MC Tali Reflects On Her Journey And Celebrates The Digital Release Of Her Debut Album | Interview

Tali is an award winning vocalist, teacher, mentor, inspirational speaker, and author. She has worked with some of the biggest names in drum and bass and has toured the world several times as an MC and with a live band. To celebrate the 15th anniversary of her debut album Lyric On My Lip, Tali released it digitally for the first time along with a documentary on D&B Portal. The documentary is truly inspiring as viewers get an inside look into what it was like for Tali entering the industry as a female, the highs and lows of the business and the hard work required to get to where she is now. Today, Tali continues to make an impact on the electronic dance music scene, having recently won Best Electronic Artist at the New Zealand Music Awards in 2019. We chatted to Tali about her journey, the expectations vs reality and what DnB means to her today.

Hi Tali, how are you? 

Kia Ora! I’m good thanks. Busy as, but feeling good nonetheless. 

Congrats on the release of your documentary and debut album Lyric on My Lip on streaming platforms! How did this idea come about? 

Lyric On My Lip recently celebrated a milestone birthday. I always knew that I wanted to do something around the 15 and 20 year mark for the album. It was a huge release for me in terms of spring-boarding my entire career, and so many people have always commented on how it was ahead of its time and set the benchmark for a lot of other albums that followed. I felt it deserved some sort of recognition—at least personally. I started out by contacting Roni Size my old producer and label boss and getting his blessing. Even though after 15 years the music is now legally mine—I wanted to make sure he was happy with it being re-released, especially as I put it out under my own imprint Reign Recordings. Then when I was clearing out some stuff I came across the old mini VHS films I had recorded back in the day, moments on tour —on Miami beach, in New York, in the club, that sort of thing. It sparked an idea. Initially I thought to just do like a montage video of moments in time and have the music playing behind, but the more people I spoke to the more it seemed like an opportunity to tell my story a bit more. I felt slightly uncomfortable just telling it from my point of view, so it made sense to speak to people who were actually there. Those who were involved in the album’s evolution or who remember it being something impactful. From there it became the documentary. 

What was it like watching the old footage and looking back on your journey? 

It gave me a real sense of nostalgia for the good times and reminded me of all the places I went to and things I experienced. There was lots of footage that I wanted to include, but it didn’t add anything to the story and made it too long so my sub editor suggested we leave it out. It’s a shame because I wanted to show those old memories. I might still release them just as mini stories on instagram, because those times were truly special! Plus everyone loves looking back and seeing what the various DJs and MCs looked like as younger versions! haha

In the documentary, you talked about how it’s a male dominated industry. What was it like for you entering as a female and voicing that being an MC is what you wanted to do?

When I first said I wanted to be an MC to my DJ boyfriend back in Christchurch he was a little hesitant. We had started this promotions company ‘Scientific’ and it was very much about projecting the right image for the brand. I think he was nervous that I wanted to do it as a hobby and wouldn’t take it seriously or not be any good at it. But I think I surprised us both. I was very determined that this was the thing I wanted to do. So my boyfriend said to me “It won’t be enough to just be good, you’ll have to be greatespecially if you want to be taken seriously as a woman.” It wasn’t that he didn’t think I could do it being a girl, he was actually really supportive of women in the scene—he just wanted me to come out guns blazin’ and represent the brand in a strong way, and not make a fool of myself or him. So I practiced loads, wrote heaps of rhymes and he got me a couple of smaller shows out of town just to test the waters. When the reaction was positive we knew we were onto something. When I first started MCing around NZ people were shocked, stoked, curious, annoyed—all manner of reactions. I was such a novelty, the only Female MC amongst a handful so it was certainly all about proving I had the skills and deserved to be there. Then once I got to London I had to prove it all over again to the UK audience. 

You’ve moved to many different cities to follow your passion (for example Melbourne and London). What was it like moving to these places and trying to figure things out on your own?

Melbourne was cool because I had left Christchurch after five years of being there, and so it felt like a fresh new experience. I also felt free because I was striking out on my own as an MC and a single lady! I had ambitions to move to England eventually but being able to cut my teeth in the Melbourne scene first was awesome. I had a lot of great support from Steve 1LC, and Ruxspin—those guys who did DnB  shows up at Lounge Bar. Their support was immense in helping me gain even more confidence. My best mate Misi moved over from NZ a few months later and we began planning our move to the UK. At first it was sorta just talking about it, but once I met Roni Size and he invited me to the UK, we began applying for our visas and making plans for real. When we moved to London it was big and scary but we had each other. Although Misi was doing her thing career wise and me mine, I couldn’t have survived without her friendship. When I moved to Bristol she came too, and she often joined me on tour—coming to Paris and Glastonbury, things like that. Misi was my rock at the best and worst of times. It was a bit hard when she eventually moved back to NZ and I stayed on. 

