No pressure, just Leisure: how one NZ band cracked the formula for success

Since their first single release in 2015, Leisure has had over 75 million streams and a handful of sold-out international concerts. Jaden Parkes sat down with Josie Adams to talk about the secret of success: leisure time.

Leisure is made up of the New Zealand music industry’s shining stars, and its quiet heroes. They’re writers, producers, video editors, solo artists, and members of huge Kiwi bands: Goodnight Nurse, Kids of 88, Kidz In Space. As individuals, they’ve worked with acts like Benee, Maala, Bailey Wiley, and Openside.

Together, the five band members are almost effortless in their world-beating performances. Jaden Parkes, who was once a member of pop-punk group Goodnight Nurse and now works in A&R at Sony, was the guy who pulled the gang together.

He rented an Airbnb in Muriwai toward the end of 2014, and started reaching out to the people who would become Leisure. “I started seeding the idea of some guys coming out, bringing their gear, and working on some songs,” he explains. “We recorded the songs with no real intention of being anything. It was a jam sesh. Just a holiday break. We were out there for like, seven days, and now… this.”

In a beach house on the edge of a cliff, they found a sound and a style that would last. After playing around and recording 13 songs, they sent ‘Got It Bad’ out into the world, for the thrill of it. It went viral.

Four years later, the supergroup’s second album is dropping and a nationwide tour is beginning. They’ve already done the international circuit. “On our last trip, we basically went where we were getting the most streams online, and hoped that it would equal ticket sales,” Parkes says. Their hopes panned out. “We went to London, Berlin, Paris, Melbourne, Sydney.”

Leisure’s music is well suited to these global music hotspots. Its funk-inspired, 90s-influenced rhythms have slick vocals and electronic inserts perfect for an afternoon DJ set on a Berlin rooftop. The new album, Twister, expands on their first by throwing in snippets of the few genres the first album skipped. Each song still has groove, soul, and light; but occasionally the darker wail of an electric guitar or the pulse of a deeper drum will drift over the luxurious melodies. You can dance to this album deep into the evening or doze off to it in the middle of a swimming pool.

It’s impossible not to feel at peace listening to Twister. The band’s total relaxation is infectious. “This is purely for the joy and the fun of creating,” says Parkes of the album’s process. Because it’s part-time, it’s still a passion.

Their live shows are exactly the same. ‘It’s always fun going away with your friends,” says Parkes. “We try to do shows over a weekend, so we’re not on the road getting sick of each other.” It may be a long time until they get sick of each other. “We’re all in a good place and still inspired to do more. I think there are certain things we do that help with longevity. I’d like to think that in five years’ time we’re still going to get together and write some songs. Who knows? As long as we’re all getting along.”

Each member of the band can play whatever instrument they like, and they all contribute vocals. The album is a series of evolved jams. There’s no pressure, just leisure. “It sums up our approach to it,” says Parkes of the band’s name. “It suits the vibe of the music, as well.”

The band came together later in their careers, after they’d all stacked some hard-learned lessons under their belts. “You kind of look back and, I think, get obsessed over things that don’t matter,” remembers Parkes. Now, he knows what matters: keeping the gang together. “As long as we all stay friends and enjoy each others’ company, that’s the most important thing for me. Having a whole bunch of individual success is great because you get the money, but I always enjoy sharing experiences with other people.”

Yesterday, the band released the music video for ‘Man’. Edited by the band’s own Jordan Arts (Kids of 88, High Hoops), it’s a visual diary of the second album’s creation, and details the same beach-getaway process the first album was inspired by.

“I think a lot of our favourite songs off the first album were the ones that captured our surrounding,” said Parkes. “We always look for places that are isolated and have a higher viewpoint. There’s something about it.” There’s no need to create loudness, or attention-grabbing moments.  

Leisure’s music doesn’t demand to be heard. “When we go away we’re trying to relax,” explains Parkes. The resulting music reflects this. “I feel like we’re not invading your space, which a lot of pop music does. It’s all, ‘listen to me! Listen to me!’ really loud and aggressive.” Not so with Leisure. “You can put it on and it’s not intrusive in any way.”

The songs are written like pop music. They have pop structures, and great hooks, but they’re not on the local pop music charts. “They’re recorded in a way that might not get them played on pop radio,” admits Parkes. “I’ll leave it up to other people. If you’re a more alternative band you’ll call us pop, but if you’re more pop you’ll call us alternative.”

Straddling that line is part of the band’s recipe for success. The millions of listeners streaming Leisure every month are looking for something with a little more experimental, but still highly listenable. Most of these listeners are overseas. 

“I think that’s initially because we got more press from overseas writing about us,” says Parkes. “We came from New Zealand but we didn’t sound like Lorde, so people were keen to talk to us.”

The band is also signed to a UK record label, Nettwerk. “When we release music and think about how we release it, we are thinking not just about New Zealand,” he says. This could be the band’s years of industry experience shining through; longevity means carving out a listenership that’s both broad and deep.

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At home, the breadth of their appeal is shown in their live show venues: they’ve played with the Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra at the Town Hall, and at the Hollywood Avondale movie theatre. Tonight, they’re playing Auckland’s Powerstation. It’s an unusually mainstream venue choice, but Parkes is looking forward to it.

They’ll be playing songs from the new record, some of which have been drip-fed to the public over the past few months, alongside favourites from their first album. “It’s a celebration of the record,” says Parkes. It’s a celebration, a little leisure time. Afterwards? “We’ll go back to work!”


You can catch Leisure somewhere near you this week.

This piece, as well as Leisure’s album Twister, was made with support from NZ on Air.


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