Kaivai Is That Undercover Guy In The Suit


On Kaivai’s book shelf sits the Art Of War by Sun Tzu on top of that sits Jay Z’s Decoded and next to that sits a CD by Marina And The Diamonds.  As I form interview questions in my mind, I wonder how I’ll crack this guys story. He’s clearly faceted. His lounge is littered with instruments, broken drum sticks lay around, thrashed.  X Box controllers slouch on the couch and various red plastic containers live in corners of the room filled with leads, tambourines, mics and other audio gadgets. But, sitting in Finc on a Tuesday afternoon he wears an expensive suit, sipping a cup of tea. After this interview he will return to his 9-5 as a  Communications Coordinator for the Wellington City Council. Tomorrow, after hours, he will play an opening set for up and coming hip hop artist Raiza Biza at Medusa and though he does not expect many people to be at his own set, Kaivai feels that’s good, because it will take the pressure off him and let him relax and just jam, which essentially he says, it’s what he likes to do anyway. 

HH: What can people expect of your live show? 

K: Well a lot of the samples are kind of taken from old Tahitian music and there’s one that chants and it’s kind of slowed down and it’s supposed to be danceable but I’ve slowed it down and want to get more groove into it. It’s groovy by itself, but it’s real up tempo. I want it to be like mid 90’s to 100 bpm I want people to just kind of knock…If I was expecting people to be at this particular show just to see me then I probably would have done something a little different but I’m doing this knowing I’m there to support other guys on the bill. It’s kind of dumb, in a sense, you know, I should be doing something that really is me. And this is me, it’s just a different side of me. For people who have seen me before, this is probably a little bit more improvisational it’s more like what I do in my bedroom by myself…It’s more me in my crazy head like more of my weird ideas or as much as I can do with the MPC at the level that I’m at with it. You should probably just expect to hear something from me that you haven’t before.

HH: As a creative, would you say you’re crazy? 

K: Yeah. I do shit that even I’m shocked by. Like the Tahitian track…it’s been done before by MIA but I get off doing weird shit that other people wouldn’t necessarily do but then like putting it in people’s faces and making it sound commercial because you wouldn’t  expect it to sound like that. I enjoy making commercial sounding music because I love fucking with people …I think I do it in the sense that people don’t expect hard music from me…Like at my show at the [Botanical] gardens earlier this year, I came up and I was wearing a green suit and I sang a song about blow jobs like in front of families and shit like that but people don’t know because I was singing it in a way that they wouldn’t understand but if people actually took the time to listen they would have known. I sung a song in front of families called ‘Same Old Shit’ like about someone who keeps on getting fucked around by guys.

HH: So you have a private joke in your own head?

K: Yeah I have a private joke in my own head and it’s funny to me but no one else gets it, that’s what I enjoy. I’ll share it with some people and my friends who are usually in on the joke are like down there in the audience laughing their heads of because people are like ‘yeaah blow jobs… fellatio’.

HH: Were you like, this is morally wrong?

K: I was, but it was fun and like he seemed to be enjoying himself  and that’s where my private joke goes to the back and I’m like okay people are enjoying this and I’m just going to enjoy people enjoying this cause it’s fun, to me, seeing people enjoy it is cool.


HH: And that’s the buzz for you?

K: Yeah but when people come up to me and say they really enjoy it, I don’t believe them, I’m like you’re full of shit, you’re just saying that because you’re talking to me…But then I think okay, that person took the time to come up to me and tell me that they enjoyed themselves…

HH: Are you a tortured artist? 

K: Nah fuck off, I just don’t want to rate myself, I think if I rate myself too highly then I will kind of put myself in a glass house.

HH: What’s the goal then? 

K: I kind of want to just have my stuff, my music, I just wanna share it and put it out. Honestly, I haven’t really thought about doing much more with my music than what I’m doing now by myself, solo wise anyway, mainly because I’m really insecure about it as well like I get up there and I feel like a super hero but as soon as I’m off the stage I feel like shit.

Like you can’t not give a fuck about anything. That whole I don’t give a fuck mentality really fucks me off. Like I give a fuck about not giving a fuck.”

HH: Is it that you can’t deal with the anti-climax?

