Hiatus Kaiyote – Forget the Genre, Feel the Groove
Written by Marc Zanotti on 14th November, 2012
Hiatus Kaiyote are the Melbourne quartet whose self-descibed ‘future soul’ sound has quickly separated the band from their contemporaries. Led by the whimsical Nai Palm, whose irrefutable voice perforates even the most cynical ear, and backed by Perrin Moss, Simon Mavin and Paul Bender, three talented multiinstrumentalists, Hiatus Kaiyote’s debut album Tawk Tomahawk is easily one of the most admirably diverse local releases of the year.
Now the enigmatic outfit are soon to tour behind Tawk Takeout, the remixed (and incidentally free) version of Hiatus Kaiyote’s debut LP. With momentum on their backs and hype in their sails, band bassist, guitarist and laptop-ist Paul Bender sheds some light on the process and progress of Hiatus Kaiyote and the meaning, or more to the point meaninglessness, behind the term ‘future soul’.
There’s a mysticism to the band’s name, Hiatus Kaiyote. How do you capture that elusive fluidity in your music?
Paul Bender: I don’t know, I guess we just put a lot of attention to detail into what we’re trying to do. I think a lot of it just happens naturally in the way that Nai (Palm) writes and that we write together and the kind of sounds that we’re attracted to.
There are definitely tracks on the album [Tawk Tomahawk] and things that we try to do live that we just spend a lot of time crafting … particular parts that create a certain feeling.
How collaborative is the writing process within Hiatus Kaiyote. As the bassist, what level of input do you have in building song structure or offering up lyrical themes?
PB: It changes from song to song. Sometimes Nai comes in and she’s got something … the entire structure is there and melodies and often lyrics of the song are already there.
There’s obviously a lot of other stuff to be filled in, so we kind of write our own parts and we throw ideas back and forth about what we should play and what eachother should play (and) how well elements interact.
There’s a couple … of the newer songs that have started from things that I’ve written, just like chord progressions and riffs. (Then) Nai starts writing something for that and then someone else writes a beats section … it’s very collaborative.
In terms of fully written songs, none of us ever mess with the idea of writing lyrics except for Nai, because she sings stuff that’s real to her. But in terms of the other musical elements, we all throw in.
Hiatus Kaiyote have been described as ‘future soul’ that fuses together a bunch of genres such as hip hop, funk, electro, pop, etc. Given your Jazz background, was it important for you to play in a band that attempts to avoid the ridged boundaries of a single genre?
PB: Most musicians I know don’t really even care about that genre thing. I think it’s something that is largely invented afterwards. The fact that we even call ourselves ‘future soul’, is not even something I really want to do.
You have to fill in the thing for a festival application, they have to know what you are, or you put yourself up online and then, you know, ‘What genre are you?’
None us really give a s**t, it’s just music, it’s just sounds, but to make it a little shorthand for people to get an inkling of what you’re about, sometimes you’ve just got to call yourself something.
Ultimately, it’s just a construct that exists after the fact: after you’ve done a whole bunch of work making something and then it has to be summarized in one or two words.
At this point in time especially, the idea of genre is becoming more and more meaningless because we have access to every sound that has existed or that currently exists.
We can find anything: I can go on YouTube right now and search for some stuff from … Senegal or Indonesia, or like crazy industrial German s**t from the 80s or something, and just watch stuff.
It’s all just opened up, so I think ultimately it’s just a convenient shorthand, the whole genre thing.
I mean on triple j Unearthed, for example, it’s really funny that they don’t even have a soul genre. Our song Nakamarra reached number one on the triple j electronic charts, which I thought was hilarious because the song was recorded with five microphones with all of us in the room together. It’s about the least electronic thing you can do.
It’s [genre] just getting more and more irrelevant.
Tawk Tomahawk is fairly eclectic and yet there is an air of control around the songs. How do you reign in a track to stop it from becoming self-indulgent experimentation?
