by Gareth Shute

Home Brew: Setting The Bar

by Gareth Shute

Home Brew: Setting The Bar

Home Brew arrived as an internet phenomenon, developing a cult following that has seen them playing shows everywhere from the wilds of Waipu Cove to the nightclubs of Melbourne, and have gone on to become one of the most enduring local hip hop acts to emerge in recent years. Their previous independent releases; 2007’s ‘Home Brew Light’, ‘Last Week’ from 2008, ‘Summer Ale’ and ‘Taste Test’ (both in ’09), have all been EPs. Scheduled for December – but headed for a likely early January release – the currently self-titled double-album has separate sides for the humorous and heavier sides of their music, as well as being deliberately self-contradicting. Gareth Shute caught up with main man Tom Scott, and beat-maker, ‘Haz’ Huavi, to learn more about their musical origins and scope out what new directions their music is taking them in. 

The Home Brew crew are not the kind of group whose singles receive high rotation on commercial radio or whose music videos get played on C4 and Juice. Yet their clip for Underneath The Shade has more hits on Youtube than any of the official videos by last issue’s NZM cover artists, Midnight Youth. They were finalists for the inaugural Critic’s Choice Award in 2010, can pack out large venues like Auckland’s King’s Arms at $20 a head and have dismissed various offers from major labels. Their performance at this year’s APRA Silver Scroll Awards also got people’s attention, with the group descending from the stage to steal drinks from Sir-vere and his cohorts at a front table.

Home Brew’s rise to prominence gives an indication of how things have changed since the massive popular explosion of local hip hop around 2004. It might not seem like it, but there are more new hip hop acts coming out of the NZ scene than ever before. The difference is that many of them promote their music through local blogs like and, bypassing traditional forms of media altogether. Home Brew have shown that it is possible to take a local internet buzz and turn it into real success.

Interestingly, Home Brew might never have started if beat-maker Haz Huavi had followed his instincts and kept ignoring the demos being sent by a stranger over the internet.

“Tom found me on MySpace and saw I had a link to the website Hiphopnz, where I was doing some beat-battling. He recorded some of my beats off MySpace, recorded over them, and sent it back to me. I was like, ‘Who is this guy?’ Like, ‘Ask me first!’ I didn’t mind that somebody wanted to rap over my stuff, but he just had a sneaky way of going about it.”

“So for a while I never listened to anything he sent me, just kept it all in a folder labelled ‘Tom’. One day I finally listened to it and I freaked out. The guy was rapping about things I could really relate to, like his step-dad coming home and beating his mum, and things like that. That led to one of our first tracks, We Are What We Are, and we just started building it up from there.”

Haz and challenging frontman Tom Scott both grew up in families where music was a central part of life. Haz remembers his parent’s garage parties, which were fuelled by ’60s soul and ’70s funk, along with regular doses of the Doobie Brothers. His biggest influence though was his uncle.

“He had a job being a DJ at the Star Hotel, which is a pub in Otahuhu. The place was gang-related, all the Black Power guys hung out there. I used to sneak in with him when I was 16 and hold his CDs.”

“I learnt how to do digital mixing and decided I wanted to get into it more. When I first started trying to rap I had a mate who was making beats for me, but he moved to Christchurch. So I took over… the only musical training I had was from school, where me and my brother took drumming lessons for a while. It might’ve kept me in rhythm when it came to making beats, but that’s about all.”

Brixton-born (to Kiwi parents) Tom had a stronger musical connection within his own family.

“My old man’s a bass player, so music was always in my life. I was banging on my mum’s stomach to ‘Songs In The Key Of Life’ or ‘Sign o’ the Times’, or I was in her arms in some dusty pub being serenaded by some free jazz or New Orleans’ boogie woogie, or whatever my pops was playing at the time.

“When I got to Avondale Primary we used to sit around outside at lunchtime trying to sing Boys II Men songs, banging on desks and all that. Most of the kids at my school were brought up in church and so they could sing without even trying. But I was the son of two atheists! So I’d just do the bass parts and rhyme a little bit. Then at assembly one time we spat some rap in front of the whole school – I was famous for a day. But it wasn’t like I took it seriously from then on, I was more into b-ball and Street Fighter.”

