Photo Credit: Amanda Ratcliffe.

Inside the busiest week of New Zealand songwriting: Songhubs 2019

Last week APRA AMCOS NZ hosted SongHubs Auckland, an initiative which saw 18 Kiwi and Aussie songwriters connect with four international guests, for a week long song writing camp in Roundhead Studios.

This is the fifth installment of this collaborative event, where curator Greg Haver shepherd writers and producers into groups of four to write a song a day, pouring their hearts out to people they have never met. Sound terrifying?

Past successes include Chelsea Jade’s ‘Pitch Dark’, Mitch James’ ‘All the Ways to Say Goodbye’, Maala’s ‘Kind of Love’ and Louis Bakers ‘Addict’ – all written at previous SongHubs.

The event brings four acclaimed international writers to our shores to build creative relationships with our local artists, and create a stronger connection between New Zealand’s talent and the global industry. Being so geographically disconnected to the international songwriting game means that these opportunities to make ourselves known are incredibly precious.

This year’s guests were Nate Campany, Maize Olinger, Justin Gray, and Jenna Andrews – an all-star line-up of heavy hitting, big name writers. Despite their frighteningly successful co-writing credits the guests were overwhelmingly humble and enthused by the local writers involved.

We took a look inside Roundhead Studios during SongHubs week and asked some of the participants to caption the moments captured by Amanda Ratcliffe.

Photo: Amanda Ratcliffe.

Gabriel Everett (Foley): This pic was day one – the session was with Randa, Rei, Rory Noble and myself. We listened to a lot of Beastie Boys before we started writing and ended up with this outrageous, wacky and fun beat rapping about stunts, Elon Musk and Monster Trucks.

Photo: Amanda Ratcliffe.

Abby Wolfe: I think this photo captures the moments that we were getting the structure locked in for a song called ‘Carcinogenic Meditation’.

This was on day two. Mainard, Jeremy and I were writing with and for Alex Davey (Alae). At the beginning of the session Alex was rolling a dart and Mainard made a true fashion side comment saying something like “Ah! Carcinogenic meditation!” which buzzed in my head as an epic title of a song. From there the song took on a life of its own and is unlike anything I’ve heard or written before.

Photo: Amanda Ratcliffe.

Shayna King (SHAYNA): This photo was taken during that magical part of the songwriting process where, after spending a morning playing around with ideas, you’ve settled into a killer beat and everyone in the room is in the zone and feeling the vibes. The energy is high and the lyric ideas are flowing easily, with plenty of great ideas bouncing around the room.

This song in particular was written with literal ‘magical’ themes in mind, and we were having a bit of fun joking around about some silly magic-themed puns & lyrics to include in the song. I think I captioned the snap “conjuring up a hit”.

Photo: Amanda Ratcliffe.

Jess Ribeiro: Max [Gunn] arrived a day or so later than everyone else. He didn’t waste time or hesitate, he jumped straight in with producer Jeremy Toy and started jamming on the keys and singing out with his beautiful voice.

The chords and melody were flowing out of him really naturally. Jeremy recorded him and added some bass, synth and guitar. I focused on supporting Max to rein in the structure and align the lyrics. Annabel helped to edit the structure of the actual recording. It was a lush group effort.

Photo: Amanda Ratcliffe.

Olivia Nott (Nika): This photo is from the first day of SongHubs. I literally handed my journal to Jenna [Andrews] and told her she could read it. She stopped on a late night letter/poem I wrote to myself to help myself. We starting riffing off ideas and it flowed so nicely! It’s my favourite song I’ve written so far in my life.

Photo: Amanda Ratcliffe.

Mainard Larkin (Randa): This was on day one when we were writing a song for me called ‘SpeedFreak’. At this point Rory Noble, Callum McDougal (Rei) and I were looking for interesting samples for the song. We had lots of laughs and funny moments collaborating, especially writing rap bars together.

Photo: Amanda Ratcliffe.

