Auckland Anniversary; 29th of January, 2018. The City of Sails was, as I recall, filled to the brim with excitement. Thousands, I would say, of tiny sardine-like people stretching from the waterfront, through the viaduct and all the way to the top of Queen Street. All of them appeared to be following the current upstream to Albert Park. Music and excitement was in the air. Auckland’s CBD was certainly the place to be on that year’s music festival calendar.
The sun, blazing and smouldering, was hung high up in the sky with no clouds in sight. Oh boy, it was a hot day. As my dear friend and I left the bus to walk up Queen Street to Albert Park, I remember noticing that the majority of festival-goers were dressed-to-the-nines in clothing probably not suitable for the weather. Hipster fashion. There was bright pink puffer jackets clashed with tight tartan jeans and bucket hats. Op-shop cardigans, commando couture with too many holes-were-there-should-be-buttons and studded Doc Martens. Apparently the heat was too mainstream for these people. I even remember spotting two goths—mohicans, covered in tattoos and leather with red four-letter words smeared on their chests—with what would appear to be dog leads around their necks. They appeared to be walking each other. Political, new-age, punk-rock and bawdy. I felt very ‘North Shore’ and sheltered.
The 2018 St. Jerome Laneway Festival had a good line-up that year. Billie Eilish, Anderson .Paak & The Free Nationals, Mac DeMarco and Father John Misty were playing. Also some good local names like Avondale MC MELODOWNZ, Auckland-based Polyester and New Zealand’s Wax Chattels. After almost nine hours of Laneway, my legs were starting to ache. It didn’t rain, which I desperately hoped it would. As the day set and the sun burn sizzled at my satellite dish-sized forehead, I remember regretting not reapplying my sunscreen earlier. My face was beetroot red, I was drenched in sweat, there was a massive, stained sticky patch on my new shirt (thanks to a drunk bloke who spilt his ketchup-covered vegan beef burger on me during The Internet), yet I was illuminated with excitement. We were going to close the festival off with some real Kiwi electro-goodness: BAYNK.
Real name Jock Nowell-Usticke, BAYNK is one of those performers you can’t easily forget. His sound is so electric it zaps at your soul and swims like a current through your veins. You can’t help but drop everything and just start dancing. Born in 1996, Jock started his passion for music at age five when his mother took him for piano lessons. In high school, he had picked up some groovier instruments (like the saxophone and rocking guitar) to try to expand his range.
It wasn’t until enrolling at university to study chemical engineering that he started really getting interested in recording his own material. So, on a whim, he bought a laptop, downloaded a free music making program and got to work incorporating his own saxophone with beat and synth. At that point in his life, he was on an OE in London and throwing caution to the wind. It was after much toing and froing, editing and mixing, that he finally uploaded some songs to Soundcloud. He expected, as all budding creatives do, that the songs would go platinum by the start of next day.
Alas when it didn’t, Jock lost hope and considered quitting. He flew to Budapest, travelled around Europe and, upon landing back in Aotearoa, he found that his song Sundae had gone viral.
It was with this viral hit that he caught the attention of Mark Kneebone of St. Jerome’s Laneway Festival who got him booked for the 2016 festival and everything just slipped into place for him. More good songs ensued—a lot more—and BAYNK became a big name on the NZ music circuit. His first EP, Someone’s EP I was launched in 2017 and his second EP, Someone’s EP II followed in 2019. Both were huge. The second EP features tracks including Settle by Sinead Harnett and Go With You, all that feature on many a Kiwi summer playlist. It’s amazing to also note that he is part of New Zealand’s top five most streamed artists on Spotify. He’s certainly not slowing down any time soon. His passion is for the music and connection, for people and life.
Thinking back on when I got to finish Laneway off watching BAYNK, I was ecstatic to learn that M2 had the fantastic opportunity to sit down with the widely-successful New Zealand DJ and talk about his music, his album, ADOLESCENCE and his plans for the future.
I REMEMBER WATCHING YOU AT THE THUNDERDOME STAGE AT LANEWAY IN 2018. IT WAS ONE OF THE HIGHLIGHTS OF THAT YEAR’S FESTIVAL FOR ME.
That’s incredible. I love Laneway and have had so much fun every time I’ve played there. I’m so glad you were there to experience it.
HOW DID YOU FIRST FIND MUSIC?
