Soul can be found in the darndest places. It’s not just music that you can find in America or in urban centers. Sure, it’s one of our specialties and certainly one of Philadelphia’s greatest exports, but Melbourne, Australia’s got soul, too, and, it seems—like a Portland, OR or an Austin, TX—it’s a music-maker’s utopia in which to grow and collaborate. Hiatus Kaiyote is one of Melbourne’s biggest success stories in recent memory, and their unique take on funk, soul, R&B and jazz is finding its way to the states. Slowly but surely, with the help of some significant co-signers, HK has been making its way to our ears and clubs this summer.
The four-piece crew is a functional blend of innate talent and trained cognition. For instance, Nai Palm, the band’s primary songwriter, lead singer and frontwoman, is relatively fresh. She’s not trained in a formal capacity, but obviously it doesn’t matter because she’s got the goods. Her deep, rich soulful voice is definitely a primary driving force for their debut Tawk Tomahawk. But her keyboard and synths man, Simon Mavin—who, in a moving van crossing through rural Pennsylvania, paused his episode of The Sopranos just long enough to speak to PW—is a veteran of the Melbourne scene and long-steeped in jazz. Luckily, they all tend to come to this project with similar bents and an affinity for hip-hop and soul. But there was never a pow-wow in which they decided that they wanted to make a certain kind of music.
“We never sat down at the beginning of this project and said ‘We’re gonna be a soul band,’” Mavin explains. “We started playing music, and it’s got a real creative limit if you have to stick to a genre.”
Hiatus Kaiyote members had to ask themselves, What can I add to this that’s really fresh? Or how can we do this differently rather than trying to do something within a genre? Sometimes it seems that every band in 2013 is trying to defy genre classifications or make it appear that they’ve created their masterwork in a void of specific genre influences. Well, that’s pretty much impossible. But an earnest attempt at blending genres or paying no mind to commercial success within a Billboard subsect sometimes does yield amazing results. And Hiatus Kaiyote is starting to see the fruits of their labor.
Two weeks ago, they were a musical guest on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, a pretty big deal to most bands growing up with American late night television. “We didn’t even really realize how big of a deal it was,” confesses Mavin, “until we did it.” Nonetheless, Palm looked like Tank Girl, standing up front strumming her guitar with goggles perched atop her head, giant hoop earrings and bold-striped tights. They performed “Nakamarra,” the hot single from their debut, which starts out like a quiet jazz groove before it picks up steam, propelled by Palm’s distinctive vocal. When it hits full stride, it fits right alongside the Roots, Soulive, Raphael Saadiq, D’Angelo, Maxwell, Jose James and one of Palm’s heroes, Erykah Badu.
Ms. Badu and Mr. Ahmir "?uestlove" Thompson have both given the band their stamp of approval and have invited HK to share the stage with them at a few show dates along this, their second, whirlwind American tour (their first was to SXSW this spring). On a rerelease of Talk Tomahawk after being signed to Flying Buddha by Salaam Remi, Remi hooked up the band with Q-Tip. And at the end of the record, you can hear Q-Tip rhyme his beautiful, buttery soft flow over Mavin’s cool keys, Paul Bender’s jazz bass and Perrin Moss’ more-than-capable percussion. All in HK are huge hip-hop heads, something that wouldn’t surprise anyone who’s spent time in Australia, a country that’s pretty young and loves its hip-hop.
“Everyone in the band has a certain soul and R&B history. Perrin has a massive hip-hop influence, and me too,” says Mavin. “I’ve played in a bunch of different bands and one of Australia’s big soul bands.” They’ve even got an ambassador/fan/collaborator in American jazz and R&B pianist—and friend to Philadelphia—Robert Glasper. “We’ve done a few gigs with him, and he came and watched us play at a club in Melbourne about a year and half ago.” Sounds like they’re making all the right friends. And all the right moves.
Sat., Aug. 10, 8pm. $15. The Balcony at the Trocodero, 1003 Arch St. 215.922.6888. thetroc.com