Welcome to weekly series The Singles Life, where known experts Katie Parker and Hussein Moses peruse, ponder and pontificate on the latest and (maybe) greatest in New Zealand music.
With an incredible voice, some pretty nice hair, and a bloody milkshake designed in his honor, Teeks has seemingly all one might need to succeed. A teacher of Te Reo Māori by trade, with the release of his debut EP, Teek’s soul singing side gig might be about to go full-time. But where is this wholesome sensation headed? Hussein and Katie are here to find out.
Hussein: Te Karehana Gardiner-Toi, the 23-year-old songwriter also known as Teeks, spent time between Tauranga, Rotorua and Northland when he was growing up, but his voice sounds like it could be from another world altogether. Taking note from soul music, both classic and contemporary, he’s just released his debut EP, The Grapefruit Skies.
He also merged the old with the new when it came to his latest video. ‘If Only’ draws inspiration from his late Grandfather, whose debonair style Teeks says he wanted to channel in the clip.
The Grapefruit Skies took about two years to come together, with half of it being recorded and produced in New York by Jeremy Most (best known for his work with Grammy-nominated singer Emily King) and the other half polished off in Auckland under the guidance of Seth Haapu and Mahuia Bridgman-Cooper.
Teeks has said that the lead-up to the EP was one of the most difficult times in his life. “Losing my feet for a minute, losing people I loved, exhausting all my emotions and walking through time trying to gather my thoughts.. The journey wasn't easy but I'm incredibly proud to say I've finally arrived at my destination.”
Katie: My first observation (and conspicuously absent from your introduction): Teeks is very hot. My second observation: ‘If Only’ is a nice song. He’s got a lovely voice and great presence and all the other advantages that come from being super hot.
The song, the video, and the vibe are all fairly broadly universal - it’s a kind of non-specific story of love and loss. Those things are usually the kiss of mediocrity for any artist, so I’m kind of surprised I like this so much.
I guess what I have trouble putting my finger on here is the audience that this is for. He could kind of go in a lot of directions, but I can also see some industry person deciding to pigeon-hole him for the Mother’s Day market.
Hussein: When it comes down to it, the broad appeal works in Teeks’ favour. The music doesn't quite break new ground, but that at least leaves him with some room to grow as he pushes forward with what's next. 'Adult contemporary' is always a label that artists will shun and for good reason. But the Adele phenomenon is a testament to the fact that it'll never be a dead-end. The ceiling is always going to be high for someone with a voice this good and his vocals here are placed front and centre. So they should be.
Katie: His voice is pretty hard to argue with. The Adele thing is interesting. Performers like that can kind of go either way and as American Idol and The Voice and X Factor et al (theoretically) taught us, being able to sing well is only half the battle.
Having said that, the New Zealand market seems like fertile ground for those kinds of singers. Sol3 Mio, The Koi Boys, even early Stan Walker, have all done well with lush voices and easy listening music that takes care not to step over any boundaries.
To me, Teeks feels authentic enough to transcend that bracket. The test, I guess, is whether he’s going to be able to have enough control to carve his own path.
Hussein: It does come off as much more genuine than a lot of the trash that record labels have been pushing out as of late. Part of that might come down to identity, which seems to inform much of what he does, even if it's not always explicit in his songs. He's spoken about the challenge of writing songs in Māori - "I have to be really careful, because I feel like I can easily slip into sounding a bit cheesy," he told Paperboy - and figuring out how to get it right would obviously add another dimension to his potential as a songwriter.
Katie: That’s really interesting and bodes well for him. I feel like, listening to this, I kind of just want more - more specificity, more depth and more sexy pics (tbh), and that’s not a bad thing. He’s so young and even if this song isn’t the most ground-breaking thing ever, you can tell he’s got a lot of substance that can and should be mined.
Hussein: There's heaps of different directions he could take things, which is what's so appealing about him. Teeks has the makings of a popstar, but he could comfortably slide in alongside some of the country’s most loved acts like Hollie Smith, Opensouls (RIP) and Trinity Roots if he wanted to as well.
I guess all I'm trying to say is that it's probably best to look at this as the beginning of something, rather than anything else. That's a good place to be in.