Choose Your Weapon

Choose Your Weapon

“Each song is its own little universe,” Nai Palm tells Apple Music about Hiatus Kaiyote’s approach to songwriting. “I think a lot of people miss all the details. But it’s like when you watch a movie you love and then you watch it again after a while, you always notice something new.” There’s an immense level of detail and creativity that goes into each song by the Melbourne-based future-soul/jazz band, and it’s no surprise that their second album was also their second to receive a Grammy nomination for Best R&B Performance, for the song “Breathing Underwater.” “When it happened the first time, we had Q-Tip on it and everything, but the second time around it was like, ‘Maybe we're doing something right,’” she says. “It was not a fluke one-off thing. But I was 25, and we’d blown up pretty quickly. We had all this support from Prince and Erykah Badu and Questlove, and it really changed how I felt in the studio. It was like, ‘Oh my god. My favorite musicians are going to hear this.’” Songs from Choose Your Weapon quickly became a favorite of music’s who’s who—those who haven’t heard this album in full have likely heard it sampled on songs by Kendrick Lamar, Drake, Beyoncé, JAY-Z, Anderson .Paak, and Chance the Rapper, among others. Still, the stories behind each song go far deeper than that. Below, Nai Palm discusses some of her favorite tracks on Choose Your Weapon. Fingerprints “It’s a window into my adolescence and some of the first writing I’d ever done, when I was 16 or 17. I was really embarrassed about it, but I showed it to the boys [in the band] and they were like, ‘This is beautiful. We should put it on the album.’ My mother died when I was 11. When I wrote this, we’d just started touring a bunch and I missed her death anniversary, so I wrote this as an ode to her memory. I have this really strong memory of when I was little—I grew up with four brothers, and we’d play this game where we’d Spider-Man up the hallway clearing. You had to get your hands either side and your legs either side and shimmy your way up to the top. My mother used to crack the shits because there was all these grubby fingerprints all the way up this hallway. Once she died, I was separated from my siblings as we were all put through the foster care system. So that memory for me was like a symbol of the time before everything slipped. The lyric ‘The grubby fingerprints that kissed the walls have vanished’ meant that the time of Spider-Man climbing up the wall was over. Even if I’m covering thematics that are quite personal and raw and potentially traumatic, it’s always my intention to have a component of hope, or of the wisdom gained from your trauma. The final verse is ‘The phoenix, she dies with her wings burning/She sinks from the sky to the earth returning/But she will rise through ashes singing/With new wisdom she flies to a new beginning.’ I’m saying that you can sit in your grief, but it'll be all right if you have perspective to move forward and grow with it.” By Fire “‘By Fire’ is a burial song for my father. He also died when I was young, a few years after my mother. He was absent my whole life, so it was different grieving him because I didn't really know him. He died in a house fire; he fell asleep with a cigarette or something. I was on my way to school and the bus drove past his house. Everybody on the bus could see that the house had burned down, but I was on the other side with my headphones on, so I missed it. I got to school and everybody was talking about this house fire because it was a small country town, and then my auntie came and picked me up and told me that it was my dad. We went to the site. I remember walking around where the building had burned. Everything was destroyed, but there were still some trinkets and things you could see. It was this really profound moment of piecing together who he was from the echoes of things he had. I still get choked up when I play it live.” Prince Minikid “Simon [Mavin, keyboardist] wrote it as a piece on piano. I had an Indian ringneck called Charlie for nine years. He was this beautiful blue bird that flew over my fence when he was a baby. He became like a limb; he lived in my hair, he was always on me and stealing food out of my mouth. So ‘Prince Minikid’ is actually Charlie. There’s flourishes of him all throughout the album because he was on my shoulder during all my vocal tracking. Sometimes he'd kind of get excited and make little bird sounds, so we kept it in the mix—you can particularly hear it at the end of ‘Creations Part Two.’ It's actually really crazy because some people got tattoos of the album art or portraits of me. That freaked me out a bit. You never get used to that. But there's a lot of people that have tattoos of Charlie. So now he's made it permanently onto a lot of our fans. There are a few animals in here. At my friend’s house—she’s an amazing musician, in a band called Jaala—she had this teepee set up in the backyard, but it didn't have the canvas on. It was just the sticks. There was a bat that used to sleep in the center of the teepee. I'm obsessed with bats, and the first verse on ‘Prince Minikid’ is about that backyard bat.” Only Time All the Time: Making Friends With Studio Owl “I had a break at the studio and walked outside onto the balcony. There was an owl just sitting there, and it started going, ‘Woo, woo, woo, woo,’ but it kept changing its timing and its pitch. So I was singing along with this owl, trying to lock in with it. And just at that moment, [bassist Paul] Bender walks out with a Zoom recorder, which he used for field recordings and stuff. And he just happened to catch this moment of me singing with this owl. This track is an interlude, and the last thing you hear is literally me singing with an owl, which I think a lot of people miss. A lot of our music is very, very detailed. We work really deeply on the arrangements. And then there's just these moments like that are the beautiful, spontaneous, creative moments in life. And it's really rare, I think, to be able to capture them. So it was a really beautiful little nugget to put in the album. I also think it gives people a little window into the weirdo that I am. Just, like, hanging out with an owl for a really long time.” Swamp Thing “Songs about relationships will always stand the test of time, and people relate to them, but my role as an artist is to make people aware of things they wouldn't pay as much attention to. They become like little missions to me. 'Swamp Thing’ is based on the formula of Michael Jackson's ‘Thriller.’ The song doesn't sound anything like ‘Thriller,’ but I wanted to play on that theme of a Halloween story with a narrative. I do a lot of research, too—there’s a Swamp Thing comic book and different mythologies around the world associated with water demons and mermaids and sirens and stuff. There’s a lyric, ‘Send a message with fire smoldering across the lily pad/Saffron tears, the sweetest you ever had.’ And that was in relation to something that is a deep global grief or fear. Saffron is used a lot in Creole cooking, and there’s so much folklore associated with voodoo in the swamps of Louisiana and stuff. There was a point in history where saffron was more valuable than gold. The idea of nations warring over this ingredient and the disharmony that that causes kind of related back to this mythical creature that has the ability to suck you up like that.” Atari “I wrote ‘Atari’ on guitar first, which is strange because it doesn't really sound like a guitar-driven song. We wanted it to sound like a video game. My brothers had Atari and Sega games and all these old gaming consoles. It’s a really fucking dope art form—to be able to create alternate realities that you can interact with. It really instilled a sense of wonder in me when I was a kid. We can get really deep on the textures, like Simon got sounds from Atari games, sent them to his keyboard through a MIDI controller, then played the riff in those sounds. But another interesting thing was that while I was researching the games, a friend gave me a book about Yoruba proverbs. It’s a West African religion, and I found that the word 'atari' is also a Yoruba word from Nigeria, meaning the place where your third eye is on the top of your head, connecting you to divinity or a sense of your higher self. A video game helps you tap into a subconscious, primal kind of instinct, but in this really wondrous, almost psychedelic way. And then there's the Yoruba word about interacting with the world from a higher consciousness as well, but in a religious, spiritual context. It was really interesting to make that connection. We think the world is so vastly different. But there are so many common denominators that tie everything together.” Breathing Underwater “Love songs are beautiful, love is so universal, but the only representation it gets in a lot of songwriting is romantic love. I wanted to write about the different forms of love that can exist. The first verse is about a Jericho rose—it’s also called a resurrection plant. I was watching a David Attenborough documentary about Jericho roses. It's like a cactus, it looks like a tumbleweed, it lives in Africa, and it just kind of cruises around. It can survive for over 100 years without water, without anything—it just survives by itself. All it takes is for it to rain once and it blossoms in this crazy way. They got footage of this Jericho rose that maybe hadn't had water in 100 years. They captured it the moment it rained, and have footage of it unfurling—and that’s how it reproduces. I found that so deeply moving. I think people are like that too—you can meet people who are closed up or they’re cold, and sometimes all it takes is the littlest bit of affection and they can bloom and really open up. There’s also a lyric, ‘I could call your demons inside, soak them in chamomile.’ That's about the form of love where if you have a homie who’s upset or anxious or whatever, your love can be in the simple gesture of making them a cup of tea. It’s not a valiant proclamation of love for someone, but it is a form of love. And these little gestures are important.”

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