In an age where the music industry trends towards favoring repeating trends and rehashing classic songs for plays and profit, Ta-ku has carved out a career that’s defined by his originality and innovation. His journey has taken him beyond just music. The worlds of photography, books, fashion and even barbershops have become part of the Perth-based musician’s artistic repertoire, and with an ever-increasing number of projects growing within each realm and sometimes connecting them it’s clear that his creativity is at an all-time high.
Ahead of his recent Sydney Opera House debut and current live dates in Europe, Ta-ku spoke to me about his musical origins, faith, staying true to your values and more.
Though he’s been producing as Ta-ku for as long as he’s made music, in his early days Ta-ku also went by the name Flip, a fact referenced in his bandcamp URL. Reserved for experimental productions, the alias was created as he was unsure about releasing them under his main moniker. The Flip SoundCloud page is full of goodies, featuring previous versions of tracks from his past EPs, loosies with rappers like Assad, Outasight, and John Robinson, and a few from Lovechild, his collaboration EP with fellow Perth beatmaker Roughsoul. “It was another experimental phase of mine, wanting to collaborate with different people and switch it up a bit.” Ta-ku says of Lovechild.
Ta-ku is known for his unexpected collaborations and surprise projects. One that’s been long in the making is his debut album, the third part in a trilogy following his most recent solo releases, Songs To Break Up To and Songs To Make Up To. The two EPs maintain a deep connection despite their differences in sound; the former’s melancholic piano chords carry a nostalgic longing to them, in contrast to the latter’s inspiring themes that center on hope and the prospect of tomorrow.
Naturally, they represent Ta-ku’s mind states at the time of the two releases, going from heartbreak to enjoying his own company and eventually finding love again. “I was definitely in a heartbroken stage with [Songs To] Break Up To, learning how to cope with different things including the heartbreak, whereas [Songs To] Make Up To was made when I was very much happy with myself and what I’ve accomplished, everything I’ve become and am learning to become. Luckily now I’m with someone whom I love very, very much but at that time it was just nice to be able to feel normal again given what had happened, and it helped me write music that was inspired by that.”
The pair mark turning points in Ta-ku’s life and career, as the journey from losing love to then finding it again mirrored that of his relationship with music, with him taking a hiatus from it in between.
As both releases strayed somewhat from the sounds he was previously known for, one could assume the upcoming full-length release will continue that trend. Although the self-pronounced genre-killer is keeping quiet on what to expect from the LP, he assures that fans of all of his styles will have something to look forward to. “The album is going to be a combination of everything that I’ve done, and it’s quite exciting that I can just make an album that is mostly things that I want to make and sounds that I’ve been (both) influenced by and have loved making over time.”
Likely to feature on the album is Ta-ku’s own vocals, first heard on “One for Trey”, a touching tribute from 2013 to a fan that passed away of cancer. Ta-ku learned of Trey’s plight via a friend of Trey’s who reached out. “I heard that Trey was very sick and in a bad way, and it just moved me to want to dedicate a song to him, to hopefully give him something to smile about, just to help him. Life can be very sad, and hope is something I think everyone should have. If that song gave him a little bit of hope, even just for a little bit, that’s something I wanted to help him out with.” He went on to say, “that’s what that song came from, and when it came out I heard that he heard about it. I just pray for Trey, and if music can help you go through a tough time I’m all for it.”
“If that song gave [Trey] a little bit of hope, even just for a little bit, that’s something I wanted to help him out with.”
Though the song was released three years ago, aside from a few other tracks like the Songs to Make Up To outro “Work In Progress,” it’s only in the last year or so that he’s really made use of his vocals, thanks to his growth in confidence regarding his singing ability. “I’ve always wanted to sing, but it’s just becoming more confident and singing over my songs. [It’s] being of the attitude that if I want to sing, even though I’m not the best, I feel like if I have it in me and I want to put it out there I’m just gonna do it,” he says. That growth in confidence his seen him go from singing solely on his own songs to featuring them on his friends’ releases, and his voice has gained an audible strength in line with it.
Ta-ku took the Sydney Opera House stage for two nights in early June, with a string of headline shows in Europe to follow in July. He’s in high demand, as evidenced by tickets for the first Sydney Opera House night selling out within two hours, leading to the second night’s announcement. Aside from an RBMA x Boiler Room event for the release of Songs to Make Up To and these current dates, it’s rare to catch Ta-ku performing live, something he attributes to his committal to his family and faith.
“I’m very family orientated, I do believe in God, and I like to stay quite active within my community and congregation,” he says. “I feel like doing live shows is something that I like to do but I don’t like to do them too often. I don’t really like the thought of being away from home for too long, and not being able to look after things back here in Perth, my family and attending to things that matter the most.”
“While shows are a beautiful thing they’re not the highest of priorities in my life, but in no way, shape or form am I belittling or making them below me. They’re not, I see it as a very big privilege to be able to travel the world and share my music with people, it’s just that there are things in my life that I must attend to and have a large focus on which makes [shows] hard to do often.” he adds.
