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Church Steps Into The Solo Spotlight

One half of the dynamic Auckland rap duo Church & AP is gearing up for an exciting solo performance at Laneway

Church

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Elijah Manu, better known as Church from the Auckland rap duo Church & AP, is set to deliver an exciting solo performance at this year’s Laneway Festival.

Known for their blistering hit “Ready or Not”, which boasts an impressive 10 million streams, Church & AP have established themselves as creators of innovative beats and passionate lyrical flows.

While Church & AP have left an indelible mark together, both artists are now exploring solo ventures. Church released his debut solo project, Spring ‘21, last June, offering a vibrant glimpse into his daily life in Aotearoa. But his solo journey doesn’t stop there.

Inspired by recent travels across the States, Church is delving into new sonic territories, transcending the roles of beatmaker and rapper. Drawing creative influence from local songwriters like UMO’s Ruban Nielson and The Beth’s Liz Stokes, Church simplifies it by saying, “I’m a songwriter, and I love all sorts of music.”

Returning to Laneway Festival after a surprise Church & AP set in 2019, Church’s solo performance aligns seamlessly with the artist’s evolving mindset.

No more words needed — Church is in session! Don’t miss his set at Laneway and read Rolling Stone AU/NZ’s conversation with the artist below.

Auckland’s Laneway Festival takes place on Tuesday, February 6th. Find tickets and more information here

So cool to have you at Laneway this year. Are you looking forward to it? 

Yeah,  so excited. Laneway has always been a favourite festival of mine. 

You’ve done a surprise set as Church & AP on the Laneway stage before. How does it feel now performing your own solo set?

It’s exciting and kind of nerve-racking at the same time. I’m excited to share all the new material that I’ve been working on on my own. The nerve-racking part is because I’ve never performed at something like Laneway on my own. In the past five years, I’ve always had AP to lean on onstage. That dynamic will be a new experience for me, for sure.

As a big fan of Church & AP, it’s exciting to see both of you pushing boundaries with your solo projects. Can you share more about your debut solo project, Spring ’21?”

That was an exploration of sounds and my own voice, especially as a songwriter. These songs were made in 2021, during lockdown, and then I just held onto them for whatever reason. Sometimes it’s anxieties about sharing new things with the world and being worried about how you’ll be perceived when you’ve given one dimension of yourself. But yeah, we got to a place of releasing it. I’m really happy about how it came out and how it’s been received as well.

Can you share the story behind your new track “Juan” with Eno? Is that new stuff you’re excited to perform live?

That’s been a new experience for us both coming from duos [Eno is from Eno x Dirty]. We’re both trying out new sounds and trying to be more musicians and creatives in the general sense, as opposed to just being seen as hip hop beatmakers and rappers. We love hip hop and that’s always the base for it, but I think for us, trying something new and seeing what can be innovative and fresh is also a really cool challenge.

What are some new sounds that you’re into right now?

I’ve become a big fan of jungle music and the breaks associated with jungle music and drum and bass. Those tempos and figuring out how to blend them. I have mates that are really good at doing that, like Dead Forest and Deda. But now I’m trying to incorporate more melody into them. Especially coming from a hip hop and R&B standpoint, how do those two things converge? Those are some of the things that we’ve been exploring.

What’s your creative process like?

I’m a very hands-on person. I’m always asking lots of questions. I like working in teams and having people to bounce off. I think that that’s where you get your best work. 

Which local Aotearoa artists have influenced you?

Growing up, I’d say I really looked up to Spike as a rapper and just the swag that he had. From high school, I’ve been a big fan of The Beths and Unknown Mortal Orchestra, especially as songwriters. Ruben Nielson and Liz Stokes are just the craziest songwriters to me. Lorde as well. It might be a surprising pick, but those are the guys that I really nerd out, like, “whoa, that’s poetry.”

How was your time in the US last year?

I was focused on learning as much of that side of the music industry as possible. It’s very easy to be blind. Then also just trying to be a good songwriter and testing my pen against other writers out there. I was in studios basically every day.

What did you take away most from that experience?

One of the key takeaways for me is that there’s still a lot to be unearthed in New Zealand. As cool as America is, I think that there’s still a lot here if we were able to implement a bit more of this hustle or this infrastructure. Like, we already have the talent, you know. 

That hustle mentality is so big over there. 

Yeah, 100%. It’s hard for New Zealanders or islanders or people that grew up here to really sell themselves, but that’s the culture. It’s really strange when you meet someone, and the first thing they tell you is how many things they’ve done in the past month. It’s really jarring. But I respect it because for them, that’s their way of eating. That’s their way of making a living.

What artists at Laneway are you looking forward to seeing? 

UMO for sure. That’s my number one. They were my top [on] five Spotify Wrapped. Very keen to see Steve Lacy and RAYE. I think that she’s just sick. 

There’s also Stormzy and AJ Tracey – I hope they get to check out some Aotearoa hip hop that’s on the bill. 

100%. The UK is where we get a lot of our influence from, especially in New Zealand. I hope that some of them come and watch so they can see how we’ve put our spin on things.

Tell me a bit more about how UK rap influences your music style. 

Well, when me and AP first heard of Skepta and that Konnichiwa album, that really put it into perspective about the character that you should embody as a rapper and why it’s so necessary for it to just be a genuine one. I’ve always gotten that energy from a lot of UK artists. Stormzy is the same – the first video that we ever saw is that “Shut Up” video, and it’s just him and his boys up in a park, you know? So, all of that. That sort of mentality definitely inspires me and the boys today.

Who would be on your dream festival lineup? 

Caroline Polachek. 

Beyond Laneway, what else do you have coming up? 

New Church & AP album!