There’s a moment in the game Elden Ring where you emerge from the darkness, to face the adversity-torn, melancholy-soaked scenery of the world around you. There’s no direction; your map is blurred out; crypticness is common. Every turn feels like it could be your demise, and the journey is individual to every player who embarks throughout the land. You’ve left the darkness of the opening crypt behind, to make your way through the chaos around you. The same can be said about Teether on his latest album MACHONA.
Nothing is tarnished about this Melbourne rapper however, as he traverses across eerie production consisting of chilling synths that can be stemmed back to Memphis horrorcore, down-tuned samples, and a grit derived from his love of both black and death metal. The album is inspired by his delve into his heritage, learning about the lineage of the Tumbuka people that came before him. The group, whose presence was found in Northern Malawi, is unrepresented today, with history being protected and brief in the sense of encyclopedic research. Throughout MACHONA’s 13 tracks, Teether keeps heritage by his side as he commentates on the city around him, finding introspection while trudging through a dystopian concrete jungle. Similar to Elden Ring, His journey opens with the creation of this project during Melbourne’s lockdown, to find clarity as he maneuvers through the surrounding chaos.
Congratulations on the release of the album, man. How’re you feeling?
I’m excited that it’s finally out. It’s been a long time coming, around a year and a half in the making. Now I have room to start working on the next thing.
The title is something that automatically grabs the eye. Could you explain the meaning behind it?
‘Machona’ is a word from my tribe, the Tumbuka people in Malawi. It refers to the people who left to get resources to send home but never came back. I felt like it was pretty significant because my dad came out here alone, and as far as I know, I haven’t come across many Tumbucka people in this city or country at all. I was ruminating on that, and trying to get in touch with that part of my heritage during lockdown. There’s not a lot of information about Tumbucka people, and a lot of it comes from oral tradition. I feel like what I’m doing is sort of a continuation of that idea, where I’m documenting what it’s like out here. The second part of the title ‘Afar, You Are an Animal’ is another Tumbucka phrase that I switched to suit my needs. It refers to the idea that when you’re around family and people, that’s when you’re human, but when you’re out there alone, that’s when you enter a survival-mode animal state. It’s not a set statement, but an exploration of those themes and feeling like you’re out here isolated and disconnected.
Referring to the meaning of MACHONA, did you feel like you needed to leave something behind to get to where you are with this project?
I think with life in general, you always have to leave something behind, and it can be really hard to let go of things. I often find myself embracing nostalgia, and looking back to the past with rose-tinted glasses. I think hindsight makes everything look better, but I think you should always look forward. I never want to get too stagnant, especially with people our age, where we do a lot of mental processing and unpacking; the generations before us didn’t understand the language of doing that as much. It’s important to look ahead, and for all of us to do the work on making this world a better place, which I think is happening gradually.
There are parts on the album where you sound content with the disjointedness of life, and the common happenstance of venturing into the unknown. Do you think there’s hope in nihilism?
In a way, I think there is. You have to pass a certain threshold. When I was a bit younger, I was just like “Yeah, I’m depressed, fuck the world, we’re beyond help.” But now I feel like we’re at a point where we can get through it, because yeah, this country shouldn’t exist the way it is now in this weird colony where everyone being here has no relevance to the dystopia this place is. But in saying that, we’re all out here, so we can just work to what feels right and find something wholesome. I think art is one of the best ways to do that. There’s a universal quality to the disjointedness, and not being able to relate to that shit. So if you go in and just make the weirdest shit you can, it makes everyone feel normal. We’re all freaks in a way.
I read that you recorded this album during lockdown, without any internet. How did disconnecting help you reconnect with yourself?
It was really cool. It forced me to think about every element of my life, and heritage became a huge part of that. I think the disjointedness of where we are now is permeating through everything, where I don’t really feel like I have any ties to Australia; it’s kind of just a random place. That being said, it’s home, and it’s where all of this is happening. So being boxed in an apartment, overlooking the city, and being alone with my thoughts was a cool place to be making music. It helped me get in touch with aspects of music I hadn’t explored before, and that resulted in new sounds. It was a cathartic process.
The album thrives in a dark, eerie atmosphere. Do you think your lockdown surroundings played a part in the sounds you explore?
I think so. I feel like the city is a big influence, because it’s a gloomy place, but also comfortable at the same time. It’s a strange duality, where everyone is struggling mentally, but the concrete and rain can be inspiring. I feel like that, alongside the sounds of death and black metal, are things I embraced through the period of creating the project.
Is there a specific song you remember creating on this album that made it easy for you to express yourself?
A good example is ‘one layer’, which was one of the first tracks I made for the project, and it was just a loop. It allowed me to just say what I needed to say, without anything else needing to be added. Another track that came together similarly was ‘mournful faint humming’ with Sevy. He came over, and we were just listening to a record that we ended up sampling. He jumped on the flip in a way that resonated with me so much that I started writing to the template he started with. It all happened within an hour or so.
Other moments on the album like ‘esuna’ find you elevating above a bad time of your life, through themes of love. How did you get to that point?
It’s interesting because I feel that the older you get, the easier it becomes to be yourself. You get to know your brain and the environments around you. Life does get harder, but you know how to handle the situations, and make sure you don’t have too much on your plate. Back when I was younger, I was trying to be more conscious. I would look at the odds, and if there was too much stacked against me, I’d tap out. Now, I just say “fuck it”, because I’m going to still be alive anyway. So, you might as well just keep trying to be yourself in life.
You mentioned before that the Tumbucka culture is not something necessarily upheld in books or written history. Do you think that applies more pressure on yourself to carry on the lineage of that heritage?
I do. It may not be a pressure that’s actually there, but I want to do it properly. If I were to speak from the perspective of a community that has more representation out here, I think it would be easier, because you have more people to discuss it with. But with a small community, you have to make sure everything is correct because you want people to know who we are.
With Australia being such a multicultural place, I could only imagine there are many others out there that feel like you, in the sense of being disconnected from the idea of what this country is. With that in mind, do you think the labelling term ‘Aussie Hip-Hop’ should be abolished?
For sure. That term felt like a dirty word for a long time. I used to say that I was a producer who did spoken word, because the connotation of rapping in Australia felt like it didn’t represent people making music, for the purpose of music. I think the industry has a big presence in Australian music, and that can be a good thing because more people are getting put on, but it’s a small place with only so many opportunities, and I think you need a narrative that people understand to get these opportunities. I’ve never wanted to compromise or fit in a box, instead of being 100% myself and representing those who feel alienated. Sometimes when you’re making music, you won’t even know what genre it falls into. I think if you make stuff that sounds and feels like you, I think it genuinely helps other people.
Lastly, what do you want to do with the rest of the year?
There are a lot of projects in the works. I have a project with Realname coming. I’ve finished the instrumentals for my next solo album. We’ve got a Too Birds release on its way. I’m in the home stretch of a project with Kuya Neil. I’ve got a black metal project I’m creating with my friend Rama. There’s a lot more, and lots to be done!
Follow Teether here for more and stream the new album MACHONA below.