AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:
"Choose Your Weapon" is the name of the new album by the up-and-coming group "Hiatus Kaiyote," and it's fitting. The music is equal parts R&B, jazz, soul or, as they call it, multidimensional, polyrhythmic gangster - well, I'll use a radio-friendly word here - stuff.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BREATHING UNDERWATER")
HIATUS KAIYOTE: (Singing) Material slowly unwind as I leave feathers behind for your love, for your lover to find. Warm hands wrapped in blue linen from Torrington for your love, for your lover to find.
CORNISH: On this album, you're just as likely to hear a tribute to Atari video games as the bleating of cicadas in the Australian desert. The group is from Australia and now on a U.S. tour. We asked two members of Hiatus Kaiyote, bassist Paul Bender and their lead singer - her stage name is Nai Palm - to stop by our studios in New York. I asked them about that otherworldly sound and how they came up with that name.
NAI PALM: When I Google searched Kaiyote, it's a bird appreciation society around the world.
PAUL BENDER: That's right, yeah.
CORNISH: Spelled the same way and everything?
BENDER: Yeah. You can do a - Kaiyote birds tours. You can go to, like, Guam or something and look at some particular parrot.
PALM: Yeah, so I'm a crazy bird lady. And I, like, hand-reared a crow, which is the tattoo on my face - was a scratch from this crow that I hand-reared and released into the wild, so...
CORNISH: So this is the tattoo. It's a line at the corner of your mouth...
CORNISH: ...Kind of extending to your chin.
PALM: Yeah, so, I don't know. It just kind of seemed like a good omen, and we just - it just stuck.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "MOLASSES")
HIATUS KAIYOTE: (Singing) Might not get - might not get any better. Might not - might not get - might not get any better.
CORNISH: Nai Palm, I understand that you are the main songwriter. And I'd like to get some help understanding how a song comes together with a band. Like, do you approach with lyrics on a napkin or something on the guitar? Where does it begin?
PALM: It's different for every song. Either I'll write a song from scratch with guitar and vocals - mostly it's melodies. Like, I come up with hooks and then write to it.
CORNISH: Well, let's hear more of it. This is the track called "Molasses" on "Choose Your Weapon."
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "MOLASSES")
HIATUS KAIYOTE: (Singing) You could be a compass rare and so bountiful. You could be the opposing opinion.
PALM: "Molasses," I wrote in Paris. I was going through a breakup, and I wanted to write from a perspective of - I don't know. Anything harsh that happens to you in your life, it may be traumatic, but you usually come out the other side of it with some kind of perspective and compassion and understanding. And so I wanted to write from a place of the person that I knew eventually I would evolve into. And it kind of helped also with the grieving process because you reaffirm who you're going to be instead of wallowing in your suffering. And that theme is very strong in a lot of the writing that I do.
CORNISH: Of not just surviving, but flourishing.
PALM: Yeah, exactly. I try and be really aware of that writing - you know, to - that maybe it could help people. You try and get over your own trauma, I guess.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "MOLASSES")
HIATUS KAIYOTE: (Singing) Buried deep in the soil, selfless or daft.
CORNISH: You know, Paul Bender, I read that you spent some time studying jazz in the U.S., right? I mean, you're from Tasmania. Is that right?
BENDER: I'm from Tasmania, but yeah. I studied at University of Miami for four years.
CORNISH: What style of jazz did you lean towards? You know, how - like, how does this play out in the music?
BENDER: You know, it's like you take something from everything - learn and pay homage to all of the titans of that music who forged this crazy path and, you know, created something incredible. Part of my heart is definitely with that music and that feeling.
CORNISH: That was a little bit of that feeling with the song "Shaolin Monk Motherfunk."
BENDER: Yeah. It's got a kind of swingy vibe to it. Jazzy.
CORNISH: But it sounds like it was definitely not intentional.
BENDER: It's - no, it's - I mean, it's funny 'cause, like, people always just bring up the jazz thing. And there's a jazz influence, but that's, like, pretty much everyone says that anytime that you play some nice chords with, like, a Fender Rhodes. You know, as soon as that happens, it's like, jazz.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SHAOLIN MONK MOTHERFUNK")
HIATUS KAIYOTE: (Singing) Follow my love. Follow my love. Drop into, drop into...
BENDER: For me, it's like jazz is not - jazz is not a style or a sound. It's a process. And Hiatus is not a jazz group. Usually, like, two - maybe two parts of the entire set that there's actually improvising. And that's really what jazz is for me. It's improvising, you know? And but the reality is that yeah, Hiatus is a very arranged band. You know, we spend a lot of time, like, figuring out how all these, like, particular little things fit in, and you can't just kind of start just doing something else 'cause it'll sound really, really bad. Sometimes it's weird. People will just be like, man, it's like - you guys are like - yeah, jazz - you just like - just jamming? And it's just like, really? You thought we were jamming when we were playing those really complicated lines together at the same time?
CORNISH: It seems like you're saying that when people try and pick up the sort of - what they think is the jazz sound, you almost take it as, like - not an insult, but that you're conveying that this isn't improvised.
PALM: I think the hardest part for me with it is that there's a lot of jazz artists that I really love, but I - it's something that I found a lot later. But I've been listening to music, you know, like Stevie Wonder and, like, music from Marley and Flamenco and stuff since I was really little. So it doesn't sit super well with me because it - I feel like out of all of the music that I'm inspired by, it's strange that that's the one that is the main kind of stamp of genre on our music.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THE LUNG")
HIATUS KAIYOTE: (Singing) Quick to - quick to lose - quick to lose your - quick to lose your furrowed brow.
CORNISH: Well, Hiatus Kaiyote, thank you so much for speaking with us and telling us a little bit about the songs.
BENDER: Thank you. No worries.
PALM: It's a pleasure. Thanks for having us.
CORNISH: Singer and guitarist, Nai Palm, and Paul Bender, bassist - they're members of the group Hiatus Kaiyote. Their latest album is called "Choose Your Weapon."
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