Salmonella Dub’s most distinctive member, Tiki Taane, recently departed from the band with little fanfare to embark on solo album Past, Present, Future. He talks to BRANNAVAN GNANALINGAM about Dub, Shapeshifter, and reinventing himself.

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TIKI TAANE has kept his departure from Salmonella Dub on the down-low. The band’s wikipedia page hasn’t been updated, nor did the original press release even mention that Taane has broken away from the iconic New Zealand band. Taane is a man whose reputation is already well established in electronic and dub circles as an integral member of Salmonella Dub and Shapeshifter, but at the age of thirty, he needed a new challenge. In his new album, Past, Present, Future, Taane opens himself up to wider sounds – hip-hop, funk, chamber orchestras and traditional Maori instrumentation are thrown into the mix. This album was a chance for Taane to re-invent himself, away from the dub scene that he and his Salmonella Dub cohorts helped create, and in many ways this album is Taane purging a few demons and Taane trying to reconnect with his roots.

The album was done in Taane’s studio on Muriwai Beach. “I started four years ago, the first tune was ‘Tangaroa’, and really basically it stopped, being so busy with Sal Dub and Shapeshifter. I kinda needed to break away and finish this thing, otherwise I’d never get it finished. The real bulk of the work happened in the last year.” The album features collaborations from all over the show – P-Money, Celia Church, Julia Deans and even features his Dad and his grandmother. “Having my family involved, it just sort of happened, it wasn’t really planned, it just fell into place.” This family involvement occurred despite the fact his grandmother died over fifteen years ago. “My family found a cassette tape of her singing a baby to sleep, and it was my job to change it from cassette tape to digital so we could archive it. In that process I found a little piece.” For Taane, it was all about “connecting with the afterlife. Now that I captured this voice on this album, with my Dad as well – it was very special. That’s where the title kinda came from, Past, Present, Future.” Taane simply admitted “I love having my dad in the album.”

Taane aimed for this album to a “real showcase of what I can do as a producer as a musician and a singer song writer”. It was also something he felt he couldn’t do within the confines of Salmonella Dub due to its personal nature. “[It was] totally therapeutic man. In the other albums I couldn’t do what I’d done here. It’s a personal journey for me. I couldn’t expect the other Sal Dub musicians to understand what I was going through. I had to purge myself of these things, face up to things I haven’t faced up to. I’m thirty now, I can’t be getting crazy like I used to in my twenties. I wanted to do something positive and make a lifestyle change as well. This album is very deep personal self-expression. I think a lot of people can relate to a lot of things I’m touching on – being of Maori descent and Pakeha descent.” Specifically, it was “just trying to work out my purpose in the whole scheme of things.”

It’s also shifts around a lot musically, making this album really difficult to try and pin down. While making the album, Taane says, “basically I didn’t listen to anything. I didn’t want to be influenced. I wanted this to come from somewhere that was purely from within. It wasn’t targeted towards any kind of audience, I wanted to be able to sit somewhere alone for nine months, and completely write something that was pure, and it came from somewhere that was not distorted. That’s why it was so eclectic. I’ve gone through so many things that I really like, the sounds that I like. I just threw it all together to make this album”.

Of course, it’s not the easiest thing putting oneself out in the open by being too personal like Taane has done with the album. He’s confronts areas like racism, the lure of gangs as a child and success getting to his head. “Basically dude I’ve just opened myself up and faced my demons. That is a hard thing to do because you’ve got to look at yourself deeply and to be able to make yourself better. You’ve got to look at your weakness and the things that are oppressing you, that are enslaving and stopping you from being a better person. You’ve got to be hard, a lot of people don’t want to be doing it. You’ve got to really push things and ask questions. It was really, really hard for me to do this. The first six months of this were probably the hardest six months of my life, I was having panic attacks, having anxiety attacks, being freaked out, feeling alone.”

No doubt the anxiety will also be tied into Taane making the leap and leaving Salmonella Dub on New Years Eve. It’s certainly not something Taane regrets now. “It feels right. The timing’s right. It was done in a very positive way, so that Sal Dub and myself were still friends, and we’re still positive. It was a healthy resolution. It was a healthy thing to do, if it didn’t happen, they wouldn’t have produced an album like Heal Me like they would have done. A lot of positive things have come out of me leaving.” Taane admitted “I’ve always been heading in a direction where I’m going towards hip-hop, drum n bass, roots. I wanted to branch out and do some other stuff. I couldn’t really pull it off with Sal Dub. Where I’m heading is different to where they’re heading.” But that didn’t stop Taane collaborating with members of Salmonella Dub anyway – “yeah I mean like there’s a tune with David [Deakins] playing the drums, and Andrew [Penman] plays guitar on the album. Their presence is felt in that respect. Also I wanted to work with Sal Dub – I was jamming with those guys for eleven years”. But he admits, that he had reached the metaphorical crossroads, “if I didn’t make this decision I’d still be playing in Sal Dub, I wouldn’t be reaching my potential as an artist. That’d be the worst thing I can do.”

Taane basically has music flowing through his veins. “Music has always been my mistress. Everything I do is based around music. It’s very obsessive, it’s very rewarding but at the same time it can be very draining. It can be very selfish. I can spend days in the studio and forget about the rest of the world. It can be a good thing and a bad thing. Especially if you’re in a relationship with a girl, they can sometimes get, what’s the word for it, annoyed.” Taane even credits music with sorting out his life. “Music has saved me. In my youth, I was very troubled. I was getting into trouble with the gangs, and with the law. If it wasn’t for music I’d be in the gangs, in prison, or dead.”

Music was also a release for Taane, who claims in his album to have been the only Maori kid at school, growing up in Christchurch. “It was hard you know. Just feeling like you didn’t really belong. All my friends were fine, they were never really discriminating or racist, we were all very young. I always noticed it with my friends’ parents and the way they treated me. I knew I was a little bit different. I’m not the same as the Pakeha kids. I lived in the clichéd Maori house, it’s all broken down, there were two or three broken cars in the driveway, dogs everywhere. I was the stereotypical Maori kid, snotty nose, all that sort of thing.” And this album seems to be just as much about connecting with his past, his Maori roots, as it was expanding his musical palette.

Taane grew up listening to a lot of the classic guitar based music of the 60s and the 70s, was more into heavy metal, punk. I was an aggressive child. I started playing guitar at thirteen, started my first band at fourteen, left school and was playing on stages at fifteen. I’ve been doing this for over fifteen years. I just knew, as soon as I had it worked out that I can play an instrument, I just sort of knew that this was it. That’s why I’m a singer-songwriter, that’s why I produce, that’s why I’m a live sound engineer for Shapeshifter.” It was Salmonella Dub who introduced Taane to the more interesting side of dub and reggae starting with the likes of King Tubby and Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry. Before then “it was just a Maori thing to have a Bob Marley thing.” Electronic music was also a late addition to his armoury (and most people would probably argue that this is Taane’s biggest talent) with the Nomads album. “I [initially] thought it was just washing machine music, computer music.”

Taane has made a big step by moving away from an established New Zealand band, and striking out on his own with Past, Present, Future. It’s a move that probably took a lot of people by surprise, but it’s an understandable career move for a man who still has plenty of years ahead of him in the music business. He’s been an important part of two of New Zealand’s most well-known bands, Salmonella Dub and Shapeshifter, and now he’s striking out to make his own name in the business, something which he admits himself, is not the easiest thing to do. “I’m in control, I’m the boss of me. What I say goes. There’s a lot more freedom in that respect, it’s a bit scarier because it’s quite lonely. With a band you’ve got other people to bounce these things off. Here I need to be five steps ahead of the game.”