You’ve probably already heard of Ngaiire – the Sydney-based singer whose appearance on Australian Idol four years ago is something of a mainstream anomaly in her career to date. She’s played at Glastonbury, written music for dance companies, collaborated with fashion designers and created sound installations for MONA FOMA. She’s also just released her second album, Blastoma, via her own record label, Maximilion Brown. It’s a collaboration with electronic musician Paul Mac and Sydney producer Jack Grace that’s full of heart and soul, glitch and grooves – and, of course, some insanely good singing.
Broadsheet: Where did you grow up and where do you live now?
Ngaire Joseph: I was born in a little coastal town called Lae in Papua New Guinea. Nine months after I was born my parents moved us to a place called Palmerston North on the north island of New Zealand. Every summer was spent driving up to Auckland in my parents’ little brown Datsun visiting my grandparents. Weekends were for hāngi in the backyard or long camping trips down the South Island, feasting on fresh roadside corn and fish and chips.
A few years later we moved back to PNG to a beautiful town called Rabaul, built on the side of a giant volcano crater which was also surrounded by other smaller volcanoes. In ’94 two of these volcanoes erupted, destroying the town and everything we owned. After being lost in the hills without any electricity, running water, much food or any real communication with the outside world, we relocated back to Lae.
In the year 2000 we moved to Lismore, north coast NSW, where I finished high school amidst bush doofs and Machine Gun Fellatio concerts, lived up in the cane fields of Mackay for a bit studying jazz, and am currently residing between Sydney’s Chippendale and my parents’ farm in the south-coast town of Berry.
BS: In what ways did your childhood in New Zealand and Papua New Guinea help shape the music you make today?
NJ: As a third-culture kid (anyone who grows up in a culture that isn’t that of their parents), you learn to adapt and take on elements of your surroundings in order to survive. I think that sponge-like attitude has translated to my music. I wanted to do all kinds of music when I first moved to Australia. I even tried starting a metal band when I was in high school.
BS: Any favourite city haunts or out-of-town escapes you can tell us about?
NJ: I love where I live. Chippendale has become a bit of a gem despite being a bit poor back in the 1800s. There are many nooks and crannies that I’ve been discovering. My local, The Knox, is one of those notable nooks. It’s a cafe by day and follow-me-down-the-rabbit-hole kind of bar by night. Nestled underneath a big beautiful Brooklyn-style terrace house, it used to be an underground garage. Often they have a DJ who spins old funk tunes I’ve never heard in my life, or they have the Knox Street Bizarre, which is basically a big party of all things weird and wonderful. We bring up boxes of limes or freshly harvested sweet potatoes from the farm in Berry in exchange for a bar tab.
BS: Who are your songwriting heroes?
NJ: Carole King, Prince, Jeff Buckley, Donny Hathaway, Stevie Wonder.
BS: Fantasy collaboration – any artist, anywhere, any era?
NJ: Matthew Barney. Check out his film The Cremaster Cycle.
Blastoma is out now. Lanks is supporting the national album tour. Dates below:
Adelaide: Fri June 17, Fat Controllor Perth: Sun June 18, Jack Rabbit Slims Melbourne: Thu June 23 & Sat June 25, Northcote Social Club Brisbane: Sat July 2, The Foundry Sydney: Fri July 8, Oxford Art Factory