Jackson is a talented poet, business owner and cat lover living in Aro - Roxy sat down with them to talk about books, cats and the rollercoaster that has been 2020.
Tell me about yourself!
I was born and grew up in Mt Cook here in Poneke. I tried moving away a few times but it's never stuck. I write poetry, fiction and nonfiction and work as a librarian and my partner and I are currently in the process of opening a little bookshop - Food Court Books. It began as a reading series that my partner and I ran where we put on poetry reading and every reading we make a zine, which serves as an artifact of the event, and it just grew from there.
While we would love it to be in Aro Valley, there's not a lot of commercial or suitable space available in the valley so it's gonna be in Newtown on Constable Street. We're going to sell. small and independently published books, both from New Zealand and abroad, as well as Zines and possibly other little crafts and stuff as well. So it's really exciting.
That's so cool! When are you looking at opening your doors?
Early November - we have some events lined up for the opening, so there's no going back!
It felt very weird at first, opening a business and like, getting a business account at the bank. Oh my god, I was so scared! I thought they would take one look at me and say oh, no we can't do this, you have bad credit or, it's not going to work or something like that, but it was okay in the end!
How long have you been authoring for?
Oooh good question! Its been about 10 years or so that i've been writing in a focussed manner, and this book that's just recently come out was written over that time. I started writing it late 2010, not actively writing every day but just chipping away at it, so it does represent a good chunk of my life. So it's kind of almost a general journal of the last decade I've experienced.
Living in the valley, obviously this is an amazing beautiful and creative space, but how much of your inspiration do you draw from this environment?
I would say probably quite a lot, because a lot of my inspiration is ideas that pop into my head when I'm walking around, and since I live here, this is where I do most of that walking and planning.
I wouldn't say that I specifically am writing about the valley, but the atmosphere of it permeates things. Also there's a lot of cool, creative people who live here as well who inspire my work. It's very good for creativity I think; to be around friends in an area that you love, I definitely don't feel isolated here.
Yeah I agree, it's a really good strong artistic community and we're really lucky to have that - there's not many places in Wellington that have managed to avoid falling into the gentrification trap of the ever creeping suburbs.
Yeah I think thats the main reason we live here really. When we first lived in the valley we lived up on Mount Pleasant road, and we basically moved there because all our writer friends lived nearby.
We went away for a while - my partner's from the States so we went to live there for a year, which was not great. And then we had some other bad flatting experiences in other areas, so we thought “Oh better hear back to Aro”. So we did, and we've stayed here ever since.
So your book “I am a Human Being” was compiled over 10 years - was there always the intention to bring all the pieces together into a book?
Yeah, there definitely was, my creative process is very project oriented. I mean I do sometimes just write a loose poem that doesn't necessarily have a place, but most of the time I'm thinking in terms of a larger collection of work and the way things fit together. With this book, the concept is that every poem starts with the phrase “ I am a”..... and it's written from the perspective of that thing. So they're definitely very connected as a collection.
How difficult did you find the publishing process? Did you self publish?
The book was published by a small press from Auckland called Compound Press. Prior to this year they had just published like Zines and like chat books and things, and they had published a collaborative, very short book that my partner and I wrote a few years ago. It's called Bound, and it was about. Kanye West and Kim Kardashian, if Kanye was an alien reptilian who had crashed landed on Earth.
What do you mean “If”? hahah
Yeah exactly, well at the time it seemed far fetched but now…….. Hahah! Fact is stranger than fiction.
So we did that first project with them and it was great -they've always been very supportive. So when Chris who runs the press decided that he was going to start doing full length books he emailed me and he was like, “Hey, I'm gonna start doing books, do you have anything? So I pitched him “I am a Human Being” and here we are!
It was really good to work with him again. It's nice because it's a very small operation so it's quite a collaborative thing and you're not left feeling as though you're on a conveyor belt of stuff just being pumped out or anything, it was a really personalised experience, which I enjoyed.
How did you find the entire process? Obviously if you look at it from the outside and go “okay I'm making a book”, that's quite daunting. How did you sort of work on it and get it to the finish line?
