Beats, Collab Dreams, and The Hawaiian Shirt Mafia – An interview with Jamal of SWIDT


SWIDT (See What I Did There) is on the rise. A 5 man Hip-Hop collective from Onehunga, Auckland, they enjoyed huge success with their début album ‘SmokeyGotBeatz Presents “SWIDT vs EVERYBODY”’ which was nominated for the “Critic’s Choice Award” and won the “Best Urban/Hip Hop” Album of the year at last year’s VNZMA.

They have just released ‘Close One’, the third instalment in a new 4 Part series focusing on the guys teenage years growing up in Onehunga.

The first instalment, Alfred & Church was produced by Tae Beast of Digi+Phonics (Kendrick Lamar, ScHoolboy Q). At the time of the interview, part 2 “Little Did She Know” was their latest release, a reflection of the trouble they would get up to behind their mothers’ backs.

In my first interview for Will Not Fade, I was lucky enough to have a quick chat with Jamal, a rapper/producer in the group that also includes producer SmokeyGotBeatz, rap duo SPYCC & INF and Boomer-Tha-GOD.

After connecting on how relatable “Little Did She Know” was (and reminiscing on the punishment when we got caught) we talked about SWIDT’s process for choosing a beat and theme for each track.

Jamal: We just sit there and go through each beat, and we only use the beats that everyone likes. Because we like to have a feeling, if one person’s not feeling it for a reason, then we don’t [use it], it’s not the one. Our main process is just getting together and vibing out, and the subject always come from how we’re feeling at the time.

Jayden: It must be so easy for you guys.

Jamal: I think it is, because we’re talking about ourselves, we’re not trying to be something else.

Jayden: You guys came up together right?

Jamal: Yeah, all of us grew up in the same hood. I met these guys later on down the track. These guys have known each other since the age of 4 or 5, and I met them when i was 16, we all went to the same school, all knew the same people. It was a connection that was too easy to not work with, we just banded together so easily. We weren’t even meant to be proper artists, but that’s how everything fell into place, and it just worked really well. We’ve been making music for years, it’s an organic thing that’s happened and we’re riding with it.

Jayden: Does it feel surreal, how fast you guys are blowing up?

Jamal: BRO. Hard out man. I’m still living normally, and I get family and friends coming up to me saying “You’re doing so well” and I’m like “Are we?” it just feels normal, we’re just trying to make music. Because we’ve been putting out music for so long, but we’re doing it as a crew now, and it’s getting a lot more recognition. We always sit back like “Man, this is cool!”

We talk about the 4 part series, and I compare it to drip feeding the mixtape that always comes before the album. He agrees, suggesting that it may be a first in New Zealand rap.

I grew up around music and wanting to do music, and like any budding artist I would dream about people I’d like to work with. So I’m always curious if already established artists feel the same way. The answer is obvious for Jamal: Kendrick Lamar.

Jamal: He’s at the pinnacle of his career right now, to work with him would be an experience.

Jayden: Imagine writing with him, just being in the studio, understanding his process.

Jamal: The way his music works, it’s not normal, it’s an actually well thought out process, there’s a reason why he’s making every song.

We discuss Kendrick’s new album Damn, and it’s ranking against his other albums. Jamal puts Damn in at 2nd, behind Good Kid, M.A.A.D City, which I strongly agree with.

Jamal: I’m a producer, and I put beats first, I’m not that great at understanding lyrics, and when I heard Good Kid, M.A.A.D City, I could listen to it from start to finish and not skip a song. That’s rare in albums these days.

Other dream collaborations were Prince and Andre 3000 (of Outkast). I though Andre 3000 was an interesting choice so I asked him to elaborate.

Jamal: Growing up, we really listened to music in the 2000’s, because we were born in the 90’s, Outkast and Dipset (The Diplomats). And it was cool because Outkast was a duo of rappers, and Dipset had rappers and producers, and we connected with that so well. Even to this day we still look at things the way they would. Like fashion, Dipset had the whole New York swagger, and we have the Hawaiian Shirts.

Remembering that they sometimes refer to themselves as The Hawaiian Shirt Mafia, I asked him about the colourful Pacific Island shirts they are often seen wearing.

Jamal: We’re pacific people, so why not show off pacific visuals to an audience that don’t understand why Islander people wear Hawaiian shirts. They’re mean colours, mean to wear, and I think they popping now. I’ve seen people releasing Hawaiian patterned clothing in popular stores like Hallensteins, and it’s crazy, we didn’t think they would pop, we just wanted to wear them because that was us.

