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Interview: Pepa Knight

Words by Scenewave Australia - Published on July 22, 2014

Multi-instrumentalist and 1/5 of Australia’s favourite world music-folk-pop sons, Jinja Safari, Pepa Knight is one talented dude. The tipi dwelling, sitar enthusiast, could-have-been hermit has just released the second single of his solo project, and is onto something pretty special. Clams is the follow up single to Rahh!, and both boast intricate percussion, worldly instruments, beautiful lyrics and live samples recorded from Pepa’s various trips to India. If they’re anything to go by, his upcoming collection of songs, Hypnotized, is going to be a pretty stellar release. We got to chat with him ahead of two intimate shows in Sydney and Melbourne to discuss how a tipi holds up in wild weather, how he considered being classified as legally dead, and what “futuristic Bollywood” means as a dress code.

I’m curious about how you’ve found the responses to your solo material. Has it been positive for you?

To be honest I’ve been really surprised with the support for this project. With Jinja we got pretty lucky there. We got a lot of love from Australia and overseas, but with this- I just wanted to make a bit of a vibe project. I wasn’t really expecting anyone to get into as much or anything. It’s been really nice! It’s good to get these new solo songs, slowly but surely.

How, if at all, has your creative process changed with this project compared to the Jinja Safari process?

With Jinja, it’s completely different. It’s a collaboration between Marcus and I. Collaborations are really good, most of the time, and they bring out the best in your song-writing; having two brains clashing together and you end up writing something you wouldn’t normally come up with. But at the same time, with collaborations, sometimes it doesn’t turn out how you wanted it to be. So with this, it’s been similar in that I’ve been samples from overseas and stuff like that, which I touched on in our last record with Jinja. However, I’ve now started to get deeper into that warm influence and I can get it to more of where I want it to be, so it’s nice in that sense.

In your interview with Rolling Stone India, you said you initially wanted to escape everything and become a sort of hermit! What made you change your mind, and instead start a solo music project and release music to the world? A slight change of lifestyle, I think!

On my first trip to India, it was a big culture shock. For Rahh!, that was written with this sadhu man. I don’t know if you know much about the sadhus, but they’re these holy men and they basically leave their home, and they’re legally dead. They’re classified as dead in India, and they lead these crazy lives. It was a sort of liberating feeling, and I really wanted to do that, and not go back to Australia at all, actually. I wasn’t game enough to actually stay there forever though.

How did you choose the first two songs, out of the others? There are about 12 songs on the Hypnotized collection, right?

For those two singles, I think they were ones I was vibing on. Clams was written really fast, I did it in one full day. I had never done that before and it felt really fresh, so I really wanted to get that one out towards the start. It was ridiculous how fast that came together. It usually takes me months and months to finish a song! Rahh! had a similar sound to what Jinja had, so I wanted that to be the first one to slowly ease into my stuff from the band.

What can we expect from the rest of the songs? Similar vibes?

Yeah, similar vibes! The rest of the album will be along the same lines. I feel like it’s a lot more folk driven, and a lot more “down” songs in the collection. The first two are a bit more pumped up, and hyper. The others are a bit more chilled.

You’re calling Hypnotized a collection, rather than an album – why is that?

I was going to call it an album, and I still do sometimes, but basically I don’t want to release it all in one go. I want to release it in two separate volumes. I still haven’t finished the songs completely – they’re about 95% there – so it gives me more time to complete them too. I think in this day and age as well, people have such a short attention span, and if someone releases a full album these days, a lot of people skim over and don’t care too much. Whereas, if you release it in smaller doses, I think people will appreciate it more.

I totally agree with that. People consume music now in a totally different way than what albums were being made for. Releasing separate songs is probably better for people to take more from them!

Exactly! It helps digest it more, especially with a new project. If it was a new Jinja release, it could be a full album maybe. This way gives me more time too. I accidentally deleted the whole folder that had everything in it, so it’s taking a bit longer to re-record it all.

You’ve had quite the affinity with India and their culture for a while now. Obviously, it’s quite prevalent in Jinja Safari’s music too. How did that come about? What do you find about that culture that is so attractive?

I never really thought I would get so closely attached to that world sound. I have been playing music for a long time. I started off in a punk band, and then went on to rock, nearly emo phase *laughs* I was playing in a band with my brother, and we were in a band for about ten years. I never really thought I’d get so into it, but I love it! I’ve been over three times now, and had some long trips there. I really love the culture, and there is so much to see! It’s a great way of doing music for me. I think you get so inspired when you go to new places. For me, when I went to India, it was a whole combination of the way people lived, and the amazing food, and the crazy musicians that live there.

