MC Tali has been a long-serving staple of D&B, famously known for releasing on Roni Size’s Full Cycle Records and Audioporn Records. Her prolific career filled with a multitude of albums, singles and collaborations, has rightfully brought her the nickname ‘New Zealand’s Queen of drum and bass’. She was crowned Best Electronic Artist by the Vodafone New Zealand Music awards following the release of her 2018 album ‘Love & Migration’. Now for the first time, she is releasing self-produced Drum and Bass on her own imprint ‘Reign Recordings’. Between playing shows and composing music for films, Tali sat down with LoveThatBass to talk about her new album ‘Future Dwellers’ – a project which has spanned across ‘three years and several New Zealand lockdowns’.
So firstly, just in general how are we? It looks like you’ve been very busy – touring, playing shows, making music. Overall how is everything going in the Tali camp?
I’ll be honest, everything in the Tali camp is quite full on at the moment! I’ve got a lot of balls in the air at once. Alongside working on the album, I’ve played a bunch of shows recently. I did a three-day tour of Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch alongside The Upbeats, The Prototypes, Sota and Danny Byrd. There was also Mardi Gras with Futurebound and Delta Heavy. As well as this I have been filming all these teasers for the promotion of the album, then mentoring music as well, and just trying to find time to live life!
There’s been a lot of hustling. I can admit I am very bad at delegating, and I am one of those people who likes to be in control. But what has been good while working on this album, is that I’ve learned how to delegate more. I realised this is what I have to do if I want to achieve absolute quality. So yeah, it’s safe to say I’ve been busy, but I’m not complaining!
Before we get into talking about the album, the journey of this project spans over as you put ‘three years and several New Zealand lockdowns’! So how have you found the last few years going through this?
It’s been a mad three years. The first time we went into lockdown it was exciting, as we were all going through it. There was this certain amount of fear to it but there was also this unity, our government was like ‘We’re all in this together, we’re a team of 5 million!’. Obviously things took a turn and it got full on, people became divided, and everything seemed to fall apart in the second lockdown with growing fears and frustrations, more people losing their jobs. Especially as a musician, it was tough. In New Zealand we had a traffic light system, and while much of the country went to amber, we in Auckland stayed in red! It was so disheartening seeing our neighbours going to restaurants and clubs, while we couldn’t.
But overall I am an adaptable person, especially as a musician you get used to rolling with the punches. We always get into crazy situations – when working, touring, or with labels. You have to constantly think on your feet, where you’re presented with a challenge and you have to work around it. I think it does make us quite tenacious people – if not anxious! But in these lockdowns I thought ‘screw it, I’ve got all this studio time, I’m going to make some music’.
I wanted to learn how to fully use Logic – in the past I have tinkered with it, but have never really gone that deep. So I spent hours messing around, looking at YouTube videos, speaking to other people, finding out how to do this and that. It was really just trial and error. Then it got to a point where I was feeling inspired to try and make some drum and bass. I started playing around and thought it was fun, I was enjoying it. Next thing you know I finished making a tune, and so I put it to one side and started making another.
A key moment was when my husband came downstairs into the studio and was like ‘what is this track?’. I told him it was something I made, and he said he thought it was really good.
So that’s what kicked it all off really. Lockdown was an interesting time – on the one hand I was annoyed because I couldn’t play shows, but also I was learning this whole new skill and was really loving it. And three years later I’ve got an album!
Yes, so out of these lockdowns you produced your 8th studio album ‘Future Dwellers’ – could you tell us about this project?
So a little backstory to this project – the other thing you should know about me is that I’m a composer. I’m classically trained, and I’ve started composing music for film and television. I recently got my first film contract to compose for an American documentary. So I know I can actually make music. But when it comes to making drum and bass I was doubting myself and my abilities.
But then I was like ‘why am I so afraid to put this music out there?’. Everyone I played it to in the scene, here and in the UK, gave me a good response! They were all like ‘Tali this is good, you need to put it out’. I think there was this fear that people wouldn’t give me credibility because I’m a singer, an MC, a rapper but I’m not a producer. But I’ve put out albums in the past, and I’m being asked to compose a documentary – it was a bit like – get over yourself Tali!
So this album is to prove to myself that I don’t owe anyone anything and I don’t need to prove anything to them. If I want to make music that I think is good and I want to put out then I should be proud of doing that regardless of what everyone thinks. Also, alongside being a singer and an MC, I would like to be considered as a producer, as much as I’m considered a composer in the film and television world.
Obviously you’ve released music in the past – but this is your first time releasing self- produced drum and bass? How have you found it?
