The rise of the vibrant Future Beats scene back in the early 2010s elevated a range of exceptional producers onto the global limelight, however there were a few who transcended the Future Beats domain and among them is Perth’s very own Ta-ku (aka Reagan Mattews). Producer, photographer, label owner, creative director, entrepreneur, and devout husband – believe it or not those are *only* a handful of the titles Ta-ku is associated with. His intimate entanglement with multiple fields has presented him with diverse life experiences which have surely overflowed into his music by virtue of the sonic variety found in his catalog.
His latest project however is quite different from what we’ve seen from the Australian legend… Ta-ku has teamed up with Qrates to curate their very first vinyl compilation called In Good Hands, Vol.1. This is a project that Ta-ku has assembled which features music from Jarreau Vandal, Sango, Wafia, Masego, and Full Crate just to name a few. Even its romantic pastel-pink and grey cover art comes from none other than Samuel Burgess Johnson.
Nearly everyone on the record are people that I've had existing relationships with, whom I have known for a really long time, in the music industry and on a personal level, as well,” he says. “They’re people that I really admire—not only in their music but also as people.
In this interview Ta-ku graciously opens up about curating In Good Hands, running a record label, what keeps him motivated and inspired, and much more. You can stream and find out more about the vinyl compilation below:
“Ta-ku is probably one of the most influential people in my life. Thank you.” That is a comment that was left on your Ted Talk you did back in 2015. I'm curious if you ever become overwhelmed with the pressure of so many people across the globe looking up to you? How do you personally deal with that kind of pressure?
I do become overwhelmed to be honest, and it’s really heartwarming and touching and special. But also, it’s really humbling and it reminds me that that’s why I do what I do, and that as an artist, if you can create something that people love then that’s the end goal. I wouldn’t say it gives pressure but it just gives fuel and energy to keep doing what you’re doing and to keep making things you love because there’s someone out there the will enjoy it and someone out there that will hopefully be fueled to do what they do really well too, no matter what that is. That’s why I do what I do, it’s really important for me to create to not only fulfill myself creatively but to let others know it’s the journey that’s the most important thing and it’s the actual creating and being a part of this kind of process that’s the most amazing thing.
In which ways would you say lockdown was beneficial for you as an artist and for your personal development?
Things haven’t really changed too much. Obviously socially and in my personal life, things have changed a bit with having to adjust. Creatively and work-wise though, nothing’s really changed in terms of how hard you have to work. You still have to really put in 110% and do your 10k hours with everything you do because the world doesn’t stop. We’ve seen that with the pandemic, it’s been a crazy year but literally, the world has not stopped. I know we stopped in a physical sense and things are closed and we’ve had to stay indoors, but the world keeps turning and people find ways to adjust, and that’s been a really interesting experience too. Just trying to adjust creatively and keep inspired and keep doing, keep working.
Why did you feel it was important for you to start 823, and how would you say is it's different from other labels?
823 is pretty much the culmination of every failed label that I wanted to make my own but for whatever reason just hasn’t worked that way. 823 has become everything that I had hoped to have in a creative label sense. It’s not just one thing, it’s not a music label, but it’s a creative label that is involved with so many things in terms of community, photography, visuals, music. Also creating tangible things - creating print, objects, apparel. It’s just a vehicle to be able to create more things and to also be able to build a community around it with like-minded people that love making the same kind of thing, or aspire to create similar things. I would less call it a label and just call it home for a lot of different things that I like to do.
Can you tell us more about how In Good Hands Vol. 1 came to be?
It’s pretty much the epitome of what I love to do, you know, curate and work with my friends and put people on, not that people on this compilation need to be put on, they’re already doing amazing things, but just putting them on a compilation together and sharing a space and a platform together is so important. QRATES is also an amazing company that we’ve become good friends with in Japan. We’ve also helped them with their branding under my creative agency Pretty–Soon® and this opportunity came up to launch the rebrand with a really interesting compilation series and this is it, “In Good Hands Volume 1”. It’s basically a bunch of great music and talented musicians all in one spot, curated by myself. It’s music I love and also musicians that I look up to and musicians that I’m friends with. The artwork too is also all collaborative - people that I’ve worked with before - Samuel Burgess-Johnson who needs no introduction, but you know, he contributed too. It’s just a really beautiful project that I’m proud to be a part of.