In my mind, it’s always been Jazz that is the pinnacle of musical talent. I’ve always been like, “Yeah, when I’m 80 or 90, I’m going to be able to play in a jazz band!” But now, since I’ve been to India, it’s next level over there. These people play these instruments all day, every day of their lives, and there is just no way I’ve ever going to be able to compete with that. I’ve certainly lowered my expectations of myself since then *laughs*

You recorded a lot of your samples and sounds whilst you were travelling around. I don’t imagine that being an easy task, especially in a place like India! How did you do that? Where you searching for something in particular?

I just recorded as I went! I have this little portable microphone that records in high quality, so I just recorded as I heard things. If I met a musician that wanted to contribute to the project I could just do it then and there. Or, say, if saw some fireworks or even just ambiance of where I was, I would record that too. I thought that was nice to put in the songs. There is one song called Desert Guy, and throughout the whole song there is the ambiance of what I heard when I was actually in the desert. Because it was so quiet, you could find little sounds like a herd of cows walking past or little flies that are flying around. You could hear so much more out there, so it was fun doing that sort of stuff. I did a bit of it with Jinja, but I got to do it a lot more this time around. I really like it!

The video for Rahh! is such a fun clip! I love watching it! Can you tell me a bit about how you made that, and what was going on in it. I read somewhere that the dress code was “futuristic Bollywood”?

*laughs* Thanks! It was put together really last minute. I spoke to my friend who is a director, and I just mentioned it one Saturday, so he said, “let’s just do it Monday!” So we had two days to come up with a concept, which we didn’t really come up with. We just thought we’d get a few friends to come with whatever outfits they had, and we’d use whatever I had lying around. We shot it in the tipi, and we did it in half a day. It turned out much better than I thought actually! I’m currently working on the film clip for Clams, so I’m keen to get something out for that. We’ve got a lot of footage from a gig I had in my tipi the other night, so I’m keen to get a live video released from that. I ended up recording the audio from that correctly so I’m keen to get that out soon too.

I was just about to ask about your tipi show. I actually saw you post about it on your Instagram!

Oh wow! Well, the tipi show was mainly to test out the songs. I have a new band together to help me play these new songs, and they’re all from where I live in Long Jetty. We’ve been jamming on these songs, so we invited our friends and I got some other people from Facebook and Instagram to come along as well, if they were keen. Because it was in my backyard though, I had to limit the amount of people. I didn’t want anyone stealing my undies!

They could sell them on eBay! Sell them for heaps of money!

*laughs* I don’t know how much money they’d make! I might have to pay someone to buy them! But yeah, it ended up being a nice chilled night. Everyone dressed up and we ended up staying late in the night. I actually hope the neighbours weren’t too pissed off…

They probably enjoyed it too! You’ve got two intimate shows coming up in Sydney and Melbourne soon – what are you expecting from these? Any secrets you can let me in on for them?

No secrets! I’m super pumped to play them though. I’ve been sitting on these songs for a while. It’s so different taking them to the stage and playing them live. I’m really excited about it. The band that I have with me will be awesome too. We had to iron out some kinks with the amount of instruments we have, and the amount of instruments we can travel with… It’s basically a new instrument every song. There is a Chinese Lute that I’ve been using, and is the main instrument in Rahh! It’s such a bitch to tune though! So we’re working on those things, but still excited!

What can we expect next then? Maybe a show up here in Brisbane?

I hope so! I think I’m doing these gigs just for now, but I’d love to do a bigger tour later in the year. I’d love to head up to Brisbane, it would have been good to do now to be a bit warmer! I’ve got five layers on at the moment! We’ve been feeling it a lot more lately because we’ve been sleeping out there in the tipi, and you can feel the elements so much more!

Well hopefully it doesn’t literally get picked up by the wind!

Well funny you say that – the last time there was a huge gust of wind, it felt a bit like a hurricane blowing, and I had forgotten to peg the canvas down properly. We had a few moments in the night where the canvas was just blown into the air and we were just literally in bed, outside.

What do you even do in that situation?!

Well the next morning, I made sure I definitely put the tent pegs down! It’s just so hard to take it down then put it back together again. For the tipi gig, we set it half open, and it’s taken me nearly a week to get it back to normal again and get everything out of it.

And make sure the tent pegs are down before you go back to bed!

Yes! I’ve learned my lesson!

Pepa Knight shows:

Goodgod Small Club, Sydney – August 1

Northcote Social Club, Melbourne – August 8

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