By Poppy Tohill
Step aside Katchafire, there's a new reggae band in town. Forming just over a year ago, Auckland's newest seven piece roots reggae band who go by the name of Hotboxed Treehut, have just released their debut single, Positive Music, and a brand new music video to go with it.
With the release of their debut EP also just around the corner, I recently caught up with the bass player of the group, Tyler Dent, for a chat about all things, reggae, Hotboxed Treehut and Positive music.
Kicking off the interview, Dent first explained the early beginnings of the band and how they came to forming early last year. "We all met at MAINZ (Music Audio Institute of NZ) a few years back," he began. "We sort of got to know each other over various nights on the piss," he laughed. "But Travis Dearden (Guitar/Vocals), Josh Coyle-Te Maro (Drums), Brodi Tamakoue (Keys/Vocals) and I just put ourselves together right at the start of last year as a little four piece roots reggae band for the sake of our course really," Dent explained. "Then as time went on, more and more people got dragged into doing things, like at one point, we were a 9-piece which was just ridiculous, but after a while we decided to take things a bit more seriously. I wasn't studying last year, so I started managing us, because no one else was going to do it," he laughed. "So I got us a few gigs, then we cut some people and made it, I guess, more what it is today," he exclaimed.
"Yeah! Most of us aren't at MAINZ anymore," Dent replied when asked if the band is something they all take seriously outside of their studies. "None of us are studying performance music anymore, so this is a job for us now," he declared. "I mean it earns fuck all money," he laughed, "but it's still a job and something we all take very seriously."
With that, I couldn't hold off asking about the band name any longer, so Dent went on to explain the story behind what ‘Hotboxed Treehut' really means.
"One of the first questions you get asked when you tell people that you play in a reggae band is- 'Oh mean, so you smoke pot aye..." and I think so many people forget that reggae originally started, and still should be music with a message and a social conscience," Dent proclaimed. "It's music of change and revolution, and I think so many people these days forget it. So many reggae bands are just all about ‘blazing it up,' ‘smoking pot,' or even just more poppy stuff like- "baby baby", and I suppose that's where a lot of people see BBQ reggae in New Zealand to have come from," he continued. "But everyone's forgetting the roots and the whole point of reggae which was so powerful in the first place, and because all of our music is very conscious, we decided to just be smart arses about it, and call ourselves Hotboxed Treehut, just to make people really think about reggae," he explained. "A lot of people identify with Bob Marley, not because he was a leader and an icon who changed the way we think in a lot of ways, especially through his music, but they identify with him because he had some fat blunts along the way," he truthfully proclaimed.
Continuing on the topic of messages and social conscience's, Dent went on to explain the different messages and issues they aim to express throughout their music. "Our music is very much about how we as a people see the direction we're going in, and whether that's right and just," he began. "I think so many people take for granted, that yes, we live in New Zealand and it's a beautiful place, but it's not a perfect place. Many people seem to just get on with their day and forget that there's a lot of people out there who are worse off than us, so I guess, we just try and preach this consciousness of thinking about those who may not be as well off as we are, and what we can all do to help them. Not in a cheesy way, but in a way that we do what we can to try and help," he acknowledged. "We're also a very politically inclined band, you could say," he laughed. "Very much so actually, hence the title track of the upcoming EP, being ‘Brighter Future,' which is just about whether we're really heading in a brighter future, or not, to that's just what we've been told we're doing," he concluded.
As I mentioned earlier, the band have just recently released their debut single, Positive Music, so as I brought up the single in conversation, Dent went on to tell me all about how it came about, the underlying message throughout the song, and what it's like to finally have a piece of music out there for the world to hear.
"Positive Music came about as we needed a final track for the studio," Dent remarked. "We hadn't really written one, so Travis who's our main vocalist, guitarist and pretty much the frontman and creative force behind Hotboxed, whipped up the song literally two or three days before we went into the studio," he laughed. "We recorded the entire EP at Capgun Studios, which is a newly renovated studio out in Otahuhu, and they just do awesome work out there, we had such a good time and came out with a product that we're very prod of and happy to release," he added. "Anyway, the track really just kind of evolved on it's own. It came into the studio as a very produced piece, made entirely by Travis, and then we took our time in the studio to work through it, and everyone added their own embellishments to it, to make it what it is now really," Dent explained.