But it’s true, pacific printed clothing is starting to trend again, and I commend him on the timely fashion choice.

SWIDT links:






Vice feature:

Cult of Personality: An interview with Will Calhoun (Living Colour)

Will Calhoun of Living Colour. Image: Andre Betts

Will Calhoun laughs when I tell him how old I am. I was only three years old when his band Living Colour split back in 1995. I explain to him that because of this, Living Colour isn’t a known name within my peer group. However many of my friends do recognise their hit song “Cult of Personality” because of its inclusion in the video game Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas. He’s delighted by this.

“It feels great,” he tells me, “I have to say that I’m quite thrilled that it has transcended the rock and roll arena and has branched off into other arenas. It’s nice that the song transcended the music industry – which has come into an interesting phase – and is getting into the gaming industry and into television shows.”

Living Colour formed in New York in 1984, offering a unique fusion of politically charged rock, funk, jazz and metal. The band rose to fame, touring with rock heavyweights like Rolling Stones and Guns n Roses. They parted ways in 1995 with three records under their belt, but thankfully in 2000 the band regrouped. They are visiting Australia and New Zealand on tour in May and have a new record, Shade due out later in the year.

Despite the amount of time passed since Living Colour were at the height of prominence, the themes of their music remain as current as ever. Calhoun shares how the band wrote their biggest hit, ‘Cult of Personality’.

“We wrote that song in 1988. The fact that people still love it [is great]. I think it still sounds relevant today.

“The four of us have very strong ideals about the world and we talk about them. ‘Cult of Personality’ was written while we were setting up for a rehearsal. The topic of discussion was: what makes people follow people? What makes people follow Hitler, or Ghandi, or Dr King? Or Medgar Evers or John F. Kennedy? What is it about what someone is saying, or their charisma – that personality – that makes people want to follow them? And that was the conversation. And we were wondering: is it the same thing? Is it the same thing that made people follow Ghandi that made people follow Hitler? What are those intrinsic values? What are those definitions? How do you, as a person, identify with that person’s dialogue?

“And that was how the song was written. Vernon played a riff. I played a beat. And next we knew we had a song. All while we were setting up for sound check.”

Living Colour’s most recent release is an EP that centres around a cover of Notorious BIG’s song ‘Who Shot Ya?’. This track, along with another cover of Robert Johnsons ‘Preachin’ Blues’, are due to appear on Shade. I ask if there is a process that Living Colour go through to select songs to cover. Calhoun stops to think.

“We just covered ‘We Are Afraid Of Americans’ by David Bowie and I’ve been a fan of that song for so many years and it just felt so great to play it. We just cover songs we like as a band. We choose songs based on relevance to us, but often it is just playing homage to the person. It’s about paying respect to a person who, in our opinion, has done a creative amount of great work.

“As for Biggie Smalls… Corey Glover, our singer, is a massive fan of Biggie. Most of his hit songs he can rap to by heart. But it’s the impact. When you think of Robert Johnson verses Biggie… I just love that Living Colour has this wide open variety of songs to choose from. There’s no formula. We just pick what we like and we fool around with it and change the arrangement while still paying respect to the artist.”

So we already know two songs – both covers – appearing on Shade. Calhoun says that the rest of the record is the same Living Colour we know and love, but updated for 2017. He also adds that he loves the social commentary on the album.

He corrects me when I ask if the issues that the Black community faced 20-30 years ago are still the same today. He’s not rude, but informative. Clearly he is passionate about the themes that his band explore.

“These songs go beyond the Black community. They deal with the Māori community – down there where you live. The Aboriginal community in Australia. The Native American communities and indigenous communities around the world. They’re not relegated to black and white issues. Some of our songs deal with gender, discrimination, chauvinism, bullying, and those kinds of things. We write songs based upon what we experience in life. That’s what’s most fun about being a member of Living Colour.”

Again he corrects me when I try to rephrase my question, asking if the songs are for people of minority and those facing oppression.

“I think people of colour are not minorities. I think that they are a majority of people on the planet if you look at it in academic senses. I don’t like people using the term minority but I read that and I hear that all the time. In fact if you were to do the numbers or any real census of all the people on the planet, the people of colour are by far the majority. That’s neither here nor there, but when you use a term like minority, what you’re doing is you’re homogenizing a concept of people. You’re diminishing their value and painting a kind of a picture. That’s something that we want to break down in Living Colour – this homogenizing of culture. Even for black music.”

