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Cool Perth Night Chats

Tanaya Harperin' On | Cats, Canker Blossom, and Her New Music Video

Andrew Ryan

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Tanaya Harper has dignified the stage in a many forms over the recent years. As the front person of hook laden, grunge infused Bells Rapids, member of the gentile and harmonic 3 piece Ghost Care, and of course - (and arguably most notably) as Tanaya Harper. Soloist. Embracing her given name for this project, Tanaya proudly adorns her sleeve with emotional vulnerabilities, whilst harnessing the inert power that comes from making music out of the continual head fuck of daily existence. Accompanied by a Telecaster, Vox, tuning pedal and microphone, Tanaya bucks all the expectations associated with a one person band, presenting songs with enough melodic and lyrical intricacy to keep you firmly (yet comfortably) on your toes.

I have the frequent pleasure of spending time with Tanaya and proudly declarE her a good friend (and a musical accomplice in some instances), so applying my formal work sensibilities to a conversation was more difficult than imagined. But we got there - like the two business suit wearing humans we are. Granted, I did remove the emojis and frequent 'xox' shared between us from the final edit. Here's a little snippet of Tanaya's brain and thoughts about her music, life in general, and the upcoming release of the new music video for 'The Well', created with love by George Foster. The music video drops on Monday, so ensure to keep an eye on Tanaya's facebook page for the moment of truth.

Before delving into the upcoming music video, I want to ask about a tid-bit of info I got recently regarding your first musical project - Canker Blossom. I believe you played an old Canker Blossom song at the Rhubarb Records launch? What’s the go with Canker Blossom?

Yes I did! That song is called As the Cowboys Sing. I wrote it about this really scary ex of mine who was sharking me at a gig while I was watching an old Perth band called Strychnine Cowboys. It’s basically about feeling creeped out, haha.

Canker Blossom is a funny story. About 5 years ago I purchased this huge (I’m very little) second-hand Gretsch from The Rock Inn, then started learning a few bar chords and writing some folk-pop tunes. Axel Carrington (NEW TALK) joined and played emotive/improvised lead guitar parts over the top. We only ever did one gig in Northbridge - I think it was called ‘Mystery Fest’ in that building on the corner of William/Francis when it was vacant. There’s a live recording somewhere on the interweb, but I hope I never hear it; I’m sure I’ll cringe at those older songs I wrote.

 Photograph credit of  Rachel Claire

Photograph credit of Rachel Claire

This is the second music video being released from your recent EP - Some Kinds - following release of the music video for the debut single Graceless. Whilst I’ve had the pleasure of having a sneak peak, the video won’t be released to the public until Monday the 23rd - so can you offer a little insight in terms of what to expect, and the process you and George Foster had in terms of formulating the concept for ‘The Well’ video?

I’m so excited for this video to come out because George did such a beautiful job! The process started with a bit of back-and-forth between us online. There were a few ideas thrown around, but essentially I was after a video that touched on the core meaning of the song. The Well is about hating myself for feeling anxious; feeling ashamed and guilty that sometimes I can’t even muster the motivation or courage to go for a walk. When I wrote the song I felt really alone and stupid for feeling that way, but then after I talked to a few people I realised that lots of people relate to that experience and I realised that this place I find myself in sometimes is understood by lots of people; that eventually I’ll be able to pick myself up and get out of the house. So it’s a visual summary of that experience.

You’ve spoken quite openly about the overarching theme of mental illness throughout the EP, and the songs acting as a means of exploring your experiences and emotional responses in a variety of situations. Was this an active decision? Or more so a reflection of your natural songwriting process? And how does ‘The Well’ in particular relate to these themes?

As far as the songwriting goes, it’s a very natural process for me to write about mental illness. I usually write about how I’m thinking/feeling, and when I can’t put my finger on exactly what that is then i’ll come up with chords that sound how I feel and words to describe that feeling. Dissociate is an example of the latter method.   

 'Some Kinds' EP Launch #2 at Rhubarb Records. June 2018.

'Some Kinds' EP Launch #2 at Rhubarb Records. June 2018.

