New Zealand has been punching well above its weight in recent years. Think Lorde. Think The Naked and the Famous, Broods, Gin Wigmore, Ladyhawke and Kimbra (oh, and don’t forget Flight of the Conchords). If you figured that’s it, think again. With the nominations announced overnight for the 49th New Zealand Music Awards, the spotlight is back on the Kiwis. Earlier this year, Billboard presented “10 NZ Artists Who Could Make A Lorde-Like Leap”. As 2014 nears its completion, here’s another 14 Kiwi artists to track for the months and years ahead.
Marlon Williams has been heralded as the “impossible love child of Elvis, Roy Orbison & Townes Van Zandt“. There’s something in it. A two-time winner of NZ Music Awards, the folk singer, who is now based in Melbourne, is taking leaps forward in his career. In recent weeks and months, he’s been booked to the line-ups for the Meredith & Queenscliff festivals in Australia, he’s supporting Justin Townes Earle, sold-out single tour shows, and performed at TEDx Sydney at the Sydney Opera House. Marlon delivered buzzy showcases at the 2014 Bigsound summit in Brisbane, including a set at his publisher Native Tongue’s party. A debut solo record is due in Feb 2015. Expect to see and hear a lot more from this man with the voice of an angel.
Jol Mulholland is the type of artist who can pick up any instrument, and play it like a pro. Published by Native Tongue, his sophomore solo album Stop & Start Again was released in September. He’s worked on albums by Andrew Keoghan, Victoria Girling-Butcher, Lindon Puffin, Nightchoir, Lisa Crawley, An Emerald City, Lydia Cole, Kirsten Morrell, Motocade, and he’s been playing in Liam Finn’s touring band through U.S. & Canada. But wait, there’s more. Jol’s also an in-demand producer, engineer, bass player, guitarist and vocalist. Billboard understands he has an impressive synth and keyboard collection. He’ll have to figure which keys to leave behind when he relocates to New York later this year where he’ll continue working with Finn and promoting his solo album. Jol’s also currently collaborating with Anika Moa, the much-loved NZ singer-songwriter whose lesbian Maori goddess routine is a thing of beauty (Moa spent time in the U.S. in the early noughties as a signing to the Warner Music roster).
The deliciously eccentric Connan Mockasin made many new friends and fans with his presence at SXSW 2014, and later at Britain’s Glastonbury Festival. He has since relocated to the U.S. to tour and support his catalog of releases, which includes a psychedelic version of “Jingle Bells“. Signed to U.K. DJ and producer Erol Alkan’s Phantasy Sound label, he has toured with Crowded House, Radiohead and collaborated with Charlotte Gainsbourg for the actress and artist’s 2012 mini-album Stage Whisper. He’ll hit the road for the Laneways Festival’s Australia and NZ run in January 2015. His sophomore album Caramel was released in November 2013. He named it so because, well, “the word ‘caramel’ sounded so nice”. Music critics widely agreed the album sounded nice too.
Princess Chelsea is the electropop solo project of Chelsea Nikkel, a classically trained pianist and former member of the Auckland bands The Brunettes and Teen Wolf. Her 2011 track “Cigarette Duet” was a viral smash. Lifted from the debut album Lil’ Golden Book, “Cigarette Duet” has generated upwards of 15 million views on YouTube. Alt-J frontman Joe Newman told NME that the Kiwi Princess was his favorite new act and her debut was “….like Disney pop but dark and DIY.” Princess Chelsea is preparing a new album, The Great Cybernetic Depression, and a tour for late 2014. The first snippet from it, “We’re So Lost,” arrived in late 2013.
The members of Streets of Laredo have North America on their minds. Signed to Wiz Kid Management (The Strokes), the group’s new album Volume I and II was released in North America in October (after an exclusive full-album stream pre-release via The New York Times). The set was issued via Dine Alone Records, the Toronto-based label that represents Billy Bragg, City and Colour and Kate Nash (it was released via Universal Music NZ locally). It’s been a whirlwind since the group’s “Girlfriend” placed No. 1 in the Adult Album Alternative (AAA) section of the 2013 Unsigned Only, a global music competition based out of Nashville. The seven-piece folk-inspired outfit embarked on their most ambitious U.S. tour to date in mid-2014, with a trek that featured supports with the Kaiser Chiefs and Cults, and a date at Bonnaroo. U.S. live shows continue through November. Signed to Native Tongue publishing, the band has been based in New York for the past two-and-a-half years.
Initially created as a solo project by songwriter Hollie Fullbrook, Tiny Ruins is now a full-fledged group with two albums under its belt. Tiny Ruins’ most recent set Brightly Painted One arrived in May via Simon Raymonde’s celebrated British indie Bella Union label, and via Flying Nun in the U.S. The act is currently touring with Sharon van Etten in the U.S. where it’s booked by Panache Booking (Ty Seagall, Mac Demarco, King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard). Live shows in support of the folk act’s new record have included dates in the U.K. and Europe, and a slot at the Iceland Airwaves festival. Tiny Ruins is up for a hattrick of NZ Music Awards.