Living Colour by Karsten Staiger

Image: Karsten Staiger

“When Living Colour first came on the scene in ’88 many people were surprised that we were black. And for us, we were shocked! Especially in our own country, to see that. Because black people invented rock and roll.

“The music’s for everyone – no doubt about it – but we are very careful with terminology and expressing ourselves in a way that’s all inclusive.

“We have a great song called ‘Wall’ that goes: ‘The wall between us all must fall.’ These walls that separate us by gender or by race, by skin colour, by financial interests. Ironically, that song was written mid-eighties. And here we are now in North America, with an administration that is discussing the possibility of building a wall.”

“Our music and lyrics are very present and relevant. And we hope that the music reaches people and might be . As an artist you always want to have present impact upon your audience.”

Calhoun is a nice guy. He comes across as friendly, and genuinely interested about me. I tell him that I’ve been up since before dawn for an ANZAC service, and that I play drums. When I mention that work as an early childhood teacher he showers me with encouragement.

Plus he’s patient. My calls kept cutting out annoyingly, but he remained accommodating the entire time. He tell’s me that this is the most interesting interview he’s ever had. This is possibly because I tried to come up with great questions, but it’s more likely because I keep having phone troubles.

As a drummer myself, I love Calhoun’s style. I’ve spent a lot of time watching Youtube videos with him playing, and explaining his approaches to drumming and the equipment he uses in his set up.

His interest in using electronics with drums started at a young age. Growing up in the Bronx, with his older brother’s generation responsible for pioneering hip-hop, meant that drum machines were commonly accessible. Seeing friends using the drum machines to programme beats and later hearing those beats on the radio prompted Calhoun’s desire to experiment with them himself.

“I didn’t want the drums to sound like drums,” he explains, “so I thought I could plug the drum machines into effect pedals and rack modules and delays and reverbs. And I thought about how I could manipulate that drum sound to get out of that idiom of being a drum? What would a drum sound like if it fed back? If it was looped? If it was sampled, or re-sampled?

“The same way a guitar player thinks about his or her guitar sound. Jimi Hendrix had a huge influence on me as an artist. Jimi was disconnected in a lot of ways. He was like an alien being. He took sounds and fed them into the guitar in ways that, as far as we were concerned, no-one had come up with before. And that’s the process I wanted to have with drums. So the influence came from both the increase in technology, and knowledge, experience and exposure with drum machines in my childhood and it just transcended.

“The experimentation with the technology forces you to create and change your sound. And that’s why I got into smaller drums. With my Nomad snare I wanted a bright sound, with a smaller drum for a smaller frequency response. I went to Sabian because I wanted cymbals that could work with electronic and acoustic music.”

This interest in combining electronic and acoustic sounds stepped up when he enrolled to study at Berkley, where he was a recording and engineering major. He had to choose a principle instrument – drums – but he chose to focus more on the stuff he didn’t know: learning about how microphones work and how to build consoles and create sound.

“I was a freak about sound. I wanted to know how Led Zepplin records sounded so amazing. What were they doing with the drum sound, the reverbs? The Old Columbia recordings… Why do James Browns recordings sound so great – so clean – today? We know they were great musicians, but how is it that they were able to make those great recordings with little 8-track recording studios?”

Later on in life he traveled around the world, living in places like Mali and Senegal where he learnt more about traditional drumming. Berkley was great as an institutional setting, but studying in various African nations gave Calhoun insight into thousands of years of teaching. Like his drum set uses electronic and acoustic elements, his style draws from both scientific and spiritual approaches.

It was fascinating hearing about the concept of ancestral beats. I asked him if he includes said beats in his playing, which launched him into an engrossing explanation. At first it sounded like something I’d dismiss, but Calhoun explained it in a way that made it sound plausible.

“I absolutely include them at all times. More so live because when playing drum solos I can introduce them to the audience in their traditional form. But at all times I include those beats. Sometimes it’s just pieces of the beats – a hit hat pattern, or a snare pattern or a kick pattern – but I’ll play them in their entirety in a drum solo because I can control what the beat means. Those beats have meanings and definitions. Those beats are like sentences. It has a subject, it has a verb… this kind of thing. So the beats are like a language, in a way.

