NewTracks New Artist: Davidda

NewTracks New Artist: Davidda

Up-and-coming musicians don’t come more natural (or more naturally gifted) than singer/songwriter/multi-instrumentalist Davidda Hikatangata who originally hails from Paeroa. Fast-tracked with the aid of NZ On Air Music‘s NewMusic Development funding and Anna Coddington she produced Slow Turn, which is featured on NZOA’s NewTracks compilation this February. 

What’s your name, where are you from and what instruments do you play?

My name is Davidda Hikatangata. I currently live in Tāmaki Makaurau, but I’m from a little zesty town in the Hauraki called Paeroa. You might have stopped there to take a picture with the giant bottle downtown!

I like to tinker around with a few different instruments like the omnichord, synths, ukulele, stylophone, guitar and drums. I’d say the guitar and drums are the ones I’ve spent the most time with – but I like writing with a bunch of different instruments depending on my mood. I’m on the hunt for a theremin and a talk box next if you know where I can find those!

Was any high school or other music training especially important?

Unfortunately, a music programme wasn’t offered at my high school unless you chose to do it via correspondence, so I mostly just tinkered with music at home. Mum started teaching me how to play the guitar when I was about 3 years old. I’m pretty sure, Are you sleeping? (Brother John) and Kookaburra Sits In The Old Gum Tree were the first tunes I busted out. Since then I’ve kind of just weaved in and out of making things up or learning songs that I like listening to.

Any other previous projects we might know you from?

You might have seen me playing drums for my friend Katie Brown’s band – The May Project. (@themayproject if you want to listen in to this wizardry!)

At the moment I’m on drums and backing vocals in a covers band called King Cool. I get to jam with my brother Kristian Bennett and our friend Ty Gage on the weekends, so you might see me at your next event! (@kingcoolband if you wanna see where we’re playing next!)

What’s the background story of Davidda as a musical project? 

In some ways, I feel like I haven’t done enough / or anything really to push my music forward and get things cranking. A lot of things have kind of just happened on their own, and Davidda the project has mostly just been me being Davidda the person, if that makes sense.

I’ve been drip-feeding my music online for years on YouTube, Facebook or Instagram – snippets of a lyric I’d written on the way to the supermarket, or a 5-minute speed write in the car before work. Sharing my writing and music in this way has become a very normal thing, I don’t really get nervous about it anymore. I have to really remind myself that sometimes what I’m feeling isn’t just a me thing, and that someone else out there might need to hear it too. I would say anyone that has engaged with my music or connected with me has been directly involved.

Why did you decide stick with your name as your artist name?

I wish I had something exciting to say about this, but the truth is it just felt good to go with my name. There’s kind of a running joke with those who know me, and how often people muddle my name up, calling me David, Davita, Davina, Dividia etc. It definitely isn’t a common name, in fact, I’ve never met another Davidda before!

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

Early Davidda wrote a lot about dream worlds and stories I’d not really lived. Things I would imagine about adult life or being in a place I had never been before. My recent writings have mostly been grounded a lot more in my grapple with anxiousness and grief. On the other hand, there are times when I will feel compelled to talk about the really simple, mundane stuff like buying peaches from the store every day one week, eating them for breakfast and needing to go to the dentist.

I have discovered that I like placing little Easter eggs in my writing and every now and then, someone will pick out it out. Assonance, puns, or rhymes in weird places that throw you off but also feel like they fit – those are my fave things! I love rhyming in obscure spots in the song structure too and catching people by surprise.

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

I co-wrote and featured on a song with a Nashville-based band called Lipstick Kid. I met Bethany and Jacob through Instagram, they actually watched one of my little backyard shows on Instagram Live during lockdown and said we should write together – then it actually happened! Jacob used to be in my absolute favourite band (Family Force 5) when I was a teen, so it feels pretty surreal that this even came to be.

What makes Slow Turn stand out for you as a single?

