Koi Child on live hip-hop, working with Kevin Parker, and supporting Tame Impala

Ahead of the release of their self-titled debut album Koi Child’s MC Shannon Cruz Patterson spoke to ROB INGLIS about the group’s formation, recording with Tame Impala wizard Kevin Parker and the rappers that have influenced his flow.

One night in April 2014, two staples of the Fremantle music scene, hip-hop outfit Childs Play and nu-jazz quartet Kashikoi, pooled their talents together and collaborated onstage at the X-Wray Café. In the audience was Kevin Parker, himself a Fremantle local. After the hybrid-band had wrapped up their performance, the Tame Impala frontman approached them, asking if they’d like to play with his group on Rottnest Island later that month. Thus, Koi Child was born.

The band’s self-titled debut album was produced entirely by Parker, and has been released under the Pilerats imprint. Koi Child just recently finished supporting New Zealand’s Fat Freddy’s Drop on their national dates. Currently, they’re travelling Australia on a headline tour of their own with shows in Ballarat, Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane and Fremantle plus an appearance at Golden Plains festival.

“We’re so excited. It’s going to be crazy,” says Patterson of the tour. “The first one was really cool, but I think this one’s going to be a lot better, ‘cause we’ve been working on a lot more stuff. We’re working on a little jam that we’re going to do. And we’ve also got a cover, or more like a version, of a very different track. So, that’s going to be really cool. And just the general party that comes with touring. It’s going to be sick.”

Can you tell me how you all met, and what led you to joining forces onstage for the first time at X-Wray Cafe in 2014?

I think it was Sam’s idea. Sam is the beatmaker for Childs Play, which is the band that I’m in – me, him, and Christian. And I think Kashikoi wanted to approach us, but we beat them to it, funnily enough. So, yeah, Sam approached them, and I remember him reminding me the day before we were supposed to meet up with them, but I had no idea what he was talking about. [laughs]

I think we did two or three weeks of just, y’know, jamming together, seeing how we worked together as two bands. Like, different tempos, different styles. Also, Jamie wasn’t there at first, the alto sax player for Kashikoi. But, on the night we played together, he just jumped up onstage, and it sounded really good. I was blown away by his playing. So, he ended up sticking there, and it ended up being actually the four of them and the three of us together. Which is cool.

It’s got to have been a total whirlwind for you since that night at X-Wray. What’s been the hardest thing about adapting to life as a member of Koi Child?

I would say that the hardest thing is the fact that there’s so many of us. But there’s no, like, head of the band. It belongs to all of us. There’s a lot of pushing and pulling. Just trying to decide on something as simple as what a snare might sound like can take hours. A lot of us are pretty sloppy with things like that. Others are quite pedantic. But at the same time, with all of that – within these two years – I think we’ve come together quite a lot, and learnt to work with each other really well.

I suspect it’s tricky for Sam, Christian, and yourself to juggle your obligations to both Childs Play and Koi Child. How do you manage it?

It’s pretty hard. Those two bands have taken a little bit of a backseat. We try and do gigs here and there to keep them alive. I think once the album drops, I’m going to start writing again for Childs Play. Kashikoi’s got stuff recorded. I think they just need to get it mixed and sort it out. Like, re-record a few things. Eventually, they’ll drop something. They’re an amazing band. I’m so excited to hear it. We didn’t expect for this to happen. But, it’s all worth it. It’s totally worth it, y’know?

Just passed on our next single to this great human/Bad Boy for mixin’! April ⏰

A photo posted by Koi Child (@koichild) on

You recorded the album with Kevin Parker on an island south of Perth, in a fishing shack that doubled as a studio. Would you say this location affected the atmosphere of the music that ended up on the album?

Oh, yeah, most definitely. For one, we had to cross a very small river. It wasn’t wide at all. Probably, like, the size of a four-lane street. But once we’d crossed that river, we felt as though we were so far away from home, and just in our own little world. The album cover’s, like, that house in a bubble. It actually felt like we were in a bubble. It was really secluded, and it was actually quite a big party. Just recording, waking up early, drinking beers early. It was really, really cool. I think it helps a lot doing stuff like that. Even before we went on our first tour, we tried to get away. It’s really good to get away from all the hustle and bustle of the city, and just turn your phones off, and not necessarily be in work mode, but just music mode: where there’s time to chill and there’s time to write.

“Kevin chopped out quite a lot of stuff”

What did Kevin bring to the table that other producers couldn’t have?