Joining him both at the Sydney Opera House and on the European tour is Wafia, his Future Classic labelmate and frequent collaborator, a Brisbane vocalist that teamed up with Ta-ku for a stunning rework of Estelle’s “American Boy.” Ta-ku co-produced “Heartburn,” the debut single from Wafia’s XXIX EP, and the pair featured on “Frogs,” a single from fellow Future Classic artist Charles Murdoch.
Their musical chemistry has helped draw out Ta-ku’s vocals, and the duo are gearing up to release (m)edian, a five track EP that make use of mixed media to tell its story, with both photography and music videos created in collaboration with Sydney director Damon Cameron contributing to the tale. If lead single “Meet In the Middle” is a sign of things to come, the EP will be a monumental point in both artists careers, with them trading lines about compromising for love through lyrics that hint at an emotionally driven story running through the project.
Being true to himself is a prominent and inherent feature of Ta-ku’s character, so much so that it ties into his stagename. In Maori the word “taku” can read as “me, myself and I,” and the half Filipino half Maori beatmaker chose that for a name to represent being 100% real. “Do what you love” – a common phrase across his output – similarly honors that statement.
It’s shown up in the form of an album title, tweets, and was also the name of a now defunct collaboration with Olympus that saw him profile his friends and peers including Kaytranada, Eric Coleman aka Mochilla and Soulection co-founder Joe Kay. As Ta-ku’s numerous projects fight for his time it eventually became clear that it wasn’t one he could keep up with. “The website is no longer there just because I had so much going on, but that’s definitely something that I love to do: writing about my different endeavors and meeting people that inspire me.”
The phrase showed up again at his TED talk for TEDxYouth @ Sydney, in which Ta-ku expanded on the meaning behind it, and also showed off some baby photos. Given just a month to prepare and practice his earnest nature, motivational perspective and humorous slideshow made for a memorable presentation that gave insight into his personality and made Ta-ku seem like a natural public speaker. “’Do what you love and love what you do’ is something I believe in. I love talking to others about my work and about what I believe in. It was… not easy, but I felt very relaxed up there, and it was great to be able to talk about those things with people, and for people to kind of be on the same wavelength and understanding,” he recalls.
In the latter half of the talk Ta-ku opened up about his first foray into photography, a journey that began in 2014, in the wake of Songs To Break Up To. After finishing the project he found it difficult to make music because of the feelings and memories attached with it, going from making two or three beats a day to just a handful occasionally. It was then that he picked up a camera and in turn found a new way to express himself, as detailed in his VSCO journal.
Since then he’s shot campaigns for Olympus, G-Star RAW, Puma, ASICS and VSCO (look out for his unique filter out soon) and has recently become a Brand Ambassador for Sony, so you might be surprised to learn that he still considers himself an amateur. “I don’t know when I’ll call myself an actual [photographer] because I feel like I’m still learning,” he explains. “I developed a knack for photography quite quickly just because that’s how I am when I’m passionate about something. I tend to put my head down and want to hammer it out, I don’t really like wasting time.”
Ta-ku believes having come so far so quickly is down to his drive rather than being born with the skills. “Nobody is born talented, people are just born with different motivations, and my motivation and passion for things may be more than other people in different areas, but I just know that for me music and photography are things that I’m passionate about. I wasn’t born with a gift for those things, just a passion for them. My upbringing and my influences around me probably enhanced those things, but in the end we all have to work, we all have to grind it out and learn, and we always continue: it’s how much you want to learn and how dedicated you are to that learning that will shape you as opposed to what you are gifted at and what you’re not gifted at.”
“It’s how much you want to learn and how dedicated you are to that learning that will shape you as opposed to what you are gifted at and what you’re not gifted at.”
Picking up the camera exposed Ta-ku to a new world, or rather gave him a new eye on the one we live in, leading to a number of fresh projects including Create & Explore, one that marries his love of photography and music, pairing producers and photographers to create audio-visual experiences. Another, NO.SLEEP, is a collaboration with Australian lifestyle boutique Capsule, taking the form of a book series in which he and his pal Repeat Pattern shoot different cities over a 24-hour period, publishing the photos as a collection in a book. No text is included with the photos and they’re all framed differently against the plain white paper, leaving it to readers’ imaginations to draw emotions and feelings from each. Ta-ku says of the collaboration, “the No.Sleep project is one of the recent ones that I’m most proud of, it’s a photography book that I did with Repeat Pattern, a good friend of mine. He and I are like Yin and Yang, we’re very similar in many ways, but I think our work styles are very different: he’s very considered, and quite a perfectionist, whereas I try to do everything all at once.”
The project came about when the pair, both passionate about music production and photography, met in Tokyo two years ago. “I think we both really compliment each other creatively, we’ve done a lot of work together, and I feel like me and Chad (Repeat Pattern) still have a long way to go, and many other things to come, so I’m looking forward to working with him a lot more as the time goes on.”
