With Tahuna Breaks’ new album Shadow Light coming out on March 22, Jared Lanigan and James Buckwell Masefield have a chat to them about their lives and music.
Tim and Marty from Tahuna Breaks show up at the bar looking as unlikely musicians as is possible. Dressed in business attire, with suitcases in hand, they step forward to greet us. While shaking hands, we puzzle over the realization that these two, at the forefront of all good funk, roots and dance music in New Zealand, earn their keep in an office, “The real way,” as Tim suggests. But of course, artists, despite what some may think, lead lives away from their art. It’s been awhile since Tahuna Breaks graced our ears with their particular brand of funky art. We asked them about why they came back, what we have to look forward to, and why Marty (singer) is unarguably the best dancer in the group when he’s feeling limber. And why their most popular ever online music video got to be that way – on a porn site.
Welcome back, Tahuna Breaks. You guys took three or four years off since the last album, is that right?
Marty: Yup, probably since ‘09. We recorded Black, Brown and White at the end of ’08 then released it towards the end of ’09, so if you count it as the last time we were in a studio, four years.
Is it very hard to do the day job as well as writing and touring?
Tim: Oh, it takes its toll I suppose. At the end of the working day, you’ve got to go away and practice and come up with new tunes. Probably more so for this fullah [indicates Marty] … he’s got a family and that.
Marty: Yeah it’s just finding the time, fitting everything in. Although I suppose it’d still be challenging to do something creative even if I had all the time in the world. I might be moaning about writers block and whatnot. It is what it is, you just gotta box on!
How did your beginning sound compare with what it is now?
M: Oh, you know, just a different degree of shitness really [laughs]. Na, it’s bigger, and we find it to be more engaging for the audience – as opposed to it being an indulgent instrumental thing. We just wanna get people excited and having a dance.
You are known for your live show and I know that the new album is taking a bit more of an electronic focus.
Does the new sound translate well into your live set? Is it difficult to play live?
T: Oh, it’s had its challenges! I reckon once you’ve conquered how to play the stuff it’s actually a bit easier, at least from a drumming perspective. I think where it becomes difficult is for the sound technician [laughs]. He’s gotta mix it all together and make it sound good. In terms of how it sounds, I don’t have the luxury of being able to watch us.
M: As long as there’s not too much booze [laughs].
What’s the creative process like with so many people?
M: It’s like doing anything within a group environment. It can be long-winded and it can take not much time at all. You just have to try and carry each other’s favour and get everyone on the same page … it’s generally a long process [laughs].
T: You’ve got to be weary of the ‘too many chiefs, not enough Indians’ thing, aye. It sort of helps when you’ve got a couple of people leading it and then they take it so far and then everyone adds in their bits here and there. I don’t think there’s any magic solution to it. Every album’s been different in terms of how they’ve come about, but this one’s been especially challenging because instead of just jamming it out, it’s been more a case of doing it on the computer, getting a feel for where the songs are going and then taking it from there. It’s been a different process for us but, then again, every album has been.
You traditionally wrote and recorded in a storage shed whereas with this album you’ve recorded in hotels and each other’s houses and all sorts. Why was this?
T: Yeah, I think for the last album, Black, Brown and White, we’d literally just rehearse, play live shows, come up with ideas, then jam them and jam them again. We’d get songs to the point where they would be ready then we would get in the studio for probably a week together to play live and record. We’d then come in the next week and add a few more over-dubs and that would be it. Whereas this time round we’ve been using producers overseas, sending files back and forth, developing songs, growing them, and layering them. Because of the electronic nature of it, where we recorded stuff didn’t matter a whole lot. So you could do it in a hotel or in a lounge – it was okay as long as you just nailed everything down nicely.
You have UK house act ‘Crazy P’ on board as producers. With a producing name and a reputation like they have, they were bound to bring some change. Did you have it in mind that you were gonna do more of an electronic thing when you teamed up, or did it just eventuate that way?
