Ngaiire Finds New Soul In Old Memories

Written By Sam Murphy on 06/15/2016

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Ngaiire has been operating within the Australian music scene for over a decade now. In that time she's developed a strong fanbase with her soulful, roots-leaning sound but she's entering her second album Blastoma with a new following. The album's lead-single Once, released last year, introduced her to a whole new audience thanks to its futuristic, subtle soul that captured the attention of triple j listeners and broader fans all over the internet.

Along with Paul Mac and Jack Grace, she's created the greatest body of work of her career in Blastoma, an album which redesigns the formula of soul music, retaining the heart but updating the soundscape. Sonically, she's looking forward but lyrically, she's digging deep into notions of heartbreak, religion and illness.

We sat down with Ngaiire ahead of the album's release and a national tour to talk through the making of the album, her influences and the live evolving live show.

How long has the album been on lock down for?
We finished it maybe six to eight months ago but we've been working on it for almost two years. It's funny how that happens, it just kind of creeps up on you.

Is it weird to sit with an album for that long? Did you want to go back and tinker with it?
No! It's different with this album because when I first started writing it I was not in the right headspace. I didn't know how to write it. I was so happy to be done writing with it. I'm really happy with it. I'm proud of where it ended up.

Was there something that clicked earlier on in terms of the sound?
I think it was the point that we brought Jack Grace in. Initially, the album was supposed to be produced by Paul Mac. I was writing with Jack at the same time and bringing these tracks that we'd written together into Paul and he was like, "why don't we just bring Jack in?" He kept coming in everyday and then it was like, "Hang on guys, this doesn't make sense, he's basically a co-producer". Paul and Jack come from different schools of thinking in terms of sound and songwriting and bringing Jack in who is kind of left-of-centre, brought what Paul and I were doing to this weird kind of pocket where all three of our influences were there.

Paul and yourself have had a very long relationship musically, was it good to get someone into shake it up?
Definitely. It was quite challenging for me because this is the first body of work that I've worked on with Paul as an adult. I've known him since I was a baby basically and we kind of had to grow a lot in terms of him respecting my opinion and me not just being his little sister. He would say things to me like, "Ngaiire, you can't just walk off stage like that, you need to say thanks to the audience," and I'm like, "I did!". He was my mentor for a while so I had to get to a space where I was comfortable giving my opinons to him and feeling like he would respect my opinions. And he did. That was quite a breakthrough for our relationship and bringing somebody else in like Jack, who is younger than the both of us, into the mix to give opinions about what things should sound like was a challenge in terms of finding that even ground to work from. When it did work it was such an honour to see their relationship blossom.

How important was it to have two people that you could trust especially when you're delving into personal topics?
Incredibly important. I like to work alone a lot of the time so bringing Paul and Jack into the mix was quite a learning experience for me being able to trust people's creative opinions. Once, wouldn't have gone out if I had anything to do with it. I would've been like, "nope". Something like House On A Rock would've come out first. But I'm glad I trusted Jack and Paul to do it first and then House On A Rock later. It worked out really well.

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That's interesting because Once is a subtle song whereas House On A Rock is melodically quite immediate. Was it surprising to you that Once did so well straight off the bat?
Definitely. I did not like that song at all when I first wrote it with Megan Washington and Paul. It was the first song I wrote with Paul and my housemate was like, "so, how'd it go?" and I was like, "I'm really hating it". We left it for a few months and came back to it when Megan came in. She did some writing on it and...it's just so weird how these things work. People really took to it.

Looking back on it, can you understand why it did well out of everything?
Yeah, it's a great hooky song. That's very much owed to Megan for her input. She's an incredible hook-writer and an incredible lyricist.

How did collaborating with Megan come about?
That was through Paul. Paul and her have been friends for a while. There was a stage while writing the record where he thought we should invite some other people to come in and write because we had hit a wall. We were just sitting there like two kids that want to play with each other but are too afraid to talk. She whispered to me, "I'm so nervous," and I was like, "What! I'm so nervous, you can't say that to me because I love you". It was a really beautiful mutual situation.

