Interview: Amanaki

By Mark Derricutt

I recently ventured back to my old festival haunting grounds - or at least the successor thereof.  It was a hot Sunday afternoon and after juggling band members between their Festival One main stage duties and their prior commitments off-site, I managed to sit down with the guys and gal from Amanaki - one of the few hardcore-metal acts to perform at the mostly radio-friendly festival.

Having picked up their newly released album Immutable (September 2018) for the drive down, I made sure I caught their first of two early Friday afternoon sets.  The festival that was still only waking up as people arrived - colour me impressed! The EP had already sealed my intrigue, now I was even more interested in learning more about the band, their history, and catching their festival-closing set later that night.  

I'm Mark from Libel Music and Chalice of Blood Photography. Just a bit about me, we cover music, news around New Zealand stuff, mostly mainstream secular stuff, and I'm kind of coming back to Festival One - which is in my mind the spiritual successor to Parachute and so reacquainting myself with mainstream Christian music as well because I haven't really listened to much Christian music for ages. I'm a metalhead. I love my doom; I love my black metal and everything. So I'm always looking for the heavier side of Christian music. I love things like Extol, Drottnar, fringe and black stuff. So finding that heaviness in the modern church is something that I have been looking for. When I saw that you .. I was talking to Enoch before and they were like "oh, you should check out these guys and these guys. They're also playing."

I was like I haven't heard of Amanaki before. Is that a biblical name? That doesn't sound biblical, but it's not is it? It's "hope" for...

Jared: It's just hope. It means just hope. It's Polynesian so it doesn't come under any's not like it's Tongan or Samoan or anything like that. It's just Polynesian. It's cool.

Is there a Polynesian background or something to bring that to the fore. How did you stumble across this word?

Jared: Well, a little help from the internet and Google. But yeah, that was pretty much it. 'Cause I was like, there's so many Christian hard-core bands and stuff that go "alright, what's a cool word. A cool biblical word or you know..." I was like well, I want to do something that's going to be different. I've played in another band that name--the band name--is being used by many other bands.

That was Lead Us Forth?

Jared: Vanguard.

Oh, Vanguard. Someone was from Lead Us Forth?

Jared: We two both [Jared/April] were in Lead Us Forth.

I think I caught you guys playing once many years ago. How did you guys kind of come together or meet each other? You're all from different cities.

Jared: Yeah, April and I have known each other in the scene for a little while now. From playing in bands who would play with each other and stuff. That's pretty cool, over the years. Then I guess it was just as [April’s] band, Patriot, was coming to an end. I had played in bands but it wasn't really my style of metal or hardcore and we started talking about maybe doing our own thing. We both wanted the same kind of vibe which was cool. I think a lot of the time you find people who are like "yeah, I want to be in a heavy band." But you never meet the right kind of heavy.

A lot of people's vision of heavy is not actually heavy.

Jared: Exactly. Totally, totally.

With that in mind, I know that from my own history, heavy music in the Christian scene--there is a big scene. Then in New Zealand, that's not always had as big an impact as it could have been. Parachute used to have quite a few staples of raw, heavy death metal, and hardcore punk.  As more younger people and more pop music came to the front, that kind of went away. So I guess in the mainstream it's less popular. What kind drives you to play heavy music? Who is your intended target? Are you targeting Christians or non-Christians?

Jared: I guess it's just all of the above, to be honest. Our message is very much that hope. We do sneak that in around our music. I reckon we're just trying to target ... our target audience would be everyone. We purposely… our lyrics aren't so in your face Christian. So that message of hope can actually be taken in from non-Christians without being “whoa, that's a bit too much Jesus.”

That was something I was actually wanting to touch on. I've noticed over the years, early on the Christian metal scene was ministry metal and it was in your face. Things like One Bad Pig was literally started as being guys playing punk whilst Carey Womack did preaching. It literally was what it was. It was just preaching over punk music and then that whole ministry stuff.  Whereas over the last couple years I've seen Christian bands going “we're constrained by this Christian label. We want to talk about other stuff still so we're going to renounce Christ or renounce Christian music.” That kind of seems to be a watering down in a time where we will probably want to have more Christ in Metal.

Nathan Simkin (Manager): It puts a stigma on Christian bands and such. Parachute sort of going away like that. It's hard to book bands that were seeing themselves as Christians. These days there's more common for a secular band to have Christian members still with other lyrics and other meanings to it. Just they aren't stuck under a Christian label.

From the management side of managing the band, do you see that when targeting or trying to get shows at secular shows that you might go “oh, a Christian band, no we don't want you,” or Christian show, “you're too heavy we don't want you”?

