When Home Brew arrived in 2006 with a fresh take on hip hop, fans caught on quickly.
Headphones across Aotearoa played out Tom Scott’s hard-hitting and wildly witty lyrics performed over the soulful and rich melodies produced by Harry ‘Haz Beats’ Huavi. The band’s casual, sometimes comedic, take on serious issues fell on welcoming ears, and listeners lapped up their jazz-infused sprinkled with R&B. But the two musicians, they swear, never saw the success coming.
“We didn’t know how popular we were going to get. We just wanted to release our music,” Huavi tells Rolling Stone AU/NZ.
“I think it’s really hard to even know what it felt like because the moment just gets blurred,” Scott adds. “One minute you’re just playing a $5 gig at Kuja, next minute you’re in front of thousands of people, and it doesn’t really feel much different.”
With Spotify or Apple Music not yet established, Home Brew remained visible with a steady series of EPs available for free download between 2007-2010, boasting hits like “Bad, Bad Whiskey”, “Same Shit Different Day”, and “Chicken Chowmein”.
Even if they didn’t wish for fame, Scott and Huavi – and third member Lui Gumaka – couldn’t help but stand out.
“It came real quick. It went ‘boom’ and the success just came with it, I didn’t really get to celebrate it as much as [I can] today,” Huavi says.
“I was just in party mode for four or five years. It was cool, cos I still got work done but I can’t really remember. Everything was just a party. It’s not a bad thing but it went by so fast. There’s been a lot of shit that’s mucked up, went on a spiral, but the music kept me sane.”
One of Home Brew’s most popular hits from their self-titled album, “Listen to Us”, spoke of Kiwis doing it tough who felt pushed into corners by the impact of low wages and unsympathetic politicians.
“The music I grew up listening to as well, anything that spoke about struggle, I think that’s the genre’s language – you’ve got to stand for something,” Scott insists.
Home Brew’s songs soon acted as a vessel for young adults finding their place in the world. They continued playing smaller gigs around the country while also becoming staples on lineups for bigger music events.
“I remember someone ringing me and asking me if we could play a gig on a farm and he goes, ‘Would you guys like to play?’ And I said ‘Yeah, yeah’ and he said ‘$400?’ I held the phone away from me and was like ‘Oh my god’ and told him ‘Yup, yup, we can do that.’ I feel like that was the highest of highs,” Scott says.
Home Brew’s breakthrough may have appeared almost effortless from the outside, but Scott was fixated on being the best he could be behind the scenes, putting endless pressure on himself to do well. He remembers walking home from gigs gutted because he’d missed a small detail – like a line on a verse – which would grow to become a huge thing in his head.
“I never really sat down to be like, ‘Man, I’m proud of myself.’ I think once you get so old that you’re lucky to be here, you can finally be grateful for it all, it’s just kind of funny that it’s like too late,” he says. His self-awareness has advanced since those early days, and he’s adopted methods to try to change those old habits.
“These days I just try to treat it like, ‘Ok, I’ve done what I’ve done.’ I can usually feel when my brain is running out of fuel. At my most toxic I would definitely let it affect me and just worry about all the things that you can’t really control. I think that’s part of the human condition, learning how to forgive yourself for being imperfect.”
Growing up in Avondale, Scott always tried to speak about the realities he witnessed in West Auckland in his songs.
“I probably had the easiest life out of most people around me, so I always thought it was my responsibility to speak for people around me. I’m not saying we had the easiest life either, but I damn well knew there were people who had it harder than me,” he explains.
“I think we all sort of have a responsibility to help people around us. There’s a lot of kids [out] there that don’t know what it’s like to have nothing, and I think it’s my job to not preach at them but to explain it a bit.
“I felt like it was important to talk about those issues, and maybe there’s certain storytelling techniques that I’ve developed over the years that help me to explain things a bit more vividly.
“If that’s my talent then yo, shot, thank you, and if I can use it to explain the average working class person’s life to my audience then that’s my job, I think.”
While Scott’s words are an essential part of their success, Home Brew would be nothing without the melodies that power their signature sound.
Huavi says it’s all about the feelings when he’s bringing the music to life. The producer works for hours at a time recording live music, trying out samples and mixing different beats to bring it to life.
“I feel like if it pushes me into some sort of direction where it makes me feel some sort of way, I’m going to keep it; if it doesn’t, then I’m going to move on. Same as how I am – if I don’t like you, I won’t hang around with you,” Huavi says.
His work is enhanced by live recordings performed in the studio by members from their on-stage band. “Live instrumentalists push the music into another mood or direction. I do try to keep it simple but at the same time, there’s layers. It’s just all feeling, trial and error.”
Home Brew’s whirlwind run of success has included a New Zealand Music Award, a sign of the industry accepting their unconventional style and formally acknowledging their talent, and the group were signed to a major label.
Record representatives eventually dangled the idea of success in Australia, and they headed over to Melbourne with a healthy record advance payment. The reality, however, was far from the dream they had been sold.
“It was worth it, because we got to connect and live in Australia, but honestly it kind of broke us apart,” Huavi reveals. They were offered support gigs but struggled to understand how they were seen across the ditch.
“I reckon we were better than the Australian music we were up against, but we were kind of starting again and trying to show people who we were again and we’d already done that in New Zealand,” Huavi adds. “They weren’t very accepting of us because we were just a bit too cool, but I still feel like we were better than what they thought we were.”
Due to increasing tensions within the group, each member embarked on other projects and appearances together as Home Brew came to a close.
Huavi stayed in the game with Team Dynamite, their work triggering a series of Pacific Music Awards. He also teamed up with singer Miloux, and together they released their Blonde EP in 2019 which won a Tui for Best Soul/R&B Artist. Among Scott’s many successes with his own spinoff groups, including Average Rap Band and At Peace, he accepted the Taite Music Prize for his work as Avantdale Bowling Club in 2019.
Huavi lent his talents to help bring to life “Rent 2 High” from Avantdale Bowling Club’s 2022 album TREES, though fans might not have realised.
“So people have been listening to Home Brew without knowing, but we haven’t felt like making a Home Brew record this whole time, it just didn’t feel right,” Scott says.
That all changed in style last year: Scott and Huavi resurrected the Home Brew name to once again bring fans a new album of relatable anthems, Run It Back, a record that excelled once again in addressing hard topics over easy listening beats. (Run It Back was named as one of Rolling Stone AU/NZ‘s 25 Best New Zealand Albums of 2023.)
A new Home Brew album wasn’t something either of the pair were specifically working towards until the idea dawned on them once they realised how many songs they had made.
“It’s a beautiful thing that me and Haz got back to a place where we were allowed to make this album because I know me and him both operate from our hearts first and foremost,” Scott says.
“It’s like we haven’t stopped playing. It’s been years but we still gel together, we still work the same, it’s way better – it’s more advanced, everyone is talking, everyone has got a say,” Huavi says. “I think we’ve just all grown up.”
Scott says time has healed old wounds and they’re more appreciative of one another now.
“People know me because I say the things, I speak literally and they’re like, ‘I get you,’ but if you were to analyse Haz, there’s a lot there too. He’s such an emotional, sensitive, soulful motherfucker and I just really feel like he’s my spirit animal musically.”
Scott says the music means more than anything else. “This music is more than me and my little ego or my little dream of how I want the narrative of my career to pan out,” he says.
“We’ve gone through so much, but we’re still here, holding it down for people who look up to us,” Huavi adds. “Home Brew is for the people.”