What was the biggest challenge you and Qrates experienced when it came to putting together and releasing the project?
Well, I think it’s mainly just keeping track of the project. Project management is something I really enjoy haha which is really dry, but it’s something you need to do. It’s about making sure that everyone knows that if they need support that’s there for them and helps them out with whatever they need. Keeping track of the project is another big thing, making sure that we got everything we needed and keeping on track of deadlines, and making sure everyone’s creatively happy too. So with any project, it’s just the management of it all and making sure that everyone and all the moving pieces are sorted and that people are happy.
What inspired the decision to only create 300 copies? Would that not limit the number of people who are able to hear and buy In Good Hands?
This is what makes QRATES so great, they don’t have any digital release rights and don’t meddle with the artists, which is what makes them so special. They basically are just strictly vinyl. They help young artists, or artists that don’t have a label or some that maybe don’t even want a label, to help them be able to put a record out by crowdsourcing and using their audience to help, and then QRATES actually facilitates everything else and that’s what makes them so great, especially for indie artists. So you know, a lot of the songs on this compilation were going to be released digitally individually by the artists themselves, so we just thought with vinyl, it’s really nice to have a limited amount and makes it even that much more special and also makes that tangible product that we talk about a lot. It’s just a little bit more limited edition really. And you know, 300 is quite limited for any vinyl run, so it’s just a nice thing, it’s a collectible. For people that have it, we’re super stoked they do, and it’s like this stamp in time.
Honestly, "Wide Open" has one of my favorite verses from Wafia and one of the best vocal performances I've heard from Masego. What a stellar track! What are some of the things that you do (or say) that generally help bring out the best in your collaborators?
Yeah I agree! I think Wafia’s is one of the best songs she’s written, and I feel like Sego obviously has a lot of great vocal performances but I guess I’m biased with this one. When I got this demo from Wafia, we kind of produced it out some more - myself and my co-producer on a lot of things, Matt McWaters from Toronto. We just took it to a place that was a bit fuller and a bit more robust. Wafia had already done a lot of the writing on this track and yeah I agree, I think it’s such a beautifully written song, especially the bridge chorus, it’s just so delicate and at the same time, really soulful. A lot of people don’t know that Sego, Wafia and I were actually on a tour bus together through the US a few years back, kinda like when Sego was on his rise, and now he’s definitely continued that rise, same with Wafia - both signed to majors. I wouldn’t say I do any things that get my collaborators to do anything great, I just love working with really talented people, and that’s just what talented people do when they get together, they just create magic and beautiful work. Wafia and Masego are people that I look up to artistically and they never fail to produce beautiful and inspiring work, so I’m just really grateful to be on this track with them.
Your favorite part about curating In Good Hands?
It was just that you know, listening to all the music coming in and being super stoked that these artists would be down to submit something and then when they submit something, it’s like you know unwrapping a present, it’s just like getting a brand new track in your mailbox and listening to it for the first time and feeling so inspired and motivated. Yeah it’s a special thing when an artist sends you an unreleased track. Especially if it’s for something that you're curating. It’s really special.
I saw that you've put up some of your AV works under "Hear What You See" as NFT collectibles. What are your thoughts about the long term presence of cryptocurrency and NFTs in the music industry, or do you feel as if it might be a short-term fad?
My thoughts around the long term presence of cryptocurrency is that I hope it’s not a short term fad and like most things I hope they work out the kinks, whether it’s environmental or whether it’s usability or people understanding how and what and how to interact with it, what it is and how to shift your perspective on its value. But for me, it’s like with anything as a creative - if it’s something that can solidify and validate artist's work and also get them paid also with people seeing the value in other people’s creative expression, then you know I’m all for it. I think it’s really cool, I heard someone say that we’re at the bottom floor of the never-ending ceiling of this building that’s just going to keep going and going. As long as we use it responsibly and are fully aware of its impact and also how we use it, I think it’s great for creatives.. definitely. Creatives for a long time have always had to kind of split their work with people, split their profits, split their percentages, split their earnings, so it’s just nice for creative to be able to be a little bit more in the driving seat for once.
Now that DSP's and playlisting have risen to prominence in music, has that changed the way you connect with your audience?
