interview: new zealand electro-soul group sorceress talks unique work processes and transnational success

July 14, 2016

If you think of countries where genres like rnb, soul, neo -soul and electro-soul proliferate, New Zealand is unlikely to feature in your top 10 countries. That however is about to change as Afropunk casts its net across the Pacific to capture the brilliant four-piece outfit Sorceress. The truth is that despite the net making miles almost insignificant New Zealand is outside the hub of the musical genres that Sorceress seek to operate in. It’s a point that band member Issac Aesili considers as significance, despite the band being nominated for the best electronic outfit at the New Zealand Music Awards in 2014.

‘It is hard to say if New Zealand needs to catch up with things. The thing is New Zealand is right bang in the middle of the world. We are in the South Pacific and you have to go all across that ocean to reach Latin America and the Americas. New Zealand is a Western country so of course we have the same pop music as other Western countries but rock music is the predominant genre here so it is always going to be hard.’

While their popularity in their own country appears more niche, here in the UK Sorceress have gained a strong fan base who dig their eclectic energised sound. A tour this year in the UK taking in performances at the iconic Jazz Café and the global festival Glastonbury saw them push tracks like; the uber cool Freeloadoubt (kind of reminds you of Erykah Badu in her pomp) from their acclaimed ep Dose 2014 released on the New York label Wonder Wheel Recordings and tracks from their most recent album Chequered (2015) featuring tracks like the bouncing What You Give.

Catching up with Auckland based Issac (post a spectacular performance at the Jazz Café) the productive mind behind their hits is clearly a musical savant type character. With a clear musical knowledge across a diverse range of music evidenced by his production which seems to flit through house like vibes, to jazz undertones while melding soulful futuristic type electronica vibes and total funkiness with a consummate ease.

‘As a band we are fairly unique because there are hardly any groups who are playing the type of music that we do in New Zealand, states Issac before candidly adding. ‘to be completely honest with you in fact we do not really do that well in New Zealand we have much greater success in the UK because of course places like the UK have a bigger interest in our type of music’.

Active since 2011 when Issac and main vocalist Rachel Fraser started to work together it’s been a process of honing their relationship and their craft to the point that now Sorceress has a bonafide back catalogue of brilliant cuts. ‘Originally Rachel and I did a couple of songs on my solo debut and we kind of worked together with no real method.’ explaining how Sorceress (formerly Funkommunity) became ‘I knew that I loved her voice and so we decided to continue working together. We formed the band and went through a few incarnations-last year however we formalised the band with our drummer Myele Mazanza whose worked with acts like Electric Wire Hustle and Marika Hodgson on bass-they are both amazing talents and we know we will be working on a few albums together.’

To that effect Rachel and Issac have maintained a creative spurt that has seen healthy additions to their forth coming album due for release in 2017.

‘We basically work via email because we live in different cities Rachel in Wellington while I live in Auckland we kind of get together and just brig references and so on and get create and then I go away and produce instrumentals. Right now we are feeling positive because we have performed at major events and venues like Glastonbury, and the Jazz Café twice and we got really good vibes and renewed motivation to really push our music out there. We are in the middle of making out third album but we will take our time on that.’ He adds, ‘For this album I was basically in a hole and then I emerged with 15-20 demos and Rach has recorded to about half of them. From that process we will eventually get a name for the album because we are not sure of the exact shape of the album. There might be elements of vibes we created in our first album-more soulful stuff but we also want to incorporate more electronic elements into the third album because we do not want to get bogged down on the past we want things to progress and move forward.’ Moving forward they enthusiastically explains his wish to branch out into the US markets more heavily.

‘America is such a huge influence on our music- (rip Prince) -we owe a great deal of debt to America so we would definitely love to perform out there at some time.’ He adds ‘We are really taking our time to hone our show to make it right for the time we are ready to go to the US. It would be like a coming home basically-like returning to the source. We get a lot of good support out there actually but of course it is a big territory so we want to do it right when we do get out there but everything will happen in due course but it is of course an exciting goal to aim for.’