He brought a lot of assurance to the table. There were a lot of times during the album where we weren’t really sure about certain sections, [whether they] could have been too long or too short. Kev would help us with stuff like that. He’d do a lot of cutting the fat. He did that while mixing, too. He chopped out quite a lot of stuff, which actually made it sound really fat. Like, he’d drop out the whole band; just leave drums and sax. Or, like, just bass, and drums, and rap, which was really cool. He helped with a whole lot of the structure. And a lot of the setting up, too. Most of the set-up was his. Especially his drum sound. He would set-up the whole drums and the mics and stuff. It was fascinating for us to see how he set the drums up – his process of recording us.

In addition to Kevin’s approval, you’ve received recognition and encouragement from a diverse group of music industry figures. People like Nick Allbrook, Mark Ronson, Ebro Darden, and Theophilus London. What do you think it is about your music that seems to appeal to a broad audience?

Wow. [laughs] I don’t know. I s’pose we’re kind of different to a lot of hip-hop. We switch up a lot. Things change within our songs. It’s not just beats and raps. The band’s really good, they’ve got a lot of jazz influence. They kind of get bored with just a looped beat forever. They like to spice things up like crazy, and I think that helps a lot. If it was just me on a looped beat, it wouldn’t have nearly as much impact. Also, the seven of us all have our own characters, and we all bring our own flavours to everything that we do in our music and our live performances. So, I think that has a lot to do with it. Kev saw us live first, and I think that had a massive impact. Just seeing us live and seeing our vibe.

You guys were the opener at Tame Impala’s Australian headline shows late last year. Did that experience help you refine your live show?

A little bit. That was a half-hour set, so we had to select our best songs, and really refine it to the best that we have. And just with bigger crowds, y’know? Like, less nerves. We get used to those crowds. We played with Fat Freddy after that, and being in front of that crowd, we just felt more confident because by then we were used to so many people.

How receptive did you find the crowds to be at the Tame Impala and Fat Freddy’s Drop shows?

Oh, they were great. They were really, really great. We were a bit worried that they wouldn’t dig us as much because we’re a hip-hop band, but, yeah, they really loved it. It was awesome.

You hear about support bands copping flack because the crowd is there to see the headline act, and aren’t necessarily going to be open to hearing a new band.

Yeah, that’s what we were expecting. I mean, the turnout [for Fat Freddy’s Drop] obviously wasn’t as big as it was for Tame. It was much, much smaller. But, the people who were there really loved it. We got really good feedback.

What do you think the advantages of rapping in front of a band are to, say, rapping over samples?

It looks way better. While I’m rapping, you see the other guys rapping along with me, you see them dancing. Everybody dances really weirdly. Watching Tom do his solos is amazing. All his solos are crazy. It’s just much more interesting. It’s more eye candy for the viewers. I also feed off them more. I play with a DJ too, and it’s really cool for us. We do feed off each other a little bit, but I think [it happens] much, much more with the band. We relate to the crowd more. It’s more like a party on the stage, than it is “us and them.” There’s a bit more time to look at people, and, like, wave at them and stuff.

You’re clearly a student of hip-hop. On the album, you namedrop people like MF DOOM and DJ Premier. Other than them, which hip-hop artists were most influential on you growing up? Which rappers do you think informed your artistic development, and helped you to develop a style all your own?

“I never thought I would be cool enough to be a rapper”

I didn’t mention any of the ones that influenced me growing up. Flow-wise, I would definitely say Redman and Method Man had a big impact on me. Like, I would always rap along to their stuff as a kid. Eminem also, which is kind of crazy. I was too young to be listening to that stuff, but I did it anyway, not knowing that I would be a rapper at all. I never thought I would be cool enough to do stuff like that. [laughs]

At the same time, rapping along to all of that stuff, I was actually practicing rap. Even though I hadn’t written anything. Growing up, I would definitely say those three. A lot of Nas. As I got older, I started listening to more MF DOOM, a lot of American rap. It’s probably where my accent comes [from] when I’m rapping. [laughs]

The video for ‘1-5-9’ debuted on Pitchfork the other day. How did that make you feel?

It was cool because it didn’t take too much work from us. Like, most of it was just done by the editors and the animators. So, it was a surprise to us that it went so well.

Can you tell me a bit about the making of the video? It looks like it must have been pretty fun to put together.

Yeah, yeah, it was great. I think most of us had just finished work, and we went to meet this guy Tay who does all the videos for Pilerats. And, yeah, he put us on some sand dunes in South Freo, and pretty much got us to dance. We set all our instruments up, and it was kind of weird because he played the song on this portable speaker. We had to pretend that we were having a proper jam [laughs]. So, everyone walks past thinking: “What are these guys doing?”

Koi Child’s self-titled debut album is out now via Pilerats.