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Seth Haapu - Seth Haapu Newsletter Interview

01 Jun 2018 // An interview by ShelleySketch

Shelley sat down and had a great chat with Seth Haapu at Shaky Isles in New Lynn. Here’s what he had to say:

How would you describe your music?

I guess at the core because I sing and play piano, the base of my music is singer-songwriter. More recently I’ve been creating a sound palette of South Pacific instruments and so I’ve created rhythms out of that, that lend itself more to my identity as someone from the South Pacific, Maori, Tahitian. Also incorporate R&B elements, which is another core foundation of what I do and what I’ve always done. Yeah, I guess that would be it in a nutshell.

You released your first self-titled album in 2011 and then things seemed to go rather quiet until 2016 with your EP Volume 1 and then Volume 2 in 2017. Is there an EP or album we can expect in 2018?

(Laughs) That’s a good one. I’m the kind of writer that I have to take my time to allow the right messages and songs to form. That can take time. That can take living life and processing those experiences. It can be like these periods of being inspired and then periods of quiet. But for me outside of my own music I’ve been really involved in other people's projects. Collaborating, beyond myself even, is a value that as Polynesian, we really uphold. That aspect of collaboration and working together and maoridom, whananungatanga, kotahitanga. And so, I’ve found myself behind the scenes a lot which I love. Because it’s always a little bit daunting for someone that is relatively introverted to be out there consistently. And so, it’s worked in my favour that I only wait for the songs when they’re right for me. Because now I’m able to dive into other projects.

Because you’re writing for other people as well?

Yeah writing for and with. Even musician level like arranging music for other people, TV, Film, that was another cool thing I’ve done for the first time.

How was that?

Yeah it was amazing actually. You were given a concept, an idea quite often. And to have something to be inspired by from the outset is really cool for someone like me. And the type of work that I was doing was really beautiful. It was a TV series that promoted out unique culture and stories of people’ real lives. So, I was really able to connect with it on a personal level. It had meaning to the stories being told. One of the TV was filmed in a documentary style and I found it special to watch their stories and be inspired by that and create music while simultaneously watching that visual play out. So, I would put it into Pro Tools, my recording software, press record and then play along. Just feeling whatever was that I felt represented those visuals. So that was a new experience, one that I loved.

I’ve totally been so inspired by life experiences, connections that I’ve made with people, connections I’ve made with my culture & heritage that have inspired new songs that I hope to put together in a collection of work that I can put out as 1 body. I don’t know what that means if it’s an EP or album but there’s a lot of inspiration that has happened and songs have been made.

The covers of your EP’s had very natural elements such as wood and sand and now your new single cover has the water. There’s also elements of history, whanau and self. Is this purposeful or is it more of a reflection on a personal journey you are on?

I think it’s a bit of both. It starts with the journey of diving into identity and being inspired by natural elements around me and then from that the visual representation comes as well.

You’re currently studying. What are you studying and does it any way influence or affect your music?

I’m a psychology major at Auckland Uni and it definitely gives a much greater insight into people, our processes, our reasons behind why we do the things we do, and it helps me understand it on a different level. I think it definitely helps with songwriting and the approach with a wider scope. Music is such a powerful tool for helping people and giving life to experiences. I’d like to think that I could even make a greater contribution to people beyond music and so that was some inspiration behind studying as well.

How was opening for James Blunt? It was a great set.

Thank you. It was awesome because I hadn’t done anything like that in a long time. So, there were a lot of nerves prior to the show. But when I was on stage I was reminded why I love performing. That human connection that happens in a show between strangers. So, it reminded me of that feeling being on stage, sharing stories and having responses. And aside from the performance itself, I really appreciated and respected James and his values. He’s very down to earth. When I met him when we were having a kai and as I made my way to the dessert he stood up and introduced himself, which is a kind gesture when you’ve reached that level. So, I appreciated that. He was talking to his family through his phone, prior to his performance. Those sort of things spoke to the kind of person he was. It was a good reminder to continue to be yourself no matter what level of success you reach. Maintain those values. That was really refreshing.

Any tours/shows? Or are you just keeping it about the music for now?

I haven’t got any planned shows at the moment. But I’d like to do some because I think that with the songs that have been made, because they’ve been inspired by so many elements, relationships, culture, identity, even a natural environment. The songs have been hugely inspired by that. Some of the sound palette I have recorded the ocean to use and instruments such as Tsonga pours and the poi. So, there’s definitely a natural element of inspiration in those songs. I’d like to take those things and include them in the show so that it’s an experience. In the same way I have been inspired, I’d like to share that with people. So, I’m excited about planning these shows, in a way that the person can receive the song how it was inspired. But no there’s nothing at the moment.

New Wave is a beautiful single and I love the comparisons with the water. In the video I noticed changed from an evening where you are in black to a bright sunny day where you’re in white. Can you tell us more about the video and the single?

