5 piece band Soljah have just released their debut album Aotearoa.
Consisting of Ben Ratima, Les Watane, Tawhiri Littlejohn, Raniera Littlejohn and Jacob Nansen, the band are well known for their mesmerising live performances showcasing elements of blues, funk, R&B, reggae, soul and rock.
The quintet are certainly not strangers to the New Zealand music scene, having worked with many well known local artists between them, including Stan Walker, J Williams, Dane Rumble, Kimbra, David Dallasand Anika Moa.
We caught up with Ben Ratima and Les Watene for a chat about the band and debut album.
Where and when did Soljah form?
Les: The unit that we have now we started in Mangawhai, around the Kaipara area. I'm from Auckland and our keyboard player is from Auckland, but we started around 2009.
Who came up with name Soljah?
Les: I think Taiwhari and Raniera came up with it. There's not really any hard out meaning behind it, I think they just liked the name and changed the spelling of it. So no real big mystery behind it (laughs). And plus Soljah is quite a staunch name as well and our music is kind of like that.
It's been two years since you released your Moving Up EP. Has Aotearoa been a fair while in the making for you guys?
Les: Yeah, it's taken us about two years. We're all busy people and we have families and stuff so it's just been trying to find the time to do it. It's just been a little bit here and there where we could fit it in time wise. We also had to save up a bit of money just with gigs and that to do it.
Ben: Hopefully it sells cause we ain't go no money left now! (laughs). We spent it all on the album!
Where did you record Aotearoa?
Ben: Hysteria studios in Silverdale. We just tried a demo out there which sounded pretty good and was fairly cheap.
Les: Yeah, he did a god price for us so we were like "Yep, this is pretty cool".
And how long did it take?
Les: Pretty much like two years (laughs). The whole process of recording, mastering and mixing probably took about that time. It's only recently inthe last month actually been finished, so about two years all up.
Who's the main songwriter in the band?
Les: There are two people. Ben does mainly all the lyric writing, while Tawhiri our drummer writes most of the songs; the compositions and arrangements. It actually goes in this order, he'll come to me and say "I've got this idea" and he'll sing to me because he can't play any other instruments. Then I'll play it and show the bass player and then Ben will write some words to it. That's pretty much how it goes everytime.
Ben: ...the Soljah formula.
Les: And the rest of us help arrange it really.
There's kind of a few different styles mashed up in there...
Ben: A melting pot of music. Something different I guess.
Do you have a tour planned?
Les: Kind of. More like shows I guess. We've got about 7 shows booked, and then we've just got to see how we go budget wise to see what else we can do and what else we can afford. So I guess we are just waiting on that and see what we can do. We are definitely planning a big tour eventually, but for now it's just slowly building up.
And you've got the Showcase show coming up with Stan Walker and Sons Of Zion?
Les: Yeah it should be great. Our keyboard player plays with Stan Walker too. Him and his brothers are all like a session band, so they play with Stan Walker when he comes to New Zealand.
Have you guys had a stand out show so far?
Ben: For me it was Sonic Waves in Whangamata. The crowd was just off the hook.
Les: Yeah, a good crowd just makes all the difference. It gives you all the energy.
Ben: And also The Bedford down in Christchurch.
Les: Yeah, that was mean actually. That was on a Katchafire tour. That was pumping.
What's the next plan for Soljah?
Les: I suppose just get out and play, we really want to go and play hard out, make some money and keep writing and then make another album.
Is it hard being a muscian in New Zealand?
Ben: If you want to make money it is. We get out and play for the love of it of course, but it's hard to make money.
Les: We don't do it for the money that's for sure. You can do other stuff in music for money, like playing covers and teaching and things like that. But playing in an originals band is something that you need to be passionate about.
On Thursday May 23rd at Galatos in Auckland, Sony Music New Zealand presents HOMEMADE; an exclusive showcase event featuring SOLJAH, SONS OF ZION and very special guest STAN WALKER. Libel has 10 double passes to giveaway to this event