I think it definitely has. Back in the golden era of SoundCloud when there were a bunch of us on SoundCloud and it was at its peak, it was like a straight-to-consumer gateway for us creative to get our music heard, it was really special. The way that i think about a lot of people who are complaining about that being gone now in the years of Spotify playlisting and algorithms is that really we’re blessed to have these problems to complain about, because having these DSPs and playlisting to get your music heard, is better than what we had before. That’s just the truth, it’s like you still have the avenue to use all your social networks, your email newsletters, things like that to get your music heard, but now you have this behemoth of a platform with Spotify and Apple Music where if you make great music that you believe in, and it also resonates with certain playlists then that’s such an awesome opportunity to take advantage of. You know, I’m not going to make music for the playlists, I’m not going to make music for the algorithm and you don’t have to. There’s literally so many playlists covering different genres, different regions - there’s no excuse anymore to be caught up in that. I know it is more about who you know and not what you do, but it’s always been like that. It’s literally always been that way, so we just have to embrace the changes and roll with it and do our best to adapt while at the same time creating work that you wholeheartedly believe in.
I would imagine when you were younger there was an immense drive to be a successful artist. Now that you're in that position, what keeps you hungry and motivated these days?
Nope haha. When I was younger, I had no idea what I was going to do. Even up to maybe when I was aged 25, I had no idea what I was going to do. I always dabbled in music, I always wanted to be DJ, but no even like having aspirations even to be like world class DJ, just someone that DJs weddings. You know, you just kind of go from moment to moment until you figure out “ah I really enjoy this”, and then you kind of just hone in a bit more. That’s what happened to me with music and then I enjoyed taking photos and I honed in on photography and then honed in on creative direction and building creative communities and who knows, I might hone in on pottery next or like cheesecake making. You’ll change and as you get older too, the more time passes and your influences change and your personal life changes - your interest also change so for me, it’s always just wanting to do something that excites me and then when you take a break from things that weren’t exciting you for a bit, those will come back and you’ll be like “I miss making this” and you’ll come back to that for a bit. The motivation for me is just doing things I enjoy and then wanting to put out great work and aspire to put myself in a position to create things that I’m proud of.
Words or quote you'd put on a billboard?
I gave a TEDtalk which I was super stoked on and really humbled to be consider for, but there were a bunch of quotes in there. My quotes are kinda like borderline trying to be inspirational but at the same time just dad jokes, because I want to motivate people and create things but also remind people that it’s all not that serious too, at the end of the day. The most important things are your family, your relationship with yourself, your other half - whether you’re married, whether you’re in a relationship. Yeah, it’s family first really. I think it’d be that, cause that’s all the matters at the end of the day if everything was stripped away. I’m a man of faith as well, so if others that are reading this are too, then you know that family and God are really important. It changes from person to person, but that’s what’s important for me. I would literally just put this quote on the billboard, the whole paragraph so people have squint when they see it haha.
12) So… 1) An artist/band you would have a D.M.C (Deep Meaningful Conversation), 2) An artist/band you’d love to party with. 3) Artist/band you would like to be within the studio for a week.
The artist I would have a DMC with a is guy named Thomas Newman. He writes musical scores. Some people might know him, he did the score for The Shawshank Redemption, American Beauty, 1917, and a bunch of others. I’ve just resonated with his music all my life really, ever since I was in high school and it’s never changed. You know those artists where you can go back and listen to when you’re feeling sick of hip hop or feeling sick of soul music for a bit and you just want something that’s a little bit less rhythmic and more ethereal. Thomas Newman is like my number one artist on my Spotify and my Apple Music. I’d love to chat with him. I always say to my wife that I’d love to meet him and I’d probably cry haha.
It’s a good question, seeing I don’t party much at all anyway haha. I really want to meet Stevie Wonder and if he’s down to party, that’d be great, but in terms of like jam party where I can get in my mode, then it’d be him - one of the greats that are still with us.
I really love Frank Ocean, like everyone else. I think the way he writes music in his mind is just different from anyone. I’d really love to kind of get into that and steal it haha no, but I’d love to get into his brain and watch him in the studio. I’m really bad in the studio, I’m better behind the boards by myself when I’ve for some time and privacy, so I’d love to just watch him.