Hiatus Kaiyote are Australian four-piece Nai Palm (vocals/guitar), Paul Bender (bass/electronics), Perrin Moss (drums), and Simon Mavin (keys). I sat down with Nai and Simon before their recent show at the Trocadero Theatre in Philly. We talked defying genre, surreal moments, and what’s next for the band.
I’ve seen your music described as future soul, is that an apt descriptor? How would you describe your music if you were describing it to a friend?
Nai: Eclectic and contemporary. Sometimes genre has a purpose if people are trying to be something specific but we’re not. Everybody likes to make sense of things by categorizing it. Future soul is a just a little label that got stuck on our music. I feel there are so many influences in our music that we’re actually trying to defy genre by incorporating many different ideas.
Simon: There was never a concept when this band was started. It was just playing off each other, hearing what we were all doing, and then having each member make a deep creative contribution. There was no set backbone to the band; we could do whatever we wanted. No one in the band was saying, “You can’t do that.” They were saying, “That sounds dope, keep doing that.”
Tell me more about your creative process. How do you work together as artists?
Nai: There’s no specific process, really. I’ll write lyrics to an entire song, Simon will come up with a keys part and we’ll just go from there. Or Perrin will come up with some production and we’ll all stay up until four in the morning adding random sounds that could work with it. There is no formula. There is no genre. It’s just exploration. Each song is its own habitat and we don’t try to force it in a specific way just because it might have worked in the past. We just try to explore and push our creative boundaries. In that sense, it’s boundless. We’re still working it out and we’ll probably continue to still be working it out ten years from now.
You formed Hiatus Kaiyote in 2011. How did you all meet?
Simon: Nai and I met at our first rehearsal, which is pretty crazy.
Who was responsible for bringing everyone in the same room?
Simon: Nai and Bender, I guess, kind of.
Nai: It came together kind of like a tapestry; we had all the strings tied together in some way or another. Bender started writing out the core charts to my songs. The band is made up of 50% theory, going through the academic side of things and 50% having no idea what you’re doing technically but going with it intuitively. So there’s this really beautiful push and pull between intuition and having the heads to really understand what you’re doing. Bender kind of made it possible for me as an artist to work with other artists.
I met Bender and Perrin separately and was going to work with them as producers. Simon was living in the house where I first started rehearsing with Bender. And Perrin was also living in that house but he and Simon never really got to hang out because they were musicians doing different gigs. So it was like all these strings were attached to one another and then there was this moment where everything was drawn together and you could see the image clearly. It was less of a leader saying, “And you will be on the team and you will be on team.” It was like anything in life, really; when the time is right and the intention is right, it will come together naturally. It was crazy because even from the first time we started playing together, we had chemistry. It was like “wow, let’s dive deeper into that.”
Instant chemistry. That’s fantastic.
Simon: It was crazy. I’ve been a session musician for ten years, maybe a bit longer. I’ve played with lots and lots of bands. This was the first rehearsal that I walked out of and said to myself, “Holy shit! That was really special and different.”
Nai: Because it’s not our way to say, here’s your part, you have to do this. It’s like here’s a song, what are you going to do with it? How can you make it more beautiful? How can you connect to the emotional energy of it? And that’s what we do when any member brings an idea. We ask, what can we all contribute to the song that makes us emotionally invested in the project but also is exciting and challenging for us.