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‘I fell in love with Wellington’s vibe of expression.’
Gems in this
For more than two decades, the fluid beats of adored jazz and dub outfit Fat Freddy’s Drop have been the unofficial soundtrack for every café, bar and pub in New Zealand. When traveling the country, you can’t go far without being serenaded by the dulcet tones of frontman Dallas Tamaira.
Born and raised on the South Island of Aotearoa New Zealand, Dallas’ tender and often hope-filled lyrics draw inspiration from his Māori heritage and the laid-back Kiwi disposition. Following his ear for music, Dallas made the move to the North Island, finding his community and forming Fat Freddy's Drop. Dallas has been touring the world’s stages since the late 90s, reveling in the endless inspiration found on the road and the unbeatable sense of solace found upon returning home. For the Aotearoa Country Special, we speak with Dallas about his early creative influences in Kaikōura and Christchurch, what inspires him, and unwinding in the capital with his Wellington Travel Playbook.
On what makes Aotearoa so special
Aotearoa for me is the land, the mountains and the places that I grew up in, the memories of those places and the people. The thing that strikes me first when I step off the plane after coming home is the people. When I come back and get a coffee at a shop in the airport, it's just different, like, ‘You're my brother or sister and this is the way I'm going to talk to you’, like we’re mates. People want to be comfortable when they're talking to you and they want you to be comfortable. There's also heaps of space here; it’s so different from crowded places. It’s such a breath of fresh air to be walking down the street and you almost have the whole side of the street to yourself. It’s great.
On what ‘manaakitanga’ means to you
Manaakitanga to me is like making music or sharing ideas with other people. We sit and we share ideas, and we talk about music and make music together. Feeding ideas and feeding respect for those people and what they do. Hopefully that respect is given and received.
On finding music in Kaikōura
I grew up in a small town called Kaikōura, which is on the east coast of the South Island in New Zealand. My most memorable experiences of falling in love with, creating and writing music happened in Kaikōura. The town had a very rural vibe and I didn't have anyone I was bouncing ideas off. I found music by myself but I felt very strongly about it and I wanted to stand out as the only kid in Kaikōura walking around with a guitar on his back. I wanted to be that guy that had found something that made me different from everyone else. I spent a lot of time making sounds, playing the guitar and writing songs. Probably the only thing I was decent with at school was English, writing stories and poems. My father gave me my first guitar when I was 13 and I guess that's where my fixation for playing started.
On heading north to Wellington
I went to Christchurch first, then decided to pack up and move to Wellington. On my first trip, I met awesome people. I met Mu [Chris Faiumu] and talked to him about music and about what I was up to — I was doing quite a lot in Christchurch — and that was the beginning of Fat Freddy’s Drop. Mu was working at a studio and offered to record some music for me, then a bit later I made the move.
‘There's no substitute for honing your craft than being in front of audiences, making music and traveling.’
On the early days with Fat Freddy’s Drop
We worked on our solo stuff, songs that I wanted to record, but both Mu and I were part of it and we ended up in a band together. We started playing covers at a bar called Diva. We used to jam a lot of half tones, and the song you thought you knew would completely change. That was the beginning of Fat Freddy’s — the really long song versions and improvisations.
On a memorable gig
For Fat Freddy’s we've done some amazing shows. There were plenty of shows in New Zealand, but we also traveled overseas and created a fan base in places like London, Germany and Berlin. Ally Pally, in London, which is a 10,000 capacity venue, is one of the standout gigs. I was pretty nervous but we managed to smash it out; it was awesome. You can play for 10,000 people anywhere, but for it to happen in the UK it was a big deal. We didn’t have any fireworks or use weird costumes, but the crowd came to see us. It was a bit of a shock.
On finding inspiration to write
I always feel really energized and ready to write music when I come home. It’s from playing constantly. There's no substitute for honing your craft than being in front of audiences, making music and traveling. There’s always something amazing waiting at the end of each gig, it's just that satisfaction. It’s hard to be away from my family and it's hard on the body, but coming home, you feel energized. Touring in general, you get to tap into all these amazing places — like Berlin is a super-creative place with lots of young energy and people hanging in cafés and record shops. My process involves a lot of memo taking, just me putting down ideas in the spur of the moment, and then returning to them later. I normally take both my PlayStation and an MPC [sampler and drum machine] on tour with me.
‘As a Māori artist, my solo project has been me rediscovering songwriting in a more traditional way. What makes me special within the world is that I’m Māori. Incorporating my culture means trying to look at it with a Māori perspective.'
On exploring your solo work
When Freddy’s work stopped, it gave me time to sit down and go through older ideas that I had. I wanted to share them with other people, so I shared them with a producer and friend of mine, Reno [Devin Abrams aka Pacific Heights], and we returned to a couple of old ideas. I’m working six songs into an EP and it feels really good. I'm working with a really good drummer, Cory Champion, who's also an amazing techno producer — his techno project is called Borrowed CS and he's making amazing stuff. We also got some keys in; we had a grand piano up at the studio and it all sounds really good. I’m pretty excited about it.
