Chatting to Nai Palm from Hiatus Kaiyote

– by Lyndon Kidman

Colosoul recently conversed with Nai Palm, singer and chief songwriter of Melbourne based neo-soul/R&B group Hiatus Kaiyote. These guys have been taking their lush tones and meditated beats all over the world, and now they’re headed to Perth as part of the Sonic Architects National Conference. Read on for a deeper look in to this inspiration behind the phenomenon that is Hiatus Kaiyote.

Could you tell us a little bit about your musical journey? How long have you been doing music for and how did the Hiatus Kaiyote project come about? I’ve always explored music, I probably started writing when I was about thirteen, but my mum was a contemporary choreographer and a painter so she always had a lot of classical music playing around the house and I grew up just singing along to a lot of different stuff. So I started writing songs when I was about thirteen on the acoustic guitar and piano, and then when I was doing a couple of solo shows in Melbourne later my bass player saw me play and helped me get a band together and I met my musical soul mates, and we’ve been making music together for three or four years now.

How do you guys approach music making as a group? Do you tend to jam and give birth to ideas that way or focus on more intentional compositions? They’re pretty specific compositions, and then we arrange it, but the arrangement is sort of about jamming ideas out and seeing what best fits it. It’s like we’ll get the basic thing down and then everyone kind of comes up with their parts. Like we’ll work on one idea for like a whole afternoon you know, very tedious but very specific. The whole idea is to just showcase everybodies ideas. It’s more about just deciding where and what to showcase without it being overbearing.

So what does everyone else play, what are the musical backgrounds of your bandmates? Our keys player has been playing since age three, he’s classically trained and has done jazz courses and played in Latin bands and stuff. We have a bassist that also does production, he goes deep down the pedal wormhole, he’s a bit of a wizard. And then there’s our drummer, he’s self-taught and also does production. He’s a very interesting drummer, he challenges himself constantly. He’ll play a lot of polyrhythms and try different things.

That sounds like a very talented and very inspired lineup. How would you describe the sound, broadly? I don’t know, it’s hard to describe. There’s no specific genre, I mean it’s in the soul/R&B kinda vein, but then at the same time it’s very cinematic, kinda Studio Ghibli film score meets D’Angelo or something.

What kind of visual aesthetic would you say best matches up to the atmosphere? There’s a French visual artist called Mobius, if you check out what he does it’s sort of like that. I guess it’s sort of like a surreal landscape, kind of like something in anime or film. But the whole thing we’re trying to do musically is to create different sonic habitats from song to song so they’re all different in that way, but yeah, they’re generally a groovy surreal landscape.

And how do you hope that people will recieve this music? What’s your intention as far as sending something out to an audience? I think the goal of music is to enhance the emotional state, whatever that may be. So I guess it’s to make people’s lives more vivid in the sense that’s it’s not just to cheer people up, it’s for them to go deep in whatever emotional experience they’re going through. You know like listening to Radiohead in the bath versus riding your bike in the sun listening to Curtis Mayfield. Those experiences would be less beautiful without that sonic contribution, so if I can play a role in that in peoples lives and create sanctuaries for people, then that’s what it’s about.

Yeah cool, it’s definitely a noble goal to want to give people something honest to immerse themselves with and enrich their experiences, especially in an age saturated with short term highs and formulaic kind of profit driven media. But anyway, you’re touring Australia so tell us about that, I mean you’ve been playing around the world but is this the first real Australian tour? Yeah, we’ve played over in Perth before and Brisbane and different places all over, but they’ve all just been spot gigs, so this is the first time we’re embarking on a full tour, and we’ve got our friends Remi, Kirkis, Silent Jay and Jace XL coming along with us who are like family so it’s gonna be a lot of fun.

Is there anywhere you’re particularly looking forward to visiting? We’ve never played in Tasmania but I’d really like to play down there, our bassist is from there so it’s gotta happen eventually. Apparently there’s monkeys in Launceston, I wanna see them.

You could play a gig to just monkeys? It’s funny you mention that actually because I’ve always liked singing to animals. They’re actually very empathic. I have a parrot with me at the moment, his name’s Charlie, and he’ll come and sit on my shoulder when I’m singing or sit on the boombox when it’s going and start talking.

You have to wonder how they hear it and how they interpret it. During my travels I’ve found myself singing to different kinds of exotic animals and I find singing to them seems to calm them down, like they get the impression you’re non-agressive or something.

I suppose to them you’d be sort of like this placid, ambiguous creature emitting somehow soothing tones. That’s a big part of my musical philosophy actually, just sending out that intention with what you’re doing.

Catch the full intention of Hiatus Kaiyote when they appear in Perth; details are on their website.

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