You might know Aaron Tokona as the former frontman of Weta. Or maybe as a former member of Cairo Knife Fight. Perhaps you know him as a roving member of groups like Fly My Pretties or Eru Dangerspiel. Or maybe you've heard about his entertaining, social commentary-style Facebook rants, or his interesting insights into working on an album with Kim Dotcom.
But what you should know him for these days, is AHoriBuzz. AHoriBuzz is Tokona, along with a revolving bunch of collaborators, musical friends, and bandmates, and it's one heck of a groovy, good time.
It started about five years ago as a jam band, and no one is more surprised than Tokona that AHoriBuzz has become an in-demand live act, and has just released a debut double EP.
"For me it was always a jam band. And I was happy just to keep it as a live act - we were being paid quite well for festival gigs and so on. But then all of a sudden we had fans. And then these songs started appearing, and then you're thinking, 'Well, we should probably finish writing that, and we should probably record it.' So that's what happened. And then it occurred to me six months ago that the entity probably did deserve a body of work now, because there are fans that come to the gigs, and they want the songs."
Into The Sunshine is a collection of five songs recorded over the last five years (with an average length of seven minutes) and three remixes, along with two acoustic cover versions by various friends. Each song grew out of recordings that Tokona took of every gig the band played.
"After about of a years worth of recording jams at parties and pubs, I started listening to all the material, and songs started appearing. Certain melodic ideas start popping out, and things start taking shapes and forms, so I'd edit those things out, and then those things we used as the basis or start of the song. They were the building blocks, because I think all songs need a point of nuclear fusion really, that explosive moment."
The release of the record has been just as sprawling, with Tokona assembling a new band to play 33 dates across New Zealand.
"It's really hard out there, and I just had this feeling that the country really needs cheering up. I think hardship is really palpable now. And the inspiration for this tour was to go out there and take the music to the people, not expect them to come to you.
"The other thing I thought about was that you can't show up in Huntly or Kawerau and walk out on stage and expect everyone to know you and your music, so we're learning 187 covers, everything from Prince to Radiohead, all sorts, and the goal is that when we walk out on stage, no matter what it takes, we're gonna start a party."
In the past two months they've covered the South Island, and part of the North Island, playing pretty much every Thursday, Friday, Saturday, and even a few Sundays.
"I sometimes get up in the morning, and I look at the schedule, and what's coming up, and I just have to put on that Radiohead song "You do it to yourself, you do, and that's what really hurts", laughs the 38-year-old father.
It's a feeling familiar to Tokona - he knows he's been the author of his own troubles more than once, but he seems to be handling it all a bit better these days. He's been very open in recent years about being bipolar and acknowledges that he can sometimes be a verbal loose cannon, but it's also something he's come to embrace.
"I'm a reactor, and I can't help reacting to everything. I can't help it, always have, I think it's part of being bipolar for me, and it's probably part of having an artistic temperament, too.
"I'm very public about my mental illness - a lot of people seem to fear it or be confused by it, but it's just a release and a relief for me. I discovered one day that if I owned it, and spoke about it, I felt free of it in a lot of ways. I suppose it's easy for me, because I don't really care what people think. I'm the gayest heterosexual you'll ever meet, you know," he laughs.
"I'm just an emotional, reactive, who knows what, and I'm okay with that. The thing about accepting it though, is that you're not really accepting it if it's repressed. Which is why it's so great that I get to perform on stage, I get to express that monster, I get to let it out."
If you've ever seen Tokona with a guitar in his hands, you'll understand what he means by that - he really is one of country's most gifted guitar players, who can defy a groove as easily as he can create one, and send shivers down your spine with his ability to make the guitar sing. He somehow lashes together pop and rock and gospel and funk into uplifting, joy-filled, hypnotic tracks, which are peppered with contributions from many of his fine friends - members of Fat Freddys Drop, Kora, and Supergroove, Hollie Smith, Anika Moa, Ladi6, Anna Coddington, to name a few.
The sound of AHoriBuzz is definitely that of an ambitious, layered, sky-high ensemble, but Tokona has also discovered that, though he loves to play live with people, it's really still a solo project at heart.
"I tried to make it a band - I had LA Mitchell, Jonathan Crayford, Riki Gooch, Julien Dyne, all my amazing friends, but it's just not meant to be. It's my monster, and my monster alone. And it's been a process for me to accept that. That Weta record was a gift and a curse for me, man. But making this has been all about growing through it. It's been about realising that I don't have to measure up to that, that I can just be me."
Who: Aaron Tokona
What: AHoriBuzz Nation of the State tour, and double EP Into The Sunshine
Where and when: Performing at Leigh Sawmill this Friday night, and at the Kings Arms every Sunday until the end of September.