FL: Hi Amy! How has this lockdown been treating you?
AB: Kia ora Frances! For me, it’s certainly a different energy from our first Level 4 experience. More like the rug has been pulled out from under our feet and less like the solidarity of a common global experience. But while I’ve had gigs cancelled and projects pushed out, I’m so lucky to have a super supportive team around me keeping everything buoyant and moving forward.
Tell us a bit about yourself and what you do?
Broadly, I’m a musician under the moniker HINA, but more specifically I’m a songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, producer, and creative collaborator. While I have written, recorded, produced and released all my music independently so far, I have some exciting collaborations in the wings that I’m really looking forward to releasing into the world.
What was that moment like when you decided to go all in on pursuing music? Was it a gradual decision or an epiphany of sorts?
It was very gradual until it wasn’t! I have always loved music, growing up playing a handful of instruments, and I began writing my own music while I was at school. I taught myself how to produce not long out of high school, and then merged my love for writing, playing, and producing shortly after that.
I always liked the idea of being a musician, but it was never posed as a viable career option at school. I also didn’t know many people working in creative industries, so I didn’t have anyone to model, so to speak. So, for a few reasons, it was always more of a daydream than a legitimate consideration.
This changed with two significant moments. The first being when I lived in Wellington for a period of time and met people who were actively pursuing creative careers. It broadened my perspective of what it means to be successful, after coming from a very traditional school that seemed to celebrate established professions at the expense of more innovative or artistic pursuits.
The second moment, or collection of moments really, was when I was accepted to be part of the Pao Pao Pao Māori music mentoring program coordinated by Ngatapa Black. Over the course of about half a year, we were guided through the creative process by incredible artists and educated on how to navigate all aspects of the industry. This was the push I needed to genuinely consider music as a career.
Defining who I am by what I do has always been a personal point of contention, so music was always ‘the side thing’ to my law degree. But after graduating and allowing myself the space to explore my passion, the ongoing process of defining myself as a creative has been the most rewarding experience.
I can totally relate to this. It has always irked me that we are supposed to label ourselves as one or the other. I have friends that work day jobs in said established professions but are also talented creatives, or the other way around - I mean, as artists, we are generally also our own HR, accounts, marketing, and PR team!
I love that you come from a classical music background. This is a huge part of my identity too and I have always thought I might end up a classical musician if I wasn’t on my current path. The music geeks were always birds of a feather at school! Where did your love of music come from as a kid, and how has it influenced HINA?
I adore that common thread we have, birds of a feather indeed! My love of music in general was influenced by my parents, I think. We always had music playing in the house and in the car, and a huge range too. Stevie Wonder, Michael Jackson, Led Zeppelin, The Eagles, Il Divo, Pavarotti, Eva Cassidy, 2Pac, just to name a few. I fell in love with the violin aged four through my neighbour who played. I then picked up the flute, guitar, piano, and drums growing up too, but in a perfect world I’d also be able to play sax, trumpet, and cello. HINA is the manifestation of all my influences and sounds I discovered and was exposed to growing up. While ‘Back Home’ is the first song of mine that includes me on violin, I don’t think it will be the last.
You released your debut EP Muse last year and I was instantly drawn in – I don’t know if it is the times we’re in but your voice and melodies are so soothing, they feel like a warm hug and a glass of wine. Who are the muses that have shaped you and this EP?
Wow, thank you so much! What a gorgeous description. As strange as this sounds, I often forget my music actually exists in the world, separate to myself, so it’s really beautiful to know it’s loved and appreciated. Without wanting to sound totally conceited, I’ve recently considered that perhaps my ultimate muse is myself. I think this is because my primary inspiration is my own life, and my greatest creative stimulus is how I interpret my experiences. The creative process for me is very reflective, and therefore a kind of catharsis. Writing music feels like this vital deliverance and a form of expression for which I am incredibly grateful.
I like this a lot - looking inwards makes a lot of sense in discovering creative self-expression! This isn't the most sexy question but I am curious to know, does commerciability and monetisation play a part in your creative process? I find this a hard balancing act - especially as a young brand. I want to be able to express my authentic self in my art, but I also need to run a financially sustainable business.
It's so tricky, right? It’s this funny balance between not wanting to betray yourself but not wanting to fall into obscurity either. I think consideration of commercial viability and potential income has no place in the idea generation stage as it can totally poison the creative process. However, I see it as an essential way to go about connecting with people who will love what you do. Unfortunately, I don’t think incredible art markets itself anymore, and I’m not certain if it ever did, but I believe there is always a market for quality. And if you are thinking about how to capitalise on your creations, then I think that goes hand-in-hand with seeking out an audience that will value your art. While my passion lies with creativity, I do have a real interest in the commercial workings of the music industry. When approached with a healthy mindset I think it can be really motivating.
Hina is known throughout Polynesia as a deity of the moon – such an ethereal name and beautiful tribute to your Māori blood. How important is it to you to build your heritage and whakapapa into HINA’s identity and your songwriting?
This is a wonderful question. I feel I’m at this very interesting intersection between being a Māori musician and being a musician who is Māori. I think these are subtly different in the sense that the former is someone who filters their life and therefore art practice through a Māori lens, and the latter being someone who acknowledges and honours being Māori but may not necessarily take only a Māori approach to their artistry. I think both are equally divine: the Māori musician for the promotion and championing of our beautiful culture, and the musician who is Māori, exploring what it means to be indigenous in a post-colonial society.
Growing up, being a living breathing ethnic cocktail caused me a lot of confusion and apprehension but now I think of it as a superpower. I am constantly building my mixed heritage and whakapapa into my own identity, so it is a natural progression for me to build this into my identity as HINA. I definitely plan to incorporate more te reo Māori into my songwriting, making a small start with a song I have coming out early next year. I’ve been playing it in my live set for nearly a year now and can’t wait to release it into the world.
