pikachunes is taking his music to the next level
The New Zealand electronic pop act is about to unleash his bittersweet symphony after years of turmoil.
Photography Coco Campbell
In 2010 Miles McDougall released his first minimalist dance-pop album. It captivated dance floors across the country, shook up the Kiwi music scene and seemed destined to kick off his career as New Zealand's prince of electro-pop. But a lot can happen in five years.
Christchurch-born Miles had turned to synths and drum machines in 2009 after a skateboarding accident smashed his elbow and curbed his jazz drumming studies. What started as a remedy for the boredom of recuperating soon became his primary passion, and Pikachunes' "sad dance music" came to be known and loved throughout the country.
As his injury healed, Miles joined fellow Lil Chief labelmate Princess Chelsea as her live drummer, touring with her throughout Europe and North America while also playing as Pikachunes. However, over time things started to shift.
Having married and moved to Melbourne in 2013, Miles found himself returning to New Zealand to focus on his second album and have surgery on his elbow, which had developed a life-threatening infection. He also began work on a top-secret project with longstanding collaborators, Stolen Girlfriends Club, a Kiwi fashion label.
Inspired by love and loss, he has completed his most mature and arresting music to date. Before our chat, he emailed me a handful of his new songs. I was struck by their darkness, but also their power in asserting his mature new identity. With all the experiences he's had over the past five years, he and his music have grown up. He's had a rebirth, and has never sounded better.
So, Miles. Five years ago you released a great debut album that cast a spell on New Zealand's dance floors and should have made you famous. Why has it taken you so long to release a follow-up?
Oh, thank you! It's not from lack of trying. But I have definitely taken somewhat of a hiatus, and that has a lot to do with personal stuff and working on a relationship. I wish I could have been doing music at the same time, but it was worth taking that time to produce, slowly but surely, the album that I've wanted to release for such a long time.
You've put in so much hard work, you deserve to celebrate. What are your plans?
I've started booking shows, starting in Ireland in June. Then I'm going to tour around Europe again. I want to base myself out of Eastern Europe eventually, but I'll kick things off in London. I'm looking at staying over there for maybe two years.
That sounds awesome. Are you going alone?
Tell us about this album?
I would say that in some ways the album definitely reflects the lifespan of a relationship: meeting, the honeymoon period, the downfall of the relationship and then building it back up to be together again. It's not a complete concept album, but there's that kind of dialogue happening.
At what point did you write the songs?
Before my relationship, through touring with Princess Chelsea, through the period of our relationship and then through the turmoil of our breakup. It's been my outlet through the last two years, good and bad. Spending a lot of that time travelling and living in different places in the world has given a different perspective on the songs as well. It's definitely been a work in progress; it's just taken a lot longer than I wanted it to! But I don't know that the album could have been written and come out the way it has without having spent that time.
Are you releasing it with Lil Chief Records as you did with your first album?
At the moment it's independent, but I'm shopping majors. I sent the record to Jonathan and Chelsea [at Lil Chief] and it's fairly bittersweet, but they said, "You should be aiming for a label that has a larger reach." They said I should be looking to release it on a major, because they felt that they couldn't do it justice or do it as big as they felt it should be.
You've always performed solo. As this album sounds bigger, are you going to have a bigger stage show?
I will end up with a live band. I feel it's necessary, and it's probably about time. I'm doing a listening party in Wellington and then I'm going to do one at Stolen Girlfriends Club headquarters, and then I'll start dealing with the release. That's probably my least favourite part of releasing an album - having to email industry people and all of that kind of thing.
Yeah, it's weird navigating that sort of stuff.
You're having to sell your product, but your product is yourself. I'm just not always good at bigging myself up to people that I don't really know.
I feel like that's quite a New Zealand thing.
Yeah, people don't really want to come across as arrogant. It's something that I've always found quite difficult. I have a very loud and almost obnoxious stage presence and persona, but I'm certainly not like that offstage.
I don't recall you being overly obnoxious.
(Laughs) That's good! Yeah it's not so much obnoxious. It comes across that I'm very… comfortable with myself on stage. Which is true. It's probably where I feel most comfortable - on stage in front of tonnes of people. I would prefer that than to be in the crowd with tonnes of people. I don't know how that makes sense, but that's just how I work.
Listen to Pikachunes' new single 'Writer's Block'