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Producer and creative polymath Ta-ku never sits still for long, so even though he had a relatively quiet 2017, he’s ushering in the new year with one of his most ambitious projects to date, 823 Records. The label is the latest venture from the Perth-based musician, photographer, and unencumbered creative, and it’s one that blends his passion for heady, beautiful tunes, photography, and building musical community.
823’s first release will come from Kuzich, who is a close friend of Ta-ku’s and also his tour drummer, and will continue to expand to other artists whose vision Ta-ku wants to amplify. In addition to putting out their music, 823 will also release records featuring cover art and images shot by the artist. Ta-ku refers to it as more of an “art project” than a traditional release.
This project is the latest for Ta-ku in an ever-expanding portfolio, but it is all bound together by an appreciation of the beauty in our everyday lives and a commitment to supporting and empowering talented artists. We caught up with Ta-ku fresh off a trip to New Zealand and Taiwan and chatted about his decision to start a label in 2018, his own new music that’s on the horizon, and the meaning behind the number 823.
Watch Kuzich’s “Innervisions” video and buy his Dawn Chorus EP in physical or digital formats here.
823 is the name of the label and it’s a number that you’ve used in other facets of your creative life. Can you explain the significance?
823 is something I always used to tell my wife when we were dating and leading up to my marriage. It just stands for “Thinking of you.” It’s kind of like a term of endearment to someone that you think about a lot. It’s been around for a while, similar to “143.” I don’t know if you’ve heard of that terminology, but it’s the numerical representation of “I love you.”
When I started photography I took a break from music. I had recently got married—that’s another huge part of my life—and my wife knew that photography was a big thing for me. On our honeymoon I bought a film camera. We had a long honeymoon, three months away, and I was shooting predominantly with film. I liked the whole process of what film photography represents, that slow process. You don’t see things straight away, so it’s the opposite of the instant gratification which I feel like a lot of people, a lot of creatives, get used to with things like Instagram and social media.
What defines 823 Records?
I think everything that I do under 823 moving forward is something that I’ve always wanted to do but have never had a platform to. Starting a record label is something that I’ve always wanted to do, I’ve even tried before, but it just didn’t feel right at the time. Now, I’m starting to feel a bit more of a quiet appreciation for the things around me, the things that I see, and the places I visit. It just feels like a really nice, understated way to do things. I’ve never been at a time in my life when I could just do things for the sake of doing them, whether it costs me money or whether I break even. I’ve never been in a position, financially or creatively, to take those risks.
So 823 Records is an outlet to do what I like to do, regardless of the outcome. It’s a creative project which is dedicated to the people and places that I appreciate.
823 Records is a creative project which is dedicated to the people and places that I appreciate.
Could you tell me a bit about what prompted you to start 823 Records and why you wanted to try starting a label again after having done it a few times in the past?
Last time I tried to start a label it was called Sunday Records, and at the time I was probably the busiest I’ve ever been releasing music myself. It was hard balancing my own music and trying to help other people put out their own music. Now I’m still writing music and I’m still looking to write my album, but the music process is a lot slower for me at the moment. It felt like the right time because I know so many friends who have amazing music, but haven’t really put anything out. Given that everything I do is quite visually driven now too, it felt like the perfect time to combine that and incorporate visual concepts with putting my friends’ music out.
We’ve only put out one record, and it’s been low key, but it’s done a lot of things for my friend Kuzich. I was telling him that when I put out my first release I didn’t get a vinyl release or a music video or coverage on blogs like Pigeons & Planes!
In planning the label this time around did you think about the state of labels and the industry right now? A lot of labels are struggling to adjust, did that factor into your thought process? Or is this much more of a personal project?
Definitely. We’re not trying to be the next Def Jam or Stones Throw or anything like that. We’re trying to do something different at 823. These are more than just musical releases. These are like art projects where each artist has control of what their cover looks like. They’ll be shooting the whole process on film throughout writing the album, and that is all documented and packaged within the vinyl release and photo book. It’s more of an inclusive visual and audio look at an artist, rather than just audio.
You’re getting more of the artist, rather than just the songs. I think that’s good, especially with the way the music industry is working now, the whole algorithm-driven approach. When you hear a song you like and add it to a playlist, do you really know much about the artist? Is that even the intention of some of the artists? Do they want to let the audience know what kind of people they are?
When you hear a song you like and add it to a playlist, do you really know much about the artist?
Why is the tactile side of music still especially important to you nowadays?
Back in the day, when I was a fan at 15 or 16, I'd buy a CD, look at the cover art, and read the liner notes. Even though it sounds trivial, it was more than just music. You got to learn about what happened behind the songs. A lot of the songs that are probably on the top 10 global viral Spotify chart, you don’t really know who really wrote it, how many writers there were. If there were 10 people that wrote it, that’s fine, but can we find out more about them?