“Those beats are part of rock and funk and James Brown style drumming. They are already borrowed bits and pieces. That’s the nature of music, with things able to be borrowed and transferred. I  use them as much as possible, but they’ve been used by many great drummers before my time. If you listen to James Brown, a lot of the grooves on his records are Nigerian festive beats. And that’s why, in my opinion, James Brown’s music is loved by everyone – because historically it’s a celebratory rhythm being played.”

He explained how the body reacts to vibrations and tone. Certain sounds will make you feel happy, or relaxed, or upset. Think of fingernails on a chalkboard. Now think of waves lapping up on the shore at a beach. Our bodies have innate reactions to certain frequencies, so by extension it makes sense that specific alncestral drum beats can have particular effects on us.

He even takes the vibration concept another step, using a machine.attached to the drum throne he sits atop. The machine, called a BC2, sends vibrations up Calhoun’s body as an alternative to having a monitor. Calhoun dislikes monitors, comparing the act of a speaker blasting your own music back at you to riding a Harley Davidson and having the exhaust pumped back into your helmet.

Some Living Colour tracks are almost 30 years old. I ask Calhoun if he plays the songs differently now that has access to new equipment and technology. His answer revolves around a brilliant analogy of a hamburger.

There are formulas to the songs that he likes to keep, but he has changed as a parson over his career, living in different countries and using different technologies.

“A hamburger is a hamburger. You can put ketchup on it, or mustard or relish. You can make it well done, you can make it medium rare. But it’s still a hamburger. I look at my songs with Living Colour – my previous beats as a hamburger. I don’t want to eat it the way I used to eat it twenty years ago. I want to change it up and add different feels. A pocket or a groove or a feel is just a beat. But what are you adding to it? What spice or twist are you adding to it? Not pissing off the listener, but making it feel like it’s 2017.”

To conclude our chat I ask Calhoun one last question to make him laugh: does the British spelling of the name Living Colour ever lead to confusion? I can picture his grin down the end of the phone line as he answers. The band founder Vernon Reid is English, so made a deliberate choice to spell “colour” with the “U” included. But most Americans spell it incorrectly out of habit. It’s not much of an issue.

Before we finish Calhoun tells me how he’s looking forward to returning to New Zealand and getting another taste of our unique scenery, food and culture. I’m just as excited to see Living Colour play live for the first time.

Living Colour AU NZ tour 2017

Living Colour are playing the Powerstation in Auckland on Thursday 11 May.

Tickets from AAA Touring

Will Calhoun links:




Living Colour links:






Joseph James

The Lay Of The Land – An Interview With Lydia Cole

Lydia Cole

Busy, busy

Auckland singer/songwriter Lydia Cole has just come home from a short Australian tour promoting her second album, The Lay Of The Land, which came out a few weeks ago. She’s in a weird state between excitement and exhaustion.

“On ­­­­­­Monday I flew back. I did three shows in four days. It was kind of insane. I have never been more tired or thoroughly exhausted in my mind and body than I was this weekend.

“It was awesome though. Totally pays off and definitely worth it.” she hastily adds.

Lydia Cole Live

Image: Josh Yong

Cole will continue the tour locally across our three main centres over the coming few weeks, before emigrating to Berlin in a couple of months. She has spent the day trying to organise the logistics and equipment for her next few shows.

“The stress has been pretty insane over the past month, but I’m learning to break it down. I’m not sure about the details for the Wellington show, because I’m just thinking about this weekend, you know? I’ll worry about Wellington next week, which is the only way for me to cope with everything.

“At the moment it’s literally too much work for me to do. I did the Kickstarter, and there’s something like 260 people that I have to send CD’s or different rewards to. I’m definitely not up with all of that. Maybe half of the rewards are in boxes waiting me to package and address and send out.

“But I figure if those people have waited 18 months than they won’t be bothered about another few weeks … hopefully” she chuckles.

“I’ve never been this busy before. It’s like full-time plus. But I’m really grateful for it, because I know it doesn’t always happen that way.”

A new album

The Lay Of The Land is a stunning follow-up to 2012’s Me & Moon. She’s pleased with the album. Me & Moon left her anxious about what people would think, whereas this time around Cole is has had long enough to sit on the songs and is happy that they represent her well at this moment of time, and realises that they don’t have to define her forever.

