‘It feels like the sky is limit at this point’: Ngaiire reaches new peaks with the MSO

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‘It feels like the sky is limit at this point’: Ngaiire reaches new peaks with the MSO

Words by Jacob McCormack

For singer/songwriter and performer Ngaiire, much has changed in the last four years.

She has become a mother and watched her son grow, as well as enduring a pandemic and the effect that has had on her as an individual and her family. She has adapted her approach to her musical practice, as well as her visual art to accommodate the changes in her life. But, through walking these new pathways, opportunities have opened up for the artist.

Just last year Ngaiire performed on the steps of the Sydney Opera House, on Gadigal land, with the Sydney Symphony Orchestra. Presenting to an audience of around 5,000 people, the songs she has written throughout her career as a musician took on a different sound, a feat that was a significant highlight for Ngaiire.

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“I would say it was [successful],” says Ngaiire. “Even if no one had come to the show I still would have been pretty impressed that we were able to do that. I’ve never played the Opera House let alone the Opera House steps before. Being able to do that with my own show, with songs that I had written, performed in front of 5,000 people with the Sydney Symphony Orchestra on the Opera House steps is a career highlight for sure.”

Although the experience of performing with the Sydney Symphony Orchestra was, as an isolated moment, a milestone for Ngaiire, the performance has opened doors for performances with any symphony orchestra around Australia, and for that matter the world.

“After the Sydney Symphony Orchestra show at the Opera House we realised that we had this show that was ready to go and we could take to any orchestra we wanted to,” says Ngaiire. “So, we approached the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra and asked ‘would you guys be interested’ and they really jumped at the chance to be able to do it. It happened pretty fast, we found out two weeks after we did the Opera House show and things were on a roll pretty rapidly.”

So as Ngaiire prepares to play with the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra (MSO) on Saturday March 18, there will be little adjustment made to the setlist and arrangement following the Opera House show.

“I’d say for the MSO show we would be doing the same show as the Sydney one,” says Ngaiire. “But things are definitely heading in the direction where we will probably want to build on that over the next 12 months. It feels like the sky is the limit at this point.”

It seems as if the sky is indeed the limit for Ngaiire. In addition to developing what is already a spectacular and grandiose show with a symphony orchestra, she’s engaging with an entirely new writing and recording process for the new album she’s set to work on this year.

“I’m working on a new record in the next couple of months,” says Ngaiire. “Some of the orchestra performances will probably seep into the writing period.

“I haven’t even started the album yet. There have been some preliminary ideas, but we haven’t immersed ourselves yet. I’ve been away for the holidays, but it’s just around the corner.”

“The last two albums I have written with my longtime collaborator Jack Grace who produces with me. I usually do that and bring the new material to the band, and they all put their spin on it. I am excited for the next album. I’m hoping to get some of the members of the band to write some of the songs on the album, which translates well live because the band have more ownership of the creativity.”

Incorporating the band within the writing process is starkly different to how Ngaiire has engaged with her songwriting practice in the past. In times gone by, Ngaiire has sought out solitude to write and patiently waited for the music to come to her.

“Usually, my songwriting is quite insular,” says Ngaiire. “It’s usually just me and Jack, or me, Jack and Paul Mac or just me and one other person. It is usually over a longer period of time as well, for example, the last album took five years to write and release.”

“As is life, I have less time to do things, I have a four-year-old son and time is really precious now, so I’m in that zone of wanting to get in the studio and just bang things out in a shorter period of time. I don’t know how it is going to sound because I’ve never done that rapid writing before.

“I usually take my time, somewhere isolated and wait for the music to strike, but I think writing in a more collaborative manner will help things move quicker.”

While writing a new album in a challenging way may at times seem daunting, it is the very notion of getting out of her comfort zone that Ngaiire attributes to growth as an artist. It was on a trip to Papua New Guinea, her place of birth, that exacted that attitude.

“I went back [to Papua New Guinea] just before we started writing the previous album, about eight years ago. I took a little creative team over to be in the community, listen to stories, capture content, footage and photographs.

“That was quite an experience working backwards, collecting images first and then writing the record after that. Last year I said I wouldn’t do it again like that, but now that things have settled, I think that I really grew in the process of exercising a creative muscle that needed to be exercised.

“It’s important to find those challenges, especially as a singer/songwriter or as someone who does the whole ‘release a single and video clip and then a single then, then drop the album’. The whole traditional cycle gets a bit tedious and monotonous, but putting yourself out there to change as an artist and a person for your art is really important.”

As Ngaiire continues to expand and grow as an artist, the future is exciting.

“Going back to Papua New Guinea (PNG) and extracting inspiration from that area, it really gave me more of a freedom to experiment as an artist. I’ve recently been talking to my manager about what I want to do next, I love that no idea is too big or too crazy with the Ngaiire project.”

Ngaiire and the MSO play at Hamer Hall on Saturday March 18. Tickets here.