Striving as we music lovers do for a new sound that appeals to our palette, it’s not often we come across something that grabs our shortening attention spans… let alone envelops us the further we dig in. That is the bliss — free from ignorance — we hungrily look to feed upon.
When one finds Hiatus Kaiyote it may take a while to realize what is being heard. That wonder is the fuel for interest in wanting to feel and know more. Just as this Melbourne based quartet of musicians challenge themselves (and each other) in creating / performing their music, they invite others into the experience while lending time and space to learn and grow. Accept their invitation and enjoy raw appreciation for the delicately layered and well thought up lyrics which flow over an ensemble of sounds, forming Hiatus’ brand new album, “Choose Your Weapon” (Released May 4, 2015).
That’s when you’ll witness a soaking up of styles from decades past, expressed en vogue — that create an electrically current, even futuristic sound — pushing lyrical limits in an effort to understand our soulful experience in super/natural surroundings. The beauty — and the beast (that ever-present grit and funk), lies in the orchestrated push and pull of different arrangements and interludes that lead singer, songwriter, and guitarist Nai Palm fearlessly leads you through.
The album title implores you to make a wise choice, thinking ahead. A key ingredient to any act is the act-ivating. From there the belief that possibilities are endless guides a freeing of the mind — and we know what follows in time.
Below: I talked with Hiatus Kaiyote drummer Perrin Moss about their new album, the dynamic music culture of Melbourne, and more.
Philly! Check out Hiatus Kaiyote this month:
–> Friday May 8th @ Underground Arts ( Tickets )
** w/ Kate Faust and Mr. Sonny James
–> Saturday May 30th @ The Roots Picnic ( Tickets )
Aran Hart: What do you think makes Hiatus Kaiyote and its music unique?
Perrin Moss: It’s 4 people that are very strong minded in their opinions. There’s not one person taking charge and telling everyone else what to do. Everyone brings in their own ideas. Even if it is a song that our lead singer Nai has written, we all interject and put in our own stamp on our parts. Then we workshop the fuck out of it to put it together. The input is so broad, not ever sticking too much to one thing.
We’re always challenging ourselves and the listener, but also keeping the music accessible, not going too far overboard. Even if individuals have their own point of reference for a tune, guiding the song in one direction — we’ll pick up on that vibe but not do it so obviously.
I come from a production background so I’m always thinking about how it would sound on the record. So as the drummer, with a drum fill or whatever, I’m like “Alright cool, I might sit back in the pocket a bit on this part because if I was on the record the drums wouldn’t be all in your face.” So we feel it out that way and I guess it expresses our uniqueness.
Is there a tempo or type of syncopation your band consciously creates? In particular your arrangements/pauses seem to be very complex and a trademark if you will…
I feel like that’s just what we do and maybe over time it’s become a conscious thing. I used to listen to a lot of this ‘South Asian’ music and now when I hear myself drum I can hear where it’s coming from in that sense — the spacing and phrasing. Once you start playing rhythms over and over again it starts coming out in your subconscious. Now when I hear a straight groove that is completely on time, it doesn’t seem natural to me as a drummer — for what I would play.
My natural thing is to be loose and have a few limbs hit later than the other ones, it’s ingrained in me. I keep getting influenced by other music and players, and influenced by life. So that really constantly redevelops your sound. So those time-signature changes is something now, if it wasn’t in the beginning, very natural to us. We don’t want to be known as a certain signature complex style though… or caught up trying to be any one thing, you know. We also really appreciate the simple forms and styles of music. It’s part of the process of us growing as musicians with our instruments.
You think about a lot of people who start off playing music and they wanna shred and then when they get older they chill out on that and want to hear the space in music. So I feel like we’re on our way with that, while not forgetting the feeling you first have when we started playing music — that excitement.
In the beginning it was really fucking hard to play our songs and all the ideas we came up with. But that’s why we liked it and why we came up with it. It was us developing another skill set on our instruments. Saying, “Hmm, I never felt this before… how all of us are playing this way and linking up with each other in new ways — and thinking, “hey this sounds alright!”
Were these recording sessions long (in a good way) with a lot of improv… in essence how structured was the recording process? Because the records sound so natural and blended, while intricate and outside the box…
Our recording sessions were very structured. We tend to write a song and play it in loops for quite some time until we play it live (in concert) and then it will change from there. So we have a lot of experience with the songs before actually recording them. And then when it comes to the studio, most of the songs end up being the same length and form, pretty much. Sometimes what we play changes to achieve the sound we’re looking for, and how we want it to be perceived.
One song on the record “Swamp Thing,” we didn’t really have a form properly and we made it up in the studio as we went. That was the most free-moving kind of song that we recorded. We did three versions and did three different outros with a lot of improvisation. When we figured out the mixing of the album, and the structure of the song, the first half was pretty much how we worked out in the studio… While the last part we listened to all 3 takes and put a little bit of this outro, and a little of that one together from what we liked of each. Then we get into overdub land, so yea it gets pretty deep [laughs].
