What began as a friendship in a Bay of Plenty kiwifruit orchard has blossomed into one of New Zealand’s most exciting up and coming acts. Cruz Mathews and Thomas Taylor met in 2014 at a friends-and-family gathering and have since come together to create the pop-friendly hip hop of Earth Tiger. Anneke Smith talked with the duo about the upcoming release of their debut EP/album with the suitably summer vibe-y title of ‘Holiday’.
Having released their debut album mid-October, it seems as though Earth Tiger has come out of the woodwork just in time for summer. With a shared passion for ‘90s and ‘00s hip hop the duo of songwriter Matthew Neshat (Cruz Mathews) and producer Thomas (Tom) Taylor only released their stylishly aspirational debut single, King Like Jordan, in March this year. Six months later they have an eight song album on its way.
What’s most interesting about Earth Tiger’s first release is the environment in which it was created. The pair currently call Tauranga home, but it was Australia’s Byron Bay where the majority of ‘Holiday’ was made.
“We had this funny routine. We’d get up, we’d get a coffee, go for a swim. We’d come back and make music, we’d go for another swim and then we’d start drinking,” Cruz explains. “And that was how it all happened. It was sun, ocean and beers.”
Talking with them it quickly becomes apparent that Cruz and Tom’s feel-good music is a natural extension of their personalities.
“We’re both quite creative people in different elements. We both get a bit crazy and loose sometimes. I’d say we’re just normal, average guys that have a passion for music,” Cruz muses.
Despite sharing the same music aspirations the pair come from very different backgrounds. Part of the seminal electronic hip hop/pop act Kidz in Space, Cruz lived in Australia for four years working in mining, travelling and recording music until he realised music was something that was missing from his life. Tom holds a culinary work background and worked as a chef across the Tasman before returning to NZ to pursue a career in music alongside Cruz.
Listening to their released singles such as Lucky Ones, King Like Jordan and Holiday you may be at risk of relaxing and feeling your mind drifting to a warmer season. It’s as if Byron Bay shaped much of the creation of ‘Holiday’. Both agree that the relaxed lifestyle they had while there was integral to the style of their music.
“That’s where it was really influenced. There’s a lot of beachy vibes. King Like Jordan has a really nice beachy feel to it, and Holiday had a little bit of a beachy feel too,” recalls Cruz.
‘Holiday’ is Earth Tiger’s first EP release, and a chance for them to fill New Zealand’s fast approaching summer with upbeat tracks. Songwriter Cruz originally recorded the vocals himself in Port Hedland, Western Australia before collaborating with Tom in Byron Bay. Producers Nathan Sowter and Alex Price (aka Alex Wildwood of Shakes) have since been working with the material to help the duo craft their creations into next summer’s hits.
Earth Tiger’s music style is a curious mix of hip hop, rap, pop and R&B genres – within eight tracks ‘Holiday’ has something for almost every keen music listener. It’s not surprising they’ve been likened to Macklemore and Ryan Lewis. Rap vocals and the EP’s production (Paul De Laroche provided bass lines and guitar licks) combine to create the perfect sound for summer’s backyard barbeques, road trips and house parties.
Working out of Tauranga the duo tour with session musician Dylan Israel, aka Izzy Bones. Tom and Cruz are responsible for keys and ocals respectively, while Izzy Bones plays bass and guitar. “He’s amazing, music is his life. He’s really good, he’s good at everything… it sucks,” they both laugh.
Earth Tiger has kept themselves busy making music videos in the past few months. Lucky Ones (which features glorious vocals from Olivia Bolton) was shot at Salton Sea, California and the next trip scheduled will shoot Slide to the Left in Tokyo. Both are friends of film directors located around the world who evidently jump at any chance to shoot music videos with Earth Tiger.
Touring is at the forefront of the duo’s future plans. They will be making an appearance at Bay Dreams next year in January, and hope to make the most of the warmer seasons’ festivals on their home turf. It’s hard not to envision Earth Tiger’s latest singles not becoming summer anthems.
“The best thing about touring in NZ is the summertime. And if you can tour on festival line-ups it’s amazing. It’s so much fun and you get to hang out with all the other artists.”
Both claim they don’t have an end goal and just want to produce great music for people to enjoy.
“We just want to have fun, play some shows and make some music and try and make a living through it,” Tom smiles.
Signed to Auckland indie label Move The Crowd Records, Earth Tiger enjoy the benefit of having Warner Music NZ working to get them more exposure.
“I’m really glad how the radio has been picking up all of the singles so that’s really cool,” Cruz takes up. “The Edge and ZM have been really great getting us on for interviews and things like that. At the moment we’re just trying to build that foundation so we can branch out and do more touring.
“Everyone’s been looking after us real well. We’re just trying to give them the best of us.”