There have been some differences. Obviously it’s different to what I’m used to, being classically trained. I love cinematic musical journeys, with loads of piano. But my husband said to me ‘you’ve got to stop composing drum and bass like it’s a cinema score especially if you want DJs to play it!’. So I did a lot of experimenting with the tracks. Of course I was trying to stick more to formula structure wise, but in terms of creativity – I was going off piste.
Another difference is that in the past a lot of my tracks have had vocals on them, and this time I am making instrumental D&B. Making music that doesn’t have vocals on it is a different kind of challenge. You’ve got to think about how to tell the story, how are you going to set the scene in people’s minds. You’ve got to guide listeners without the aid of lyrics. For the most part lyrics are really straightforward and literal – ‘this is what’s happening in my life at the moment’.
I wanted the listener to think for themselves, so I thought how am I going to allow that to happen with just instrumentals? So I was learning how to use different sound effects and melody lines to tell the story. That was probably the biggest difference between making D&B and other genres.
Listen to Future Dwellers
Then moving away from the music, let’s talk about the artwork. It was designed by your mother?
Yes, my mother painted the cover! The image is of this beautiful, dystopian, hopeful paradise that came to me in a dream. I told this dream to my mother, (who is quite a famous artist in New Zealand) and she ended up painting it. And then my friend Kelly, who is a graphic designer, came in and added the lettering on the top, but designed it in a way to make it look like it was painted on. I mean, I know it is my own album so I’m biassed, but I do really love the cover!
I’m thinking of doing some limited edition vinyl, just because the reaction to the artwork has been so good. It deserves to be a physical copy too. But yes, it’s pretty cool my mum has collaborated on the album!
Why did you choose the name ‘Future Dwellers’?
For one – because we live in New Zealand and we dwell in the future, the UK is behind us right now. New Zealand is the first country to see the sun. Also New Zealand is a very hopeful country, a young country. We are very progressive in the way that we think.
Usually I am somebody who is about living in the present – not looking too much in the past, at nostalgia or regret, and not looking forward too much, in anticipation or hope – But living in the present and accepting the moment for what it is now.
But at the same time, with everything that has happened with Covid.. dwelling in the future is what helped us get through. Did we not say to each other ‘when this is all over’ or ‘when things get back to normal’? Sometimes you do have to live in anticipation, to help get through, thinking we have to get past this and tomorrow is another day.
So for me, Future Dwellers is about as much as we have to be mindful of the present – it’s good to have plans, dreams and aspirations for the future. To think about those things because they get us through the bad times. They give us hope – the light on the horizon.
And Future Dwellers is being released on your imprint Reign Recordings. Can we hear more about this imprint?
Reign Recordings is just an imprint that I started for myself, as when I first came back to New Zealand I was doing a few independent things but I didn’t have a label to release them on. It started off as ‘Tali Music’, but then I was like ‘that’s actually a dumb name, it sounds wack!’. It needs to be something cool!
Then recently I started owning all of my back catalogue, so all of the stuff I did with Full Cycle and Roni Size, and all the stuff I did with Audioporn too, I own all of it now.
A distributor said I should be putting this under my own imprint. I thought ‘Well I’m not putting it under Tali Music! Time for a new name’.
I came up with the name Reign Recordings, as everyone calls me New Zealand’s queen of drum and bass, and it’s like the queen reigns. Maybe that’s a little audacious – but it’s also fabulous!
How does it feel having drum and bass that you have produced yourself being released on your own imprint?
It feels cool, it feels like I have built my own house. Instead of relying on someone else to build my house, I have done it myself, and are now filling it with all the things that I have created – rather than have music out on somebody else’s label making them money. So yeah it feels really cool! And maybe one day in the future, when I’ve got more time on my hands maybe my house can open up to other people, who knows?
Then alongside the album, what else can fans expect from you?
After the album comes out, I’m planning to make a trip to the UK and Europe although that is yet to be confirmed. We’ve got a lot coming up for summer in New Zealand, I’ve got a live band with a string quartet and we play live drum and bass. We’re playing the main stage at Northern Bass for New Year’s Eve – which is very exciting. And of course there are a load of other summer shows and festivals.
Then next year I’m hoping to come back to the UK and Europe and do a more intensive tour, maybe for a month or five weeks.
I also have to get this film score done, and hope from here to move more into composing, and the world of producing!
And what else can fans expect from Reign Recordings?
At this stage I’m not sure. I’d like to get to a point where I can share my house with other people, and explore not just drum and bass but other music that I like. I love techno for example, it’s my second favourite genre of music (the harder the better!) So long term I am thinking that I would like to have other artists on it, but once again it comes down to delegating.
When you can bring in someone to do all the stuff that you are not capable of, then you just don’t have to worry about it. Then you can focus on all the other things, like A&R-ing, finding good artists, writing with them and developing them. So yeah we will just see how that goes – but at the moment the focus is just on Future Dwellers.
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