SPOTLIGHT: Tui Finds Bonding, A Band Name, and Unexpected Adventures in New Zealand
Photos courtesy of Libby Weitnauer and Jake Blount
EDITOR’S NOTE: Tui — the old-time duo of Libby Weitnauer and Jake Blount — is No Depression‘s Spotlight band for July 2019. Read our feature story about them here, plus an essay from Blount on the power of the banjo to heal across generations. You can also watch of video of them performing “Went Up on the Mountaintop” from their new album, Pretty Little Mister.
The only thing that stirs up as many questions as Jake’s black and silver Nathaniel Rowan fiddle is our band name, Tui. The response that we’re named after a New Zealand bird always seems to create more questions than answers, so maybe this photo diary will provide some clarity!
A little less than a year ago, Jake and I flew to the other side of the world to perform together for the first time. It seems counterintuitive, but as it turns out, there’s no better way to learn about your band dynamics than four and a half weeks of traveling abroad. For context, an Australian festival called the Kelly Country Pick had reached out to Jake about performing, and he brought me along for the ride. One thing led to another, and we found ourselves with a two-week tour schedule in Australia and a three-week, almost entirely unplanned, vacation in New Zealand.
Upon arriving at the airport in Auckland, we used the earnings from our Australia tour the two weeks prior to rent a car. It became our bedroom, kitchen, and closet as we moved between campsites on both the North and South Islands. Our general, though often unintentional, housing approach was to pull up to a campsite in the dark, and after a cold night of sleeping in the front seats, we would wake up in whatever beautiful and strange new world we had stumbled across in the night.
Nights in the car were broken up by several stays with gracious hosts, an old-time gathering with our new Australian and Kiwi friends, two Airbnbs, and one emergency hotel room stay that may or may not have involved a mysterious pickup truck and a gunshot at 2 a.m. in the middle of sheep country.
Though we were limited by the winter weather and our lack of hiking gear, we ended up at some more intentional destinations, including glaciers, geothermal hot springs, volcanoes, and a terrifyingly long swinging bridge.
Lastly, aside from our slightly more outdoorsy adventures were our nerdy forays into the world of The Lord of the Rings trilogy. Yes, we went to the filming locations of Rivendell (Kaitoke Regional Park), Gollum’s Pool (Tawhai Falls), Hobbiton, etc. Yes, I cried. And yes, we played “The Riders of Rohan” on top of Mount Sunday and put a video of it on our Instagram accounts. We can’t all be super stoic old-time musicians and tradition bearers all of the time. (See our band Instagram —@tui_music — for the full video).
Wherever we went, however, we heard the versatile, and frankly hilarious, song of the bird in question, the tui. Its range of chirps, whistles, clicks, and squawks, along with its tendency toward regional accents, put it on the list of possible band names we’d been compiling since Australia, and the more we develop our sound as a duo, the more it feels like the perfect fit.