The Flowering Talent of Lotus
Author: Rebecca Thomson (photography by Emma Smith)
Everything about her exudes an air of confidence, but for a long time Wellington-based singer-songwriter Lotus Hartley was overcome with nerves. Going on stage, she admits, was nearly impossible: "I was so nervous it was ruining my performance. I was always really, really nervous, like almost pissing in my pants."
Nervousness has been an ongoing battle, but Lotus faced the issue rather than run away from it. The release of her debut album 'Hybrid Flower' at the end of 2004 has given her a much-needed boost, as well as a strong belief in herself.
"I've put together this album and there were no ideas about how it should be - I could do it how I thought it should be [done]. And now I've got this wicked group around me so when I get on stage now I don't feel like anything but me."
Eight producers, including Rhian Sheehan, FreQ (Aran Gallagher) and Dr Benway (her brother, Ben Hartley), were part of her "wicked" group. Lotus says it was quite a feat getting them to do 10 songs.
"We're really passionate and getting all of us together to start a song was huge. Especially because I had the last say on it!"
A tight group of friends and family worked on just about everything else from the website to the kimono Lotus is wearing on the album cover. The Japanese theme is followed through in the imagery, simplicity and detailing of the artwork and fold out sleeve. While the music itself is not orientally inclined, those values of quality and restraint are also evident there.
She is rightly proud of the finished product, a long way from the techno sounds of earlier years when Lotus used to DJ at parties and festivals such as the Gathering and Castle Hill. The lilting vocals and dubby vibes of 'Hybrid Flower' are gentle and slower. The songs are beautifully crafted and full of inspiration.
"I think what happened to me was that the techno thing was just way too fast a lifestyle. I dropped right down to half the tempo and got into the reggae style, and I've always liked female vocalists."
Pleasing herself rather than others is similarly important to Lotus.
"You just feel like a bit of a musical whore when you sell yourself for being popular. I'm not willing to sacrifice my own experiences for what someone else thinks is cool."
Some of this self-assurance Lotus attributes to being a mother of three year-old son, Amanaki. She says having a baby really brought home the notion of dealing with issues rather running away from them.
"You learn how to stick at something. You don't run away when that child wakes up at 7 o'clock each day - it's something you've made a commitment to."
Originally from Christchurch, Lotus spent time in Wellington in 1999 working with Daimon Schwalger (The Nomad) on the track Where Are You from his 'Second Selection' album. She then tried jazz school in Christchurch in the hope of overcoming her performance anxiety. However, it wasn't inspiring and didn't help the nerves.
"I realised the way I was going to learn was through street knowledge, not through a contrived environment where people are marking you."
Instead she found inspiration in Melbourne, making music with her brother Ben and friend Aran Gallagher. It was there she wrote Slumber, which she sent back to radio stations and Loop Recordings in New Zealand. Loop added the track to one of their compilation CDs, and it went to number one on the alternative chart. This success drew Lotus back to Aotearoa in 2001.
"I thought 'wow'... I'm going back to Wellington 'cos that's where people are feeling the buzz."
Since then she has collaborated with Pitch Black, Rhian Sheehan and Rhombus, before putting together her own album. 'Hybrid Flower' was released on Bloom (distribution through Rhythmethod) - an independent label Lotus and her brother Tobin established not only to release her music but also to give them total control of their music. Creative NZ came to the party with $5000 funding to help with costs involved with producing the album. Now several national tours with like-minded musicians are on the agenda, as well as heading back to Australia.
Lotus is intent on winning over the audience with her live act, which sees her on stage with other brother Tobin on bass and one-time Trinity Roots drummer, Darren Matthiassen.
Another album is also in the works. This time, she says, it will be more about the things going on around us that we ignore but shouldn't.
Lotus cites the story of a friend who suffered from a heart attack after taking herbal highs: "When you think about it herbal highs are so pushed. That sort of thing is a real issue and people need to know about it."
And talking about keeping it real, Lotus is her real name. When she was born her auntie said she looked like a lotus flower. Her mother liked the name and it stuck. A hybrid flower indeed.