EP Walkthrough: Ninajirachi and Kota Banks detail their dizzying True North EP
Two forces of the future go sky-high with a new collaborative EP, which they break down - with photos - one song at a time.
Header image by Tiff Williams.
If you've been paying attention to anything we've been saying in the last few years, you'd know that Ninajirachi and Kota Banks are two acts sure to be amongst Australia's pop future - if we're not there already. They're two names that have constantly pushed forward since their debut, experimenting on boundaries to move them beyond where they currently are, shaping new sounds and energies - and having an absolute shit-tonne of fun - in the process of doing so.
It's something that we've seen Kota Banks and Ninajirachi do, whether that be separately or together. The former - pop heavyweight Kota Banks - has been unstoppable in her combining of forward-thinking pop and dizzying electronica, with a string of releases since 2017's Holiday consistently pushing herself forward in both the pop and dance music spaces. Ninajirachi, meanwhile, is someone who has been bubbling both in the limelight and behind-the-scenes, working as a keen producer on hits by Hartley and Genes alongside work of her own.
The two forces have come together here and there in the past, mainly from within the NLV Records circle in remixes and co-production. However, with the release of the True North single at the top of the year - preluding an entire collaborative EP of the same name - we really begin to see the heights these two can reach while working together, offering glimpses of not just the future of pop music and its intersection with rushing club culture, but also the future of Kota Banks and Ninajirachi as two musicians in Australia's electronic eye.
Released today, the True North EP explores where Ninajirachi and Kota Banks can reach when they're paired together. It flutters between many facets of their overlapping influences, switching from glitchy distortion of the EP's title track and the low-slung bass of Opus right down to more subtle and gentle embraces of dance-pop, like Vice Versa's autotuned grace to Holy Water's shimmering release, which really sits at bay until a percussive breakdown towards the song's latter moments.
However, regardless of which pathway the two travel down throughout the course of True North, there's something that links it all together - an underlying swagger and confidence that with Ninajirachi's productions behind it, feels as elevated as ever. Kota Banks really feels in her lane amongst the half-utopian, half-dystopian climaxes that Ninajirachi crafts; her vocal dancing amongst the productions as she weaves in and out of the songs' natural ebbs and flows. It's a testament to their connection both as friends and collaborators, able to bring the best out of each other in a way that no precisely A&R'd collaboration would be able to.
"True North is a fantasy world we invented," says the pairing on the release, which you can grab here. "We dreamt it up and then lived in it when we were creating the music. It’s like Nirvana or Paradise, it’s this very visual parallel universe with stars and waterfalls that are so expansive and iridescent that you feel totally inspired and free to create, and feel emotions the way you want to." And what have they created out of that? Some of the best, highest-peaking pop music to come from Australia this year.
Take a dive into the EP below alongside a bit of a track-by-track-meets-photo gallery hybrid, which breaks down the EP's creation and meanings one song at a time, alongside some glimpses behind-the-scenes.
True North came together very quickly - the basis of the track was there in one afternoon. It started with the D major chord you hear at the very start - we looped that out and over it, Kota recorded the vocal melody in one big freestyle. The lyrics came last, after we’d cut the best parts of the freestyle together. Originally this song was called Diamonds, because the ‘run away to True North’ verse came at the very end of the session. Nina went home and created the drop section, beefed up the production, and from there it was finished.
The afternoon we wrote this song, the studio’s interface wouldn’t agree with Nina’s computer, so we had to record vocals on our iPhones. We later re-recorded a few of the vocals using a good microphone, but the lines at the very start and end of the song are still the same iPhone recordings from that afternoon, because we just couldn’t capture the same feeling in the new recordings.
The song is about escaping reality, and finding solace in art and expression. True North is a fantasy world we invented… we dreamt it up and then lived in it when we were creating the music. It’s like Nirvana or Paradise, it’s this very visual parallel universe with stars and waterfalls that are so expansive and iridescent that you feel totally inspired and free to create, and feel emotions the way you want to. When I was in this place in my mind it was so powerful to me that even when I was crying tears, it felt like they were diamonds.
We used a 360 GoPro to shoot the True North music video. This is a screenshot of the video we recorded when we were trying to figure it out. Next to us, you can see our friend Tiff Williams who helped us shoot it.
In July 2019, we stayed together in Sydney for a week and went to the studio every day, trying to make as many songs as possible. We made around six that week, three making the EP tracklist and Opus being one of them. That morning driving into the studio we’d listened to a bunch of grime and it came out in the beat that Nina made. The bridge melody in this track has been through a few big changes.
The title changed a few times too, it was hard to find the word that perfectly encapsulated this song. We had Lotus but then finally settled on Opus. Opus is another word for masterpiece or an iconic artwork that endures the test of time. The song is doused in this self-assured energy, and lyrically and sonically it’s very bold and a celebration of the power of women, so we ultimately felt that Opus was a very nice way to praise the sentiment and construction of the song.
This was the first song we ever wrote together, in May 2019. We started and finished it that day and aside from the mix, nothing about it has changed since - it came together very seamlessly. At this point, our collaborative relationship was super new, and we both thought that we were making songs for Kota Banks. Once we’d made a whole pile of songs together and decided to make an EP around July 2019, Kota kept coming back to this one and really fought for it to be on the tracklist.
