December/January 2015

by Briar Lawry

Randa: Critically Likely to Succeed

by Briar Lawry

Randa: Critically Likely to Succeed

If you hadn’t previously noticed Randa, or Randa’s impressively deep investment in pop culture, then the mid-2013 video to Frankenstein ought to have fixed that. Produced by Alix Whittaker and Anna Duckworth, and directed by Thunderlips, the clip looked convincingly like it was a straight outtake from a U.S. apartment sitcom, Randa looking right at home in the dual role of actor/rapper, with a convincingly North American cultural background. A year and a half later Randa was awarded the 2014 Critics’ Choice title, indicating that those seers doing the selecting expect big things from her in the future. Or should that be big things from him? The resulting press release was unusually brief and plainly avoided the need for using any such pronoun. Briar Lawry caught up with Mainard Larkin to ask about the rise of the enigmatic Randa. 

When rapping, they are Randa. Creating other kinds of art, they are Larz. But chatting about both of these parts of their life, they are Mainard Larkin, the gender-queer (hence the preferred ‘they’ pronoun) inhabiter of many different skins, who is of late making a serious impression in Aotearoa’s indie scene.

In the last couple of months alone, they have released a super slick new EP (entitled ‘Rangers’) and won the NZ On Air Critics’ Choice Award (part of the 2014 NZ Music Awards, announced in October ahead of the big ceremony). If Randa isn’t already familiar to you, you will know the names of previous winners – the likes of Kimbra, Street Chant and Watercolours.

Is Randa ready to fill those shoes? You better believe it. The hip hop persona and wit has been years in private gestation, but things really heated up for Randa in late 2012 when they opened for Grimes at her Auckland show.

“That was insane. I played my first live show in June of 2012, and that’s when I was starting to get into Grimes as a fan. Then, after her show was announced, I was having dinner with my manager and she was like, ‘Oh, don’t get your hopes up or anything, but I mentioned to the people who were looking for openers that you’d be cool.'”

Even today, Randa appreciates the influence that one gig had in wildly extending their fanbase.

“Today even, I met a girl and she was like, ‘Whoa, I saw you play at Grimes,’ – it definitely exposed me to a bunch of new people. It was a really positive experience.””

Grimes herself?

“She was super chill, and like, no pretence, super down-to-earth.””

Like attracts like in the music biz, it seems, because the same could be said for Randa – who is (sorry, are) quick to mention people and friends who have been supportive, as well as decidedly cool, calm and collected for a 21-year old with a rap career on a steadily rising trajectory. Auckland’s North Shore, does, after all, seem to be going through a musical talent boom these last few years.

Having previously produced their own music (aside from that breakthrough Frankenstein single done with Totems, their regular live DJ), Randa has lately been working with Josh Fountain – producer to the likes of Smashproof, as well as Anna Mac’s hit single Girl In Stilettos.

“I made it with Josh Fountain from Kidz in Space, and he’s just produced a bunch of work for different people. What happened was, my manager sent me a beat from him, and then he sent a beat and she sent it to me, because he thought I might be right for it – and it wound up being the Rangers instrumental, and it was really cool and different. We didn’t know if we were going to come out with any songs, we were just planning on going into the studio for like a week… and we definitely clicked, it felt quite comfortable.””

The descriptions Randa uses for the EP’s sound vary from “super blissed out” (Lifeguard) to “stabby” (the hook from Rangers). Between the raucous beats that appear on the tracks and Randa’s at times almost dream-poppy voice, both descriptions suit the release perfectly.

‘Rangers’ is Randa’s third EP, following on from 2012’s ‘Lunch Box’ and ‘Summer Camp’ released in 2013, which contained their first track to snag NZ On Air support.

Frankenstein was the first video that I received funding for, which was really cool. I’d done a few before then, but it was just my friends and they were doing it out of art, I guess.””

Despite that extra funding kick, the aesthetic that Randa has set out to achieve hasn’t changed – it has just been enhanced by the extra support. From Orange Juice to Cosby Kid, Randa looks every bit the dapper hipster kid, in big glasses and snazzy blazers, or fluoro anoraks. To steal from Carrie Brownstein and Fred Armisen briefly, the dream of the ’90s is definitely alive in Randa. But while the lyrics call back to everything from Buffy the Vampire Slayer to ET to the old McDonald’s ‘Double-double cheese-cheese burger-burger please’ ads, Randa’s sound is very much at home in 2014.

Smart and snappy pop culture references are as much a part of Randa’s music as the music itself. Backgrounding that was religious watching of TV as a kid, noting how each different sitcom had its own story and world.

“I guess when I went to write, that was the first thing that worked – it was the easiest thing to write about, because I knew it so well.””

The most visual proof of the imprint that sitcoms have left on their psyche came in the elaborately designed video for Frankenstein which is ‘an episode’ of the very Nickelodeon-esque Totally Randa. Rather than citing bands or artists as influences, Randa talks about how they were into professional wrestling and the bands involved with those performances, as well as talking up an appreciation for skateboarders.

“Those dudes who do physical things, like the way they move… you’ve got skaters who are athletes, and then those who are artists.””

Artist is definitely the appropriate word to use when talking about Mainard Larkin’s various creative pursuits. To date the focus has been on putting out music, but the next planned project is more visual – where the Larz Randa side of their inner artist will come out more.

“The next thing I’d like to put out is a zine, and it’s called Goober. I bought a camera last year, and it was like $5 or something. It’ll be 35mm film and a few old things. It’s a project that I wanted to put out ages ago, and I’m kind of stoked about that.””

There’s still plenty of musical Randa to come, though – videos are in the works for Rangers and Lifeguard, and they will be heading down-country in December for gigs in Wellington and Christchurch. Right now Randa is hot right now like tiger balm, the critics’ choice indeed, and remembering that their first stage gig was less than three years ago, we can expect to see Randa develop even more as a musician and artist in short order.