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Interview: Skilaa Chat About New Video 'I Never Knew' + Release Tour

Interview: Skilaa Chat About New Video 'I Never Knew' + Release Tour

Chris Cudby / Photo credit: Connor Crawford / Thursday 28th July, 2022 10:29AM

Tāmaki Makaurau's Skilaa have unveiled today a gloriously lush new video for their latest single 'I Never Knew', created by the indefatigable Sports Team and directed by Annabel Kean (former assistant editor of this very site), with animations by front person Chelsea Prastiti. We felt this was the perfect excuse for a long-overdue chat with Prastiti, who generously spilled the beans about the origins of the neo-soul group's loved-up tune, their forthcoming nationwide release tour kicking off this Friday at The Wine Cellar, a debut album on the horizon and more...

SKILAA - Single Release Tour

Friday 29th July - The Wine Cellar, Auckland w/ Ripship, Eliza Beth*
Thursday 4th August - Space Academy, Christchurch w/ Georgie Clifford*
Saturday 6th August - Rogue and Vagabond, Wellington w/ Dawn Diver*
Friday 12th August - Jam Factory, Tauranga

*Tickets available HERE via UTR

Chris Cudby: Congratulations on your super cool new video, directed by Annabel Kean! Whose house was your video filmed in?

Chelsea Prastiti: That was filmed in our house, me and Callum Passells' house. Callum is the recording engineer for our album and the single that has just come off it. It's all been very sort of an at home project, because we recorded the album there and then we ended up making our music video here as well. So it's our abode. I'm literally in the same place right now.

Is that your lounge?

It's our lounge, yeah. It was really funny, our lounge is already pretty colourful, I've got a lot of colourful fabrics all over the ceiling and the walls. But then Annabel had this amazing idea to raid... there's this long driveway of a friend mutual friend of ours and it's full of aloe vera plants. The night before the shoot, her and I went to said friend's house and harvested an enormous amount of aloe vera plants and flowers. You'll see them spotted around the backdrop, but it was just such a bizarre sort of activity to be doing. This is the kind of thing that I think Annabel and Callum often love about making music videos, you never quite know where you're going to end up. We had to load all of us aloe vera, back and forth. Out of our cars and up the stairs. Our neighbours were just like, what is going on?

I really like the funk elements in your new song — it literally feels good. You said about the single: "it meant a lot to me to finally be able to write about the experience of romantic love from the perspective of happiness rather than sadness." Do you personally feel in a good place, relationship-wise right now?

Funnily enough, the person that the song is about is the person who recorded the album and he lives with me. It's about Callum. It's just nice to make music with your partner. When I wrote that song, I was experiencing, you know, a relationship with someone who's a real friend. Previous relationships weren't the worst in the world, but it's like when you're really with somebody that you actually feel it's right. It was really nice to be able to finally write a song like that, where other songs were a bit more for the heartbreak. I think everybody at some point, if you write songs, is going to go through different experiences of that experience of being in a relationship.

I'm glad that (people) like the funk elements. Mikey Howell actually wrote the chord progression for the single and then I wrote the melody and the lyrics over the top. He was listening to a lot of Prince apparently when he wrote the chord progression and I had also been listening to a lot of that kind of music. I listened to a lot of Chaka Khan and Michael McDonald, in that particular timeframe and then this melody came out. I was feeling very joyous. It was really nice to know that people are recognising the funk element... not that Michael McDonald was really funk is he — what would you call him?

He could definitely get pretty funky.

Actually, he can get pretty funky. Yeah, bless Michael McDonald, I love him.

A beautiful beard. Follow-up question to that question: do you reckon it can be difficult to write a positive love song, without it feeling kind of corny?

It's really funny you mentioned that, because that's something I used to feel like and think about, when I was writing songs that had that sentiment. Also you get a bit worried as a singer. You're like, "Oh, this is so cliche. I'm writing about love again." But this song really flowed out. I often like conceive of songs while I'm standing at my my bathroom window, smoking a cigarette. I was literally just thinking about Callum and how nice my life has been. All of those thoughts came to me and then sort of came into the song. It felt very natural.