“In the studio when I was recording it I was very anxious. And I don’t know if it was because I was subconsciously thinking that there was 260 people hoping to like this. The grassroots support from an array of people – the Kickstarter people – was one of the big reasons why I decided to go that way. Firstly: it was financial, but secondly: I don’t have a label or a publicist or anything – it was just me at that stage, doing my own thing – and I realised that doing Kickstarter was a way to have a few hundred people aware that I was going to release something. They’re waiting, so you already have a bunch of people on your buzz already. They’re loyal. They’ve invested with their money already and they’re likely to tell their friends and follow what you’re doing, so it’s cool.”

Lydia Cole Lay Of The Land Album

Cole had quit her job and sought contributions from her fans via crowdfunding site Kickstarter to help her fund the recording process. She managed to raise the $15,000 within only five days, and since recording the album a year ago has worked hard to piece together the package that has become her album. This has involved finalising the album art, creating music videos, having band rehearsals and waiting for the CDs and vinyl records to get pressed

When you look at what she has put out, you can understand why it has taken so long. Take, for example, the incredible stop motion video for “Telepathise”. Cole teamed up with ex-pat animator Timothy Armstrong to create this brilliant clip that is not only visually stunning, but complements the song so well. It took Armstrong a whole month to make, and could have easily taken three times as long.

There are so many intricate details in the video. Armstrong discussed at length with Cole what types of trees she likes and what animals she wanted featured. He painstakingly created the layered images atop a Lazy Susan table and spent a lot of time manipulating small lights to create the different effects you see in the video [example here].

Cole is also super excited about having vinyl copies of the new album available.

“I was living at home a few years ago with Mum and Dad and they had an old record player. I’ve got a small collection: Louis Armstong, Sufjan Stevens, Ryan Adams, Phoenix Foundation (fun!). Since I’ve gone flatting I haven’t had a record player and have had to shelf them, but listening to records is like making coffee for me. It’s a physical routine: you chuck it on, put the needle down and it’s more of a tangible moment to enjoy.

“Look, I’m not a big sound-y person and don’t understand technical stuff very much but I did have an inkling that the warmth and the textures – a lot of the synth sounds on this album – would suit a vinyl sound. It was real cool when the test pressing arrived and I chucked it on. It sounded so good – I think it really suits it. I’m stoked with that.

“And they’re selling really well at shows and online as well. I sold a whole bunch to people in Germany and all through Europe, which is awesome! Hopefully they all make it in one piece!”

Nic MAnders plays keys for Lydia Cole

Nic Manders on keys. Image: Josh Yong

Moving abroad

Berlin represents a fresh start and new challenges. Going from support slots for big name artists and Silver Scroll award nominations to being a nobody on the opposite side of the planet.

“I’m very aware that I’ll become nobody. I’m excited to start afresh and meet people and go to gigs and busk and see who reacts to me on the street. I’ve always had Nic Manders produce my stuff, and he won’t be there. Over there I’ll be doing home recordings and stretching myself in that way as well.

“I’m a real big fan of sustainable and thorough growth. Like, chipping away at your character, chipping away at a project that means a lot to you instead of hoping for that overnight success that doesn’t actually mean anything. I apply that to my music and to my personal growth. I think that the slower you grow, then the more concrete that change will be.”

Connecting with musicians

We spend some time enthusiastically discussing the Sufjan Stevens shows we had each been to when he came last year. He embodies that type of musician Cole aspires to be like, just an upfront guy who is also a talented musician. She shares that these are the types of people she tries to share a stage with as well.

Luke Oram plays guitar for Lydia Cole

Luke Oram on guitar. Image: Josh Yong

“A guy called Chris from Christchurch is coming up to Auckland to support me. He messaged me on Facebook to say ‘Hi, here’s a link to my latest song on Soundcloud and I’d like to support you’. I really liked it. I’ve never met him and have seen no footage of him playing live so it’s like a fun little risk that I’m taking.

“In Australia it was real interesting trying to find people to support me. And I was lucky with that too. I got a couple of real cool people. I think musicians have pretty amazing stories a lot of the time so it was cool to bump into more people who have crazy stories.

“People who play music in similar genres to what I play – they’re writing from the heart and writing about stuff that matters to them. Usually when I click with someone like that it’s often on a personal level as well, so you make a really good friend out of that, which is nice.”


Authenticity is something Cole values. She presents herself as she is, flaws and all. She chooses not to wear makeup and her personal lyrics can leave her feeling incredibly exposed, but she’d prefer to be seen as genuine than perfect.