I’ve always had music in my life. I remember my mum taking me to piano lessons as a kid. Music was forced down my throat from the ages of five to 12. When I was 16, I started playing instruments in bands. I only started writing music properly when I was 21 because I was sick of my engineering degree.
I just had this feeling that if I didn’t start doing something else then I’d go crazy and be stuck in a job I didn’t enjoy. Luckily, I still managed to graduate, which made my parents very happy and proud.
WHO WOULD YOU SAY YOUR MAIN MUSICAL INFLUENCES ARE?
They range pretty broadly I would say. It’s not genuinely one artist, but the ones I really vibe with are James Blake, Bon Iver and Flume was/is a big one. There’s also another producer called Rusty who’s cool.
HAVE YOU FOUND DURING THE COVID-19 PANDEMIC THAT ISOLATION IS QUITE GOOD FOR CREATIVITY?
At the beginning, in the first lockdown, it was like: ‘everything will be fine…’ I was blissfully unaware. I thought lockdown and MIQ would be ‘the place’ to explore, right… Stuck in the same room in the same building for weeks, or months. But I soon realised in lockdown that life should be the thing that inspires you most. When life’s put on hold, the inspiration takes a backseat.
I feel that living life and going outside and interacting with people is really important for us to connect as humans. Most of my songs come from some life experience or stories from friends. In lockdown, I was doing what everybody else was doing and that was completely nothing. You find that less inspiration strikes when you’re stuck in a room for hours on end and fewer songs seem to result. Having said that, in the weird space of isolation I did get a bit of work done—I was coming up with ideas for music videos and thinking about tours.
YOUR NEXT ALBUM, ADOLESCENCE, IS BEING RELEASED NEXT YEAR. WHAT CAN AUDIENCES EXPECT?
The album is basically a retelling of my childhood in a musical format. A lot of it had been written because I had run out of inspiration. That dry-spell wasn’t necessarily the pandemic, by the way. I’ve been in a committed relationship for a couple of years and it’s still going great, so it’s not that either.
I needed heartbreak or something to inspire something in me, like your typical single young musician! So I started writing stories about my childhood. ADOLESCENCE, for me, is set between the ages of 14 and 21. I just wanted to tell those stories and put them in a little memory book for myself addressed to the younger version of me.
WASN’T YOUR SONG ‘ESTHER’ (FROM ADOLESCENCE) CHOSEN BY ELTON JOHN FOR HIS RADIO SHOW, ROCKET HOUR?
Yeah, that was incredible, I was really happy about that. It was certainly cool news to wake up to.
AND I ALSO SAW A MUSIC VIDEO OF THAT SONG CAME OUT NOT TOO LONG AGO?
Most of my music videos are created and directed by my really good friend, Spencer Graves. He’s just one of my best friends and I go to him for everything that is visual. He has great taste and aesthetic and we usually just work something out together. He directs and arranges everything, essentially.
SO WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE TO THAT YOUNGER VERSION OF YOURSELF?
Well, if I was talking to a 14 year-old me, I would tell him to start music earlier so you don’t have to go to university. To the 21 year-old me, I would tell him not to worry or stress about anything. As soon as I started music I was just on a path at that point. I was working so hard with this belief that it just couldn’t not happen. That sounds cocky, right? I was just so confident that it was going to work out.
My main goal was just to do anything but chemical engineering. Music was the only thing I loved and made me truly happy. There was no possible way that it couldn’t not work out.
In saying that…I did quit a year and a half in. I was getting home from my job super late, making music until like two in the morning, and I just rinse and repeated that for so long. I had really gotten tired and given up.
I went on an OE with my friends and took some time away. As soon as I got back, Mark Kneebone from St. Jerome’s Laneway Festival hit me up to play a set. That was all I really needed to throw myself back into it. It’s never really stopped from there.
YOU HAVE A USA AND CANADA TOUR HAPPENING SOON TOO?
Yeah, I tour a lot in America. That’s mainly the reason I moved there. I’m excited about touring every year because I usually take all my friends and my family tags along too. It’s kind of like a working holiday for me. We don’t have a tour bus or anything. We just hire an RV, everyone cooks together and it’s like a family adventure.
For the US/Canada tour, we’re going to some cool places with some decent sized rooms. We’ve upgraded the production too so there’s more LED screens to make sure the experience is better. I’ve got some lights this time. So I’m interested in playing with that and trying to make it special. I really like that side of it as well—the techy stuff.
WHAT HAS BEEN YOUR BEST OR WORST ONSTAGE EXPERIENCE?
