You certainly don’t need a PhD to write good music (though hey, it would be nice to have those kind of academic smarts, right?), but for Kirikiriroa artist Wairehu Grant the process of thesis writing has led directly to the development of a fully self-produced musical tableau, and the adoption of clever artistic pseudonym Half/Time. NZ On Air Music added his song Ōrākau to their NewTracks compilation this September.
My full name is Wairehu Reweti Te Huia Grant. I was born in Kirikiroa and have lived in several different spots around the Waikato, predominantly Te Awamutu and Pirongia where I spent most of my school years. I play guitar and sing primarily in the acts I’ve performed in.
Our folks couldn’t really afford to send me or my siblings to private music lessons, but while I was at Te Awamutu College the music program had a regular itinerate guitar tutor, Cam Olsen, who would come in once a week for small group lessons. He was a jazz guitarist first and foremost, his lessons revolved a lot around being able to find your way around the fretboard and find your own personal style of playing. I feel like I got a lot out of not being so restricted in my learning and playing at quite an early stage.
My most recent act was a two-piece sludge-punk project called Cartoon Villain. I’ve also played as a part of several other local acts including Celebrity Death Hoax, The Goth and the Pixie, Bloodlux and Wink Wink Nudge Nudge
I started working on the tracks that would eventually become the first Half/Time EP during the initial 2020 Covid lockdown period. The year before I had just started on a PhD thesis which is exploring the works of Māori creatives operating within Aotearoa’s DIY punk communities. Looking into this topic pushed me to try creating some music which incorporated values which I saw as intersecting between those two worlds.
Originally I planned to wait until I was able to piece a band together for this project, but after the lockdowns dragged on I decided to give it a go on my own. I found a cheap old drum machine/multi-track device on Marketplace, then pushed myself to come up with a live set as soon as possible. It’s been liberating writing music which I feel a much greater personal connection to than I have in the past. I’m currently in the process of putting a three-piece band together with a few friends potentially rotating in and out. Hoping to get this version of Half/Time off the ground by next year!
Prior to Half/Time I was often just jumping in on other people’s musical projects and was pretty hesitant in sharing much of my own songwriting. Connecting with other Māori playing alternative music in the national music scene really pushed me to think harder about the kind of music I really wanted to make, and I feel Half/Time is the closest I’ve come to that so far.
The name Half/Time was mostly a play on the term half-caste, a term I was very familiar with growing up with intertwined Māori and European ancestry.
I’ve really enjoyed performing on bills with so many other Māori musicians this past couple years. Last year I was asked to join a lineup of amazing Māori-centric alternative music acts for a Matariki gig titled Hoki Mai Ki Te Hihiri, hosted by 1:12 Records. The headliners for the show were Aotearoa hip hop legends Upper Hutt Posse and they put on a hell of a show. The vibe at this gig was really supportive and everybody was really buzzing from it afterwards. Felt good to share space with so many other creatives sharing a similar kaupapa.
As a song, I feel like it really captures the sound and intention behind Half/Time and what I want to do with this project. It’s got a sense of momentum to it and I really enjoy playing it live.
The title is in reference to the battle of Ōrākau which took place in 1864, a conflict between approximately 1400 colonial soldiers and 300 Māori holding out on an unfinished pā site in the central Waikato. This battle, like many of the other notable land wars of this era, came in the wake of the ‘New Zealand Settlements Act’ of 1863, an initiative which granted the Crown license to seize Māori land if it was deemed that enough of any particular iwi were acting in rebellion against the Queen. The area surrounding Ōrākau was one of many lands marked for seizure (raupatu), and in spite of incurring many losses on the days of battle a party of survivors was led to safety along the Puniu river, one of the kairākau (warriors) at the head of this party was my ancestor Te Huia Raureti.
The lyrics of the song are not a retelling of this battle, and they’re not even as aggressive as the song sounds at a surface level. Instead, it’s a series of reminders to remember and cherish my tūpuna who came before me. In particular, the ones who chose to stand up to figures of power at a time of such massive upheaval.
The tempo change towards the end kind of feels like the start of a chase sequence in a film. I really like playing with dynamics in songs and trying to tell a story with the overall structure and sound alongside the lyrics. I guess the image that comes to mind in that last section of the song is the survivors escaping after the battle, all while being pursued by Von Tempsky and the Forest Rangers.
All of the Half/Time tracks so far, including the first EP I released last year, have been recorded and mixed by me in my little ramshackle home studio in Kirikiriroa. I program the drum beats, record the bass parts and then record guitars and vocals last typically. I have to thank my friend, Cee Te Pania for helping me with the lyrics to this waiata, their knowledge of kupu Māori helped to develop Ōrākau into a much stronger narrative than it was at the beginning.
For people with a grasp on te reo, I hope that the song resonates in some way with the experience of looking back, all the pain and pride that can come with that. For those who aren’t quite sure what the song is about right away, I hope it makes them curious to learn and discover the stories embedded in this land called Aotearoa.
Since I’m just recording things by myself currently, it sometimes just comes down to whatever tracks are ready first! But I mostly try to make sure that the songs I put out first are the ones which I like the sound of right away and enjoy playing live.
I don’t really have anybody operating in any official capacity on these roles. My friend Lauren Kerr Bell has been a massive help with steering me in the direction of funding opportunities and just generally providing support as a fellow event organiser. She was actually the one that told me to apply for NewTracks in the first place!
Not currently, should probably try get my thesis done and dusted first! Although I’m pretty keen to play bass for some ugly-sounding heavy shit if anybody’s looking…
This is the first time I’ve applied for NZOA support with a music project. In the past, I’ve felt quite clueless when it comes to promoting my creative work to a wider audience, but a few good friends have helped me out a lot with getting my head around it all over this last little while.
I found that the application process was well explained throughout. The team were super responsive when I got in touch with questions as well, which was great.
I follow a lot of the go-to live music Youtube channels like KEXP and NPR, but I’ve also got my nerdier picks like Look Mum No Computer, which is this insane British dude rescuing and restoring old decrepit music and misc audio gear. On top of that, I follow too many effects pedal and audio engineering channels to possibly even attempt listing them all here…
No music video planned at this stage, however, if there’s one local director I would love to work with it would be Amber Beaton. Amber’s indigenous goth aesthetic is something that really resonates with me and the kind of creative trajectory I’ve had.
A huge thanks to NZ Musician and NZOA for the support with this release! Excited to put out more music and play more shows in the coming months.