“When I was younger I thought that not needing a day job meant you’ve made it, but I’ve changed my perspective on what success means.

“Success to me is balance and health. The past little while I’ve been working part-time in a café, and doing music the rest of the time. The café work helps keep me social and personally healthy, and not going all crazy in my head. And it pays the bills. And that to me is success.”

Lydia Cole has four more NZ shows before moving to Germany to continue her personal and musical growth. With hundreds of people paying to help fund her music and a likely three sold out shows on this tour, it’s hard not to agree that she has done well for herself. We wish her the best of luck starting afresh overseas.

Lydia Cole tour details

Auckland  – The Wine Cellar, March 2 – SOLD OUT

Christchurch  – Space Academy, March 3

Auckland – The Vic, March 10 – SOLD OUT

Wellington – Meow Bar, March 11







Words by Joseph James

All photos taken by Josh Yong at the Wine Cellar on February 14 and provided by Lydia Cole

Interview: Name UL [Emanuel Psathas]

Name UL

Name UL [real name Emanuel Psathas] is brimming with positive energy. He exudes enthusiasm, excitement and confidence. He actively fights the national mantra of tall poppy syndrome and attempts to prove that a small-time Wellington boy can bring his A-game and punch with the international heavyweights.

It has been almost a month since he dropped his debut album Choice(s) and held a sensational album release show with help from his friends in the band Drax Project. [Read my review of the album release show here]

I begin the interview with asking him if he if stoked on the final result of the album. He wholeheartedly agrees with the term.

Psathas: “I am stoked. I think stoked is a good way to put it. It’s definitely been a learning curve for me, putting it into a package so that it is recognisable and something that people associate with Wellington in mind when they hear it – it’s pretty awesome”

Psathas talks fast. You can almost hear his brain whirring as he speaks, trying to pump out the thoughts fast enough to keep up with his mouth. But he’s not just shooting his mouth off . I can tell that he is trying to communicate something worthwhile – which probably explains why he started rapping in the first place.

I think that Choice(s) is a good starting point for people wanting to hear my work, because I feel that this is where I really developed my voice. It’s the first time that I feel that I’ve really put something into my thoughts and specifically divided them to put into tracks, if that makes sense? Usually, with my past tracks I’d talk about girls, issues with drinking and depression, other issues, my parents, my friends… I’d try to fit it all into one track and it wouldn’t be so cohesive – it’d be a whole bunch of different thoughts and a stream of consciousness. So I feel like Choice(s) is a good place to start because everything is kind of divided up and there’s certain feels, and it means that I was able to create … like if I’m writing about a girl I’m able to create the mood and the music around what I’m talking about in the lyrics, so yeah – definitely a good place to start.”

It’s clear that Psathas has spent a lot of time in and around recording studios. His album release was a great combination of live and pre-recorded music, and he tells me about how he tries to achieve this sound in the studio.

“I like DJ-ing and the electronic side of things because it’s really crisp and you can really get things quite precise with your performance and in the studio it’s easier to make things more calculated. But in saying that, I think a lot of the really unique flavour that gives a track its energy and its heart and, you know, everything about it is from that stuff you can’t plan for. So I think it’s really good to have a balance of the two. And that’s why I like using live artists as well –because they bring that whole dimension and things that you can’t really plan for, but are really beautiful. So definitely has that touch to it. Also, playing off things that are actually from the earth (do you know what I mean?) … like playing off drums that are made of wood from the tree, and animal skin… there’s a whole bunch of things which add to it – There’s elements to it that you wouldn’t really think about, but I reckon they do have a bit of a play into how we listen to it and how we digest it.

And Psathas doesn’t just collab with talented musos, he plays some music himself. He laughs when I ask if he played any instruments on the album.

“Just the violins”, he grins, scratching his head to think if he played anything else. “Yeah, violins. But all the atmospheric sounds we made in the studio. All interludes, all the sounds of the town. The bottles smashing, phone calls – That was all made within a room with a few people.”

Name UL Choice(s).jpg

And, of course, there is more than just the music when it comes to releasing an album. I ask if others from KWOE (Kids With Open Ears, his collective) have also contributed to the album, noting that photographer Jeremy Hooper shot the pic on the album cover.