You are going on tour in July and August. This is a two part question: please name everyone who will be touring with you this winter and please name one thing you like about each member.

Oh my goodness. This is excellent. Okay, well! These are the folks who are going to be touring, this is the whole band. It's taken a while to find the two singers who are going to be with us, so I'll start with them, they're our newest members.

Lea Anae is one of the BV singers and what I love about her — apart from being amazingly talented, both of these singers are incredible, and they're also close friends as well which is really lovely. I got to know them from teaching at Uni and the I was like "I can't pass these up, these two are just monsters, they're so good" — Lea is very vivacious when you get to know her. She's kind of shy at first and then she gets really vivacious and she can dance. She's taught me how to dance. She's just so sweet and funny.

And Helen Pahulu, the other BVs singer, she's the most recent addition. So crazy talented and she's one of the funniest people I've met. It has a way of making everybody feel very comfortable. She will just be able to make friends with literally anybody, she's just amazing. Oh my gosh you've got me on the gush now!

Then of course there's Michael Howell, who's on guitar and writing, co-writing with me. What I love about Mikey, we call him the Big Friendly Guitarist. Like the BFG. He's one of the most magical guitar players. I think he is one of the most well-adjusted, calm presences in the world. He's so clear headed and he always thinks things through. Oh I just love him so much.

We've got Adam Tobeck on drums. One of the things I adore about Adam, again other than his incredible talents, is that you can kind of talk to Adam about movies for probably all day if you wanted to. He's a real big movie nerd.

Very useful when you're going on tour!

Oh yeah, he's versed. Then lastly we've got Tom Dennison on bass. Tom also has done a little bit of like writing as well. There's one track on the upcoming album, that he wrote the chord progression for and he's written a little bits and pieces for other tunes. And Tobeck kind of conceives of the grooves right? Tom is one of the sweetest, most caring friends I've ever had. He's got an amazing imagination. If anyone has ever heard his, his solo music, they kind of like get a peek inside that head of his. Sometimes he'll check in on me and he'll say, "How's your brain?" Which I think is a really adage for how to take care of your friends. That's what I love about Tom, he really looks out for his buddies.

Is there an album on the way?

There is an album on the way. We had plans to release it this year, but we've actually decided to hold off a bit, to see if we can shop it around to some labels. Because we're really, really proud of this album and like a lot of people, we've had to wait a long time to release it because Covid happened. We've decided we're going to wait a bit longer, because I think it's worth it. We're super excited about it.

Skilaa's songs bring together lots of musical traditions. What's your own musical background?

My musical background, the first stuff we grew up listening to was actually Flamenco music. My father is a Flamenco guitarist... this kind of music was my earliest memories. But then also, my mother is very widely listened to and she listens to a lot of different kinds of music from different genres. And in the '90s, she kind of got on that World Music buzz kick. There was a lot of traditional sounding singings and music from across the the globe, especially West African pop fusion. It's an unfortunate thing, actually, because World Music is a bit of a difficult and contentious genre, especially because there was a lot of exploitation. But the actual music itself was incredible. I grew up with a lot of that. Then when I was in high school, I started getting into hip hop and RnB in a big way... and jazz! Then I studied jazz at university. That's where I've met a lot of the band members, including including our latest two, because I teach there now. So there it is, from from then to now [laughs].

What can gig-goers look forward to from your shows in July and August?

You can look forward to grooving and dancing. We're like a dance act, so even if you'd like to just wiggle in your chair, you can expect to probably do that. Then also, if you're a listener or a music nerd who really likes intricate details and little arrangement pieces and little exciting moments in the music, then I would say you can expect that from us.


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Skilaa - Single Release Tour
Thu 4th Aug 7:30pm
Space Academy, Christchurch
Skilaa - Single Release Tour
Sat 6th Aug 8:00pm
Rogue and Vagabond, Wellington
Skilaa - Single Release Tour
Fri 12th Aug 7:00pm
Jam Factory, Tauranga