Seth Haapu
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Seth Haapu

Auckland, Auckland, New Zealand | MAJOR

Auckland, Auckland, New Zealand | MAJOR
Band Pop Singer/Songwriter

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IT STARTED with a 1986 Panasonic cassette player and Kenny G. A retro collision that began Seth Haapu's recording career.

The 24-year-old singer/songwriter releases his debut album tomorrow. But his very first recording experience – Haapu vocals against Kenny G's dulcet saxophone tones – was, strictly, homemade.

"I was a weird kid," he says. "I think I spent more time doing stuff like that than doing other normal stuff like sports."

These days, Haapu is signed with entertainment giant Sony Music, a marriage that was "bloody about time" he jokes.

"It was awesome ... for a while I had been writing and it just really secured a sense of professionalism, I suppose. It was a really definitive step in my career."

Haapu's dark hair is pulled into a stylish Mohawk, he's fresh-faced and edgy at the same time, much like his music. The eponymous album mixes indie pop with soulful lyrics, harmonies and instrumental arrangements. It has songs combining older musical influences from the 1950s to 70s with Haapu's own ideas, making for some really original material.

"A lot of it's derived from just personal experiences and often they can be observed in other peoples lives as well," says Haapu, who recorded the album at Neil Finn's Roundhead Studios in Auckland. "Everything from the ups, downs, humour, stupidity, grief and all sorts, it's a real range of emotion. I think as humans often we feel more than just love, which is often quite a typical theme in pop music. I'd like to push the boundaries a bit and talk about more of the real things."

Neil Baldock, Roundhead's technical manager, who engineered the album, calls Haapu (who toured with Crowded House last summer) "a mini genius".

"He comes in and he will lay down like 60 tracks of vocals in about half an hour, all perfectly in tune."

Growing up in Whanganui with a musical family (his parents were in a band called Ivory), it seemed natural that Haapu would end up with a microphone. "I'm quite obsessed with music," Haapu says. "Mainly because it's always been around the house and there were instruments – drums, guitars, piano, a PA system. [I had] all that sort of thing at hand for me as a little kid, so it's just a bit of nurture/nature."

Haapu also formed a band with his siblings – a move that helped him fine-tune his vocal skills. "I think that foundation of singing with the group really helped me kind of nail down harmonies, which is quite a common theme in my songs."
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At Whanganui High School, Haapu's band, Apocalyptic Sam and the Funkmaster Five, contained members from The Have (now called The Son and the Wolf), and he was in jazz band with Andrew Christiansen from the Black Seeds.

After a stint at Rotorua Boys High, Haapu moved to Sydney for a gap year, where some friends who were in the Lion King production introduced him to different people in "the biz", and he ended up performing in clubs. "It was kind of weird because I'd go in and they'd have people with backing tracks and I'd get up on the piano."

It was also across The Ditch that Haapu dipped his toes in reality talent shows in the form of Australian Idol, where he came in just shy of the last 13. It's an experience he admits he gets a bit embarrassed about now. "I think in a sense I just went in for fun and ended up getting a bit further than I expected."

New Zealand, he says, will always be home. "Even one of the songs that I wrote is hugely inspired by the landscape of New Zealand," he says. "I know it sounds a bit dorky, but I remember travelling over eight hours from Whanganui to Auckland on the bus and this was during the period that I was about to get signed, and just like the landscape in general how there were lots of highs and lows ... that landscape acted as a metaphor to the journey you have in life."

Haapu is endearingly modest – even with fame licking at his heels. In addition to the Crowded House tour, he has opened for international acts Train and Adam Lambert at Vector Arena. They were pinch-yourself experiences for the muso, who can't pinpoint if it was more daunting opening for big acts or performing at a venue in front of thousands. "At the time I was so excited by the whole prospect of even being considered to open for these people that you don't often think about all of those things," he says. "It's like, OK this is happening, get up, perform and it's not until now that I'm like `Wow, I actually opened for these people'."Haapu says he leaves emotion offstage. "You kind of forget yourself and you're up there for the people. So whatever feelings you have – good or bad – you leave it behind. You get up and you give everything you have and often because the songs are quite personal, you're having to go back to places and times."