“ Yeah… Hoops with the visual stuff. Ben Murdock – Heist Beats – he’s had a lot to play with it in terms of the visuals on all of our platforms across Instagram, Facebook, Twitter and all of that… All of the core graphics that we put out, announcements of things we put together, some cool little posters or little photos – that’s all Ben, and he’s taken it under his belt, which is awesome. And he’s also been in the studio with me for all of the final recordings. I conceptualised everything on my own, but when it came to actually piecing it together in the studio, he had a big part in helping me with that. Also David Argue did that video for “Belong” the day of the drop, and he did a lot in supporting me in the making of the album, and filming me and documenting it.”

As well as the KWOE crew, Psathas also teamed up with his father, renown composer John Psathas. He seemed to really enjoy the process.

“It was pretty awesome, but it’s weird. My dad obviously works with a lot of people, but I’m his son, first and foremost. When we make music, it’s like, with your dad – like a go to play cricket on a Sunday, or kick a ball around at the park, or we got to make a table for your mum ‘let’s sit in the workshop and work on it together’ – kind of thing. It’s not like we’re going to make this table and sell it and make lots of money off it. It like that, you just do it because that just the way that you spend quality time together, and that’s what it’s like when my dad and I make music together. We’re not expecting some kind of outcome. We just do it because it’s a way to spend time that we both enjoy. It’s nothing like working with other artists. And dad loves it. Biggest fan, biggest supporter.”


Image: Will Not Fade

It’s nice to see that someone experience a taste of success is keen to acknowledge his team – those who inspired and influenced him and helped him bring his goals to fruition.

“My previous DJ Denny Fackney. He was the person who made me want to rap about other stuff, and not just being cool and to blow up and all that. I remember we had a very big chat about two years ago (just before I started this album) about the whole thing. I vividly remember it – it was one of the more important conversations I’ve had ever. It was about two hours and we just sat and he just schooled me on why I should rap about this stuff. He remembers that and we reference that when we talk about this album as a reflection of understanding that conversation. Make your mark, I think he was the person who really taught me how to do that and how to harness the uniqueness of where I’m from as something that could help me more than I think. He has been a very, very big, significant impact on my musical life.

“Also my manager Pritesh had a massive impact on everything that I do with my work ethic and all of that.

“But, honestly man, the biggest person is just myself. I’m always keeping myself in check with just everything. I’ll always push myself and try new things.”

Name UL and Drax Project San Fran Wellington (8)

Image: Will Not Fade


And this theme of confident, but not cocky, shines through what Psathas is saying. He knows that he has the skills to carry him, and he’s not afraid to say that. He discusses the differences between working a support slot and headlining his own gig, noting that he carries the same passion for each, despite the different pressures of each scenario. I ask him how he tries to win over people who may not be interested in seeing him when he opens for big international acts.

“I don’t really but much thought into winning them over. I just have confidence in my set and I know that people like it, so that’s what I do, and I just play the best that I can, and I can’t put thought into anything else. If I started to think in those terms it would freak me out, and could affect it. They’ve obviously chosen me for a reason, so I come out here and I do what I do. I’ve been to shows, I’ve seen opening acts. I’ve seen what to do and what not to do from the crowd’s perspective. I understand that not trying to be too big out of your boots straight out of the gate, and letting your music speak for itself before you try and get the crowd to think that you’re really good. Let them decide, and just put it out there and understand that they might not like it because obviously they didn’t come to see you. But I have the confidence in our music that people really will like it and know that our sets are really, really on point. So I don’t get scared or nervous, I’m very understanding of the process from the audience’s point of view.”

“Headlining has more responsibility because people have paid money to come and see you. The ticket is not from the support act. Sometimes it is – but most of the time it’s not why people buy it. People didn’t pay to see Name UL, they came to see Action Bronson. So at the end of the day, I can be a shitty supporter, but it’s not going to leave people saying that it was a bad show – it’s only if the headliner was really bad that people would say that. It comes back to what we were talking about before in terms of confidence. Exact same show in terms of entertainment value, musical value, in terms of an overall night – we can bring all of that just as well as any other American artist you can think of. Whether that be… uh… anyone! Anyone I’ve opened for, I genuinely believe that our live set is just as good – if not better – than theirs, it’s just that we lack the money and the fanbase. But those two things will come. I feel that in terms of headlining – I have no doubts in our ability. Looking back we killed it. We did kill it, and it was great! In terms of an experience or a show, sure you could put Kendrick Lamar aside, next to me on that stage right? But if we stripped back people knowing those songs –if it was a completely fresh thing –I genuinely believe that we could perform just as good a show. I want people to see that when they come to the show. I want them to see that we have international class acts in Wellington that will perform Wellington. Just because we’re from Wellington, and we’re in Wellington doesn’t mean that people have to see anything less in terms of production value, performance value – and that’s what we’re bringing, what we’re trying to push and get people to understand.”


