Currently on a busman's holiday from his regular gig with the Third3ye collective, MeloDownz' new solo project focuses on the gritty West Auckland streets he was raised on.
On Avontales, the suburb of Avondale is positioned front and centre, supplying the characters that inhabit the EP's eight tracks as well as the setting that frames their stories. MeloDownz's songcraft has stepped up to do their tales justice, his detailed storytelling complimented by guest vocals from Bailey Wiley, Yaynè and Israel Starr, plus production assists courtesy of YGB's Ben Jamin, the Grow Room's Lightskinjohn, and Wellington beatmaker baccyard.
Currently based one suburb over, in New Lynn, the proud West Aucklander reflects on the stories he's accumulated from his time in the neighbourhood known as "Spidertown".
VICE: Was Tom Scott the first person you heard putting Avondale on the map musically?
Melodownz: Yeah, definitely. It's funny because I was in fifth or sixth form and one of the bros brought me a CD and it had "Home Brew" written on it. At the time, I was listening to really hard-hitting gangsta rap, and when I heard Home Brew it broke the barriers for me because it was so relatable. I couldn't believe this guy was from Avondale.
SWIDT put Onehunga at the centre of their universe , mapping a place in time that can't be erased by creeping gentrification. Has your neighbourhood retained the grittiness you document on Avontales ?
For the most part. I think the crime rate has gone down a bit since I was growing up and there's not as many youth gangs.
If you go to the shops, it's still how it was back in the 90s. I think the only difference is they've put an apartment next to the strip. There's still all the Island food available and the Chinese shops, and the shopkeepers still know who I am and I know who they are. But I do think Avondale will go the way of Onehunga and Grey Lynn.
Avondale provides the backdrop against which the songs on the EP are set. Have you blurred fact and fiction?
They're all true events. I wouldn't say I've fictionalised anything, but I have enhanced the picture for listeners. For example, "2 Sides of 1 Coin" was a true event—I wasn't involved, but I'm speaking on behalf of someone involved who I know.
You step into the shoes of two different characters on "2 Sides of 1 Coin": a young kid pressured into a home invasion and a pregnant woman, the victim of his crime. How did you enhance that story?
In real life, the woman in the song wasn't pregnant—I just put that in to intensify the impact. The kid got put away and he was only 14 or 15 years old at the time.
I know what it's like to be a young Polynesian growing up and not knowing your way and falling in with the wrong crowd. I reckon it'll be really hard to rehabilitate someone like that who's put away and there's no real help for him inside.
The track "Pandemonium" sees you confronted by the sight of an old Avondale College schoolmate getting hassled by police while he's asking for change on the strip. What was his story?
He was out on the strip begging and the cops told him to gap it, and I was just like, "Bro, the guy's not even doing anything".
I didn't realise it, but he told me he was in foster care the whole time that he went to my school. His foster parents kicked him out, and ever since he left school he's been on the street. There's a community of street people in Avondale and they have a handful of spots where they stay.
On your player's card from the YGB pokemon series , your special power is the "Dread Slap"—"swinging natty dread slaps bald head into the depths of Babylon." Chasing crazy baldheads aside, what are your special powers as a storyteller?
I guess I can paint a really raw and detailed picture for a listener. I think I can bring a story to life with words, you might say. I'm articulate when it comes to storytelling, but I'm not that good at upping myself.
Third3ye is genre-tagged on Bandcamp with descriptors like "chakra", "earth raps" and "soulspiritual". Does a solo project free you to be a bit baser?
Yeah man, and that's what I love about music is that you don't have to stick to one genre. Doing one style of music for a while, people just know you for that, and I wanted to break all the boundaries of what people perceive me as—for Third3ye or spiritual rap or whatever, and do something that's really close to home, literally.
You admit to being a "hippy-living hypocrite" on " Son of a Queen". Is that an acknowledgment of the contradictions you see in your music?
Yeah, one day I might be talking about peace and love, and the next day I'll be rapping about 'fuck the world' and stuff like that. I'm pretty much saying I'm a human—we're all human and no one is perfect.
The track pays tribute to your mum. On the song, you admit, "I don't want to be famous, just be the way my mother raised me up". What were the values she instilled in you?
I was brought up by my grandmother and grandfather as well. My grandmother was a strict Samoan Catholic, but my mum raised me to accept everybody and to be really open-minded about life. I feel that's helped me in a big way in terms of communicating with people and having compassion.
I know with a lot of artists that start getting big, it swells their ego and it blocks them from being their true selves. So what I'm trying to say is I'd rather be how my mother raised me than be a dickhead.
Your recent collaboration with Noah Slee on "Lips" earned you a BBC Radio 1 spin on MistaJam's show. Does a placement like that raise your expectations about where these songs can travel?
Yeah, for sure. I think it was a wise move I did that collab—it was done nearly two years ago. Noah's doing good in Europe right now, so I knew having my name attached to his song was going to open some doors.
I'm going to Europe at the start of August and I'm actually going to stay with Noah in Berlin. I've got nothing to lose. Although I love New Zealand and the music scene here, I want to take it further—not only for me, but for the culture as well.
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