Comprised of Naomi “Nai Palm” Saalfield (guitar, vocals), Paul Bender (bass), Simon Mavin (keys), and Perrin Moss (drums), Hiatus Kaiyote broke internationally in 2012 with their first LP, Tawk Tomahawk, which was praised by simpatico musical travelers from Erykah Badu to Questlove to Prince, and embraced by DJs like the BBC’s Gilles Peterson, DJ Jazzy Jeff and Anthony Valadez (KCRW/Morning Becomes Eclectic). Their first R&B Grammy nomination, for their song “Nakamarra,” was followed by a second for “Breathing Underwater,” from their sophomore album, 2015’s Choose Your Weapon. Still, their music defied categorization: Some called it “neo-soul,” others “future soul”; the band calls it, simply, wondercore. Their music found fans in hip-hop, sampled on songs by The Carters (Beyonce & Jay-Z), Kendrick Lamar, Anderson .Paak, Chance The Rapper, and Drake—with whom Nai Palm collaborated on his Scorpion album; and in jazz, when Robert Glasper invited the band to appear on his album of Miles Davis remakes, Everything’s Beautiful. Their records and live shows won them raves in The Guardian, Rolling Stone, and in the New York Times, where Jon Pareles wrote that “Hiatus Kaiyote’s music stretches and bends every parameter.”
That spirit of blending began with Nai, growing up in her mother Suzie Ashman’s Melbourne home, vibrating with the sounds of Motown and flamenco, African music and hip-hop. After her mother died of breast cancer, the 11-year-old Nai went to live with a foster family high in the Australian Alps. By the time the adolescent Nai found her way back to Melbourne, she had acquired three things: an abiding, spiritual connection to the land; an uncanny, self-taught mastery of two instruments, the guitar and her own voice; and the ability to write songs that were as complex as her influences. That’s what struck Paul Bender, a multi-instrumentalist from Tasmania who’d studied music at the University of Miami, who saw Nai playing at a bar and offered to put a band together for her.
It would be a year before Bender and Nai began working together, in 2011. Early on, they invited two other musicians to play with them — drummer Perrin Moss, self-taught like Nai; and keyboardist Simon Mavin, like Bender, a university-trained professional of ample chops. The chemistry instantly yielded a solid unit. The four began recording their first album in Mavin and Moss’s “share house” on Clarke Street in Melbourne’s Northcote suburb, and Hiatus Kaiyote quickly developed a following on the local scene. A gig opening for Taylor McFerrin made the headliner an instant fan, and the American artist spread the Hiatus gospel to tastemakers around the world, triggering the series of events that would lead to their first two full-length releases, which transformed them from a local band into a global touring act.