You obviously went in with the intention of writing an album. Did you already have the title Blastoma in mind?
It came later. I wasn't sure what kind of album it was going to be especially after we brought Jack in. Jack and I had just gone through breakups on the same day. In that week we had to start writing the album and so it was quite challenging and not very fun at the start. It's kind of like regurgitating and swallowing at the same time.

Was it unusual revisiting an illness that you had when you were younger and looking back on it with adult eyes?
Yeah. What I really wanted to remind myself of was the nature of being able to feel like you can revisit your past. Most people don't want to because there's secrets in the closet or whatever but it's always good to remember who you are and where you come from. It was really refreshing to revisit that and remind myself.

Who did you work on the cover with? It's a very striking image.
Thank you. I worked with a guy called Dan Segal and he directed the Once video clip. He's directed the next clip for House On A Rock and we've been collaborating quite a lot. He's quite new at it but he's really inspiring to work with.

You've been doing this for a while and you've built a solid fan base but suddenly it's expanded wider and wider. Does this album feel like a victory lap to you like it's all starting to click together?
It does feel like things have shifted. I don't think it's a victory lap yet. I think the type of person that I am I'll always think that's it not enough, which will probably be the end of my destruction (Laughs). There's quite a lot of ground to cover. I definitely feel like we've made a significant dent setting up for the next album after this. There's definitely a new audience and new people listening to the music which is really exciting. I'm noticing younger people at the shows thanks to the triple j influence.

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So you're heading out on tour. Is this one of the biggest tours you've done?
Well, to be honest, the first album tour was bigger than this one although we're in a different space now for this album. In terms of the response and the publicity we've been getting, it's definitely going to be bigger.

Who is coming on tour with you?
We're bringing a drummer on tour now. I did get rid of my drummer and my bass player and it was just me and Jack and two backing vocalists which worked for a while. Then we brought in a guy from Melbourne who plays for Airling. He's incredibly talented, he's like a drummer's drummer and I'm really excited to have that other element to the show.

Do you feel like the show is coming to life well?
Yeah we're working through the album set today and it's really nice having that extra dynamic without just pressing play on beats.

People always ask about the influences that go into an album but what about the live shows? Is there anyone you've watched that's influenced you?
I like St. Vincent's show. It's very choreographed and very thought out but, I mean I come from a background where that's not a thing so I like experiencing that and seeing where you can take a live show and how much you can push it. She's not a dancer or anything but her movements are so interesting and so clever. I love watching Erykah Badu. She's a bit more of an improviser in terms of stage banter but I love that she always does herself and she's that weirdo that everybody love. I love both those women wholeheartedly.

You started out with a roots and soul background. Do you feel like the process to get where you are in terms of sound has been very organic?
I'd always said in the beginning to myself that I wanted things to happen eventually. Be careful what you wish for, but it's what I wished for and I wanted it to happen that way. I think my music is very much attached to me personally. As long as I keep growing as a person the music will continue to grow. I'll always look for people to collaborate with who are interesting and exciting to me. I think the next album is going to be different from this one.

One last thing, there's a temptation to fill the standard 12 tracks on an album but sometimes dipping under that can be powerful. Was that a conscious decision to go with nine?
Yeah. We had more songs but we are in a time where people don't have time to listen to 12 tracks unless it's really good. I'll listening to the new Sufjan Stevens record over and over and over again and I'll listen to Currents by Tame Impala. Only because all those songs on both those records are just individually so great. We thought about it and it was like why can't it be all killer no filler? There's no point. I'm happy with the nine songs. It's not too short or too long.

 

Ngaiire National Tour:
June 17 - Fat Controller, Adelaide
June 18 - Jack Rabbit Slims, Perth
June 23/25 - Northcote Social Club, Melbourne
June 24 - Karova Lounge, Ballarat
July 2 - The Foundry, Brisbane
July 8 - Oxford Art Factory, Sydney
July 9 - Transit Bar, Canberra

Tickets here.

