The three members of Sky Canvas squished up together on the couch are a cheery bunch. We’re in the flat of vocalist Katelin Little and keyboards/synths player Fraser Walker, who are joined on their couch by Luther Hunt – who looks after the drums and percussion, as well as singing a bit. Total Sky Canvas membership is five, the missing pair being Sam Nakamura (guitar/vocals) and Tyaan Singh who plays bass and saxophone.
The band have recently enjoyed the success of having their new ‘Sky Canvas’ EP reaching #13 on the NZ Album chart. Their sound is self-described as being “jazz / funk / future soul… harmonic and rhythmic sophistication with post-Dilla groove.” Or if you need an alternative description how’s “… a five-piece kaleidoscopic soul / prog-hip hop fiesta”?
They met while at university in Wellington.
“We went to NZ School of Music together. These guys were a year above me,” says Little, gesturing at Walker and Hunt.
“We just started hanging out. We did recitals and exams and we’d all work together,” Hunt explains. “It’s quite a small group of people at school, you see everybody and you just start networking, saying, ‘Hey, do you want to collaborate on things?’ You just gravitate to the people with the same inclinations as you.”
They have all graduated since, but what they’re most proud of is the way they came together organically, their “natural growth”, and how nothing was forced to work, despite the academic environment.
“It was literally feel-good jams, and developed through friendship. I’m real proud of how that’s come together,” says Hunt.
On their new EP, Little says, it’s so good having material that you can present to people that you’re proud of. It seems all that hard work at music school has paid off. The band members were all jazz students and are keen to incorporate and show off what they have learnt into their own music.
“Having an intellectual backing, but not trying to be too sophisticated – but having a bit of sophistication while having all these grooves that we love.”
The group is lead by singer Katelin Little. Her silky smooth lines in Carried Away begin: ‘Lost for words with you/ It’s all so new/ I try to verbalise/ sunlight streaming through/ this gentle room.’ Immediately it is reminiscent of Hiatus Kaiyote, Emily King and Robert Glassper.
Far from being all alike, their influences are wide-ranging. The group getting excited by the mention of “… quite intense modern jazz composer” Tigran Hamasyan being a baseline influence in constructing the compositions.
“ABBA was probably my first,” says Little. “Oh, and D’angelo too! Prince definitely,” she adds.
For Walker, it was all metal, quite different to the others. Hunt claims Queens Of The Stone Age as a major influence before summing it up.
“You can have such diverse musical upbringings and it’s when those unique aspects come together and they create these weird combinations. It just so happens that this one works.”
Their music certainly seems to encompass all these influences as well as the academic. It is sophisticated, yet still accessible and very fun. With their recent theory and practical learning backgrounds, they are very conscious of specific note and chord choices.
“It creates a mood. Real understanding of harmony and theory, creates this mood.”
They say NZ School of Music has backed them throughout their journey.
“They totally support us 100%. They put our name out there. We recommend going there if you’re interested – it’s a really good place to be.”