Friday Nights at NGV: Interview with Ngaiire

We interviewed Ngaiire, who will be headlining Friday Nights at NGV on 1 April 2016.

Describe your sound in 5 words or less?
Ever evolving extension of myself.

If your music was an artwork what would it look like?
I don’t know if there would be one singular art work that could successfully describe my music as a whole. Each of my songs tend to have their own narratives but I think the songs that define me the most are the one’s that evoke a strong sense of emotion or aesthetic even without lyrics both for me and the listener. They’re not so much concerned with the more traditional popular ideas of a good song.  Standing in front of the monumentality of a Mark Rothko painting from  when he started to become more concerned with answering big human questions through simplicity is what I imagine those particular songs to look like. He wanted people to be overwhelmed by the stillness and scale of his works and for it to cause you to feel or look tragedy or ecstasy right in the face. When I walked into the room containing the Seagram Mural’s at the Tate Modern years ago I wept even before I knew his story. It was a true spiritual experience and such an honour to be introduced to an artist who had the same views as I on the delivery of art. He said once that ‘If a work is not aesthetic, it is not art by definition’ . That has generally been how I gauge if I like something or not and how I connect with a new song I may be writing.

Do you have a favourite artist/artwork?
Not entirely. I have a weird preoccupation with death so I am always particularly interested in the final works of artists before they pass. I find great satisfaction in trying to decode what was going on in their lives, how it may have been portrayed in their work, and whether they were sub consciously aware that they were going to die soon. Things like was Dali’s ‘Series of Catastrophes’ a representation of his transition from life to death? Did Frida Kahlo’s final diary entry truly depict her need for a joyous exit or was she slightly scared of the realities of death? How much did Michelangelo’s final sculpture grapple with his own frustrations of his own mortality? It’s a bit dark but I find these things so interesting.

What’s your favourite gig you have played to date?
I’ve had the privilege of playing some pretty wonderful shows but there was this little festival at Sydney Uni called One Day which I thought was pretty great. It seemed like a primarily hip hop festival so I was quite nervous. Australian hip hop audiences are solid so I wasn’t sure how my music would translate to them. Turns out it was one of the most enjoyable gigs I’d ever done. I felt so welcomed by such a thriving community.

What inspires/influences your music the most?
Death and heart ache. I do branch out to more positive and uplifting areas but death and tragedy seem to conjure up the spirits more significantly for me.

What song do you wish you wrote?
‘I Can’t Make You Love Me’ – Bonnie Raitt

What part of making music excites you the most?
The possibilities are endless. The fact that music can alter perception or mood is powerful and quite a responsibility. What Rothko did with his paintings is what excites me about music. The ability to arouse emotion and change the way people think is a spectacular thing.

What can someone expect from your live show?
Usually a lot of deep synths and lush backing vocals both live and electronically triggered by me. I’m not sure what form of the band we’ll be bringing but maybe we’ll do something special for it.

Tell us about the last song or album you created?
The last song I wrote for my new album ‘Blastoma’ was a song called ‘Many Things’. I wrote it at a point of procrastination. I think I had a commission I was meant to be writing for and got lost in the world of Microkorg synth sounds. It seemed quite fitting as I was right in the middle of an emotional hurricane when I started it and there was literally no amount of vocabulary that could have depicted how I was feeling. It resulted in ‘there are many things that I don’t know how to say, don’t know how to say, don’t know how’. Ironic but maybe more fittingly that  it’s ended up as the last track of the album.

What is your favourite part of being involved in Friday Nights at NGV?
The first art gallery I ever performed at was GOMA in Brisbane and then at the Art Gallery of NSW both after hours. There’s something quite special yet strangely unnerving about performing loud music in an art gallery at night. It’s like making love in a cemetery. I kind of like that.

Andy Warhol | Ai Weiwei showcases over 300 artworks that explore the parallels and intersections between the practices of these two exemplary artists. Are you excited about the exhibition?
Oh my. What an incredible honour. Both were and are important rule breakers of our time. Warhol changed the way we look at art and Ai’s irreverence and bravery are the pinnacle of what I want to be in my music.

A large portion of the works included in the Andy Warhol | Ai Weiwei exhibition include political or social commentary. Have you been inspired to do this through your music?
I am more so now. I’ve always been comfortable in addressing social issues but I never felt it was my place to comment politically. I never wanted to until I really knew what was actually going on. I toured for many years with a band of activists and I saw how complex and heavy it could get standing up for what you believe in.  My second album hasn’t yet dropped but I’m already excited about the third one as I now feel half ready to offer some commentary on injustices here and in PNG. Being the first Papua New Guinean music artist to have kicked significant goals on the contemporary international stage comes with its responsibilities so I’m being very wary of how I go about addressing such things.

Andy Warhol famously said: ‘Art is what you can get away with.’ How would you respond?
I think he may have appropriated that from his muse Marshall McLuhan who said that. Warhol obviously really challenged the art of painting, blurring a lot of lines with what could be considered art. I know there’s debate surrounding whether what Warhol was doing was art and that he was stealing images but I believe art should foremost cause you to think and Warhol definitely did that. I’m ok with boundary pushing as long as it creates commentary.

Ai Weiwei once said: ‘A small act is worth a million thoughts.’ How would you respond?
Ai Weiwei is the king of small acts. I remember seeing his works for the first time at MOMA and having a laugh to myself thinking this guy’s got balls. ‘F*** off’ is genius. I mean clearly he demonstrated that by photographing himself flipping the bird at important political landmarks like Tienanman Square. One of the things he challenged were how much the Chinese people valued their culture. I would’ve loved to have done something similar for the people of PNG to challenge how much they value theirs and their land. Especially in the face of all the land grabbing and development into the western world that occurring. I’ll work on it.

What else are you working on now? Or where are you next touring?
I have a few tours coming up. My album is complete and waiting to be revealed to the world so now it’s just about making the live shows as tight as possible. I’m really learning a lot about being a boss lady so there are a lot of things this year that are really going to exercise that.