I wrote the first few poems back in like 2010 or so, just kind of playing around. I was studying creative writing at Whitireia at the time and part of that course is that you basically write a book. So I wrote a first draft of the book for that, and then went on and worked on other things, but the book was always there in the background and I would always come back and change things and add new poems.I kind of felt like I couldn't escape it in a way, like whenever I sat down to write a peice it would always be an “ I Am A…” poem.
It's changed a lot over the time, but for the same token some of the poems are still pretty much exactly the same, but it's the context of the works which have changed for me. Halfway through the writing process, I realized that I was GenderQueer, and once I realised that, I knew , “Oh, actually this book is really all about that and I had no idea”
I love the thought of your subconscious leading your art, and unlocking that part of yourself and realising “ Oh THIS is what it's all about”
Absolutely! So even though some of the poems haven't changed since then when I read them the meaning of them has changed a lot, which is really cool. And I do think that had it been published earlier, it wouldn't have been as good or developed.
I hope to write more books and I hope that they don't all take that long. Its probably a more healthy way to do it, to take time and to approach it over a long period, but ideally it wont take me another decade for the next one!
Is it challenging for you to look back at the pieces that you wrote when you were younger, before you had that knowledge of your authentic self and your craft?
Thankfully, not so much - there's one poem that ends the book which is one heavily changed after realizing I was GenderQueer and it's very much about exploring gender, which is an important part of the book, but even in the few years since writing that my ideas and outlooks have changed quite a bit, especially in regards to gender and expression - it's probably something that I will be coming to terms with and thinking about for my entire life.
But I don't regret that, and I think that was important for me to write at the time and it could still be important for people to read.
I think every perspective is valid, and as someone who has discovered their authentic expression of the construct that is gender, I think it's very important to demonstrate to people who may still believe that gender is a black and white binary choice, to show that there is a gray area and its ok to exist within that.
Yeah, it's very important to me for the book to have that in it, because I only I learned about Non Binary gender and through reading Queer poetry. And so I kind of wanted to pass that along and pay it forward for the next generation.
Who were the poets that shaped your journey of self discovery?
Most were from the States, I found a group of contemporary Trans poets, artists like Just Charles, Never Angeline North, Manuel Arturo Abreu, and Jamie Mortara.
Do you have any other writers that you look up to?
A lot of New Zealand writers! A lot of my influences are contemporary writers. I don't spend a whole lot of time going back into the Canon I guess which is good and bad in certain ways, but I'm a big fan of Hana Pera Aoake who has a book coming out through Compound press later this year which I'm very excited about. Essa May Ranapiri who's a Maori Non Binary poet from Hamilton, who's very inspiring. Gregory Kan, Chris Tse, are both amazing creators. More locally, in Aro, Pip Adam has been a huge part of my development as a writer, she's been very supportive and her writing is amazing.
My good friend Hannah Mettner, who lived in the valley for a long time but has run away to Karori now, she's been fantastic.
Emma Barnes is another Aro local, They live just down the road and they've got a book coming out soon as well which is really cool, and i'm looking forward to reading it!
What do you do to relax?
Well, I read a lot, which kind of comes with the territory, I'm big into movies, and going for walks. I jplay Dungeons and Dragons, i've actually Just started being a Dungeon Master full time for a group of friends from work, which is a lot of fun. So. I'm pretty chill.
I have a very active imagination, I think, and that's enough that I don't need to go out and like party hard.
What are the plans for the future, do we have more books,or more of the “ I am a…” series?
Well, I don't plan that to happen but sometimes I feel like it's just inevitable. I have other projects on the go, I wrote the first draft of a novel a few years ago, and I think I might go back and look at that and hopefully make it into something for publishing
I've also been writing some weird poems that are like numbered lists, So they might become a thing at some point.
I have been working full time for the last couple of years, and found it very difficult to make time for writing, so have been jotting down a few words here and there, but I recently cut back on my hours of work, so excited that ill have a little more time to concentrate on my writing.
Does your creative process take up a lot of time? Earlier you alluded to experiencing the feeling your work was consuming you, is that a common experience for you?
