Regan Matthews, or Ta-ku as he’s more popularly known, is humble and modest although his achievements both in music and other creative arenas are anything but. His humility is apparent in the thoughtful answers he provides in interviews, in the graceful way in which he deals with romantic failure, and in his journey to self-love in EPs Songs To Break Up To and Songs To Make Up To, but most importantly, it is evident in his urging of his audience to follow suit in fearless self-expression. Over a phone call with JUICE, the producer touched upon the making of (m)edian EP with singer Wafia, expounded on being unapologetically and openly vulnerable, and explained the importance of a collaborative spirit.
Images Harry White (Future Classic)
Born and raised in Perth, Australian producer Ta-ku broke out with his EP Songs To Break Up To in 2013, becoming a poster boy for heartbroken people everywhere. The EP came to fruition after the producer went on a sabbatical from music making as he travelled the world, effectively taking up another creative outlet – photography. When he was ready to write the EP, he had to go through a musical metamorphosis as his production transitioned from sample-based hip hop to veering into significantly more downtempo leanings. After a breakup, naturally, comes the gradual healing – a follow-up entitled Songs To Make Up To arrived a year later to continue his soulful outpouring, but this time, the songs were encased with glints of hope of loving again.
Come 5 August ’16, the producer will be releasing (m)edian, a three-track EP (discounting the two minute-long interludes) in collaboration with singer Wafia. Speaking about the experience of working with her, Ta-ku shares, “Wafia is very much like a family member to me now. She’s very easy to work with, she almost reminds me of someone in my family. What’s great about working with Wafia is that we made music that meant something to us.” He continues about the making of the EP, “We did the most that we can with the time that we had, so it was the fastest I’ve ever written three songs with someone.” Incredibly, the record was conceived in a matter of only three days. Additionally, we discover that New Zealander pop singer and musician Thomston – who’s often been compared to fellow Kiwi, Lorde – had co-written two of the songs. Reviewing all three artistes’ respective visceral releases, the coming together of the trio is only natural.
“I’m very open and comfortable with
expressing my emotions and talking to
others about a particular problem or
things that men don’t normally do.”
Nevertheless, Ta-ku remarks about finally finding a sound that best suits him currently, “I’m always trying to experiment and try new things, but I think where I’m at now is where I feel most comfortable and I don’t think I would be changing too much in my direction.” On lead single ‘Meet in the Middle’, it’s not only Wafia’s delivery we hear, but it is Ta-ku’s voice that begins the song. The producer isn’t insecure about his ability on the mic either, though he did hone it over some time. “It has been fun to work on vocals because it’s something that I’ve always wanted to do. But for me, it’s just diving in without having any directions and trying my best, because you know, what’s the worst that could happen?” he asks rhetorically. The song has a tendency to sound like a track by alt r’n’b vocalist Banks, however, Ta-ku’s singing is surprisingly commendable. But above all, his singing is as what one would expect from this artiste’s preceding two bodies of rumination on love – heartfelt and delicate in expression. Furthermore, Ta-ku had expressed a possibility of conflating the narratives of Songs To Break Up To and Songs To Make Up To for a debut album in a previous interview, but with the forthcoming release of (m)edian, an LP remains very much an unhurried creative prospect. Similarly, on the incorporation of the chronological narratives of his EPs into a single full-length release, it seems like the idea may just be a spur-of-the-moment comment as well. The producer answers open-endedly to our query, “Yeah, I think so, but I think I’d like to keep that narrative going, and to give the audience a bit of a concept and a storyline.”
The notion that we had about the relatability and resonance of his best-known EPs is something that is indicated by fans who laud him for his ability to express his heartbreak and emotions honestly – without pretence to boot, aside from his adeptness at producing r’n’b and hip hop beats, of course. As it’s conventionally and stereotypically known, men are not expected to be emotional – a phlegmatic, stoic man is the way to feed into traditional views of masculinity, a trope that can be seen in cable TV’s numerous tortured, flawed white men. Ta-ku’s opinion on the subject is as such, “I’m very open and comfortable with expressing my emotions and talking to others about a particular problem or things that men don’t normally do.” He acknowledges the societal problem and tries to offer a change in that archaic perspective in his way. “I want to show the importance of expressing yourself whether you’re male or female, especially kids who grow up in a household that are a bit harder [to do so], or people suffering from depression.”
“I like to be open and honest.
For those who can’t deal with it
for some reason, well, I am sorry.”