This ethic has opened doors for Psathas, leading him to  Los Angeles to record, and undertake an internship writing for Warner Music. He explains that as incredible as traveling to America to  work within the music scene sounds, he still needs to stay grounded.

“It’s pretty awesome. I think that prior to doing a lot of the work it felt like something that would be pretty surreal, but it’s interesting, because once you get onto the other side of the work and you get there, it feels like it’s pretty much what should be happening. It doesn’t feel weird, it feels like it’s part of the plan. If you work hard enough, you get to a certain place, you have a bunch of product or content or something underneath you, there’s certain things that you have to do. And when you rub shoulders with people in The States, you might think back in the day, like back when I was younger I was like ‘oh, imagine meeting up with a publicist in LA! How exciting would that be?’ But  on the day you have a folder full of notes, you’ve got a plan, you’ve got everything. It’s very serious and it’s a big deal, but it feels like it’s part of the plan – it’s what is supposed to happen if you work a certain way, and you do things a certain way.

“It is weird, because there hasn’t been a rapper from Wellington who has done that yet. But I’m not trying to be someone who hits a ceiling. I don’t put a limit on what I’m gonna do, and in order to be someone like a Kendrick Lamar, or a Kanye West, or a Drake or whatever – this is what they were doing when they were 20 as well. It’s just because I’m from Wellington that it seems really obscure, because we’re not known for being in the hip-hop community overseas. It feels stranger, but it also feels good.”

I’m especially interested to hear about one figure that Psathas met overseas: eccentric

Name UL Nardwuar.jpg

Image: Name UL

Canadian radio host Nardwuar the Human Serviette, who is famous for his quirky mannerisms and in-depth research into the backgrounds of every artists he interviews. I ask if Psathas if he had learnt any crazy facts him.

“I didn’t! I wish I’d had longer to speak to him. It was a pretty brief encounter, but he was a pretty awesome dude, and he was actually super similar to what he’s like on camera. He’s pretty much exactly the same so I respect him for that.”

One thing that I believe sets Name UL apart from many other rappers is that he touches on issues that are deeper than the stereotypical “pussy, money, weed” culture than can sometimes be prevalent in hip-hop. He’d already shared about being asked to reflect on his message by previous DJ Denny Fackney, so I asked him what key message he wants his listeners to take from his music.

“To stay inspired I just read the news every day. I wake up, and I read the news every morning. It’s important to me to know what’s happening in the world. And if other people my age don’t, then that’s fine –that’s up to them. But I always found that the way I wanted to do that I saw a friend reading the news every day, and I saw how cool it was to know about what’s happening in the world. And it didn’t take someone telling me to do that, it took me seeing another young person. Because if my dad tells me to do that than it’s like, ‘of course my dad would say that!’ If I see one of my friends doing that, who is my age and is actively aware of what is happening in the world, who can read about it and talk about what is happening with adults, then that inspires me to do it. So if I can be that to other people, than that’s great. I can be a source of inspiration.

“But people are more lenient to be like ‘I want to change the world’, than ‘I want to inspire the world’. To say ‘inspire’ sounds like you’re being cocky, but if you say “change” than it’s like you understand that you have to take something under your belt. It’s like it’s harder than it is. If you say ‘I just want to inspire people’ than it sounds like you’re putting yourself on a pedestal, but it’s real. That’s how. I want people to be like ‘yo! That dude’s reading the news, that’s what it’s about! Cool dude! I want to do that’.

“I’m trying to say that you don’t need a big-ass chain to cool in the hip-hop world, I want to show that you need a big-ass brain. ” – Name UL


And as for the future? He’s a bit coy.

“It’s always a big surprise, but we’ve got some stuff going. More content, more shows. Just more music, but I can’t get specific about the whole thing, but a lot of exciting stuff.”

I bet!

I find Name UL instantly likable. A rapper that wants to inspire kids to read the news, who wants to put Wellington on the map and make fantastic music with skilled people. Maybe he will become the next Kendrick. He’s got talent, contacts and material. He’s got attitude and confidence. Something makes me think that is he keeps forging this path he’s on he may actually get there someday.

Joseph James