Honestly, the best would be any time I’ve played Laneway. The last tour in San Francisco was amazing too. It was this massive room—the Regency Ballroom—and we’d sold out the day of the show. It was just electric and so much fun. It’s so good when you get a crowd that reciprocates that vibe and it makes the whole thing so much cooler. Everyone was having a good time and I was feeding on that energy.
My worst experience was probably when I was on tour with San Holo in 2017. I walked on stage with my ear monitors in and I got straight into it. I pressed play, I fiddled with some of the knobs, I was hyped and getting into it. The first drop! I looked up and no one was dancing. A bit weird, I think, they must be a tough crowd. I keep doing the DJ stuff and I’m feeling so in the zone. I wanted them to see that I’m stoked to be there, you know. I look up again. No one is dancing. I’m seriously freaking out at this point. I take my ear pieces out and it’s just silent. Dead silent. I then realised the music was just playing in my ear and I had turned the set down on my laptop, so they were getting nothing.
After I realised what had happened I just grabbed the microphone and was like: ‘I’m so sorry, I gotta do this again!’ I walked off stage, came back on, everyone cheered (slightly confused) and I pressed play again. It worked the second time. Everyone was good about it and laughed.
WHAT WOULD YOU SAY HAS BEEN THE BEST COLLABORATION THAT YOU’VE DONE?
I’ve always loved working with Hablot Brown. This was for a song pre-album. It was just a great session with those boys. The lead singer, Linus, came out on the last tour. I always have had great chemistry with him on stage. There’s also a song with US musicians, DRAMA, that no one has heard yet called One Chance, which I also love. The session for that was insane.
The lead singer, Via, just rolled a joint and smoked up. Na’el, the producer and I just sat there and watched her improv through the whole song once. No written lyrics or anything. I’ve never seen anyone do that before. That was the funnest collaboration on the album, for sure.
A few of the songs on the album had to be made remotely because of Covid or through an email thread. Those collaborations weren’t necessarily so much fun. It’s hard to really catch a vibe with someone over email.
WHEN CREATING A MUSIC VIDEO FOR AN ELECTRONIC SONG, IS NARRATIVE A MAIN COMPONENT YOU FOCUS ON? OR IS IT MORE THE VIBE?
It’s usually always about the vibe. It’s only recently becoming a little bit more about the narrative. It’s how a song makes me feel and getting the visual to replicate that nicely. What do I want to be looking at when I’m listening to my music?
I didn’t really start writing lyrics that much until recently. I used more vocal samples of repeated phrases. I think that’s kind of grown with my songwriting ability. I do feel like the art that I vibe with is more abstract. Art that doesn’t have that much meaning at first glance.
More often than not I’ll make something and then won’t know what it means until I look back on it half a year later. I just let whatever happens happen. Whatever the idea is I let it take its own path, and it just works itself out.
HOW WOULD YOU DEFINE SUCCESS?
I suppose I feel that success is whenever I’m content with my art or happy in my life. I think it’s a pathway. Getting back to the high-points and tackling through the low-points again. When I hit an obstacle in any aspect I always walk the path back up to the peak and then I’ve succeeded again.
I don’t really put any events on success. It’s more a question of if I’m happy or not. It’s like a constant cycle. Getting up, falling down, and getting up again. It’s usually art that gets me through. I love trying to make something beautiful, and releasing it into the world. Having new ideas, making something beautiful again and then releasing it into the world.
But success has come in many forms to me. As soon as I stepped on the stage at Laneway in 2016 I was like: ‘wow, this is it. I made it. I can die happy now…’ For a young guy having just gotten home from an OE and had given up on music, I was playing a set to 400 people in a music festival. Everything that has come after that has been a bonus. I’m just glad I’m still here. I don’t take anything for granted.
HAVE YOU GOT ANY SUPER-COOL FUTURE PLANS YOU CAN REVEAL TO ME?
Aside from the US/Canada tour, hopefully going into other places. I’d love to play in Europe. We’d love to come back to Australia and New Zealand too. Apart from that, I just have no plans. I’m not a big plan sorta guy. I’m sure my management booking agency has plans for me, but I’m chill.
I know I’ve had a two-year-pandemic-break but I personally feel like a break again. I’ll figure out whatever the next thing is when I need to. I’m sure something will pop into my head in the next five or six months. Then I’ll just run with whatever so I feel like I’ve succeeded again.