While I was up at Bluesfest in Byron Bay, I had the oppertunity to sit down with the face of Blue King Brown - singer and guitarist Natalie Pa'apa'a. We chatted about what Bluesfest means to her, the upcoming Blue King Brown album, and what it was like to record in Jamaica!
So welcome back to Byron Bay – I understand this is where you started your career?
Yeah I think this is where I cut my teeth, so to speak, in the music world. I grew up mainly in Melbourne, up to the age of 13. And I had picked up the guitar by then. But by the time I came to Byron I was well and truly in love with music.
I went to Byron High, and then played music on the streets for about 7 years. And that was definitely where I learnt a lot, and met a lot of people. That was the beginning of meeting those people who would come to be Blue King Brown, and our percussion group before that, which was called Skin.
And in Skin you played at Bluesfest with John Butler?
Yeah I think John first saw us at Bluesfest, when we were just performing on the streets of the festival markets, and he’d seen us jam, and thought "those guys are pretty cool!", so said “come and play with us!” And we went, “cool!” And then consequently Ozomatli saw us play and said “come and play with us!” and we’re like “wicked!”
So definitely Bluesfest has been very conducive in connecting the dots, connecting artists, and allowing for those sorts of things to happen. Those jams, those spontaneous things.
Does it feel like a homecoming when you return?
It sure does, it really does. The festival site has moved around in the past little while, but I always love going out there. If you’ve been here much, you know Pizza Loca, still there, giving the greatest pizza. Still got the Byron Ginger Nectar – I always run straight to those guys. And all these market stalls and all the community here, locals working behind the scenes, it’s so great to see everyone. And all of them have seen us come from the streets, to where we are now. Everyone’s been really supportive, and we’ve been really blessed to come back and hang out!
You mentioned getting to jam with other musicians as something unique to the Bluesfest experience. What have been some of your highlights over the years?
Definitely getting to perform on stage with Spearhead is a big highlight, as you could imagine. Those guys are incredible and have been getting me to jam with them for years now. Bluesfest was the first time. Since then they’ve become massive supporters of Blue King Brown.
But being on stage with those guys, and then all the consequent other artists that Michael pulls up out of the woodwork, like Luis Conte, who’s a master timbale player. My percussionist, his timbale is the Luis Conte signature series, so for him to be able to get up and jam with, that was really dope.
And so on and so on with all the amazing artists that Bluesfest brings in.
I noticed you’ve recently toured to some “Bluesfests” in other parts of the world – such as the Ottawa Bluesfest. How does the Byron festival stack up against the rest of the worlds offerings?
They’re different, festivals are different - some of those festivals are jazz and blues – but they’re all similar in that they bring a wide range of music. They don’t just bring blues, or they don’t just bring Jazz. Like this Blues festival, you have world music, you have Africa represented really well, you have South America represented really well, and then you have bands like us who cross over. So the experience is pretty much the same.
I’d like to talk now about your upcoming record, part of which you recorded in Kingston, Jamaica. Can you tell us a bit about that experience?
Yeah, we’ve been recording and finishing our second album. We recorded most of it in Melbourne, and then we went to Kingston, Jamaica to do all the vocals. So my vocals, backing vocals and guest vocalists. We were there for about a month, and were pretty much locked down in the studio the whole time. We wanted to be in Kingston because it’s the birth place of so much of the music we love and that we listen to – historically and currently, the stuff coming out of Jamaica is really good. So we wanted to be surrounded by that energy.
Everybody sings over there and is talented, it’s on the street, you can feel it. So it was important for us to go there and do that. It was such a great experience, we got a lot of good stuff, a lot of collaborations.
We got Sly and Robbie to do some songs with us while we were there. We got Queen Ifrica and Jah Mason who are really well known over there, but not so well known over here. So we really want to help introduce those artists. I mean there is an underground scene here for reggae/roots/dance hall – but it’s still underground. I think that a lot of Australians are missing out on so much incredible music from that region of the world. So we want to try and promote that through our sound.
When are we going to be able to hear the new album?
I think it’s either late August or early September. So soon come!
Are you playing them live at Bluesfest?
Yeah we’ve been working some new album material into the sets. It’s about half half.
How are the new tracks being received?
It’s good, it’s really good. Some of the songs we’ve been playing for a couple of years, and they’re well and truly worn in - totally rounded as far as live goes. But it’s really different – this album is really different to our previous album. We really went a different approach - we spent a lot of time in post production. The first album was a lot more rootsy, straight up live instrumentation – this time we’ve got lots more programmed beats accompanying the drum kit, and samples. It’s got a bit more hip hop sensibility, as well as the dance hall Jamaican flavour and what you already know of us!
Well we can’t wait to hear it.
And on that note, we have to leave it there, but thanks very much for your time!
Blue King Brown's long awaited sophomore LP will be in stores later this year!