Cat Tunks: Nightbird Of Gothic Country

Cat Tunks: Nightbird Of Gothic Country

Known all around the Pacific with her world soul/funk and jazz group Black Sand Diva, Tāmaki Makaurau songwriter and vocalist Catherine Tunks (Te Whanau a Apanui / Whakatohea) embraces the art of genre blending – from the sophisticated and smooth, to more gutsy roots and Pacific blues music. Cat’s own new single Nightbird is described as ‘a dreamy gothic country tale of a fragile soul that has wandered into the dark side’. A Covid-long project, it is being released specifically for Mental Health Awareness Week, which will give you an idea of its personal (and wider) importance.

You worked with a pretty stellar team on Nightbird – what’s the link?

We came together as part of a Creative NZ project to re-connect artists after the first lockdown, but we’ve known each other for a long time, all with different projects. Michael Barker (drums) has great production ideas and is more than a drummer, he’s a walking instrument himself. Alex Griffith (bass) was in my previous band Black Sand Diva, and Gavin Dowling (guitar) is one of my best friends and long-time fellow Westie musician. We’ve known each other for years and share the same wild west Auckland upbringing.

We stayed at Revolver for a few days and wrote, at that time even being around other musicians seemed like a dream after lockdown. Krissy Jackson (fiddle) and I work as a duo, and it’s like a family. I trust them, they roll with my ideas, and at the end of the day are just damn good at what they do. We all live in different parts of NZ now, and will next get together for the Auckland Blues Festival.

Do you feel you work differently as an artist when there’s funding involved, and if so, how does that manifest?

The original project was with CNZ, we worked on other songs in 2020 as an art/video collaboration at the end of the first Covid. We had to change the date about four times that year and the project was to write, record and documentary live altogether, kind of a reconnection. We ended up being under extreme pressure with the level restrictions, so I never recorded a studio version, but there is a live video version. I had to, of course, finish and fund this particular single myself as we didn’t have enough funding and the camera crew kind’a swallowed a lot of it.

Writing, recording, with a camera crew hanging around at the same time is, aaah, pretty tricky I’ve learned. You lose your focus and the crew’s needs often come before the musician’s wants, so-to-speak. Yeah being under that time pressure is not ideal. I put the song away for a while and concentrated on other things. Thankful to CNZ for bringing us together at that time.

Nightbird is being releasing during Mental Health Awareness week and isn’t a story derived from imagination, it’s very real isn’t it? 

It’s definitely personal to me. ‘You may reach a stage in your life where it just feels like an emotional and mental boxing ring, and the dark horse, the black dog, the deep water can pull one under – and the Nightbird you hear during the night can feel like a seductive call away from reality, those dark thoughts that may not leave you when your world has become blurred and distorted’ – that’s the inspiration for this song.

I never really recovered from the first lockdown, just went dark. Finding the creative heart again has been hard as an artist – you need a will to keep going at the best of times Little did I know that this year would be the hardest of all – lots of personal events that lead to a breakdown finally forced me to do the work and get better – I held on to the song because I knew the meaning, but with re-connection and help that’s out there for us we do get better. Letting this song go is like a kind of final creative release, it’s time to let go and find that inner strength again.

Creatives are particularly prone to this risk– one has to reach out and do the work, mental health can be harder to correct than physical, this year’s Mental Health Awareness week is about re-connection, which got totally distorted for a lot of people thanks to the Covid era.

Which aspect of releasing a new song gives you most joy and why?

For me it’s about ‘letting it go’. I write more for publishing these days and have been lucky with syncs for my work. The creation process of it is everything I enjoy, what happens to it after I don’t mind so much. Seeing an idea turn into something bigger is the creative joy that I get from music, and playing with styles. It’s about making art to me, not five million streams. Then if it gets synced, yay!

How can people support your work best as an artist in 2022?

Come see us live and just support anyone in the industry. We’ve got to support each other. Not enough live opportunities these days and audiences have still got the stay-home bug. I’m faithful that’s starting to change again as Covid becomes more distant for us all. Join my page, share, all of it. I play such a wide range of gigs and genres you never know where you’ll see me.

I’m playing this weekend up at Hokianga Country Music Festival Sep 30 – Oct 2. Then at the Auckland Blues Festival on Nov 12, where I’ll be back with the same lineup with Michael Barker (drums) Alex Griffith (Bass) and Warren Mendonsa (guitar). We also have a South Island tour planned at the end of summer 2023. 

More info on her upcoming live shows here.

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