Following the release of his first single in 2015, Canberra-based Hip Hop artist Kirklandd has just released a follow-up project with his new single, Helpless Eldest. Having performed the track to highly receptive crowds across Brisbane, Melbourne and alongside Citizen Kay in Canberra, Kirklandd now brings forward the official release as the second single from his first EP, due out in March. Tomatrax caught up with Kirklandd to ask a few questions.
What inspired you to become a hip hop artist?
My focus shifted to music after high school, when I spent four months travelling around Europe on my own. I experienced some pretty incredible (and shit scary) things, that gave me a great deal of inspiration in my writing (especially in Morocco – I can’t imagine an environment more conducive to creativity). I think spending that much time alone really makes you question what you’re spending your time doing back home, and where your true passions lie. I made a list, and realising I’d been writing hip hop since I was nine, it seemed like I owed it to myself to see if I was able to take it further. I started practicing daily, learning recording and production, and it’s been non-stop since then. I firmly believe the gap between the golden age of hip hop and the Australian scene is yet to be bridged, and my ambition in my music is to do just that. I’ve always been inspired to prove that a creative pursuit is in every way foreseeable.
When did you write your first song?
Whoaa, I’ll have to think back hard! I think it was in 2004 – I kind of dabbled in writing RnB back then, but I think it evolved into hip hop two years later when my cousin handed me Lupe’s Food and Liquor record. The creativity in that album was what singularly inspired me to start on a hip hop path. I started to discover the beauty and intricacy of lyricism, and the creative fulfilment this gave me as a hobby. The first song I wrote, recorded and released was over a Pete Rock beat, in July 2014 – hearing yourself back on mic for the first time can be pretty brutal!
Where did the name Kirklandd come from?
I never really believed in having an alias – whenever I think about connecting with people through themes or concepts that really resonate with me personally, I struggle to see myself channelling that through another identity. You’d just lose that intimacy in the music I feel. My nickname was Kirkland since I started primary school, and being my last name, it stuck more than any others. Also, there are a thousand and one Kirklands out there!! Vodka, maple syrup, lamps, you name it! Hence the double D’s – google that and all you’ll find is ya boy.
Your latest single, ‘Helpless Eldest’ covers some deep themes. Where did you get the inspiration for the lyrics?
In hip hop, you see so many artists shedding light on their own story. Rappers are so often measured by their own storytelling ability, and how well they can translate their past into relatable lyrics and sounds. I think the next phase of this is your ability to step out of your own surroundings and effectively capture someone else’s circumstance, so the listener vividly envisions a story through a totally foreign perspective.
That was my single aspiration with Helpless Eldest. I aimed to shed light on the story of someone I knew growing up, and it was a story I’d been waiting to tell. When I was crafting the track with Cam Bluff down in his Melbourne studio, I realised we had a great opportunity to present an intricate, old school story, over bouncy edm synths and live bass, which was a pretty intriguing combination. The story itself follows the character of Helpless, after losing his mother and being faced with the impending responsibility of raising his younger brother alone (his father wasn’t around). The track shifts between the perspective of the younger brother, the father, and the Helpless Eldest, who you can tell is trying to balance this responsibility with his own infatuations, that ultimately make him feel more shallow than fulfilled, which was the meaning behind the ‘strip me of my passion for fashion I’m just a manikin’ line.
I wanted you to see this story so vividly from each perspective, but at the same time, enjoy the bouncy energy of the track. I always hear my own stuff back from the ear of a hip hop head first and foremost, and I think Helpless is definitely satisfying on that front.
The *track* was mixed by fellow Canberra artist citizen kay, how did this collaboration come about?
I’ve been writing hip hop constantly since I was nine, and when I finally decided to step out of my private creative zone and actually attempt recording, my cousin Shaka put me on to him back in 2014, as they were recording together at the time. I recorded my first track with him in July that year (that Pete Rock track I mentioned), and we’ve been working together since. Over the past year or so we’ve shifted our focus more towards the production and mixing side, where I feel Kay’s ear is incredibly effective. We’ve spent a lot of productive hours in his studio, and we’ve performed some of the tracks together at times which was unreal fun, given we could spend a few weeks working on a track before it would see the light of day. The music we work on is produced by Cam, first and foremost, so everything you hear of mine is Cam, Kay and myself. We keep it pretty in house with the music.
You have a number of shows coming up, what can fans expect from your show?
What I embody in my music is an live old school energy – the kind of sound you might hope to see at a Run DMC show back in the day. Not saying I’m quiite on their level yet haha but that golden age vibe is definitely what seeps through. I’m putting on all my shows with a crazy talented DJ coming out of Canberra, named Davekat. Dave himself embodies that old school energy, with his own set of turntables that he uses to scratch the shit out of our tracks. So we bring that old school sound, drop new material that we love to test out first hand, and make sure you leave having experienced a fun, live atmosphere, hip hop fan or not.
There have been a number of hip-hop artists coming out of the nation’s capital, is there a big hip hop scene developing in Canberra?
First off, I love hailing from the capital. We’re a pretty intimate community and with that being the case, support for the music scene extends over the entire city. Any artist is blessed with support and encouragement and people are starting to realise that we are a serious competitor in the hip hop scene. Take any emerging Canberran artist – Genesis Owusu, Tak-Un-Da, LTC, Jedbrii, all of these amigos are on a serious come up, and we’re all doing it together. Each of us love having a hand in making sure Canberra is putting out the best shit possible, period. We’re also starting to diversify our live music scene, which is great to see – places like the New Acton Precinct and Sancho’s Dirty Laundry are putting on wicked events. It’s such a supportive community and I’m proud to be a part of it.
Do you ever listen to your own music?
Frustratingly, it’s always from an analytical perspective! I have to listen to each mix of a track at least thirty times to hear what could be adjusted or improved. I wish I could wipe the slate clean and just enjoy my stuff!! Rapper struggles yo.
I do however, zone out to a climactic track Kay and I developed together, called ‘Right Now’ when I’m jogging – to all you fitness freaks that want that extra motivation, test my theory. It works.
What other music do you listen to?
Lately I’ve actually been getting into Amy Winehouse’s discography. She really does have an exceptional talent, one that captures a forgotten era of music, which is why I think I love it so much. Bridging the gap between old and new is my constant aspiration, which is why I think it resonates so much. Also, Kamasi Washington. Just damn.
What do you have planned after your upcoming shows?
The most exciting show for this month is Art Not Apart @ Westside here in Canberra, and following that, I’m focussing on my EP release, which you can expect in early April. That whole project is mixed by Kay and myself, produced by Cam, and will feature the funky Genesis track that just dropped. I’ve decided not to go with a release date, so keep tuned to my page to see when it drops. After this project is released, I’m setting my sights on my first LP I’m looking to drop in November. This is the project that I aspire to merge the sounds of golden era and the current Australian scene, in which Cam and I are referencing some very eclectic eras of music. It will ultimately be the culmination of twelve years of writing… I’m damn excited to say the least. Look out for heaps of tunes coming out of the ACT in 2016, hope you dig what you hear!
Check out Kirklandd’s website to find out more!