Once they had connected over the internet, Tom and Haz relied on trading parts over file-sharing websites to get their demos into shape – though they’d occasionally have ‘sessions’ in the shed at Tom’s place in Sandringham. In those early days (2007) they would just plug a basic 2-channel mixer into a laptop. This would often cause a two second delay between the music and the vocals, which Haz would have to fix by moving the tracks along to match up. Eventually they received assistance with the mixing process from their manager Glen Davison (DJ Substance), who helped refine their sound.

The third core member of Home Brew is Lui Gumaka, though his rhymes only feature sporadically on their releases. However, Haz believes that Lui’s real talent comes out when it’s time to play live.

“Lui just does a verse here and there. If it fits it fits – if it doesn’t we’re not going to kick him out. But on-stage is where he really comes alive, he’s a different person.”

Early Home Brew recordings were driven by laidback grooves which were carried by funky basslines, thick sounding beats and trickles of mellow guitar. Gradually, Haz picked up on Tom’s side-interest in jazz and began adding more samples of horns and keys.

The group put out their music as ‘pay what you like’ releases through Tom’s rhymes were strikingly honest from the start, making light of his constant shortage of cash and telling stories of his hi-jinx while wasted. The group’s first breakthrough came in 2008 with the release of their second EP ‘Last Week’, on which Tom described his day-to-day life – from working at a dead-end job, to nights spent recording music or out on the town, attending a rugby game, and finally a Sunday night dinner with his partner at her parents’ place.

This EP caught the attention of film director, Chris Graham, whose work includes Sione’s Wedding, as well as some of New Zealand’s best-loved music videos – like Scribe’s Stand Up and Smashproof’s Brother. Graham offered to work with Home Brew, but the group were stymied by the fact that they were unable to get NZ On Air video funding (under the old rules). As an alternative they decided to put on a fundraising show to get the money together.

They promoted the event by creating short, joke-documentaries about their planning process and uploading these to Youtube. The videos showed them half-heartedly busking on the street (rapping a ridiculous version of Dave Dobbyn’s Loyal) and performing a haphazard breakdance routine in the window of Real Groovy Records. The popularity of these videos helped the fundraising gig at Plaything Gallery to become a huge success, bringing in around $15,000.

The resulting video for Underneath The Shade was a perfect encapsulation of the group’s aesthetic, with the three of them sitting around drinking beer, while climate change wreaked havoc around them (eventually tearing down the house they were in). Tom admits the song was an attempt to parody his own moments of laziness and nihilism towards the larger problems facing the world.

“It’s definitely an exaggeration of the asshole I can be at times. When I wrote that song I wanted to say something green, but I had to find the right balance. I could’ve written a recycling song or some shit; ‘Put ya left foot in, put ya bottles in the bin, shake shake shake your ass girl.’ But I can’t reach people if they can’t relate to me. So I figure if I’m myself, I’ll reach other people like me.”

The video (Underneath The Shade) was launched with a special show at Avondale’s Hollywood cinema, following the group’s long-running habit of playing at unusual venues (especially when working in tandem with Auckland promoters, The ARC). One of their promotional mockumentaries had been a fake interview with TV3’s David Farrier (actually played by Tom) and so it was only fitting that Farrier himself turned up to interview them on the night of their launch. He also had his revenge by playing Tom for an interview the next day (with Tom once again taking the role of Farrier).

After the success of this venture, the group continued making short mockumentary Youtube clips to promote the release of their next two EPs (‘Summer Ale’ and ‘Taste Test’ during 2009) and the tours that went with them. Unsurprisingly, their candid sense of humour didn’t appeal to everyone.

They pushed people’s buttons by revelling in the pleasures of being on the dole (Benefit) and the Dominion Post took them to task for a video that purported to show ways to avoid the breathalyser check-points. However, given that their advice involved such ludicrous actions as driving your car along the tram tracks at Western Springs, or eating cigarette filters, it seems unlikely that they actually helped any drunk drivers.

On the musical front, the group continued to look for ways to push their sound in new directions. Haz had learnt to produce beats on the early, simple-to-use versions of Fruity Loops, and continued to update this software as it became more of a serious recording tool. He also moved from sampling records to using the internet.