That’s why I love Genius, too, I feel like Genius kind of helps keep a small part of what we used to love about collecting music. When I was a kid buying vinyl and buying CDs, I wanted to know more about the artists. When I used to be the hugest Nas fan, when Nas and Jay-Z were beefing I was fascinated by that, and buying so many magazines that touched on it. I don’t know, it was just a different time back then. Buying vinyl is one of those things that helps keep the tangible part alive. I think that’s why I wanted to become a producer, because I wanted to learn more about what happened behind the scenes.
How do you find the right artists that you want to be part of 823? What would you say you want the label and its artists to exemplify?
I think especially for Kuzich, the first one, he was my drummer. When we’d tour the world he’d show me all this amazing music that he made on the road. I don’t make music on the road—I really struggle to do that. I’ve got to be in my bedroom. But it was really amazing to feel the music that he’d create while touring and while having his own commitments. And he was actually one of the people who encouraged me to start shooting film, because he was shooting it when we were on tour.
He just has a very interesting outlook and an interesting perspective and he’s a good friend and a nice guy and a very good person. Just having a personal relationship with people and knowing that they have a very interesting story and a creative side is one thing, but with Quickly, Quickly [the next 823 artist] I’ve never met the kid.
He shoots film as well, though. He has a very good eye for photos, and also his music is incredible. I’m definitely looking for artists who have a good spirit about them, but also have a very intricate way they present themselves or very interesting perspectives about visuals and music themselves. And a story to tell.
And these projects are all one-offs? You’re not signing artists to lengthy deals.
Definitely. It’s more of a “Hey, let’s just do a cool, one-off art project. For you, that’ll be great for [your] audience to have a tangible product of work.” But that’s not to say that down the road, we might not like to work with the same artist again and do a longer form release.
As you said, you took a bit of a break from releasing your own music after making (m)edian with Wafia. Do you have anything new on the horizon? How has your own approach to the intersection of music and visual art changed since you started 823 Records?
I definitely want to write an album that tells more about the story of my life, but in an abstract way. I don’t want to be too specific about things, but, for instance, Songs to Break Up To and Songs to Make Up To were stories about my life. I want the album also to be a story of a stretch of time, just told in a more abstract and interesting way, because I feel like a lot of people will relate once they find out what it’s about.
You stress the importance of the everyday and appreciating its beauty. That said, I think to an outsider you seem to lead this jetsetting, very inspired, no two days are the same sort of lifestyle. I’m curious, what does the everyday and appreciating the everyday mean in your life specifically?
It’s funny because I was talking to friends about this. All the lives that people think other people live due to social media now aren’t always accurate. But for me, I definitely love to travel, and I definitely love traveling with family, too. That’s probably my idea of a really good time away. But the everyday is keeping up with relationships that make me feel that my family and my wife are all taken care of and that we’re all considering each other.
I live in a very small town, an isolated city in Australia [Perth], and there isn’t a lot going on here. But that’s what makes Perth so special, because all my family are here and my wife is here, too. When I’m home, it’s always about family and it’s always about making sure that everything I’m doing creatively is making me feel happy and inspired.
This is a bit more personal, but I’ve read that you have a complicated relationship with your family and your father, and that it’s a theme on (m)edian, too. One thing that’s always struck me about you as an artist is the sense of community you emphasize, and I’m curious, do you think there’s any correlation between maybe having that disconnect with your family and then wanting to go out and create these artistic communities and musical communities of like-minded people?
The (m)edian EP I wrote with Wafia because we had something in common, and that story we both wanted to tell, which was complicated relationships with our fathers. I found that it was an amazing project to do together, and some of the places that we got to perform that EP live were places I never thought I’d ever play. I feel like working with like-minded people in your community and touching on subjects which kind of solidify the facts of why you’re so alike and why you’re in the industry together is very liberating.
For me, that whole EP was about learning to deal with the feelings that I had and learning to move on and it was the same for Wafia. I think it’s important to kind of tell these stories, you know? If you’re a creative and you have a story to tell, it helps you deal with that, and it helps you heal, and it helps you realize why you do the things you do.
For me, especially as a musician, some people would say I’m already an established or a professional musician, but I still don’t view myself that way.
In the note that you wrote about starting 823 you said that you were “both an aspiring musician and photographer.” You’re obviously a professional musician and a successful photographer, so why is it important to keep that aspiring tag and mentality about the art that you make?
I’m always wanting to be better. I’m always wanting to improve and wanting to learn more and increase my ability as a creative, whether it’s art, photos, or music. I think being that aspiring character helps you to always not be complacent. For me, especially as a musician, some people would say I’m already an established or a professional musician, but I still don’t view myself that way.
There’s music out there that I find so beautiful and intricate that I’m like, “There’s no way I can create something like that.” I listen to artists like Bon Iver or Goldmund or Nihls Frahm, the pianist, and people like that who I’m just in awe of. And the same thing with photos, I’m fairly new to photography and the visual arts and there’s so much more I want to try and learn and do, and I’ll never really view myself as a professional at anything.