“We don’t really want to be a drum and bass act all the time” says Shapeshifter’s Nick Robinson. “That’s not all we are.” The man is an instantly genuine character and does not possess the airs of someone who spends great bouts of the year revving up crowds to fever pitch. Thankfully, his good natured-ness instantly dismisses the brewing nightmares of pre-recorded voice prompts, international extensions and waveforms that apparently come part and parcel with phone interviews across the sea. While we’re making reference to the ghastly and nightmarish, producing a full-length album is definitely one for those stakes, particularly when doing it in house. Regardless, Nick seemed fairly unbent and kiwi about it all
“We’re in the process of mixing our next album at the moment. ” he explains, quite literally from behind the mixing desk. “It’s a step on from Soulstice… We’re writing similar material, it’s still drum and bass but we’ve taken a different approach this time in the recording process. This time we’ve brought it ourselves as a band, whereas in the past we would’ve produced the album as a drum and bass producer would do it.”
With a new album consuming their time, the band’s home on the stage has been the subject of unfortunate and necessary neglect. No surprises then that their impending Australian East Coast tour is definitely one Shapeshifter are excited about. “We usually come over every September and do a tour in Ozzie…It’s one of the highlights on the calender.”
Unsurprising still, there’s more than a pinch of excitement for this tour outside the band “I reckon NZ and Australia would be quite similar” he says of the response to Shapeshifter gigs here and at home. “I think almost sometimes Australian people are a bit more supportive, Kiwis are sort of… They’re not more judgmental, they’re maybe a bit harder to get through to. Coming over to Ozzie was a real treat, because it took maybe one or two average tours and then after that we we’re getting some good numbers to gigs.”
Shapeshifter has woven it’s musical roots ever so deeply into the genres of soul and hip hop, and while there are definitely elements of Shapeshifter’s work that are predominately of the drum and bass staple, they’ve quite literally succeeded in orchestrating their greater vision into the fold.
“I think it was before Soulstice, that we did this gig in Auckland and we played with the Auckland Philharmonic Orchestra – it was just real epic. We were freaked out about how much fun it was to be playing in front of an orchestra and hear it blasting behind you. So when we did the album tour in NZ for Soulstice, we decided to do something special and play with an orchestra in the three main centres – Christchurch, Auckland and Wellington. It was probably one of the most stressful times in my life”
The Shapeshifter Live album dropped in 2007, and showcased a band both in and outside of their comfort zone simultaneously as they performed their bombastic material with the power of strings, horns and the like. The performances captured on disc were most definitely a case of worlds colliding in genius fashion, undoubtedly a strong affirmation that Shapeshifter is a band that lives and breathes their namesake.
In a genre very much concerned with programming beats and automating sounds, such technical sorcery does not play a pivotal role within Shapeshifter, who opt for live drums and synths to ensure their live sets are unpredictable and all the more explosive. “I’m sure there’s bands out there that play to clicks and they sound primo, they can do it really well, but we’ve never minded speeding up and slowing down.
And in case it wasn’t crystal by now, Shapeshifter have been known to stir their own eclectic hot pot from time to time, throwing other vocalists in the fray when occasion calls.
“We regularly used to collaborate with Ladi6, and also we’ve done a couple of songs with Joe from Fat Freddy’s Drop and also a fella name Kai from Bloodspells… He was on our last album” Nick explains. “This time around we’ve got only one collaborator… MC KP, he’s the MC from Sunshine Soundsystem and he does a rhyme with (Shapeshifter vocalist) P Digsss on the new album. But apart from that it’s pretty much just in the family.”
As their tour approaches, Nick says that fans can expect the very best of Shapeshifter’s cannon to date, both new and old “We’ve got a few new songs we’ll be playing that are on the up and coming album. It’s a good way to sneak a whole lot of new material in there and get people used to it and vibe off it. At the same time, we’ll playing some of our old favourites as well. It’ll be a good mixture”
Shapeshifter will play the Forum, Sydney, on September 19. Their new album is out October 12 on Truetone records.