It really depends on the project - a poem, can be very quick to write, which is part of what I like about them. You can sit down and write one in one sitting often. But I've found when writing nonfiction, it's very time consuming. The novel was very time consuming and working on that further will take a very concerted effort, but I do enjoy quick things as well.
Working full time I found that I couldn't really carve out any time at all for my writing which makes it tough
What do you love about Aro?
So many things! I love the trees, the birds, the Video store and all of the cats in the neighbourhood!. The people who live here and the sense of community, its so special. I love how close it is to the city but how it doesn't feel like you're in the city. Just walking around here, it can feel like a whole other universe, so separate from the feel of the CBD.
What's coming up next for you?
As well as opening Food Courts Books In November I'm taking part in the Verb Wellington Festival, which is very exciting. There's an event about my book that's called “Am I A Human Being?”. I got a bunch of my favorite writers to write their own “I Am A…” poem which was really cool and fun!
Check out some of Jacksons recent work here:
Buy your copy of I Am A Human Being
The Friday Poems
Talented musician, Ear wiggler and long time "The Simpsons" fan Eilish met up with Roxy to talk about Jazz, good venues and great times.
What first got you into music?
I started playing the violin when I was seven. I have no recollection of why - my parents were like, “We think it would be cool if you played an instrument” so I chose violin, which I did for about four years, alongside classical music training. It was fun but I didn't really like the exam side of it, so that didn't stick. I also did some Irish music sessions, but I kind of fell out of love with the violin over time.
I was watching lots of The Simpsons when I was a kid and loved Lisa so I started learning saxophone. Funnily enough I actually got to play with one of the people who does a lot of the saxophone parts on The Simpsons Eric Marienthal! It was a fun full circle kinda moment for me.
Who inspired you to make music?
One thing I love about Wellington, is that I've got so many great friends who write amazing music! Artists like Ruby Solly, Louisa Williamson, and Sophie Cooper are incredible inspiration. My friend Callum Passells from Auckland, I think he's incredibly talented. My other friend Bryn van Vliet writes really great Brazilian big band music which I love as well. I love the writing of Jake Baxendale and Callum Allardice. So everyone around me is writing this awesome music and that's inspiring to me.
So how would you describe the music that you typically create?
At the moment I'm working on a set of music for the Jazz Festival, which I haven't done before, so I'm a little bit stressed about it! I've written some music over the years, but have never officially presented them as a final piece. So at the moment what I'm wanting to write and focussing on writing is mainly jazz, with lots of different influences. I mean, I play jazz primarily so I don't stray too far from that, but it's not like traditional old school jazz, there's a few twists.
One of the things I really like about being a musician is that you can't help but carry all the stuff you've listened to, or the books you've read, or the people you've talked to - you can't help but have all of that reflected back in what you make.
Speaking of the Jazz festival, have you been involved in that before?
Yeah, I've been involved in the last few years of festivals - I think last year was the most full on - It was really fun but I I said yes to playing 14 gigs over 5 days and that was A LOT. Too many performances and not enough sleep time!
It's such a good week though, because you're working on this really fun project where there's over 100 gigs all over Wellington, and you're doing that with your best friends and people you really admire and are inspired by so it's awesome. I try really hard to see as much of the festival as I can and the good thing is often they hold late night jam sessions after everyone's gigs, so you can go to the bar and everyone can have a jam together. When they've had international acts, often those international players are at those events too, so you're playing alongside some of those iconic artists, which is an amazing opportunity!
What is your creative process like?
I think it's changed a lot over the years. For the first few years of learning Jazz at uni, I was just hanging on for dear life trying to get through recitals and play something that made sense to me, and fit within the course outline of what they wanted and needed me to do. But now, something I really like to do is transcribe music and try to develop my ears as much as I can because, like I said, I'm a baby in terms of writing my own music and presenting it to people.
I like learning other people's music, transcribing and training my ears as much as possible. That's the thing I really like about jazz; a lot of it is improvisation based, so you're trying to respond to something someone's playing and a lot of the time it's an experimentation for both the artist and the listener. It's really intriguing!
