By RUBEN MITA
It’s a bright sunny Monday in Kingsland, and I’ve finally found the door to where I’m supposed to be interviewing up-and-coming singer-songwriter Kurisú. It’s an unassuming and easily-missed small, grey door to the side of a liquor store, through which a flight of stairs lead up to the well-hidden but surprisingly spacious BigPop recording studio above the street.
“I do most of my recording in here now,” the artist explains as she shows me around. “We have another studio in Victoria Park. I started off there, but it’s a little bit more vibey up here. It’s way more chill.”
Kurisú released her second single Hospital Walls in March, a “little dark and weird” song that she had worked on for quite a bit before choosing it for release. “I think that for me as an artist, it spoke to what I kind of want to sing about, or the message that I want to get out there. I’m really about storytelling and messages and things… growing up I listened to a lot of artists like Lauryn Hill, Common, Erykah Badu, India Ari, and they’re all real storytellers. For me it was really important that I told my story first.”
It’s with songs like Hospital Walls that Kurisú wants to help “create a dialogue” as she puts it. “It’s about kind of like an everyday struggle of feeling like you’re just a bit crazy. And that is something that I’ve kinda dealt with a lot in my life. I’ve dealt with depression since I was really young, and it’s kind of a topic that no one really likes to talk about… I guess this is my way of trying to open up the dialogue and talk about it a little bit more and make it a little bit more normal. I think depression, even though it’s not a new problem, is something that… a lot of people now face. There’s so much more pressure these days, and social media doesn’t help.”
Before setting off on her own musical career, Kurisú featured as a dancer in music videos by many other artists, something she laughs at when I bring it up. “I’ve always performed in some way, shape or form, whether it’s acting or singing or dancing.” She believes these different aspects have all informed each other. “I’m a very visual person; whenever I write a song I’m typically thinking about what the story looks like visually. I think growing up dancing, that’s all very visual, so I think that in that aspect dancing has really played a role.”
This is certainly clear in the visually striking music video to her earliest release, 2015’s Magnets. “I don’t think you need a million dollar budget to make a great video… it’s just another platform really,” she explains. “YouTube is what, the second largest search engine, so it’s really important I think to be on that platform in any way shape or form, whether it’s someone singing with a guitar or a lyrical video or a full blown video.”
Born in Japan but raised in Auckland, she grew up listening to an eclectic mix of gangsta rap, hip-hop, soul, and jazz, though she says she doesn’t think in terms of genre when regarding her own music. “I never thought, “Oh I’m gonna be this type of singer.” For a long time I thought I didn’t fit into any kind of genre, and that I think disheartened me a little bit. But I think now that I’m a little bit older and wiser, well maybe not wiser, I’m a lot more comfortable in the fact that my music maybe doesn’t necessarily sound like another person’s.”
One thing that stands out in our talk is her optimism about the New Zealand music industry, most notably its size, the very feature that often attracts so much pessimism. “We’re so lucky, we’ve got heaps of funding and there’s so many different agencies… honestly there are people giving out money that you’ve never even heard of, and you just have to apply and don’t get too disheartened if you don’t get it the first time round.”
Her own persistence in applying for funding has paid off, and she offers plenty of useful advice on how to approach such an enclosed business in a small country. “In New Zealand, because it’s quite a small industry, everyone knows each other, so I think it’s really important for new artists to try and network as much as they can and get to know people and always just be super friendly and nice to everyone… You just never know who you might bump into or who listens to your demo.”
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