A missing father, a mysterious cassette tape and a clutch of memories inspired Troy Kingi’s new album The Ghost of Freddie Cesar, which tries to make sense of his Dad's disappearance.
Finishing this fourth album feels “like a massive weight lifted off my shoulders,” says Troy Kingi “that I didn’t have to remember these songs anymore.”
That’s because the words and the music on The Ghost of Freddie Cesar are not entirely his own. They are based on memories or approximations from listening to an old cassette that belonged to his father.
"Even though these songs aren’t about me, the thoughts and stuff behind it is really close to my heart.” Kingi’s father disappeared under mysterious circumstances in 2005.
“It weighed really heavily on us,” says the father of five.
Kingi and his wife Huia's eldest child was two-years old when their whānau were committed to finding his missing father.
“The thought of my dad going had consumed me quite a bit and I just looked at my son and though .... ‘I kinda need to forget about it’ and my son needs his dad right now.
While clearing his father’s possessions Kingi came across a cassette of live music labelled Freddie Cesar.
“The names of the songs were already there. It’s definitely not my dad’s handwriting, he’s one of those guys who always wrote in capitals.” It is just a white piece of paper written with Sharpie" (permanent marker).
The tape has since gone missing but Kingi still has a notebook of the lyrics. He transcribed the tape as “a form of therapy” to get closer to his dad. “A lot of the music and arrangements have been triggered from these lyrics.”
It wasn’t until writing and recording The Ghost of Freddie Cesar that Kingi “started to decipher what was going on.
“It feels like I am the only one who knows who the hell this guy [Freddie] is. Everyone I’ve spoken to does not know anything about this guy.”
“Finishing the album... it was definitely something to do with my Dad as well. It’s not letting him go, it’s just being at peace with where we are at right now.”
The Ghost of Freddie Cesar is funky, slinky, retro-70s record. It features the soulful vocals and guitar prowess Kingi is known for, with the addition of production and vocal treatment which stretch it into Blaxploitation era sounds, and artists like Curtis Mayfield, War and The Meters.
Kingi wanted to invoke the record collection of a “typical Māori dad” he vaguely remembers from childhood.
“My dad was a muso, he’d listen to Black Sabbath, Led Zep, Bread, Chicago. A typical Māori. Doobie Brothers, Eagles. Always Hendrix.”
“I always remember, on the weekends especially, the windows were open and the net curtains were blowing and the music was going straight through house.”
“That’s actually one of my dreams,” says Kingi whose ultimate aim is to build a house for his wife and their five children. “Hopefully we’ll finish it before they finish school,” he laughs.
“My wife will be at work, the kids will be at school and I’ll be at home with music blasting through the house with the lawnmower saying ‘This is it!’ We made it!”
The Ghost of Freddie Cesar track-by-track with Troy Kingi:
'Shake that Skinny Ass'
The name of this song comes before” Shake that Skinny Ass All the Way To Zygertron (Kingi’s second album). That album is a reference to Freddie Cesar.
There’s nothing special about these lyrics. It’s basically a dance track and... it’s a banger.
'Is the Honeymoon Gone?'
[This] is one of my favourites because sometimes I feel like that as well.
When my son was with his girlfriend at the time, every time we see them they’re still in that honeymoon phase too. I would be like “when is this sh*t gonna end?”
There’s a cool swaggy lyric in here ‘Never met an energy quite like yours, like dopamine inside my mama’s top drawer’.
I’ve always written the whole song before even writing one single lyric. I’m never trying to make the most amazing song, but it just has to have something unique. As long as I don’t cringe when I have to sing the lyrics!
'Caught in the Rain'
This one is inspired by Shuggie Otis and the song references drugs and California.
I feel that this song is word for word from Freddie. That’s why I am trying to decipher what he’s talking about.
I don’t think I’ve ever sung a song about drugs. I’m a pretty clean, pretty PC guy. I questioned it right from the start.
Like many of the songs there’s a woman, I don’t know if it is the same woman or if there are a lot of women - to me it feels like one woman in all these songs.
This one sounds like it’s about addictions. I’ve never had addictions myself - maybe to chocolate - and maybe that is what caught in the rain is, caught under this big dark cloud.
'Through My Venetians'
I remember this one [on the tape] having a strong riffy vibe about it. I don’t know if I’ve got the riff exactly perfect on it.
This one is my favourite of the riffy songs on this album.
I’m really looking forward to doing this one live because when we tour this album I’m not playing guitar.
I’m stepping out from behind the guitar. I wanted a bit of challenge and change it up from Holy Colony [Burning Acres] tour. We’ll see how it goes, it could be terrible!
I didn’t know what chronophobic meant. It was the name on the cassette of Dad’s. The last time I saw the tape was thirteen years ago. Chronophobia is fear of time: Fear of time disco.
The intro and outro are probably my favourite parts. It feels like one of the coolest little bits I’ve ever made.
The whole album is Marika Johnson’s basslines, she’s my right-hand man and her musicality is crazy. She organises the band now, the lineup has been the same band since the first album (Guitar Party at Uncle’s Bach).
I can bring them anything last minute and they won’t be flabbergasted.
'First Take Strut'
I think I was listening to Marlon William’s ‘Nobody Gets What They Want Anymore’ and how it has that random-as little outro and I thought I could do something like that.
My father-in-law’s cousin had a granddaughter who wanted to get into music. I listened to some of the links he sent me of Neko.
Her voice is super unique and I really wanted her to be part of the album.
I wrote these lyrics after rehearsal in Coromandel for Toke, a movie where I play a cannabis grower. I “wrote these lyrics, drove up to Puhoi (Troy’s studio north of Auckland) and had to make a melody on the way.”
Neko recorded her parts in a couple of hours and it’s bloody amazing.
I like working on tight deadlines or giving myself such a brief time to write” because the song is more cohesive. You’re in the same state of mind. If you write a little bit here and there, you’re all in different mind states.
'Nam Must Stay'
A little exclusive, sneaky nugget for you! You’ll hear there is a helicopter at the start of the song and another one at the bridge.
I “acquired” Marlon Brando’s voice off Apocalypse Now when he’s talking about horror. But I put it super low so I won’t get sued.
To be honest this song sounds like it shouldn’t be on this album.
This another one of those riffy songs on the album. The bassline is actually from 'Pseudo Ego' off Holy Colony [Burning Acres] sped up. The only reason why I can’t remember this song off the tape is because it’s all talking and I didn’t really like listening to it.
About a woman, again. But I do think it sounds like a struggle to find love, so it could be one Freddie's earlier songs."
'King of the Powder'
There’s more drug references in this, and that’s all I want to say about that.
The riff behind this is really cool, it’s not mine. But it’s just that all the way through the song. That riff is probably one of the strongest musical things I do remember from Dad.
'All Your Ships Have Sailed'
“Three daughters who adore you/two son who are both brawlers
All I wanna say is I’m inadequate/Mama told when to know when I should quit”
That’s part of the song is mine, it’s about my children. Maybe it’s a bit daddyish. I don’t know if that song fits with the rest of the story but I wanted to say it.
The only time I would ever add words to this album was when I wasn’t sure of what the words were.
The rest of the song sounds like a drug deal is going down on a corner but I added the bit about myself to give a reason for why he’s doing drug deals; to support his family.