Who would you most like to collaborate with?
I feel like if I was able to collaborate with Stevie Wonder, I could die happy. Yeah, that would be amazing!
What is the most useless talent you have?
I'm really good at making my face look strange - I can flare my nostrils and I can wiggle my ears.I think I just spent a lot of time, especially in primary school not really paying a lot of attention to lessons and practicing that instead! I still get really frustrated that I can't cross my eyes - all my students tease me about it!
Do you sing in the shower? What songs?
I do sing in the shower, because I used to actually be quite a bad singer in terms of being able to pitch things in the right way, so i've had to practice that. I dont think I'm an amazing singer now, but at least I can sort out the correct pitch and key and carry a harmony. I always try to sing in the car because then I can be completely wrong and no one can hear me!
I don't know if there's specific songs that I sing, I do love the song “What a fool believes” by Michael McDonald, from the Doobie Brothers. I love the Doobie Brothers. So, actually, that'd be another amazing band to collaborate with!
Sometimes if I'm trying to write music, I have melodies that are in my head and then I will sing those as well.
Where have you performed? What are your favourite venues? Do you have any upcoming shows?
There's so many good venues in New Zealand - locally Rogue and Vagabond has been really supportive, it's great. Tuatara Third Eye, Hashigo Zake, and Moon Bar are some of my other faves. I used to love seeing gigs at Mighty Mighty as well, back in the day! We are definitely spoiled in Wellington for choice! Outside of Welly, the Turoa lodge in Ohakune is a venue i've played a few times this year, and they are so lovely. Whammy Bar in Auckland is cool, and I really enjoy being at Yot Club in Raglan ( we just played there the other week.) Of course, there’s the Mussel Inn in Golden bay which holds a special place in my heart as I went there a lot as a young person growing up in Nelson. There's so many more good venues, I could spend all day naming them!
What is your favourite song to perform?
I really like playing “Body and Soul” that old school jazz ballad. l love the melody and the chords, it's a jazz classic. Historically, Jazz is Black American music, and the artists at the time, a lot of them took inspiration from Broadway show tunes and musicals and totally revamped them and made them their own, and I think that history of oppressed people taking over something, messing with and having fun with it has a huge appeal.
One of the other things I love about learning old school jazz standards is that all the lyrics on them are so nice and so lovely and the way they originally wrote the chords and progressions kind of pull on your heartstrings a little bit. There's another song I really like, which I've never actually played at a gig but I listen to all the time, called “I wish you love”.
Basically the premise of the song is, we're not gonna be together, we're not right for each other, and it breaks my heart but I just want you to be happy and I want you to have love in your life. And (in my opinion) that sort of sentiment is often missing from modern music ( not all of the time, but quite often modern music lacks that depth of lyrics).
Which local musicians do you admire?
One of my favorite people in the whole world is Lisa Tomlins. She's done so much, she's a staple of the music community in Aotearoa and she's just so lovely, I really admire her. Vanessa Stacey's another one of those inspiring artists, and I really like Troy Kingi as well.Oh there's just too many! My friend Louisa Williamson is amazing. Olivia Campion is an incredible drummer. Jake Baxendale is awesome, he's a great multi instrumental artist who writes a lot of really cool music and curates the Arthur Street Loft Orchestra series, which runs on Monday nights at The Third Eye. It's a really cool project,and he does so much other good stuff for the community. Chris Buckland is another one, he runs the events at Rogue & Vagabond, he's just got all these amazing skills. And he's been so good at reorganizing things for all the gigs that have been postponed because of lockdown.
What is the best advice you’ve been given?
I've got to say the funniest best advice I've been given was by my mum. She's awesome. She's a very creative person. When I was home with her last she just turned to me and said “You know Eilish; there's no rules in life, I mean, don't kill anyone, but there's no rules.” And that really resonated with me because we often can overthink everything all the time, and feel societal pressure to be a certain thing, to do a certain thing. But there are no rules! As long as you're trying to be happy and trying your best to be kind to other people then that's the best thing you can do.
What’s next for you?