PB: We just kind of reign eachother in I think and … ultimately we all really care about the song.
The most crazy thing going through my head, when it comes to recording the songs, is how do we actually not only arrange this thing, but how do we record it, what is the process? Because they all have such different feels and you can’t just do it all the same way. You can’t just play all the songs with the same idea.
So it’s really all about serving the song, and we try a lot of stuff. We try a lot of weird s**t and often those things kind of fall by the wayside or someone else will be like, ‘I’m not really feeling that … it’s distracting.’
We try to put as much detail and as much interest in there as possible without it actually distracting from what’s important at that moment, trying not to distract from the lead vocal and stuff.
It’s just a long process, but we just kind of help eachother reach ultimately what is right for the song.
Nai Palm said in a previous interview that what she loves about songwriting is that you learn about yourself. Looking back, what did you learn about yourself from making the debut album?
PB: That procrastination’s not a good idea (chuckles).
The last two weeks of making it were really, really f**king hectic, we were just cramming s**t in there. We already had all our dates booked for launching the record and it was not done and we had to get it mastered in a week. We were tweaking s**t to the very, very, very last minute.
I think we learnt a lot about eachother as well, really. How we work together, what works for eachother, what pushes eachother’s buttons in not a good way.
It’s just been really quick; the whole process for us has just been really fast from starting out. We sort of got off to a running start, really. Our first show was The Bohemian Masquerade Ball, which is a big show put on by our current manager.
A lot of people knew Nai, so we started off with a lot of hype and s**t, and we sort of just got straight into it. We could tell there was something really good happening so we just tried to get as involved with it as possible early on. It’s just been a process of figuring eachother out.
In terms of stylistically, what we all hear, that’s been really unified. There’s been very little artistic disagreement.
Hiatus Kaiyote’s sound seems pretty complex at times; how do you recreate the magic onstage?
PB: We trigger some things off laptops but not really much … Simon (Mavin) is doing like a billion things on his keyboard, that’s probably the most hectic thing: just how many friggin’ buttons he has to press and how many sounds he changes to one from the other, like in this crazy moment where he has to press like five things in a second and twist to a completely different sound.
It always seems like the keyboardist gets the least amount of credit.
PB: Yeah, but you know people check him out. He definitely has his glory moments … luckily he’s like a virtuoso, so he can just rip up all that s**t.
What next for Hiatus Kaiyote after your upcoming tour, I believe you have been announced as part of SXSW 2013?
PB: After our tour we’re doing Meredith, Peats Ridge and then South By Southwest next year, so hopefully some other US dates around that, hopefully something in Europe. You know, the ball’s rolling but we haven’t figured out the details yet.
We want to get started on the new record as soon as possible. We’re just getting our new space set up, new headquarters, and the studio is in the process of becoming a thing.
We just want to record some more music … we’ve probably got like another two albums worth of material, but we just actually need to record it.
So are you guys going to try and release two albums next year or are you going to space it out?
PB: Oooooo, nah (laughter) we like to record as much as possible, but I don’t like to make those kinds of promises.
Obviously, it’s great if you can do something quickly and really well, but I’m not the kind of person that likes to rush anything personally. Nobody wants to have the super-hypey first release and then the really disappointing second album that’s obviously been rushed out to catch up with the hype; I don’t really want to do that.
But you know, we’ll do what we can with what we’ve got.
Hiatus Kaiyote – Australian Tour Dates
Saturday, 17th November
Rocket Bar, Adelaide (with special guests Amin Payne, Silent Jay, Oisima plus DJs Jackson Miles (Melb) & Slim Charles)
Thursday, 22nd November
FBI Social, Sydney (with special guests)
Friday, 23rd November
Katoomba, Gearins Hotel (with special guests)
Friday, 30th November
Mother Popcorn at Coniston Lane, Brisbane (with special guests Bankrupt Billionaires)
Photo by Devika Bilimoria