“Looking on the internet is much easier than searching through dollar bins for records – especially if the store doesn’t have a record player and you have to judge it by how cool the cover is, and if it looks dusty enough. On the internet you can listen to the whole thing straight away and just grab whatever bit you want… I just look for grooves that make my head nod. A good bassline, keys parts that makes me think, ‘Yeah, I could add something on top or filter out different parts so they’re kept low in the mix’. Basically I just spend a lot of time on Youtube – but we’re lucky at home ’cause my brother works at Telstra so we get free internet!”

When it comes to performing, Home Brew have increasingly made use of live musicians to bring their sampled beats to life. Initially they worked with some musician friends of Tom’s dad Peter. These days they’ve settled into a steady line-up that includes; Chip Matthews (Opensouls) on bass, Ben McNicholl on sax, Tom Broome (The Dedwoods) on drums, Tugi Togiaheulu on guitar and DJ Substance dropping the beats (since Haz prefers to be out-front acting as a hype-man).

The live musicians have also been brought in to record parts for their new double album, which, assuming Tom doesn’t have a change of heart, will be called ‘Home Brew Light and Dark.’ Haz admits that this was partly done to avoid copyright issues.

“A couple of people told us that if we wanna put the album in stores then we’ll have to either re-play all the samples or properly clear them. So we went into the Red Bull studio to get each section re-recorded – though sometimes I’d send Tom the demo beats and he’d be like, ‘I prefer the original sample, it doesn’t feel the same any more.’ So we had to juggle whether to use the dirty sample or the re-played stuff… I manipulate the samples a lot anyway. There’s one song on the album (which I won’t name!),  that has a really well-known sample – but I’ve manipulated it so you’d never know.”

Things have also changed on the lyrical front with Tom expanding his range of subject material. This departure was inspired partly by a set of side projects. The most well-known is @Peace, which Tom created with Lui Tuiasau from Nothing To Nobody (not to be confused with Lui from Home Brew). This project allowed both rappers to touch more directly on social issues (most notably on Be Like). Tom pushed himself even further in this direction on the ‘Max Marx and Fredrich Calloway’ EP that he recorded with Chris Macro – the talented hip hop engineer, who started out in Dubious Bros.

Tom believes these experiences were crucial in allowing him to expand his approach to rapping.

“At some stage Home Brew kind of became an outlet for my inner munter. With Home Brew I’m praised for my alcoholism; I feel like a poster boy for addiction and am always expected to say something stupid at shows or climb the speaker stack… and I’ve even had fans in the front row giving me free ecstasy. But with @Peace and Max Marx I touched on some other topics and I was praised for that. Now, with the new album I feel like I can be myself; less apologetic and not as afraid to say something that people might not get.”

Haz also has a second crew, Team Dynamite, which started up around the same time as Home Brew, and finds the different requirements of each group lead him to make quite different pieces of music. These projects were also part of the reason Home Brew decided their first album release would be a double, allowing more room to explore different styles of music.

Along with their regular live line-up the album also includes rhymes from Lucky Lance (Team Dynamite) and vocals from jazz singer Esther Stephens (The Dedwoods). Home Brew even sourced beats from two outside producers; Truent and Dandruff Dicky, who they were keen to work with (though Haz reserved the right to adjust the finished product to suit the group’s overall style). At the end of this process Home Brew had 33 tracks, of which around 20 went towards the album, whilst the rest are being posted on every Tuesday as part of their Brewsday project.

Tom hopes the album will capture the tension between positive and negative elements that he sees in the world around him. “I guess I’ve always kind of felt torn between extremes as a person. It’s like if you tell somebody you hate them, then you end up realising how you feel about them… you might even realise you actually love them.

“Questioning things from the opposite extreme helps put them into perspective. So, a part of the album is from one perspective, the other from the other. They question each other, maybe even contradict each other.

“That’s the kind of illogical moron I am – I think I know something one day, the next I’m apologising to my girlfriend for getting us lost. The two parts of the album reflect those two sides; love versus heartbreak, optimism versus pessimism, benders versus come-downs. partying versus addiction. Gotta tell both sides of the story, you know?”