Oh man. There's some exciting things coming up! I'm going to be doing some touring over the summer with some cool people which I'm very excited about! I’ll be spending new years with Dr. Reknaw at Resolution Festival in Auckland. I'm also heading to Great Barrier Island with Raw Collective to play, which is super cool, i've never been there so am really looking forward to that - I don't know what to expect so its all really exciting!
We’re releasing an album shortly also as Dr. Reknaw, - we got the funding needed so we were able to go into Surgery Studios with Lee Prebble to record the album which is coming out soon; I can't wait to share it!
Find out more about Eilish here:
Keri-Mei Zagrobelna is another local gem in the crown of Aro Valley - read on to learn more about this wonderful artist, what inspires her and the exciting projects she has on the go!
So tell me about yourself and your art practice !
I guess you could label as a contemporary Māori Jeweller because that’s my predominant creative practice, but I do delve into drawing and sketching also. I'm moving into more installations and larger works as well, I'm very interested in developing and evolving in that creative field.
Next year, I’ll be exhibiting in the Courtney place lightboxes for the Matariki exhibition which I'm very, very humbled, honored and excited to do.
I am creating a series that not only honours and acknowledges Matariki but also the Maramataka Māori lunar calendar - A lot of the moon phases are associated with different meanings, some to plant, times to rest and times that are a bit more productive. By learning to live with our Maramataka calendar we can create a better balance in our relationship with the
environment and also within ourselves and our own mental health.
Certain moons are associated with being “not very positive times” - this may be the time where people who may be prone to a bit of a depression need that extra bit of care and aroha from friends and family. When those times are coming up you know to bring everyone in your network close around you and to be a bit kinder or gentle on yourself. I think that knowing these
kinds of cycles can be beneficial to our community and we can all learn to look after one another
a bit better.
I'm a little bit nervous because it is a challenging project, I've been researching for well over a year now. I think through my own experience of now living more purposely to the Maramataka calendar and moon phases it's been really beneficial, so I wanted to share that knowledge with others through my art.
Yeah, that sounds like a really cool modern fusion of hauora and art and how there's all
this wealth of traditional knowledge, and you're introducing it through a completely new
medium to a completely new audience, who may not have encountered anything like this
before. So exciting!
Another big project I'm working on is a public sculpture that will be going up on the Porirua writer's walk for Elizabeth Knox; one of the writers being represented on the walk. So it's been an interesting experience because I'm taking a piece of writing, and interpreting it into a 50 meter high permanent piece. I've been working on it for over a year as well, with a team of
Industrial engineers and all that good stuff, so its been really interesting and im super excited to be working with Elizabeth on this project.
That's so exciting! Having 2 large scale projects running at the same time is no joke, how
do you balance the workload?
This year I just started working full time at TLC so it definitely has been a challenge, and I love my job, absolutely. But in saying that, my studio practice has definitely suffered from the extra demands on my time. So I'm trying to find that equality again. I've definitely learned to be a bit more disciplined. Ill have days where I'm just not feeling it, but if I just sit at my desk, pick up a
material and start to play with it then that physical action can get the creative juices flowing and then the excitement kicks in again and it's like “I've got this”.
You just have to be strict on yourself and prioritize and try to be streamlined where you can. So with my jewellery range that I sell through retail galleries now because I've been doing it for a few years now im alot more faster and it's a bit more streamlined, but it supports the more kind of fun work and passion projects of mine.
Tell me more about them!
So the one i'm working on at the moment is called Barnacle Barf Brooch - I just had all these mussel shells cleaned up and was looking at them thinking I wanted to do something playful, colourful and fun to create, mixing materials is quite interesting for me, these are the kinds of thing I get excited about.
Because all my work has another layer underneath it, the conceptual meaning is it what you put in the ocean, you eventually put in your mouth
The nice thing about wearing it is that you can play with it,it's quite tactile and very recognizable
to us as kiwi being a mussel shell. So it's a fun kind of project to be working on!
