Northland singer-songwriter Troy Kingi kicks off his Black Sea Golden Ladder album release tour at the Turner Centre next Saturday. He sits down for a korero in his Kerikeri studio with reporter Jenny Ling.
Bay of Islands-based singer-songwriter Troy Kingi is beat.
He's been up since 4am working on his sixth album, which he hopes to finish by the weekend. There are just three more songs to write.
It will be based around "1980s synth or Talking Heads-ish" but Kingi doesn't know exactly how it'll pan out.
"All I can say about that one is it's based around 1984, the year I was born."
But it's not album number six the Tai Tokerau singer is keen on talking about right now.
The recent release of Black Sea Golden Ladder, the folk-inspired album he made with musician Delaney Davidson, is at the forefront of his mind.
Kingi's fifth album is his most personal yet, and explores the 10 common stages and cycles of life: birth, school, love, sleep, choices, work, mortality, fatherhood, meaning and death.
"It's snippets of different stages of my own life that I feel are pretty ordinary, but within that normality - I feel that's where people find the connections to those songs."
Black Sea Golden Ladder was written and recorded as part of Kingi's Mātairangi Mahi Toi artist residency hosted by the Governor-General and Massey University.
The 37-year-old was the 2020 recipient of the programme that encourages and promotes the development of Māori and Pasifika visual arts and creative practices.
He and Davidson planned to produce a record based on compositions set to original poetry.
"We were basically in a dark apartment at the end of a wharf in Wellington just writing," Kingi said.
"It did change from the initial idea, which was to write poetry and make what would come from that.
"The poetry didn't work out, but we sat down and had in-depth discussions about each of the stages of life."
During these sessions, Davidson jotted down Kingi's musings then the pair sculpted and moulded the good bits into lyrics.
A major aim of this album, Kingi said, was to make listeners feel emotion.
"One goal I had when making this album was to make people cry.
"I've had a number of people message me saying a particular song made them think of someone that's passed away or has made them well up."
Sea of Death and Twilight are particularly sad, Kingi said.
Brush with Death certainly could have ended in tears.
It's based on a night dive at the Black Rocks near Paihia, when Kingi and his mates were looking for crayfish.
He'd just nabbed a cray, and for a terrifying minute, got stuck in a cave system in the pitch dark, unable to find his way out.
"All I can say is don't go into caves when you're night diving.
"It's had an effect on the way I dive that's for sure, I was a bit more cavalier before that.
"With anything in life, until something bad happens, you keep going down that super dangerous path. People don't actually heed warnings until it happens to them."
As for the album release tour at 12 venues around New Zealand, kicking off at the Turner Centre in Kerikeri on August 7, Kingi is excited.
He mentions the late American comedian Andy Kaufman who was known for his unconventional methods and performance art.
The Black Sea Golden Ladder tour will be "more than a musical show", Kingi said, "it's going to be an experience."
"It's not about trying to make people happy, it's about making people experience different things whether it be anger or sadness.
"They'll be coming to see a completely different show. It's going to be frickin' amazing. Whether or not I can pull it off yet, I'm not sure."
Kingi, Te Arawa, Ngāpuhi, Te Whānau-ā-Apanui, multi-instrumentalist, scuba diver, actor, father of five children, happily married to Huia.
Described by the New Zealand Music Commission as "our Northland treasure", he is originally from Rotorua and Te Kaha and went to Te Aute College in Hawke's Bay.
Kingi has had several memorable roles in films including Mt Zion, Hunt For The Wilderpeople and The Pā Boys.
At Kerikeri High School he formed his first band, Toll House, which won the local Smokefree Rock Quest.
Kerikeri has been home for the past 20 years.
How has Northland influenced his music?
"I don't know if it's Northland per se but we are so far removed from, say, Auckland. Even though we're connected through the internet, I feel like I'm up here on my own journey.
"I feel like that's one reason I'm able to run off on these mad tangents so easily and not be questioning myself.
"It's easy to run with ideas without being influenced.
"But that can be a problem as well, not being influenced. That's where there's a lot of stuff going on.
"You've really got to dig deep and you gotta have really good friends to throw ideas at you.
"Most of the time I'm just in this room with my thoughts running with stuff, questioning, having mind battles, seeing if I should follow those avenues."
Kingi has won a host of music awards over the years.
This year he is nominated for two APRA Silver Scroll Awards; for All Your Ships Have Sailed and for Turangawaewae, co-written with Stephen Harmer, Maisey Rika and Tenei Kesha.
A significant milestone of his latest album is that it marks the halfway point of his 10/10/10 project, to write and record 10 albums in 10 genres in 10 years.
Guitar Party at Uncles Bach was a bluesy Hendrix-inspired guitar record released in 2016 followed by the psychedelic soul album Shake That Skinny Ass All The Way to Zygertron.
His third album, Holy Colony Burning Acres was deep roots-reggae with a political bent, and The Ghost of Freddie Cesar was inspired by funk.
Kingi has a few ideas up his sleeve for the remaining genres but he's keeping them under wraps.
"I know the last one will have big band influences, a bit Frank Sinatra-ish," he said.
"I really want it to sound like old-school James Bond theme songs."
And after that?
Kingi has bought a piece of land in Okaihau where he plans to build a homestead with a massive garden and retire.
"Once the 10/10/10 project is over that's where I'm going to become a hermit and retire as an artist. I'll be a full-time engineer, producer, gardener, father and diver."
For now, he'll continue with his ambitious plan, pumping out albums and working to tight deadlines.
"I feel like I've been doing it long enough if I'm working on something and it's not that good, I can save time by moving to the next thing.
"Or I have enough experience to tweak a bad idea and make it semi-good.
"It feels like that's where the cool songs come from, having an idea that sounds quite shitty and manipulating it enough so it sounds quite fresh.
"A lot of my best songs have come out of trying to challenge myself."
Gigs in Northland
The Turner Centre, Kerikeri, August 7.
Forum North, Whangarei, August 10.