Fast-rising Auckland rap duo Church & AP talk us through the ten tracks of their debut album, Teeth.
A year ago today, Church & AP were set to explode. The pair were just weeks away from the release of ‘Ready or Not’, the single that would lead to everything from summer festival slots to an in-studio appearance on BBC1Xtra. Last week, the pair attended their first New Zealand Music Awards as nominees (for Breakthrough Artist, Best Hip Hop and Single of the Year), and on Friday they released their first studio album.
Produced entirely by frequent collaborator Dera Meelan, Teeth is an album which feels worlds removed from the track that announced their arrival. Incorporating sounds and textures that reference everything from hard-edged grime production and woozy underground rap to stripped-back techno and bouncy ballroom house, it’s an engaging, highly kinetic record that finds the trio frequently stepping outside their expected comfort zones. In Church’s own words, “We just wanted it to be that whatever ‘Ready or Not’ is, Teeth is not. Not because we don’t like it anymore, but we just wanted to show that we could do more than that.” We asked them to talk us through it.
1: Dandelion (featuring Deadforest)
This is your debut album, but the first voice we hear on the record is Deadforest.
Church: I remember I had this conversation around Doris, the Earl Sweatshirt album – it was this long-awaited album, there was a lot of hype around it, and then the first song starts and it’s SK La’Flare rapping. In my mind I was always, like, “That’d be funny.” That’s why I wanted it to be the first track.
AP: It’s fitting though, because [Deadforest] mentions both of us in his first couple bars.
Church: It was the first song that we actually recorded. We did ‘Dandelion’, and we liked how it sounded, and then maybe three songs in we realised that maybe the whole album should sound like that. ‘Dandelion’ was the spark.
Church: Whenever we were working on the album, Dera would have to drive from West Auckland to pick me up, then go to Central and pick AP up, then drive back to his house in Clendon. So we’d just have these long car rides where we’d be listening to music like “Oh, we should make something that sounds like this.” There was one particular time where I was listening to a lot of house music – like Riton & Kah-Lo, stuff like that – and Dera was like “Yo I actually love house music!” So then we just sat with him for like 12 hours while he made house beats, and then maybe at like 1am he played the ‘Roulette’ beat – I think maybe he’d played it several times throughout the day and we just didn’t care.
AP: He kept bringing it up, like I think he wanted us to hear it properly, but we were just messing around in the back.
Church: So we did the hook, then just left it for a few weeks. It wasn’t until we went into Red Bull Studio and they were like, “You need to finish a song,” that we actually did all the verses. I guess the thought behind the verses was, like, “What if we did a whole song with just hooks?” Like a song where every part is just another hook.
3: Knock Knock
Church: I was actually trying to make music for JessB – maybe the day before we did ‘Bump Bump’, I wrote ‘Knock Knock’ and sent it to Jess, but she wasn’t feeling it. I wanted half.queen to do the hook and Jess to rap, but it just didn’t work out. I was like, “Man, this song’s good. If you don’t want it, I’ll take it.” So we took it back to the drawing board and made it our song. It came from some promoter – about a year ago we opened for somebody, and the promoter didn’t was just really dismissive to us, wouldn’t let us go into the green room with the artist. They made us wait for like 30, 40 minutes, then when we got inside the artist was like, “Oh, where have you guys been?”
AP: We’d just been waiting outside, and the promoter just kept coming out like, “Soon, soon.”
Church: He was just a prick. But this was just before ‘Ready or Not’ came out, and then after that we saw him at a different gig, and his whole tune had changed. That’s where that line came from, “Only wanna hear you if I ask you dummy / Thought you were the man, why you actin’ funny?” Everyone just started changing their tune on us – when it took off they wanted to talk business. But we were the same people when you met us, we’ve never been shy. Nothing changed; your perception of us changed.
AP: That was the only song we made in like one day, or one night.
Church: I was listening to a lot of, like, music from the DMV area. There’s this guy Xanman, and I was just telling these guys, like, “his pockets are really weird, we should try do some stuff with weird pockets”, which is why the hook’s quite stop-start.
AP: The off-time flow.
Church: But we wanted to do it in our way – to have that catchy part in the middle of it. But that was, like, one day when we had clear direction for what we wanted to achieve, then did it. Then we put it on Soundcloud for like 24 hours. I don’t think anything’s changed from that version, except there used to be a ‘Good Job Dera’ drop at the end.
There’s not really any producer tags on the whole album, right?
Church: I had to beg Dera not to put producer tags on it. Power to the producer, but…
AP: He got his teeth on the album cover.
AP: Dera sent Icarus real early, and I was just like, “Man, what am I gonna write to this?” We just had no ideas.
Church: Honestly, it’s only an interlude because we couldn’t figure out what we wanted the verses to be. But I liked the hook too much to scrap it – it’s weird, you know, the ad-libs were inspired by Humbleboy from Kome, and we reference Nic Cage in Wicker Man, “You’re in my beeswax like Nicolas.” In Dera’s words, the beat was just “Yeezus + Daft Punk. Put ’em together and yeah.”
6: Hello Hello (featuring Neko)
Church: I wanted to do something like that Kelis song, ‘Get Even’, and when the beat changes, I wanted that to be like ICYTWAT, this producer from Chicago. He does real dreamy stuff–
AP: Spacey stuff.
Neko hasn’t done much before, right?
Church: Na, she’s this 17-year-old. Originally it was me singing her part, but I hated it, so I just went to Twitter like, “Yo, any female vocalists hit me up, send me something.” And one of my friends, Maina, she was like, “Yo, there’s this kid Neko, you should check her out.” So I just listened to two seconds, and I was like, “Yeah sweet, that’s the one.” So I DMed her, and she was like “I can come to the studio, I’ve just got to skip school.” Which was funny, because like a year ago that’s what I was doing, skipping school to do 64 Bars at Red Bull.