Cool. Thank you firstly. The song itself was inspired by a lot of things. I think on a surface level, it conveys my gratitude for simply being able to continue to create music after a long-time writing, singing & performing. It’s also a karakia before I venture into new territory as a writer, singer, performer etc. It’s a song about aroha and embracing new things. It draws on water, as you noticed, for a metaphor for that. I know of like to see it as life is a wave and we can see it coming. We either get knocked over or dive in and come out on the other side. It represents that hope that whatever comes your way, carry on and come through it.

 The shirt part was unintentional I think. The day was so beautiful that we just enjoyed being there and happened to be filming as the day transitioned. I think I put on a different top at some point but yeah. The time of day is reflective of, in karakia, it happens in the morning. Starting the day off with that expression of thanks and going out into the day.

What is coming up for you? Do you have any plans for the future or are you happy and content with the pace you’re at now?

I am the kind of artist that truly has an organic approach to being a musician. And being open to what is next. For better or worse I don’t always plan too far ahead. Obviously, I have aspirations and goals. They are also along the line of continuing to create music that brings value to someone or something. Or a Kaupapa. And if it doesn’t seem to fulfil that goal, I’ll wait into something does.

What music are you currently listening too?

I’m still inspired by old school, always & forever. Donnie Hathaway. Stevie Wonder. A little bit of Prince. Mainly their piano. Prince has got some really cool B-sides. Contemporary R&B. R&B is still something that I really love.

Just going back to the earlier question, I don’t consider external influences. I listen to what’s around me. The people, my own surroundings etc which informs a lot of what I do. Sampha. I love a lot his stuff. I love that a lot of his album was inspired by his identity. Solange Knowles. Her album reflects her culture. I love that her record speaks to some of the social issues. Daniel Caesar. Probably one of my top albums I’ve been listening to, especially over the summer.

Anything else to add?

Going back to the cover art – With the 1st volume, it represents the foundation of home. The connotations of home and safety. Where your heart is. Volume 2 – The sand was the element used and represents venturing beyond. The image was my grandfather's sheet music of his own music. So, I found that buried in a photo album when I was going through our family heirlooms. I had never met them, he had passed before I was born. It inspired me to carry on. I realised, who was I to put a stop to making music out of those who come before me in my bloodlines. I didn’t necessarily own that right to say it all ends here. I looked at that feeling and realised it was much greater than me. The sand means venturing forward out of that comfort zone.

Did you play the music?

Yeah, I have. It’s a classic jazz standard. Written in the 60’s I think. It’s beautiful. I got it framed to preserve it. It’s amazing to have that physical representation. 

That represents the journey. A discovery of my heritage because up until then I had what I would describe as a preliminary knowledge of where I had come from. I knew elements that Tahiti was the origins of my ancestors but then I delved further into it. And I think there’s so much strength in knowing where you come from, knowing that you stand on the shoulders of giants. So, within that confidence that came I was ready to further. So, the water represents, we get to the shore, to the edge and we see the horizon.

It’s like you stepped out of home, onto the sand and into the water.

That’s exactly it. The water represents the unknown. Beyond the horizon what’s there? I try to capture that organic inspiration in the song and the visual. On a level of identity as a Polynesian, those values of respecting the land, relationships, spirituality, it’s who we are. 

Thank you for doing this. Thank you for chatting with me. I really enjoyed catching up with you and I’m sure I’ll see you soon.


About Seth Haapu

In life, some things are simply ‘written’; Seth Haapu being destined for a life in music is one of these things. The first signs could be seen at the tender age of eight, where he was already utilising a pair of cassette players to record harmonies for his earliest song writing efforts. Fast-forward to present day, and the mastering of multiple instruments, and he’s still at it. Now though, the cassette players have been replaced by the mixing desks of Neil Finn’s infamous Roundhead studios; the result being his self-titled debut album.

For the musical wunderkind, born in Whanganui around the sounds of Michael Jackson, The Beatles and Elvis Presley, music has always come naturally. Haapu began uploading his work online whilst living in Sydney which garnered strong industry attention and a solid fanbase. A contract with Sony Music New Zealand sealed the deal, followed by a return to his homeland and support slots with international names including Adam Lambert and Train and local legends Crowded House, Stellar* and Supergroove.

Haapu’s debut album is set for release on August 8th. On its formation, Haapu says “During the writing process I really went back to being a kid in the 90’s listening to old school music from the 1950’s - 1970’s. I loaded my iPod up with retro songs and a few current Top 40 hits and that’s what I listened to for months”.

Visit the muzic.net.nz Profile for Seth Haapu


Whai Ora
Year: 2023
Type: Album
Volume II
Year: 2017
Type: EP
Volume I
Year: 2015
Type: EP
Seth Haapu
Year: 2011
Type: Album

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