Pei | Credit: Hudson Reed

Pei: “I Allowed Myself to Come in Fresh-Faced and Create as an Infant”

Pei’s Pageant is the debut solo album from former Gang of Youths guitarist Joji Malani, who’s working under the name Pei. The Sydney-based Malani named his solo project after the Fijian word for “baby,” which reflects the childlike state of creative exploration that gave rise to Pei’s Pageant.

Malani worked on the album with close friend and collaborator, Tim Fitz of Middle Kids, setting up in the latter’s home studio and stretching out into new artistic terrain. The nine-song release is influenced by folk and electronic music and alternates between states of ecstasy and rumination. To coincide with the album’s release, Music Feeds speaks to Malani about making Pei’s Pageant, working solo and the fruits of collaboration.

Pei – ‘Themesong’

Music Feeds: Pei’s Pageant is your first solo album. What have you learnt about yourself as a musician and a decision-maker since devoting yourself to the solo project?

Pei: It’s a short album but this took a lot out of me. I could have cut corners and streamlined the process, but I made a lot of mistakes through the process. A bunch I could have avoided. But I felt like it was necessary to go about it the way I did.

I didn’t want to make music using conventional wisdom. You know, shit we hear or read online, or stuff I learnt in my previous place of employment. I allowed myself to come into this fresh-faced and create as an infant. That doesn’t mean dumbing down stuff I’m proficient in, like playing guitar, it just means creating from a place that is free from the shackles of presets and muscle memory.

Another thing is collaboration. I used to really think collaboration dilutes your own brand or sound. The wrong collaboration could possibly do that, but there is a lot to gain from working with others. The biggest thing about it for me is that it encourages community. I’m really sick of the competitive nature of the music industry. Something that resonates with me and with people I’ve worked with like Planet Vegeta is that community is everything.

MF: This project is obviously very personal to you. Has making the album and then sharing the music with the world been particularly significant for you, not just as a working musician, but on an individual level?

Pei: This has indeed been significant for myself on both levels. Just to know I did it – I came up with these ideas and put this stuff together. Like, that’s crazy to me. Even for someone like myself who has gained a lot from music previously, this still seemed like an impossible task given a lot of what I felt like I had to work through.

The last few years haven’t exactly been easy for most people in the world. There’s a lot I wish I did better or did differently but I’m not letting anyone take away from the fact that I did it. I am really grateful for the people that worked on this album with me and with Broth Records. I hope those involved also feel a significance in the fact that it’s out there.

There’s things about my story, my experiences that I draw from for this body of work. In my culture, we’re taught that everything we do, we carry our family name, our family and our ancestors with us. We represent something much bigger than ourselves, so that informs how we operate, how we view the world. And I guess for myself, how I sing and write songs.

    Malani performing with Gang of Youths in 2016 | Credit: Mark Metcalfe/Getty Images

MF: What are some things that you achieved on Pei’s Pageant, in terms of musicality, songwriting, production, and the way you expressed yourself, that wasn’t possible in your previous project, or that represent why the Pei project exists?

Pei: There are some similar elements in my project that are consistent to elements in my previous project, which is only natural given my contributions to the sonic identity of that project. But there’s a lot of compromise when you’re working with four other people. There’s more compromise when your own upbringing and your own outlook on life differs to those people.

I am grateful for what I was able to help shape and create previously but now I can create something that I identify with more. Some of those things are like my own arrangements with brass and strings, production ideas, instrument choices. I didn’t draw from classical pieces or existing white, male-dominated alternative bands for some of these ideas. A lot of it came from music that myself and my family enjoyed growing up: UB40, the Sister Act soundtrack, soul, Motown, Fijian hymnals.

MF: Have you incorporated influences or pulled off certain things on Pei’s Pageant that you weren’t even sure you were capable of?

Pei: I worked really hard on my singing. I think I was convinced that I had a shit voice for a long while. I’ve had a lot of singing lessons and practice daily. Collab-ing with people now, I am very confident with implementing ideas and tracking vocals.

In terms of pulling off things I wasn’t sure was possible, the track ‘Medicine’ – which I think is the best song I have written – features this chanting part at the end. It’s not culturally specific but it definitely alludes to South Asian music. There is a large population of Fijians who derived from India. There is a strong Hindi influence within Fiji with food, entertainment and various other things.

My maternal grandfather went to an Indian School and spoke Hindi. As a kid I remembered eating lots of incredible curries and watching Hindi films occasionally. It’s a beautiful memory, so I had premeditated wanting to acknowledge that part of Fiji in my work. It felt right to end ‘Medicine’ the way it did. It just came together. It’s the only way I heard that song ending and to me, it bloody works.

Pei – ‘Medicine’

Further Reading

Ex-Gang Of Youths Guitarist Joji Malani Launches New Solo Project Pei With Debut Single ‘Honest’

Gang Of Youths Review – Sentimental End to Sydney Band’s Arena Tour

Middle Kids On New Album ‘Today We’re the Greatest’: “This Totally Expresses Who We Are, And Where We Are”

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