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Talking with Hiatus Kaiyote about their modern music with jazz roots

KNKX host Abe Beeson spoke with Hiatus Kaiyote bassist Paul Bender (left) and Simon Mavin (right).
Janette Beckman
Radio France
KNKX host Abe Beeson spoke with Hiatus Kaiyote bassist Paul Bender (left) and Simon Mavin (right).

New Cool host Abe Beeson talked with bass player Paul Bender and keyboardist Simon Mavin of the modern Australian group Hiatus Kaiyote before their concert at the Paramount this week. The pair spoke about their music history, the stylistic patchwork of their band and their surprise at achieving global popularity.

Bender first played bass as a teen with his older brother's rock band, "kind of a cover band, essentially, just trying to learn our instruments." He was addicted to learning and playing, traveling to Florida to study music in college where he encountered a "jazz heavy" scene with plenty of jamming and playing standards.

Early classical piano training led Mavin to early jazz heroes like Earl "Fatha" Hines at college in Melbourne. He earned a degree in music performance and then, "I went out and played in the scene and played for many, many years... just played as much as I could." Mavin points to his city's diverse cultural and artistic communities.

The early sound of Hiatus Kaiyote developed over time and the quartet, including vocalist Nai Palm and drummer Perrin Moss, thanks to a six-month weekly residency that enabled them to find their artistic footing.

The band caught a break when they opened for young modern jazz musician and producer Taylor McFerrin who was an immediate fan of theirs. McFerrin helped the Australians make connections in England and the United States, "he played a distinct part in starting that snowball effect," explained Bender.

That snowball was the critical acclaim and global attention from Hiatus Kaiyote's debut album, Tawk Tomahawk. Bender shared memories of finding new fans in Questlove, Eryka Badu and even Prince. "It was surreal! Then the first headlining show in the States, in Washington, D.C., the whole crowd was singing along. That was unbelievably bizarre."

It was an impressive debut from a modern pop band with wide stylistic diversity of sounds. Soul, funk, R&B, jazz, blues, and a number of global folk music styles make up the Hiatus Kaiyote sound. While that can be a burden for those trying to market the band, Bender and Mavin find it to be the sound of their community and their generation.

"When I think of jazz," said Bender, "I think more of an approach than a definitive sound. Were sort of in a post-genre age, though." Considering the amount of different music their audience can access, Mavin suggested "it makes total sense that people these days don't want to be associated with genres because we just do everything."

More examples of the diversity of Haitus Kaiyote's music come from the many guest artists who've added their own voices to the mix. Rapper and DJ Q-Tip joined the band for their early single "Nakamarra", while Brazilian composer and singer Arthur Verocai was enlisted for "Get Sun" from the 2021 album Mood Valiant.

"That was incredible," Mavin shared. "It was pretty funny, we were flying to the session and he (Verocai) sent us an email saying 'Hey guy, the track is pretty full. I'm not really sure what to add.' The fear was palpable."

Asked if there's a new Hiatus Kaiyote album in the works, Mavin excitedly replied, "Yeah!" But neither he nor Bender could offer many details. "There's a bunch of new songs that no one's heard before and some older songs...," Mavin teased.

Bender added, "it's going to be a more expansive record. It will have some slower stuff and definitely the heaviest sort of stuff we've ever done, and some old school soul energy as well." Recording has long been underway, but there are no expectations for completing their fourth album.

In the meantime, Hiatus Kaiyote continue to entertain fans on this brief tour of the Pacific Northwest. Unfortunately, they didn't have time to enjoy our fair city after arriving by train from the Portland Jazz Festival just before their sound check in Seattle.

"The ride was nice," Mavin laughed. "It looks like a cool city!" Bender added, "the biggest impression we're going to get is the crowd, really. That's always a strong indicator of overall vibe of the musical community."

No doubt the audience at the Paramount showed Hiatus Kaiyote lots of love this week. Both these musicians and their fans hope for a longer visit next time, and perhaps by then a new album.

The New Cool airs Fridays at 9 p.m., hosted by Abe Beeson and produced by KNKX Public Radio in Seattle, Washington. LISTEN ON DEMAND

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Abe grew up in Western Washington, a third generation Seattle/Tacoma kid. It was as a student at Pacific Lutheran University that Abe landed his first job at KNKX, editing and producing audio for news stories. It was a Christmas Day shift no one else wanted that gave Abe his first on-air experience which led to overnights, then Saturday afternoons, and started hosting Evening Jazz in 1998.