Already a star in Australia and her homeland, Brooke Fraser has a U.S. strategy mapped out for 2015. The singer-songwriter’s fourth album release Brutal Romantic is due in November across North America and Australasia (it’ll drop in Europe in spring 2015). A 21-date Brutal Romantic tour of North America kicks off in Seattle on Jan. 22, followed by an Australian theater tour and NZ arena run — her biggest shows yet. Brutal Romantic is the follow up to Flags (Wood + Bone/Sony Music), which peaked at No. 3 on Australia’s albums chart in October 2010, eclipsing Albertine (No. 29 in April 2007), and 2004’s What To Do With Daylight (No. 85). Flags made the top ten in Germany.
Rock group Unknown Mortal Orchestra broke out with their self-titled first album which won NZ’s Taite Music Prize in 2012. In the same year, frontman Ruban Nielson took out best male artist at the NZ Music Awards. They’ve continued their push into the U.K. and Europe in support of their second album II. A new album III is on the way, via Jagjaguwar/Secretly Canadian. Unknown Mortal Orchestra has been a regular performer on major European festivals Roskilde Festival, Pukkelpop and Lowlands and in 2013 they performed on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon.
Doprah has a bright future ahead. The newcomer Kiwi duo (Indira Force and Steven Marr) set tongues wagging with the June 2014 release of their trippy, hypnotic debut EP. The J-Pop inspired video for “Stranger People” triggered a wave of blog action following its premiere in June, which in turn helped the Christchurch outfit launch high on Billboard’s Next Big Sound chart the following month. They’re nominated for breakthrough artist of the year at the NZ Music Awards, and a touring sked is taking shape for 2014 building up to CMJ.
Janine Foster’s R&B act enjoyed a huge boost when VH1 featured the single “Hold Me” on “Love & Hip Hop Atlanta.” The talented, smoky-voiced singer has generated strong global label interest, culminating in Atlantic Records striking a joint venture with New York-based Janine & The Mixtape and her label, Little Mixtapes Records. Through the new arrangement, the artist’s debut EP “Dark Mind”, will be re-released at all U.S.-based digital service providers on Nov. 4.
Teenage electro-pop artist Thomston is quietly building a following, and a framework for success. Thomston is the latest signing to Saiko Management, the Auckland-based firm which guides the careers of Lorde and Sol3Mio. And the stream for “Burning Out” on his Soundcloud page has had more than 83,000 listens. Billboard understands Thomston has several serious international deals on the table.
Yumi Zouma’s dreamy pop sound earned the trio a contract with boutique label Cascine. The band headed to the U.K., U.S. and Europe to support the release of their self-titled 2014 EP. And they’re coming back for more. They’re locked in for support slots on Lorde’s upcoming NZ arena tour in October, then they’re off to Iceland Airwaves festival Nov. 6 and on to album release parties in London, New York, San Francisco and Los Angeles. Booked by The Agency Group, the southern summer is shaping as a hot one with festival dates at NZ’s Rhythm & Vines (Gisborne), and the Australian events Beyond The Valley Festival (Phillips Island) and Lost Paradise Festival (Peats Ridge).
Anthonie Tonnon can really work a crowd, whether its slinging a guitar solo or working it with his full four-piece band. The Auckland-based singer-songwriter was a hot talking point among international delegates at NZ’s Going Global summit in September, his highlight song “Water Underground” still resonating long after the performance had wrapped-up. Tonnon’s music is influenced by the Best of British. There’s a touch of The Smiths, and he captures some of the sound and style of Bowie’s Berlin Trilogy era. Over the past year, the singer-songwriter has toured the U.S., Australia and his homeland, performing with the likes of Beirut, Okkervil River, Sean Nelson and Shenandoah Davis. Debut album, Up Here for Dancing crashed the domestic top 20 and cracked the CMJ Top 200 Chart. A new album, Successor, is due out in November 2014.
Wellington sludge metal four-piece Beastwars has earned respect in their homeland as a type of “mongrel mix of Kyuss, Neurosis, and the mighty Godflesh,”. Both of the band’s albums (2011’s Beastwars and 2013’s Blood Becomes Fire) were shortlisted for NZ’s Taite Music Prize, modeled on the U.K.’s Mercury Music Prize. Like all good heavy-edged bands, they have their own custom-brewed beer, Hallertau Beastwars India Pale Ale. The band’s PR is handled via Cardiff-based Sheltered Life PR and they’re signed to U.S. indie label Granite House Records, Denver CO.