Artistic expression is like air to Ta-ku, real name Reggie Mathews. It's the life source his creative sanity needs to function. His visual and aural productions are the exhalation of that air, breathing inspiration into everything and everyone he connects with. "Regardless of what opportunities you get from it or how much money you make, the actual act of being able to create something that you love is pretty amazing," the Perth, Australia native humbly acknowledges. "Artist expression truly is your heart and soul put into something tangible that people can hear, feel or see." As the sequel to his ‘Songs To Break Up To’ EP released in late 2013, ‘Songs To Make Up To’ ditches the numbing heartbreak for invigorating renewal of a once melancholic spirit. While the past, present and future of music are synonymous with depressive love-gone-wrong anthems, Mathews presents the most realistic non-fairytale approach making listeners experience the plight of his sorrows and the peak of his weightlessness over a relationship that transcends the details of the songs. "No matter what kind of relationship status it was or the specifics behind it, I think we all, no matter for how long, feel that heartbreak at some point in our lives," notes Mathews. "I think relationships really dictate a lot of our lives, whether we want to believe it or not."
Relationships with others play an important theme throughout the soul and R&B-tinged project, but Reggie's relationship with himself is brought to question after falling out of love with music not too long ago. He recalls that moment: “After ‘Songs To Break Up To’, I felt so sick of music and the music industry, even at the low level that I am. It wasn't for me. And that's when I picked up my camera and started all these other ventures … the music bug in me started to grow quite a lot and I was itching to make music. I couldn't wait to get back just to jump in my studio and that's what ‘Songs To Make Up To’ became." Like his broken relationship, it took leaving his artistry behind in order for it to be rediscovered and appreciated.
The eclectic multi-dimensional vibe of the album grows thanks to Reggie's wide-ranging musical influencers: James Blake, Pete Rock to J Dilla and The Neptunes. "I listen to a lot of movie scores as well -- Hans Zimmer, Thomas Newman, very piano based," he adds. "But I have a weird music taste, I like everything." While his cut-to-the-soul instrumental productions 'Hopeful' and 'Trust Me' are daring deviations crafted purely from raw emotion, it's the seductive vocals of Jordan Rakei on the mash-up remix of Snoop Dogg and Pharrell's 'Sunrise/Beautiful', and the record's lead single 'Love Again' with JMSN and Sango that serve as an ode to Ta-ku's nostalgic mood.
With an official album expected to drop next summer, Reggie cites soul icons Sade, Erykah Badu and Dwele as dream collaborations for the project. The excited change of tone in his voice utters, "Sade would be crazy! I've always had a thing for Dwele's music too, and I think he's got a great voice so maybe that could happen. I think for the album we're actively going to reach out more and more and try to make something really cool."
After high school, Reggie remembers multiple stints at lifeless jobs in business and health insurance fueling him to find a passion to appease his budding creativity. "At that point, I was like I need a hobby or I'm going to go crazy," he states. "I wanted to be a DJ so I bought some decks and it started from there." A hilarious chance encounter kicked off his musical endeavors. "I bought some turntables from a guy who was blind. His son was giving them away for like $200 for both of them - mad cheap. This sounds really bad," says Reggie, nervously laughing. "I was like, ‘Are you sure you don't want more?’ And he said, ‘No, just take it.’ And I took them home and spent so much time on them but I feel like I robbed that guy or ripped him off." Harmlessly chuckling at the surreality of the situation he wraps, "Sorry, this is a very raw story. But that was like the lowest for me because I'm pursuing a creative field and I'm ripping off blind people. But, hey, now look at me!"
Ta-ku's art branches out beyond music into a passion for sneakerhead photography. The Instagram account -- Team Cozy -- where he posts his camera shots of dope shoe collections in various environments has already reached nearly 100,000 followers. "My photography is quite moody, and I know that. I tend to post something that makes me feel a certain way and I do the same with my music," he says. Influenced by the urban culture that surrounded him in his hometown of Perth, Reggie remains nostalgic of the things that shaped his sound and style; one of those being the sense of community in barbershops. "For a long time, I was getting my haircut at a older army guy's shop… his fades weren't the best, but it was the place I would go as a kid and I could talk to this guy. He was so much older than me and so was everybody else in the shop." When those adolescent years eventually vanished, Mathews resorted to having his mom cut his hair. Upon his return home from one of his first tours, a new barbershop opened in his hood. It resurrected those same childhood memories, so he decided to open one of his own shops about a year ago. "I was always on the search for that barbershop culture again," confesses Reggie. "I'm really proud of that place because it's a place I can go to every week to get my haircut and just chop it up with the boys which I find special because men don't really have that place anymore where we can go to all be ourselves." He adds, "I could never go back to a 9-5. The life that I'm living now I'm truly grateful for, and doing what I love on a daily basis and calling it my living is really cool."
Ta-ku's effervescent artistry is buzzing like barbershop clippers. Each piece of hair falling to the floor reveals more of his vulnerability and admirable courage to follow his heart, even when the odds are stacked against him. This is the haircut of his life.
WORDS: JORDAN DIAZ PHOTO: REGAN MATHEWS