Soul songstress Ngaiire only just released her critically acclaimed album Blastoma earlier this year in June but is already back in the studio working on fresh material. The Papua New Guinean-born Sydney-sider has accumulated a wealth of achievements in her eleven years as a performing musician, from singing backing vocals for Blue King Brown and Chet Faker to playing at Glastonbury Festival and performing at the 2015 Pacific Games’ opening ceremony.
We had a chat with the singer-songwriter ahead of her upcoming performance at Adelaide’s OzAsia Festival. Ngaiire is bound for great heights, so make sure to head along to the free show and experience the intoxicating power of her performance.
What have you been up to lately?
Well, I’ve been working on the new album, which started last week so that’s pretty much taking up most of my time at the moment.
Are you taking it in a pretty new direction compared to your past work?
In terms of new, it’s definitely going to be more conceptual than the last one. Yeah, can’t really say too much about it yet but definitely working with the same people that I did on the last record so [I’m] really excited about how everything’s sounding so far.
I guess it’s too early to know an approximate date for release, isn’t it?
I’m hoping for next year — I’m hoping it’ll be a faster turnaround than Blastoma. ‘Cause it’s conceptual we have more control over what things are gonna sound like, when it’s finished and what the images are gonna look like.
How are you feeling about Blastoma now that several months have passed since its release?
It’s weird releasing something because it took us two years to finish the album, so once it was out it was kind of a bit strange that this thing that nobody has heard was finally out in the public. But I’m blown away with how well it was received and the responses we got on the road while touring Blastoma, it was quite overwhelming. So I think it was quite a success.
The album’s quite personal, obviously, touching on your childhood health issues as well as adult reflections on relationships. Was writing Blastoma a cathartic experience that helped you learn more about yourself?
Eventually. It wasn’t at times. I wanted nothing more than to not write about what I was going through in my personal life and I didn’t really find that therapeutic angle to it until after I’d released it and I’d reheard the songs and they started to say different things to me. Truly weird how music works that way when you’re writing it.
Is it difficult to perform some of the more personal and melancholy tracks live?
Not so much — I feel like when I’m onstage it’s not really about me anymore, it’s about what the audience is going to go away with. I always try to perform with a level of honesty to the lyrics that people can feel what they wanna feel. So the whole thing of putting things out into the world, it doesn’t become about you anymore to a certain extent.
What inspires your flamboyant costumes onstage?
I have friends who are artists, visual artists, doing something creatively whether it be with food or with fashion, so I think it’s just a natural progression for me and I guess my mum had an input in that as well. She used to design a lot of my costumes at school, and coming from Papua New Guinea there’s a natural approach to colour and costume and headdresses. It was all a natural progression, really.
Your music has been described as everything from future soul to trip hop. How would you describe it personally?
I personally don’t like to put labels on it because I feel like I’m the kind of artist who’s going to be constantly evolving and there’s so many different styles of music that I love and still haven’t gotten to know well. There’s no label that I’d put there at the moment. I guess people are calling it future soul, I don’t even know what that means sometimes, but [it’s] definitely [a] constant[ly] evolving piece of work. It’s always in progress, so I don’t really know what to call it.
Is the new album inspired by personal happenings as well, or are you seeing where it takes you?
Yes and no. I kind of haven’t figured out how to relay to people exactly what it is. Because it’s more conceptual it’ll be less about me and more about a celebration of particular period of my life, ‘cause the last two albums have been quite dark and morbid to a certain extent, so this one’s gonna be kind of more of a celebration about where I come from and the struggle.
What has been one of the most pivotal moments for you as an artist?
I think getting my first tracks played on full rotation on triple j really changed a lot of things. I think it definitely played a big part in where I am and gave me that leg up. I think triple j has been incredible in terms of their support and getting me onto a wider, larger audience.
What influences you the most with your music?
I don’t know, it’s always different. The last two albums I’ve written from personal experiences, or experiences that my friends have gone through and obviously with this new album — I’ve never really been the type of artist to write with a concept in mind, it’s always been how I’m feeling today, so it’s always been about personal — it’s been very insular and [about] my past.
What tracks have been on repeat for you recently?
There’s a new Jamie Lidell track called Building a Beginning. Still listen to a lot of Sufjan Stevens’ new album, Carrie and Lowell. Obviously Rihanna’s albums and Beyonce are staples.
What do you do to wind down when you’re not playing music?
I usually live in Sydney but the last six months I’ve been going down the coast more to hang out in the bush. The city gets a bit too hectic and there’s always people wanting to hang out and have coffee or lunch or dinner, and I love all that stuff but it really distracts me from getting focussed on stuff like the new album or just clearing my brain. So being out in nature is really healing for me and my brain.
Ngaiire will be performing as a part of the OzAsia Festival’s Outdoor Concert Series on Friday, September 30 at Elder Park. Her set kicks off at 7.30pm and entry is free.