“Where shall we go?” asks Mandeep as I hop in his cab.
“It’s up to you.” I say. I’m not here for the ride. I’m here for the music. I’ve called Mandeep to pick me up because it’s the only way to hear Cleve Cameron’s latest release Primal Digital. A grin spreads beneath Mandeep’s twirled moustache and wiry beard. It’s like I’ve given the taxi driver the ultimate gift. Free choice. He takes a turn towards the city.
1. “Primal Digital”
Mandeep hits play on his car stereo and electro-punk beats of the title track pound out. “It’s joyful music. It makes you happy,” he says. Creative juggernaut Cleve has a history of a range of oddball musical projects – including hi-tech The Beop “the band from another dimension” and he was a founder performance art outfit Spungo that did artistic happenings on the street way before flash-mobs were a thing.
Cleve’s latest release is much more straightforward than that. On the surface it’s all bright drums and poppy chants, although it’s steeped in deeper messaging about life and searching and regrets.
Mandeep’s car is the listening booth for the album’s pre-release because he plays on the album. Cleve has a habit of trying out his new music on taxi drivers. They’re an independent ear. Cleve was in another cab and got chatting to the driver about the tabla, a traditional drum he knew from his travels in India and wanted to record. The driver was friends with Mandeep, who plays tabla at the local Sikh temple and got them in touch. Suddenly Mandeep had a new gig.
2. “This Tide”
By track two, Mandeep has become the performance. He has given me an artfully designed lyrics sheet to read along with the music and I’ve completely lost where I’m up to. Instead, I’m already deep into Mandeep’s life story. He quit a job in IT to drive taxis because it made him happy. “I’m not a computer person. I like to meet people,” he says.
The lyrics are: “Do, do, do…/Do the thing that you love to do”. Uncanny.
Mandeep got married in India four months ago. I ask if it was an arranged marriage and he says, “No, our families knew each other.” Then he says, “Yeah, I guess it was.”
4. "The Pulley System"
“Life gets better, the older, older you grow”, sings Cleve.
“Do you believe that?” I ask Mandeep as we speed along the motorway.
“At some point I do believe that as you get older you get to know you that don’t have control over things, so you start accepting. Accepting is always better.” Woah.
5. “Earthly Stuff”
We zoom up towards the blue sky and off the motorway ramp into downtown Auckland. Everyone’s going about their day normal as pie. They probably know exactly where they’re heading. Poor sods. “You can rise above/This earthly stuff.”
6. 7. “Home” or ”Lighthouse in the Storm”
By the time we get right into the heart of the city on crowded Queen St, Mandeep is getting personal, dishing wisdom gleaned from his wealthy upbringing in Chandigarh. “I’ve seen money in my family. I know money doesn’t give happiness.”
He calls himself a mummy’s boy. He left home and came to New Zealand because he wanted to make his own way in the world. I’ve got no clue what song we’re up to. This is too bloody interesting.
8. “My Blind Goat”
This is Mandeep’s song. He gives a tabla demonstration at the lights, banging out the beat on his steering wheel. His fingers are fuzzy they’re moving so fast.
9. “Money is a Man Made Ocean”
And we pull up where we started, circling back to the theme of the ride as Cleve’s final track plays: “Money, we made it ourselves,” he sings. “There’s plenty to go around.”
I pay a stupid amount for a ride to nowhere and scattered memories of songs. It’s money well spent.