Published on August 23rd, 2016 | by The Beige Baron0
Interview | Ina Maka
It can be daunting to review music that draws on a culture you don’t know well. Ina Maka’s self-titled debut EP is described as “psychedelic soul mixed with hip hop”… Something I was curious to hear for the psych element, but not so confident in commenting on due to my lack of hip hop schooling. For whatever reason, I lost track of it after the nineties.
“Most of the support and sales so far have come from the heavy psych and stoner rock audience…”
What’s interesting about Ina Maka, though, beyond the promised brew of psychedelic soul, beats, and rhymes, is that it’s helmed by Frank Attard.
Frank is a Sydney-based drummer and audio engineer better known for his recording and production work with rock bands at the heavier end of the scale, not least among them his own improv outfits Frozen Planet 1969 and Mother Mars.
Fortunately, a lack of hip hop knowledge is no a barrier to enjoyment of Ina Maka… this EP had me hooked in the first few bars. But despite a positive reaction from listeners and critics, the band has found itself without a natural audience.
“I think we haven’t really found a scene that supports what we’re doing,” Frank says. “We don’t fit in with the urban soul scene, that’s for sure. We’ve been getting radio play on a variety of different programs, but the biggest surprise is that most of the support and sales so far have come from the heavy psych and stoner rock audience.”
The spaciness is warmed by heavy-lidded flows from Opal Maka Am…
That makes a weird kind of sense: Ina Maka’s basslines are rooted in the funk groove and that forms the backbone of the most memorable stoner rock riffs.
Ever-shifting drum patterns weave through a fog of effects-heavy guitar, giving a nod to the phase-flipping wah madness of Funkadelic’s Maggot Brain, the spaciness warmed by heavy-lidded flows from Opal Maka Am (aka Janny Casanova).
My limited hip hop vocabulary noted, Janny’s smooth delivery nonetheless reminded me of Mary Ann Vieira from Digable Planets, particularly the incredible 1994 record Blowout Comb.
Playful, infectious beats support a collage of vibrant psychedelic colors, but Ina Maka takes it a step further with ethnic instrumentation performed by one of the band’s two guitarists, Ray Ledesma.
I ask about the creative process behind the single Someday, and how the live-performance element to the band fits into the production aspect of their sound.
“My only real goal in production is for the end product to sound good. I strive to get the most important parts of the mix to have impact and really to just capture the energy of the performance,” Frank says. “Someday we were already playing live.
“Ray Ledesma plays the South American quenacho flute on this particular track. So recording the track gave us the opportunity to layer his parts to create a whole flute section. For the live version, the flute plays more of a soloist role, but still holds the important melody.
“With Someday, I recorded drums myself and put the bass part down shortly after. I then added Ray’s guitars and flutes, then Janny’s vocals.
“Our second guitarist Paul, who also happens to be my brother, did his guitar parts last… I usually like to build a track from drums, bass, then guitars, and do vocals, then any percussion or effects or other instruments last, but it depends on the band’s availability. If anyone has time to come to record, I’ll get them in!”
“Everyone in the band brings their ‘thing’ to the table and there’s not set rules…”
As we chat, I’m desperately trying to remember the name a hip hop record that’s often cited by psych rock fans as an underrated classic of the psychedelic genre, similar in nature to Ina Maka, but with grimier, hard-edged rhymes.
A scroll through my iTunes eventually uncovers it: Beauty And The Beat, a kind of musical homage made by a young artist called Edan, apparently in a college dorm room. Was that album a point of reference?
“I haven’t heard of those guys, but we’re all big hip hop fans, and I guess the experimental influences come from just being open to everything. Everyone in the band brings their ‘thing’ to the table and there’s not set rules or expectations in the final outcome of the sound.”
But if there are no rules, and Frank wasn’t seeking the right players to fulfil an overall sonic concept he had in mind, what was the common element that brought the band together originally?
