Creatives Corner // Meet Blake Showers

I first came across Blake Showers when Father of Awful Records featured his artwork for “Heartthrob.” The Birmingham artist crafts a vibrant and dynamic style, often bringing to life icons from hip-hop, anime, and video games. Blake continues to fill our feeds with his wide array of art, leading to his recent event at Alchemy 213.

I had the great pleasure of speaking with Blake on his work, his 4strikes project with Daniel Williams, and his plans for the future:

Thanks for taking the time for this interview! For starters, please introduce yourself.

Hi! My name is Blake Showers. I am a 24 year old illustrator from Birmingham, AL. I work on a manga with my editor, Daniel Williams, called 4strikes.

How did you get started with art?

I think my first starts with art were from just doodling at home watching cartoons. It was a really fun thing to do and it would help me concentrate. I would draw a lot in elementary school as well and kids would like my work! My mom used to draw a lil in school and stuff and I guess it just got passed on to me [laughs]. When in high school, I was exposed to more mediums and techniques. It was a good time too because the Internet was getting more advanced; if there was something you wanted to learn, you could Google it and all the steps would be there.

What does art mean to you?

Art means a whole lot to me. This is really the only thing I would do even if I didn’t get paid. If I’m having trouble communicating something to people, it was the best way for them to understand me. When school would start and I didn’t know anyone, kids would see me draw and it would break the ice. I was really shy and still get kinda shy in certain situations, but art really helped me break out of my shell. It got me to do some incredible things and connect with some amazing people.

Can you tell us a bit more about 4strikes?

Yes! It’s a idea I been working on for a while! I wanted it to be a traditional superhero story, but then it just didn’t feel right. It’s something I been playing with since late high school. Finally, I redrew some designs—I drew some clothes I thought were cool and went from there! The main character is loosely based on myself as a highschooler. I’ve really always been into scary and spooky stories so I decided to make it that genre.

I was getting further along with it around 2013, but needed help. My friend Daniel Williams, a urban graphic artist from Birmingham, would be there to message about stuff. He was really into anime and music like I was so we would vibe on the same concepts and knew bout the same content really. One day, I asked if he could be co-storywriter and editor for 4strikes and he was down! He has really been a super big help with the whole project in general—whether it’s reviewing panels for the manga, getting me any materials I need, or even making suggestions for story arcs, he has always came through and I’m grateful he’s on the team!

Where did the name come from?

The name really came from the weapon of the main character being a baseball bat. I know in baseball it’s 3 strikes and you’re out the game, but what if you had one more chance to change the outcome? Also, in Japanese culture, how “four” is pronounced sounds like death. “Four” in their culture is kinda like how “13” is in ours. It’s funny because we were making pages already for it and found that out. [Laughs] I was like “This is perfect!”

What else inspired the manga?

Things that inspired the manga are my life as a college student and I would walk alotta places. Night was my favorite and I had a big imagination. I would always be nervous, but excited to be walking around in those late hours. We also use a lot of Japanese folklore in it as well. There is such a rich culture in myths and legends in Japan and it was great source material to read on. Some manga I liked a lot were Dragonball, One Punch Man, TOUGH, Yu Yu Hakusho, and Full Metal Alchemist. Fight scenes were always a thing I wanted this manga to be know for, but also good humor. I also didn’t see alot of POC in manga. This was another thing that inspired 4strikes. A lot of the characters in it are POC or people that don’t get repped in mainstream media.

Where else do you draw inspiration from?

I draw a lot of my inspiration from just music really and thoughts in my head. I love music so much, mostly trap and underground. I like spooky videos on conspiracy theories and urban legends. Also, when I used to paint more, graffiti art would a big influence too! I was more drawn to the character-based graffiti than the letter ones.

Any advice for the aspiring artists out there?

My main advice would be to keep putting stuff out. Like even if you feel like no one cares, just keep it up. I promise it all will work out in the end! Everyone gets their turn and everyone will eventually be on your side and in your favor if you keep putting the work in.

What’s next for you?

My next move is to finish up my character design portfolio for Cartoon Network and hope for the best! I also got alotta pages to finish up for 4strikes aswell!

Major thank you to Blake Showers for the interview! Be sure to check out 4strikes and follow him and Daniel below.