Being forthcoming emotionally with his audience has certainly allowed him to reap the merits of having passionate fans who appreciate his artistry, and for that, he is grateful. “For me, it’s vital [my audience] sees who I am, and that I’m honest about what I’m about. I want people to realise that I’m a real person – everything I do is for a reason and that’s the most important thing to me. I like that my audience can be a part of my work, that’s definitely what I want them to be – it gives me great joy.” The mutual appreciation between artiste and fan is clearly evident, but Ta-ku appears to be much more thoughtful in the relationship in this given context. In his self-interview/ EP commentary for Songs to Make Up To, we noticed that the producer frequently apologises to his listeners if his comments sounded corny or sappy, but it was obviously done for modesty’s sake. “I was trying to be polite. I’m very unapologetically open and I like talking about those things. And I know there are some people out there who are sensitive to that stuff, so I’m just trying to be considerate of them,” he explains himself with a giggle.
Still, being a nice guy does not mean he would censor himself for decorum, as he adds to his own statement, “I don’t really draw any line – I like to be open and honest. For those who can’t deal with it for some reason, well, I am sorry, I guess, but at the same time, I am very much unapologetic about it.” Even so, for all of his earnest appeal to his fans to be courageous when vulnerable, Ta-ku is still a person who has a sense of humour about everything. As his career is very much due to the enabling of the internet, specifically SoundCloud with his repertoire of remixes and EP releases, the ever-pervasive colloquial term ‘sad boy’ is something that is inescapable for him. He admits to perpetuating the label on himself too, as he tells us, “Yeah, I definitely play with that label a lot (laughs) – very jokingly as well. It’s the same notion as we talked before, in that it’s okay to be open with the ups and the downs.”
Aside from music, Ta-ku has channelled his creativity into various other forms as well. For instance, he co-owns a barbershop and is a part of conceiving Create + Explore (a platform for photographers and musicians to merge their crafts), the publication Street Dreams Magazine, the creative label brrwd, and his fashion line Team Cozy, which started humbly as a mere hashtag. What started as a joke eventually spawned into an online community for all likeminded streetwear and sneaker enthusiasts. Currently, you can buy Team Cozy pins, caps, and apparel. “Seeing the progress that it’s made, and turning it into a full brand – it’s really heartwarming that it could happen. It’s definitely something new, the fashion industry, but it’s very exciting. It started from the audience that we created,” contemplates Ta-ku. However, even over the phone, we could hear an audible bewilderment at the sneaker industry – a field in which he’s built a business and expanded his reach into. “With the sneaker industry and the sneaker reselling industry (sighs loudly)… it’s ridiculous now with things being so expensive. I don’t know, it’s like the next step to worshipping money (laughs) — it’s become a bit crazy,” he explains, baffled, as he recognises the ridiculous nature of streetwear’s current malady.
“Trust and familiarity are
important to make [things] work.”
For the variety of creative outlets he has, every single one of his ventures does correlate with one another, and it is due in part to his great eye for curation that stems from his zeal to express all aspects of his creativity, especially through collaborations with others. “I’m very passionate about most things and curation is something I enjoy doing. I get to meet a lot of people from different creative outlets and it’s more exciting to me to bring these people together to create something for other people – that’s what I’m most passionate about, I think.” As his career rises and his circle of people gets wider in circumference, he still takes the time – as he always have – to get to know people personally. “I spend the time to get to know them, to find out what they are about and what their background is before I even start talking about work with them – just talking to people and getting to know them,” discloses Ta-ku, “That’s how I align myself with people, just so it’d be easier to work with them. Trust and familiarity are important to make [things] work.” Coincidentally, having a collaborative spirit was one of the major takeaways he obtained while he was an RBMA participant way back in 2008. He shares of the experience, “The best thing about RBMA is learning to collaborate effectively and respecting the collaborating process. Red Bull was amazing for putting everyone together. No one knew each other, and everyone had their own musical skill and talent. It was amazing to be there and soak up industry knowledge, meet people with various abilities and statures.”
In essence, Ta-ku is a person full of love – a love that encompasses all aspects. Of course, he is passionate about his work, always striving to fulfil his creative potential, be they music, fashion, or photography. The producer came to a bigger prominence with his two best-known EPs where he excised romantic heartbreak and eventually learnt to move on and discovered that to love someone else, it begins with loving yourself first. His compassion and empathy trickle outwards, showering others with the same attention he pays to his tracks. He’s a fervent advocate for his fans to express any ill feelings they may harbour, encouraging them to speak honestly about problems to their loved ones. He also works hard to provide a complete experience for his fans to enjoy his music, not to mention he constantly communicates and engages with them on social media. He even has love for the people he works with, considering them as part of his family as he takes the time and effort to genuinely know them as individuals before thinking of even beginning a professional relationship with them.
It’s evident even with his increasing acclaim; Ta-ku is still steadfast on maintaining his beliefs. As he declares to us, “It’s important to stick to my ground, I won’t be happy if I don’t.”
Performing on Friday 12 August ’16, Ta-ku is one of the international headlining acts for Good Vibes Festival ’16, which will be held at The Ranch @ Gohtong Jaya, Genting Highlands.
Ta-ku’s (m)edian EP with Wafia will be out on Friday 5 August ’16 via Future Classic.