“The band came about as I was producing tunes using drum machines and analog synths, which had an electro-soul/experimental hip hop feel to them,” Frank explains. “I knew Opal Maka Am through mutual friends and thought she’d be perfect to sing/rap over my tunes.
“We worked together and put out an album of material as Milton Franks/Opal Maka Am titled Space Tapes Experiments Mix Volume One, 8 Bit And Beyond.
“Janny had a bunch of material written from over the years, so we decided it’ll be cool to form a band together and we started to put it all together.”
Was that a matter of merging ideas together with Janny’s and have the other musicians fill in the gaps, or did the band write the music from scratch jamming together?
“Initially there were completed songs already there. We’d just rework them into something fresh and a little more unique. Two of the songs on the EP were written completely from jamming. The other two were ones we reworked quite a bit. There are actually three different versions of Someday.”
“This project is a way to express some of the ideas I’ve had and a way to explore new rhythms…”
Given that other musical elements seem to grow out of and orbit the drums, and how the beats feed on the golden age of funk and jazz, I wonder if Frank saw Ina Maka as an opportunity to explore another aspect of his musical personality less accessible in a rock band?
And were there any drum players in particular that were guiding stars while making this record?
“I’ve always played in rock bands since I first started playing drums, but I love all styles of music. So I guess I inject a little of everything in any kind of music I play if it feels right or appropriate.
“This project is definitely a way for me to express some of the ideas I’ve had and a way to explore new rhythms… this particular record I couldn’t say any real drummers informed the way I went about playing, but without knowing it, there’s definitely some of my influences coming through.
“It’s always been easier for me just to play an idea than to mess around with programming…”
“I love Questlove from The Roots. Chris Dave. Buddy Miles, James Gadson, Tiki Fulwood from the early Funkadelic. Tony Williams, Levon Helm, Jim Keltner. The list goes on and on. These are some of my favourite drummers, so they influence my playing regardless of what genre it is.”
It’s interesting how Frank’s role as engineer dovetails with being a musician. Whereas a producer or DJ might reach for an LP with a good beat to loop, Frank can play the beat he wants and change it any time. But did any influence from a favorite DJ find its way in?
“It’s always been easier for me just to play an idea than to mess around with programming, sampling, and sequencing, but I know even producers like Madlib play an array of instruments. So did J Dilla.
“We both love bands like Hawkwind, King Crimson, Pink Floyd, and Can.”
“There was probably some influence from hip hop producers like Madlib, Dilla, MF Doom, that would have played a role in my subconscious when producing the tracks on this record.
“Although I don’t really consider this record as hip hop. There’s some influence, but it’s leaning more towards psych and soul.”
I suggest the guitar on Dirty Coalition as a good example, which triggers another line of thought: being primarily a psych record, which aspect of the genre does he mine, being on one hand a rock drummer, and on the other a producer with a studio full of vintage synths and other electronic equipment?
Is the psych aspect coming from a love of ’70s kosmiche or proto-techno, or from fuzzed-out garage rock, or somewhere else altogether?
“I really like the sound of late sixties early seventies records.
“I think the psych element is a combination of both electronic and guitar fuzz psychedelia from that era. My brother Paul brings a lot of the heavy guitar space-rock influences across. We both love bands like Hawkwind, King Crimson, Pink Floyd, and Can.
“Over the years I’ve always made a point to keep discovering different music. I did go through a phase of getting into early experimental electronic music. Delia Derbyshire and Jean Jacques Perrey are a couple that come to mind. Japan’s Yellow Magic Orchestra took things somewhere else in the late seventies.”
So with a top-shelf recording of fresh new tunes and growing interest in the project, I ask Frank why he doesn’t organize some shows that would bring a hip hop audience together with the stoner rock crowd? Would that chemistry mix?
“I was recently thinking Ina Maka is better off playing on bills alongside alternative or indie psych bands to try and reach a more open-minded audience [than “urban music” fans], but I don’t wish to generalize.
“I’ve found cool, open-minded people in all sorts of scenes. I’d love for us to be the bridge.”