Almost overnight, Melbourne quartet Hiatus Kaiyote captivated the musical world with their electric cocktail of future-soul, fusing Dilla-styled instrumentals with polyrhythmic grooves and slippery, head-spinning vocal harmonies. As her first venture away from the band, lead vocalist/guitarist Nai Palm’s Needle Paw retreats from the density of Hiatus Kaiyote’s hectic overtones with a collection of lush, stripped back songs that highlight the emotive simplicity of the human voice. After recently being announced on the stacked WOMAD 2018 lineup, we chatted with Nai Palm about her new album, hanging out with Drake, and what’s in store for Hiatus Kaiyote in the new year.
As well as her own compositions and interpretations of Hiatus Kaiyote tracks, Needle Paw sees Nai Palm cover songs by Jimi Hendrix, Radiohead and the late David Bowie, proving testament to the diversity that paints her technicolour sound. “It just kind of happened really naturally,” she says. “The Bowie song I wanted to cover [‘Blackstar’] because his death really rattled me and it’s a really powerful song. For the Hendrix cover [‘Electric Ladyland’] I wanted to crush mainstream assumptions, because he’s often seen as being a big male rock god, but a lot of people overlook his sincerity and the soulful songwriting side of him. ‘Electric Ladyland’ really shows off that side of his work.”
While her breathless vocals play an integral role throughout all her projects, what’s really notable about Needle Paw is the way Nai Palm pairs her voice with the guitar, taking on a completely different role to its background role in Hiatus Kaiyote. “I found a lot more courage with my guitar chops on this record,” Nai Palm says. “There’s never really been much guitar layering on Hiatus’ stuff because it’s already so dense, whereas on Needle Paw I could really go down that rabbit hole and have four different guitar sounds on one song.” Needle Paw has also seen Nai Palm continue to bust typical guitar myths by unexpectedly favouring a Jackson Randy Rhoads signature guitar for the record. “It looks crazy and it’s really easy to play - you can get really cool tones if you want. Again, it’s also like messing with that whole assumption that you can only play that kind of guitar if you’re a metal head.”
With this year seeing Hiatus Kaiyote take a break from recording and touring to focus on individual projects, it’d be weird to consider 2017 to be their biggest year yet. However, being sampled on two of the biggest hip-hop records of 2017 - Drake’s More Life and Kendrick Lamar’s DAMN. - isn’t bad for a group of groove-hungry Melbournians, with Nai Palm in particular getting to hang out with Drake on his recent Boy Meets World Tour stop in Melbourne. “He’s really beautiful, we’ve stayed in contact and send each other a lot of shit we’re writing,” says Nai Palm of her friendship with the Canadian megastar. “It’s refreshing when artists that are so high-profile still have their soul intact and have a good head on their shoulders.”
Despite disagreeing with the sentiment that she reflects the artistic diversity of Melbourne’s music scene, Nai Palm acknowledges her city as being a creative hub that allows people from around the world to connect over mutual artistry. “Of course there’s people from so many different backgrounds, but I also think the size of the music industry here has a pretty big impact,” Nai Palm muses. “Like in New York or LA, you could be a session musician and really make it, whereas here its totally monopolised and pretty fucking limited, and unless you tailor to a triple j audience, it’s hard to be successful. So I think people are just like ‘fuck it’ and make whatever they want to make and as a result there’s a really cool, thriving, original music scene here.”
While Melbourne still enjoys a flourishing cultural scene, the rest of the country isn’t so lucky - even capital cities like Adelaide and Perth tend to miss out on all the big international tours, highlighting the significance of festivals like Adelaide’s vibrant WOMAD, featuring the likes of Thundercat and Kamasi Washington. “Now we’re in the age of the internet, so you can kind of really access anything you want, but not being able to see music in a live context definitely makes a big difference,” says Nai Palm. “I went to WOMAD last year and it was monumentally mind-blowing. It’s definitely an important event in such an isolated city.”
And if you’re hanging out for new music from Hiatus Kaiyote, don’t fret: Nai Palm confirms the band are set to hit the studio for LP three in the new year. “I’ve still got a few more solo shows booked, and the guys are putting out a Swooping Duck mixtape soon, but after that we’re going to get stuck into an album. And then it all starts over again - record it, promote it, tour it, you know - rinse and repeat!”
Nai Palm’s Needle Paw is out now via Sony Music Australia. She is playing at WOMAdelaide 2018 with tickets available at womadelaide.com.au.
(Photo: Lauren Parker)