After releasing Mood Valiant, their first new LP in six years, last year to profound critical acclaim, Australian jazz/funk outfit Hiatus Kaiyote are currently on a massive US tour, with an already-sold-out show this Sunday, August 7th, at Union Transfer. Additionally, Hiatus Kaiyote bassist Paul Bender released his first solo album, How To Forget, this May, a classic breakup record chronicling his most recent and most profound heartbreak. Earlier this week I got a chance to chat with him via Zoom about going solo and the current state of Hiatus Kaiyote.
Izzy Cihak: You released a solo album, How To Forget, a few months ago. Have you had any favorite responses to it so far?
Paul Bender: It’s just nice to get any response, because I wasn’t really thinking about any commercial success or anything. It’s just really nice that people have communicated to me that it means something to them, especially when someone’s communicating that they’ve had their own heartbreak and it’s helping them process that. I think anything that can make your heartbreak feel more beautiful than just grim and dreadful is a good thing. I’ve definitely experienced that with other music in the past, where it’s just recontextualized it and it kind of makes it more bearable to experience now.
Izzy: Related to that, since it is a breakup album, I was gonna ask if you have any particular favorite breakup albums?
Paul: That’s a good question. I feel like it’s more, not necessarily whole albums, but I’ve definitely had my moments with Jeff Buckley for sure, Lee Hazlewood, definitely Brian Wilson, like Pet Sounds, obviously. That’s a great album with a lot of beautiful love songs on it. I also kind of think back to being a kid and hearing certain songs and not caring about them at all, and then experiencing heartbreak, and then that song suddenly becomes like a really good song. I feel like there are certain songs that only become a really good song once you’ve experienced what the song is about, and you’re like, “Ahhh, now this hits really hard.”
I also have this funny memory of one girl that I was kind of in love with in L.A., and it was never gonna work out because we didn’t live in the same place, but we kind of reconnected at one point, and we were hanging out and I still had a lot of feelings for her, and she was driving me back to my hotel, to say, “Bye,” basically. And there was this song on the radio that we were just sitting in silence listening to that was just too specifically appropriate. It was so funny how specific and appropriate it was. It was kind of like that scene in that movie BASEketball, and he’s driving the car and the song goes, “Look out ahead, there’s a truck changing lanes, you’ve got some yellow crumbs on your upper lip…” and he’s just like, “What the fuck?” because the song’s just describing exactly what’s happening right now [laughs].
Izzy: How was it to transition from the role of a bassist or producer into being the person responsible for everything, from all of the writing, instrumentation, and vocals?
Paul: Really enjoyable, actually. Very, very enjoyable. Very enjoyable to make the record, like the power of transmutation. Turning something really bitter into something really beautiful was nice. And it was also just really nice because the collaboration in the band is very complex, ‘cause there’s so many people who all have opinions about what it should be. And then working on a record by myself could just be like, “Yup, that’s how I want that, and that’s how I want that, and that’s how I want that,” and the decisions are easy. There’s no one else to converse with about every single aesthetic choice. So, I could just have a super clear direction and then just go toward it without any deviations. It was great.
It was definitely one of those times where I felt really grateful for having dabbled in a bunch of different areas, from playing some different instruments to recording stuff and engineering stuff. Like, I play a bunch of cello on the record, which was still a relatively new instrument for me. It was really, really fun to make. Everything about the time I had to record it and the writing, everything just lined up. All the songs were written in the space of about two-and-a-half weeks.
Once I wrote the first song, it was just apparent that there were a whole bunch of songs that wanted to come out, that I didn’t have to force out. They were just ready to go. I think once I accepted that I was totally happy making a breakup album, and it being entirely about that subject matter, then there was nothing in the way of that sort of falling out of me. There was virtually no editing of the songwriting afterwards. It was just like, “Yup, it’s all in there inside me, just wanting to come out,” and I just let them happen and they happened.
Izzy: Do you currently have a favorite album track, whether one that you’re either most proud of or that you just feel might best represent the work as a whole?
Paul: I don’t know. They all have their own things for me, their own things about them that I’m really happy with. I quite like “I Don’t Wanna Be” because I got to go full Brian Wilson on the outro of that [laughs]. I went all the way there, unashamedly. But I also really love the first track, “Sometimes I Wonder.” That was actually the first song I wrote for the record, and I also like that it’s just one guitar and one vocal. It was sort of a conscious choice once a bunch of the songs were written, when I sort of had all the songs there to record. Because that was the first song I wrote for the record, that was the origin, or seed, of the record. And so much of the record just came about from me sitting there writing with a nylon string guitar, that it felt really good to leave that one like that, and open the album with something so stripped back. And I’m also just really happy that that works really well, because ultimately the songwriting and the lyrics were just a really big part of this album, just expressing things super directly.
Izzy: Is this something you can see yourself continuing to do in the future, either making more solo albums or just more music like this, even if under a different moniker?