Blake Showers: Instagram // Twitter // Tumblr // YouTube

Daniel Williams: Instagram

Artist Interview // Kakuyon On Debut Album, ‘Now Go And Flourish’

\Kakuyon has been around the East Coast scene for several years now. The enigmatic New Jersey musician has brought his unique brand of production to numerous track lists, including friend and frequent collaborator Shotta Spence’s recent album, Upfall. His style is as hard to pin down as it is distinctive, resulting in a rare level of quality in production from the overarching dynamics to the minutiae of the songs he touches.

Kakuyon’s presence on Spence’s album demonstrated his ability to mold his production to different styles. The fruitful relationship between the two is something that Kakuyon openly alludes to, happily conceding Spence’s “dangerous” hit-making talent and potency in versatility. The two work seamlessly together on songs such as­­­­­ “Throne” or “All The Wrong Things,” creating a streamlined sound.

The careful engineering that Kakuyon brought to Spence’s album is characteristic of the musician. Summer 2014 saw him begin to work on his debut album, a platform to share his own voice freely. It was in between starting the project and releasing it that Kakuyon put his touch on Upfall, no doubt providing him with exposure to the challenges and nuances of creating an album that handcuff so many artists.

Now Go And Flourish dropped in January, two and a half years after its inception. The album is a narrative of growth, decay, and the dynamism of the human experience. On both a musical and thematic level, it is complex and meaningful. Kakuyon changes tone on nearly every song, at times pulling his ethereal instrumentals into the vocal path and at other times letting voices rise far above the beat. It is an album that seems stitched together of countless pieces, a patchwork of stunning musicality that is reflected in the jarring but cohesive album artwork.

Kakuyon’s album is a truly impressive debut; since first listening to it, I still find myself unpacking all of its contents. I recentlyspoke to the man himself to pick his brain about his musical identity—check out the full interview below:

Tell us a bit about how you began working on your debut project.

I started working on my project two and a half years ago—summer 2014. That’s when I decided to be a vocalist. I had just been a producer/composer till then. I had a lot of great music that never saw the light of day. I just liked to make music that I never heard before, but that I still enjoyed listening to. I wanted to share my music with the world, but for some time as a producer I was depending on other artists to record vocals over my production before releasing songs; this was before Spence started seriously recording. I started writing so that I could make sure my favorite songs reached people’s ears.

My good friend Seph Pierre has always been a mentor on how to create music and the creative process. He’s an incredible artist, so are Spence and SaBang, I’m blessed to be on a team with them—they’re all on the project and we’ve all worked together since the beginning.

Summer of 2014 was when I decided I wanted to make music that I could put out for people to enjoy as much as I enjoyed making it. The recording all happened in the months of September and October 2016, which glued together two and a half years of evolving production into one unified sound on the album.

“I add layers to songs here and there to make myself fall in love with them all over again.”

Stylistically, you’re very versatile. The first thing I noticed listening through “Now Go And Flourish” (NGAF) was that you constantly changed up your sound. How would you define your style and can you identify any influences that you derive it from?

Influences… I listen to a lot of music I guess. One of the biggest things that sculpted my sonic identity might be how my pops used to chill with me and schooled me on a bunch of eclectic music he used to listen to. I was exposed to Prince early. He got me hip to older Outkast and a bunch of Motown, Soul, and Funk. I can remember him talking about Philadelphia sound with Jill Scott or Minneapolis sound and all the artists associated with the movements. He was great at drawing those maps and connections that helped me later draw maps and connections for my own understanding of music. Throughout my childhood we drove a lot, and one year at a track meet we had Jackson 5 on repeat while another year we had Amy Winehouse on repeat. When my mom wasn’t in the car, he’d play Get Rich or Die Trying or Busta Rhymes and Trick Daddy haha.

Everything influences the music in different aspects, I couldn’t begin to scratch the surface. You might say a sentence with a certain cadence, or the words you say might sound like something else and that gets my mind going too. That’s just a loaded question, the answer will always be different for me. I couldn’t begin to define one style, I always get bored of my old self.

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One of my favorite parts of the album is how different each song is—any one could be the album’s focal point. “Trough/Crest Interlude” is a really good expression of this to me. Can you tell me a bit about your creative process for that track?

