NewTracks New Artist: Valley Kids

NewTracks New Artist: Valley Kids

Quite a coup to feature on a  NZ On Air Music‘s NewTracks compilation with your very first single, though looking at Valley Kids‘ background, which covers a variety of notable bands from their Te Awakairangi region, it’s maybe not a big surprise. With bands like Tomorrow People, NLC, H4lf Cāst and Raw Collective on their combined CV, Valley Kids provide a new, much more rootsy and soulful raw groove to our musical landscape, well showcased in their debut single, Money

Hey Kids! What are your names, where are you from and what instruments do you play?

Valley Kids is made up of:

  • Nai McGregor – Vocals
  • Ihaka Tukapua – Keyboard/Vocals
  • Daniel Sugrue – Guitar/Vocals
  • Peter Riley – Bass
  • Keanu Te Kawa – Drums

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

Dan: I can’t really speak for everyone in the band but personally, the four years studying my Certificate and Bachelor of Contemporary Music at SIT in Invercargill were pivotal in building the foundation of fully immersing yourself in music full time. Creating the basis of a sturdy work ethic in practice and self-discipline. Networking in those years helped a lot as well. Nai and Ihaka met each other during their years studying at Whitireia (Wellington) as well, so I think the connections made from that time were the biggest thing you carry with you. If you truly want to hone your craft, I believe you will, formal training or not.

Any other projects might we know you from?

Dan: Most of us have been around the block a few times! I myself was an active member with the band Tomorrow People for five years, before starting Valley Kids. Peter is an active member of the bands NLC and AJA, and Keanu was also in Wellington’s own beloved soul purveyors H4lf Cāst and Raw Collective.

What’s the background story of how Valley Kids came to be? 

Dan: Honestly, a lot of strategy meetings with Peter at our local pub, hah! After leaving Tomorrow People I had approached Peter about the possibility of starting something from the ground up, something more groove-based and raw. The first lockdown in 2020 happened not long after, so we spent the time writing music for it and trying to get a crew together. When that crew fell apart, we re-grouped and bought in Nai and Ihaka. Ihaka joining was complete with a spit-in-hand handshake to boot, and we were lucky enough to have Keanu join shortly after. The chemistry of this band is second to none in my experience, and everyone is the right piece of the puzzle. I feel very grateful that we hit the ground running together in January of 2021.

How has your writing evolved from your beginnings in songwriting to now?

Ihaka: I’ve always felt like I’ve had a natural knack for songwriting but now I feel like I’m more conscious of the little things involved. In a general sense, maturing as an individual has been a huge factor. Working with other writers and musicians that I think highly of personally and writing with other people, in general, helps in the evolution of not just songwriting, but anything you want to progress in. Getting older and having more personal and emotional life experiences are major keys to finding more substance within the music.

How and when did you come up with the name for the new project?

Dan: The majority of the band live and/or are from Te Awakairangi/Hutt Valley. The music was made here, the connections and relationships were birthed from here and we wanted to recognise that. We feel the Hutt Valley has some questionable preconceptions connected to it in the context of the wider Wellington region, and that, mixed with our somewhat of an underdog mentality, we wanted to include the Valley. And ‘Valley’ is really just a great word and we can definitely act pretty “kid-like” at times… haha! It could have been ValleyTubbies, but that’s a story for another time.

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

Dan: We’ve been somewhat blessed to hit the ground running pretty substantially in regards to gigs, due to our previous connections in the music scene, so a few of our early gigs have been pretty exciting! Some notable ones would have to be Newtown Festival alongside our friend Laughton Kora, and headlining the Ngā Toi o Te Aro Stage at CubaDupa. The band is still in its infancy so we have a lot to still look forward to!

What makes Money stand out for you as a single?

Dan: The message. I feel there’s a lot of surface-based music given the spotlight on a lot of platforms, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but this is our debut single and we wanted to make a statement about who we are and that we’re not here to take any prisoners. Being able to share your music on a wide platform is a big responsibility for artists in my opinion, and we wanted to take that responsibility seriously and try and send out something to the masses with some substance. It’s who we are, we’re real people and the music we write is real. Money really embodies that sentiment to us.