Following a photography-based collaboration, it was only natural that a musical one would follow, taking the form of brrwd, an indie imprint label. The label’s debut release, brrwd love volume one brings the pair together with some of their musically-gifted friends for a collaborative compilation that has a strong connection to Japan. Repeat Pattern is based in the country and Tokyo’s Fitz Ambro$e and Submerse feature, the latter paired both with Japan-native lee (asano+ryuhei) and Maryland duo abhi//dijon. Yagi, another Japanese producer also features with the track “Division.” The project, often nostalgic in it’s warm, lo-fi tones, is another testament to Ta-ku and Repeat Pattern’s shared ability to capture locations and emotions, this time sonically compared to NO.SLEEP’s visual renditions.
Though only the first volume of the NO.SLEEP series, NO.SLEEP NIHON, has been released, further installments are planned, with New York and Toronto among the first locations expected to follow.
It’s no surprise that the series begins in Japan, given that Repeat Pattern lives here, and the country is also home to Tokyo, a city that happens to be Ta-ku’s favourite, a sentiment I share. “It’s my favourite city, just because every time I go back it feels brand new. The people are very respectful, very friendly, very proper. It’s a busy city, but it’s not a hustling city, it’s not as crazy as say, Hong Kong, or China. It’s very much still relaxed in some ways, it seems chaotic, but there’s such uniformity to that chaos. The architecture, the food, the seasons, even just thinking about it now makes me very nostalgic, and I think that’s what your favorite city should do for you. When you think about it, you just wanna go back straight away. I got back from Japan about a week ago, I was there two weeks ago and I still miss it, so it’s somewhere that I’m fond of.”
Though Ta-ku’s creative exploits have seen him fly all over the world, there are still some areas that he hopes to see for the first time. “I really want to visit Africa and India too. Not only because I feel like you could take amazing photos, I feel like you could immerse yourself in such a multitude of different cultures and experiences.”
Doing what you love has taken Ta-ku’s creativity into numerous areas, another of which is Westons Barbershop, fulfilling his long-held devotion for the art of the haircut. Based in Perth, the barbershop was opened with Justin Howley and James Howe, two of his favorite barbers. “I feel like both of them are the best in Australia. When we discussed wanting to open up a shop together I wanted to help out with the marketing, online presence and photography, and obviously get my haircut every week” Ta-ku jokes. “That was just how it came together, those guys are really great, easy going, and great to work with.”
Soon to be celebrating the barbershop’s second anniversary, the trio worked with local radio personality Craig Hollywood about a year ago to create Short Back & Sidewalks, a not for profit charity that gives free haircuts to the homeless and disadvantaged. A regular at Weston Barbers, Craig came in one day with the idea of providing cuts for the homeless. “That was something we wanted to get behind straight away, and that’s how it started. We threw an event and invited people from local shelters to come by and get their haircut without turning it into a publicity event and making them feel uncomfortable. There is homelessness in Australia, and in Perth, and we’re trying to help them.”
With music, photography and a barbershop under his belt, fashion soon followed as TEAM COZY went from a hashtag to a clothing line with a following of more than 180,000 Instagram users. Beginning as a joke between Ta-ku and photographer Silas Lee aka Bludshot, the brand dropped their first range in December of last year, with another to soon follow. “Me and Silas have really worked to create an environment and a good team behind us. I think it’s great how we can start something, build a community around it and turn it into something a bit more tangible.”
When asked about the next area he would expand in that he has no currently experience with, Ta-ku shows he’s been thinking about the question long before the interview with a quick response. “It would definitely be food. I want to open a restaurant soon,” he reveals. “I don’t know when and how, obviously it takes a lot of planning, but a food spot would be a dream come true for me.”
“I want to have a positive impact on people I meet, whether I meet them for 30 seconds, or I have a long standing relationship with them for 30 years. I want it to be a positive one rather than a negative one.”
Over the course of his career, Ta-ku has risen to become one of the most inspirational and active creatives out there. His constant – and oft unexpected – shifts between disciplines may make him appear as an enigma at times, but he’s always remained easily accessible, from his frequent Twitter Q&As to the honesty he presents in his output, something that motivates his creativity. “I’m a man of God, and I’m a Jehovah’s Witness, and I like letting others know about my hope for the future. It’s something that’s from The Bible, but I’m very respectful of other people’s faiths as well. I feel like by being a person that is approachable, happy and has a positive message, whether it’s Bible-related or not, I feel like I want to have a positive impact on people I meet, whether I meet them for 30 seconds, or I have a long standing relationship with them for 30 years. I want it to be a positive one rather than a negative one.”
To close my questions, I decide to get to the core of why Ta-ku’s creates, and he naturally responds with an answer that’s both clear and concise. “I want to create, because I feel like creating is fun. I have a passion for it, I feel it keeps me happy, and it’s something I never want to stop wanting to do. There are things that I create that people never see, and there are some that I create that people will see, but I don’t think I let that shape or mould how I create or what I choose to create next; it’s just an outlet for me to express myself and be happy.”
Ta-ku and Wafia’s (m)edian EP is out August 5th via Future Classic. The duo are currently on their debut Europe tour from July 1st – July 15th, with American and Canadian dates to follow later this year. Check here for details. Cover image by Anthony Berlangieri.