Another reason why I work in the field of contemporary jewelry is I see it as a really good medium to be able to communicate my culture and build cross cultural discussions or understanding. A lot of the materials I'm using are traditional Maori materials like wood, bone or Pounamu which I love blending with more modern jewellery materials and techniques. So
someone from, say from overseas might recognize the silver on the piece where someone from New Zealand might recognize the mussel shell first. When that happens, that allows them to see familiar materials in a new light and opens up conversations about the unfamiliar materials used.
What are you inspired by and how much of your creative energy do you draw from your environment here in the valley?
Yeah, well I whakapapa to Wellington, my iwi affiliations are Whānau-ā- Apanui and Te Āti Awa. I've been here in the valley for about 5 years now and I feel very happy that I'm here, because of the history behind Aro valley Epuni Street was originally called Te Puni street after the Māori chief and Te Puni is actually one of my ancestors. My mother and my grandmother are buried at Te Puni urupa out in Petone as well so just subconsciously knowing all my tipuna and whanau in this area and then working creatively here, well…. That just makes me feel grounded. There's an energy in Aro that I don't
know how to describe but sometimes it feels very old.
We're also surrounded by so many cool creative people and fellow artists in the valley, and the community here is really cool. Everyone smiles at each other when they walk down the street. Another thing I love is there's so many birds around here, especially kaka, although they are quite terrifying at times.
They like to sit in the cabbage tree outside my studio so I'll often glance out the window and see a massive Kaka staring me down!
I actually did a series about the Kaka poria,(bird leg rings ), because historically they used to be working pets - Maori used to put poria on Kaka to have them on leads,then take them into the bush to draw the other Kaka down from the trees, which they would then catch - like a lure bird.
So that really fascinated me and I made poria to go around our human ankle or neck. At the time I was creatively questioning myself a lot and in a love/hate relationship with my art; it was feeling very consuming and frustrating. I felt like I wanted to rest but I couldn't, not until I was”done”. So the whole concept of being trapped in creativity, in our art, it lures you in and
holds you tight.
I was really anxious and depressed at the time, and the series spoke to how sometimes you can get really comfortable with those feelings of anxiety and depression to the point where you treat them like a pet. You know, you just get kind of used to having it around, and expect it.
The other layer to the poria is they were adornment but also practical; traditionally you wore your tools around your neck - another tie in with jewelry which resonated with me. I was exploring all sorts of different materials, sizes, shapes and designs while playing with the concept, and then just putting it on my own ankle, and experiencing how that felt.
How did that make you feel ?
Oh, it did make me feel somewhat trapped, or weighed down, because it was huge. It was just kind of heavy and awkward, and that's how I was feeling in my practice right then emotionally so to physically feel that was really cathartic.
My work and creativity is very much my therapy. When you're soldering metals or making a ring using heat and flame it's quite dangerous, you have to concentrate and focus. You have to really pay attention that you're not going to melt anything and that you've got the flame right and in that deliberate focus it's like meditation for me It brings me to that presence in the now.
There's some designs that I repeat and those repeated designs act almost like a mantra for me. After my mom passed away I went through a real shadow period, a very dark time, and I was all over the show. It wasn't until my friend suggested I should go to the learning connection, that I discovered jewelry making. After TLC I went to Whitireia, and carried on with my practice and, now I'm working at TLC.
That's a full circle moment that you discovered your passion for jewelry at The Learning Connextion and now you're working there with your passion.
Yeah i'm kind of blown away, but I have worked hard to get where I am too. We have such a diverse range of students that come to us, for so many different reasons and so many beautiful forms of expression of their art.I love being part of that community and sort of paying it forward and sharing creative passion with the next generation of artists, they inspire me so much.
The other thing that inspires and drives me is self expression. Where I'm from, how I see the world and my experiences living in it. I'm sharing who I am, as a person and I am feeling braver with my art and with myself - I was diagnosed with depression and through the process of creating art I became comfortable talking about my mental health, and not feeling held back by the stigma that surrounds mental health issues.
Where to from here ?
