Dallas Tamaira, the renowned musician and Fat Freddy’s Drop frontman, has returned with his first solo EP in over two decades, Levels.
Born during the quiet days of lockdown in his coastal hometown of Kaikōura, the record explores escapism, creativity, connection, and much more.
It features six mostly upbeat tracks that draw inspiration from the ordinary moments of life as well as global events, resulting in a nurturing and life-affirming collection filled with gratitude.
Recorded back in Wellington with producer Devin Abrams AKA Reno (Shapeshifter, Pacific Heights, Drax Project) and engineer Chris Faiumu (Fat FreddyBAD, Bongmaster, Ladi6), the EP showcases a new experimental jazz sound, departing from Tamaira’s traditional soul style heard in solo tracks like “Better Than Change” or “No Flowers”, with elements of his hip hop adding grit to the title track.
With its diverse influences, Levels is set to be a quintessential summer soundtrack for gatherings with friends and whānau. To celebrate the release of the EP, Tamaira went through each track in more detail, which you can read below.
Dallas Tamaira’s Levels is out now via Sony Music.
Levels Track by Track:
“Leaning” started during some sessions I did in Kaikoura and was one of the only songs I wrote specifically for this release. By the time I wrote it, I kinda felt like I had an overall look for the EP. Thematically, the EP is like songs for the apocalypse. There’s references to ‘40 days and 40 nights’, which is a biblical reference to Noah’s ark. Talking about issues like global warming, ‘Leaning’ felt similar to that idea that we’re all sitting in our houses and we didn’t want to see it happening.
This was a happy accident where the band sounded like they were in the room jamming together, even though they’re musicians who normally play together. Rhythmically, everyone was in the pocket and it was one of our first drum sessions with Cory Champion. He was really on fire It’s the one that took me the longest to write to, and I had a full book of lyrics that I had written for the process. I hadn’t written the melodies so it didn’t feel intuitive to me. But after trying for about a month, I finally showed Deven (Abrams) what I had and he was like “it’s wicked, what are you talking about!?“I was trying to be a bit more gritty, just to compliment the bassline with something a little bit darker. I dug into my hip hop roots a little bit more, in parts I feel like I’m singing rap lyrics.
The idea of “Shallows” was escapism, not looking to get too deep, not to deal with deeper issues. We want to be in the shallows and that’s where we want to hang out. It was directly inspired by Kaikoura, the water, the rocks, where we used to play. When I first wrote that song, it was a little more thoughtful sounding, melodically, and a little bit deeper. The revised version which is what me and Reno came up with together, does lean towards that old soul sound. For the EP I wanted something to feel a bit more upbeat. I wanted it in there because thematically it tied into the ideas I wanted to convey, in the body of work.
The idea for “Stormy” came from a conversation with my mate, expressing a desire to move to greener pastures. I’m always looking at how I can relate simple ideas and explain them in different ways, so it can mean different things to different people. So that relationship between him and his environment could be a relationship between two people. There’s plenty of my own experience with relationships as well. The need to leave your problems at the door, or take them somewhere else. After you’ve finished fighting you’re back to square one (i.e. “there’ll be nothing left to fight for”). But to get a feeling for the vocal, I had to invoke the feeling of war, or the people in charge of wars, or causing wars. Those were the thoughts I had when I had to perform the vocals
It actually means “How-U-Want-It”. That was the first song where we felt there was a sound there that we could build on. It was leaning into more new school, experimental type jazz. It definitely didn’t feel like the soul sound I had done in the past, like “Better Than Change” or “No Flowers”, it felt different, a sound that we had stumbled upon. So we built the EP around “Huwi” because the ideas were strong. That’s where the artwork stemmed from, it felt like it had a strong story to it. I’m a massive anime fan and the ending felt like an anime ending. After all the blood and chaos, there’s just this beautiful serenity.
“Spirits” is inspired by one of my favourite anime movies of all time, Spirited Away. It’s a film my family and I have watched many times. It was written and directed by Hayao Miyazaki, who is someone that always weaves beautiful lessons and meanings throughout his works. In this anime I feel like he brings to light important global issues like climate change, pollution, and corporate greed. Spirits is my attempt to honour that work of his and portray all of those themes that hayao covers in a song. Writing it was actually surprisingly easy and it took all but a day to do.