We’re excited to share the first interview as part of our Animal Nature blog series, with New Zealand musician, Koji.

Koji. is an alias created by Oliver Orme, hailing from Auckland, Oliver works as a freelance designer to keep the lights on, but his passion lies within the music industry. Koji. has amassed nearly two million streams on Spotify and has over 19,000 followers on SoundCloud.

We sat down to chat about all things Koji. and how Oliver’s musical alias has helped him overcome slumps of depression, how his unique vibe successfully gained traction within the underground SoundCloud/Spotify community and what’s next for this rising star.

One thing is clear, Oliver fucking loves music.

How did you get into making music?

Damn, It’s hard to pinpoint. Maybe a combination of having parents and an older brother that always listened to seriously cool music, from Groove Armada to Wu-tang. My brother put me onto the underground hip hop scene as an early teenager, so I was bumping J Dilla and Bone Thugs sort of shit from like 11 years old. From there, it was really me digging deep on the web and downloading as much music as I possibly could through Limewire and other niche forums.

So, that was where the inspiration came from at least. As far as making music, I played guitar off and on throughout my early teens, as well as piano. But I never really took it that seriously; I was lucky enough that some serendipitous events led me to meeting my two best friends who also shared a mutually deep passion for music, some people just feel music on a different level and we were those people. We pushed each other instrumentally, as we subconsciously all wanted to be better guitar players than one another - we also got heavy into old school rock like Jimi Hendrix, SRV and the Red Hot Chili Peppers. So I've spent the most part of my life really loving and appreciating all types of music from rock, electronic to hip hop.

Then uni came around, I had this ‘Midi’ keyboard sitting gathering dust and had been fantasising about finally sitting down and recording something tangible, that I could call a fully produced song with drums, bass, guitar - all of it. I finally got round to linking it up and learning music production from scratch, which was an absolute headache. I was terrible and had zero clue what I was doing, I literally didn’t know how to record something in time. But back then I thought I was making cool shit (hot trash) and I was still vibing, this process naturally intrigued me and prompted me to learn more about producing techniques. Combining all of that and my pre-existing instrumental knowledge, I started to create music I felt was unique. SoundCloud was hugely instrumental in my career. I was inspired by music I’d never heard before and people that were really pushing the boundaries and creating the ‘next sound’, before it was mainstream. And here we are… eight years later.

Where are you making music from?

My bedroom. And occasionally other people's bedrooms. Sometimes Ethan’s (day one homie) Garage.

Solitude and music, for me, have just gone hand in hand for the most part. I feel like I can be completely myself, unjudged and really just experiment and make music in my own time. That’s just how I’ve gone about it, though I wish I hadn’t, but my introverted self really takes over in this space. This year and onwards, I'm really trying to push away from this ingrained mentality. I think music should be sociable and can really be elevated when you're bringing multiple minds together on a project. It’s also fun as hell when your jamming with other people and things just seem to fall into place so organically.

Your single 'Honest' has over 1M hits on Spotify, why do you think this single has gone so viral?

Hmmm, it’s hard to pinpoint exactly. It’s funny, you make a track and put it out with no expectation and you never quite know how well it’s going to end up doing. I definitely got addicted to watching the plays and the likes stack-up back then.

I’m going to say it was the live element of the track. Honest, had vocals from super talented artists, Abhi//Dijon, who are both quite well-known in the industry (they’ve got mad followers on Spotify). The track’s guitar and piano elements were actually sketchily recorded straight through my laptop speakers. The weird electronic artifacts and knocking drums were the perfect embellishments to give it the Koji. vibe. It got hella reposted around SoundCloud and YouTube and stuff, so I guess it just naturally got picked up on Spotify. I’m grateful for all the listeners!

“I've realised that I have to create, and keep creating. No matter what it is. Otherwise everything else is ultimately pointless.”

What is an integral part of making music for you?

I need to be inspired, I’m always trying to find new music that entices my ears. Also, I have to keep learning. There's never a moment where you can’t either learn something to make you a better guitarist, pianist or producer for that matter. It’s fundamental to surround yourself with people that share the same goals and musical interests as you.

How has music helped you heal and overcome depression?

Music was purely an escape for me for the most part. An escape where I'd just delete entire days, lock myself in my room, smoke a ton of weed and just jam out. As much as it helped me, it was also a pretty destructive lifestyle; I was being antisocial, smoking far too much, barely making the time to eat properly. The joy I got from making something tangible that people resonated with was immeasurable though. At 26, I've realised that I have to create, and keep creating. No matter what it is. Otherwise everything else is ultimately pointless. At least it can feel like that sometimes.

I’m just grateful for music. The joy I get from it is different from anything else. It will always be there for me.

It’s funny though, because sometimes I feel like I have such high expectations of the music I want to make, which can make me feel like I’m not good enough and you know, the circle of self-doubt comes back around.

When did you quit your 9-5 and pursue music full-time? How are you finding freelancing?

Haha! Not quite there yet, but onwards and upwards. Freelancing is fucking great. I’m super happy I spent three years in the design/advertising industry because at least now I know the ropes and I can manage clients to a professional degree. I learnt a lot of valuable skills in that time, also working with other people is mad important.

So right now I'm doing design/music and splitting my time 50/50. Design is making me money, while music is still serving as a passion, but I'm also edging towards a comeback with an album or a vinyl style eight track Side A Side B type of deal. Which will be a properly curated project, something that I haven’t really had the vision or time for since working full-time.

 What is something you've struggled with in the NZ music industry?

I’m not going to bag the NZ music industry because I really haven’t tried my hand much with it in the past. The introvert in me has been afraid to reach out for the ladder, and I just focus on bettering myself and making better music. I think though, there should be more room for more unique and experimental music to be promoted in NZ, as it does feel like they push the same type of music over and over again. We could be more progressive.

Are you making an album?

Slowly but surely. I want my album to be my best work, albeit different. I want it to be fully functioning - not just instrumental beats. So at this point in time I'm sitting on multiple tracks that I'm loving, but I want to elevate my craft and work with some more instrumentalists and vocalists. I think having vocals on a track is key to its success. As a producer, you often forget people are listening to the lyrics and not listening to all the individual nuances that make up the song like we do, ha!

Dream artist to collaborate with?

Too many to name, and far too diverse of a list to make any sense. Weirdly no-one off the top of my head that stands out. Maybe some of the people below who inspire me.

 Who inspires you?

My mum. My friends. The amazing community of musicians and producers out there making beautiful music.

People I'm really inspired by at the moment: (quickly quickly, Gareth Donkin [Master Soul Boy], Hether, sir Was, Nick Hakim, Mk. Gee, Mac Ayres and Khruangbin). That's just scraping the surface. Also listening to a bunch of old-time soul funk records.

What's next for Koji.? Are you going to make the jump overseas anytime soon?

Dude, the main reason I quit my job was to get the fuck out of here. I quit my job and COVID happened, so here we are. Now I'm just making music and saving as much money as I can to head off. I want to get this (mini?) album out before the end of the year, so that’s a huge goal of mine.

And when I can travel again, I will most likely head straight over to Europe, to travel around freely before settling down somewhere, if I like it.

Where can we find you?

On SoundCloud and Spotify.

I’ll have more shit up soon, I promise!


Words by Liam Sharma