On representing Māori culture
As a Māori artist, my solo project has been me rediscovering songwriting in a more traditional way. Freddy's songs can take up to 10 minutes, and you’re spacing out your ideas. I can sometimes feel like I'm surfing on the beat, riding with it, but songwriting, in the traditional sense of what it means to me, is incorporating everything together — music, lyrics and stories. Considering the Māori perspective, I’m asking, ‘Who am I making this relatable to? Who's my audience? Who would I like some of these songs to touch? Who do I feel I want to get the most out of these songs?’ That's a very wide audience, but what makes me special within the world is that I’m Māori. Incorporating my culture means trying to look at it with a Māori lens.
On wide open spaces in Wellington
I spend a lot of time at the ASB Sports Stadium — I play a lot of basketball. It's huge. There’s six courts and any time during the day there’s a whole court just for me. It is one of my regulars at the moment. Then walking down by the waterfront on the South Coast. Lyall Bay is the biggest beach on the South Coast, stretching about two kilometers, and you look out over the Cook Strait towards the South Island. That’s why the water is a little cold — it comes straight in from the Pacific. The beach is very popular, the most popular surfing spot in Wellington and perfect weather for kiteboarding.
On a favorite place to eat
Maranui Cafe, in Lyall Bay, is one of the best cafés in Wellington. Prince Harry and Meghan Markle went to Maranui. They do great fish and chips. I usually get the Big Bay Breakfast or the eggs benny. When I take the kids there after school, they get fries and milkshakes — they love a lime milkshake, which is the most popular flavor in New Zealand. They’re amazing, man, lime milkshakes!
On showing a friend around Wellington for the day
I’d probably take friends to the Wellington Markets [Harbourside Market] that happen on Sunday — it’s one of my favorite spots. It’s a fruit and vegetable market with amazing food stalls. I’d take them there on a nice day. It's down by the waterfront, so you get a view of the harbor. Right next to the markets is Te Papa, Wellington's museum. It’s a little bit more than a museum, it's interactive, and they pride themselves on how interactive it is. It’s a massive building right on the waterfront — you can't miss it. If there are friends of mine I'd definitely take them to Cuba Street, where most of the more hipster shopping goes down and it has just a little bit more flavor than a normal average shopping area. Some shops have been there for a long time and it's where we used to play quite a lot when we were starting out in music. There's some really good venues on Cuba Street.
On a must-do experience in the city
Fidel's is probably the most iconic café in Wellington and that's at the very end of Cuba Street. When I wasn't getting paid for playing music, I was washing the dishes at Fidel's. There’s an awesome place right in the front window where I like to sit and write — it's a big, massive front window — and I write about the people walking past. They also do really good coffee from Wellington company Havana Coffee. Havana coffee in Fidel’s at Cuba Street — that's the ultimate Wellington experience. Their hash browns are also the best you're going to have in your life — not even in New Zealand, but in the world. I'm telling you. Try them for yourselves! You wouldn’t be happy if you had that experience, you’d be ecstatic.
‘Havana coffee in Fidel’s at Cuba Street — that's the ultimate Wellington experience. Their hash browns are also the best you're going to have in your life — not even in New Zealand, but in the world.’
On where to see local talent
The venue I go to the most is on Cuba Street, and is called the San Francisco Bathhouse [San Fran]. We've played there many times. It’s changed owners and names four or five times, but it’s the same San Francisco Bathhouse. There's another place not far from Cuba Street called The Rogue & Vagabond, which is smaller and kind of a seated situation, more intimate. That’s where you're going to get a lot of local talent. I definitely recommend those two places.
On a favorite record store
A record store recommendation would be Rough Peel, and that's on Cuba Street too, another amazing spot to hit on your way down to Fidel's Cafe or the San Francisco Bathhouse.
On your relationship with Wellington
It's a love-hate relationship. I really love Wellington, but sometimes the weather is a bit stink. Because of the Cook Strait we get quite a lot of wind. The saying around Wellington is that you can't beat it on a good day — it's totally true. On a good day, when it's beautiful, the sun is shining and it's amazing to be in Wellington, I do really love it. I choose to live here with my family. The reason I fell in love with Wellington is the vibe of expression, this individuality where people enjoy being themselves. It's a super-creative place. Everybody I work with are all from Wellington: the people helping me release music, make my music videos, design the cover for my releases, and all the musicians. They're all from Wellington. It’s an amazing creative place to be and what I feel is a real focus on individuality and expression.
‘The way “Coq Au Vin” by Eru Dangerspiel makes me feel, that's Wellington. A little bit blown about, but we're all in it together.’
On a window or an aisle seat
Definitely an aisle seat. I suck at stretching my legs out. I'm 6’3”, I'm a tall guy. Yeah an aisle seat so I can stretch my legs out every now and then, as long as I'm not tripping up the trolley lady.
On a song best represents Wellington
‘Coq Au Vin’ by Eru Dangerspiel, which is another of Riki Gooch’s names. The way that song makes me feel, that's Wellington. A little bit blown about, but we're all in it together. It's funky — that’s a good vibe for Wellington.
On Wellington in one word
Wellington's cool. You could be having a drink at the pub and sitting right next to the deputy prime minister or a millionaire. But if you're from Wellington you just keep it cool. That’s how people roll. Everybody seems to know each other, we'll hang out within the same circles of friends, and it’s ok to be whatever you want to be.