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Video Premiere: Jarni Blair – Higher Than The Sky

Video Premiere: Jarni Blair – Higher Than The Sky

NZM proudly presents the exclusive premiere of Auckland-based, Dunedin-raised songwriter Jarni Blair‘s new single and music video Higher Than The Sky, directed by Christian Tjandrawintata. The song will be available on all the usual platforms from Sunday, February 9. If you dig, follow him on your socials, and see him live in Auckland in late February, or Wellington in early March, while you’re still able to catch him in small venues. 

You’ve been playing the guitar for many years. Are there  technical things you still sometimes struggle with and how do you try to resolve any such issues? 

Coming up 18 years now! Time flies. I feel I’m constantly trying to evolve my playing within the limitations of my playing if that makes sense. I don’t really have a desire to learn ‘everything’ on the guitar, but rather tighten up and evolve what I already know. Learning completely new things is easier than trying to make a note or chord sound a particular way, at least in my experience. The finer print of guitar playing is a whole other thing once you tap into it.

For example, I’ve learnt that playing one note in the right place and the right time, can speak volumes over a flashy fast lick or run, and can be more technical, even though it’s only one note. That would be the thing I most struggle with and am constantly trying to get better at. I often jam to loops or beats that I’ve made on my laptop. I encourage learning how to build a track and jamming over it as that has been a great way to practice, write new songs and also learn skills outside of the guitar.

I’m guessing that you come from a creative family?

Both my parents and my older brother contain creative potential. My mum is a hairdresser, fashion designer, clothes maker, mosaic maker, teacher, and model dresser. My dad is a guitarist and singer who played in bands since he was a teenager in the late ’60s. My older brother also became a musician himself, but before that he was an incredibly talented sports player, who was ‘creative’ on the sports field. He was either scoring for his team, or setting up the points.

When did you decide that music was going to be your job? 

I remember it was a fateful night in September of 2002, where I saw my brother learning an Eminem song that was out at the time, and I just looked at him and thought to myself, “I wanna do that to” and then boom, I was hooked. I was in love with James Bond movies at the time, so I got dad to teach me a basic version of the theme song. By the end of the night, I had it down and was like “I wanna do this for the rest of my life”. I had found my passion. I guess it worked in a roundabout way as I remember dad asking me at earlier times if I wanted to learn, and I said no on every occasion. It took seeing my brother doing it to ignite the flame within that is still burning bright today.

You frequently play covers gigs – how do you feel about artists who don’t really like to admit that’s what they do?

If I didn’t do the covers thing, I wouldn’t be able to make a living through music. Local musicians in NZ are paid way better than a lot of places overseas, for example, America. If you’re not a top-selling artist there, it’s pretty much impossible to make decent coin, period. So I think it’s cool that musos here in NZ can make a living on a local level, and not have to be a top-selling artist.

On the other hand, I totally get why musos don’t wanna admit it (even myself) as it can be a superiority complex thing (playing covers in bars is a ‘lower level’ musician type thing) but there’s also a desire to not be ‘labelled’ as a cover muso. I definitely don’t, as I am seeking to get my own music out there, and I ultimately want people to perceive me as ‘Jarni Blair, the artist’. It can be hard to channel that at times, as I do blatantly do covers, but it is ultimately supposed to act as support for my own music and profile.

Trying to find the right genre for you is hard because the obvious picks are actually quite vague, like, singer/songwriter – what does that even mean! 

Haha, I feel you! Genres are so variable as well and often cross over. I’ve always perceived the music I’ve released as ‘pop singer-songwriter” which is the umbrella genre, with injections of jazz and blues in there to. Songs like Lost At Sea and Quench Your Thirst have a rock sound to it as well, which makes me harder to pinpoint I guess, haha!

The music is super easy to listen to, has a story, and catchy pop hooks, but underneath it, it has all these geeky moments only a muso would pick up! If you combine pop singer-songwriter with jazz and blues, you get ‘Geek Pop’ which I don’t think is an official genre, but nails my sound to a tee!

If you had a music-themed podcast, what would be your specialist subject that sets you apart from the others?