A lot of time went into that one in every aspect. It started from a conversation about balance with one of my boys from school, Shayan. A few days after that, I recorded the sample at the beginning of the song—the spacey piano and vocals that loops over the first part. Then I found a near perfect match of those chords in my archives: a 2-year-old recording on my phone of Seph on the piano teaching me a lesson on composition. So I sampled that for the second part. That was the first iteration… like super simple: 2 samples and some drums. It was actually glitching like crazy for some reason, so that rumble at the end was actually sampling a glitch from the first iteration.

The song became what it is after multiple times coming back to it, adding layers one at a time from there. I came back, added the bassline, then the strings, then more drums to the intro, then the choir of V’s vocals. Then I sent it to Spence and SaBang to do their thing and I added my verse last.

“This project was just me coming out as an artist: finally releasing a body of work, in what I thought was the best and most honest way I could present it.”

It’s evident that you put a lot of thought and emotion into on NGAF, its a very diverse and dynamic album, and you manage to capture so much in just 11 tracks. What was your selection process like when crafting the album? 

Well in the fall, I was sitting on like 16 that I had actually recorded for Now Go And Flourish. So the project was initially about an hour and change. Then I sat down with my homegirl V—my friends Ammar, Kev, AO, and Shayan were there too—and I was showing them the 16-track joint from front to back. Then V just came out and said I should trim it down, which was a bold move cause I was very opposed to the idea at first haha. After 15 minutes of good points from her I was convinced to trim it down.

I think that was an excellent decision though, I think it made it more chewable as a project, especially considering the songs that stayed and went. I went home and decided to cut like six tracks, down to ten. Then while mixing/mastering, I just kinda started getting bored of most of the songs and I added layers to songs here and there to make myself fall in love with them all over again. And eventually I made a whole other eleventh song, Leverage.

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How was the actual process of creating your project different from what you would have imagined? You mentioned sampling in the glitch on Trough/Crest, were there other moments like that where you just had to roll with the punches and embrace where the project was going?

I would say it was different because it took longer than I thought. Overall I was happy with it though. I like the fact that it didn’t go exactly as planned. I like the fact that each song’s first version wasn’t the version that I released.

When I say it took longer than expected, I took longer to record than I thought, and mixing and mastering took forever too. I was inexperienced in both singing/recording and mixing/mastering going in, and I still think I could’ve done a better job in both realms. I’m working on it though. I’m happy that I revisited production till the end and kept all the songs fresh for my own ears.

Also I got to shadow Spence before the release of his debut Upfall, and I got to watch his recording and mixing process. He showed me that recording vocals and mixing them was just like another dimension of producing, which I’ve been doing longer than I’ve been recording myself. This made it a lot more fun to record my vocals than I expected, since I got to play with effects and layers on the vocals. Everything was just a sort of dance between being in control and having no idea what you’re doing. But I guess that’s just like anything else, even beyond the music. The guidance from vanguards before me always helps though.

The four of you—Shotta, Pierre, and SaBang—all seem to be very familiar with each other’s styles, and are very adept at working with each other. How was it different working with them on this project than previous collabs you’ve done together?

To be honest it wasn’t any different really, it was as natural as ever.

Seph has always been a mentor when it came to the creative process. When I was just starting to produce popular music in high school, I would send him like everything and he’d give the best, most constructive feedback. He’s always been on another level musically and just sees music way different from me. So when it came to NGAF, it was more or less the same thing, but I called him to the action of actually composing and recording his own sax parts over what I was sending. He did sax over “Trough/Crest” and “Troubled Water.”

Shotta and I also go way back, he’s just grown into an incredible artist. I think he snapped on everything he touched on the album whether he was mixing vocals or actually writing and recording. I don’t think people understand what he’s sitting on right now as far as his own music is concerned; he’s dangerous for real. I knew I wanted him on Sunny Soon when I made the instrumental—in fact I sampled his voice from another song on the hook. Trough/Crest was meant to showcase his versatility, just something you haven’t heard him do yet.

SaBang is just an enigma haha—another one who’s been around since the beginning. I still remember the smallest thing he said one day at track practice about me and Spence and it’s all happening now, he’s just got crazy good vision like that. But I remember him going crazy over the original Troubled Water instrumental, which was like a 1:30 little joint, so I added room for an extra verse cuz he had to be on it. That ended up being perfect too, actually, cause it forced me to think of the “Wade in the Water” interpolation that tied the whole song together.

