"Right now I’m on a journey,” smiles Lakyn Heperi. “Music is a way to express my feelings, and everything on this EP is from my heart. It’s what I think, what I believe in... my truth.”
Honest and evocative: Better Than That is the debut EP from 20-year-old Melbourne singer/songwriter Lakyn. Released November 16th, it’s an impressive first step for this talented songwriter, who’s taken two decades of inspiration (tattoos of Bon Iver and Bob Dylan adorning his arms) to create a sound all his own. Better Than That announces Lakyn as one of the country’s most promising new acts – no secret to the 35,000+ Facebook fans who’ve been following his career so far.
Born and raised in Auckland, Lakyn’s taste for good music came early, his guitarist dad spinning discs by Led Zeppelin and local heroes Split Enz at home. A cassette tape of the Beatles’ Help! was his first musical love, followed over the years by Bob Dylan, Wu-Tang Clan, Frank Sinatra and Bon Iver. “I’m a music appreciator,” Lakyn says, of his disparate tastes. “If it’s good music, my ears like it.”
However, there was another passion in Lakyn’s blood early on: skateboarding. The amateur clearly remembers the first time he shook the hand of vert hero Renton Millar, or skated a 12 foot ramp at NZ’s X Air games at just eight, a nearby Tony Hawk exclaiming, “Whoa, he’s tiny!” as Lakyn found air.
“When I was growing up I thought, ‘I want to do this forever,” laughs Lakyn, who relocated to VIC at 12. “I do think there’s a correlation between music and skating: it’s freedom. I’ve always tried to stay close to freedom – not be suppressed by the way the world is meant to be. They’re both a way to get away. My parents never babied me: I take risks, and they always supported that.”
A screwed ankle at 16 meant Lakyn was out for at least eight months. (Don’t worry: he’s still skating plenty.) Instead, he picked up his guitar, a recent birthday gift from dad. Taking on Zeppelin’s cover of “Babe I'm Gonna Leave You” and Kings Of Leon (“Taper Jean Girl”, “Day Old Blues”) tunes, Lakyn scrawled each song learned on a list under his bed covers, embracing picking techniques from watching Dylan (Lakyn’s favourite number: “I Shall Be Released”).
A year or so later, and Lakyn was writing his own material, demoing on GarageBand and uploading originals and covers to YouTube. “At the time I wasn’t thinking about a career; I just wanted to write,” he remembers. “I attempted a lot of styles at first, to try and find my own road, my own path.” Music was about showing emotion, and being honest. Each of his YouTube clips quickly gained popularity, both for his choices as well as his interpretations, views growing in the tens of thousands. “I did an acoustic Biggie cover [“Juicy”] because that song meant a lot to me. People were saying, ‘You should cover Katy Perry, you’d get a lot more views!’, but that just wasn’t me.” (A cover of Carly Rae Jepsen’s “Call Me Maybe”, however, was intended to “make the song listenable,” Lakyn jokes.)
With the fan momentum behind each clip growing exponentially (several now reaching 300,000+ views), producers working on a brand new TV production sat up and took notice. The following day was the final round of auditions for their program: could Lakyn make it to Sydney? The show was “The Voice”. Mentored by Joel Madden (Seal wanted him too), Lakyn made it through to the semi-finals covering MGMT and Youth Group, suddenly thrown into a whirlwind of TV production, record labels, management and media requests. “Before ‘The Voice’ I’d only done about four gigs that year,” he admits. “I was a bit hesitant at first, but what I wanted to get out of it is exactly what I’ve been given – I had to learn to make the right decisions.”
With the rollercoaster ride of “The Voice” behind him, it was time for Lakyn to get back to doing what he does best: making music. He enlisted Evermore’s Dann Hume on production, and in July the pair headed to Dann’s studio, the Stables, in Gisborne, VIC. Over the next three months they recorded tracks like the recently penned “Better Than That” alongside early song “Cold Winter’s Breeze”.
Lakyn wrote the EP’s opening track “Don’t Tell Me” with one message in mind, “The track is about how people expect you to be a certain way or act how they think you act or say what they think you should say, but there is only one way to get the most out of life, that’s being yourself and acting on your instincts.”
The whistle and falsetto led “With The Water” strips Lakyn’s talent right down to the bone, a bare it all ode about freedom, strength and courage. “If all this didn’t happen I’d still be playing music. When I play this song it helps me appreciate what I’ve got.”
The title track “Better Than That” Lakyn explains, is about “Not minimising your possibilities by settling with second best, there is always something better. This song means a lot to me because it's what I believe in.”
And then there’s Lakyn’s cover of “(I Just) Died in Your Arms”, by ‘80s English rockers Cutting Crew. Not recorded for any sentimental reasons, he admits; rather to see if he could invigorate an old hit with new feeling (think James Vincent McMorrow’s “Higher Love”).
Written just before his 17th birthday, Lakyn determined to add “Cold Winter’s Breeze” to the final disc. “It’s about writing a letter to someone, expressing the last things you want to say... to a girl, of course,” he laughs. “It just had to be on there.”
“From our very first encounter we got along really well,” says Lakyn says of collaborating with Dann. “I wanted to work with someone who was able to get out of my head what I could hear in my music. It’s been me and a guitar for a few years now, but I’ve always loved thinking about what’s capable. I want to write words that anyone can relate to; I don’t want this to be a selfish thing.”
Excited about pulling a band together and having recently hit the road in support of Evermore and “The Voice” winner Karise Eden, Lakyn says he can’t wait for listeners to get a taste of what’s next. Delivering upon his promise, for Lakyn, Better Than That is just the beginning. “I only want to make the music I want to make,” Lakyn insists. “That’s what this EP is all about: being genuine.”