Nick Gaffaney’s ongoing musical collaboration, Cairo Knife Fight, has been boosted by his recent time in LA and some new musical partners, including one of his idols, writes Lydia Jenkin.

Cairo Knife Fight has always been a fluid beast, crossing countries, swapping members and performing alongside a diverse range of acts. But at the heart of the band is a constant presence: Nick Gaffaney. The renowned drummer started the duo about six years ago as an outlet for his singing and songwriting, believing that just two people playing multiple instruments could still make impressively full, raucous, yet focused music.

In recent years, and on recent EPs, Gaffaney partnered with Aaron Tokona, ex-Weta frontman, incendiary guitarist, and all-round rock star. But Tokona has always had his fingers in multiple pies (AHoriBuzz, Fly My Pretties, even working with Kim Dotcom), and when Gaffaney started thinking about putting an album together around two years ago, he realised Tokona probably wasn't going to be able to commit sufficiently.

So he decided to open up the field and write with other people as well.
"I wanted to write more widely, because it just expands the songwriting base, and it was also a lot of fun.

It was pretty obvious that Aaron wasn't going to be able to carry on doing what we're doing. He didn't want to travel as much, and all that kind of stuff, and we realised that we needed to branch out a bit."

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He managed to get an Apra Professional Development Award, which would fund a trip to Los Angeles to write with an array of new people, and give Gaffaney a taste of the city, to help him decide whether or not to move there.

"I'd never been there for any length of time in a professional capacity, so that grant was such a great opportunity.

"The writing sessions went really well - even the awful ones, where it became clear that we just weren't meant to write together, because you learn a lot about what you do and don't want from those ones. Like guys who would start referencing bands like Bush and Velvet Revolver and Creed, and that wasn't where I wanted to go at all.

"I was like, 'Oh no, you're pretty much spelling out the opposite direction'. But that's useful, and worthwhile."
Cairo Knife Fight is still all about duo form though - the writing is mostly done with Gaffaney and just one other person at a time, and generally evolves out of a jamming environment.

Several big names, local and international, appear on Colossus, but one of the most meaningful collaborations for Gaffaney was with a musician he has long looked up to: Mark Lanegan of Screaming Trees and Queens of the Stone Age.

"The best thing about working with him really was just the idea that a guy who's been an inspiration to me was excited about actually doing it, and had so many ideas.
"It was a vindicating moment in my career really. I've seen him a few times since then, and it's pretty cool to have someone like that who feels like a pretty strong ally of the band in LA.

"On the first day, when he arrived in the room, he was initially a bit gruff, but he opened up once he heard the music and we started working on the song."
He also found fruitful partnerships with John Anderson (musical director for Banks) and producer Tyler Fournames (recently working for Marilyn Manson), as well as old friends Joel Haines, Laughton Kora, and of course Tokona.

One guy absent from the album but who has become integral to the band in recent months is George Pajon jnr, an American who won several Grammy Awards as a guitarist and songwriter with the Black Eyed Peas. Pajon is now the official CKF guitarist and will be on tour with Gaffaney in New Zealand and Australia.

They met in New Zealand a while back, and when Gaffaney moved to LA for good, he moved into a house in front of the studio Pajon owns.
"Neil Baldock [a Kiwi engineer and producer] told him about Cairo Knife Fight, and he looked it up, and he thought, 'Yeah I'd like to do that'. So we started playing together.

"It was actually incredibly easy to get going. Surprisingly. When you think about moving to LA, you think it'll be all drama and high tension to get anything going, but George was just right there."

If you've ever seen CKF perform live, then you'll know it's like witnessing some seemingly impossible musical magic trick, such is the mind-boggling nature of the way Gaffaney can sing and drum and trigger and play keys and loop things, doing multiple parts with every possible limb at the same time. It's ridiculously hard work, and you might think, given CKF's rising success touring with acts like Queens of the Stone Age, Them Crooked Vultures, Foo Fighters, Karnivool and Shihad, that he might consider expanding the band.

"I don't think that will ever change," Gaffaney says with a laugh. "That's the funnest part about it really, it's supposed to be a challenge. And it's part of our charm, I think, that we're only two."

Who: Nick Gaffaney, Cairo Knife Fight
What: New album Colossus, out now
Where and when: Performing at Whammy Bar in Auckland tonight night, May 29.

- Timeout