New Zealand music is in a healthy place now, with fresh talent constantly bursting on to the scene. "It's thriving," Haapu agrees. "What I love especially is that pop music has really come to the fore in the past few years – you know, you've got Dane Rumble, Gin, Brooke Fraser, Kimbra.

"One of the awesome things about my record company and the team that I work with is that they encourage me to be creative, where I suppose there has been some stigma in the past, you know these pop acts get manufactured and what not. I suppose we're lucky in a sense to have people that support the artistic vision and believe in what you believe in."

And this boy from Whanganui has big visions for his album. "I hope to tour the whole damn world with it."

- Sunday Star Times - Sunday Star Times


Discography

2010: Bones (single)
2010: Stereotype (single)
2011: Owe You Nothing (single)
2011: Seth Haapu (Self titled debut album)

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Bio

In life, some things are simply ‘written’; Seth Haapu being destined for a life in music is one of these things. The first signs could be seen at the tender age of eight, where he was already utilising a pair of cassette players to record harmonies for his earliest songwriting efforts. Fast-forward to present day, and the mastering of multiple instruments, and he’s still at it. Now though, the cassette players have been replaced by the mixing desks of Neil Finn’s infamous Roundhead studios; the result being his self-titled debut album.

For the musical wunderkind, born in Whanganui around the sounds of Michael Jackson, The Beatles and Elvis Presley, music has always come naturally. Haapu began uploading his work online whilst living in Sydney which garnered strong industry attention and a solid fanbase. A contract with Sony Music sealed the deal, followed by a return to his homeland and support slots with international names including Adam Lambert and Train and local legends Crowded House, Stellar* and Supergroove.

Haapu’s debut album is set for release on August 8th. On its formation, Haapu says “During the writing process I really went back to being a kid in the 90’s listening to old school music from the 1950’s - 1970’s. I loaded my iPod up with retro songs and a few current Top 40 hits and that’s what I listened to for months”.

“I noticed how a lot of artists like Bob Dylan sang about the truths of humanity; their ability to connect with society through songs of hope, fun, love, anger and peace. I guess that we all have emotions in common and I really wanted to sing about them all. I loved hearing the musicality of The Beatles and on the other hand I appreciated hearing the slick production and strong melodies of pop music today”.

Self-producing his record was a natural step for Seth. Layering instruments to create a textured, elaborate sound and a hands-on approach to creating music has seen him contributing everything from the usual guitars and keys to harpsichord, percussion, computer programming, backing vocals, and – in true modernist fashion – the iPhone.

However, it wasn’t a singular effort, as Haapu notes. “Nick Gaffaney (Cairo Knife Fight), Godfrey DeGrut (Che Fu) and Chip Matthews (Opensouls) played on the record. There was a great diversity among us that when put together sounded like something fresh. Neil Baldock was another key figure in the making of the album, acting as sound and mixing engineer on several tracks. Other songs were given a unique mix by [Grammy winning mixer and producer] Bob “Bassy” Brockman (Christina Aguilera, Usher, Bob Dylan, Aretha Franklin).

The result is something truly unique, encompassing melancholic laments to retro-tinged rhythms; from whimsical keyboard arrangements to full blown pop. The album opens with introduction ‘Hurly Burly’ – “a song about the tumult and commotion in our world today; the ever-increasing growth of technology, the reshaping of society, natural disasters and the swell in pop culture.

Following this comes current single Owe You Nothing, written around the idea of “self belief being up in arms with doubt”, and upbeat single Stereotype, which opens up to new ideas and celebrating differences.

Other album highlights include “Trashing My Heart”, described as “a fun take on my plea to rekindle the romance when the relationship hits a low point.” and introductory single “Bones”, “a call to bring someone out of a negative past and into a better future”.

Of the music on his debut album Seth says “I want my music to do for others what music did for me when I was growing up. The songs that make up my record were inspired by life lived and observed”.