How the Haiku Hands party started with Claire Nakazawa

It’s tough to name a more infectious act in Australia than Haiku Hands right now. Fusing inescapable beats with all-out vocals that demand you get moving, their live show is part ’80s aerobics compilation, part girl band fierceness, all party.

Claire Nakazawa is a key pillar of the Haiku Hands collective, a frontwoman on stage and an ongoing visual producer for the band. Before they kick off a much-awaited Australian headline tour including a massive stop at St Kilda Festival, we sat down for a chat.

Haiku Hands Claire Nakazawa happy mag interview
Photos: Dani Hansen

Claire Nakazawa chats her beginnings with Haiku Hands, how her art drives the band’s aesthetic, and why their upcoming tour will be their most impressive yet.

HAPPY: How did you get started with Haiku Hands?

CLAIRE: My personal journey was that I wanted to write some music, and I wanted to write with a particular person in mind, and that opportunity came about with Joelistics. And another girl came along to those sessions called Beatrice, the three of us started writing together. I’d also collaborated with Joel on a few live shows. I don’t know, we just started writing to see if there was a vibe and something came out of it. And it did, I guess.

HAPPY: Have you had much time in the studio since that first writing session? As I understand it, that was the genesis…

CLAIRE: So that was actually a series of writing sessions over about a year. I would go to Melbourne for around ten days, we’d do some hardcore writing then I’d come back to Sydney. Three months later I’d go back again, do another week of solid writing… so there was about a year of that. Then once we released Not About You, everything got hectic and it turned into a different phase. It was all about live shows and understanding the business side of it.

HAPPY: Of course.

CLAIRE: Since then we’ve still written whenever we can.

HAPPY: Your members at the moment, I’m a little confused. Am I right saying your fourth member Nataya only tours with you in Australia?

CLAIRE: Yes that’s right. We see it as a bit of a collective, in some respects there are lots of people who are involved or have been involved that come in and out, so that’s why we haven’t been so strictly defining the numbers. Because we want to keep that flexibility.

HAPPY: That’s cool. How different does the performance become with three versus four people on stage?

CLAIRE: I think every performance is completely different. There’s so many factors involved in all of that… it’s hard to say. If there’s a slightly different vibe you never know what that’s down to, whether it’s time of day, audience…

HAPPY: The stage…

CLAIRE: … how we feel, what we had for lunch. Yeah.

HAPPY: You’re also a visual artist. How much of your work now falls into the Haiku Hands aesthetic?

CLAIRE: Heaps. I guess I get a visual satisfaction because I do all the social media which is very visual. I’m teaching myself video editing and Photoshop, so I think I’ve really transferred my visual art career into a tribute to Haiku Hands.

HAPPY: It seems like the band has a real freedom with the visual stuff, and everything creative really. It’s something most acts have to offload, is this how you prefer it?

CLAIRE: Well because we’ve been so busy, I haven’t had time to always do everything, and sometimes just the weight of me needing to come up with so much visual content… sometimes you do have to outsource. But it’s also really exciting to be able to collaborate with other visual people. So for that reason we have outsourced, to find people whose aesthetic lines up with ours and to bring their skills in.

HAPPY: So every member of this collective has this ‘thing’ they’re bringing to the table?

CLAIRE: Yeah, I just feel like it’s a big organism, and people have helped us get this organism going in so many different ways.

HAPPY: Has being in Haiku Hands changed your own visual work? Like do you think of something now and say “this is Haiku Hands” or “this is Claire”?

CLAIRE: I’ve tried to keep a little bit of distinction between the two, sometimes I’m tempted to use a painting for some cover art or a poster and incorporate that, but then I don’t want to make them one. Although, the aesthetic is aligned.

HAPPY: How were the European shows? There are some overseas spots I’d see you doing quite well.

CLAIRE: Well I think because we went over as still such a young band, we were often in front of audiences who had never heard of us before. It depended on where we’d land, sometimes we’d land an almost perfect audience for us and they’d be totally onboard, other times we would be promoted into the wrong… not wrong, but like a small club on a Wednesday. There was definitely a variation of shows, mostly dependent on how many people were there. The more people the better, but also fewer people is an experience. Iceland was really cool.

HAPPY: The art of booking, huh?

CLAIRE: Yeah! Getting booked with the right band, in the right spot, with the right genre, you know? Sometimes we got booked and… if I was a punter I would probably be so confused.

HAPPY: Does Haiku Hands take cues from DJs for your live shows? I think there’s a lot to be learned from someone who can make a crowd move without any theatrics at all.

CLAIRE: I guess I feel aligned to those acts in that they rely so heavily on the music and the beats themselves, instead of specifically the vocals in a show. In my mind the beats really come first, as in the quality of the sounds, the danceability, how good a beat is. The other thing I love about those acts is their visual production, I’d like to get more into that.

HAPPY: On that end of the spectrum, how did your warehouse party go?

CLAIRE: It was so good. It was one of our best gigs, for me personally. A lot of our community was there, it was proper warehouse vibes. It was BYO, we set up everything ourselves super independent, had friends do lighting, had friends bring in their sound systems, it was just really good.

HAPPY: Now you’ve got a headline tour coming up, a few festivals like St Kilda Festival as well. Has your live show changed much since, say, Splendour, when you had your last big shows in Australia?

CLAIRE: Yeah I think the run overseas, doing 20 shows in a row, we were drilling our set and that has taken us individually as performances to another stage. And we’re reworking our show, adding a few songs, changing the order, changing our clothes, yeah. We’re working on it.

HAPPY: Awesome. Looking forward to it!

Catch Haiku Hands live on their upcoming Australian (and a little bit of New Zealand) tour:

Thu 31 Jan – The Foundry, Brisbane
Fri 1 Feb – Oxford Art Factory, Sydney
Sat 2 Feb – Cambridge, Newcastle
Tue 5 Feb – University of Canberra, Canberra
Fri 8 Feb – Party In The Paddock, Launceston
Sat 16 Feb – Howler, Melbourne
Sat 23 Feb – Splore Festival, Auckland
Fri 1 Mar – Fat Controller, Adelaide
Sat 2 Mar – Jack Rabbit Slims, Perth