Mara TK on The 11th Sky and developing Electric Wire Hustle’s sound

In just over two weeks, Electric Wire Hustle will be back in Australia for an exclusive album launch show in Sydney for their new record, The 11th Sky. It’s been described as ‘David Lynch meets Motown’ and off the first playback of the record, it was pretty evident that soul had been poured, well and truly, into Album Number Three.

If The 11th Sky is serving as your entry point the Electric Wire Hustle universe, then welcome. What precedes this album are two records of evocative and texture-rich music fusing electronic with organic instrumentation, all the while bringing funk and influences into the mix that would run perfectly alongside the likes of The Soulquarians, Common or early D’Angelo. The territory the New Zealand outfit are treading with The 11th Sky retains the hallmarks of the EWH many have already fallen in love with, while illuminating the fresh direction frontman and producer Mara TK found himself heading in during the album’s creation.

Of the upcoming album launch show this month, Mara is excited – the gig will be the first on Australian soil with a brand new live show, new band member and an AV show he’s been putting together to accompany especially.

“We’ve got a new keyboardist who is a brilliant Samoan guy from Christchurch, who I grew up with.” he explains. “It was nice to go and ask an old friend who I’ve respected for so long, to be like, ‘Man finally I can ask you to join this group!’ We’ve been getting our BV’s together and he’s been getting more comfortable with the group; by the time we hit Sydney and Melbourne, we should be sounding pretty good. We’ve had our first shows and they were like skin of the teeth type shows, so by the time we get out there, we’re going to be comfortable.”

Photo: Alex Fradkin
Photo: Alex Fradkin

Performing to loved ones in NZ back when The 11th Sky was edging towards release back at the end of September was more of a nerve-inducing experience than you’d think. Mara laughs, explaining how the shows came together and how certain elements are still coming together.

“At our album release show here in our hometown,” he remembers. “My friends and family were there and I was really trying to impress them; they’re not going to be impressed if the lighting’s a little bit shit! I was trying to come through with it all on the Friday night and try to get my visual/AV projection game together.”

“I’ve got a lot of hats on at the moment, so I was trying to edit together our back catalogue of music videos for the AV and I was like, ‘Oh man – I’m doing too much!’. All I need to do is sew my own costume and I’ll be a one stop shop. They inform each other; if you’re doing the accounts, you can plan ahead to figure our what you need if you do really want a good lighting person or whatever. That, or if you’re going to be spray painting your own cellophane.”

Delving into the sounds we can hear come through so strongly on Electric Wire Hustle’s recent compositions, Mara reveals the sorts of artists he was being influenced by during the writing and recording process.

“You look at people like Al Green,” he says. “There’s something, because he is so relaxed and natural, that allows so much of his nuance to come through in the music. I love powerhouse singers who scream it out but it does serve nuance when it’s a bit of a more intimate style too. He’s the best example, him and Curtis [Mayfield] and Marvin [Gaye] are always rotating at the top of my mountain. I’ll be obsessed with Curtis’ records for three months and then Al Green will be at the top again and I’m like, ‘I’m sorry I doubted you!’ – Al Green was definitely at the top of the mountain for this record.”

Making The 11th Sky wasn’t a process without its lessons either; as the vocalist and producer explains, there were moments where some songs led to some change ups in his own approach.

“There were a few songs where I was quite confused as to whether they were any good or not,” he admits. “Like “Golden Ladder”, which is the third song on the album – I didn’t actually make the beat, that was Tay’s. He made it about two years ago and I just couldn’t get with it because at the time, it just sounded confused and like a soundtrack to a future Game of Thrones or something. That was the way I first felt about that beat and so I didn’t touch it until recently, but when I can back to it I realised how dope it was. I think Tay was just way ahead of me on that one! It took me a while to figure out that it was actually cool and in an interesting way, putting a vocal on top of that beat made it simpler, which is quite strange.”

“It gave people something to hold on to; there was so much going on in the song and it just needed a clear, strong vocal that people could focus on. That taught me a few different lessons, that song. I think that through the songs themselves and the processes behind making them, I’ve just learned so much making this record. Creatively, it’s the first album where I’ve been happy with the vocal takes; if you listen to them compared to the last two records, I’m just a lot more relaxed on this one and I feel like I have enough vocal technique to not have to push so hard.”

So with things falling into place better than expected on The 11th Sky, how can we expect the new Electric Wire Hustle shows to be coming together? Levelled up, Mara offers.

“I’ve decided to go all in with this live show to see how much of the electronic stuff we can translate live,” he says. “It’s super tempting to put everything on a sampler and push ‘go’ or push ‘play’. We’re going to do as much of it with the actual synthesisers and drum machines to try and actually play it, so we’ll see!”

Electric Wire Hustle launch The 11th Sky at Venue 505 in Sydney on November 18th, supported by Wallace and DJ’s Dewis and Studdy. Grab your tickets via www.venue505.com.