T: We made the conscious decision ‘OK, where are we gonna go with the band. Historically we’ve been all over the show: playing all sorts of styles. We thought ‘Let’s focus on what works, what we enjoy playing, and what we get the best feedback from’ and that happened to be more of the dance stuff. We thought if we’re going to do that we’ve got to do it properly and we need some guys on board who are going to help us towards the best that we can do. And because we had a relationship with Crazy-P we thought we may as well ask them and they were keen!
M: They were just the best fit. Like Tim said, when you play live you tend to evolve. You just wanna be an ‘up’ band all the time. You end up reconfiguring your old songs and making them more upbeat. It’s what we enjoy playing and playing live is probably a strength of ours. We just wanted to make everything fit and be more cohesive. Crazy P were a good fit because they’re into that House/Disco kind of mold.
T: They also have a live element so they understand we’re a live band as well. They produce music but have a band component so were empathetic towards what we’re doing. Like Marty said: a good fit.
We’ve got a bit of a pop quiz for you guys. Tim, we’ll start with you: what is your least favourite question to be asked in an interview?
T: Never actually thought about that. You, Marty?
M: All of you ask shit ones! [laughs]
All right, cheers Marty, we’ll stick with Tim’s response. This next one’s for you, though. What has been the most awkward/embarrassing moment in the band?
M: A lot of things can start off awkwardly but finish okay [Tim and Marty crack up knowingly]. I think back to Australia where we played this little shitty little RSA-like venue. We were doing this gruelling tour down the east coast of Aussie and there was this nudie night and we were playing at this place and that was awkward. People were seated at tables and there were kids coming in.Yeah, so that was awkward from the start – everyone’s sort of cocking their heads and looking at us…
Tim, I was gonna ask you your least favourite question to be asked, mate, but you managed to avoid that so I guess you win this round.
T: Yay I finally won something!
Marty, we’ll go back to you: have you ever wanted to punch a fan in the face?
T: Well, I could answer this but it’s Marty’s turn so … [laughs]
M: No. No I’ve never wanted to.
Can we go to Tim, then?
T: You couldn’t call this guy a fan. But how Marty handled the situation was pretty classic. I’m thinking of Waihi years ago. We had a guy at the front of this tavern and he just kept saying ‘play some Rolling Stones’ constantly, over and over, and Marty just softly sings “You can’t always get what you want”. This dude was being really abusive and when Marty sung that he just swore his head off and walked out [laughs].
M: Yeah it felt like giving someone the fingers – in song form.
Tim, have you ever dropped ‘Tahuna Breaks’ into a conversation to pick up a girl?
What a genuine bloke.
T: There is one member of our band who certainly has. What’s his name? [sarcastically to Marty]
M: You want his nickname or his real name? The old nickname ‘Creep’ comes to mind [laughs].
T: There’s probably one of the band who should drop the name a bit more [Marty and Tim crack up, knowingly].
Not naming names?
T: I don’t wanna get quoted for it!
The bonus round is for Marty. It’s a yes or no: are you or are you not an ex-detective?
M: Nah, I’m a current beat detective. I detect beats.
T: You know that plug-in? I’ll record something then the ol’ ‘beat detective’ comes along and just makes sure it’s all in time!
The third album from Tahuna Breaks Shadow Light is out on the March 22. Can you sum up what it is, in a nutshell?
T: It’s a new direction for us. We’re trying to replicate more of the live energy, focusing more on the dance side of things. I guess we’re trying to achieve more of a representation of what we play live and how we play live. It’s a case of keeping ourselves interested and motivated and just keeping things fresh.
M: We’re coming to grips with new technology and embracing that.
You’ve got a couple of slick sounding remixes on the album. Have you done that in the past?
M: Yeah the last album actually had a Crazy-P remix on it. That’s how we sparked up that relationship there. And there’s another remix out there of Giddy-Up by A-skillz. It’s quite cool, I listen more to the remixes now!
Tell us about the video for Giddy Up, did it get banned on YouTube?