Who knows what the future holds? My biggest aspiration is to one day start a scholarship for contemporary māori jewellers in honour of my mother and my grandmother. That's my biggest driving factor, and goal. Art and creating has just been so good for me, and I want nothing more than to sponsor opportunities for Māori artists to grow, develop,and flourish - art is truly life
Interview by Roxy Coervers
Photo credit - Roxy Coervers, Paradox Photography
Links to more about Keri
Ruby Solly is a taonga pūoro practitioner, writer, musician, and music therapist in Pōneke.
Her first album, ‘Pōneke’, was released on June 5th 2020. ‘Pōneke’ is a project involving nga taonga pūoro and cello, with pūoro recorded in different environments around Wellington in order to play with te taiao within the music, allowing us to examine our relationships with our environment and to explore our hidden histories with our city.
I sat down with Ruby for a chat about creativity, art and everything in between
How long have you lived in Aro Valley?
I moved here when I was 17. And I'm 24 now, so 7 years?
I started off living on Holloway road when I was 17. Then I lived at 1 Brooklyn Rd which is at the intersection of Brooklyn, Mt Cook, Aro Valley and Te Aro boundaries. We were in the house right at the intersection of the 4 suburbs. It was a really strange place to be, living in 4 different communities at once,and kind of not being in any of them at the same time.
We lived there for about two years and then we moved because we just really missed being right in the thick of things in Aro. We ended up in Epuni st, which is similar to Holloway road in that it's got an equally deep history and similar sense of community. I reckon it says a lot about a person, what street they choose to live on - more than their star sign perhaps?
What star sign would Aro street be?
I want to say Pisces but then I was also thinking maybe Libra because it's a pretty balanced, middle of the road type feeling on Aro St. Diplomatic may not be the right word, but that's close enough?
What about Holloway?
Probably Leo. Or like an Aries with an Aquarius moon.
I reckon Virgo, just floating around and getting creative .Epuni street is full of wonderful creative weirdos and it’s great to be a part of that feeling in a place. I think every street has a different flavor that tells you more about the people living there, I love that about Aro.
Stand by for our hot-takes, your horoscope according to the street you live on, haha
You live on Aro street? There will be roadworks in your future.
Predictions aside, tell me more about yourself. You've achieved some really amazing stuff over the years , and somehow you've managed to turn out a full album while living through a pandemic?
I think the secret to my apparent success is that I’ve had lots of things in the works for a really long time. They just somehow came together within a six month period, which is nice really, but it also gives this image that all this work can be done at once.
The album actually took me around two years to do. I was working on it part time while studying and the project evolved further over time as I added more facets to it.
Originally It was a standalone music album, but then I added a piece of writing for each track, along with historical supporting notes and individual artworks. So when lockdown happened I was able to add those finishing touches and pull it all together.
It was a really good project overall because I was able to work with so many other people - Al Fraser did the mixing, Lee Prebble did mastering and tech, my friend Sebastian Lowe did the videos. It was such a fun journey - my initial goal was to do and learn as much as I could about the whole process by doing most of it myself, but realising I needed help from other people was a part of that learning too.
It was a huge learning process for me, and it was so cool to have them adding to the project to make it all come together.
It sounds like it was an awesome learning and self exploration process for you. Now everyone can enjoy and share the special experience of listening to the album and immersing yourself in the history and artwork while standing on the land that it was written in tribute to. It’s a beautifully grounding and connecting artwork.
Yeah, there's almost a greater sense of empathy that’s gained from listening to sounds that you may not have consciously remembered or recognized from that environment.
As well as that, whenever I make a bigger independent project It has to be something that serves me or the people closest to me or behind me first or else there's not much point because you don’t know if there’s going to be any return from it. You don't know how people will respond. So with both the book I've done, and the album, that sentiment of learning or creating for myself and my understanding came first. And funnily enough, those are the things that are actually the most successful out of everything I've done, which says a lot really about this kind of expression.
When you're really authentic people can kind of hear and see that. When you're not? Well, people can see and feel that as well.
Definitely, that's one of the biggest things that I really enjoyed about the album is that it was a very authentic, genuine expression of self, community and worldviews. You call Pōneke “ a love letter to not only our city, but to all those who have lived here, have shaped this place, and have been kaitiaki of all the facets and layered histories of Wellington herself.” which is such a beautiful sentiment.
