Fri, Feb 9, 2024 3:56 PM

Tom Knowles takes the stage


Tessa Jaine

Local musician Tom Knowles is captivating audiences at festivals in Marlborough and Wellington this summer. He talks with Alistair Hughes about his upcoming gigs, what inspires his music and his debut album ‘Atarangi: Morning Sky’.

Could you tell me about your background and how you got started?

Throughout school, I was involved in jazz bands, singing, and later in a seriously cool rock band with my good mate Josh Logan, who I still play with. Coming from a talented family of musicians, I participated in all of the local operatic society shows. Eventually, I jumped ship to Wellington and pursued a degree at Toi Whakaari, the New Zealand Drama School. After graduating in 2013, I’ve spent the last ten years rocking souls and melting hearts, really.

It sounds like music has always been a part of your life. But how did you first discover your love for it?

I’ve always enjoyed putting myself out there, whether on or off the stage, so my love of music came from entertaining an audience. I’m involved in a lot of musical theatre because I’ve always liked making people laugh and making them feel something. What I discovered as I got older is that music is a great way of expressing things that can’t always be said, or are hard to say, and most of my songs have a story attached to them. Although I play in pubs, festivals, and concerts, I also do plays and TV work, so I float between the acting and music worlds.

You’ve been having a busy summer?

Yeah, it’s a crazy time. But that’s what we love about the holiday season, isn’t it? There are some really exciting festivals which I’m part of this year. Playing at Garden Magic at the Botanical Gardens in Wellington has been a long-term goal. I’m also part of the band headlining Big Gay Out in Auckland, which we were part of last year as well. We performed on the Picton foreshore on New Year’s Eve, and then Cubadupa in Wellington in March, which is another one that I’ve always wanted to do.

Tom Knowles. Photo: Richard Briggs

And the Marlborough Wine and Food Festival, of course?

Yes, I’m looking forward to playing to a home crowd because I still call Blenheim home. I’ll be opening for the Sons of Zion, which I’m really excited about. They’ve got some great songs that, at times, have shaped some of my own music. I’m also excited to open for Drax Project because they were in Wellington the same time I was studying, and I know the guys quite well. I last played at the Wine and Food Festival in 2012 with my band Remastered when we opened for Hello Sailor. It’s still one of the highlights of my festival career, so I’m really looking forward to getting back there.

What do you enjoy about performing at festivals as opposed to more intimate venues?

I suppose being able to entertain more people who are there to have a really good time. And I love being with the other artists. If I were to liken it to a cricket match, a festival is more like a Twenty20. Hard and fast, bringing out your biggest hitters and fastest bowler. Whereas with an intimate gig, you can go on more of a journey: it’s about reading a crowd and forming your set list with dips and flows.

Tell us about your debut album, Atarangi: Morning Sky?

I wanted to create something made from the hands of this land, available to all ages, and give kids something to groove to. Music that I really vibe with includes Troy Kingi, Katchafire, The Black Seeds, and Ria Hall. I wanted to capture that ‘Aotearoa dub’ sound, so the genre is definitely roots/reggae, with elements of rock and pop. Lyrically, it has a storyline like a concept album, following the Māori myth of creation. It’s about discovering who we are and standing tall with pride for where we come from, our feet set very deep in the Aotearoa soil. It’s an ambitious debut, but I decided right off the bat to go big with a twenty-track album.

It sounds like you have big plans for the future?

Atarangi: Morning Sky was my first exploration into releasing music, and I really enjoyed it and the accompanying show. So, as well as going into the wild world of rock funk music with my alter ego ‘Tommy Knowledge,’ I’ll also be staying true and releasing some more children’s ‘all-ages music’ in dedication to my daughter, in a series called Songs for our Daughters. As musicians, we all have something to say, want to have our voices heard, and our expression felt. I encourage people to support local artists, book them for gigs, listen to their music, and dance at their parties because that’s what keeps us all going.

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