K: Nah it’s not the anti-climax, in my mind I’m thinking about the shit that I did wrong and the feedback. Like sometimes I wish there was a back stage at the show where I could just like chill out. Because I need, for me, once I’m finished, like I’ve given everything that I can…I go hard when I perform. I jump around, raise my arms, shit that I wouldn’t usually do, I do on the stage. But then I just need to decompress and unwind, I don’t want the slaps and the bro hugs and all that shit afterwards, not immediately at a place that’s intimate. I’d rather just shuffle off and un-wind, have a drink.

HH: In your music you often use the ukelele and things like that, do you make a point to incorporate some of your culture into your music? 

K: Definitely, shit yeah. Musically it’s my biggest influence, Cook Island music- no doubt, like more than anything. I have this specific memory from when I was younger than five, working in the gardens weeding with my mum, sisters and dad. There was like a rock garden and mum had heaps and heaps of old Raro tapes that we used to listen to and there was a tape by a guy called Pange Tautu which we listened to all the time and I loved it. I went to the National Library to find it and I can’t even get it out because they’re real hard out about their archives and their records. So it goes back real deep.

HH: Is there anything I haven’t asked you that you think people should know about you as a person?

K: I can talk shit. I think just to fill the air sometimes. But I got a lot of ideas that I keep to myself just for the sake of being able to work with people but also I genuinely accepting of most kinds of music. You could give me anything to listen to and I could find something good in it. Definitely find something bad in it but I really enjoy music in general. Like I tend to be quite positive I hardly ever find something negative in something unless it’s really bad.

HH: Where does your musical understanding come from if you haven’t been trained?

K:Well that’s the thing, I haven’t been trained but I’ve had fits and spurts of like training, quote on quote, so it comes from that mish-mash of experience like growing up I went to Pacific Island Church and learnt Tokelauan songs, Samoan songs all Christian music growing up throughout my childhood and into my teen years and then doing barber shop music, choral music like at college and a little bit now and then doing hip hop music since I was like 15, 16. Making Hip hop music and listening to hip hop music and then you got parental influences, mum with Raro music and dad with his everything music. Dad loved the Pogues, Woody Guthrie, Bob Dylan, Bob Marley. My uncles are twins, they’ve got this massive reggae collection that we used to listen to when we were little. My older cousin Pauline, she was a massive influence on me when I was little and the music I listen to, she used to listen to hard out 70’s disco. My other cousin, her younger brother Joel is probably like my biggest musical influence because it was he and I who came up together and learnt and taught each other how to play instruments like he taught me the basics of playing guitar and the uke. We learnt together.

HH: You do a lot of Googling hey? 

K: That’s what the internet is for, like if I couldn’t Google it, I’d go to the library and get a book out.

 “Something I’m working through at the moment like okay cumulatively what’s my life experience? What am I supposed to impart? I don’t want to be making a generic, cliché, this is my life song.”

HH: That’s quite determined, even though you say your music is what it is…

K: I feel like not too fussed is my general….I’m real kind of blaise about a lot of shit. It’s not about not giving a fuck, it’s about what you don’t give a fuck about. If you don’t give a fuck man, you don’t care man, you got no empathy. At the same time like if you don’t give a fuck about something it means it doesn’t affect you and that’s cool. But then I’m not really fussed but at the same time I don’t want to be regretful. I don’t want to say that I didn’t do it and that I didn’t give it a good go. And at this point, I noted today on my Facebook status, I’m almost 30…I’m almost fucking 30. But it’s taken me this long to get to the point where I’m actually comfortable with my own stuff. Like it’s only been a year and a half since I’ve been really comfortable singing my own shit and putting it out there. And I have heaps of stuff in the bank at home but I’m just not happy about putting them out because they’re old and I was a different person at that time and it’s not me now….

….And being a little older and having that perspective really helps ground you but it can also kind of limit you in the sense, like what the fuck am I supposed to write about, being old…that’s something I’m working through at the moment like okay cumulatively what’s my life experience? What am I supposed to impart? I don’t want to be making a generic, cliché, this is my life song but I do want to be saying something and I think that’s something that my own stuff lacks sometimes.

Listen to a raw version of the interview below:

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