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by Silke Hartung

Jocee Tuck: Made To Be

by Silke Hartung

Jocee Tuck: Made To Be

Not many people write music around xylophones, and even fewer would have an item like, ‘Founded popular panda-themed indie band’ on their CVs. Jocee Tuck (Josie Robertson) ticks both of those boxes. During her time studying pop music at Auckland University, her quirky folk pop songs won her the course’s inaugural Songwriter Of The Year award, beating out later winner Janine (and The Mixtape) Foster, followed by gaining relative success with Dan Trevarthen as Bear Cat. Even though the recording was finished in late October 2015 it took until late May this year for Tuck’s whimsical debut album ‘Mt Dora’ to see the light of day. It’s filled with vibraphone, glockenspiel, tambourine, bells, clarinet, horns, strings, accordion, banjo, flute, harp, even a choir from Kumeu, and of course said xylophone!

Your last solo release was your EP ‘Tunes and Trumpets’ in 2011 and in that time you’ve married and had a little boy. How has having a baby affected your ‘other’ life as a musician?

Well, to be honest – your dreams don’t go away when you have children. For me, my drive to finish my music was like a strong, resonant thought that would haunt me every day, until it was done. I had to fight most days to get stuff done. By fight, I mean, resist the urge to just relax after looking after my son all day, but instead stare at a computer and write demo parts. Actually, what I wanted to do was make raw cheesecakes or garden. But focus is a good thing.

I would pump myself up with motivational words on Pinterest and follow heaps of motivational people on Instagram to help me realise it was up to me to get this thing done, no one else was going to.

How has it affected me as a musician? I guess I just have to think ahead more and be more organised. Whereas before, it seemed so much easier to just leave the house and go out, I feel like my head is a lot fuller these days! Practically, it looks like involving family to look after him a couple of afternoons a week to help me get stuff done as well. Doing housework when he’s awake, and doing work when he’s asleep, generally speaking here. And having a husband that has an urge to do housework also helps! Ha!

What you were you aiming for with ‘Mt Dora’? Are there parts that sound different from how you imagined them?

Well, there are songs I have written on there from when I was like, 16 on holiday in Taumaranui. So there are quite a range of songs on there that don’t match what I’ve found is me, musically today, but I have included them on the album because they’re songs that have stood the test of time, for me.

I would describe what I was aiming for though, as fun, whimsical, circus-y, almost childlike music that comes with the discovery of songs on a relatively new instrument. In reality though I didn’t really aim for anything – the majority of the songs just came from falling in love with the xylophone. I feel like the xylophone is used as an add-in but not as the main instrument to a song these days. Generally piano and guitar are used as the main core in writing a song, but procuring songs with a base of xylophone, to me has changed the way the song feels and comes across, and is a huge part of what makes the songs sound the way they sound on the album.

But there are certainly some songs that have come into themselves from the recording process, Secret’s Safe for example, I felt, really evolved in the process. I basically wrote the whole end part from hearing all the parts together, and being inspired by what the bass player came up with. And also with Made To Be, I wrote an extra end part as it just never felt right to leave it as an instrumental, and the melody that came to me just wouldn’t go away. And now I’m so glad I went with my gut and left it in ’cos I think it sounds great now.

Who helped you produce ‘Mt Dora’ and why did you select them? Where did you record  the album?

David Parker from Little Monster Studio recorded the majority of the album, but on the third year of working on it he stopped recording in general, so I got Vivek Gabriel from Black Orange Studios in Mt Roskill to finish it. I chose Dave as I really liked what he did on the Bear Cat album, and Great North and I also knew him, and he had a really nice recording space in Oratia. I chose Vivek because I knew him and felt he would be great to work with and he was!

What do you like most about the sound of xylophone? How did you come to play it?

Well it kind’a happened naturally again, I actually played for Princess Chelsea for about a month. She got me to play miniature xylophones and I really liked it, but then shortly after that I started studying songwriting at Auckland University and they share a building with the jazz students, and often you would walk into Uni hearing the vibraphone being practised, and I pretty much fell in love as soon as I saw and heard the vibraphone been played in that space. It filled up the whole hallway and sounded heavenly. And ever since I saw the orchestral ones I’ve always wanted to play them. I taught myself initially how to hold the mallets and then later on I got taught for about a month by Eric Renick (APO principal percussionist) on how to hold the mallets properly and got rid of my bad habits. But I probably still have them.