Being tweeted about by Prince is kind of a big deal. For anyone. But particularly if you’re an emerging band from Melbourne’s North. Earlier this year the superstar posted a link to Hiatus Kaiyote’s track ‘Nakamarra’ with the simple instruction: ‘DON’T WORRY… JUST CLICK’. Add to that a co-sign from both ?uestlove and Erykah Badu, and it’s not surprising that people are starting to pay serious attention to the future-soul outfit. Headed by enigmatic frontwoman, Nai Palm, Hiatus Kaiyote’s debut album ‘Tawk Tomahawk’ received universal critical acclaim. Yet when we interview the band, we find them keeping things laid back in a suburban backyard in Coburg. Maybe that’s part of the reason we like them so much.
Who first broke you guys internationally?
Paul Bender [bassist]: It was Taylor McFerrin. We supported him at The Espy and I think he caught like the last three songs of our set and was really into it.
Nai Palm [singer/guitarist]: Animal Collective heard [us] on the air in LA, and they showed Angel [Deradoorian] from The Dirty Projectors, who showed ?uestlove, who then showed all The Roots. James Poyser works really closely with Erykah Badu, so she picked it up… There were a few seed points and it just sprung up from there.
Quite a few of those artists you mentioned are credited for pioneering what became known as ‘neo-soul’. Is that a sound you identify with?
Nai: We’re not massive on genre to be honest.
You do describe yourselves as ‘future-soul’ though.
Paul: It’s kind of a convenient tagline, but we try not to get too wrapped up in that, in what we’re doing. We’re all down to include almost anything, from any area that we like and appreciate.
Nai: Sometimes you need an arrowhead on what you’re doing. I like the fact that ‘soul’ is a throwback element, but ‘future’ is whatever is in the future and is indefinable.
Does having this recognition affect what you’re doing?
Nai: It’s cool to have the validation. It’s more of a motivation to keep exploring our shit, rather than [making us feel] that now these people listen to it, we have to tailor [our sound] to them.
It must feel pretty extreme when Prince tweets your music, though?
Nai: The crazy thing is that when Prince tweeted that, I was watching Purple Rain for the first time that night. I hadn’t seen it and I thought “I guess I’ll watch this.” I woke up and Prince has tweeted about us! What?
I’m sure he had it planned somehow.
Nai: The internet is really amazing like that. People have written to me on Facebook from Libya and shit. It’s cool to have these cool artists promoting you, but when you then connect with different people as well – I get a buzz from that.
Does establishing these relationships lead to working with these artists?
Paul: I think that, generally, in terms of collaborations, it’s more important for us to develop our own thing.
Perrin Moss [drummer]: I think if we wanted a certain sound we’d collaborate with them. We have done that already, collaborated with some percussionists around Melbourne. Collaborating on a recording level as well. We had a chance to maybe work with MF Doom – I’m not sure if it’s still happening. In terms of MCs, he’s someone that we’d all be keen to do something with because he’s just amazing and hits all the buttons that we all like.
Paul: It has to be the right time and place and situation, though.
A lot of collaborations just look great on paper.
Paul: Some collaboration are just a bad idea. You should just do your own thing. There’s a real buzz element to it.
Nai: I can see why people go down that avenue but I think we’re all pretty humble about what we want and it’s less about us wanting to be super famous or whatever. We’ve all been given this opportunity, through Flying Buddha – the label we’ve just signed with – to just keep exploring our creativity.
Simon Mavin [keyboard]: I’m sure that there’s other bands that get opportunities like us, but I think where other bands would say “Yes” we might say “No.”
What made the inclusion of a Q-Tip guest verse on the album an exception?
Nai: The whole thing with Q-Tip was not him being on our album – it was “Here is our album plus this on the side.” I mean, he’s such an iconic MC. He was really well informed to what the song was about, because it’s very sacred to us. You want to make sure that whoever you’re collaborating with – high profile or not – is on the same wavelength.
I’ve seen footage of Nai playing solo in London and seen you with a 10+ piece band in Melbourne, does that dynamic work because the crux of the band is centred around what Nai had been doing solo?
Paul: Nai was definitely the genesis, in what she was doing with her solo thing, and the fact that she had written a bunch of tunes already. The more that we’ve worked together though, the more parts we have collaborated on.
Nai: There’s still that element, even now when I bring that skeleton of a song to the band, because we write as a unit and the sound collectively is an evolution of a song structure. Which is beautiful, as a songwriter on my own, and as a songwriter collectively – there is a very fine line between the two.
Simon: It’s evolving so now it’s no longer [about] trying to play one person’s music.
Nai: It’s like Voltron. There are separate lion robots and they are perfect the way they are. They are complete and they are their own thing. But then we fuse it together and it’s a giant robot.
Forming like Voltron like Wu-Tang claimed to?
Nai: I’m the RZA – you can quote me on that.
Simon: I’ll be ODB.
Nai: Shit, I want to be ODB too!
This interview originally appeared in ACCLAIM Issue 31 – The Loud Issue – available here.
Words by Callum Vass.
Photography by Morgan Hickinbotham.