"We know all the boys from Ihi really well, they're really good mates of ours," Dent responded when asked how the collaboration with Ihi, came about for the single. "Most of our nights hanging out together just turn into two or three guitars around the fire and everyone singing, and I think one night Travis told the boys to sing a verso of that song and it sort of just happened through that really. After that night we sat down and worked things out, then they came into the studio a few days later to record it with us, so it was a pretty natural, easy and painless experience really" he exclaimed.
In terms of having a piece of music properly released for the world to hear, Dent truthfully responded, "I guess, as a band member it's exciting and cool, but as a manager at the same time, I'm just glad it's done and out," he laughed. "It's a relief that it's happened, we got it out on time and that we've achieved semi decent success through it," he continued. "So yeah, as a band member I'm so stoked, because I never thought in a million years I'd be releasing music professionally," he admits.
"I wasn't the one who wrote it, so I'm probably not the best person to ask," Dent responded when still on the topic of the ‘Positive Music' single, I asked what the lyrics and song is all about. "But just speaking personally for me," he continued, "the one thing that always stuck with me through high school which my music teacher always used to tell me, is that-"music is a positive addiction." So that's where I see Positive Music to really come into it's own, in the fact that you don't need anything else to enjoy good music and to have a good time," Dent declared. "You just need a bit of sunshine, your mates, and a bit of time every now and then to chill out, with of course a bit of music which doesn't do too badly either. But I guess," Dent went on to explain, "It's a summer track that people can just sit back and relax to, because all the rest of our tunes are very conscious and quite thought heavy and thought provoking. Positive Music is still positive, obviously with the name," he laughed, "but it's still got an underlying message that music is our addiction, and it's what we live for, so it's still about something we're happy and proud to promote," he concluded.
With this, we then went on to chat about their newly released music video for the single and what that was like as a first time experience for the band (you can check out the video below). "It was good," Dent chuckled before continuing. "It's just really hard organising a seven piece roots reggae band." When asked about how the idea for the video came about, Dent responded, "It's a summer video and yes we did want to have the beach there, but we didn't want to be entirely cliché about it, because there's a lot of reggae videos that are of everyone on the beach having a party," he exclaimed. "So our whole thing, as it says in the track, is about looking forward to those better times. So we decided to show everyone in their daily environment perhaps not enjoying that so much and just wishing it be over," he explained, "then something happens which really brightens your day, which in this case, was one of the bro's sending a text saying, ‘lets have a jam on the beach with our good mates.' We didn't want to make it a raging party, we just wanted to have lots of people having a nice chill time on the beach with some good music, so I guess that's really where the idea for the video came from," he announced.
Following the single release, the band's debut EP 'Brighter Future' is also set for a release in a matter of weeks, so Dent went on to fill me in on what we can expect. "It's all finished and ready to go," he proudly stated. "It'll be released on the 28th of November, and it's really just a big collection of different cultures, rhythms, and sounds," he proclaimed. "There's obviously roots reggae influences, but there's also dub influences, RnB, rock and a bit of hip-hop, so we just shake things up with all those different styles, I guess. Which is cool," he added. "It's a very very conscious album, but it's still uplifting enough for it to be a good summer album so we're happy with that. All we're looking for is to bring a smile to someone's day with our music, and shit, if we can get a gig or too out of it, that's great. We've had a few already, so it can't be all bad," he laughed.