What’s the lyrical story behind Money?

Ihaka: As a young Māori it was firstly based on personal experiences and second-hand accounts from friends of mine with similar backgrounds and upbringings. I feel it’s a pretty strong message in any global context, but the bottom line is we’re really trying to bring awareness to some subject matter that is ultimately swept under the rug in Aotearoa.

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

Ihaka: I have a bit of a soft spot for the start of the second verse, the flow, the lyrical content. Mainly because it was something I hadn’t heard before in a song. But the whole song is pretty special to me.

Dan: I always get goosebumps when I hear the girls come in in the last chorus. It really lifts the dynamic of the song for that last push at the end, I feel. Huge shout out to Amba Holly, Sianne Dougherty, and Tipapa Bracken for supporting the kaupapa!

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

Dan: We recorded the song at The Armoury in Wellington with Troy Kelly. He had approached us asking if we wanted to work with him on the song and we took the opportunity and ran with it. It was the first time recording together as a unit so just the usual teething problems, but TK really helped us get it over the line sonically. Nothing too funny about the whole process to report, really. We’re all professionals… teehee.

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

Dan: We just want to make them really think. All art is up to the interpretation of the consumer, but ultimately to love and respect one another and find happiness in the real and little things. And of course, we just want people to enjoy the song. It’s for them.

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

Dan: Well, this is our debut single so it is hard to really answer that just now. But we’re a pretty democratic band and we always make it a habit to never pursue something that doesn’t sit right with everyone involved. I think everyone in the band is vibrating at the same wavelength in terms of trying to be musically innovative and eclectic, so deciding on what we want to share to the world, push and be proud of is really the only criteria.

Anyone else in your team?

Dan: We’re 100% fully independent at this point in time. Self-managed, self-produced etc. I have my own goals as far as signing to a specific label, but that’s about it. We’re always open to offers of interest though, so if you’re reading this… ha!

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

Dan: Absolutely! I can’t give away too much, but the cogs may or may not be turning on our second single, which may or may or may not be recorded at the iconic Bays Studio, and may or may not be produced by the legendary DJ Mu aka Fitchie of Fat Freddys Drop notability.

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

Dan: Oh that’s a hard one, especially when you’re trying to not really fit in, hah! But if I had to pick at this point in time it would be;

  • L.A.B: Why Oh Why
  • Summer Thieves: Saturday Night
  • Devon Welch: Someday

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

Dan: NewTracks was actually the first thing we’ve ever applied for, so we’re super grateful to get a win so early in the game with that. We have just submitted our application for the New Music Singles funding for our second single, so here’s hoping we can share some good news when the funding decisions are released. My advice to other bands would be to list all the criteria points and start making moves to tick them off as soon as possible. Be thorough with your applications and don’t be disheartened if you’re not successful. Backing your product financially by yourself shows that you believe in it, as hard as that can be.

Was there an NZOA criterion you struggled with in that New Music application? 

Dan: Valley Kids is the first band I have ever attempted applying for funding with and it was a bit of a shock to see how much we couldn’t tick off, seeing as some of us have come from bands that have already been heavily funded, and/or have won rather prestigious NZ music awards. But specifically, no. We try to be as organised as possible with our goals.

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

Dan: Anything that shines a light on the amazing talent we have here in Aotearoa.

Who did you make the video for Money with?

Dan: We didn’t do a music video per sé, but we did release a lyric video to coincide with the release of Money which I made myself. [See top of the article.] Before the song was released we also dropped a live video of it, directed by Ben Uili.

Any last words?

We would just like to thank the team at NZ Musician for reaching out to us and giving us space on your iconic platform to share our project that we believe so much in. We’ve read NZ Musician magazine since we were kids and are grateful for the opportunity. All love, respect and power to all homegrown, Aotearoa music.