At the Love Supreme festival last year, a four-piece band really stuck out. Not only were they relatively young, they were alternative looking; the lead singer adorned in all sorts of piercings, tattoos and psychedelic-cyber-punk threads, the rest of the band like a collection of beach dudes. They stuck out. Not like a sore thumb – whilst predominately appealing to the generally more well-heeled, Love Supreme is actually stuffed full of brilliant, often left-field music – but because teenagers/youngsters suddenly came out of the woodwork to watch this phenomenal act, many of whom then courteously lined up for a personal meet and greet and signing session straight after the gig. It was a surreal sight, but rather cool.
Still somewhat under the radar, and barely talked about in the UK press, Hiatus Kaiyote are a word-of-mouth phenomenon. They are but one of a long line of acts throughout rock'n'roll history who have made it without a helping hand from the music media, whose ego can sometimes dwarf the size of the musicians it otherwise writes about. How can this be, when presented with such a band? A band who have developed a sublimely intricate and ultra-sophisticated musical palette that in general could be called progressive future-soul. A band who are quite simply stunningly imaginative, and breathtakingly musical. A band whose essentially hippy heart sits uneasily with a surprisingly conservative music media, who are still prone to wheel out tired cliques and ignorant rubbish when confronted by such people..
Formed in Melbourne, Australia, in 2011, Hiatus Kaiyote are made up of Nai Palm (vocals, guitar), Paul Bender (bass), Simon Mavin (keyboards) and Perrin Moss (drums, percussion). “’Kaiyote’ is not a word. It’s a made up word," says Nai Palm, "but it kind of sounds like peyote and coyote. It’s a word that involved the listeners creativity as to how they perceive it. So it reminds you of things but it’s nothing specific. When I looked it up on online it was like a bird appreciation society around the world, so for me that was a great omen, because I’m a bird lady. A hiatus is essentially a pause, it’s a moment in time. So, to me, a hiatus is taking a pause in your life to take in your surroundings, have a full panoramic view of your experiences and absorbing them, and ‘kaiyote’ is expressing them in a way that involves the listeners creativity. The name is designed to evoke a sort of Native American Indian shamanistic vibe."
As for her name, she explains thus; "My name is Naomi. Nai is short for my name. Before I was in a band I used to be a fire dancer. There’s a sticky flammable jelly that you use called Napalm, so the flammable element of Nai Palm is tied in with that." A supremely natural talent, she says, "I’m completely self-taught. My mother used to bring home lots of West African and flamenco music, so I would sing along with my idols.
"I was raised in a very artistic environment. My mother always brought home beautiful and eclectic music. She was a choreographer and always encouraged creativity, so music has always been therapeutic to me, both in listening and in writing especially. It's very cathartic. Im saying that I think it's a very natural thing for all living things to love music. I always knew I wanted to be in a band, but I never knew it could be my own conversation.”
Witnessing a performance by Palm, bass player Paul Bender decided to seek her out and the two began to collaborate on compositions that felt intuitive. Bender brought multi-instrumentalists Perrin Moss and keyboardist Simon Mavin into the equation, which led to Hiatus Kaiyote playing their first gig at the Bohemian Masquerade Ball, in Australia. Things then moved quickly, and the public voted Hiatus Kaiyote as Best Breakthrough Band at Gilles Peterson's 2013 Worldwide Awards. And the same year they were nominated for a Grammy for Best R&B Performance, for ‘Nakamarra’, performed with A Tribe Called Quest's Q-Tip, and added to their 2012 debut album Tawk Tomahawk, for a re-release. The likes of the one and only Prince (RIP) were suitably impressed to tweet his admiration. Indeed it has been the admiration of many musicians – such as Taylor McFerrin, Animal Collective, Questlove and Erykah Badu – that has immeasurably helped the band reach a broader audience.
Their success is also down to the group’s main life force, Nai Palm (aka Naomi Saalfield), whose voice and guitar twists and turns, swooping, darting and fluttering through mind boggling melodies, elemental rhythms, counter-harmonics and arresting key changes. `Each song seems to employ a multitude of grooves, the band gracefully moving through emotions, changes of pace, and evolving dynamics. Just like life itself..
Touring constantly, the band made the time to record the follow up album, Choose Your Weapon, a confirmation of their extraordinary talents. While their debut was initially released independently, it was soon after re-released but with distribution and marketing backing. The follow up was also released on their own Flying Buddha label, and which featured the song ‘Breathing Underwater’, another song nominated for a Grammy. A song that Nai Palm says is, “A homage to the different examples of love and compassion in the world that are beyond the limitation of romance." Expanding on this she then says, "There are many examples of love in everyday activity. We glorify the romantic sense of the word but for most of us it's the simple rituals of love that impact our lives. They aren't really celebrated. Silent heroes; someone making you a cup of tea when you're depressed; the love an artisan puts into his or her life's work. There is a reference in ‘Breathing Underwater’ to a Jericho rose, aka an African resurrection plant. It can survive for over 100 years without water and if it rains it blossoms in like six minutes. After all that time! People are like that. Dormant until a little love is shown. As much as love is the main theme when it comes to songs you hear on the radio I feel like it is usually expressed in a limited girl-meets-boy kind of way. I wanted to expand on that."
During the recording the band wanted to pay tribute to the format of a mixtape, so they incorporated a range of interludes, while Paul Bender has appropriately described Choose Your Weapon as a “huge, massive, complex puzzle”. Over 18 tracks and 70 minutes, the four-piece touch upon exploratory jazz-fusion, polyrhythmic time structures, labyrinthine 70s funk, psychedelic soul, scat-singing, samba, West African soul, and prog rock, all the while trying to subvert the notion that music is temporary, instead creating a narrative that asks to be heard from start to finish, albeit like a series, rather than a movie. “Every element creates a bigger picture and the bigger picture is the narrative of our shared creativity together," says Nai Palm. "There’s all these different themes from song-to-song, but somehow it’s cohesive. The beauty of this project is that the overall theme is the unity of our four-way collaboration and that plays out really naturally."
Their music has been called a 'love letter to nature', and is, if you put your mind to it, an incredibly immersive experience that is both highly spatial and dynamic. More straightforwardly, Nai Palm cites Stevie Wonder as a major influence. "I owe my musical ear to him. Being raised on such intelligent yet soulful music has beyond impacted my life. More than just musically. I'm a musician by ear and I feel I naturally write complex music from having Stevie as a direct musical mentor via speakers or headphones since I was little . The unyielding joy he brings to so many. It's intelligent, but not isolating. It is pure. It is funky. I try to make sure I cover all bases when it comes to writing a song and I have him to thank for that. He is a gift to the world in all ways."