Opensouls Interview

Thursday, June 19th, 2008 | Interviews
Opensouls Interview

Hey everyone, today we’re speaking with New Zealand’s Opensouls, a fine product from across the Tasman. The nine-piece collective is yet another Kiwi group making waves with energetic lives shows displaying their brand of funky hip hop laced with elements of jazz, reggae and soul.
So firstly, tell us a little about Opensouls for those out there who don’t know. How’d you form and who makes up the crew?

We formed out of the collapse of a former band 5th Floor. We have a horn section, keyboards, synths, guitars, bass, drums, percussion and vocals. Tyra Hammond – Vox Bjorn Petersen – Vox Julien Dyne – Drums Chip Matthews – Bass Harlin Davey – Sampler / Keys Steph Brown – Keys (currently in New York) Jeremy Toy – Guitar, Keytar Isaac Aesili – Trumpet, Percussion and a revolving horn section depending on availability.

Big things have been said about your live show, what can a crowd expect when you hit the stage? Any plans for a few shows on our shores in the near future?

We have plans to get across the ditch soon. We try and bring a party to every gig we play. It’s a big band and such a big dynamic that when it works it is a guaranteed good night out.

Your style of music is a product of so many different influences, obviously a result of the different tastes and experiences in music the various members bring to the group; where did it all begin for the Opensouls?

I’m not sure where it all began but myself and the drummer Julien Dyne share a similar love for soul and jazz music which is the backbone of our sound. Dare I call it jazz music but that is the music that keeps your mind thinking and continually challenges how you perceive music. An extension of that is artists like Tribe Called Quest, Premier and Pete Rock who took the jazz vibe and re-hashed it without ever making it sound like acid-jazz.

The musical community in New Zealand seems to effortlessly intertwine itself; how has this affected the way the Opensouls operate?

It effects us in a sense that there are heaps of people to help us out and to give us advice. Sometime that advice is a waste of time because you can only follow your own path but sometimes having so many people that you can potentially bounce ideas off of is very refreshing.

The various elements that make up your sound mean that you are not bound to any one genre when it comes to collaboration, are there any standout artists that you’d love to work with?

Thats a tough question. You never know how well you will work when collaborating until you are there doing it. I would love to get Liam Finn to produce a track for us. He is a stand out right now. Of course, if Chaka Kahn came knocking we wouldn’t say no. I have always wanted to play with Van Morrison. Soulful Irish music is big on my list.

Jeremy: Recently you picked up an award in New Zealand for Best Producer for your work with Hollie Smith on her album Long Player, how was working with her and do you have plans for anymore side-projects?

Working with Hollie on her album was a great experience for me. Hollie had set idea’s about how she wanted her album to sound so I took my role as the person to push Hollie outside of her musical comfort zone. She is a massive fan of Voodoo and Mama’s Gun and really wanted her record to be in the same vain as those records. I showed Hollie and the band the influences D’angelo, Erykah Badu, J Dilla and Questlove had when writing those albums and we tried to create an album that was not only influenced by these contemporary musicians but also by the musicians from the 60’s and 70’s that laid the foundations for the type of soul music Hollie plays. I am involved in other side projects. An Australian singer Tim Guy, he now lives in New Zealand. Tim writes some of the heaviest music I have heard, really well crafted songs. I am also doing demo’s with the Sami Sisters . They are 3 sisters with an undeniable talent for writing songs that grab at your heart strings and kick you to the kerb.

Your debut album, Kaleidoscope (released in April 2006), was mastered in Los Angeles by Stones Throw Records master engineer Dave Cooley. Did you get to go over there for that? How did the connection come about?

The connection with Dave Cooley came about when we needed our first 12″ record mastered. I got in hold of him via the Internet not knowing he had done any work for Stones Throw, all I saw was a quote from J Dilla saying that Dave’s studio was good, that was enough of a selling point for me. As he was mastering the tracks we found out his history with Stones Throw and we were blown away that such a heavyweight engineer was helping us out. From our initial contact his studio now works for heaps of New Zealand acts incl. Mark De Clive-Lowe, Nathan Haines and Eru Dangerspiel.

Recent reviews have compared your sound to that of Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings, Breakestra and Quantic Soul Orchestra; how do you feel about these comments? Are these artists that you draw inspiration from?

It is a hard comparison to take. Those artists are at the top of the food chain when it comes to Soul music. Yes, they are an influence but we are very aware that they have their sound and we need to develop our own sound, not just try and replicate what they are doing. I am more inclined to draw inspiration from outside the funk genre. I think there is more to learn from artists like Jeff Tweedy, Townes Van Zandt or Elliot Smith who communicate something through lyrics that only great songwriting can achieve.

As the Opensouls are involved in a variety of New Zealand crews (such as Che Fu’s The Krate’s, Ladi 6’s Verse Two, Recloose, Solaa and Tyra Hammond’s funk band The Tornado’s), is the Opensouls a side project for individual members, or are their other endeavours the side projects? How do this all work for the Opensouls?

This band is a crazy dynamic. I think we all will agree that when we get together and play live that it is the closest, best bunch of people that we could play music with. We all go out and work for other artists, as musicians we have to do that to keep our minds active but when we come off tour from those job and play as Opensouls we all realize that this is the one project worth putting in the hard yards for.

Hip hop is winding an interesting road through music history, what do you think of the current state of hip hop? And where do you feel that you fit on the hip hop spectrum?

I don’t know much about the current state of Hip Hop. To me there is always going to be a stand out release that may fit in to the Hip Hop Genre but its always something a bit left of field. Madlib is still ruling, Common seems to be hanging in there, Erykah Badu’s new album captured the vibe. There are some amazing things happening in Europe but it is more on the techno side of Hip Hop. As for what is on television top 40, I couldn’t care less. I think Hip Hop is in a good position as far as where it sits in the industry. It needs to be an underground music, it needs that constant low hum that works away while the top 40 slowly eats itself and decays.

What’s next for the Opensouls crew? New albums in the making? Future tours on the horizon?

We are working on our next record. We have a 7″ about to be release which will get to Australia in select vinyl stores, Northside Records etc. Hopefully if the Australian radio and television stations are nice to us you will hear our next single “Dollars” on the airwaves.

You can check out more of Opensouls at:


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[...] Opensouls Interview The nine-piece collective is yet another Kiwi group making waves with energetic lives shows displaying their brand of funky hip hop laced with elements of jazz, reggae and soul. So firstly, tell us a little about Opensouls for those out … [...]

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