ĀteaFebruary 14, 2021

Ana Scotney in high definition

Ana Scotney (Ngāti Tāwhaki, Ngāi Tūhoe) released her first single as Kōtiro last year, and now she’s dropped the full-length EP, Hi-Def Multinational. She chats to producer Thomas Arbor about concept albums, asymmetry and the smallness of long-distance walking. 

Ana Scotney is a rising star of the stage and screen, a creator of theatre, art and zines, and an experimental musician who has just released an EP as her alter-ego, Kōtiro.

You’ll have seen her as the hilarious and scene-stealing Sepa in The Breaker Upperers, or perhaps in the critically acclaimed shows Mr Burns and The Contours of Heaven. Soon she’ll be hitting the big screen again as Mata in the feature film Cousins, adapted from the novel by Patricia Grace.

It’s not a reach to say that Scotney’s bag of tricks is larger than most. She has the range, and she’s not afraid to use it.

Over Waitangi weekend, Scotney released the EP on Coco Solid’s imprint Kuini Qontrol and on independent artist platform Sonorous Circle. Thomas Arbor of Sonorous Circle collaborated and produced the EP with Scotney. Here they chat about the two-year journey that lead to Hi-Def Multinational.

Thomas Arbor: Hi Ana! You’ve been on a big adventure recently! 

Ana Scotney: Yeah just been cranking through Te Wai Pounamu on Te Araroa. Am writing this from Wānaka, having walked here from the top of the island in Tōtaranui (Queen Charlotte Sound). I have been keen to do this hīkoi for four years or so, so it’s feeling really good to be out here.

How does it feel being on the other side of such a journey and now launching into another year?

I feel good. Clear and a lot more peaceful. It’s nice to be releasing the EP. I don’t know if I’d describe the experience as “launching”. The cool thing about durational walking is that it mellows out the rigid notion of time. Days are simple and slow and broken into phases of crossing mountain passes, or walking in riverbeds, going to sleep and waking up with the sun, for weeks. You start the hīkoi and end the hīkoi with a real… smallness, if that makes sense. Like, one day, you just set off and take a step and start walking, and then six-and-a-bit weeks later, you’ve walked 750km or something. Then you might think, “OK, that’s enough.” And walk to the pub to have a celebratory beer. Or you might think, “No, I’ll keep going,” and walk another 1,300km. Then you look at the sea, and just as quietly as you started, you finish. And that’s it.

It’s a colossal thing, but also a real small thing too. So I feel that I am somewhere inside that psychic drumroll right now. Just rolling gently with the walk, with the EP release, with the roll into a new year on the back of such a wily one in 2020. 

Ana Scotney in Waiau Pass, December 2020 (Photo: Supplied)

Congrats on finishing the EP! Can you talk a bit about the process for you, starting from when you first began writing the songs? 

Congrats right back to you ! It feels nice to be at this point of release. I have loved working on this body of music sporadically for such a long duration of time. I think we first began chipping away at stuff in the winter of 2018.

And then prior to my bringing you the scraps of songs as they were, in voice memos on my phone, or like, little small loops and samples on Garage Band, and way-finding our path to arrive here, figuring out in real time, without any premeditated agenda or process, has been so cool.

Your lyrics conjure up some really striking imagery. How important is the idea of painting a picture or telling a story in your music?

High-Def Multinational is a concept album. The concept is linked to the complexities of place and belonging in Aotearoa today. What does it mean to be tangata whenua, growing up in the city, and to also be Pākehā, and proud of all your whakapapa? Not wanting to choose to value one more than the other. To be of the indigenous diaspora. How do we uplift and represent ourselves and our culture when we’re constantly in an environment that shuns and fails to reflect that back to us? How do we wield the artforms, the platforms that we have access to, to speak to this experience?

I suppose the lyrics and then the samples embedded in the sound are the outcomes of both of our research into these themes.

Also, I wanted to craft waiata that uplift the mana of the whenua and that musically convey the tension between different narratives and experiences of what it means to be from Aotearoa that I’ve heard, experienced and lived through. All of the references in the music and in the lyrics are to people, to birds, to places that are important and specific to me, or to a politic that I feel strongly about like the direct correlation between the dishonouring of the kawa laid out in Te Tiriti o Waitangi, the commodification of whenua as a means of creating capital for specific people whilst neglecting the imbalance in the inheritance of wealth off the back of the corruption of honouring this doctrine. The asymmetry of cultural representation, and the ongoing exclusion of indigenous and tauiwi values, narratives and places in the ongoing design of this country/project called New Zealand.

I find it difficult to be outspoken in my day-to-day life about politics, and my position in relation to these things, but they’re things I think about all the time. Creating this EP has been a really good way to get some of that off my chest, so thanks for working with me on it Thomas and bless up lol.

Thomas Arbor on a break from the studio. (Photo: Ana Scotney)

Some people might know you as an actor, theatre-maker, film-maker. How long has music been part of your practice and how do the artforms relate to each other in your work?

Since forever. It all comes from the same source. I just reckon it comes from having surplus energy that if I don’t burn up turns into my being messy, neurotic and annoying AF to anyone in close proximity to me, so better do something with it all!

How did you team up with Kuini Qontrol?

I met Coco on K Road one evening when she was heading home from the nail salon. I fully just jumped her like a true Aquarius psycho and was like, “Hey! I’m Ana! Heaps of people told me we’d get along, thanks for co-creating Sepa (who I played in The Breaker Upperers) and Sheena the Shewolf (who I played in Wellington Paranormal).” I interviewed Coco for my zine GULFS, we became friends through designing backgrounds as one of the animators working on Coco and Simon Ward’s show Aroha Bridge. I also made friends with Toki who forms the other half of the mentoring team at Kuini Qontrol and is also the musician and artist Big Fat Raro.

FORCE FIELD from Kōtiro on Vimeo.

Basically, we talk and hui around how we can share our work and feel safe doing so, how to navigate some of the more challenging parts of the process of putting music out into the world, without compromising our values, and yeah just keeping it real, cute, and making sure that there’s room to share kai celebrating the work that others put out. Like Samara Alofa’s album Earth Punk! and Brown Boy Magik’s Trans Pacific Time, both of which make me cry when I listen because they are beautiful, potent and just really fuckin’ good.

What next? Any plans to make more music or play live?

I have started the early, early iterations of some new songs for a second EP, currently called Midyouth, leaning on folk influences. Maybe I’ll finally be able to play guitar live without fucking up, haha. And figuring out how we can play what we’ve found in the studio together, live – that will be cool. Gotta move to Australia for a long minute to shoot a TV show, but will keep making waiata in the down time.

Mad Chapman, Editor
Aotearoa continues to adapt to a new reality and The Spinoff is right there, sorting fact from fiction to bring you the latest updates and biggest stories. Help us continue this coverage, and so much more, by supporting The Spinoff Members.Madeleine Chapman, EditorJoin Members

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