In Conversation With: Tali

 

Photography: Dalong Ye – Lee

 

With all eyes currently fixated on the New Zealand drum & bass scene, it would be downright criminal not to check in with Tali right about now. Alongside the likes of Concord Dawn and Shapeshifter, Tali was one of the earliest Kiwi acts to break through internationally when she stormed the scene in the early 2000s – rolling with the Full Cycle crew and dropping a full album within two years of joining the likes of Roni, Krust, Die and Suv.

Now over 15 years old, for an MC artist album, Lyric On My Lip was well ahead of its time and for a female MC album, it was simply unheard of. But for a female MC who wasn’t even from the UK where the scene was still very much burgeoning and barely 10 years old? It was genuinely ground-breaking, and established Tali as true creative songwriting force both within drum & bass and beyond.

And now, thanks to some sudden time off road due to lockdown last year, Tali’s finally found the time to tell the story of the album with this documentary…

Back to the future and Tali’s mission never ends. After years of touring, in 2018 she followed up her 2011 AudioPorn album with Love & Migration, which won her Best Electronic Artist at the New Zealand Music Awards. She also has a live D&B band, tours and performs with leading New Zealand house DJ Aroha, and is the go-to MC of choice for New Zealand’s D&B legends The Upbeats. She also MCs for her husband Chiccoreli, (of The Liquid Lowdown), she produces her own beats, mentors young artists, manages exciting new singer Elipsa, and is also a published fiction author.

Fresh from a summer of touring in one of the only countries holding down a true D&B scene right now, we caught a rare moment of Tali downtime.

I think I’m right in saying you definitely make the most of your time, don’t you?

Yeah, 100%! I just like being busy and productive. If you have the skills to do something then you should. I like to do stuff for myself and also other people. I’ve been mentoring and teaching for a few years now and just started managing, because if I’ve got this knowledge and these experiences then I feel I should be helping other people with them.

Amen!

I believe in leaving a legacy, be that a book, some art, some music, passing on skills to other people. I think I get this busyness and productivity from my parents. They’re both go-getters. My Mother is an artist, my Dad was a farmer and now property investor. They’re very social and very busy and they’re a real inspiration.

Awesome. Let’s talk about the documentary. Did you know you were going to do something to mark the anniversary of the release? Were you saving that footage for this reason?

Well you’re taking that footage to remember a moment or capture something you know is special.. I actually had a lot more content but it didn’t fit into the story of the documentary. I guess when you take that type of footage it’s a bit like writing a diary, in that you’re thinking in the back of your mind that maybe one day someone will read it. So maybe I wondered if I’d do something cool with it in the future, but I had just never got around to it.

But when the album turned 15, and I got the masters back, it was a chance to look back. I was going to make a little montage video, but a lot of people suggested that I tell my story. There are a lot of younger people coming through who don’t realise how long I’ve been doing this. Or think I’ve only been here for five years or something. So I thought ‘Why not?’ There’s all kinds of narcissism related to telling your story, so I got other people involved to tell it with me.

It’s an important story to tell! Even to people who know how you came into the game will be surprised at how much of a hurricane it was. Having Roni Size put you on the spot like that must have been such an intense moment!

Massively. And yeah a lot of people didn’t know the whole story. When I broke through there was a lot of animosity and accusations at how I got there, or that I didn’t deserve to be there. My hustle was very real. Being a female, being an immigrant, I had to prove my worth and why I was there. When Dynamite called me ‘The First Lady of Full Cycle’ a lot of people thought I’d given myself that title. But if they’d taken the time and spoken to me, and asked me what I actually did or how things happened, then they’d understand me a lot more.

I think it was incredibly hard for any female to break through in the genre at the time!

Totally. And don’t get it twisted, it still is now. But yes, I felt I had to prove I wasn’t just a novelty or a flash in the pan artist. I was determined to show I had the talent and had the goods to go with it. Maybe I was bit feisty and over-confident back then. You have a certain sense of bravado when you’re that age. As you get older you become more chilled on that ‘I don’t give a fuck’ vibe. But I had to have that back then. If I showed any sensitivity or fragility then people will have used that against me. There were times when that did happen. I learnt very quickly from that and showed I wouldn’t suffer fools gladly. I’m more forgiving and understanding of people’s perception of me now. But I’ll still punch in you in the throat if you step to me!

Hahah!!

With my words of course! hahaha!

I really like what getting older does with that bravado you mentioned. I don’t think you lose it, I think it turns into experience and makes you understand more about the world. I wasn’t banking on that happening as I came out of my 20s. You don’t have to prove yourself.

Yes! I love it. You feel you don’t owe anyone anymore. I’ve done my tour of duty, I don’t have to go into battle. That said, some people here have said things like I’m aggressive, or I’m shameless with my self-promotion. But I don’t have a manager or a label or an agent, so if I don’t represent myself then who will? I’m not cheesy or a sell out but I’ll still try to market my brand! I still have to be quite feisty and passionate to make sure people don’t fuck me around and I get my point across. The scene isn’t all flowers and roses. Even now as an MC I have to get into arguments about where my name is placed on the flyer, for example.

That’s a huge discussion that’s been going on for years and needs to be rectified…

Totally. Especially if the DJ has specifically requested that MC. That means the DJ is acknowledging their set will be better with that MC so in my opinion they come as a pair on the bill. There should be no hierarchy on the line-up in that case. And that’s before we even consider how much we’re being paid compared to the DJ. That’s what I still have to fight for. I’m not just an MC, I’m an actual artist, I’ve got fresh tunes out, I’ve got a live D&B band. Why do I still have to fight with promoters about that? This is a topic very close to my heart as you can tell!

