20 Questions With HAAi: On Her New Album, Her Rise & Why ‘The Hangover From The Pandemic Is Still So Real’

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Baby, We’re Ascending is not the album HAAi would have made if not for the pandemic. During the forced hiatus from touring, the Australian-born, London-based producer had long hours to spend making the 13 tracks that would form her third LP, released last month through Mute.

“Before the pandemic, I was playing a lot of really long sets. I was so immersed in music all the time,”says the producer.“I love touring! I have ADHD, so I feel like I have the stamina to play late shows and go to the airport. So much of how my brain is wired lends itself to the life that I have.”

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Settling into home life in London for two years, the artist born Teneil Throssell was still able to play with her friends, though. Her close pal Jon Hopkins is a collaborator on the new album’s title track, while spoken-word artist and activist Kai Isaiah Jamal, HAAi’s neighbor, contributed vocals to album track “Human Sound” after the two got to know each other through chats about the origins of techno in the hallway of their apartment building. Another pal, Alexis Taylor of Hot Chip, lends his unmistakable falsetto to the ethereal heartstring tugger, “Biggest Mood Ever.”

After getting her start in a psych-rock band, then learning the ropes while the resident DJ at London’s tastemaking club Phonox, HAAi has been an underground star for years via the power of her hard yet lush, experimental and evocative productions and pummeling live shows. She got an additional profile bump this past January, when “Lights Out” — her shimmering collaboration with FredAgain… and Romy of The xx — became a global club smash, setting the tone for a successful post-pandemic return to touring that has included dates throughout Australia, Europe and Detroit’s Movement, along with upcoming shows at Glastonbury, Ibiza’s techno mecca DC10 and Barcelona’s Primavera Sound this weekend.

Here HAAi, answering questions from the road, talks about the new album, her own ascension and how The Blessed Madonna changed her life.

1. Where are you in the world right now, and what’s the setting like?

I’m in JFK airport heading back to London for a run of shows/festivals.

2. What is the first album or piece of music you bought for yourself, and what was the medium?

My first CD single was The Outhere Brothers’ “Boom Boom Boom.”

3. What did your parents do for a living when you were a kid, and what do or did they think of what you do for a living now?

My mum raised us and had many jobs. She’s now a motivational speaker and life coach. She’s my hero. She’s so proud of me and tells me every day. I say the same to her. She really had the odds stacked against her when we were little, and she worked so hard.

4. What’s the first non-gear thing you bought for yourself when you started making money as an artist?

Ping pong table.

5. If you had to recommend one album for someone looking to get into dance music, what would you give them?

Plastikman’s Musik. That release changed my life.

6. What’s the last song you listened to?

Otis Redding‘s “Sitting On The Dock Of The Bay.” (It was playing in JFK Airport.)

7. The title of your new album is Baby, We’re Ascending. Where are you ascending to?

Hopefully I’ll be ascending into the sky on an airplane soon, after a 12-hour flight delay delay.

8. Okay but seriously, what inspired the title and what does it mean to you?

The album was named after a lyric in the track “Baby, We’re Ascending.” It has a lot of different meanings for me, but I really feel like it should be up for interpretation for the listener.

9. How did you get Kai-Isaiah Jamal involved with the project, and what do you love most about the lyrics they contributed?

Kai and I have been friends for some time. I’d been a fan of their poetry and activism, and we had struck up many conversations abut the Queer/Black roots of techno and bonded over some records we both loved. Kai’s contribution to “Human Sound” is something I’m so grateful for. It’s hard to find a favorite lyric as it’s so powerful as a whole.

Here’s something [from the lyrics] that gets me every time though: “Like there ain’t vinyls black as my fathers skin/ Like music can be clean/ With all this white noise/ If I’ve lost my voice let me stay here in my silence/ They tell you not to forget to go home/ but forget about the house you can dance on diamonds.”

10. “Lights Out” was obviously a huge hit this year. How’d you get involved with the song, and what’s your favorite memory from the creation process?

Thank you. Fred sent me a message one day and said, “Hey, I’ve made this track with Romy (a close friend of mine), would you be interested in trying something with it if I sent you the stems?” I was like, “Sure, I’ll give it a shot.” It was such a nice process, we had great fun together in the studio and threw a really fun party in London the day it came out. So many good memories. We still have a WhatsApp group that’s filled with jokes.

11. I understand that you’re from a mining town in Australia. How do you navigate the dichotomy of being from a small, rural place with your global artist lifestyle?

I always said I feel like I’m built for the road. I left my home town when I was young and always chased the bright city lights. I’m proud of where I’m from and always carry it with me, but I love the traveling aspect of my job so much. People are often curious to see what my home town looks like when I’m abroad. It’s a big red pit basically, with a beautiful beach and loads of bogans.

12. Do you have a recommended setting for listening to your album?

I would say play it loud. Buckle up and enjoy.

13. What’s the last thing you do before you go onstage to play a show?

Think to myself, “What the hell am I going to start with?”

14. How do American audiences compare to audiences in Europe?

I feel like U.S. audiences differ in each city, to be honest. I had a great time here, and every show I played was really different, but all of them were wild and filled with really excited people.

15. The biggest issue dance music is currently facing is _____?

Inclusivity from top to bottom. Also, the hangover from the pandemic is still so real, affecting shows and festivals across the globe, some cities much more than others. Also there’s a cost of living crisis in the UK that I think has had a real knock on effect to how much people can do.

16. The most exciting thing currently happening in dance music is _____?

There’s so much exciting music coming from new artists. I think the next year of releases is going to be wild. Feels like there’s just so much experimentation at the moment.

17. Are there causes you’re involved with that you’d like people to know about?

I’m currently working on a sustainability project with [hotel and studio] Potato Head in Bali — creating DJ products based on a circular economy. I’m really excited to really get it going.

18. What’s the best business decision you’ve ever made?

Buying the record “Fire In My Heart” by Escape From New York. Playing that record in the right place at the right time led to a series of events that changed the course of my entire life.

19. Who was your greatest mentor, and what was the best advice they gave you?

The Blessed Madonna. She took me under her wing really early on in my career and gave me some really sound advice when it came to finding an agent. I’m forever grateful to her for that.

20. One piece of advice you’d give to your younger self?

Take your time! If you’re producing, there’s no rush. Sit back and enjoy the process. Experimenting and the mistakes made along the way can create some of the best music!

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