NewTracks New Artist: Leon & Mukukā

NewTracks New Artist: Leon & Mukukā

Matthew Paul aka Leon is known mostly for danceable indie pop live shows and airplay on student radio with his now-defunct band Ghost Wave while Mukuka Musowa floats around contemporary soul, RnB and hip hop projects. Together they try something entirely different, bringing back the spirit and breezy feeling of summer festivals by the beach with the anthemic, happy dance pop song Sunshine, featured by NZ On Air Music on their NewTracks compilation this April. 

What are your names, where are you from and what instruments do you each play?

Matt: Hey, my name is Matthew Leon Paul, I’m based up in Auckland. My main instrument is really the keyboard. I get most stuff out on that, but I play around with guitar/bass and keep myself busy with writing vocal lines too.

Mukuka: My name is Mukuka Musowa and I am currently based in Tāmaki Makaurau. My heart, creativity and vocals are my main instruments, but I also know my way around the piano and guitar.

Was any high school or other music training especially important to you?

Matt: Yeah, I started out by taking piano lessons as a kid. Like most, I didn’t feel like it was particularly cool at the time (and I don’t think anyone else did either), but I used to go and do them on Friday afternoons. I liked doing it, but I always thought everyone else was having such a great time after school and I had to go work on piano scales. But now I’m so grateful that I got them. I feel like the piano and everything I learned laid the foundation of what was to come… just like, training my ears I guess.

Mukuka: Yes, I took piano, drums, and vocal lessons during high school, and I studied commercial music at Wintec. My dream has always been to work or participate in music, and high school showed me the possibilities and pathways to make that possible – shout out to my high school music teacher Mr Nightingale and drum tutor Paul Dunningham who were influential in why I do what I do now.

Any other projects that we might we know you from?

Matt: I used to write for and play in a group called Ghost Wave. We put together a little trilogy of records between 2011 and 2016, played around the country quite a bit and also had the good fortune of getting to take our music overseas a little too. It was good times in the land of rock’n’roll.

Mukuka: Over the years, I have collaborated with a few artists such as D.Matthews, InDuna and Triplane. I also work as an artist manager to three incredible musicians, Serebii, Ch! Nonso and Nayo Mvula. Recently, I started an artist management company (Creative Pwele) that also offers PR and project management to new artists – love my job!

What’s the background story of how you guys met and came to collab? 

Matt: I’ve always been preoccupied with songwriting and was looking to carve out a new direction for what I was doing in the music space. I literally spotted Mukukā on a friend’s Instagram post or story. She was doing something musical and I just reached out through that friend and asked if she’d be interested in working on something. Just to do something a bit different and see what came of it.

I wrote a lot of stuff in those lockdown years and it all happened on a hope and a prayer that Mukukā might be interested in helping to bring the songs to life. Which she was! Even still, I think it took about two years for us to actually get together and put a couple of songs together.

But yeah, it was all about starting to connect with other artists outside of the kind of indie/guitar realm where I had previously existed and seeing where it could go.

Mukuka: Leon reached out to me on Instagram almost three years ago now, and it took a while for us to finally meet and start recording in his home studio. We spent most of 2022 recording with no plan of when or if we’d release this music. At this point, it’s just Leon and me.

How has your writing evolved together?

Matt: I feel like if you listened to what was happening in Ghost Wave in those early records, it’s pretty easy to trace that into what I’m doing now. I’m just obsessed by songcraft and production, every element of it is something I want to master and be great at doing.

Nowadays I feel like the lyrics aren’t written in code like they used to be, like there was always an intent and meaning with the Ghost Wave stuff, but it was kind of like a diary, only ever needed to make sense to me and also represent the crew playing it. Nowadays, I’m obsessed with getting lines off that are super clear in what they’re about, hit the right pockets and ultimately wouldn’t require a few attempts to figure out. So my goals are to write with clarity and to move people, either physically or emotionally.

I also enjoy that I can write from a perspective that doesn’t need to reflect back on me ’cause I don’t deliver the tracks, so I can kinda say what I like a bit more without censoring it.

Mukuka: Leon wrote all the songs on this single and our future projects. We started working together at a time when I just didn’t have the capacity to create, so having someone else write the songs was a weight off my shoulders. It also gave my creativity the break it needed after burning out during lockdown. In a way, Leon held me accountable to keep recording and singing at a time when singing was the last thing I wanted to do – thanks Leon!

How and when did you settle on the name for the new project?

Matt: This one is pretty easy for me and thanks for asking the question. Leon is my middle name, but it’s also a homage to my grandfather whose name was Leo and, really I just wanna spread around whatever I can of his energy and vibe because it was (and is) a real important part of who I am and what I’m about.

Mukuka: I have known that Mukukā would be my artist name since I was seven years old. I have a beautiful name, and I want more people to hear and say it.

Aside from this release, what’s been the big highlight to date?

Matt: It’s early days yet, and a lot of the focus is on delivering the highest quality records we can. Getting this song out with Mukukā has been a huge part of that and I’ll be eternally grateful that she gave it all a shot, because she really didn’t have to.

Mukuka: One of the biggest highlights of my career to date is starting an artist management company to support other artists like myself with their music careers. It’s such an honour for another artist to invite me into their life and world.

What makes Sunshine stand out for you as a single?

Matt: I think probably the chorus is one of the strongest things I’ve ever written or put out. The way Mukukā gets the emotion and feeling of the song, especially in the chorus, really hits home for me.

