Nights In

Hiatus kaiyote – interview

Hiatus Kaiyote is a four-piece band based in Melbourne, Australia. This unique outfit consists of Nai Palm, Perrin Moss, Paul Bender and Simon Mavin.

I am not convinced that this band can be defined by traditional genre classification as their sound is so unconventional by nature. It can be a difficult task to define music, to articulate sound, at the best of times and I approach this very scientifically, and like to dissect music, and get to the fundamentals, look at the components and see what makes it work.

On this note (pun intended)… this band blows my mind. Together they effortless blend hip hop, soul, neo soul, Latin and jazz very dramatically to create a distinctively unparalleled and eclectic sound.

They are becoming as acclaimed for their vibrant performances as well as their music. Their approach to music is refreshing; it is a polyrhythmic feast of complex arrangements, with feisty experimental electronic beats. It is multilayered and multidimensional to the point of intriguing genius.

Hiatus Kaiyote offer a brilliant and intense musical mind bend and take you on a journey where there is no need for a defined destination, as the possibilities are infinite. Hiatus Kaiyote are Sony Music’s latest signing and caused singer-songwriter Erykah Badu to exclaim upon hearing them: “That’s it, I'm done. In love.”

The band played the Sugar Club on Wednesday July 10, as part of their current European tour. After carefully considering the intricately unconventional nature of this band I decided to approach this interview with a “no- plan” sort of plan and let it occur in an organic fashion.

I arrived at the Sugar Club to be met with the news that a guitar had gone missing in transit, the airline had misplaced it and all efforts were being made to locate the absent instrument. The sound check was in full swing and Simon and I retired to the terrace of the venue to chat, in a conversation which evolved into an open dialog about my favorite subject, music, interspersed with, of course, information about the bands’ future plans and how Hiatus Kaiyote has come into existence.

How did you all meet and how did you form Hiatus Kaiyote?

I was the last member to join the band. Bender, the bass player, saw Nai, the lead singer, playing at a solo gig and he was really impressed with her and her abilities.

He told her that he wanted to work with her and so a year later they bumped into each other again and started working together.

That’s how it started and then Perrin, the drummer met Nai in a café and they just started jamming together. He was drumming on the table and she was playing guitar.

So, they got together and started playing music. I was living with Perrin at the time and I was a session musician around Melbourne and I heard them playing music at our rehearsal studio at the house and for one gig Bender said to me that they were looking for a keys player. And I said..I’ll do it!

That’s how we starting playing together, and yeah, it was amazing from the beginning. The connection that we made from the very first time we played together was a very strong one. And it helped that me and Perrin we living together and Bender also moved in.

So, it was a really creative house that we were living in, there was three other musicians living there too and we had a big recording rehearsal space and a lot of musicians from Melbourne would also come to play and work on their crafts.

What is the music scene like in Melbourne?

It’s fantastic. It is amazing. There is a really good scene there. I’m not too sure how scenes work overseas in Europe or The States, but in Australia, it’s a really bit country and the main place where music happens is Melbourne.

Sydney is really close but Melbourne is where it’s at, so you have so many musicians that move to Melbourne from Perth, Brisbane, Adelaide, Tasmania and then up the east coast as well, Darwin and The Blue Mountains is another place where a lot of creativity comes from.

Everyone heads to Melbourne. All these people who are working on different things because they come from different places and everyone ends up in the one place. So, when they fuse together its incredible and its quiet easy to get gigs there and to play a lot and be involved in the scene.

Everyone is really friendly and, you know, pushes each other’s ideas.

Your unique sound is very hard to define. I have heard the term Future Soul being bounced and kicked around a lot. How would you describe it?

It changes every day. It is really hard to describe. I describe it as more of a creative agreement. We all input to it. It kinda stemmed from Nai’s approach to compositions, I guess. Initially we were working on so much, a lot of tunes, and the project came from that and she brought so many tunes to the band.

The connection that we made from the very first time we played together was a very strong one. Nai writes all the lyrics. She’s pretty damn good at that. She will write something and bring it to the band and we will all work on it, and we all write music together.

