Former rap rebel Tom Scott has a new baby, a new album, and a new attitude. Are his wild days behind him? Chris Schulz finds out.
Tom Scott has a story to tell. "We were walking past this place yesterday," he says, pointing to the home of his Avondale neighbour. "There's this old fella parked up in his van. He says, 'Oi mate, you can't just help me here, can you?'"
Scott didn't have time to help. The man in the van was already "full blast" in reverse. He'd tied a rope to a stroller, padlocked to the home's deck. He didn't have a key, so he was using his car to pull it free.
"It was f***ing insane," says Scott. His eyes are wide now, his hands waving wildly. "The whole [porch] starts leaning over. The rope snaps. It almost smashes his dog."
Scott pauses, grins, and delivers the punch line: "He gets out and says ... 'Actually, I've got a key'."
To many, that's the end of the yarn. A funny story about life in West Auckland, retold for a bit of a giggle. Scott's great at telling stories - it's what's made him such a good rapper.
Everything he's done, from Home Brew to @Peace to Average Rap Band and beyond, is infused with his knowing take on the things around him. Fans feel like they know him, and they're right there with him for the ride. It's why anticipation for his new album with his new group, Avantdale Bowling Club, is so high.
But Scott's not done. Further down the road, he returns to his story. Someone's trying to remove a stroller locked to a deck by using their car. To Scott, it has to mean something.
Finally, he settles on it. To him, it's an example of men being, well, a bit basic. "Our skill set gets a bit limited," he says. Then he quips: "'What you got? A stroller? Don't worry mate, the car will sort that'."
There's only one way Scott goes, and that's deep. Spend any time with him and you'll learn that lesson. We're supposed to be getting coffee and talking about his new band, Avantdale Bowling Club, a challenging collusion of jazz and rap. It finds Scott attempting to reconcile his new life with a baby son with his previous life as an indie-rap rebel. It's taken him the better part of four years.
Instead, Scott's taken a detour. In his beanie and grey tracksuit, he's taking Weekend on an impromptu tour of his home suburb. We start in his home studio, a humble lean-to in a carport built by fans after Scott asked for help on Instagram. "I've got no money, but I've got good will," he says. He points out the $20 window frame bought on Trade Me. "An electrician dude, he hit me up. He's my friend now. He put that heater in."
Then we're introduced to his 18-month-old son, Quincy, who's snoozing in a pram on the porch. Scott wonders if he should wake him up, but leaves him sleeping. With a wave to his fiancee Whitney, we're off, past the neighbour where the stroller is still padlocked to the porch, and deep into Avondale. Scott walks two steps ahead, pointing out local landmarks, waving to familiar faces, narrating the entire time.
He's scattered, easily distracted, asking as many questions as he answers. "Won Lotto yet, boss?" he asks someone emerging from a dairy. At one point, he apologises to someone who hits him up for a cigarette. At another, he ducks into the Salvation Army to see if a $2 couch has been discounted. It has - it's free. "How come no one's taken it?" he wonders.
He works in real time, figures himself out in real time. But when Scott's piercing blue eyes focus, watch out: it's like a laser beam. What's on his mind? Right now, standing next to a puddle in a run down car park, it's gentrification. Avondale's no longer the rough-and-ready suburb he grew up in, and he's not happy about it.
"Everyone I know from Avondale when I was a kid doesn't live here. Right now, I feel like, f*** Avondale ... it's just a piece of land. it's not even what we thought it was anyway ... there's something deeper you've gotta connect yourself to than the land ... it's kinda hard to hold on to something that's moving.. ... There are so many walls in Avondale now."
Realising he's ranting, he declares: "F*** I sound like an old man." But there's a point to all this. Scott's new album is all about looking back, in a bid to look forward. He's trying to find a meeting point between the past and the future. Avantdale Bowling Club's liner notes include a drawing of his brain. There'll be an exhibition to coincide with its release. "This record is about ... growing up. I think," he said when the first single, Years Gone By, was released.
There's a lot to figure out. Scott's the former wild child of New Zealand music industry. In 2012, he arrived at the New Zealand Music Awards with a goat, dressed like he was from Noah's Ark. The same year he showed up at the Herald offices with Home Brew: they drank, threw things around, and tried to watch porn on work computers. In 2015, @Peace released a single aimed at John Key called Kill the PM that sparked a police investigation. He was an online agitator. If you wanted a Twitter fight, Scott would give you one.
He was angry, agitated, provocative, occasionally terrifying. He once walked out on an interview with Kim Hill. This reporter turned down several opportunities to interview him over the years, just because of his reputation.
Now, he's mellowed. Today, he's delighful company. "I'm a different person," he says. "I can't afford to fight now, which is a bit sad. I can't afford to call out the darkness of the industry I'm in any more. I need as many fake friends as I possibly can, because I've got a child to feed ... I also know now, as a grown-up, that you have to pick your battles. The more I yell about, the less anyone believes me."
That sounds like maturity. So does the 34-year-old's expansive new album. Full of saxophones, trumpets and flutes, Avantdale Bowling Club positively reeks of it. After returning from a three-year stint in Melbourne, Scott tinkered away in his home studio, when his son's naps allowed it. His lyrics are full of worry. Like any new father, Scott's concerned about the future, about being a good dad, about paying his rent. "Just trying to support my fam, but I can't even afford a home in my homeland," he raps on Pocket Lint. The chorus? "All I've got is some pocket lint."
Ask him if his rebellious days are behind him, Scott says: "I'm know I'm a prick sometimes ... I should be controversial and f*** up sometimes. That's part of it. You think Evel Knievel never breaks a bone? He's trying shit. I'd be more scared if I was ready to hang up my boots," he says. But a few breaths later, he admits: "My son doesn't need a punk. He doesn't need a rebel, he just needs a guide. He needs a supervisor, a safety net."
Regrets? Scott says he has a few. But he's not about to apologise. If you want him to repent for anything, forget about it. "If this whole story is just a way for the New Zealand public to come and watch me beg for their forgiveness, then f*** them," he says.
Moments later, the flash of the fire of old has subsided. The tour's over, and we're back in front of his house, back home. The sun's shining, Scott's son has woken up, and it's lunch time. It's a scene calling out for a soundtrack - and his new album would be perfect.
• Avantdale Bowling Club's debut album is released on August 17. An accompanying exhibition is being held at Pitt St's CorpStudio from August 17-19.