Do you want to be celebrated as a Māori or indigenous artist, or do you think this pigeon-holes your scope? I’m thinking specifically about a podcast I listened to recently on Lee Isaac Chung, director of the movie Minari. He talks about how the media so often spotlights him as a Korean-American director, and a lot of questions focus on being Korean-this or Asian-that, instead of just being a great director period. A lot of multiracial, immigrant, and minority communities must feel a similar tension, and I don’t think there is a right or wrong answer.
I could really open a can of worms with this question! The importance placed on ‘diversity’ of representation really bothers me for this reason. Because if someone is ‘diverse’, then who are they diverse from? I personally haven’t seen any headlines about being a white director, a white fashion designer, or a white musician. And I guess a knee-jerk reaction to that for so many people would be, “well yeah, obviously” which shows how accustomed we get to this incredibly white-centering paradigm. In saying that, I have the unsettling privilege of being white-passing. So while I could be celebrated as a Māori artist, or indigenous artist, it wouldn’t come with the same preconceptions, misconceptions and biases as if my ethnicity visually preceded me. So for that reason I don’t think the scope of my art would be pigeon-holed, and if it helps to weed out people who don’t want to hear my music purely because of my ethnicity, then bring it on.
What artists and albums have you spent the most time listening to this past year?
‘Lost & Found’ by Jorja Smith is a very special album for me and one I love to revisit time and time again. I’ve also spent a lot of time listening to Sevdaliza’s ‘Shabrang’, Princess Nokia’s ‘1992’, and Måneskin’s ‘Teatro d’ira – Vol. 1’. Some of my favourite artists at the moment also include PinkPantheress, Angèle, Teezo Touchdown, and Greentea Peng.
What are you most proud of?
The slow development of quiet self-belief.
What’s next for HINA?
I have a couple of singles, a bigger project, and some live shows in the pipeline! I’m really excited for government restrictions to ease so my team and I can dive into filming my next videos and release fresh new music.
Let’s talk clothes! How do you approach your personal style?
I love to feel comfortable, empowered, and playful. I was a massive tomboy growing up, so you’ll often find me in a baggy tee, pants, and big sneakers. However, I enjoy exploring both my feminine and masculine energy through styling, like pairing a strong pant with a more delicate top, or even a glossy makeup and hair look with an oversized lazy outfit.
And what do you think about when dressing for a show – does what you wear affect your performance on the night?
Absolutely! Being on stage is a little daunting at the best of times, so if I’m not totally feeling my outfit, then my performance will suffer. I think of performance as a kind of heightened interaction, so I always want to amplify the parts of myself that I’m most fond of, and I feel like style is an effective way to convey your identity.
What does LOCLAIRE mean to you?
To me, LOCLAIRE is organic, potent, conscious, and luxurious without being exclusionary. I feel at ease in LOCLAIRE and the best version of myself. LOCLAIRE inspires me to refine, clarify, and concentrate on my own art and I feel very lucky to call you my friend.
This time last year I feel like everyone romanticised this ideal post-Covid world – I’ve naturally been thinking a lot about the fashion industry, but it definitely applies across capitalist / consumer culture in general – the idea of slowing down, 'enoughness', jumping off the hamster wheel. Now that we’re a lot closer to the light at the end of the tunnel, I don’t know if I can say I really see that shift happening. What’s your take on this? What changes do you hope to see in the world when we re-emerge with vaccinated freedom?
I completely agree. I think when we had what was practically a global lockdown, there was a brief glimpse of what life could be like if we reconstructed our international society to better incorporate important values like kaitiakitanga (care and protection of the environment) and manaakitanga (the extension of love and compassion to others). For me, dolphins returning to the Venice canals embody that moment in time. Sadly, it seems like this is already a distant memory and a world away from the dystopic reality of one man shelling out $5.5 billion dollars to spend four minutes at the edge of the atmosphere.
It’s sometimes hard to feel hopeful when you start thinking about it all at once, but I hope that we emerge from this pandemic a little gentler with each other, with Mother Earth, and with ourselves.
Okay now tell me for some brief escapism – you’re given 24 hours to see and do and eat whatever you want...
Where do I begin! I wouldn’t be sleeping, that’s for sure. I’m itching to get to Croatia and visit the island of Brać, where my father’s family comes from. So, if the flight over isn’t included in the 24 hours I would head there. I’m a happy unstructured wanderer, so I would let my feet take me where they will and let my nose lead the way to the best lunch spot. I could then take the ferry to Split for the afternoon, and dinner in Rome is only an hour’s flight away… Too indulgent?
Top 5 items if you’re stranded on a desert island - Unlimited water, a longboard, my journal, a guitar, and a black ink pen that never runs out.
A song that gets you moving - ‘Flou’ by Angèle
Your ultimate dinner party menu - Ideally, an everything-fusion concoction of cuisines. Kokoda, Caprese salad, pork xiaolongbao, and corn chips with guacamole can all go together, right? Add in spaghetti al pomodoro for the main, and a pulled sticky pork Malaysian hawker roll. Polish it off with a bottomless Aperol spritz and a box of Iced Animals.
Wise words to live by - “Always blow on the pie.”
Your guilty pleasure - Tiktok.
Photos by Oscar Gunn, including stills from HINA's single 'Reverie' / Amy wears from top: Sundae Blouse, Sundae Pant, Plankton Shirt, Reefs Pant, Daisy Chain Minidress, Solar Powered T-shirt, Slanted Blazer, Slanted Pant, Pipi Blouse.