Kiwi musical genius Lawrence Arabia, aka James Milne, gets to unleash a deep-seated flamboyance when he collaborates with The Black Seeds’ Mike Fabulous.
The unlikely pair – who perform as funk combination Fabulous/Arabia when they’re not working on their own music – played their first ever Queenstown gig last night (Tuesday).
Milne, one of New Zealand’s most critically-acclaimed musicians, is widely known for his success under his stage name. He won the 2009 Silver Scroll Award for Lawrence Arabia’s pop single Apple Pie Bed and in 2010 took the Taite Prize for his album Chant Darling.
Fabulous is a stalwart of the NZ music industry and is guitarist and producer for the popular Black Seeds. He also goes by the name of Lord Echo for his own solo project.
The collaboration means the quiet, softly-spoken Milne can become a showy frontman instead of worrying about all the musical direction – handled by Fabulous.
“In Lawrence Arabia I’m the musical director so I have a sense of responsibility for how the performances are delivered on a holistic scale,” Milne explains.
“I’m worried about the performance of every musician – not deeply worried – but I’m concerned about how the whole performance goes. Whereas in Fabulous/Arabia, Mike is the musical director so it means I become a kind of show-off frontman rather than a slightly-worried musical director. It frees me up a lot.”
It’s a position he enjoys but adds the flashiness is not really second-nature for him.
“It’s somewhere deep down that’s definitely an enjoyable experience. It’s probably not my natural state but that’s what’s so enjoyable about it, it’s like it’s a weird other-state that is very unusual for me.”
The pair got together in 2009 when Fabulous sent Milne some instrumental soul/funk/lounge/pop tracks to listen to. Milne responded with some lyrics and melodies and the collaboration was born.
They spent the next two years – in between their own world tours – writing music and recording the album Unlimited Buffet, released in 2011.
Milne – who admits Fabulous’s music is totally different to his own – had no idea how their sound would turn out.
“I had heard some of his recordings and thought they were quite cool.
“I didn’t really know how I’d respond to the music or if I could actually do it. When it comes to funk music I’m a total amateur. It turned out that I wrote stuff that was my music over the top of his music that is funky but not hard funk. It’s kind of plinky-plonky, a bit rough around the edges,” he says.
“I had this desire to make music that I could be a frontman and dance to. In that sense what I wanted and what happened was pretty well-aligned. I think the collaboration works really well. It’s not too much of one thing or another.”
Fabulous/Arabia’s Queenstown and Wanaka performances – as part of the Southern Lakes Festival of Colour – will be backed by Tom Watson (Head Like A Hole), Toby Laing (Fat Freddy’s Drop), Riki Gooch (Trinity Roots) and Hayden East (Panther and the Zoo).
The Queenstown gig will be the first official Fabulous/Arabia show since their last tour in 2011.
“We don’t get the band together very often. The people in it are pretty well-known in their own right and are busy musicians so it’s hard to get them together.”
Milne has only played in Queenstown once before, when he played in The Brunettes before creating Lawrence Arabia.
“We supported Good Shirt years ago. I remember it was very poorly promoted so there were very few people who turned up. Queenstown and my career have never really collided as of yet, so it’s all a big surprise really,” he says.
“It’s going to be a pretty neat experience. Any chance to come down to the Southern Lakes is a rare treat.”
Catch Fabulous/Arabia at Queenstown Memorial Centre on Tuesday, 8pm. Tickets are $38