Twelve questions: Laughton Kora

By Jennifer Dann

Laughton Kora spent his childhood in Whakatane obsessed with surfing, martial arts and breakdancing. One of four brothers in the band Kora, he sang on Dotcom’s album, acted in Coverband, and this week is in the Auckland Arts Festival
Laughton Kora confesses to being a massive show-off when it comes to entertaining. Photo / Dean Purcell
Laughton Kora confesses to being a massive show-off when it comes to entertaining. Photo / Dean Purcell

1.You're the eldest of four brothers in the popular band Kora. Were you raised on music?

Yeah, we've all been playing on stage since age 6. By 12 we knew about 300 songs. Dad was an incredible musician. He'd have us playing three nights a week at the Whakatane Hotel, the RSA and the cossie club. He had a pretty heavy hand when it came to music. If we missed a note or were out of time, he'd smack us with a ruler - real old school.

Of course we're thankful now. I did go through a stage of not wanting to do music. I just wanted to surf and do martial arts. Mum's family run a Maori martial arts curriculum down at the youth centre, really to help the brothers stay off the street.

2. So the Koras are a sporty family as well?

Yeah. Dad's a top touch rugby ref. I was a national gymnast when I was younger and a break-dancer. Our crew The Teeny Millipedes won the North Island champs. I was called Dr Flex because they used me as a rope to skip with.

I used to walk the streets with rolled up cardboard in my backpack trying to find people to break-dance against. I had baggy pants, two white gloves and a feathered earring. I never bleached my hair though, Dad would've killed me.

3. Why did you get back into music?

Our high school music teacher Mr Bayliss was so good to me and my brothers. He entered our band Aunty Beatrice in the Smokefree Rockquest which we ended up winning with a song called Mince Pie played in the style of AC/DC. That seems hard tobelieve now. It was literally about us looking forward to hanging out at lunch and sharing a few pies.

4. What did you do when you left school?

I hitched down to Te Anau and got a building apprenticeship. Someone told me you could get a free season pass for snowboarding if you played five gigs up the mountain so we put a band together just jamming in our mate's bars, writing songs on the spot. We didn't have a singer so I had to sing which was scary. I'd always been crap at it.

5. How did you get into acting?

I secretly joined the Queenstown musical theatre company which really suited me because I've been a massive show-off my whole life, a total clown. Someone suggested I try acting. My brother Francis was at Toi Whakaari drama school in Wellington. I had no idea how prestigious it was so I went to the audition really underprepared. He said, "Dude, just be yourself." So I did and somehow got accepted.

6. How did the band Kora begin?

Being broke students, Fran and I would play gigs in restaurants for free food. One night a guy from Fat Freddy's walked in and asked if we wanted to do a gig. So we threw together a band - two of us lived in Wellington, two in Whakatane and one in Queenstown. Our first gig was the One Love Festival in front of 11,000 people. The gigs started getting bigger. We were at one with Cornerstone Roots, Salmonella Dub, Shapeshifter and Concord Dawn and were like, "How did we get here?"

We found out you could play at all these festivals if you'd released a single or album so we did an EP real quick which ended up going double platinum.

7. Why did you record your first album, Kora, in a cowshed in Edgecumbe?

Everyone wanted to come and party with us so we had to go away to work. That tin shed was baking hot in the day and really cold at night. We produced the album ourselves and the quality was pretty good for a bunch of boys who didn't know what they were doing.

We just sat down together and nutted it out. We all loved video games and comics so we made 100 posters with our superhero selves. All my poster said was "Coming Soon" - not who, when or why. People were going, "Is that a comic or a movie?" When we dropped the album it stayed in the Top 20 charts for 51 weeks.

8. Was it hard to leave the band in 2013?

Yeah, leaving my brothers was real hard. It was not a pretty break-up in some respects. The band had got really big, which I struggled with. I'm actually an introvert - a total hermit. My wife Michelle and I had a very young family and we were building a house up in Orewa. We actually broke up about a year and a half ago so I've moved up the road. Now we get on probably better than we did in the last year of our marriage which is so stink.

9. What went wrong?

I think what she wanted was a husband. A lot of men are like me - hard working but bad at communicating. Even me going to counselling was frowned upon. The best thing I got out of it was realising that I was okay. I don't think I'd ever had time to reflect before. I've always been racing round trying something new. My drama school mentor said, "You need to be like a pool. Only when you're still can you reflect." I was like, "Yeah thanks, gotta go."

10. How did you end up producing Kim Dotcom's album?

Kim was looking for a singer and someone at Roundhead Studios recommended me. I just rocked in and thought, "Hey - he's that big internet tycoon dude." He said, "Hi, I'm Kim. I hear you have an amazing voice. I want you on my team." I think it's an awesome album.

11. You acted in a TV series called Coverband. Did you find art imitating life in that show?

Yeah, it got to a point where I wasn't really acting. All four of us were in cover bands when we were young so we recorded everything live on set. Then I played Judas in Jesus Christ Superstar at Q Theatre and popped two ribs singing at the top of my lungs. That was with Oliver Driver. We also did Little Shop of Horrors last year.

12. What are you doing in the Speigeltent for the Auckland Arts Festival?

I can't wait for this gig. I'll be hanging out with Yoko-Zuna, this really young, highly talented neo funk band and Bailey Wiley, a singer-songwriter who is starting to smash up the scene especially over in Germany. I'll be the musical director, manipulating the sound electronically and creating a visual journey for the audience.

- NZ Herald

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