What were your expectations vs reality?

The reality was London was a lot more scary and expensive and frustrating than we anticipated hence when Roni suggested I move to Bristol I jumped at the chance. Bristol was a lot more chill. The scene there felt more inclusive and welcoming, the vibe was more me and I loved living there. I eventually did grow tired of it though and when I decided to move back to London, I had a lot more street knowledge and the general skills to navigate living in a big city. My last three years in London especially were really fun and full of adventure. I had solid friends and was living in an area I knew and liked. I was making actual money not just scraping by, I was living with one of the greatest women I have ever met and who became my best friend. I fell in love with my husband to be—those things make a real difference to your experience of a place.  

What cities or countries have had the biggest impact on your music?

Well Christchurch without a doubt because that’s where I ‘grew up’ as a musician. The energy and the scene at the time I was starting out was amazing. We were on the cusp of something exciting and groundbreaking and we knew it. Melbourne holds a special place because I grew so much in the 6 months I had there. Bristol without a doubt because that’s where it truly all kicked off for me in terms of recognition and releases. But there are other places where I was introduced to whole new audiences who were so welcoming and excited by my presence which really helped cement my place in DnB. Places such as Miami, LA, Germany, Vienna, Prague and Perth.

You mention in the documentary you insisted on having women with you when going on tour. Why was this important for you?

For one because I was so over just touring with men! I had some great friendships with a lot of the DJs and MCs I toured with but sometimes it got lonely in the sense that I missed having someone around who could relate to me. Often I’d find myself making a real effort to get friendly with the promoter’s wife or girlfriend when I was away because I was so desperate to have a conversation with another woman!! So it made sense to have people there who I could turn to in a time of need, go shopping with, or have a nice dinner with and conversation about my boyfriend or whatever real girlie moment I was missing. Secondly a lot of my songs contain harmonies. You can’t do a good song with a good harmony justice if it’s missing the layers, so it was exciting to have those extra voices onstage. Lastly, I didn’t want women in the audience to look up onstage and me be the only female face they saw. I was so adamant from the get go that I wanted to show other women that there was a place for them in the industry and so when they came to a show, they could see themselves represented. Having Hollie and Zaniah there meant girls weren’t just looking up to me, but to them as well!

A lot of the time people only see the end result and not all the hard work that went on behind the scenes. How did you keep yourself motivated through the ups and downs to keep going?

It was tough. I really relied on my friends and advice from those I respected and trusted such as Dynamite MC, or my backing singers or my manager to help guide me. But there was a time when none of those people were around me any more and I was effectively on my own. When I left Bristol and moved back to London I went through a really hard time. I was in a toxic, all consuming relationship, I had no money, I wasnt gigging anymore basically I was depressed and had mad anxiety.  I went to a Doctor to ask what was wrong with me he said I probably had ‘mild depression’ but didn’t offer to do anything to help me. I didn’t even really know what it was to be depressed and certainly not a clue what to do about it. I find that kind of incredible looking back that there really wasn’t any sort of mental health support or help either in the music industry, or even from my local GP. When I made a conscious decision that I just didn’t want to be sad anymore, that I wanted to regain my confidence and find myself again, it took a good two years. I had good days and bad days but I took every day in my stride, and as a chance to better myself and learn and grow. I wrote in a gratitude journal everyday, giving thanks for what I had—gratitude is a really powerful thing. I used to go running every evening and cry as I ran, having conversations in my head with people who had hurt me but when I got home I felt so much better—exercise is a great healer!

I moved into a new place and I surrounded myself with supportive people who actually cared about ME and not about the music or what money I could make them. I got myself a female agent and started MCing again, not long after I finally felt in control of my life again, things really turned around for the better. I credit two of my amazing friends Keyah and Erica for really helping me find myself again, their words were a great source of encouragement and inspiration.  For all the bad times, there are so many amazing times. Whenever I feel tired from touring, I remind myself of all the awesome things I get to do and experience and people I get to meet in this line of work. That is what drives me and offers great inspiration.

How has journal writing helped you?

Being able to pour my thoughts out onto the page is a cathartic experience. When I was at my most distressed I wrote and wrote, sometimes two or three times a day. I have to admit in the last two to three years, I haven’t written much in my journal at all. I think this is because I’m the happiest and most settled I’ve ever been and so the need to write isn’t there. Plus I’ve been writing so much other stuff like a novel, songs, a blog—having to then journal at the end of the day can be a bit tiresome! 