"Let's just start out with the extremely cliché one, Katchafire," Dent responded when asked who some of their greatest musical influences are and were when working on the EP. "Especially with their latest albums," he continued. "The way they moved and changed their sound from what people already knew to what they are now... and yes it is a lot more poppy, but it's so clever and it's still inherently Katchafire," he exclaimed. "You could listen to that and still within a second know it was them, so they are a big influence for all of us. Most of our influences really came from kiwi artists, because we love and adore kiwi music. As a band, that is definitely our favourite. We've all got our own little niche's that we love, but I think collectively as a band, kiwi music is our thing. So in terms of other influences, you've got- Sons of Zion, Kora, and Soulja, they're all definitely in the top five of who influenced our sounds, coming into that album" Dent remarked.
Having already played a few gigs around the country, Dent informed me of his favourite gig they've ever played, as well as what shows they have coming up. "We played at The Climax Concert about maximising action on climate change, and it was such an awesome experience," he began. "We played with Optimus Grime, Esther Stephens and The Means, Midnight Gallery, Isaac Aesili, Bad Crop, and I think a few other, but it was just such an awesome gig, and to take action and support a cause that we wholeheartedly believe in, was great. Because we didn't just want to sit there and be Facebook warriors about it, we wanted to get our there and do what we could as artists, to stand up and have a voice in NZ," Dent honestly pronounced.
"We do!" Dent eagerly replied when asked if they have any more gigs coming up soon. "Our next one is on the 2nd of November where we'll be playing at the Waitakere Festival out in Henderson," he continued. "We'll be playing alongside Sal Valentine and the Babyshakes, Harvey Knows A Killer, Ha The Unclear, Ophelia, Mice On Stilts and some other absolutely wicked acts, so that's going to be really cool. Then we've got a few others leading up to the release, before touring extensively throughout summer. Throughout November and December we'll be gigging around Auckland and local areas, and then in January and February, we're taking on most of the east coast and some of the northern west coast places in the North Island."
"It can get pretty raucous," Dent laughed in response to being asked what we can expect from their live shows. "It's a very heavy sound, and one that you definitely feel not just hear," he continued. "It's a sound that hits you hard, and we have a pretty good fan base, so the crowd is usually quite thick within a second of our opening song coming on," he exclaimed. "People just get up and get amongst it because we don't discriminate. I mean, we've had my grandmother there right up the front dancing her arse off all night, and she's 65," he laughed again. "Then we've had little kids right up the front dancing, during our day time gigs. So it's just really loud and very fun!" he happily announced.
When asked what country they'd love to tour throughout some day and what artists they'd like to collaborate with, Dent had a fair idea for both questions. "In terms of place, it'd have to be America," he responded without too much thought. "Over the last few years the American reggae scene has just absolutely taken off. Especially throughout California, they've got a really strong roots revival going on there at the moment and it's not just a Sublime feel anymore, its very roots-y revivalist," he exclaimed. "They've got so many old school bands joining that scene as well, and there always seems to be a reggae festival going on, so to get over there and do a tour and play some of those festivals would be our absolute dream."
"In terms of artists to collaborate with, probably just as many kiwi acts as possible, because we love our kiwi music" Dent admits. "Whether it was something really quirky and cool, like Warren Maxwell or perhaps Rio Panapa from Sons Of Zion. Troy Kingi would be someone we'd love to collaborate with too," he added.
Drawing the interview to an end we finished up as Dent told me what we can expect next from Hotboxed Treehut after the release of their EP, and where he'd like to see the band in three years time. "We're hoping to release our next single over summer," Dent began. "It's just going to be a stand alone single, as it's not on the EP," he added. "Then after that, as of next year are plans are to tour as much towards the start of the year, and then settle down over winter, because who wants to hear reggae in winter," he laughed. "So hopefully during the winter we'll be able to get a full album done and ready for the next summer," he exclaimed.
"As for in three years, hopefully and preferably, not on the dole," he laughed. "I guess that pretty much sums it up though actually," he continued. "If we've got enough money to put food on the table for ourselves and any family we may have, we're happy. We'd love to be out there and we aim to be out there doing it on a much larger scale, but if we can cover what we need to live our lives, and do music which is what we love doing, I couldn't ask for more," he honestly concluded.