When I listen to Slow Turn, I feel like throwing down – in all the best ways! I don’t think there’s any other way that I could sum up or express the whirlwind that the last couple of years has felt like. All of my feelings wrapped up in a little 3-minute explosion. I’m not a dancer, but I want to be! And this song makes me want to do my best dance moves every time.

What is the lyrical story behind Slow Turn?

I wrote this with the most wonderful wahine toa you will ever meet, Anna Coddington. We penned this one day in her (then) home studio The Attic after many lockdown barriers stopped us from meeting. We were fresh out of our iso and I think it was one of the first outside interactions either of us had. It felt natural to want to talk about what we had experienced and scribble down the uncertainties of emerging from the pandemic and how it kind of became comfortable to stay inward. The feeling of being torn between wanting to go out, but also wanting to just stay home. It’s all in there.

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

It was pretty fun recording my drums for this! First time I’ve recorded drums for anything so that’s kinda cool. My other favourite moment would be just the writing process and how well we worked together – feeling free to muck up or throw out ideas that might be stink, but also not feeling bad about it because you’re with someone you trust. The best feeling!

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

It felt like the song just formed so quickly in front of us! I wrote and recorded this with Anna Coddington, who also wore the producer wizard hat too. The process of writing with Anna, man, I know I already mentioned it but it was the best experience! We kickstarted all of this in her studio and fired up some vocals, guitars and bass. We also did a bit of recording at The Oven with the mastermind Jol Mulholland. Lips contributed some snazzy synth magic which just blows my mind because I am just such a fan, so that feels like another pinch-me moment.

One really exciting part for me was getting my brother Kristian in to do the mixing/engineering. I do a lot of music stuff with my brother, so having him involved in this capacity was pretty choice! He got the song sounding all snug – in the pocket, if you will, before sending off to Chris Chetland at Kog Studios for mastering!

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

I want listeners to enter a joy portal when they listen to Slow Turn! I know the song is recapping the feels of lockdown, but it’s also a vehicle for outrageous joy dancing/car sing/shout-along.

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

If it ticks one or more of the following: the rhythm section slaps; it makes me cry; it forces a stank face.

Who else is in your team?

I’m sort of winging everything over here. I’m steering the ship, but I’m pretty supported by wonderful friends and family who have shared resources and tools to help me along the way. I’m really lucky to be working with Kristian on a few bits and pieces too, we’re working on some of my songs – and he doesn’t know this yet but we are going to be working on an album together soon. (Haha!)

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

I have so many ideas and dreams for writing more music on my own, in collaboration with others, and learning how to control the buttons and get to a place where I can produce some of my own music too!

I’ve also been trying my hand at jingle/hook writing for other people’s projects, like the company I recently wrote a tune for! When you call them, you’ll hear my song playing behind the caller options and then while you’re being transferred / if you’re on hold. This is somewhere where I can run wild with puns and rhyme! I’ve been keeping my ear out for brands that might need a catchy melody or jingle, and I’ve even created a few for companies that I am building up the courage to approach. Watch this space!

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

You cannot go past:

  • Troy Kingi: Freaky A.K
  • Phoebe Rings: Cheshire
  • Benjamin Mack: Let Down

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

I hadn’t applied for NZOA funding until Anna approached me about the NewMusic Development funding, which is how Slow Turn came about. Anna was scrolling through my Instagram one day and was really enjoying listening to my little ditties, so we started chatting around that time. I learnt that Anna had been doing some production work and really wanted to tuck in even more, so when she found out about the funding she asked if I’d be keen to collab and for her to produce some of my tunes. And the rest is history!

Was there an NZOA criterion you struggled with in the application? 

I don’t think we had any bumps in the road with this one, but I’m also unsure because Anna did the heavy lifting for us!

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

I like More Than One Thing by Athena Calderone – only, it’s not about music, but it still offers something for my writing by letting me hear stories about people’s lives. I might need your recommendations to be super honest!

Any last words?

Thanks for sticking around for my rambles. Hope you’ll stick around for some more tunes coming very soon x