arena in Mexico, Urata belted out the first few lines only to discover his microphone powered off—a simple mistake, but one that would later cause him to reflect deeply on his stake in life.
“You try not to make a big deal out of it, but you don’t recover from that for the rest of the show,” Urata says, now smiling at the memory. “It happened more than once on that tour, I went into a bit of a tailspin after that. I wondered if the universe was trying to tell me something I didn’t want to hear. I was realizing how nearly anyone can sing, almost everybody has the ability, but if you want to perform for people, then you have to fight for it.”
Following the tour, the band—Urata (vocals, guitars, Theremin, trumpet, piano), Jeanie Schroder (acoustic bass, sousaphone), Shawn King (drums, percussion, trumpet), and Tom Hagerman (violin, viola, accordion, piano)—enjoyed a series of gigs at smaller venues. Urata spent those shows both reconnecting with his audience on a more intimate level and rediscovering his love for his craft. It was a necessary moment that inspired him to begin work on a new DeVotchKa album—a process that would take a lot longer than anyone anticipated, but that would prove essential.
“I realized the motivation is simply how much I love singing,” Urata says, “and I just want to keep this conversation going with people who have connected with our band. Those shows after the big tour were when things started to fall back into place, I could see that people were moved by the lyrics and singing them back to me. It is a rare and powerful thing to connect with people like this. It is the thing that keeps us going.”
Urata began work on a new album, using that intimate dynamic with his fans as motivation. Despite a strong work ethic that compels him to work each and every day, the writing process proved to be a slow yet cathartic burn. (Naturally, his film work was also keeping his hands full — since the GRAMMY-nominated score to Little Miss Sunshine, Urata has composed the scores for myriad films including Crazy Stupid Love, Whiskey Tango Foxtrot, and Paddington. Most recently, he composed the original theme song and score for the Netflix Original A Series of Unfortunate Events.)
Through persistence, concerted effort, and patience, Urata found his path. A musical perfectionist, the longer-than-typical window provided more opportunities to tinker, a blessing that can often be accelerated or outright ignored in these modern times. As Urata says, if you are going to hand him the luxury of time, he is going to put it to good use—and time is often what he requires.
“I get a creative spark and then have to chase it down, sometimes, for years,” he says. “One thing I’ve learned from great writers is to force yourself to show up to work every day, even if you feel you don’t have anything—apply yourself and it will come. It really does work. Writing music has always been the one thing in my life that’s subconsciously gnawed at me. I have to do it.”
Urata pulled from old notebooks and half-formed ideas as much as he conjured fresh material from the present. But in writing lyrics he has found that nearly every idea came from the past— despite the tense in which he sings. “I have a file in the back of my head with things that have happened to me, and that’s where I get my songs. I’m probably not alone in that. A lot of people think the song is happening now—‘you must be going through a horrible breakup right now.’ Really, I’m just getting in touch with the past. When you add music, it can take you right back there. Music is the great coaxer of those feelings, and that’s why people connect to songs. Music opens you up.”
In writing for what he would eventually title This Night Falls Forever, Urata tapped directly into his past, connecting the dots between that audience-and-artist relationship and a period of intense self-discovery. “One common thread in these songs is their sentimentality,” Urata says. “When you first discover rock and roll, that’s usually the same time you’re discovering girls or boys, when everything is so romantic and huge—that era of your life is where these songs are coming from. The songs are usually the same, thematically: why don’t you love me, why did you leave me, I don’t love you anymore, I miss you, I want to die...there’s only a couple themes when you break it down. I’ve always dealt in romance. I don’t know what else to write about.”
And from the album’s first lines (“I can draw a straight line through my mind right back to the good times/ back when all the stars were aligned”) it’s clear that This Night Falls Forever, set for release on August 24, 2018, via Concord Records, is a heartrending look backwards and forwards at once—the sound of a man searching within to face his future. From the rhythmic riff and urgent crooning of the opener, “Straight Shot,” with its cohesive lyrical story and speedy acoustic strumming, to the exotic waltz of “Let Me Sleep” and its spiraling strings and dramatic vocals, the flight is immediate.
“Done with Those Days” is a lush, slow-burning whistler, while the driving, playful “My Little Despot” is a cautionary tale about the travails of lover-as-dictator, which Urata recognizes could easily be viewed as a political moment despite his best intentions. “It was a cute idea two years ago but now it has a whole different connotation,” he says. “Today’s political climate has changed the availability of our lexicon. There is a temptation to bring politics and protest into our songs, but we have to have some respite from it or we’re all gonna go crazy. Music is a force of nature that makes people fall in love, that’s where the change will come from”
Elsewhere, the lush and tightly packaged “Love Letters” covers the entire arc of a relationship. The song represents yet another incident where time and distance proved a completion charm, “It would never tell me where to go,” he says. “When I came back to it, the second half wrote itself. It was one of those rare occasions when it all happened in one day. It asks a pretty raw question—‘Are you still in love with me?’ You can think of that as a metaphor for being in the band, too: ‘Am I still supposed to be doing this? Please give me a sign, because I’m still in love with it!’ And I’m just now realizing that following the thing you love is all you can do, and watch the chips fall where they fall.”
Urata cites the scope of the album as even more ambitious than DeVotchKa’s past work, with more detailed arrangements, more people involved including full orchestras, and an overall bigger sound. He praises the work of his bandmates, whose ability to build upon his demos lends the finished songs a sense of flesh and bone. “They enhanced it, rounded it out, and made it cool,” Urata says. “They added that live feeling that takes the songs to the next level. A big part of making a record is capturing the humanity”
As for the album’s title, Urata was inspired by yet another period of transition, albeit one that occurs each and every day: the passing of day into night. It’s a fitting motif for his process, a constant reminder that toil eventually makes way for transport.
“I wanted to capture that moment of twilight falling, where there’s electricity in the air and you get that sense that everything is going to be OK,” Urata says. “The harsh sunlight is gone, you start to get messages from your spiritual side, and it’s not all about the day’s work and politics and struggles. Theres’s a sense of something bigger at twilight; that’s where it came together for me. When I was going through a really tough time, a bad breakup years ago, the days were terrifying and lonely and I was broke—but once the night fell, there was music. If I could just get to sunset, things will look good. I guess that feeling’s stuck. You want the night to last forever. It’s the aesthetic of the album, the thing I picture when I close my eyes.”