Quirky percussionists await life after big stage

"We wanted a piece of the action."

HANNAH FLEMING
Last updated 10:39 10/11/2012
tdn hit stand
ANDY JACKSON
James Fuller and Jacob Randall make up Taranaki duo Hitmen Percussion who have recently gained national fame on New Zealand's Got Talent

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A lack of enthusiasm for cross-country running is responsible for the procreation of quirky Taranaki drumming act Hitmen Percussion.

While in their first year at New Plymouth Boys' High School, James Fuller, 20, and Jacob Randall, 21, reluctantly took the starting line at the school event.

Apart from the odd musical outing the young men were unknown to each other. It didn't take long for that to change.

"We both weren't very keen runners at the time, so we ended up walking the race together and got talking," Fuller said.

"Sure enough, we had plenty in common to talk about and we've been friends ever since."

Hitmen Percussion evolved as the next logical step for two drummers wanting to play music together.

"We'd seen groups like Strike and Blue Man Group do it, and we wanted a piece of the action."

The comical plate-smashing percussion duo became a hit recently with their appearance on TV One's New Zealand's Got Talent.

Their unique and slightly peculiar act took them to the semifinals, but the dream run ended there when they were beaten to the finals by the JGeeks and Evan Sinton.

It was hard for the pair to take.

"At the first auditions we were just like 'OK, we need to get through this heat and then we can be happy with that'. But the further we got in the competition, the more it became a sort of addiction," Fuller said.

"The support of our friends and fans has eased the blow."

Competition aside, Fuller said a typical week in the life of Hitmen Percussion differed from day-to-day.

From Monday to Friday they split their time between music school and their studio, but on Wednesdays they tended to fall victim to the lifestyle of a typical student.

"Wednesday is when we simultaneously lack the motivation for anything and spend the day watching TV series and throwing a Frisbee," he said.

Although their lives had not changed a great deal since gaining national recognition, Fuller said a lot more opportunities were being thrown their way.

"We've had several offers from around the country to perform at this and that, which is leading to the possibility of touring in February.

"It is what we have been dreaming about since we started doing what we do in 2007, so it would be great for all the sewn seeds to finally prove fruitful."

Upon reflection, the New Zealand School of Music first- year students said the show had been a great experience and they couldn't fault the exposure.

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"It's given us motivation and reassurance that we can keep doing what we do and hopefully take things further," Fuller said.

"The thrill of the big stage, expensive cameras, and people running about after you cannot be understated either."

As well as their quirky routines, which included smashing a dishwasher full of plates and playing recognisable tunes with weird instruments, their personalities also hold a certain appeal.

While slightly modest about their popularity, Fuller said people did appreciate the difficult and slightly silly aspects of their act, along with their naturally dorky personalities.

"There is the light-hearted tone to our personalities that prevents it being too 'up itself' and serious, and I think that makes the audience more comfortable," he said.

"It's a sense of being there, enjoying it with us, instead of feeling more removed and admiring from afar - if that makes any sense."

Fuller said there were only two elements that remained consistent in each routine they performed - percussion and competitiveness.

"We're a group where the audience's entertainment is more important than the music itself. Sure, nice music is great, but people like to be entertained, not just hear nice music," Fuller said.

And the same routine is never performed twice.

"We always tailor what we do to the specific audience. Most gigs that we've done, there has been something made specifically for it.

"We're up to the fourth version of our Flight of the Bumblebee routine, and even for NZGT, we made some pretty big changes the day before filming."

Both of the men have been playing percussion instruments for as long as they can remember, and Fuller said as long as musicians had the right mind set, the skills between each percussion instruments were transferable.

"Once you've got the basics, you can bluff your way through pretty well.

"The Coke bottles from NZGT are a testament to that.

"You think I spent an hour a day practising my scales on them like you would with any other new instrument? No. You just adapt what you know about sound and make it work on the day."

Looking beyond their stint on air, Fuller said their big goal was to focus on building their audience on YouTube.

"A big part of what we do is produce videos and we really want that side of things to take off.

"They range from piss-take covers, to drum-free mini series, to original concept videos."

As well as Hitmen Percussion, there are two other acts with Taranaki origins vying for a spot in the finals.

The first is Waitara teenager Kale Simpson, who initially wowed the judges with an original song.

The other is one-woman, music-making machine and Queen of Loops, Mihirangi Fleming.

Kale will learn his fate tomorrow night when the finalists from his semifinal are named, while Mihirangi will perform tomorrow and hear next week if she has made the finals.

- Taranaki Daily News

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