Spanish musician Hyperpotamus, who's real name is Jorge Ramirez-Escudero, is a one-man-band whose songs are constructed entirely from layers of his vocals. He's supported acts like Animal Collective, performed at festivals everywhere from SXSW, to The Big Chill, to Bratislava Jazz festival, and now he's coming to New Zealand. Wet asked him a few questions ahead of his shows in Auckland.
You were a drummer and pianist in various bands for ten years, how did you become Hyperpotamus?
Well it wasn't actually something I was aiming for. I was a bit tired of playing in bands, and I wanted to do something on my own. One day I was working as a roadie on a music festival in Spain - I worked 36 hours non-stop, got stung by a jellyfish, got sunburnt, was driven home by an ex-convict, and I was in a deplorable state when I got home. I was kind of between sleep and being awake, and under those circumstances I just decided to put down some vocal tracks in layers.
And when I pressed the stop button, I just went 'wow, this is the best thing I've ever done'.
It was a genuine eureka moment. That was in 2007.
So I kept recording at home, and about a year later a friend mentioned a new loop pedal that had just come out, and suggested it might be useful for me. So I bought it, practiced, and started to busk in tube stations in Madrid, and that's actually how I got my first gig, being approached in a tube station.
Were you always secretly a great vocalist, or was it a new discovery for you?
I guess it comes with playing an instrument. I've been playing piano since I was five, so I think the singing comes with that, or at least you have some notion of melody.
But the only singing I'd really done prior to this was singing in choirs at school, or doing occasional backing vocals, but nothing serious. I have learnt and improved a lot since the first day I did those recordings.
What you do is quite different to beat-boxing, but do you need to have beat-boxing skills?
Thank you for saying that - I get billed as a beat-boxer sometimes, and I don't really consider myself a beat-boxer. I can get away with it, I can do a good bass drum and I can do a good snare drum, but that's good enough for what I'm doing. I'm not aiming to sound like a vinyl record, which other people do way better than I do. I just use it as a tool to get the rhythm going in my songs.
You've got a wide array of vocal styles and genres on your latest album, Delta - hip-hop, folk, classical, one that even sounds like a chain gang chant - where do you look for inspiration?
Well, I played piano so I guess it started in the classical music realm, and then in my teens I got into punk and rock, and I'm a huge Michael Jackson fan, and now I like African music a lot, Cuban music, there's a lot of different stuff in there. It can come from anywhere.
There's quite a lot of humour in your songs, and it's hard not to crack a smile when you're listening, was that intentional?
Definitely. I used to be in bands where people took themselves way too seriously. I guess even my name Hyperpotamus is meant to amuse. I think an element of humour in everyday life, art, work, at home, it's important, without humour, things can be boring. So if I can provoke a smile or a laugh, that makes my day.
You have said "When I sing as Hyperpotamus, I let the demons out" - but hopefully we won't be witnessing an exorcism?
Haha, no. But it is liberating for sure.
When you see a congregation singing in a church in the southern states of the US, or something like that, and they're singing their hearts out, they do that for a reason, and I like to think of my gig as being something like that, something of a catharsis.
Do you ever find that people right you off as a novelty act when they haven't seen you perform?
I guess in the beginning especially, people thought it was a bit of a gimmick.
There is always that element of surprise and sort of 'wow' factor when people first see me, but then it's up to me to prove that I'm not just a novelty act, and to draw people in.
But my overriding objective is not to 'do vocal music', I'm doing vocal music because it's a tool to communicate. It's flexible, and I can fit everything in a suitcase. But it's just one way of doing things, and it's the method not the message.
When and where: Performing at Leigh Sawmill on Friday September 28, at Golden Dawn in Auckland on Saturday September 29, and at Mighty Mighty in Wellington on Friday October 5.
Listen to: latest album Delta