Aotearoa and Albums: A conversation between TEEKS and Alice Skye
The interview celebrates the release of TEEKS debut album earlier in the year, and a new album from Alice Skye this July.
Lines of similarity between TEEKS and Alice Skye don't come instantly - one, for instance, makes emotive soul from New Zealand, while the other makes cracking alt-pop in Melbourne - but they're definitely there. For starters, they're both musicians who have their identity in the centre of their work, whether it's TEEKS' connection to the land and family through a Te Ao Māori lens, or that of Alice Skye's, as a Wergaia / Wemba Wemba musician whose music has always thrived with its sense of interpersonal confidence.
They're also bound to be behind two of the best albums come 2021's end.
Back in March, TEEKS - real name Te Karehana Gardiner-Toi - shared his debut album Something To Feel, a sonically and emotively rich 12 tracks that emphasise the beauty in his dizzying and often-subtle take on R&B and soul. "I always heard sometimes you have to hit rock bottom and I did not realize what that meant until I felt like I was there," he said with the record's release. "It forced me to dig deep. I was writing before but I didn’t think I was writing from a place that intimate."
Something To Feel thrived with that intimacy, exploring the vulnerability of the musician with nuances that pluck from the connection to his family, his culture, and the greater world around him. "Coming into this new album, writing about myself and how I am navigating my own emotions internally, and the whole ocean of what that is," he continues. "I have always tried to suppress so much of me. This album is me telling myself that it’s okay to feel something. Life is not worth living if you don’t feel something."
Alice Skye, meanwhile, will return with her long-awaited sophomore album I Feel Better But I Don’t Feel Good, arriving July 23rd via Bad Apples. It's an album that's said to combine the grittiness and intimacy of her celebrated debut - 2018's Friends With Feelings - with a rockier edge, capturing a newfound energy from the musician as she emphasises the evolution - both musical and personal - she's developed over the last four to five years.
Party Tricks, the album's latest single, welcomes a taste of what to expect. It's rough around the edges and full of that distinct Alice Skye charm; crashing with thick percussion and rollicking guitar that move amongst Alice Skye's inward-facing vocal. "I was stuck in a situation that was just adding to my already warped sense of self. It can be easier to end up in bad relationships that feel comfortable because it's familiar, than get used to the idea that you deserve more," she says. "It takes work to see an out and I definitely wrote this song when I was sitting deep in that place. I just wanted a song to wallow in and play really loud."
Now, we bring the two powerhouses together, as they celebrate their new material and meet - over the internet - for the first time. Alice Skye, meet TEEKS; TEEKS, meet Alice Skye. Take a dive into their chat below as they interview one another, and take a listen to their new material while you're reading - it's some of the best stuff out there at the moment:
TEEKS interviews Alice Skye:
What is the earliest memory you have of music impacting your life?
I think I was a pretty anxious kid and I have memories from around maybe 4/5yo (or am often reminded) that I would get scared during late night drives in the country, mum would put on Tiddas album Sing About Life or my family would sing songs to keep me distracted. I don’t think I’ve really stopped using music that way.
I resonate with sewing your roots into your songwriting and storytelling. What do you want to do or say more of?
I think I'll always feel like I want to do and say more. Hope to stop worrying so much about how it will be received maybe.
How have you worked through adversity coming up in the industry as a Wergaia/Wemba Wemba woman, especially operating within the alternative/indie scene in Australia?
There are different challenges all the time, being a First Nations person across any industry in “so-called Australia”. Spanning from a stranger saying something they don’t realise is harmful to someone intentionally doing so. I deal with it how and when I can to be honest! Grateful to have the community I can confide in and feel strength from.
Growing up close to The Grampians sounds idyllic and very special. How do you stay connected to your home when you’re travelling?
I’ve lived away from home for about 7 years. Our farm has remained one of the few constants in my life and I’m so thankful it’s a place I can return to and slow down in. It really helps that my bandmates are also from the area and we grew up there together. I spent so much of my teen years wanting to get out of our small town that I didn’t quite realise how connected I am to it. We often close our sets with a song about home called You are the Mountains. I think it’s important to all of us that the land that held us growing up, comes along wherever we go.
What message do you have for young Indigenous singer-songwriters wanting to get involved within the Australiasian music industry?
Tell your story !!!
Do you have a ritual for self-care?
Not so much a set ritual and definitely depends on what I need at the time. Sometimes the basics make me feel the best like - cooking up a nourishing feed, having a bath, cleaning my room or going for a walk.
What are five things you can’t live without?
Aside from food - baths, my dog, city breaks, mindless TV shows, therapy !!
Who are your most favourite Indigenous singer-songwriters & artists?
Verrry hard to narrow down but to name a few! :
Alice Skye interviews TEEKS:
I read that your latest release is about surrendering to human emotion (which I love). Do you have an early memory of connecting to a song?
Game of Life by Maisey Rika. I remember coming home from school and putting the song on full blast, I would stand in the living room and fantasize singing the song as a duet with her lol. I think the reason I connected so strongly to the song is because it speaks directly to my people and the struggles that we face. But more than that it’s about realising our potential as descendants of chiefs.
What was the first CD you owned if you remember?
The first CD I remember buying with my own money was Adele’s 21 album. We were on a school trip about to drive 4 hours home and we needed something new to listen to in the van. Given my group of friends and the type of music we all listened to at the time Adele was probably the most unlikely choice but to this day it’s one of the best decisions I ever made.
I’ll remember that trip home for the rest of my life.
Is there someone or thing from your family or community that inspires or guides you?
My culture and the guiding principles that have been instilled within us. Identity and legacy are a big part of that.
Do you have a pre-show process?
I usually isolate myself for a moment and try to focus my attention within. Go through some breathing exercises and eventually regroup with the rest of the team and karakia (incantation or prayer).
If you weren’t doing music what do you think you’d be doing?
Definitely something creative. I’d still have to be making something. Maybe designing clothes? I also enjoy the marketing aspect of my work, being able to package something in a particular way, telling a story and making it an experience for the consumer. So maybe something that allows me to do that.
I’ve never been to Aotearoa but it looks like such a magical country. Where do you go to feel grounded?
Hokianga. The most beautiful and majestic place on earth.
Your voice/music is beautiful. Was there someone that inspired your sound early on?
Maybe not someone but a series of events and people along the way? I’m very observant so I’m constantly taking things in. Whether it’s the oral traditions of my culture, the influence of my family or the music I listen to. I’m very fortunate to have access to so much and to be stimulated in so many different ways.
Who are you listening to at the moment?
Kenneth Whalum, Ambre, WurlD, Frank Ocean (always) many many many more.
Songwriting and song-sharing can be so personal and so cathartic. How are you feeling about the new release?
At peace. Been a long time coming and I feel so much relief finally having these songs out into the world. They don’t belong to me any more and now I can move on to whatever's next.
Follow Alice Skye: INSTAGRAM