Features

Harmonies that Resonate

Meet The Harmonic Resonators, a local family band merging country music and te reo.

The Harmonic Resonators mesh country music with tunes in te reo, and the crowds love it. We meet Jeremy Hantler, the talented, enthusiastic frontman of the genre-breaking band.

If you’ve been lucky enough to hear The Harmonic Resonators, you’d know this country band has a little something extra. “It’s kind of hard to put your finger on,” Jeremy Hantler says. “It’s a family band that plays waiata Māori and other bangers that go off at singing parties in New Zealand.”

Jeremy is the founder of The Harmonic Resonators. He’s the type of guy you’d want in your corner... or in your band. He’s all passion, positivity and the first one to toot everyone else’s horn.

Born in Christchurch, music is innate for Jeremy and his family. “We’ve always sung,” he says. “Came out of the womb singing, I reckon.”

They’d perform as a family (Dad, Mum and his older brother and sister) at weddings, funerals, country awards and their local club near Hamilton where Jeremy grew up. “We were looking for things to do as a family and we joined the Country Music Club in Morrinsville,” Jeremy says. “It was a really lit club in the middle of nowhere. That was us every Friday night pretty much.”

He went on to learn jazz piano, then completed his honours degree in jazz drumming in Wellington. It was there, during a recital, Jeremy met a guy who played a traditional koauau flute made from stag bone. “I was blown away by this dude. Like, hold the phone, can everybody else hear that? Isn’t that the most lush thing you’ve ever heard? I was captivated by this instrument.”

Jeremy playing a hue puruhau (traditional gourd instrument)

It was the beginning of Jeremy’s love for traditional Māori instruments. “I enrolled in a wood carving class with Warren Warbrick,” he says. “I think I did the carving course because I liked the sound of carving: tap tap tap. I just thought it was a unique sound that resonated with me. I’ve always followed my ears.”

While making and playing instruments like the pūtōrino (bugle flute) are his hobby today, it steered him down a path. “Someone invited me to a school to show the instruments and they said, ‘bring your guitar too’. I played whatever kapa haka song they were doing and was invited back the next week,” Jeremy says. “Before I knew it, I was working in three schools with a friend of mine. That’s where I learnt pretty much all the te reo I know — from great Māori songs.”

With his wife Steph, Jeremy headed to the Waikato to study teaching, and then to Auckland to get his first few years in the job. He’s now teaching music to kids aged five to 18, three days a week at Matua School and one day at Otumoetai College. “Kids are super-inspired, very musical and unashamed to sing,” he says. “That got me into teaching.”

“My concept for starting this band was to play at a retirement village and a hipster pub without changing the set; that whole ‘so lame it’s cool again’ thing.”

It was in Auckland that the first iteration of The Harmonic Resonators was born, with a few jazz musicians. A couple of years ago, when the couple moved down to Tauranga, Jeremy reformed the band, but aligned it more closely to his country roots. “You have to be humble to play country,” he says. “You  have to be content to play three chords. It’s all about the song, not about the musicians. You’re the backdrop.”

There’s Jeremy’s dad, Renny (nickname: The Grand-daddy of Country Music) on the guitar. “He’s the heart of the band. When he’s missing, you notice it,” Jeremy says. Then there’s his best friend Ryan (Mr Mac) on the ukulele, Ryan’s mum, Sharon (Aunty), on the bass and young Ryan (The Guv’nor) on the guitar. There’s also Jeremy’s mum, Jenny (The Matriarch), who sings the big finales.

The Harmonic Resonators (L to R), Jenny & Renny Hantler; Ryan Monaghan; Jeremy; Ryan McIntyre and Sharon McIntyre.

“People love that we’re a family, that we’ve got young and old, and that it feels like we’re jamming in their lounge,” Jeremy says. “My concept for starting this band was to play at a retirement village and a hipster pub without changing the set; that whole ‘so lame it’s cool again’ thing.”

While they always play to the crowd, the band started with old country songs, then mixed in a few pop covers, from Lorde and DD Smash to Snoop Dogg, Red Hot Chilli Peppers and Adele. “Then we incorporated Māori songs and they’ve gone so big that’s now the heart of what we do.”

The huge appetite for their te reo performances became obvious on social media about a year ago. “We were jamming for a gig at The Rising Tide and we thought we’d do Tauranga Moana.” They took a video and Jeremy posted it on the band’s Facebook. “It blew up. Overnight there were 10,000 views, and got up to about 350,000 within a week and a half. The support was amazing,” he says. “So I thought, we’ll do another banger, but one that’s big all over the country — Ka Pioioi. That was twice as popular.”

Alongside their growing fame and fanbase, there have been several highlights for the band to date: when Jeremy’s mum joined the band a couple of months back; ducking to the hospital, in between a soundcheck and a gig, to perform for their number one fan, who’s currently battling cancer; and every time Māori people get up and do the song’s actions for a waiata-a-ringa at a gig. “I feel so lucky to be able to do something that’s making so many people happy,” Jeremy says.

A memorable moment was performing at Tūrangawaewae Marae for the Māori King. “That was a really affirming time; a seal of approval from Waikato Māori.”

Jeremy has very little free time between playing for The Harmonic Resonators and teaching kids, but he also helps run the Ethno New Zealand music camp and is the ONZA Marimba Festival Music Director. He even squeezes in playing the drums in both the Randy Matthews Quintet jazz band, and the 10-piece Bay Bawlers horn band. To top it off, he sings and plays the cowbell, woodblock and bongos in the local percussion band, Boomtown.

Amidst a jam-packed event schedule, next up for The Harmonic Resonators is an album. “I want to make a folk album of New Zealand bangers. Maybe there’ll be a couple of American songs, but there’ll be a heap of te reo songs, and old-school Kiwi throwbacks,” Jeremy says. “I want people to be able to buy it for their nana for Christmas.”

And he’s already planning the second one; a kid’s sing-along album. “Like karaoke, with the Resonators as your backing band.”

With requests to play gigs streaming in, they still try to get along to their favourites and early supporters when possible. “We try and keep playing at Our Place Tauranga because I love that place. I think that it’s an amazing step to having a heart of the city,” Jeremy says. “The Harmonic Resonators party never stops.”

Stay where they're playing next over on their Facebook page.

Story by Casey Vassallo
Photography by Mattea McKinnon

First published in issue 22 of Our Place Magazine.