by Kat Parsons

A.R.T: On The Podium

by Kat Parsons

A.R.T: On The Podium

It’s been a year since A.R.T (previously Le Art) released their debut single Be Ready, and now the pop group is back with new track Runner Up. The all-girl trio has been performing together since they met at Brandon Intermediate, Porirua in 2013. Growing up together, they have spent the years honing their craft, participating in Parachute Music’s Artist Development Programme before making it to the finals of TVNZ’s 2021 reality show Popstars. Anastasia Surila, Rosetta Lopa, and Tiresa Siatiu Fomai, aka T-R3X, talked with Kat Parsons about the new single and cultural representation in the music industry. Made with the support of NZ On Air Music.

“It’s been a long time since we first started,” smiles Rosetta Lopa, who, at 21, is the oldest member of A.R.T. “We were just kids. We never imagined that we would come this far together. So, I guess I’m just grateful to be on this journey.

“I’m just kidding… I hate them,” she smirks as the rest of the group break out laughing.

A.R.T’s new single Runner Up is an exciting, upbeat yet soulful track. With powerful vocals paired with a dancing rhythm, the song depicts the heartbreak of being someone’s second choice. The single was written by Lopa, with Christian Tjandrawinata and Sally Faherty.

“We always have our meeting sessions together. We’d all been feeling in our own private lives; this whole thing about being a runner up to someone you love and knowing that there’s someone else that they’re comparing you to, and it sucks,” explains Lopa. “And Ana [Surila] would call me at three in the morning just pouring her heart out to me. It was a wicked feeling that we were all going through.”

“It’s really hard having three different opinions. Especially with me and Rosetta,” smiles Anastasia Surila. “Our minds don’t click. Like trying to reason with each other on why this is better or that is better. Tiresa is the decision-maker.”

“I don’t always know whose ideas to pick,” responds Tiresa Siatiu Fomai. “It’s up to them to match it up. They do a pretty good job with it.”

“Yeah, that’s our kind of process; just fight it and Tiresa will solve it,” concludes Surila with a grin.

Returning to what came first in Runner Up, Lopa says that while they had worked a lot with Tjandrawinata at Parachute Music, Sally Faherty was a total stranger to her.

“I walked into the session, with all of our emotions on my back, and I just spilled them out; even the most private parts of our stories, because I wanted her to know where we were all at in life and everything that we were feeling at the time. She took it like a boss. She was not flabbergasted by all this information she was getting from a total stranger! We managed to somehow put it in a song that’s fun to listen to. We wanted our listeners not to be sad and Sally and Christian nailed it.

“They made me want to dance to our sorrow,” Lopa remarks. “And that’s really what we want our listeners to do. Just shake your ass. It’s okay to be sad; sad things happen, but if you want to be happy and sad Runner Up is your song.”

The Runner Up baton was next passed to Auckland producers EDY (Edward Liu) and Harry Charles.

“We first started with Edy in the studio, and that was really fun,” explains Surila. “But with Harry Charles, who’s an amazing, amazing producer, everything was on Zoom.”

“There is a key change towards the end; it was a one-take wonder,” Lopa takes over. “Tiresa did it in one take, one breath and we’re all just on the floor dead when she did it! It’s one of my favourite parts of the song, but it almost didn’t happen. It took a long time for us because we thought, ‘Does it need a key change? It’s actually good as it is.’ But then it happened, and I love it.”

“They made the decision by themselves,” adds Fomai, cheekily. “If I remember correctly, I think Harry was the one that suggested it.”

“When we heard what he was meaning we were like, ‘Oh, genius’”, smiles Surila.

“My favourite part is not musical at all,” chimes in Lopa. “We did a take and T-R3X just started laughing. And I was like, ‘Nic! (Nic Manders who did our vocal production.) You’ve got to put it in there.’ So, there’s a little part of the song where you can hear her laugh!”

“I think the lesson that we learned with production is that we should trust Harry Charles,” she concludes. “He gave us so many options that we turned down at our first listen, but over time, they became the things that people loved about production. Same with Edy. The song started off very pop, and then Edy was like: ‘How about we do an RnB kind of thing with the percussion. We can’t claim ownership of that, that was Edy and Harry Charles, and their amazing minds together. We could not have had this song without their genius minds working together and making it something absolutely beautiful.”

Talent aside, the three artists worked hard on every aspect of the track, particularly when it came to the vocal takes.

“It was really hard because I’m a perfectionist with vocals,” admits Fomai. “I take it very seriously. It’s a pet peeve when I hear a little note off and we just have to take it again. We were going over the chorus at the end of the song, and it was funny because we mucked up heaps, but they were having fun, while I was in my zone.”

