L.A.B rising higher

By Jessica Tyson

New Zealand roots band L.A.B’s sudden rise in fame has led it to yet another biggest outdoor show ever, to take place at Auckland’s Mt Smart stadium in March 2021.

However, the journey to fame has been a challenging one. With most of the band members from other popular bands, it has taken them a couple of years to define who they are, lead singer Joel Shadbolt says.

“It’s been a really beautiful journey but definitely some growing pains along the way trying to get the Kora thing and the Katchafire thing just off our back a little bit.”

The founding members of L.A.B are Brad Kora, on backing vocals and drums, and Stuart Kora on backing vocals, keyboard and guitar. Both are from thr eponymous well-established band, Kora, formed in the early 1990s. Shadbolt is lead vocals and guitar. Ara Adams-Tamatea, formerly of Katchafire, is bassist, and Miharo Gregory is the keyboardist.

“We are, L.A.B, a mix of all these flavours and sounds and, as soon as we dropped that first album, that was us. We found our lane," Shadbolt says.

L.A.B band member. Photo credit: L.A.B Facebook

First arena show post-lockdown

One of the highlights this year has been performing the first Spark arena show post-lockdown. It was originally booked in at the Powerstation but, when tickets sold out, it was moved to the Auckland Town Hall. When tickets sold out again, the event was moved to the cavernous Spark Arena.

“It was an incredible moment. I will never forget walking into it the night before to have a look at the setup and it was just like', I can’t believe this is for us'.

"I stood right there in the arena and looked around and I was just pinching myself," Shadbolt says.

“I saw Stevie Wonder standing right there - you know I’ve seen the Eagles there. There have just been so many bands play that stage. It was like this is for us and that just blew my mind and I’ll never forget that.”

L.A.B's show in March will feature other homegrown talents, including Mako Road, Ladi6, Ria Hall and The Leers.

"After our biggest shows ever at Spark and Claudelands Arenas in July, we're looking forward to taking L.A.B to another level and closing out summer with a bang,” Joel says.

L.A.B will perform a full-length two-hour set, covering tracks from all three of its albums, plus new material from a new album.

“We’re going to have the album out by the end of the year and people can listen to it and learn it over the summer and by the end of March we’ll be cranking.”

New album soon

Joel says the new waiata in the album are a mix of “funk and RnB flavours.”

“We’ve got a lot of deeper roots reggae which I think we kind of resonate with as a band and when we play that stuff like Rocketship, Baby Will You Let Me live, that’s the feel we really sit in, he says.

“We’ve got about a week and a half left of tracking and recording, then it gets put in the oven and baked for a couple of months. Then it comes out for release hopefully in early December."

Māori culture

Joel says being a part of the band has helped build his love for the Māori culture.

“We’ve done gigs where the crowd has turned around and done a haka and it’s just been like the most powerful thing you’ll ever feel. It’s such a powerful culture," Joel says.

One of Joel’s best memories was performing at a show in Sydney a couple of years ago when the band was honoured with a haka.

“We started to walk offstage and all of a sudden the crowd just erupts and like ‘Oh, what’s happening’. We all just stood out there and it’s just spine-tingling stuff. It’s a beautiful culture and there’s nothing better than hearing, like at One Love, a huge group of Māori people singing in three or four-part harmony.”

But Joel says Māori culture has always been a part of him.

“I’ve been bought up around Māori people most of my life because my Dad was from Ōpōtiki in the Bay of Plenty," he says.

“My dad was the one playing guitar, the white guy sitting there jamming the guitar, singing all these Māori songs. It was beautiful.”

Joel’s parents have also been a major influence on him becoming a musician.

“My old man was a country musician so I started playing as a young fella with him,” Joel says.

At the age of three Joel started to play his first instrument. When he was 11 he got his first electric guitar from a second-hand shop.

“With the singing side, it was just singing in the car with [Dad], singing along to old country stuff. My mum was into Blues and stuff like that so that’s was where that kind of influence came in.”

Joel also did a lot of busking as a kid and throughout his teenage years played in pubs.

Facebook to thank  

In 2015 Joel was discovered by Brad Kora after he saw Joel singing on the Good Morning show.

“I got a message on Facebook from Brad and he was looking for a singer. So he had recently left Kora with his brother Laughton and they had started L.A.B together. Laughton went and did his own thing and Brad wanted to carry on and find a band and write.”

Later Brad invited Joel to have a jam.

“So I drove to Whakatane from Tauranga and got my amp in the back and I go to the Whakatane MMA Gym, which is Brad’s gym, and he’s got the band set up in the gym. You can imagine all this gym gear around and right there in the middle is a band set up and me him and Stu sit there and have a few beers and jam for like six hours.”

At the end of the session, the bothers asked Joel if he wanted to be a part of the band.

“They were like ‘Bro do you wanna join the band?’ and then the rest is kind of history.”

L.A.B will perform at Smart Arena on March 27 and tickets are on sale now.