Nathan: Yeah. It's getting best of both worlds I guess. Like I said if you're having that Christian label some people might not want to have [you].  I've seen with American bands, they've sometimes complained… like Convictions, they're trying to book shows and people just won't have them as they put themselves out there as Christians. I guess by sneaking under the radar a bit these guys can still deliver a message of hope.

Whereabouts do you guys normally play? I noticed that you're a younger band and some of you are looking quite young. I guess the comparable reference for modern secular music would be Alien Weaponry where occasionally they'll go to a show and their parents have had to escort them to the show and immediately leave because they are not legally allowed in the venue. Does that kind of hinder you guys doing shows at all?

Jethro: When I used to play for Patriot, April's old band, we played an R18 show but I was seventeen. I don't know.  Somehow I got in just 'cause I needed to play. I'm 18 now so we can play all the venues no problems, but I guess people probably will look at me and think you aren't actually eighteen, or they think I'm a girl...

Literally, before I came down to the show, I bought your album off on Bandcamp. So I was blasting that all the way down. The production sounds really awesome. Whereabouts was that recorded? Was it home studio or?

Jared: So guitars were recorded underneath the stairs at April's house and then everything else was recorded and mixed in my bedroom, and then drums. Oh yeah, vocals were in my living room. Mixed it myself at home and got a friend to master it.

When was that released?

End of September.

So quite recently then. Have you done tours kind of around the album?

Jared: Yeah we played a couple shows when we released it. That was good fun. It was really cool how quickly people had picked up the album and already knew the words and stuff. It was pretty sweet.

Working on any new material?

Jared: Yeah, totally. We're quite the way through our second EP and writing through the third.

Just delay it and release the full album...

Jared: That's the thing, it's a good discussion. We think it's more worthwhile to do the smaller releases 'cause I think less and less people these days listen to a whole ten-track album. I heard that Switchfoot just released a fourteen track album and I was like, damn.

It's interesting, I was talking to Michael Murphy from Written by Wolves the other month. One of the comments that he made was when they formed the band they had the mission of always be releasing like regular releases. Like a song every one or two months 'cause people will listen to it, they'll get sick of it, they'll then go on to the next one and then you've got something out to continually feed them. To keep them coming back.

April: That's our goal.

Jared: Our goal was to do an EP every six months. But it's more a goal rather than a target. It would be cool if we can hit it, but we're not pushing for it. We'd rather nail it and it be awesome rather than just pushing it.

Who are the primary songwriters?

Jared: It's between the two of us.

Are you guys lyrics first, music first kind of band?

Jared: It's been mostly music first and then lyrics, but what tends to happen is I write some of the music and I give it to April and April makes it way better.

Always the way. Cool. Is there anything else you would like to discuss and bring up about your music, your direction, your intents or anything to people who don't necessarily know your music.

Jared: That's a good question.

Jethro: Mostly the blessings of God.

Ethan Downey Parish: I guess the way I write songs is yeah, we have lyrics that, repeat. We played a show in the Pakuranga Rec Center a couple months ago and Chris from Chasing South hadn't seen us live and we're playing a song he had never heard and there's a line that goes "this is my family, this is my home" and he's grabbing the mic off Jared, which is what I feel is really cool about music is that, yes you do kind of repeat lines, but there are also people who come to a show--maybe it's their first time--but they can pick up lyrics really well and yell with us.  It's a really cool energy.

Those kind of gang lyrics that you'll get an earworm and you'll be singing it into your spirit as well. That's cool. Any shows coming up following Festival One?

Jared: Yeah, next weekend we play in Tauranga, and a couple of weeks later - February 16th we play Auckland at East gate. It's called "Hometown Throwdown", so that's pretty cool. It seems to be like a metal festival that's happening out there. It's going to be really cool.

That mostly Christian bands or a mixture?

Ethan: Because it's a Christian centre, the promoters have to pick "friendly" bands, obviously we're playing, Cold x War are coming up, they're faith-based as well, also Parath are playing from Hamilton, a good line up - Chasing South are releasing a split EP with REI.

We'll wrap this up here - I'll be looking forward to seeing you guys close-out Festival One tonight. Go hard and don't break any guitars.


Addendum: Since recording the interview, the Hometown Throwdown event mentioned has been and gone, however you can still catch Amanaki's at The Big Korero Music Festival at Zeal, Hamilton on Saturday, April 27th.

The Big Korero brings together 13 talented musical acts between two stages for a day of all ages aroha and music. The day will also feature speakers discussing their experiences with mental health, and other confronting social issues in our country today. A marketplace will also thrive during the day, with many talented creatives contributing their part to the conversation.

All proceeds from the event will go to The Mental Health Foundation.