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Ngaiire has been operating within the Australian music scene for over a decade now. In that time she's developed a strong fanbase with her soulful, roots-leaning sound but she's entering her second album Blastoma with a new following. The album's lead-single Once, released last year, introduced her to a whole new audience thanks to its futuristic, subtle soul that captured the attention of triple j listeners and broader fans all over the internet.

Along with Paul Mac and Jack Grace, she's created the greatest body of work of her career in Blastoma, an album which redesigns the formula of soul music, retaining the heart but updating the soundscape. Sonically, she's looking forward but lyrically, she's digging deep into notions of heartbreak, religion and illness.

We sat down with Ngaiire ahead of the album's release and a national tour to talk through the making of the album, her influences and the live evolving live show.

How long has the album been on lock down for?
We finished it maybe six to eight months ago but we've been working on it for almost two years. It's funny how that happens, it just kind of creeps up on you.

Is it weird to sit with an album for that long? Did you want to go back and tinker with it?
No! It's different with this album because when I first started writing it I was not in the right headspace. I didn't know how to write it. I was so happy to be done writing with it. I'm really happy with it. I'm proud of where it ended up.

Was there something that clicked earlier on in terms of the sound?
I think it was the point that we brought Jack Grace in. Initially, the album was supposed to be produced by Paul Mac. I was writing with Jack at the same time and bringing these tracks that we'd written together into Paul and he was like, "why don't we just bring Jack in?" He kept coming in everyday and then it was like, "Hang on guys, this doesn't make sense, he's basically a co-producer". Paul and Jack come from different schools of thinking in terms of sound and songwriting and bringing Jack in who is kind of left-of-centre, brought what Paul and I were doing to this weird kind of pocket where all three of our influences were there.

Paul and yourself have had a very long relationship musically, was it good to get someone into shake it up?
Definitely. It was quite challenging for me because this is the first body of work that I've worked on with Paul as an adult. I've known him since I was a baby basically and we kind of had to grow a lot in terms of him respecting my opinion and me not just being his little sister. He would say things to me like, "Ngaiire, you can't just walk off stage like that, you need to say thanks to the audience," and I'm like, "I did!". He was my mentor for a while so I had to get to a space where I was comfortable giving my opinons to him and feeling like he would respect my opinions. And he did. That was quite a breakthrough for our relationship and bringing somebody else in like Jack, who is younger than the both of us, into the mix to give opinions about what things should sound like was a challenge in terms of finding that even ground to work from. When it did work it was such an honour to see their relationship blossom.

How important was it to have two people that you could trust especially when you're delving into personal topics?
Incredibly important. I like to work alone a lot of the time so bringing Paul and Jack into the mix was quite a learning experience for me being able to trust people's creative opinions. Once, wouldn't have gone out if I had anything to do with it. I would've been like, "nope". Something like House On A Rock would've come out first. But I'm glad I trusted Jack and Paul to do it first and then House On A Rock later. It worked out really well.

That's interesting because Once is a subtle song whereas House On A Rock is melodically quite immediate. Was it surprising to you that Once did so well straight off the bat?
Definitely. I did not like that song at all when I first wrote it with Megan Washington and Paul. It was the first song I wrote with Paul and my housemate was like, "so, how'd it go?" and I was like, "I'm really hating it". We left it for a few months and came back to it when Megan came in. She did some writing on it and...it's just so weird how these things work. People really took to it.

Looking back on it, can you understand why it did well out of everything?
Yeah, it's a great hooky song. That's very much owed to Megan for her input. She's an incredible hook-writer and an incredible lyricist.

How did collaborating with Megan come about?
That was through Paul. Paul and her have been friends for a while. There was a stage while writing the record where he thought we should invite some other people to come in and write because we had hit a wall. We were just sitting there like two kids that want to play with each other but are too afraid to talk. She whispered to me, "I'm so nervous," and I was like, "What! I'm so nervous, you can't say that to me because I love you". It was a really beautiful mutual situation.

