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Interview: Tashi Wada (of Tashi Wada Group ft. Julia Holter + Cory Fogel)

Interview: Tashi Wada (of Tashi Wada Group ft. Julia Holter + Cory Fogel)

Interview by Martyn Pepperell / Tuesday 15th January, 2019 1:22PM

Los Angeles-based composer Tashi Wada's new group featuring US avant-pop artist Julia Holter and percussion innovator Cory Fogel are playing a special headline event at Auckland Unitarian Church in late January, organised in collaboration with the Audio Foundation. They're performing material from Wada's last album Nue, created with his father Fluxus artist Yoshi Wada, presenting "reimagined forms of ancient and devotional music, psychoacoustics, and non-equal tempered tunings," and released last year via exploratory Brooklyn label RVNG Intl.

Tashi Wada's event follows the day after Holter's hugely anticipated performance at Auckland's Tuning Fork this month, also featuring Wada as a member of her live band. Martyn Pepperell jumped on the phone with Wada to talk about his musical relationship with his father, surviving in sonic arts / composition, and world building.

You and your father seem to align very well musically. Was that always the case?

There is a sensibility that we share. As a child, I used to listen to my dad perform, and I listened to the music he liked. I think I inherited a lot from him. I grew up playing classical music and piano, and I don't think he necessarily understood that. He was not trained as a musician; he was trained as a visual artist. He came to music from a different side to the one I did. I think when we started working together in 2009 that was actually very interesting for us. I had all of this classical training and the experience of notation, and my father had this hands-on approach to experimenting with sound. We were able to compliment each other. We weren't stepping on each other's toes. We could bring different things to the table.

I'm sure you have a few peers who came to music through the visual arts route like your father?

Yes, definitely. We have a mixture of people around us who cover everything in-between as well. Increasingly, as I hear and play more and more music, I've realised that the interesting things in music can come from anywhere. People have different experiences, and they bring different things from them to music. Fresh ears are very important, and people who were not trained in music have totally different ways of understanding harmony and the like. Sometimes they're more intuitive.

With what your father does with drone and improvisation, do you ever feel like you learned a trade from him?

We have a joke that this is a family business, but there is no money [laughs]. My dad was very involved with Indian classical music and in other cultures, non-western cultures, family is very much a part of how music is passed down. Viewing it that way has nipped this idea in the bud, for me at least, that you rebel against your parents and go in the opposite direction to them. To me, this is a different approach. There is an amount of experience that I was given through my parents. That's all useful to me, and I'm thankful for it.

If this is a family business that doesn't make any money, what are the realities for you both working in sound art and composition?

In recent years, I've been able to dedicate the majority of my time to my music. The way I feel people these days can make it work, myself included, you have to be adaptable. I try to strike a balance between what makes me happy and what I need to do. That works for a while, and then when things change, I have to adjust and keep on adjusting essentially. For me, I do a variety of things. I do my own music, I play in my girlfriend Julia Holter's band, I work on the archive of a composer I studied with called James Tenney, and I also run a small label. I do all these different things, and it keeps things interesting for me. Also, with touring, it's very much a cycle. When the cycle is over, you have a stretch of no touring, so it's nice to have these things to fill in all these gaps.

You're presenting material from Nue the night after you perform as part of Julia Holter's band. How interlinked is Nue and her last album Aviary?

These albums coincided. We recorded them around the same time, and both played on each other's albums. We both worked with the same producer (Cole M.G.N) and have the same drummer, Cory Fogel. It almost seemed like it would be too much when we were looking ahead, but we've managed to make it balance out nicely. I'm not sure if we would always do it this way, but it's working this time.

Your father, however, won't be joining you for this show in New Zealand. What is it like presenting the music without him?

My dad and I have played together for about eight years. At this point, he's older, and he can't really travel as much. In that sense, playing without him is a practical thing. The experience of playing without him: to some degree, he is there in spirit because we worked on so much of the music together. I've also played so much with Julia and Corey that it feels very natural. I would love to have him on tour, but it's not always feasible.

Could you talk about some of the conceptual stuff that hangs over this music? I know you took some influence from Brazilian writer Clarice Lispector.

In making this album, I was trying to create a world that existed on its own and had its own rules. The title Nue and the references to Clarice Lispector, which aren't really audible, I think these things have captured that in a succinct way. When you read Lispector, whether it's novels or short stories, you get totally drawn into these worlds. Sometimes it's very abstract. Other times its concrete, but you're in all these people's heads. When you are in them, it's hard to see outside of them. That kind of immersive experience is what I was trying to create with Nue as an album.

Tashi Wada Group are playing at Auckland Unitarian Church on Friday 25th January, tickets are available HERE via UTR.


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Julia Holter
Thu 24th Jan 8:00pm
The Tuning Fork, Auckland
Tashi Wada Group
Fri 25th Jan 8:00pm
Unitarian Church, Auckland