Paul: I think, for me, I always just try to focus on what it is that wants to happen next. That seems to be the easiet way to work and to get things done for me, personally. And so as far as another album like this, I don’t know if it will happen again, just because it was such a sort of explosively brutal scenario for me that led to all the songs being written. Like, I almost hope there’s no other reason for me to make another record like that [laughs]. It was an easy thing to write songs about because it was so… my burning inside [laughs]. And I’m not sure what other subjects I would have that much desire to write lyrics about. Ya know? I mean, I don’t wanna write songs about fuckin’ politics or social shit. Ya know what I mean? I don’t really wanna go there.
The next thing that I’m intending to work on is – we have a little two-week break in the middle of this current Hiatus tour which we’ve just begun – and I’m gonna hang out in L.A. and I’m gonna meet up with a bunch of people to do some collabs on the beginnings of a new Sweet Enoughs record. It’s very much ‘60s/’70s easy listening, palm trees swaying, instrumental music. I’m not sure if you’ve heard the first one, but we’ve got an album called Marshmallow. It’s just sort of a thing I started a few years ago and it involved Simon from Hiatus, who plays some stuff on it, and a friend of mine, Lachlan, did some stuff on it, and a couple other friends, but it’s mainly me just kind of making stuff… It was the intention just to make a record that was all about it being really relaxing, being super chill, evocative, dreamy, instrumental music. And it’s been out for a couple years and it got a really good response just organically. A lot of people have hit me up about it. So, we’re gonna press that onto vinyl and have that be out not too far away. And then I’m gonna start another record for that project in L.A. in September. It’s a really fun vibe. Because with Hiatus I’ve worked on a lot of quite complex music that can be kind of difficult to put together right, and this is just trying to aim for the opposite: relaxing to make and relaxing to listen to. Take a load off your mind.
Izzy: Speaking of Hiatus Kaiyote. You released Mood Valiant a little more than a year ago and it has gotten a ton of critical and popular acclaim. How did it feel to get that reaction, after the band had been out of the public eye for a little while?
Paul: It felt really good. It resonated with people. You never really know how things are gonna be perceived, although we all had quite a good feeling about it. Because if everybody in the band likes it and everyone has quite different tastes of stuff they’re interested in, that’s already a pretty broad spectrum, within the band itself. If all of us like the whole record, then surely some other people will as well. We’re really proud of it. Every record we’ve done has been a labor of love that takes quite a bit of work and intention and back-and-forth to make every song feel like it’s really evoking the right universe and the right feeling that you’re aiming for. It always feels very triumphant whenever we finish an album because it just seems like a lot of work. I think it’s because it always feels like such a vast scope of different things on each record, so it takes a bit of work to make it all feel like it’s really tied together and that each of the songs make sense in itself and as a part of the album.
Izzy: I’m just realizing that been together for more than a decade now, which seems like a while. In general, what have been some of the personal highlights of the band for you?
Paul: There’s been lots of different highlights. Obviously when we put our first record out and it sort of blew up organically, and people that we idolized were sharing it around online and on stuff, that was pretty mind-blowing. That was very super surreal, pinch-yourself stuff. But there’s still highlights now. Like, we’re just on this tour – we’ve only been on the road for like a week now – and we’re touring with a bigger crew. We’ve got all of our backing vocalists with us. We’ve got a really good team, and it’s just really such a highlight to just be all out here on the road again, and everyone hangs out, everyone’s having a really good time, and it’s really exciting to be doing that again. There’s definitely lots of awesome moments in the past, but it also feels really cool to just be in this current moment, feeling like we’ve leveled up into a new era of even just being able to afford bringing the whole squad on the road and knowing you’re putting on a really good show musically and technically and traveling in a fun way and everyone’s in good spirits and all that stuff.
Izzy: The band is on tour through October, across the US and Europe and even a special Australian show. Are there any shows you’re especially excited to play, or just cities you’re especially excited to visit or revisit? You do have a handful of festival appearances.
Paul: I’m really excited about the two shows we’re doing with an orchestra. We’re doing the Hollywood Bowl in L.A. and a show in San Diego with a 36-piece orchestra, with arrangements by Miguel Atwood-Ferguson, and also some of the arrangements that Arthur Verocai did for Mood Valiant. So, that’s really exciting. That’s super exciting because we’ve never done that before and it’s something we’ve wanted to do for a long time. So, we’re really excited and a little bit terrified to see how that’s gonna go [laughs]. Like, that whole new expanse of information happening on top of the music and within the music. That, I’m really looking forward to, and we love Miguel. He’s always awesome to work with and we really love him as a dude. It’s just really exciting to hear what he’s going to write and experience that whole ensemble with us.
Izzy: You’ll be playing a show here at Union Transfer this coming Sunday, which is already sold out. What can be expected of the live show this time around?
Paul: We have the backing vocalists, so we’ll have all the extra layers of vocal harmony, which is a huge vibe injection into the music. I think there’s gonna be a bit of everything, from all our albums. There’s gonna be stuff from our whole career, a little cover here or there… We just try to bring maximum energy and vibe to every show, and we always love playing for U.S. audience because they really know how to turn it up.