But, we’re not the type of band that just goes into the studio and starts writing songs and record them at the same time. We definitely marinate on the songs for a long time and figure out what feels right by playing them with each other and live at shows to see how people react to them.
What pieces/elements do you need to start/create a song?
It changes every time but I feel like we all like a story within a song. So lyrics have a lot to do with that and are very important. We feel it’s never a full song until there are lyrics involved. We love having that narrative. Also, I’m a drummer and it’s funny because I don’t feel like I can play any beat until I hear some chords. Even if I just hear 3 chords it gives me an emotional connection to feed off. It’s all about an emotional connection first and then whatever feels right in that context. A lot of the time we love to have these dreamy starts and ends, that draw the listener in and then things develop from there.
It’s always important to mix it up. Sometimes the songs will come from a production track I’ve done, then we’ll rework it. Other times Bender will come up with a guitar melody and Nai will write over top of that. Other times Nai will have a whole song — and you could say this was kind of “the birth” of Hiatus: Nai’s material, just acoustic guitar and vocals, with no other elements involved. I don’t know if she was thinking about a band or other elements, more just writing a beautiful song at the time. And then we developed the other elements around that emotion or feeling.
Of course, at times it’s just whatever we’re feeling. Maybe we wanna create this nasty, gritty, weird 60’s hip-hop thing that’s never been heard before, because hip-hop wasn’t around back then but it sounds like it was made in the 60’s. So then you have this weird crossover between this contemporary world and the old school way of making records. We’re always thinking about that kind of stuff.
Talk about this new album…How did you know this was an album?What makes this collection an album?
A lot of it has to do with the time period. Also, that feeling of, “if we don’t record this song now, we might never record it…” Or we’ve been playing a song live for a while — and maybe it wasn’t quite ready when we did the first album. So, “if we don’t put it in this record, when will it come out?” We put everything in that people had heard, and that was already enough material to not really have to add in anything that new — though we have added a couple new ones too. It’s a documentation of our music and a time period. Capturing those moments and songs on this record.
And the next record will be a totally different thing, that will probably start from now. It will start when we’re on the road because we’ll come up with some random shit in soundcheck that will start developing. Then in a year’s time that will turn into a new song on a new record, just like how much the stuff on this record started before. We’re not very good at keeping secrets with our songs. We like to try them out and see how people react to them, and then we can go and record them.
Describe something that happened to the band in the last 6 months/year and how it has played out for better or worse…
We always really wanted to work with Miguel Atwood-Ferguson — who did the Suite For Ma Dukes thing: a whole bunch of J Dilla songs that he interpreted with like a 30-piece orchestra. We were all just so amazed when we heard that in Australia.
We all love hip-hop and J Dilla, especially me, and didn’t even know for a long time that a lot of my favorite hip-hop songs were produced by Dilla. I was always after this certain characteristic or sound and then I realized that a lot of the songs were in fact done by the same person.
So, during an interview one day we were asked who in the world we wanted to work with and we all said “Miguel Atwood-Ferguson.” And thank god we got to work with him on this record. One of our only features outside of Australia, who among musicians is a big superstar. He jumped on a track of ours called “The Lung.” It was really beautiful and special for us to work with someone of that high caliber.
Also, collaborating with other musicians in Melbourne as well has allowed us to steer away from always ‘over-laying’ parts over parts for songs. We have been able to sit around in a room together with a couple mics, and do one take we could incorporate into a part of a song. This new process is something that has transformed how we are writing and recording our music and where we want to continue going as a band.
Describe the music culture in Melbourne?
It’s a very multicultural city with a lot of opportunities to see music. It’s also a small city so you get to meet a lot of people in the music community when you go to gigs. A lot of people there delve into a lot of different genres. There’s not a lot of ego there or fighting among musicians for gigs. More of a friendly competitiveness where people are giving each other support. The crew of people that I hang out with are a lot of my favorite musicians in the world and I connect with them so much. It’s not just Hiatus — I feel we could all play in each other’s bands because we come from the same place. I don’t know what is happening there but a lot of people are in the same head space about music and about pushing things — but still being true to yourself. It’s a very supportive network.
How as a band do you define progress/positive growth?
We just really take each day as it comes. Our goal is to become better musicians by continuing to push ourselves, and each other. But I guess we’ll never know if we do become great because it seems no musicians really ever feel like they’re great…ya know? And that’s the main part of what keeps pushing you forward and growing.
For more from Hiatus Kaiyote:
Website | @HiatusKaiyote | Youtube
Hiatus Kaiyote coming LIVE to Philly:
THIS Friday May 8th @ Underground Arts ( Tickets )
–> w/ Kate Faust and Mr. Sonny James
Saturday May 30th @ The Roots Picnic ( Tickets )