You also do a lot of mentoring, teaching, working with youth and with schools—why did you want to do this? 

I truly believe that one of my strengths lies in passing on knowledge through teaching and guiding people and helping them in various ways. Especially in ways that I didn’t have when I first started MCing. I think if you have these strengths and you are able to empower and inspire other people, especially young people, it’s almost a crime if you don’t! I feel like I remember so clearly what it was like to be 8, 18, 28 like it was only yesterday so I feel I have a good relationship with children and young adults especially. It also helps that I am a touring musician and most of them think I am pretty cool! Haha Also I feel that I am at a stage in my life where I want to leave a legacy that is more than just about the music I make or words I write. I want my legacy to also be through teaching others, guiding them and leaving a lasting impression on their lives, that may in turn, inspire them to help others in a similar way in the future. 

Over the past few months you’ve been doing some music production—how’s that going? 

It’s going great!! I really love being in the studio. Performing is great, sure but geeking out and making music is something I could do all day every day. I’ve actually been producing music for years, I produced my entire album ‘Wolves’ but I really feel since lockdown my skills have improved tenfold. I really used our lockdown time effectively, learning more and just making music every single day. Recently I started producing Drum and Bass, which I have never tried doing before mainly because I felt like I should just stick to my day job so to speak haha. But it turns out that I actually have a bit of a knack for it, having listened to and loved DnB for so long. I am also musically trained, so I have loved playing a lot of the parts within the track, layering and creating harmonies, there’s also no vocals from me it’s all instrumentals. I would love to put out an instrumental DnB EP this year!  

Love your Liquid Lowdown sets, what’s it like preparing and performing these? 

I don’t really prepare other than listening to Chiccoreli working on the mix. Now and then I like to know the tunes he’s adding, but mostly I just find out on the night. Not knowing adds more spontaneity which also adds to the whole freestyle flow that I am known for. Performing a Liquid Lowdown set is one of my most favourite things in the world. It’s joyous, heartwarming, fun and exciting. The crowd is always so positive in their response and I love seeing people just getting lost in the music and whatever it is I’m singing and Chiccoreli is playing. 

You recently hung out with some DnB legends while they were in NZ—how was that?

It was lovely! Especially seeing Dynamite, who is also an old friend, having of course been the original Full Cycle MC, and my mentor and close friend for many years. We had him to stay with us for a week and it was so wonderful to reminisce and share stories and food and wine. Dynamite is just so chill he makes it easy to be in the moment.  It was also lovely to see Subfocus again.  I have known Nick for years. I watched his career unfold every month at Ram nights at The End club haha. We’ve also worked together in the studio and I’ve MC’d with him before. Nick is a legend and super nice guy, so it was a pleasure to spend some time. Rob Dimension and Ben Delta Heavy are also lovely dudes.  I’m relieved however that we have Alix Perez and A.I in the country at the moment too—just in case all the raver kids think that DnB begins and ends with big commercial DnB bangers. Which it of course doesn’t. 

What’s it like seeing how big the DnB scene is in NZ now? 

I love that DnB is so popular here, but I do get concerned that a lot of what I’m hearing and the people headlining the big shows do all sound a bit the same. It’s important to represent diversity and educate the masses on the different facets within DnB but I guess these big acts mean lots of people attending which means lots of $$ for the promoter. But that’s the thing I hate. Drum and Bass and the people within it are just becoming a commodity. It is so much more than that. For many of us it is and has been a way of life. 

What does drum and bass mean to you today? 

Drum and Bass is a way of life. It is something that has taken me around the world, allowed me to play shows, meet amazing people, experience different cultures and make wonderful friends. DnB has spawned record labels, clothing brands, magazines, and radio shows. While many often hop on the DnB train because it’s considered popular by the mainstream and they want a piece of the pie (and this happens continually in cycles over the years), only the true believers stay on for the whole journey. I love Drum and Bass, especially the kind of stuff that I really appreciate, soulful DnB and those naughty Tech rollers!! 

Lastly, your outfits are amazing. How do you come up with your looks?

I have always loved fashion and making a statement on stage. I often look at Pinterest for inspiration and have several boards on there with pictures of outfits that I love. I will usually open it up and scroll through, see something I like and have a think then It’s really about pulling it altogether from existing things I own to op shop stuff and the occasional store purchase. My outfit is usually a mishmash of op shop and new. 

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