The dynamic duo talk about their new EP True North and their recent collaboration with Sydney designer, Ewol.
What happens when two independently successful Australian musicians decide to join forces? If Kota Banks and Ninajirachi’s recently released collaboration, True North, is anything to go by, the answer is 21 exhilarating minutes of carefully crafted, genre-defying, music magic. And, of course, some mutual fangirling.
Eighteen months after their first studio sessions, I chatted over Zoom with futuristic pop queen Jess Porfiri, AKA Kota Banks, and powerhouse producer Nina Wilson, AKA Ninajirachi, about their recently released collaborative EP, True North.
With a sound that’s fondly reminiscent of my favourite bops from the Y2K era, while also possessing a glitchy production quality that’s been likened to Charli XCX’s 2020 quarantine release, how I’m feeling now, True North is synchronously nostalgic and futuristic. It feels comforting and familiar in the best way possible, yet also not quite like anything I’ve ever heard.
Kota’s lyrical genius coupled with her chameleonic vocal chops allows her to effortlessly glide from razor-sharp, bad bitch energy one moment, to angelic pop sweetness the next. Combine that with Ninajirachi’s ability to craft electrifying melodies and her production prowess, and it’s a power-couple match made in heaven.
Considering the year that was, I was curious to find out how the two Sydney-based musicians had found themselves releasing more new music this year than ever before. Having both released EPs individually earlier in this year, Nina and Kota spoke candidly to me about their new project, what it’s been like to collaborate with local designer Ewol, and how, despite the odds, 2020 was actually pretty good to them.
You can definitely see both of your musical influences in the project, it’s not focused heavily on one or the other’s style, you just seem to work so well together. Can you tell me how this collaboration came about?
Ninajirachi: We were both signed to NLV Records which is Nina Las Vegas’ label and we’d been hooked up by Nina (the other Nina!). Our first session was at her studio. I was originally producing music for Kota Banks, but we just had so many songs and a lot of them felt like collaborations rather than KB tracks. After we made ten or so songs together we were like, “Maybe we should just make an EP?”. So we kept making songs and compiled them all.
Kota Banks: It was super organic. We were friends for a while before we ever collaborated on an EP and then we just started making new music. We were originally making the music for me, but it just had so much of Nina in it. You could hear her energy coming through, you could feel it.
Speaking of collabs, can you tell me what inspired your partnership with Sydney-based fashion designer Ewol?
K: She is an angel walking the earth. I don’t believe she is a real human. She’s so great. My manager hooked us up – she had some friends who knew Ewol, whose name is Ange. She sent through Ewol’s Instagram and Nina and I were absolutely stunned by every outfit. We went to her place in South Sydney to have a fitting to see if there was anything that resonated with us that we might want to wear for the Sydney show. Every piece was ridiculous (in a good way) and she was just so accommodating. She’s very much an artist and very passionate about artists wearing her clothes because she thinks that’s the way they’re meant to be represented. It’s a passion thing for her – she’s interested in the art as opposed to the commerce. I resonated with her, because I just make music for the love of it, first and foremost. She just made everything work and I was so excited that I got to represent a homegrown Australian designer, especially her.
On her website, Ewol describes how she likes to make clothes for people who go against the norm. Does that resonate with you because you do what you want and don’t try to fit into any particular box?
N: Yeah that’s really nice that you say that because I feel like even subconsciously, we were doing that with our music so it just fit perfectly. It was just so cool that she had so many pieces that fit so well together, so we could look like we had the same outfit on but different. We didn’t want to look like we were exactly matching on stage but wanted to look like we were styled together.
K: It was so cool because I’ve never really experimented much with unique fashion. I’ve definitely been a bit off-kilter, but getting to wear something like this took me into this other realm and I’ve started to get more conscious and interested. I’m spending more time and energy on what I’m wearing and realised that’s an extension of the music I make as an art form. Before I was a bit of a music snob and thought I just need to write good songs and that’s it. But fashion is a luxury and it’s a point of self-expression and it’s an amazing way to express things that music can’t always explain. You’re going out into the world and meeting people, taking pictures, creating content and you want to present yourself in a way that aligns with your art. It’s just another opportunity to do that.
I was playing your EP on repeat for my housemate last night and we looked up the lyrics to ‘Opus’ and we were both like, “This is sooo good!”. Do you have a favourite track?
N: Aren’t they just ridiculous? Kota just writes that. She just pulls that out of thin air, it’s insane.
K: That’s so sick that you love that. ‘Opus’ is definitely a fave and I think we’ve decided that we have a few faves: ‘Opus’, ‘Middle of the Night’ and ‘Holy Water’. ‘Nice Girls Finish Last’ is the current fave.
N: Yeah, all for different reasons too. ‘Opus’ because it’s ridiculous and it just hasn’t aged for me, ‘Holy Water’ for sentimental value and ‘Middle of the Night’ just because of how hard we had to work to get that song across the line. I love it so much more because it worked after it almost didn’t so many times.
You come across as such confident and fierce artists and I can imagine there are plenty of people looking up to you. Which Australian artists do you look up to and why?
N: Nina Las Vegas, who actually pulled this whole project together. I have been a fan of her since I was 13 and started listening to her on the radio. She is so relentless and generous. I’m such a fan of her work as an artist, but also of her work ethic and what she’s done for us.
K: Definitely Nina. There are so many of my peers that I just respect the shit out of and I love their career trajectories but in terms of the classic, quintessential Australian artists, I’m going to go with Delta Goodrem. I love her. She is my idol and the reason I started music – her first two albums are everything to me. She’s an icon!
What do you most respect about each other’s songwriting?
N: She’s just so fast and prolific. I love her songwriting and am in awe at how she just pulls it out of nowhere so fast and it’s so funny and witty and the rhymes are so good and the melodies are ridiculous. We’ll be working and within ten minutes Kota will just spit out this incredible thing and I’m just like, “Where does it come from?”. I love how bold she is with ideas and I admire her perfectionism. She’ll do a vocal take 20 times in a row if it means getting the right one.
K: Awww thanks bitch, I love you! Ninajirachi is the ultimate artist to me. She does everything. I don’t know if you’ve heard of Blumiere, but like, she shits on my lyrics, bro. Her toplines, her melodies and lyrics. She wrote that entire project by herself. She produced, recorded, engineered, mixed it, everything. But what I respect most about Nina is that she can make any song sound exactly the way it is in her head. She can just produce any style of music and make it sound top range. Every song on our EP is so diverse and nothing sounds the same at all – obviously, there’s a common thread which was intentional – but Nina can just do anything she wants at the snap of her fingers and she’s 21. There’s a very small percentage of female producers in this game, but she shits on every male producer.
What’s next for you both – surely 2021 has to be better than 2020?
N: As much as it’s been really hard for a lot of people, 2020 has been pretty cool for me. There’s no way I could have released two EPs this year and self-directed videos if we had been touring. Hopefully, next year is better but this year has been good for work in some capacities. We’d love to tour the live show!
K: Being able to tour this EP would be amazing. We have a few unreleased demos that we actually played at our recent Sydney show that we’re not really sure what to do with, but stay tuned, there might be one more little collab – who knows!