Six60 front man Matiu Walters talks about being 'the All Blacks of music' and writing The Greatest, a Vodafone NZ Music Awards finalist, to break down shame around success.
1 You just released your new self-titled album. How does it sit in terms of your musical progression?
Each album is really just a refining of who we are. It's about being the most authentic, genuine version of ourselves possible. We're not sitting down saying we want to make a 'New Zealand album', as such. We just happen to be young Kiwi men who grew up in this place at this particular time, trying to make music that represents us and our lives and it turns out a lot of New Zealanders connect to that.
2 What did it feel like when you sold out Western Springs the second time? Did you think, "We've made it now"?
No, I don't think we'll ever feel that. Honestly, it just felt right. We feel like this is exactly where we should be now and how our music should be heard. When we started out in Dunedin, we'd be on stage shitting ourselves because we were doing something that was so uncomfortable and scary for us. But over 10 years of being together we've slowly grabbed control and there's much more enjoyment.
3 Does your single 'The Greatest' reflect on your own relationship to success?
Yes, anyone finding success in New Zealand is going to encounter some kind of resistance, particularly if you're Māori. We're trying to encourage people to believe in themselves and work towards their goals despite what everyone says. The process is where the glory is, not necessarily the outcome. There's so much potential here in New Zealand, particularly in the Māori and Pacific community; hopefully we can play a part in breaking down shame. There's nothing wrong with wanting to be the best. That's one of the big drivers for us.
4 Growing up in Mount Eden, was music a big part of your childhood?
Yes, we're musical on both sides. Mum's pakeha and Dad's Māori. Everyone on the Māori side thinks of themselves as quite a performer. A lot of family dinners ended with all of us sitting around with the guitar singing Māori songs and all kinds of music. But I never saw myself as having a career in music. Our parents had high expectations for us because they're very successful in their own right; Dad's a lawyer and mum gave up teaching to go to Elam and start her own business.
5 Are you strongly connected to your Māori culture?
Dad's Te Rarawa, so my roots are in the far north but we only went up now and then for tangis. Growing up, the culture was around us through music but not the language which caused a whole lot of identity problems going forward. Working with Hinewehi Mohi this year to re-record our song Don't Forget Your Roots in te reo was challenging but energising and our new album embraces traditional Māori instruments.
6 Who are your creative mentors?
I've been lucky to be mentored by Michael Parekowhai, a family friend. As a visual artist he asks; 'How do you say the most with the least'? That's what we're trying to do in music. Simplicity is key. Ask what you're trying to achieve and then trim the fat and refine the concept to get right to the core, where that primal thing sits, where there's familiarity and nostalgia but still something completely fresh. Michael taught me to act first and allow the bits to make sense as you go on.
7 Do you have a partner or kids?
I have a partner, no kids. We've known each other for seven years but she was living in London for a while. She's been back for a year and a half now and we've been living together. So it's serious, but I'm happy. I love having someone special to spend my time with and share my life with. There's a sense of belonging.
8 How would you describe your relationship with your bandmates?
It's a brotherly connection. We're alone in this thing together. Only the five of us can really understand the journey that we're going through. At the beginning we were in party mode and then it turned serious. We were young and had no idea how to deal with that, so we'd seclude ourselves and push the whole thing away. We know how to deal with things a lot better now but having that experience brought us together.
9 What has that journey involved?
We worked with the All Black's psychologist Gilbert Enoka who really helped us a lot in learning how to work as a team. The environment you create for each other is paramount. The language we use to communicate has changed a lot. You need to say what you mean and mean what you say. On the other hand, you can't take anything personally; a compliment can inflate you and a criticism can cut you down. You just have to listen and have the patience and fortitude to hash it out and get to the bottom of things.
10 At age 32, do you look after yourself a bit better these days?
Yeah, you have to train the mind, the body and the soul. I'm a big fight fan so I box a lot and I try to walk often because I know how much it can trigger creativity. I'm eating a lot better; trying to stay away from the sugar and the carbs. I do meditation at a philosophy school in Mount Eden which has been super helpful in terms of being able to unpack emotions.
11 You're about to head off on a world tour – how are you feeling?
Excited. We've toured those areas enough to have built a fan base but a strong expat community has always come through. Kiwis take a lot of pride in what we're doing. We're kind of like the All Blacks of music in a way. Six60 began on the rugby field. I went down to Dunedin because I was trying to be an All Black. I met Eli (Paewai) and Hoani (Matenga), our original bass player, in Varsity Blues. That's why when we were asked to do the music for the #BackBlack campaign, it just made sense.
12 How did you feel when the All Blacks lost the World Cup semi-final?
I felt gutted for them, knowing how much they put into it. We got to spend a lot of time with them during the #BackBlack campaign and developed quite a close relationship with some of the players. I admire how much they've changed the game when it comes to mental health and improving the competitiveness of the sport.
• Six60 are finalists for Single of the Year for 'The Greatest' at the Vodafone NZ Music Awards this Thursday on TV3 from 8.30pm. Tickets from Ticketmaster.