The creative process is quiet vast as there is no set way that we write music. This is really good as it helps us to push each other, creatively speaking. That is why stylistically it is hard to define. There is always that challenge to bring something fresh to the band.

This is a difficult question, my apologies in advance, but what is ultimately your favorite album?

My favorite album? Yeah, that is a bit of a difficult question! Well… (pause)…Herbie Hancock, Thrust. That album changed my whole concept of music.

Your debut LP Tawk Tomahawk was initially released independently and will be released with Sony on July 16. Will you be doing anything to mark the date?

To be honest, I don’t know. When is that, I have lost all concept of time. I think we will be in Switzerland. We are doing the Montreux Jazz Festival, which is really exciting. The days are becoming a bit of blur and we have been at this for two weeks now…, but thankfully I’m still here but I am losing the concept of what time it is!

The album has also been presented by Wax Poetics and has been remixed by 12 producers all over the world. I would say that was a very interesting project.

Yeah that stemmed from when we started playing in Melbourne we did a residency in a club called The Evelyn for about four or five months every Tuesday or Wednesday. As part of that we had a lot of producers that were in our scene.

So, every week we put out a tune that could be remixed or the audience would yell out a tune and then the next week four or five producers would have to do a remix of that tune.

We would chose a winner and give them a prize. We did dome Hiatus tunes, so we got to the point where we had this bank of remixes so we thought it would be great to release them.

You were invited by Questlove to appear as special guests on The Brooklyn Bowl and Q-Tip also features on your song 'Nakamarra'. Is there anyone else you would like to work and perform with?

That is a really difficult question but in the States, the last time we were asked this question we said Miguel Atwood-Ferguson. Then we ended up meeting him and he came to Melbourne and have worked with him and performed his music. We have a very strong connection with him. It might happen again (laughs) so for me, Herbie Hancock is someone I would love to work with, but that is just me being a selfish keys player!

Yeah, put it out there! You are currently on your European tour and then on to North America, what are the future plans for Hiatus Kaiyote?

Yeah, when we finish this stint we will be over in the States in late July. We are back in Melbourne in September where we are going to do a national tour supporting a band called The Cat Empire, which are an awesome Melbourne band.

They have been around for over a decade and they have toured the world. They are a very successful Melbourne band. We will be playing with them for about fifteen dates around Australia.

Then, in October we are going into studio and will begin recording for our next album.

In November we will be back in Europe and the States where we will be doing another about six week’s tour of both. It will be hectic.

Do you find the festival experience much different than more personal gigs like in The Sugar Club?

Absolutely. There is a massive difference. Personally I much more enjoy these smaller club shows as there is a much more intimate vibe and connection with the audience and get at the same level with them. With festivals, amazing as they are, you are on a line up with another twenty or thirty bands, it’s not really the same.

Where did the band name come from?

Nai came up with the name. I think initially she liked the idea of Hiatus Kaiyote, how they went together and the spelling, the HIA and KAI in the name and the made up word Kaiyote as well has the intention for the person who is reading it to create their own concept about what it means. That is integral in our music also, and what it has come to mean. Hiatus is like a pause in time. We appreciate the idea that the listener can draw their own concept about what the music is about.

Finally, what motivated you to become a musician?

I started learning piano when I was four. I did classical for 15 years. Then I went to university and studied Jazz and popular music and then I started playing live gigs. I have been doing that for about ten years now. So I’ve played in many, many different kinds of bands from jazz to funk to salsa to reggae to classical. Whatever you name I have probably tried to play it. My influences are quiet vast. I guess the roots for me and what I am really passionate about and what really got me into music in the first place is jazz, listening to Bill Evans and Herbie Hancock.

Yeah, jazz is a great love of mine too. I think that it is the backbone of all music and I can hear it in all good music, I think it spills into everything.

Yeah definitely, I totally agree. I studied classical for a long time but I became really passionate about music when I started playing jazz with other people and began to be able communicate on the same level with other musicians.

Tawk Tomhawk by Hiatus Kaiyote is available now on iTunes

You can like the band on Facebook here.