I’m a deep and honest person so I would love musicians to open up about their mental health in the music industry. Their opening up would give other musos out there struggling golden advice on how to get better, stay that way, and to come forward and realise they’re not the only ones hurting. The industry is a tough untamed beast at the best and worst of times, and it’s bloody hard out there. The least we can do is help each other keep good mental states to keep the passion and drive for music alive and well. I’m talking to myself here too.

Especially on your first EP, your songs show a great talent for what I perceive as honest writing with the heart on your sleeve. How you deal with telling those stories night by night?

Thank you so much! Yes, I am a confessional writer in that way, all the songs are based on real experiences I’ve had. Initially when I first started singing these songs live, I was a nervous wreck, unsure if these tunes were good or not. But as I kept playing, people started coming up to me and basically saying, “Yeah, I’ve been through that too and I feel you.” That reaction dissipates any doubt, nervousness, anxiety etc. ‘cause the connection has been made between the artist and the listener. That is the bridge that keeps me going night after night. 

Between your first EP and second EP your sound has grown in both arrangement and production.

The first EP was literally made between me and my producer at the time, Tim Greenslade, as my budget wasn’t high and I couldn’t afford to hire in much external sources. Plus, I was just a beginner, so there’s plenty of holes when I look back on it personally. For a reason though. I went into the second EP wanting to nail every aspect of the music, and to spend more on outsourcing so I could create a super slick product. The first EP outlined so many things I needed to get right for the second, and I was determined to not settle for the same bar.

My new song in comparison to these records is similar in the sense there is a ‘Pop Singer-Songwriter’ sound in there, but this has fresh injections of groove, funk, jazz, and disco which is an exciting change up for me! The new song has way more of a dance feel to it, getting people to move to the music naturally.

Who did work with on this new material?

My good friend Mitch French of Black Dog Recording Studios produced the song, and between the two of us, we played all the instruments. We have more songs to record to. Mastered by Chris Chetland at Kog Studios.

As for the new single, what is it about? Can you put it a little into the context of your own life and recent experiences?

The song is based on a beautiful ‘out of my league’ girl who approached me at a yoga/music party at Kawai Purapura in April of 2017, and how the relationship blossomed over time. I remember feeling so high off her approval of me, which is where the song title came from.

What sort of people do you think should give your song a chance and have a listen, even though they don’t know you, yet? 

I wanna reach as many audiences as possible, hence why I write in a pop format to hit mainstream, but there’s also heavy blues and jazz stuff coming through which I hope can give me an appeal to older crowds as this song sort of harks back to those classic funk and disco genres of the ’70s. Whether you’re old, young, black, white, boy or girl I feel this song has a little bit of everything to appeal to a lot of different groups of people.

What’s been your biggest music business career highlight, to date? 

Hard to answer this! I’ve definitely had a few highlights from playing on stage with Dallas [Tamaira] from Fat Freddys Drop when I was 14, playing with Jason Kerrison at 17, and recently having one of my videos shared by leading lights Drax Project a couple of months back. But the one highlight would have to be meeting and jamming with Antion Vikram Singh (formerly Vic Briggs), the guitarist in the New Animals from 1966 to 1968 with Eric Burden.

He saw me play at a small farmers market in Orewa and told me my playing was fantastic before he spilled the beans on who he actually was! One of the first things he said to me was, “I was good friends with Hendrix” and I was gobsmacked…. Hendrix is to this day one is one of my favourite artists, and Antion had been on tour with him, jammed with him etc. Played with The Beatles at the Cavern Club before they were famous, was Dusty Springfield’s backing guitar player, played the Monterey Pop Festival, among many, many other things after I looked him up.

To meet someone who was apart of that whole golden era of music, the era that has most influenced me and my music, was dreamlike and surreal. The chances of me meeting someone like him is ridiculous. I worshipped all of those guys, and to meet someone who was right in the thick of it was absolutely crazy! I am proud to say that Antion is my good friend, and I hope to catch up with him soon. His talks about that era were amazing to listen to, I was like a kid a candy store, diving in and eating up all the sweet pastimes he shared! An honour and a privilege to know a legendary figure.