I'm hoping for the next one (there will be a next one eventually,) to go kind of more micro in-depth with that and just do one place over a course of probably a year. I was thinking about possibly looking more at Waimapihi stream and doing something even more focused, seeing what range of sounds and layers of history and things can be found within that one specific point which I think will be very interesting to see how that compares to the previous album.
I wanted to talk about your beautiful Hine e Hine renditions every night over rahui - I watched it, loved it, and tuned in every damn night because I needed the wholesomeness!
It was such an anchoring thing for me personally. It was a really good moment of stability in an otherwise hectic timeless landscape of days indoors.
Yeah and it was like it for us too. We did 50 nights all up ( we did the first one the night before lock-down officially started since by then everyone was settled and ready for it ). On the first night I texted one person to say “Hey we are going to try this out, let me know if you can hear us” and I looked down the street at about ten to eight and there were already about fifteen people waiting out there as the message had spread around.
It was really cool - I feel as musicians there is pressure to do everything really well and be practiced and perfect, and we kind of lose that feeling of “Oh yeah, let's just get together and play”.
Music is a thing for people to enjoy, to express yourself and to involve people all together . And it kind of became that again for me during lock-down, which I can forget about when I’m doing it more as a job.
Dan and I went to high school together, so we've still got this fun kind of “I Dare you” mentality in our relationship, which was a big influence in how the nights were structured.
Silly stuff like, “I dare you to do a solo sax edition, free jazz style”. I love it.
We also got to do things musically that we don't often do anymore, but we've done in our past. It was really great to be like, “Hey, remember when you used to play cello with metal bands? Why don't we do that tonight?” “Remember when we used to be in a Dixie band together? Lets try a version in that style”
It was good for us to look at the skills we have and almost time travel to different times with the history of music in different traditions.
It was so refreshing. It really did hit the essence of people having fun creatively and supporting each other emotionally. It was awesome. It was community, and I feel like it was just the perfect antidote to the absolute stress and anxiety the lock-down caused.
Yeah, it was an interesting time. I think my favorite one we did was probably the electric cello version with AC/DC shirts on as costuming, it was really fun.
Did you get requests?
Yeah a few for birthdays and the like - I would get random messages from people saying “its so and so's birthday on Thursday can you do something special?” which was really cool.
Lastly, are there any upcoming projects or anything that you want to publicize, signal boost or put out there to the universe?
Well, Pōneke the album is still for sale, if anyone wants to buy it, but it's also free to listen to online, which was really important for me because of accessibility. I want people to be able to listen to and enjoy it, even if they can't buy it.
It's got loads of historical notes from Kaumatua from my iwi who can whakakpapa here from Kāti Mamoe (one of the iwi that now make up Kāi Tāhu Whānui,) as well as other people in my iwi, and historical notes from Aro Valley.
I've also got a book coming out early 2021 called “Tōku Pāpā” with Victoria University Press, which is really exciting! I will have more information coming up on that soon.
Thank you so much for your time Ruby, it was really great to chat and learn about some of the exciting things you've got in the works - I can't wait to see what the future brings!
You can find Rubys debut album Pōneke HERE
Want to discover more of Rubys recent work? Check out the links below!
"The red fleck in her hair" - An essay by Ruby Solly about whakapapa, resistance, and the markers of history that often go unseen
Poetry Shelf Monday Poem: Ruby Solly’s ‘Dedication’
Sweetman Podcast # 220: Ruby Solly
Finding Yourself in the Whakapapa: A Year Reading Kaituhi Māori
Better off Read - Ep 74: Sound Series 2 - Ruby Solly and Chris Tse
Writing - Roxy Coervers
1 - Still from a film by Sebastian Lowe
2 - Roxy Coervers, Paradox Photography
3 - Roxy Coervers, Paradox Photography
4 - Roxy Coervers, Paradox Photography
5 - Still from a film by Sebastian Lowe
6- Roxy Coervers, Paradox Photography
Whanaungatanga is about relationships, kinship and a sense of connection, created through shared experiences and working together.