Orchestral Manoeuvres

What’s Hot New Zealand jams with The Phoenix Foundation’s frontman and founding member Lukasz Buda ahead of their 20-year anniversary collab with the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra at the end of the month on career highs, creating the Hunt for the Wilderpeople soundtrack and realising lifelong dreams.

Twenty years – congrats! That’s an epic outing for a band that started out in high school. What was the plan back then? I think the plan has always been to make the best music we can and take it as far as we can! And to have fun doing it – haha. What a boring answer, but it’s the truth. Sometimes the truth hurts, sometimes it’s quite boring!

How would you describe the last 20 years? It’s a long time! I am happy with the body of work. There’s lots of it. Six albums, three EPs and loads of solo and side projects and some great soundtracks. So I guess I’d describe it as: mostly good. It feels quite weird to realise you’ve actually been around for ages. Like we’ve watched other bands begin, release a couple of albums then break up while we’ve just carried on chugging away.

Biggest highlight? I’d say career highlights would be playing on Later… with Jools Holland around the Buffalo era. Scoring Hunt for the Wilderpeople is also high up there. Kind of knew it was gonna be well-loved from the first cut I saw. It was enjoyable even then! And to celebrate, NZSO approached you guys with a national tour collaboration – how good a b’day present is that? Yes, it’s a pretty amazing opportunity. I can’t wait to hear it all together. It has been a very different process to how we’d usually do it. A long slow pre-production build up, kind of new territory for us. Luckily we have a lot of trust in Hamish McKeich and the NZSO crew… hopefully they know what they’re doing!

What will the orchestral accompaniment add to the performance/experience? Well, we have been very conscious that we don’t want to just play the way we usually would with the NZSO playing chords in the background that no one can hear. So we have shaken up what we do and we are leaving space for the power, majesty, glory and beauty of the Symphony Orchestra! So… it should add a lot.

Which track are you most looking forward to performing with them? Actually, we will be debuting a couple of new songs – which is always quite exciting. So those, and also the things that will be very different, like ‘Burning Wreck’ which is just going to be me singing with the Orchestral backing. I’ve already started vocal warm-ups.

You teamed up with Taika Waititi for the third time on cinema smash hit Hunt for the Wilderpeople, how much fun was that? Yes, it was great. It was a challenge. Taika has always pushed us to find score that isn’t traditional score as such, as in he doesn’t want all the peaks of the action highlighted necessarily. You have to find a kind of sideways approach, like the music is un-obvious, but still does the stuff score is supposed to. It’s a good learning curve usually, forces us to be nimble.

What has the success of the movie meant for The Phoenix Foundation? It means my kids’ friends at school think I’m famous. A lifelong dream realised!

What’s the best thing about working on soundtracks? Just the challenge, basically. Soundtrack work is not really about personal expression so much. Or if it is, it’s within very strict confines. You gotta stretch yourself, you gotta search. You have to not be precious.

When can we expect a new album from you guys? Yes, we are working on a new album. No, we are not sure when it will be finished!

Image: Will Moore

The NZSO and The Phoenix Foundation Celebrate!
2 – 30 Aug, Wellington, Auckland, Christchurch, Dunedin. nzso.co.nz