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by Jemilah Ross-Hayes

Graham Candy: Making Us Smile

by Jemilah Ross-Hayes

Graham Candy: Making Us Smile

If NZ Tourism was looking for footage to re-start the promotion of Aotearoa post-Covid it could do a lot worse than grabbing Berlin-based artist Graham Candy ‘s quirky video for Find My Way, released in late February this year. It was the third single from his second EP, titled ‘Keep On Smiling’, a smile-inducing collection of infectious dance-pop. Jemilah Ross-Hayes talked with him about another fantastic Candy video. Made with the support of NZ On Air Music.

Berlin-based Kiwi Graham Candy is known for his quirkily-pitched vocals and upbeat, dance pop style. Most recognised for collaborations with German DJ and producer Alle Farben, he’s been on a solo music journey for the past six years and his consistently catchy songs have put him on a steadily upward musical path.

In early 2022 things certainly don’t seem too shoddy for Candy who is freshly back from shooting a music video in Mallorca, and surfing on the west coast of Morocco. He’s excited by the calendar too, noting that spring in Berlin means that “the cherry blossoms are out, and Germans are smiling and saying hi back to you now.”

In September last year, Candy released ‘Keep On Smiling’, a five-track pop EP filled with catchy lyrics and yellow summer vibes.

“I was pretty stoked with the release,” he says smiling. “It was a weird thing – I’m sure so many musicians that have released music feel the same. You release it, but then you can’t tour it and show it around… So it was funny cos when we released the whole thing in October, and then November and December we were going into a Christmas lockdown. But I’m really stoked with where it’s going.”

Although living and making his music in Berlin, many a kilometre away from NZ, he is still finding support from his homeland around the release of ‘Keep On Smiling’. In December last year Toyota used his song Aroha up for a local TV advert.

“It was my first ever time having a song on an NZ commercial, so when Toyota NZ picked it up, that was mega cool. It’s cool to finally make a little bit of a tiny bridge back home. Hopefully, we can make a bigger one.”

Alongside that fillip, Graham was also granted NZ On Air funding to film a music video for the EP’s title track Keep On Smiling.

“It was absolutely mega timing, nearing the end of corona, having NZ On Air all the way from home being legends! All the crew, the producer, director, and scriptwriters are all Kiwi, so it’s nice to support Kiwi artists who aren’t also getting jobs over here.”

The production company was Ramona Ramona productions, the video for Keep On Smiling produced/directed by Chloë Lewer and Andrea Ariel.

“Chloë and Andrea went to Unitec, and I also went to Unitec for acting school, which is where we met. We also had Youka Snell doing the makeup and costume, who is also a Kiwi. It was really mad to just have a bunch of Kiwis in the crew! 

“It’s amazing. A lot of Kiwis over here in Berlin help each other out, especially over the last few years.”

Based on the concept of keeping your real emotions hidden behind a mask and putting on a brave face, the video features Candy as a black and white mime. 

“I haven’t shaved my face since I was probably 17, so it was really buzzy taking it all off – and it was an interesting experience. Every time I looked in the mirror, it was kind of like The Shining. It was a little bit scary!

“Derek Ullenboom, who I wrote the EP with, was the other mime. He is this lovely Canadian guy with so much energy, so it was perfect. It was kind of like a video with cameos. Even my dog had a cameo, and my manager had a cameo, so it was fun.

Lewer and Ariel developed the concept, with the video shot in and around his apartment. Candy notes that the filming was a bit challenging because they were only allowed to have a certain amount of people in groups outside.

“This song is about beating around the bush and putting a front up about yourself, which happens especially in NZ. You keep it pretty hidden behind what people see on the outside, and I guess they came up with this idea: you’ve got this pantomime style character with one emotion with the makeup you have, and then you have got the other one that’s a separate style of emotion.

“I think it’s like when you see someone’s upfront face smiling, but they’re really anxious underneath. My pantomime was just distraught and couldn’t break out of this phase. I think the happy pantomime was like my character’s old character. It was like getting confronted by a happy past self.”

As Covid restrictions ease in Europe and live shows start to happen again, Candy is excited to get back on stage, but says he has enjoyed the time away from the spotlight as a chance to write more music.

“I’ve been writing my ass off for four months! I’ve written a bunch of stuff for several projects that I’m on. One’s called My Parade, a DJ duet that I’ve got with my guitarist. One project is a rock band called Bliss, which will come out when it’s ready, and then I’ve been writing for myself as well as for other artists. It’s been cool this winter to keep my head down and just write and write and write. And to write without a direction, to just feel what’s in the room. So it’s been so much fun just being able to explore and feel like a child in the studio cos there was no pressure, which has been really fun.”