Local hip-hop rock trio the Wyld fuse musical influences from trip-hop to blues rock to create their unique sound, writes Scott Kara.
The first time Mo Kheir heard the word "nigger" was when he was an eight-year-old at school in Dunedin. The insult was directed at him because the young Sudanese lad, who had moved to New Zealand with his family a year earlier, was "the only person that looked like me in the whole school".
The 23-year-old stand-up comedian and rapper/frontman in Auckland hip-hop rock band the Wyld laughs about it now, and recounts the experience in a line on Change, a bluesy, swaggering song off the band's recently released debut album Preface.
"They used to call me nigger back at school, now I'm grown-up, being black is cool," he offers up with his staunch yet wry wit.
"It sucked," he says looking back, "but it did teach me a few things about being able to make fun of myself, laugh at myself, and joke around a little bit."
And Kheir smiles a lot, but then he can also be deadly serious, almost business-like, before letting out a loud hoot of laughter.
Though he is one of New Zealand's up-and-coming young comedians it's the Wyld he's focused on at present. And don't be put off by the term hip-hop rock, which is how the band - also made up of Kiwi guitarist Joe Pascoe and American keyboardist, beat maker and singer Brandon Nigri, whose steely vocals are an ideal complement to Kheir's raps - describe themselves.
Because it's not in the vein of rap rock bands such as Limp Bizkit. Nor is it in the bombastic, overblown rock territory of nu metal survivors Linkin Park."I don't even know what that music is," laughs Nigri, "I just know it's very uncool now and we're not trying to do something like that."
The Wyld's music has a haunting beauty and poise to it, and with an overriding swagger that recalls Bristol trip-hoppers Tricky and Massive Attack, with more contemporary nods to the sonic swirl of Black Keys, the fragility of the xx or Bon Iver, and the posturing of Kanye West.
Used to Be floats along with an eerie, smouldering tranquillity, the menacing beat and buzz of Gone is one of those songs that sounds as though it's about to fall apart but never does, and Revolution's distorted, big-beating catchiness was picked up for the soundtrack to TV series 90210 after the trio sent it to influential American music blog Pigeons & Planes.
Kheir: "We just try to make music that we all like.
"It's not like he's the rock guy [Pascoe], he's the pop guy [Nigri], and I'm the hip-hop guy. We became close friends and that's kind of the sign we can make good music together."
"It happened by accident," pipes up Nigri. "All our influences are so different and when we got together we weren't trying to make something specific."
Kheir and Pascoe first met at university in 2007 when they were studying architecture.
They hooked up with Nigri two years later at an electronic music jam night hosted by friend Marty Rich of fellow Auckland outfit Jupiter Project.
"We just kind of came together by saying, 'Hey, do you wanna mess around making music?'," says Nigri, who, like Kheir, describes himself as being "pretty much a Kiwi" despite his cultural heritage.
They admit they are still at a formative stage when it comes to songwriting but already have enough material for their second album.
"We've found, as we're writing and developing our style, that sometimes we're just not ready to write that song yet," says Nigri.
"But if we shelve it and we wait a couple of months before we've written a couple more songs then you [go back to it] and then you're inspired in a second. We've got so much stuff, and for the second album we know exactly what we're going to do." They also say they are slowly but surely getting to grips with gigging, but have a lot to learn about how to pull their sound off live.
The Wyld supported chart-topping reggae and drum 'n' bass rockers Six60 at the Powerstation earlier this year and play the Loft at Q Theatre tomorrow night to celebrate the release of Preface.
In contrast to the eeriness and beauty of the album, the band's live shows are high energy, with Kheir not scared to get in among the audience and serenade them with his raps.
"Sounding good is not enough because everyone would just stay at home and listen to the album," says Pascoe.
"You are putting on a show, and I was watching this video the other day of Freddie Mercury, and it was like he was in a Broadway show."
And the Wyld are about more than just the music. They have an aesthetic in mind when it comes to their band. It starts with the music but follows through to the artwork (the album comes beautifully packaged in a white cardboard case), videos, and their online presence.
"We think about it a lot," says Nigri with a smile.
"Preface heralds the beginning of what we're trying to do." says Kheir.
"We're trying to start something that is quite big, so it's the beginning of a movement rather than just the beginning of our music."
Who: The Wyld
What: Hip-hop rock.
Debut album: Preface, out now.
Where and when: The Loft, Q Theatre, 305 Queen St, tomorrow.