“We’ve been planning it for ages so the build-up to it was crazy because we knew it was going to come out for a long time,” concludes Lopa. “We’re loving that it’s out in the world now, all of our emotions that we tried to hide. Yeah, it’s super cool. Never get used to it.”

May 11 saw the drop of the single’s music video, directed by Casey Yeoh. The vibrantly colourful narrative depicts the themes of the song while giving a little insight into the individual personalities of each member of A.R.T.

“We were just spilling out different ideas,” describes Surila. “And Casey and the team were there just like, ‘Oh, yeah, that could be cool.’ I remember having a Zoom meeting and just saying a whole lot of things.”

“We all had very different concepts for the video, but we all knew that the feeling was definite happiness,” continues Lopa. “The song lyrically stemmed from really traumatic times for us, so we wanted something fun for the video. Poor Casey, we were all spilling ideas at her, left and right, and she managed to pull them all together. I think we made a fun music video that we can be happy about.

“A funny note is that our camera operator was one of the camera operators from Popstars. So, he made it really comfortable. Then again, there’s a whole team of people, strangers we don’t know, and we’re trying to look cute. We had a rule though; we can’t look at each other whilst we’re trying to act, because if we looked at each other we knew we were just gonna burst out laughing!”

Back in 2019 the group participated in Parachute Music’s Artist Development Programme.

“It was hard, to be honest,” reveals Surila. “Especially with financial problems. Having to take a bus and then two trains to get to Parachute was extremely hard, especially on a tight budget, and then having to be there on time. Sometimes we would have evening programmes and be going home late. We live on the south-side and it’s not the safest.”

“Parachute Music was definitely a stepping-stone, like a huge one for us in our career,” chimes in Lopa. The programme is amazing; song writing, performance, what to expect in the music industry. Our heads were definitely in the clouds before going in. We thought that the music industry was easy-peasy – you just needed to be really talented. They showed us that you’ve got to work hard, and you have to be determined.”

A.R.T’s time on TVNZ’s ‘Popstars’ last year has also been a major stepping-stone for their future. Placing in the top four finalists, the three young women from Porirua practised song writing and performance skills, all with a national audience watching them through their TV screens.

“We were all good because we had each other,” smiles Lopa. “And we can’t ever be fake with each other because we will always call each other out on it. Yeah, I guess it was hard having to write on the spot. That was the hardest bit for us because we’re all different writers. So, I feel like we always took a little bit more time with challenges just trying to figure it out individually and then come together as a group. I don’t think it was hard to be ourselves. That’s what we want our music to be whenever anyone hears it; authentic, really real, and no facades.”

Through all the opportunities and experiences over the last nine years, the group’s growth and development has helped shape its three members into driven, mature, and creative artists. Together they made the big decision to do away with their original pseudonym Le Art.

“I talked to the girls about this and we had a good chat about it,” states Fomai. “I felt strongly about changing our name to A.R.T because there’s a lot of history to the Le Art name, and I felt it was time to move on from that name and start fresh and clean. I’m glad they agreed to it.”

With another instalment of NZ On Air funding, A.R.T is currently working on a third single, with ambitious goals to write and record an album in the near future. They increasingly recognise the importance of diversifying the music industry as women, but more importantly as Pacific women.

“One thing we can say is that whilst we were growing up, we didn’t see much of ‘us’ on screen,” notes Lopa. “It was really hard for us to relate. Even with Runner Up, when we were doing our mood board for outfits, hair, and makeup, there was not much of us anywhere. Our sizes are different, our faces, everything. Nothing is centred around the Pacific woman. Just the representation itself; it was really hard for us to come up with something artistically that represented who we are and that could reflect girls just like us. What I want one day, is when girls like us are doing their mood boards, it will be super easy for them to find something massively close to what they want.

“Whatever we do, whether it’s pop, whether it’s island music, whether it’s rock; no matter what the genre is, it’s always gonna be Pacific because, hello… we are Pacific. It’s in our blood no matter what we create. It stems from who we are, who we were and our ancestors before us.”

The trio has been through plenty together, supporting each other and their dreams. Even at their respective ages of 20 and 21, their wisdom and humbleness are far beyond their years. With much to look forward to in the future, the group is adamant they will not forget where they came from.

“There’s something that has never changed with us,” smiles Lopa. “Every time we’re celebrating something, or we want to cry, we always go to the same fish and chip shop! It’s not too far from where we met at our intermediate school. We always get the same order; garlic chips and crumbed fish. It always takes us back to when we first started. You know, I hope that will never change and whatever happens in our future, I hope we can always go back to that spot.”