Radio BurgerFuel

Interview: Montell2099 & Harper Finn

Posted by Lee Densem

Friends, Flatmates & (Outer) Fields

In that short, sweet, late February period where Auckland was at Level 1 in between lockdowns, we were lucky enough to speak to two wonderful New Zealand musicians in person at BurgerFuel Ponsonby. Montell Pinny (or Montell2099) is an electronic heavyweight producer and DJ. Signed to RL Grime’s Sable Valley label, he has been headlining shows and festivals around the world, since he discovered beatmaking in his teens thanks to his grandfather. Harper Finn has pedigree, with a dad and uncle about as famous as you could get, even by New Zealand standards!

At first glance, they seem to be very different, but as you look closer, they have a lot in common. Both, from musical families, both trying to establish their careers on an international stage, but both finding solace in the camaraderie of other musicians from Aotearoa thanks to Covid. Oh, and they both live in the same flat.

It seems fate brought them together, first as flatmates, then friends, and as performers on the recently postponed (until 4 December 2021) Outerfields festival at Auckland’s Western Springs.

“We're flatmates. We share a wall. So we're very close” says Finn. “Yeah, we're right next to each other” chimes in Pinny. “There's like seven rooms in the house. We’ve got seven flatties.”

Finn says that even though there are other musicians in the flat, they are the two that stay up latest. “We're like the night owls, we stay up the latest. If I’m staying up late, I can usually hear Montell making beats, or watching basketball highlights. So yeah, it's quite nice that we share the wall because we're often the ones that are up the latest.”

Apart from a few meetings, they didn’t really know each other before they moved in together. Like so many people, musicians or not, when COVID hit, their lives changed.

“All of a sudden this flat came together. All these people came together, and quite a few of them are musicians. So it felt like, great, let's jump in together. It's nice knowing that everyone is being creative in the same space and we're not all trying to make the same kind of music. So, no one's stepping on each other's toes“ said Finn. “Yeah, everyone’s sort of doing their own thing” adds Pinny.

“We share a wall. So we're very close”

Pinny has experience in living with musicians. In 2019, he lived in Los Angeles with the Kiwi duo Sachi. “Actually, one of them lives with us now” he says. He shares a studio up the road with Sachi, so if they want to get “super loud” they head there.

Knowing what it takes to be creative, they all understand that it can happen at any time. Finn says “no one really gets mad when you're up late making music. Everyone’s doing the same. It's like, dude, if you if this is your creative moment, just go for it. There's no one going ‘oi shut up, I’ve got work in the morning’. So, it works out quite nicely in that respect, where we can allow each other to just be free.”

Finn also draws some positives out of living with an eclectic group of musicians. “You're taking influences from people that you perhaps wouldn't necessarily think you would. Obviously Montell and Will (Thomas of Sachi) make more electronic bass music and Montell's a DJ so I can kind of peep into their world a little bit and like see what they're doing.”

“oi shut up, I’ve got work in the morning”

As you would expect in a flat full of musicians, there’s always some kind of music playing. A keyboard resides in the lounge which often finds itself with someone tinkering away on it. They both share a joke about Finn serenading Pinny before dinner, but it seems to have a grain of truth.

“If anyone doesn't know Harper is an amazing pianist. So, he could literally play any song in the world, and like remix it. He could turn a hip-hop song into a jazz rendition. It’s pretty amazing stuff” says Pinny.

Sharing their craft seems to be a recurring theme. “Mont’s got his DJ decks out” says Finn. “We've all gone to the school of Montell, and he's told us some tips and tricks on how to DJ.”

“Yeah, that's the cool thing. I don't think anyone could DJ other than myself when we moved in. And now anyone in the house could literally DJ” replies Pinny.

Finn lets on that they have been working on their DJ names along with their skills. When asked what his is, he says “Shark Fin Soup. Can I say that? Maybe? I dunno!” He assures us it’s a work in progress, while Pinny laughs and says it’s just a bit of fun, “so if you guys see Shark Fin Soup out there. Come along!”

“We've all gone to the school of Montell”

As is so often the case these days, the conversation turned to lockdowns. During the second of Auckland's lockdowns last year, a flat MasterChef competition was arranged with four teams of two to help keep them entertained. Except it seems they are quite a competitive bunch. “We often like to play against each other in some way” says Finn. “At the moment it's FIFA. And (NBA) 2K. Mont and I play a lot of 2K together. What was the last game?”

“I dunno bro!” laughs Pinny, “Harper’s been whipping me in the last couple of games.” Finn says that even though they both get a bit of stick for spending so much time on the PlayStation that it is nice to step away from the music for a bit. “It's quite nice to completely walk out of that world and just do something really sporty or something food orientated. Even though we're surrounded by music all the time, we're all keen on doing other things.”

COVID has affected everyone in different ways, but it has forced a lot of musicians to think and act a different way in their professional life. Finn said that he probably would not have made the commitment to a flat like this had the pandemic not happened. “I mean, I like being flexible if I needed to do something overseas or go somewhere, you know.”