Max Gunn (The Shambles): This was taken in arguably the most beautiful space in Roundhead, Neil Finn’s top floor den. Just out of shot is the warmest sounding piano I have ever touched and we had finished laying down a heavily piano driven track on the wondrous instrument. Abby [Wolfe] and Gabe [Everett, of Foley] had been freestyling some beautiful melodies and some sections began falling into place.

We had established a really clear theme for the track that played with the difficult dynamic young lovers often find themselves in, where you love each other but the notion of your ‘other’ being your only romantic partner for the rest of your life seems potentially less fulfilling or adventurous than the alternative. It was gleeful crafting the song into a duet so Foley can perform it as such and utilise Gabe’s delicious vocals.

With a desire to modernise the track and give it some extra salt ’n’ peppa, I bounced up to the esteemed Juno (in photo) and laid down some synth(y) feels to be layered on top of the piano chords. I tend to move frequently when I play. Joy.

Photo: Amanda Ratcliffe.

Olivia Nott (Nika): This photo is with Amelia [Murray, Fazerdaze] and Justin [Gray] when we were writing a pop song for Evan/Maala. None of us could get over how fun and quick it happened and then his voice was tracked and it was beautiful. It’s a great song about appreciating that you’ve found someone who is good for you.

Photo: Amanda Ratcliffe.

Jess Ribeiro: Working with Rei, Djesan [Sukov] and Jenna Andrews was an amazing new experience for me, as I don’t have a background in RnB, hip hop, or electronic music. My background is folk, roots, garage rock she gazing jams, punk – music that is more organic in its initial stage of production. I got so much insight from this session. We started off with Rei playing us some of his music. I loved his EP which is sung in te reo, it is so authentic and heartfelt. Even though I don’t speak or understand te reo I felt an emotional connection to it.

Rei was super sincere about what he wanted to write about. It was a great place to start because the inspiration was coming from a true place. Rei seemed to have a strong vision production-wise so he and Jason got straight into creating a beat and finding some chords and a key to record in. I supported Rei with his lyrics when he would get stuck I’d pull out the rhyming dictionary and thesaurus and write a list of words out for him to play with. Rei was really focused throughout the whole session, his determination was admirable.

Jenna Andrews had to come and go as her New York assistant had quit and she needed a replacement. I wondered if this was going to be a disturbance having her walking in and out of the session but she is a true pro and she blew our minds with her vocal harmony melody suggestions and ideas. She was like a vessel that was streaming out ideas and melodies to accompany the existing melodies. She was also really assertive and never hesitated. She was like, “Let’s lay this down right now, no questions asked, lets just do it, if it’s no good we’ll cut it out.”

Rei had a clear idea about what he wanted to do but he was open to Jenna’s thoughts and even tried out vocal ranges that he hadn’t previously sung in before. Jenna created a new dimension to Rei’s already great song.

Photo: Amanda Ratcliffe.

Timon Martin: This is Anthonie and I hearing Victoria Kelly’s gigantic string arrangement for our song on loud speakers for the first time.

Anthonie Tonnon: The listening session was actually a bit terrifying. The first two songs that Greg Haver put on were fast paced, euphoric pop songs, mixed close to perfection with amazing vocals. I felt pretty tense before my song was put on. But through a small miracle, Victoria Kelly had arranged and produced live strings at the end of my song with Timon, Gabriel and Maize, and whatever the audience might have thought of the song (which we were really pretty proud of), the strings sounded incredible.

This is Timon and myself smiling at this good fortune. It was also the first time I’d heard the song with strings and some last minute lyric changes, and I was happy to get through it in one piece doing this in public.

Photo: Amanda Ratcliffe.

Annabel Liddell (Miss June): This is Justin [Gray] and I grooving to Alex [Davey]’s vocal takes and timing his phrasing to get it sexy!

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Photo Credit: Amanda Ratcliffe.

Annabel Liddel (Miss June): Here I am muting Nate [Campany]’s guitar because his noodling was off-putting to the melody I had running around my head.

Photo Credit: Amanda Ratcliffe.

Annabel Liddell (Miss June): This is day 2 with Nate Campany, Shayne King, and Sean Donnelly. Nate was showing us photos of his gorgeous baby boy!

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