When AP says “can’t link with the man with the big mouth” – is that a response to people trying to talk down to you now that you’ve had some success?
Church: Oh for sure. The hook, to me, is like “Oh, you’re listening now.”
Is it just people you didn’t know before that treat you like that?
AP: It’s definitely people we know as well.
Church: Even people that we respect, we respected them way more before they respected us. You know? Once you get to a certain level, you’re like oh – everyone’s kind of the same, no one’s that special.
7: Arm + Leg
Church: When this came about, I was asleep. We made ‘Shiraz’ first, but that was a really short song. So I was like “There should be a part one to Shiraz’s part two.”
AP: So Dera just flipped the sample.
Church: Yeah, it’s the same sample. But I didn’t know what to do on the beat, so I just went to sleep, and when I woke up AP had the whole hook done.
It feels quite pointed against labels and the industry, which has been a theme for you for a while now – has your approach to those conversations changed?
Church: I think we’re at the point where we just know what the deal should be, and it hasn’t been offered to us yet.
AP: It’s clear now, what we want and what we should be getting.
Church: We’re just waiting. We’re not really against labels as much as we are against what’s been offered. Or, like, what we know has been on the table for people around us.
AP: It’s also an age thing – they see us as being young, so they want to take advantage of us.
Church: ‘Shiraz’ itself was maybe the second song that we recorded, but it was actually just half a song that we’d had forever. We did this one-off session with Dera, the same day that we shot the artwork for ‘Ready or Not’ – we were in the room, Deadnakedparty shot us, then we recorded the song with all the Raroboys in the room. I was just super obsessed with Shiraz’s song on the Shiraz & LSJ song ‘Kount’. He has this crazy flow, and I was just like “Nah bro, I gotta take it.”
Does he know that you did that?
Church: Yeah, I’ve told him multiple times, like, “Yo man, I’ve got this song!” I told him months ago, then when we released the tracklist I told him again. So maybe we’ll get a remix.
I noticed that Soraya La Pread and Seb Hunt are both credited on this track. Is that the stylist Seb Hunt?
AP: Yeah, the Yeezy designer.
How did that happen?
Church: I’d been playing this song to Soraya for ages, like “Yo, we just need this outro.” For the longest time – we’d even been playing shows, where ‘Moneytalk’ just had no outro.
AP: We’d just repeat the hook
Church: We needed a proper outro, and I wanted to do some kind of Big Freedia type thing, so Soraya hit up Seb and was like “Can you just talk some shit?” And they were writing some, I guess just braggadocious rhymes, but Seb had no rhythm at all. So after weeks of us begging Soraya to do it, she was like, “OK, I’ll do it, just pitch my vocals down.” Seb still has the last line on it though.
It starts out sounding like a Neptunes beat, then moves into this real house, ballroom-type production at the end.
Church: Yeah, Dera was inspired by, like, Daft Punk, and I was also listening to a lot of Channel Tres. That was another occasion where for the whole day we did nothing, just talked shit and played Xbox. But honestly, I want a producer credit for this: Dera was playing with this beat, and it was wack, so I said, “What if you put the BPM up?” He said no, so I was like “Watch me, I’ll do it.” Then he just cleaned it up, made it look nice, and that was it.
It’s interesting that you mentioned the Earl Sweatshirt reference on ‘Dandelion’, because it sounds like there’s a lot of his influence here.
Church: Oh yeah, even the instrumental was influenced by Earl, and in the song I mention being influenced by him – ”Earl popped off at that age / and I couldn’t come close at that stage” – that’s just how I used to think when I was 15, like if I don’t blow up tomorrow, it’s over. But it was me, Dera and Spyde from Kome in the studio, and Spyde just kept being like “Beautiful, man.”
AP: “That’s beautiful uso!”
Church: He’s a real heartfelt guy. So I just kept writing. He got me through that one.
AP: I had to really think about writing my verse. Church did his first, and recorded it, and then I just sat on it for a while. I was actually going to take a similar approach to him, where he raps about growing up. But then I just decided to go a whole other route, talk about my troubles in school and what-not.
You talk a bit about how you were known for being really quiet before you got on the mic.
AP: It took me a lot to get in the studio and make a song [at the start], especially with all the people who were in that studio – like Melodownz and that, I wanted to impress them, you know? But I was still in my shell, trying to get out, and all of those people that I mention in the song are the ones that helped me. They knew I could do something, and they pushed me to get into that studio and talk my shit. I just had to do it.
Is the name symbolic? Does the chrysalis represent the end of this cycle?
Church: It’s kind of like that. The first line, “Out the chrysalis and into the stomach,” I think that’s maybe my favourite thing I’ve ever written. Immediately I was like, everything made sense. It’s that whole imagery of shedding – becoming a butterfly – but at the same time, the butterflies are now in our stomach, and we as the butterflies are now in the belly of the beast. We’ve grown a lot, but we’re still nervous, and we’ve been put in the middle of everything. Teeth will never have a sequel, and we probably won’t revisit this sound, but this is where we were at. You can go in ten years, and be like “Oh, what were Church & AP thinking when they were teenagers?”
AP: Even for ourselves, to revisit this moment.
Church: Yeah, like, one day when I have kids, if they’re like ‘what were you like when you were my age?” This is what I was like.
Teeth is available now on streaming services, with a vinyl release coming soon.
This piece was made with support from NZ on Air.
The Bulletin is The Spinoff’s acclaimed daily digest of New Zealand’s most important stories, delivered directly to your inbox each morning.