“It forced me to change my scenery as much as I could, and meet as many new people as I could, and try and be creative with as many different people because, I couldn't go overseas to write. Staying here was almost a bit of a blessing in disguise, because it made me look around and go ‘man there's so many great musicians and writers here that I can collaborate with.’ So, if anything, the silver lining of the whole thing was me getting to really meet a lot of people who make music here and get to sort of share a bit of their musical knowledge.”

It seems Pinny managed to find positives despite plans changing too. “It was weird for me, like personally, career wise, I probably had my best year. I can't really put my finger on why. Before the first lockdown I announced the show in April, and like it was selling pretty well. But then we all went into lockdown. Yeah. And then after the lockdown, I announced more shows, and all of them sold out. People were just super keen to go to shows after that. So yeah, I feel like I got in there with that big wave of people coming in to go to shows, and they saw the show and they must have liked it. And now they've told their mates about the show and just kind of builds up there. And like, yeah, like, pretty, pretty crazy. Yeah, yeah.”

"personally, career wise, I probably had my best year"

After a break for Chook Royales, Fenders and L&P’s, the conversation started turning technical with Finn asking Pinny about when he started using FL Studio, and why he keeps using it to create his music.

Montell Pinny “Yeah, so my pops, introduced me to FL and…”

Harper Finn “Oh he was the one who showed you.”

MP “Yeah, yeah.”

HF “Oh, I did not know that. Was he making music on that as well?”

MP “Nah, he just had it there. He's a producer himself, but he uses Pro Tools.”

HF “What kind of music was he making?”

MP “Um, I don't know a bunch. like everything. Him and my nan actually made an album.”

HF “Really?”

MP “Yeah. They had a studio, so I was in there all the time. So yeah, he just showed me FL and I just learned how to use that. Then I moved up here and studied at MAINZ. All the assignments were in Ableton. I kind of went on like an Ableton ride for a year. And then, I dunno, I just went back to FL and I don't even know why. I just know it. Yeah, I know it so well. Like, if I think of something in my head, I can do it straight away. It’s easier, like faster. The workflow.”

HF “I totally understand. I’m exactly the same with Ableton.”

MP “Yeah. Have you always been on Ableton?”

HF “I’ve always been on Ableton, yeah. It was like, once you figure out your way of using it then you don't want to have any let up in the creative process. Get the idea down as quick as possible. And then whatever program you know the best, you just use that.”

MP “When did you When did you start using Ableton?”

HF “Umm, I started using it when I was probably like, 17 or 18 because I was in a hip-hop band. And everyone in that band used it to make the songs. And I was really just like the kid who didn't know anything. Everyone was four or five years older than me. Everyone was post-uni and I was still in high school. So, I had all this time to learn how to use it and be in a band together and stuff. I was peeping over their shoulders trying to figure out how to do it. And then I downloaded it to my computer and would show my mates at high school. Like 'oh yo, check this out.’ And then I would make beats for my mates to freestyle on? Yeah. And I’d just make awful, awful, terrible sounds. Like really crap music.”

MP “Yeah, I think at that stage, you're more excited about the fact that you actually made something from nothing.”

HF “Yeah, exactly.”

MP “Instead of actually being a good song, I made this. Listen to this, I made this.”

HF “Yeah, I made this, and then having your mates freestyle on it. And from there, I had a little studio at my parent’s place. All my mates from high school were into writing raps. So, they'd come in and just do raps. I've got dozens and dozens of songs, of just all my high school mates. I'm looking forward to actually one day going back and tidying them up. Because it's like a record of us, being 16 or 17-year-olds, freestyling on these beats that I made.”

MP “Yeah. That's pretty crazy.”

"I’d just make awful, awful, terrible sounds. Like really crap music"

The conversation shifts to Outerfields and what they are looking forward to on the day. “Obviously, keen to see Harper” says Pinny. “Vice versa, keen to see Mont” fires back Finn. When they both mention that they have a lot of friends and family coming, Pinny finishes Finn’s sentence for him saying that it feels like a “family gathering.”

“Harper's family are going to meet my family” says Pinny. “It'll be time to meet the parents” says Finn, and they both burst out laughing.

They continue finishing off each other’s sentences with Finn starting “and you know, it's so close. I mean, we live on Great North Road. So, like…” Then Pinny chiming in with “literally down the road.”

Finn finishes the thought “we're gonna just walk, we're gonna walk to the gig. yeah.”

They are great mates from opposite sides of the musical spectrum, brought together by COVID and making the most of the uncertainty that these times bring. A few days after this interview wrapped up, Auckland was plunged back into it’s second Level 3 lockdown in a matter of weeks and Outerfields was postponed, to a date later in the year. So, it seems there will be plenty more time for MasterChef and PlayStation before they eventually take the stage. And perhaps foreshadowing what was to come, we will leave you with some of their final thoughts.

HF “Having so many people and friends there (at Outerfields) that it's always like…”

MP “Makes it even more fun eh.”

HF “Yeah it's just lucky to be able to do that kind of stuff. Yeah.”

The posponed Outerfields festival will take place on 4 December, 2021 at Wester Springs, Auckland. The lineup features Montell2099 and Harper Finn, along with other Kiwi legends such as The Beths, Fat Freddy's Drop, Benee, Ladyhawke, Church & AP and more. Tickets are still available from Ticketmaster.