Of course! Tell me about the live band!

Initially with my album Love & Migration, we were touring to support the album. It was just myself, a drummer, guitarist and keys player but we’ve been invited to play Splore Festival which is one of the most beautiful festivals I’ve been to in the world. It’s on a beach, people are dancing the sea, everyone is in costume. I’m playing main stage this year so I wanted to make it special; so we’re adding a string quartet, which has been really interesting to write the parts for, and we’re playing some of the older tracks to celebrate the anniversary of the album. We’ve got two backing singers and another keyboardist with three keyboards doing samples and bass.. it’s pretty epic.

Oh wow this can’t be just for a one-off?

The dream would be to tour that but who knows? It feels like it’s going to be really special so I hope we pull it off!

New Zealand is really special full stop right now! You’ve been on a pretty heavy tour the last few weeks, right?

Yeah it’s been crazy. A few days rest over Christmas and then it’s been nonstop ever since.. I had a run of nine shows in seven days! It’s been exciting and amazing, I’ve been playing with The Upbeats, a few sets with Chiccoreli, whose my husband. He does a night called the Liquid Lowdown and reps the soulful side of things while most the scene is about the bangers. I’ve also been doing some house sets with Aroha. She’s one of New Zealand’s most respected house and techno DJs and I sing over her set and a bit of MCing.

Singing over techno? Now that makes techno sound more interesting!

I love dark techno! I always joke that my favourite type of techno sounds like a rubbish bin being smacked by a metal bar.

Ha! You’d never tell that though from your music. We all need our dark and light though don’t we?

Yeah 100%, my dark is definitely industrial techno! But we keep things vibey with a lot of feel-good tunes too. I’m really blessed to be able to have that range of styles to work with. One minute I’m MCing for really heavy drum & bass The Upbeats-style, the next I’m on a house thing, the next I’m playing alongside Artificial Intelligence at a liquid night. I’m loving it.

Full variety. So I wonder about this rivalry between NZ and UK. It’s been bubbling for a long time but now it’s gone overdrive. But does that exist between territories in house and techno?

I’m not sure! I’m only dipping my toe in the house world right now. Aroha would be much more qualified to say about that. It’s interesting you say about the rivalry. I lived in the UK for 10 years and love both countries and I never felt that. Unless you mean online.

Oh totally online. Facebook ‘banter’ basically. Camaraderie!

Ahhh okay, I haven’t seen that so I’m clearly spending enough time off socials, which is good. But I will say that we do have a magical scene here in New Zealand! The whole scene, not just drum & bass. We have some amazing talents here and I will always appreciate and love the way people are proud of their country’s culture. This country breeds a very positive attitude and a lot of go-getters. You speak to a DJ over here and they probably do three other jobs as well.

Like being a mentor, a manager, a singer, a songwriter, a performer, an MC and a published author! Tell me about your book Little White House

I was really inspired by Dynamite actually. He wrote a children’s book The Bird & The Elephant and I knew I always wanted to write a book myself. I based the length and vibe of it on The Great Gatsby. It’s not very long but it says what it needs to say in a short time. So that was a big inspiration and the idea itself goes back to conversation I’d have with my Mum while driving to singing lessons. We’d always discuss story ideas. Then one time, my parents came over here to stay and mum suggested I wrote about this little white house which was on a piece of land in the middle of nowhere on the farm I used to live on. It was a workers cottage so it’s a very transient home. Years ago you’d have workers or share milkers living there. Then later on it would get rented it out to different people –  families, a goat herder etc. Mum suggested the house. At first I thought it was boring subject, but as I always anthropomorphise things, I thought the house could be the one telling the story. I think even inanimate things have spirit and energy and personality.

Houses definitely do!

Yeah! You pick up on vibes which the previous people have left there don’t you? So that’s the story. The house tells the story of it’s life. It’s a living, breathing entity that develops consciousness over time. It learns about the world around it. But as time passes the house becomes old. It’s kinda sad. I was crying by the end of it. It was channelling through me, and I was typing away and crying and kinda couldn’t believe how it was ending. It’s about life, death, transience and permanence.

I need to read it. What’s more, during that year you also wrote your biggest album!

Yeah it was an intense year! I do set myself projects at the start of every year. Last year it was the documentary, making more drum & bass myself as a producer and starting to manage artists. The year before that I’d decided I wanted to tour the US and do two tours of the UK. And the year before that was that I wanted to write a book and an album. And to be honest the album pretty much wrote itself too. Fokuz got fully behind the album and linked me up with so many incredible producers they gave me this beautiful list of artists who I chose to work with. People were sending me these incredible tunes and it was so much fun. I knew what I wanted it to sound like, how it took you on a journey and who was on it. I couldn’t have done that without Marco’s backing. There’s a tune with Degs, with DRS, some of my favourite people, which was amazing. I’m very proud of that whole process.

Can you tell us what your ambitions are for 2021 then?

I’ve got things in mind. It’s important to have an idea of what you potentially want to fill in a year. But plans change, the world changes. I used to be crazy rushing to get everything done as soon as possible and as much as possible but I’m taking my time a bit more now, my mindset has changed a bit. That said, I want to continue working with my live band, I want to explore my own productions a lot more and actually release some of them. I say this tentatively as people know me as a singer and MC and not a producer, but that’s a big thing for me. And also to keep managing Elipsa and making sure I’m able to pass on what I’ve been blessed to experience to someone else. I’m sure there’s more but that will be fine for now. My motto for 2021 is ‘let’s see!’

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Author: Dave Jenkins