Mukuka: Sunshine is just so fun to listen to, and the chorus is super catchy! Leon writes some catchy tunes, and despite coming from different genres I’m glad that this is where the music brought us.

What is the story behind Sunshine?

Matt: It’s a song for a loved one. It’s about saying thanks to the people that support us in the darker times or life, who don’t give up on us; and that’s what the chorus lyrics are about. And then, getting through those darker times together and getting into a different, lighter place with life and all its goings on.

I wanted to make something that rebelled against the darkness in this world, and I will always do that. I did a solo record called Cherry and that reflects one of the darkest, most lost times of my life… the band had dissolved, lots of change and happening in life, my priorities got way out of whack. So this was like, okay let’s wrap up that little chapter and get into the Sunshine.

What’s your favourite moment, musical or lyrical, of the single?

Matt: Hahah, such a dangerous question for a songwriter. I’m proud of the whole thing, but I really like how Mukukā hits the “I hit ya like a crash now” line at the top of the second verse chorus, and the way the “Are you ready for the hot mess” kinda slides in over the top on the pre-chorus.

Mukuka: My favourite part of the single is definitely the chorus, “Coz yoooooou follow me into the sunset, I can wait for what’s next.” It’s really catchy and was incredibly fun to sing.

Who did you record/produce the single with and where?

Matt: We did it all at my place I’m pretty sure! I have a little bunker-type studio at my apartment in Mt Eden and we just closed the windows and figured it out together. My favourite parts of the whole experience are when we listen back and start bopping around this 4x4m room, throwing down hilarious dance moves and stuff like that.

Mukuka: My favourite part about this process is that I’ve gained a big brother and friend in Leon. Also, I agree about the dance moves!

What would you like listeners to take away from this song?

Matt: I want people to think about the person or people they love the most. We live in times of division and uncertainty and crazy levels of paranoia, and this song is a reminder that we need a little light in our lives too. We need a lot of light in our lives! And melodies baby, they’re gonna save the world – or at least that’s my general worldview.

Mukuka: I want people to think about the people or things that bring sunshine into their lives, especially during the gloomy days and phases of life. It’s so easy to get washed away by the noise and division out there, and I hope this song is a reminder to think about the good moments.

How do you generally work out what song would make a good single?

Matt: I feel like the singles should be representative of the core artistic intent. That’s why we chose Sunshine above the others that we’ve done. The message of the song and the catchiness. Having come from a background of writing songs that are a super long and meandering, a single needs kind of a tight focus on a single idea is what I’ve learnt.

Mukuka: The catchier songs are probably the right answer, but I always go with my intuition and gut feeling.

Who else is in your team? 

Matt: I’m independent in terms of the music making and all that carry-on. The good people over at Concord Music help out with the publishing side of things.

Mukuka: Currently Independent.

Are there any other musical endeavours you’re working on that we should keep an eye out for? 

Matt: Yeah I’ve got a bunch more material on the way, songs with Mukukā and with some other vocalists from around the country that I’m super excited to put out. It was amazing to have a few people reach out after Sunshine who were inspired by the sound and keen to work on some stuff. I’m really focused on putting out the best stuff I possibly can, and at this stage they’ll be Leon collabs rather than new projects or bands, etc.

Mukuka: Yes, I’ve been planting musical seeds, writing and recording my own solo work, and Leon and I also have more music in the pipeline.

Can you please name three other local tunes that would fit well on a playlist alongside your song. 

Matt: Oh man, that’s so tough. I feel like this song could nestle neatly in between these ones from a message/vibe perspective. I chose these songs because they’re bright, upbeat and make me feel good and that was the MO with this one. 

  • Dave DobbynSlice Of Heaven
  • Julien DyneThe More I Get The Less I Have To Pay
  • Lord EchoThinking Of You

Mukuka: So hard to pick – so I’ll go with what I was listening to today!

  • Libby JohnstonRight Person, Wrong Time
  • Kelsey JaneHis Love
  • Harper FinnEuphoria

Have any previous NZOA applications not gained funding or been included on NewTracks? Got any advice?

Matt: Oh yeah, my hit rate is way low now. It used to be pretty good with Ghost Wave but I had to start from scratch because it wasn’t possible to leverage any of the work or credentials we built up with Ghost Wave in terms of building an audience and stuff, all the social channels etc had to start from scratch. So there’s been no funding going into making this. But that was good in its own way. I’m a big believer in no free passes. It made me dig deep and realise I do this for the love and because it’s who I am.

Mukuka: Yes, my track Time + Space got selected for NewTracks a few years back.

Are there any musical blogs, Youtube channels or podcasts you’re super into?

Matt: Yeah I watch production videos a lot. My favourite is Ian Kirkpatrick, he’s produced a lot of crazy good material and is super entertaining to watch and learn from. So anything like that gets me going and I pretty much can’t sit through five minutes of one without firing up Logic and getting into things. I check out NZ music sites frequently to make sure I know what’s up and what’s happening, NZM and Under The Radar being the obvious go-tos for me!

Mukuka: I’m on the OkayAfrica and Afropunk a lot! I love keeping up with what new music is coming out of the African diaspora and the music scene in Aotearoa! There’s always so much exciting music to discover from NZ Musician, Tearaway, Hype Medium,, IMNZ, MMF, SRN… the list goes on and on, but I keep a close eye every week.