Nina wasn’t into it for a while, but she came around eventually. It’s the sweet-sounding, easy-listening song the EP needed. Some of the songs are abrasive, others abstract, some emotional, but this is an ode to sweet, palatable pop. I (Kota) think it’s a cool flex for Nina as a producer, people know she’s a genius with innovative sounds but this really showcases her ear for perfectly crafted pop: i.e. pop chops!
In the studio with Nina Las Vegas in April 2019 recording vocals for The Matilda’s anthem for the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup. This was a couple of weeks before we wrote Vice Versa, which was the first song we wrote together.
Nice Girls Finish Last
You would never guess it, but this song started with us trying to channel Needy by Ariana Grande. Every time we try to use another song for inspiration, we write something that ends up sounding completely the opposite. You could literally never guess our reference tracks. It was written in the same week that we wrote Opus - the energy was obviously a little antagonistic that week. Initially, we had very soft chords, and the first idea was something called Silver Lining, which was really bad. Kota asked Nina to speed up the tempo because she had an idea, and then she recorded the ‘pose quick and the camera go flash’ chorus over these really dreamy chords.
We realised that the production needed to be different, so Nina switched it up and it became a completely different song. We were so excited about it and loved it so much, went back to Kota’s house and listened to it on repeat all night. For a long time, this was going to be a Kota Banks single, but it didn’t work out so the song found its home on our EP instead. We thought it was finished on the day we wrote it, but it ended up adding a few sections and working on the production a lot more.
On set for Kota’s Never Sleep music video, which Nina shot and edited. A few people thought Nina’s Never Sleep remix was the first time we’d worked together, because it came out a week before True North, and we hadn’t told anyone that we’d been working on an EP for over a year.
Leaf In The Wind
This was another song we wrote in the same week as Opus and Nice Girls. We’d already written a whole song that day (one which didn’t make the EP) and had about half an hour before we had to leave the studio. We thought we’d challenge ourselves and see if we could get another idea down before we had to leave. Nina already had the harp and vocal loops on her laptop and Kota recorded an iPhone voice memo idea over them.
The whole song was very stream-of-consciousness and came together in about 20 minutes, aside from the instrumental section at the end which came together the following week. We still didn’t know that we were doing an EP at this point, so we thought this song might become a Kota Banks album interlude down the track. Kota wasn’t sold on it at first but Nina really fought for it to be on the EP. Lyrically it’s quite abstract, but it’s about being scared to fall in love again. It’s meant to be a really effortless, beautiful assortment of sounds and words amidst the chaos of the EP.
Middle Of The Night
Middle of the Night is a song that is actually a combination of two songs we had written. The first was called GPS (it was the second song we ever wrote together) and the other was called Middle of the Night. We’d written so many songs together, and when it came time to choose the songs that would make the EP tracklist, these were the two we couldn’t decide between. There were sections of both that were incredible, but neither was quite there yet. Nina had the idea to combine the two songs, melding our favourite parts of each. We shifted the BPM and the keys so that they’d sync up - and it worked perfectly! We re-recorded the vocals and merged the lyrical themes of both songs so that it came to be about pining over a crush.
This song feels like a real masterclass in not giving up on a song, it’s been through SO many structural changes - we absolutely worked it to the bone and were relentless about making it work. Even in September 2020, the whole EP was mastered but we knew that this one wasn’t quite there. We went back to the studio, made some production and mix improvements, and had it remastered. It was the first time I (Nina) have been in tears out of frustration over a mixdown. No one that we showed liked either of the original songs, but I think we both recognized the potential, and we’re both pretty stubborn! Now it’s one of our favourites!
Working in Kota’s home studio in July 2020.
This was the last song we created in this whole process around November 2019, and it came together after we’d already started putting together a tracklist - we were addicted to writing music - we’d go into the studio intending to do admin and start planning visuals for the project, but Kota kept pushing to write more songs, and this one really slipped in at the last second. Originally this was going to be an ambient, meditative song, almost a guided meditation. It started with the chords and arpeggio you hear at the very start and Kota freestyled a whole bunch of melodies that were very layered and abstract with lots of reverb.
Nina was in Melbourne the week after we’d recorded the demo idea and made the beat that you hear after the chorus. Then we started to add section after section, vocal layer after vocal layer, just totally indulging in the idea that “more is more” with complete disregard for typical pop structure. Nina heard a tempo change: we put it in. Kota heard a gospel section, we put it in. At the eleventh hour, Kota had the idea for that soaring “raining down on me” chorus, which we almost left out as Nina didn’t like it initially!
This song embodies the catharsis of crying. It celebrates the healing that comes from processing your sad emotions. Sometimes you have to cry all night, and in the morning, you’re all better. It’s a really intense emotional rollercoaster, I (Kota) cry to it all the time.
We wanted to create a little visual asset for Holy Water, so the day before it came out we went swimming in a waterfall and Kota’s sister helped film it. We put all of the footage together the night before release.
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