Check your ego at the door: PDA recipient Ngaiire on the art of collaboration

Friday, 01 Jul 2016

What’s the key to collaborating with others when you’ve been going it alone for more than 10 years? Working with songwriters that don’t have egos, says future-soul artist Ngaiire.

The Sydney-based singer/songwriter, who picked up an APRA AMCOS Professional Development Award (PDA) last year, found collaborators matching that description to work with her on Blastoma, the new album that’s had critics swooning. 

Enlisting the services of electronic icon Paul Mac, up-and-coming producer Jack Grace and pop maverick Megan Washington, Ngaiire moved away from the “insular” writing process she employed for her acclaimed 2013 debut Lamentations and embraced the input of others.

“It was a great exercise in learning how to let go and learning to trust others’ creative instincts,” she says of the process.

“It felt like a free class in the art of writing a pop song.”

Born in Papua New Guinea, Ngaiire grew up on a diet of reggae, top 40 and her mum’s Mariah Carey and Cliff Richard albums. When she moved to Lismore in New South Wales at the age of 16, her musical palette expanded as she discovered Ani DiFranco, Jeff Buckley, Tool, Sarah Vaughan, Debussy, Gershwin and Machine Gun Fellatio.

Since then, she’s developed her own distinctive sound, and p
erformed at Glastonbury Festival, played shows with Alicia Keys, John Legend and Sufjan Stevens, and toured the world with Blue King Brown.

When Ngaiire won the PDA last November, she’d already been making music for 10 years, but felt the award cemented her place as an artist.

“I was up against amazing people, and just that was enough acknowledgment,” she says. “Winning felt like that was the flag in the ground for me personally to be acknowledged by the industry.”

The timing was also perfect for Ngaiire, who had just spent two years writing Blastoma, and was able to invest the $15,000 cash prize in her career. The album, which has had four star reviews from the likes of Sydney Morning Herald, Herald Sun and The Music, is an honest and powerful release from an artist who is continually honing her craft. 

When it comes to creating music, Ngaiire says lyrics are normally her starting point.

“I’m constantly writing ideas and poetry,” she says. “I’ll usually write lyrics or tinkle on a keyboard or guitar, piecing a puzzle together. Songs tell me what they want to be.”

Collaborating with Paul Mac, who she describes as “grounded”, also gave her the opportunity to explore the art of conceptual lyric writing, and to write music with listeners in mind.

Lamentations was more insular, with me not caring so much about what the audience thought,” she says. “With Blastoma, working with Paul - who has this incredible grasp on traditional pop songs - helped me rethink my stance on songwriting.”

Ultimately though, Ngaiire is an artist who will always write what she feels. Citing Sia and St. Vincent as people she’d love to collaborate with, she says the best advice she has for aspiring songwriters is to not be afraid of doing exactly what they want with their music.

“Art is supposed to invoke thought and feeling,” says Ngaiire. “Just jump in!”

Blastoma is out now and Ngaiire is currently touring Australia. Grab all the details at her site.  

See Ngaiire perform Birds of Tokyo’s Anchor with D.I.G and Ruel at this year’s APRA Awards.

Professional Development Awards

Awarded every two years, APRA AMCOS Professional Development Awards aim to provide significant opportunities for emerging songwriters and composers. They are one of the many initiatives employed by APRA AMCOS to develop the next generation of music creators.

Nine artists received awards across seven categories in 2015 including Jack Carty, Ngaiire, Timothy Carroll (Holy Holy), Briggs, Peter McNamara, Ruby Boots, Aaron Kenny, Jeremy Rose and Marcus Corowa.

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