Do you remember Paul Mac‘s tune “It’s Not Me, It’s You”? That punchy beat, dance-inciting keys and those soul-drenched vocals that confidently stuck it to the object of the song. I think I first remember hearing it on a So Fresh compilation but I remembered being particularly struck by the female vocalist, her confidence and effortless delivery was infectious. The single was my first introduction to Ngaiire and I’ve been a keen follower of hers in the years since.
Making Sydney her home after moving out to Australia from New Zealand (via PNG), Ngaiire has formed a career for herself as one of the hardest working vocalists in the game. Her debut album Lamentations may have dropped in 2013, but Ngaiire’s been doing her thing for much longer. Her influences and creative networks have proven to be diverse, not only over the course of frequent collaborations with Paul Mac, but also with stints singing with the likes of Blue King Brown, Bluejuice, The Tongue and more.
An experimental flair coupled with a clear and rich vocal quality that has turned the heads of the likes of John Legend and Cody ChesnuTT, not to mention successful showcases in the US and in the UK in the past, has brought Ngaiire well-deserved international buzz but in the last few years, she’s not afraid to admit that it’s not all been easy, nor has the hustle for career exposure and growth eased up any.
“Music is such a rollercoaster,” Ngaiire tells me, a day after receiving her APRA Professional Development Award. “Twelve months ago, I was just so burned out and couldn’t even be fucked releasing anything new or finishing the album. “Once” has really created a good rhythm for us; it feels really good and scary at the same time. When you’ve been doing it for about ten years and then all of a sudden things start happening you’re like, ‘Oh shit!’. You’re just so used to being on the hustle and then it seems like things are starting to align.”
This year alone has seen the momentum surrounding Ngaiire continued to build, and build rapidly. The release of “Once” sparked a whole range of mutterings through the Australian music community; where 2013’s “Dirty Hercules” demonstrated her range and lyrical skill, this first single release from the forthcoming Blastoma album showed Ngaiire’s having built considerably on those foundations laid and then some. The lyrics still weave themselves intricately around this ‘future soul’ sound, but there’s a refined, sharp delivery about the single overall that could make the hairs on the back of your neck stand up if you’d not heard anything from Ngaiire in the past.
The release of “Once” eventually would lead to successful launch shows on the East Coast, BIGSOUND praise and then, only a few months ago, an overseas trip to the US where Ngaiire and her crew would introduce this Blastoma vibe to American crowds for the first time during CMJ. As she explains, the idea of bringing this style of music to a market where soul music, R&B and funk has its roots so deeply set, was chilling.
“It was really nerve-wracking,” she laughs. “It was the most stressful thing I’ve ever done in my career to date! It’s stressful enough travelling overseas, especially to the States with the customs set up they have over there, but then having to take a whole band there who are just as loose as every other musician, it’s extremely stressful. I was quite nervous as to how the Americans would take me and they received it so well. Despite all the logistical stresses, I think everyone was really excited for us to come back. I’m really inspired to keep picking away at that market.”
“It was a nice validation,” Ngaiire says of the reception that she was met with. “A lot of what I’m influenced by comes from African American culture and I was very aware of how African Americans especially would receive me. They completely embraced what I did; I think that as long as you can deliver things with honesty, it doesn’t really matter. It translates.”
On how her live shows will further develop with the release of Blastoma next year, it’s shows like these recent ones that have been beneficial for Ngaiire in terms of conceptualising the best ways to represent some wide-ranging musical influences and fusions in a live setting. Already known for some strong and arresting live shows, Ngaiire is already thinking about what’s coming next.
“It is exciting to be able to do whatever you want on stage,” she admits. “I also find a lot of joy in being able to give the audience what they want and give them a show. I think a lot of the time, in the past, the set up and how we’ve presented the show has just been out of convenience, financially! I would love to have more than seven people on stage with me, but there’s not enough money these days to do that. I’ve been really enjoying playing with just me and my backing vocalists and Jack Grace on keyboards, but we’re working on a show! Hopefully, by the time the album drops, we’ll be able to take it on the road and involve light installations and projections. It’s all a process!”
“When I did backing vocals for Chet Faker the other week,” she remembers. “I first walked into his rehearsal studio and saw the whole set up and how everything was run; he had his sound guy, he had a lighting guy, he had a monitors guy and everyone was at rehearsal and I was like, ‘Wow!’. I’ve never seen an Australian production or an Australian artist be able to be in a position to have that kind of production and tour with it successfully. That was really inspiring, to see where things could end up.”
For now though, Ngaiire eyes up some festival appearances to round out 2015. Home for the holidays, she’ll be taking to the stage for a hometown date in Sydney at The Plot festival in Parramatta this weekend before preparing for a surefire cracker set over New Year’s at the Falls Festival in Lorne. On these upcoming dates, Ngaiire speaks with enthusiasm and excited anticipation – what a way to be winding up a chaotic few months with some festival gigs with excellent artists on the same bill?
“We’ve been trying to play Falls for ages,” she says. “Falls will be exciting, but we’ve also got The Plot at Parramatta here in Sydney and I’m really looking forward to that as well, because I really want to check out Tkay Maidza. I’ve never seen her before and also Sampa The Great. That’ll be cool.”
As we look at the trajectory of her career and creative process since 2013, from the creation of Lamentations through until now, it’s safe to say the Sydney songstress has done well in not getting completely swept away with the chaos. An emotional upheaval and a period of downtime would eventually lead Ngaiire to strike a catalyst that would bring her out and back into the arms of songwriting and musical creativity, one that she addresses openly while eagerly anticipating what is still to come in the New Year.
“My relationship with my partner of five years had just ended,” she reveals, reflecting on the darker times of 2014. “He produced the last album and he was my Music Director, so it was a massive change – it’s shit enough breaking up with someone, but my whole life had basically fallen apart. I had to relearn how to do things just on my own and not with a partner. There were a lot of family issues as well, so everything happened all at once and I’d just come off Glastonbury, so there were such high highs and then such low lows. I couldn’t think about finishing the new album. Life has a way of putting you in places where you’re supposed to be and I’m so glad that I pushed on and I finished the album, I’m really proud of it. I can’t wait for everyone to hear it.”
Ngaiire will be appearing at The Plot Festival in Parramatta on December 5th. Grab your tickets from The Plot‘s website!