Yeah, that was interesting, we chucked it up on YouTube and it got banned so we thought fuck it, let’s just put it on a porn site! Let them try getting it taken off a porn site! And it got 70,000 views in a night.
Our favourite part is Marty’s head bobbing there and winking.
M: Yeah I’m holding a cock at one stage and when I saw it I was like ‘mmm yeah okay’, so maybe I should’ve policed the making of the video a bit more [laughs]. Honestly, I didn’t have a thing to do with it. I just bowled up at the start and they said we’re gonna do something of this kind then we all went our separate ways until we saw the final product.
T: Yeah, James Winkle [band member] took care of the video side of things and also Leah [animator]. She did an amazing job on the video – it was in her hands for 7 or 8 months; it was a big task. Then it was all done. The whole band sat down with our families and we played it and, mate, you should’ve seen the jaws dropping. They then turned on the lights and someone stood up and asked if there were any questions. There was a brief silence before I raised my hand and said ‘How on Earth do you think we’re gonna get this on TV’? And she said ‘No, that’s the brilliance of it’! And I was like ‘ohhh shit’ [laughs].
Who’s the dancer in the group? Cos’ you got that James Brown funk goin’ on. Who’s the one always busting out the funky chicken?
T: Can’t be me mate, I’m on the drums [evasively].
M: Well I’ve been known for a variety of moves. It all depends on what kind of shape I turn up in when we start touring! If I’ve got a few weeks to get up to dance fitness … I had been known to do the odd ‘splits’ a couple years back but the knees will go out on me now bro.
T: And you feel the stage move when he does it too aye like “Ooh better watch those cymbals…”
M: The old knee-drops were good, too. Just whatever you feel in the moment, aye, you can never plan these things [knowledgably]…depends what you’re on. [laughter]
What about touring? Had any crazy experiences on the road?
M: We once hired this massive campervan, piled the entire band into it and toured coastal Australia. Everyone was double bunking up on top of each other and we had all the music gear in with us. It was a bit like Tetris every time you had to find your way to bed [laughs]. But it was good. It was all about the struggle. You often couldn’t find where your shoes were so you’d just find the pair closest to you, take them, then grab someone t-shirt.
Have you ever considered jumping into music with both feet?
T: Personally, I wouldn’t. It doesn’t appeal to me. It’s an interesting game but, for me, it’s always been something that’s a bit of fun to be had with your mates. The thing is that you’re at the mercy of the market: at any point you might fall out of favour and New Zealand’s so small. If I was to turn fully to music and rejected a career, then in five years’ time I could turn up as this washed-out musician and then it’s ‘Well what do I do now?’ So for me personally my career’s been key and this is the fun. The music’s like a bonus: something to look forward to.
M: The image of the classic artist who is penniless and struggling doesn’t appeal to me. I like my comforts! [laughs]. It can be hard enough to live as it is: that’s just the reality of it.
T: It means it gets hard to balance work and play but we’ve made it work for the last seven or eight years!
Does your family make up a lot of your inspiration for song writing? What’s that process like?
M: As far as song writing goes, I just let things come naturally. For a lot of our songs, within the first five minutes of jamming we will have come up with the chorus lyrics and the hook and then it will grow from that as you keep playing it. I could arguably put more thought into it at times but I’ll just let it flow naturally. I suppose with some songs I find myself thinking “Ah how am I gonna phrase this?” but mostly it just flows.
A true musician’s answer.
T: It’s a shame we did this at 12 o’clock and not 4 o’clock! Then there’d be more of these! [indicates beer]. Suppose we’ll get back to earning a dollar … the real way!
Shadow Light takes an electronic, upbeat approach and includes the hit singles Smooth and Moves. They’ll be touring the brand new tunes as well as all of their classics on the dates below. Tickets are available from TicketMaster.co.nz
TAHUNA BREAKS NZ TOUR
Saturday April 13: Wellington, San Francisco Bath House
Friday April 26: Tauranga, Brewers Bar
Saturday May 4: Auckland, Powerstation