You obviously went in with the intention of writing an album. Did you already have the title Blastoma in mind?
It came later. I wasn't sure what kind of album it was going to be especially after we brought Jack in. Jack and I had just gone through breakups on the same day. In that week we had to start writing the album and so it was quite challenging and not very fun at the start. It's kind of like regurgitating and swallowing at the same time.

Was it unusual revisiting an illness that you had when you were younger and looking back on it with adult eyes?
Yeah. What I really wanted to remind myself of was the nature of being able to feel like you can revisit your past. Most people don't want to because there's secrets in the closet or whatever but it's always good to remember who you are and where you come from. It was really refreshing to revisit that and remind myself.

Who did you work on the cover with? It's a very striking image.
Thank you. I worked with a guy called Dan Segal and he directed the Once video clip. He's directed the next clip for House On A Rock and we've been collaborating quite a lot. He's quite new at it but he's really inspiring to work with.

You've been doing this for a while and you've built a solid fan base but suddenly it's expanded wider and wider. Does this album feel like a victory lap to you like it's all starting to click together?
It does feel like things have shifted. I don't think it's a victory lap yet. I think the type of person that I am I'll always think that's it not enough, which will probably be the end of my destruction (Laughs). There's quite a lot of ground to cover. I definitely feel like we've made a significant dent setting up for the next album after this. There's definitely a new audience and new people listening to the music which is really exciting. I'm noticing younger people at the shows thanks to the triple j influence.

So you're heading out on tour. Is this one of the biggest tours you've done?
Well, to be honest, the first album tour was bigger than this one although we're in a different space now for this album. In terms of the response and the publicity we've been getting, it's definitely going to be bigger.

Who is coming on tour with you?
We're bringing a drummer on tour now. I did get rid of my drummer and my bass player and it was just me and Jack and two backing vocalists which worked for a while. Then we brought in a guy from Melbourne who plays for Airling. He's incredibly talented, he's like a drummer's drummer and I'm really excited to have that other element to the show.

Do you feel like the show is coming to life well?
Yeah we're working through the album set today and it's really nice having that extra dynamic without just pressing play on beats.

People always ask about the influences that go into an album but what about the live shows? Is there anyone you've watched that's influenced you?
I like St. Vincent's show. It's very choreographed and very thought out but, I mean I come from a background where that's not a thing so I like experiencing that and seeing where you can take a live show and how much you can push it. She's not a dancer or anything but her movements are so interesting and so clever. I love watching Erykah Badu. She's a bit more of an improviser in terms of stage banter but I love that she always does herself and she's that weirdo that everybody love. I love both those women wholeheartedly.

You started out with a roots and soul background. Do you feel like the process to get where you are in terms of sound has been very organic?
I'd always said in the beginning to myself that I wanted things to happen eventually. Be careful what you wish for, but it's what I wished for and I wanted it to happen that way. I think my music is very much attached to me personally. As long as I keep growing as a person the music will continue to grow. I'll always look for people to collaborate with who are interesting and exciting to me. I think the next album is going to be different from this one.

One last thing, there's a temptation to fill the standard 12 tracks on an album but sometimes dipping under that can be powerful. Was that a conscious decision to go with nine?
Yeah. We had more songs but we are in a time where people don't have time to listen to 12 tracks unless it's really good. I'll listening to the new Sufjan Stevens record over and over and over again and I'll listen to Currents by Tame Impala. Only because all those songs on both those records are just individually so great. We thought about it and it was like why can't it be all killer no filler? There's no point. I'm happy with the nine songs. It's not too short or too long.

 

Ngaiire National Tour:
June 17 - Fat Controller, Adelaide
June 18 - Jack Rabbit Slims, Perth
June 23/25 - Northcote Social Club, Melbourne
June 24 - Karova Lounge, Ballarat
July 2 - The Foundry, Brisbane
July 8 - Oxford Art Factory, Sydney
July 9 - Transit Bar, Canberra

Tickets here.

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