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

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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).

Interview With Shoeb Ahmad | By Tahlia Palmer

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How has your year been so far? What have you been up to?

It's been pretty crazy to be honest! I've spent all of the last 12 months working on getting "quiver" ready and playing shows around that as well as anticipating the release of the new Tangents album and the upcoming tour. As they say - when it rains, it pours.

What’s coming up for the rest of the year?

Perth is the last stop on the "quiver" launch tour so it's straight into Tangents touring after that and then a few sporadic shows here and there on the east coast. I am also working on a series of visual and audio works for You Are Here, a multi-arts festival in Canberra who commissioned me to work on an artistic response that helps with their development as an organisation.

One of your upcoming Perth shows is for the Revelation Film festival’s Music Days Program, so in the spirit of the festival, what’s your favourite film and what is your favourite film soundtrack?

It's pretty hard to pin down one favourite film these days - in a sad way, I don't really get to watch as many films as I would like any more. I do have a soft spot for Jean-Luc Godard's Breathless (A Bout De Souffle), Lost In Translation and Wings of Desire by Wim Wenders. I do like to delve into soundtrack works when composing long extended instrumental things. Paul Kelly's score for Lantana is quite a moody post-rock thing while more recently, I really enjoyed Nils Frahm's work for Victoria - again, two more amazing films! - but I keep coming back to the many soundtracks that the band Tindersticks have done for the films of Clare Denis. They are truly great pieces of art, both to compliment the films themselves and on their own.

Do you have any favourite Perth artists?

I'm lucky that I get to play with both Erasers and Original Past Life at my album launch at The Bird but Andrew Ryan from CPN actually turned me onto Ryan Beno quite recently and that was a nice revelation. To be honest, all three of the other acts I'm playing with at The Rosemount are phenomenal. One of my all time fave bands is Bluetile Lounge so Perth music has had a certain allure for me for many years now.

"Quiver" is a sensual, soulful record full of vulnerability, the kind of vulnerability that displays immense strength. Can you talk a little bit about the creation of the album, the creative process, and the biggest influences over the atmosphere, both musically and personally?

The music itself was written more than three years ago now but I didn't quite feel the need to say anything important or relevant so I sat on the songs for a while while other projects kept going on. My juggles with identity were quite a personal matter during this time but in 2016, I experienced a hotel room robbery which blew the whole thing apart and made me realise that I needed to accept who I am and allow myself the time and space to reclaim and inhabit this part of me. I used the studio as a release from the pressure and slowly but surely, brought those who I knew would be accepting into my creative circle and working on this delicate and lush piece of music. The words on "quiver" are written for a therapeutic purpose but the greater idea of putting this music out there is for those who might be in a similar situation as me and for them to know that it's OK to be vulnerable and be strong in who they are. We are only prisoners if we let societal flaws get at our person.

How did you get your start in music? What inspired you to start playing?

I just wanted to play guitar and thought that I'd just do it - no real reasons apart from an idea it'd be fun and interesting... I'm not particularly talented and certainly not studious about it but I just picked one up and heard things that sounded nice to me and went with it. That was high school and I'm still here doing it, wrangling instruments and sounds to make music with. I was probably most inspired by reading about DIY indie rock and hardcore, just the idea of forming a band with yr friends and seeing what happened. Finding out about Sonic Youth, The Slits and The Pop Group really expanded my mind even before hearing their records - the whole Riot Grrl movement gave me a sense of excitement which I had trouble finding among all the white middle class males who surrounded me. Luke Sutherland and his band Long Fin Killie stood out especially - just as much Tjinder Singh and Cornershop, Natacha Atlas and Asian Dub Foundation did too.

In an interview from 2008, you mentioned you were in to nu metal when you were younger (I totally feel you, I was a Korn fan and still drunkenly indulge on occasion), and that playing in Spartak could sometimes result in “rocking out”, which you described at the time as something you weren’t "altogether pleased with”. What have you learnt about “rocking out” in the 10 years since then?

It's so funny, in hindsight I probably didn't love nu-metal as much as used the idea of it to bond with people - though Deftones still has a strong resonance for me because they seemed to be the most post-punk and sonically interesting of the lot (maybe the emo quality of Chino's singing and words do something for me too?). I think the idea of "rocking out" back then was almost like a cop-out - like actually easy to do without thinking about it but now, "rocking out" for me is very much a cathartic release and an abstract process that feeds off my emotional state in that one moment. I think I'm comfortable with it these days because I'm aware of what it's purpose is and how I can convey it.

How has your approach to music evolved over the years, and what kind of things influenced this evolution?

"quiver" was a reaction to my artistic insecurities in a way - being known for improvising and electronic-aided sounds, I wanted to make an entirely organic album relied very little on electronic accents and was strongly moored on the song arrangements, letting each vocal, melody and instrument have it's own space to breath whilst being part of a greater whole.

Do your various musical and sound art projects inform each other to some degree, or are they separate entities?

Each project revolves around their own core idea so that never changes but I think the energy I bring to each of them is based on what I think they need from me or how I think my presence will enhance it. Sometimes that's to compliment what is happening already in a subtle and understated way, sometimes that's to hijack and create sonic disruptions that give a more caustic edge to proceedings. Thematically, I think a lot of the projects I lead are very much influenced by the notion of identity at the moment because that is where my mind is at and what I think needs to be presented in a public arena.

What can audiences expect from your live show?

I've got a tight trio together for the Perth shows with whom I'm playing most of "quiver" as well as a few older solo songs too. We're all slow grooves and in the pocket, with just the right amount of ambient noise, textural interplay and dirty pop moves.

Favourite gig you’ve played? Favourite gig you’ve been to?

The Canberra launches for my recent solo music has been sublime for a combination of reasons - venue, stage settings, audience reception - but I think I still have much fondness for the times I've travelled to Asia and played shows with Spartak and Agency. All those tours were very DIY, rough and tumble but the warmth from all the people we met and the experiences around the performances really do have a place in my heart still. I saw Low and Lambchop in the last few years and both had a great vibe and nuance to them live - music for the head but also for the soul.

Can you talk a little bit about your label hellosQuare? When was it created, why, how, what kind of artists do you work with?

hellosQuare started more than a decade ago when I was in high school to put out underground music I was fond of. It was easy with the CDR world that was around then but as time moved on, I also moved onto CD albums, LPs and tapes. There was no really remit as to what I put out - the influences were diverse so naturally, the releases were as well. I love the fact that I release abstract improvisation records by Candlesnuffer and Pollen Trio as well as the post-punk pub rock of first Hoodlum Shouts album, which was picked up by Poison City for an LP version. Label activities are much slower these days with the nature of the record industry but I still look to do the odd art edition to compliment a digital release, as we have done for recent albums by Reuben Ingall and Moving Paths.

Do you have any advice for anyone reading who might be embarking on starting a label of their own?

It's a long game - a seed of an idea might grow into something really nice so be patient, don't over do it and be ready for some hard times because when something great finally appears, you'll feel a million bucks about it :)


Shoeb Ahmad will be launching her record Quiver at The Bird, Northbridge on Wednesday July 11, and featuring at Revelation's Film Festival's Music Days at Rosemount Hotel on Thursday July 12.

Tangents will be launching their new record New Bodies at Rosemount Hotel on July 22. Early Bird tickets available here