As far as the entirety of Some Kinds is concerned, it was a very deliberate decision to have all those songs together as one. At the time of picking which songs were going to be on the EP, I realised I had many kinds of songs spanning different genres and sounds, so these literally are ‘some kinds’ of songs that all relate closely to each other in sound and theme. Does that make sense? Haha. They felt the most relevant to me at the time. Rather than tip-toeing around the topic of mental illness, I finally decided to totally own the fact that I have bipolar; that the experience of mental illness is what I write about. Given all of this, The Well fits in perfectly with all of that.

Whilst the music videos for Graceless and The Well have a similar ‘floating’ aesthetic, their overall tones really differ in terms of the use of lightness and darkness. With the songs carrying similar, often dark themes, what inspired the decision to play with this aspect of the video?

The themes in this song are pretty dark and so are the themes in Graceless, but The Well lyrically has a positive insight (‘I know that I’m not alone’) - where as Graceless just kind of says ‘well fuck it, I feel shit, guess i’m just going to have to stay here and ride this horrible wave until it’s over’. That is why the darkness of the video never leaves the deep blue of the aquarium. So in that respect I wanted the tone of The Well video to express the positive insight of how things eventually get better, by welcoming in the sunlight and flowers and the beautiful world right outside my door.

 Photograph credit of  Rachel Claire

Photograph credit of Rachel Claire

The use of nature it quite a distinct and continued motif in both the music videos, and cover art and design for Some Kinds. How does this relate to your work and what meaning does it carry for you?

I love nature. Apart from singing, nature is the one thing that makes me feel better (pretty ironic that I can’t go for walks sometimes, huh?). Looking at a flower helps me realise that every stress or anxiety I’m feeling probably has to do with my stupid human brain and the stupid societal constructs around us that simply don’t exist in the natural world. The plants and animals are just interested in getting sunlight, water, shelter and finding their next meal. No anxiety attached (or perhaps they’re all anxious too, in which case we’re all doomed).

That’s the life, to be a flower. So, nature is kind of my idol and I’d rather nothing more than to surround myself with it all the time, hence the motif.  

Spoiler alert - the video features some very scenic shots of one of your cats, Larry David. Let’s talk about cats. Did you and George decide ‘Yes. We must include my cats’ or was it a photobomb that just happened to work?

Haha, it was a definite photobomb! It’s impossible to keep Larry away from human touch, he bloody loves a pat, and I wanted the video to be true to my real life which means Larry is always there. So when he photobombed I was like ‘meh, that’s fine’.  The more Larry, the better! Kind of like the Graceless video - ‘More fish!’ I demanded, ‘Less me, MORE FISH!’.

Any tips to prevent being upstaged by cats?

Cats are allowed to upstage me anyday.

 An intimate moment between Tanaya and Larry David

An intimate moment between Tanaya and Larry David

Your EP was launched over two intimate (and jam packed) shows at Rhubarb Records with the help of artists such as Stella Donnelly, Jacob Diamond, Telete and Sam Rocchi. I note the upcoming show at Mojo’s seems to have a similar vibe in terms of the supports selected, and the afternoon kick off time. Tell us a little about this decision and what we can expect at the show.

I deliberately chose for all three gigs to start late-arvo and end early-evening because I know lots of people have regular day jobs (I wish I had a regular day job), and I wouldn’t want them to skip on the gig because they need to wake up early on Monday.

I also chose the intimate vibe because my songs are intimate. If you can’t hear the lyrics then you may as well not bother watching me play because they’re the whole point of my songs; what I’m saying, not my shredding (because I can’t shred).

All the supports I’ve chosen are artists who I deeply admire. They’re people who at some point inspired me to work harder or sparked some emotion within me that meant something. The supports for the Mojo’s gig are: Kopano, Noah Dillon, YOU, Camarano, Beau Torrence (my Ghost Care bandmate) plus Calmly DJ’s! I can’t wait!

Tanaya will be launching her music video 'The Well' at Mojo's Bar on Sunday July 29, with special guest supports Noah Dillon, Beau Torrence (Ghost Care), Oosterbanger, Camarano and Kopa. Entry is $10 on the door from 4pm

You can purchase the Some Kinds EP in cassette (2nd pressing) and digital format here via Healthy Tapes. Limited edition lyric books/prints created by artist, Effie Windberg, and polaroid prints with digital download codes available direct from Tanaya (if not sold out).