Interview | Gaika

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Multi-disciplined artist, Gaika (aka Gaika Tavares) has only been making music for a short time, but has already built a name for himself around the globe with his distinctly artful blend of experimental r&b, dancehall, grime, grunge, techno and trip-hop. Simultaneously drawing from his Brixton upbringing and his Jamaican and Grenadian heritage, Gaika has being smashing conventions and proved impossible to pigeonhole. A vocalist and producer, Gaika made his start as a visual artist before beginning the project that would see him combine music, videography, visual art and design to create a powerhouse with fanbases around the globe. With a debut album in the works, Gaika is showing no sign of slowing down. In the middle of a world tour, Gaika chatted to us from his New York hotel before his first Australian national tour, kicking off this week. 

You’ve been working on your album while you’ve been in the US – how’s it all going? 
It’s going good, I’ve been work a lot so I wanted to get the songs down, put them together and work out which ones I like and which ones are trash. I’ve got some other stuff coming up as well so I’m getting that mixed. But I’ve been working on the album for about a year now, it’s probably the only thing in my life where I’ve concentrated for that length of time. I’ve always been ahead of myself, I guess. It’s in a good place and I’m happy. Right now, it’s a good album and if it turns out it will be great.

You’ve been touring really extensively particularly since Spaghetto – are you able to write on the road? How do you manage that with such an intense touring schedule?
Yeah, I just write on the road wherever I am. I have a sound card, I can record myself wherever I go. This is the thing – I don’t really have hobbies, I like to sew a bit but I’m not someone that really needs to know what’s happening in the latest Game of Thrones, or wants to spend an afternoon in Ikea, I don’t really do anything like that, I just make tunes or make visuals or make art. It’s what I do constantly. If I’m not actually at a show, then nine times out of ten I’m going to be recording something. That’s kind of what my normal is. In terms of writing music, I tend to have a lot of stuff backed up and I write in planes or I write in hotel rooms or I’ll write things down. You do so much waiting around when you’re travelling, it’s easy to write. I’ve never understood that when people say, ‘I can’t write because I’m on tour’. Ninety percent of the time, you’re just sat waiting somewhere so get some headphones – do you know what I mean?

You were a visual artist before you began making music and only quite recently started making music as a solo project.. Signing with Warp and having huge fan bases around the world now in such a quick abount of time must be quite a lot to process – has that side of things sunk in for you at all yet?
No (laughs). I don’t know, I always get kind of astounded that there’s people at my gigs. I’ve had a lot of stuff happen with my family in the time that it’s all kind of happened so it’s just not really… I’ve had my head in the water, doing the work but what that means outside of what’s in my head hasn’t really been part of my life. I’m not one for social media so I have no real handle on how many people know. It’s alien to me. It kind of freaks me out when I go to play shows and there’s people there in China. I’m just like, ‘Woah – how do these people know the words. I don’t get it.’ So it hasn’t really sunk in, I haven’t let it and I don’t think I ever will. I don’t want to eve be somebody that has an expectation of fandom or has an expectation of success. I don’t want to measure myself by the size of my audience. That’s a dangerous thing for an artist.

Your whole output is so cohesive – is music and visual art more of an extension of each other for you?
I’m not deaf and I’m not blind so I don’t understand the separation (laughs). I’ve never really experienced music in a dark room with my eyes closed, underwater in a concrete box. Even then, there would be something – it would conjure something in my imagination. To me they’re not separate at all.

What impacts the art you create?  
Everything. That’s a really hard question for me. There’s things that I like but there’s a lot of stuff. I take inspiration from the train just as much as a new record. I take inspiration from all the information I encounter all of the time so it’s almost impossible for me to pinpoint what that is without feeling like I’m being disingenuous. People always tell me my music sounds like all this stuff and it makes sense and that’s because I think actually all I try and do is make my interpretation of reality rather than this abstractified art that is blocking out everything. Even in writing – let’s talk about love and romance but ignore the context. Or let’s talk about politics but ignore the fact that you’re a human being and you feel love and romance. Or let’s talk about music but forget about the visual, the physical and all of this stuff. Somehow we separate out planes of our existence and I don’t really want to do that. So I end up making things that people say seems familiar but it’s because it comes from everything that you witness so it’s going to feel familiar.

I read something you said about making music that reminds you of being a kid – what music stood out to you growing up?
Dancehall, reggae music, jazz music, I like film soundtracks. I feel like I’m trying to make kid music – late 80s early 90s soundtracks. That feeling. They’re always really epic and there’s always lots of emotion and for me as a kid, that struck a chord. It really resonated with me that watching Top Gun or whatever – before you know what cheesiness is or before you start to become afraid of yourself or develop social anxiety in terms of expressing emotion. That music and what it is seems so real. That’s what I mean by ‘kid music’ – that it’s without irony.

“I’ll slow down when I feel like there isn’t something that I have to do or something that I have to say because I feel like right now it’s important that we communicate. The regressive forces in the world are not slowing down, they’re speeding up.”

When did you start making music?
I really started making music when I was a teenager. I wanted to be a garage producer and a DJ then I kind of did it a little bit and wasn’t any good. I decided I wanted to be part of the culture but maybe I was a bit too afraid to commit to making records so I became a promoter and put on parties, put on events and tried to support music. I feel like I always had taste with music and people always came to me about music so I thought, ‘This is what I’ll do – I’ll be in the street level of music’. Through that, however many years past and I got to the point where I was making visuals and 99% of the people I worked with were music people. I ended up standing on stage one day someone on stage said ‘You need to give that person a microphone, there’s something about him, there’s something about his way.’ I like to teach myself things so you let me in a studio, I’m going to like press all of the buttons so I know what it does. That’s kind of how it happened.

What are some other things you’ve learned since then, being on the other side?
I think I’ve learned about myself, I’ve learned what I care about and what I don’t. I’ve learned that I’m not here to try and get rich, I’ve learned that what matters to me isn’t some mainstream fame. I don’t need that self aggrandisement, I don’t need something to plug my ego – my ego’s not really connected to my music or my performance. I think a lot of people make music because they want to be loved, that ‘Look at me, look at me’ kind of thing and that’s fine. It’s an internal thing that happened to manifest itself in a performance and when I first started I thought that it was more to do with me wanting to prove something to people but as it’s progressed, I’ve realised it’s really not. It’s liberating because it means that this could all end tomorrow and I’ll be happy.

You’re on this huge world tour – when do things slow down for you?
I don’t know – they don’t, I guess. It’s kind of cool because the people in my band have been friends for years so it’s not like it’s new people so it’s not really that stressful. I don’t come to this with any expectation. It’s not that deep, it’s not that hard. So when does it slow down? When I want, when I decide I want to slow down. Right now, I don’t really see that happening any time soon. I feel like there’s things that I want to achieve. In terms of what’s going on in the world right now, how I feel is not that important. I feel like artists have a certain agency because you’re dealing directly with peoples emotions. One thing I think Kanye West got right was saying that it’s all that really matters at the moment. I’ll slow down when I feel like there isn’t something that I have to do or something that I have to say because I feel like right now it’s important that we communicate. The regressive forces in the world are not slowing down, they’re speeding up. Lots of artists are so afraid of losing their position that they wont say or do anything. I’m not like that so for me to slow down because it’s a bit more comfortable… My life’s great so not any time soon is the answer to that question.

Gaika Australian tour dates below.

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More details here