If you were into Aussie funk in the 90s then you’d remember Aya Larkin as the frontman of the alt-rock outfit Skunkhour. It was one of those bands that didn’t just peter out – they just seemed to disappear at their peak. Which was kind of what happened, according to Larkin.
‘The demise was really emotionally charged. My brother (Del Larkin, a local living brudder these days) was in the first few albums – and then he left, and we got over it – and we were just getting European success but had problems with Sony and then couldn’t deliver to our fanbase. It really knocks you around. We had to get the rev up and we thought, do we replace Del? We couldn’t find anything. With him there was a chemistry; lyrically he remains so fresh and unique I don’t think anyone has come close to it in hip-hop and rap, and we couldn’t replace that so we thought we’d roll without him by reinventing ourselves. We had success then with the fourth album, but things happened again and people got a bit lazy and I was like, you know what, I’d rather do something else.’
And that’s what Larkin did, heading for the US, basing himself in LA for seven years. It was certainly a steep learning curve for this artist who had enjoyed Triple J-certified hits through the 90s and a solid fanbase nationally and throughout Europe.
‘It was really challenging. You are pretty much adrift over there and the industry over there, while it is still large, has been changed by the whole internet revolution. There were a ton of great musicians there; you had to step up your game to do a show anywhere in Hollywood. In the US there are two industries: the heavily commercial and the underground. The commercial is about making the latest cookie-cutter X-factor-type music and artists. I stuck my foot in that water for a year or two and wrote with those people and found it incredibly boring. The carrot people are chasing was not like in the golden years back in the 50s, 60s and 70s. The underground music scene in America was much more exciting and I guess created in 100 per cent reaction to the other stuff.’
Larkin met his wife-to-be over there. He has since returned, opened a busy bar/restaurant in Bondi called Buckler’s Canteen, and earlier this year he released his first solo album Waking Dream, produced and created in the US with fellow Australian expat Andy Clockwise over three years.
‘I took a few songs over there (to the US). I had an album ready to go when I got over there; a lot of songs fell away and I started to work on other ones. I met a girl, I got work in the film and TV industry doing production, and then the album bubbled along. I wrote scores and scores of songs and while at first I had this feeling of having to get things finished, Andy and I took our time… as I was doing it I realised a few songs into it that I could tell that the songs didn’t go together so I wrote some companion songs – the core of the album shifted; there are fragments of them still…’
Waking Dream is an impressive album, with a Sydney reviewer declaring it ‘a painstakingly realised and mature work that showcases the tenacity of Larkin’s vocals against truly gorgeous instrumentation’. Larkin is currently looking towards his next album, with some of these songs being showcased at the Mullum Music Festival.
Aya will be playing with Saloon’s harpist Jake Meadows in his Sunday gig for Mullum Music Festival at the Ex-Services Club at 4pm.
Tix and program information go to www.mullummusicfestival.com.