A Conversation With Lepani

August 11, 2020

Coming off of the back of a string of successful singles, Auckland based musician Lepani has released his debut EP “In the Moment.” Having come from a musical family, Lepani learned how to write and produce his own music. Now signed under the Sony Music label “In the Moment” is his first major release. 

We sat down with him to discuss the EP, writing music and his upbringing.   

It must feel good to finally get your first EP released.

“Yeah, definitely it’s been a long time in the making so it feels good to finally have it out there and now I can just worry about the next thing.” 

How long have you been working on it for?

‘I’ve been working on it since last September so I mean not too long, it’s not been a year or anything.”

So a lot of your music leading up to this point you have self-produced, was the EP self-produced as well? 

“Three of the songs on the EP were self-produced. And for the other three, I worked with some crazy producers. Which has been the same with the writing side of it, four of the songs I wrote on my own and then two were written with other people. It was cool, just the opportunity to be able to work with other people and being able to learn from them, that was amazing.”

Who were some of the people that you worked with? 

“In terms of production, there was Ambient Slayer, Josh and Joe who produce together for one of the tracks. Rory Noble produced another track, Devon Abrams produced another track as well. Then I wrote with some insane writers from Sweden we did a songwriting camp together with them and some local artists like CHAII and stuff, it was so cool.” 

Is it a different experience writing and producing on your own as compared to with other people? 

“Yes, one hundred per cent. It’s so weird because when you are writing and producing on your own especially for me. I kind of look online for ideas and stuff so I’ll be listening to other tracks. But, when you work with other people you get a different perspective and you’re not so much stuck in your own vision, you get different ideas thrown out which makes it so much better.” 

Was there any one song off the EP in particular that took you the longest to record? Or was the hardest to figure out? 

“The hardest one was probably “Debby & Anne” because a lot of it was to do with the subject that it was about. That song is about depression and anxiety and things to do with mental health, so that took a while in terms of writing. I produced that one but I wasn’t happy with the initial production so I went back and kind of worked on it again so that was done over a few months.” 

Who took the photo on the album artwork?

“That was my mate, Joel. He is from out east as well, we’re just good friends and he is a really talented photographer. We both studied filmmaking together but he was a year above me so we became friends after we left school. He took that photo, he is great.” 

You’ve been self-producing and you’ve been working with your friends and people you know so you’re really self-made, at what point did you get picked up and signed by Sony Music? 

“Just over two years ago I think. It was when I was out in East Auckland with my mate, he owns a cafe and we were just chilling and cleaning up his cafe and then my manager rocked up, but this was before he was my manager he was just an intern at Sony. His name is Rob he came up and he was pushing his little baby in a supermarket trolley and we both saw him and we thought that was really weird. So, we walked up to him and we were like “what are you doing?” and he said, “Oh, we just had a wedding and we are waiting for this baby’s mum to come to pick her up.” Then after that, we just started having a conversation and then my mate was like “Lepani makes music,” I sent some through to him and then he sent it to Sony and they loved it. Since then I’ve just been working. So it’s been a long process to get to this EP, I think about two or three years now.” 

Who did the harmonies on the end of “During These Nights?” I dug the house vibes, it was a fantastic way to close off the EP.

“Oh thanks! So that was the group of us from that songwriting camp. In that one group on that day, there was the producer Devon and there was a couple of the Swedish writers and myself. We just went into the booth and recorded ourselves singing one harmony, then we recorded ourselves singing the next harmony, and we just turned it into a big group vocal. We got Rob to sing the adlib, you know the crazy gospel sounding trill part so it came together really cool.”

In terms of the songwriting process especially with the songs that you have self-produced do you write on an instrument first? Or do you engineer a beat and write lyrics over that?  

“At least with this whole EP with the songs that I did myself it started with me on the keys just playing chords and humming a tune and jamming. I wouldn’t’ set a tempo, usually, if I set a beat down it kind of restricts me to a certain style or genre. Whereas if I just play freely on a piano or a guitar I can decide actually “oh this song sounds a lot better slower.” Or I can speed it up and I can play around with the tempo myself and then that way I can choose a style. Yeah, so it usually just starts with me on the keys, mucking around and then if I have a cool melody or I have a chord progression I am happy with I’ll just roll with that and then move on.” 

So when you were first starting and creating your own songs what was your set up like? 

“I bought a launchpad from The Rockshop when I left school and that came with Ableton Lite so that was when I learned to use Ableton. Then from there I kind of kept moving and after that, I ended up buying Ableton which was so expensive. But, I guess now that it’s kind of my career you know it’s good to invest in certain things. But that’s pretty much what I had, I bought a midi keyboard and I bought a mic and stuff. Over the years I just had a part-time job and I saved up to buy all of that stuff and had just a small studio in my room.” 

You were 14 when your music teacher discovered that you could sing. Why were you hiding it up until that point? 

“Well, I moved from Rotorua when I was in year eight. I came up here and I wanted to change my whole personality because over there I was known as the brown guy that could sing in my old primary school. Then I came here and I moved out to East Auckland and I was the only Pacific Island guy there so I wanted everyone to think that I was the tough brown guy that can play rugby. So I hid the music side and then I was with my mates and we were just singing and one of my friends was like “oh you sing really well you should go and try for the Glee club” and I was like “that does not sound cool at all.” But, I was kind of forced into it and then my music teacher saw me and he was like “wait you can sing? You need to do this.” Then after that, he just guided me into writing stuff and encouraged me to write more songs even though it wasn’t something that I was used to before. So then I just carried on from there.” 

Up until that point was that the first time that you had professional music training? Before then were you self taught? 

“Yeah, it was all self-taught even up until signing and even now a lot of it is just me experimenting, trying and failing, learning the ins and outs of Ableton, just practising performing and now I’m learning from the people that I work with so for me it’s kind of like a cool internship in a way.”

At what age did you start playing instruments?

“The first instrument I learned was the bass guitar and I learnt that when I was about eight or nine, I was terrible but it was the basics, this fret is this note and all of that stuff. Then I learned a bit of the drums and a bit of the guitar and piano. So those were the kinds of instruments that I played just basic enough to be able to produce and make stuff.” 

You were born into a musical family so did you have relatives that played music as well? 

“Both of my parents sing really well and my sister sings. They sing way better than me so that is part of the reason why I got into production and writing songs because I was kind of always one step behind them with my voice. So, I thought at least I could have an advantage in writing stuff and have something that was my own. My cousins, my aunties and uncles they sing really well and we all sing together as a family so it’s definitely in there.” 

Would you say that they played a major influence on your music now? 

“Definitely. It started with that whole thing where we would sing together and then it would get me into understanding why I like music so much, because of that whole cheesy thing about how it brings people together. But, it was really good for me because it was a big part of our gatherings as a huge family. My family just always supported me from then on when I decided that I wanted to make this my career, so they have a huge influence”

So what are your plans for the rest of the year? 

“Just to move forward and see where this EP will take me, hopefully moving on to bigger projects, more shows. I guess for the next couple of weeks though I’m gonna try to savour it and just enjoy it while it’s out. But moving on to more things. Hopefully, it means I can collaborate and write with some bigger artists or write for them. Long term wise that’s kind of a dream of mine to be able to write for other people.” 

You can stream “In The Moment” here; 

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