How do you see your relationship with your collaborators evolving from where it used to be, and can you predict where it might go in the future? 

I see us working even closer in the future. I mean me, Spence and SaBang, we talk, and there’s definitely exciting plans ahead, but I should probably hold myself from saying anything, haha.

SaBang would body any visuals if we end up trying to get in some videos for NGAF cuts. But that might be just something for the future, maybe just a later project.

On the music tip, I just see us continuing to work in the same organic way we’ve been doing it, just maybe some day in a new setting. I definitely want to get Seph on more production. He just sees music totally different from the way we all do. It’s really incredible every time he sends anything or just puts me on any new musical game. If he could be closer to the process in the future that would be dangerous. But he’ll be more involved regardless.

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What do you want listeners to take away from NGAF?

Well, anyone could take their own thing from NGAF. I used a lot of extended metaphors throughout. I would say that I want the listener to know that no one’s perfect, and that we all go through some type of struggle. We’re dynamic, we don’t feel the same things all the time, and we learn from old mistakes. There are ups and downs and that’s what makes the ride fun.

But beyond that I just hope the chords and melodies and flows were cool haha. I hope it inspires someone else

Your brand of music is so unique and attractive, and from what you’ve said it seems like we can only expect more evolutions of your style. What does this project mean to you, and how do feel your relationship with it will grow over time? 

Thank you, I really appreciate that. This project was just me coming out as an artist: finally releasing a body of work, in what I thought was the best and most honest way I could present it.

You’re right; I wouldn’t want to be boxed into any sound I presented on NGAF. It has a special place in my heart as the first release, plus the memories it captured from the times I produced and recorded the tracks.

In time I think it’ll always have a special place in my heart. I’ll mature out of some of the imperfections from that record, and I guess it can serve as a snapshot of me at the point that the album was created and released.

What’s something you hope to build on from this album moving forward? What’s next for Kakuyon?

New stuff is happening everyday that makes me feel some type of way. I just want to keep capturing that in song. I want to keep telling thought-provoking stories. I feel that stories are told even beyond the words that are said, through the notes and percussion that you hear too. That being said, keep an eye on Shotta Spence this year. I’d bet I produced something for him that he might put out eventually, but I couldn’t say. It would probably also sound really good.

I’m always passively writing, by jotting down ideas, and I produce when I can too. I really like songs like “Molt,” “Leverage,” “Ethereal” so some evolved form of those sounds moving forward. I also love pop music so much. I’ll keep pop and dance records on releases moving forward.

I also don’t want to put anyone’s expectations at any level… we’ll play by ear what comes next I guess.

Right now, the sky is the limit for Kakuyon. Revisit the full album above and check out what we had to say about it here.

Artist Interview // Travis Thompson, Seattle’s Rising Emcee

Following last year’s Ambaum mixtape, Travis Thompson continues to build momentum with a series of singles and features. The Seattle-bred emcee holds us down with his catchy verses and witty flows, most recently teaming with the likes of Nima Skeemz on “Father Forgive Me” and “Need You.” Travis has also shared the stage with the likes of W&V mainstays Dave B and Michael Christmas, and will also be at Seattle’s Upstream Music Fest later this year.

I had the pleasure of chopping it up with Travis on how he dove into the music industry, his advice for fellow Lil B fans, and his plans for the future. Check out our conversation after the jump:

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Thanks for taking the time for this interview! For starters, who is Travis Thompson?

My name is Travis Thompson. I’m a rapper from Seattle, Washington.

What got you into making music? Was music always what you wanted to focus on?

When I was super young, my dad showed me Green Day, and for a long time that was the only music that existed to me. I used to pretend my vacuum was a mic, because I was hella short and it was the perfect height. I always knew music was something I wanted to do. But around 7th grade I started writing raps instead of poems in my middle school english class, and then started going back and writing to all my favorite Lil Wayne beats n’ shit haha. Lowkey wrote raps all through high school and didn’t show nobody. And then about 2 years ago, I decided I wanted to start taking shit seriously. At first I wrote poems. I competed in poetry slams around Seattle, and won a bunch of em’. I used to do my own poetry shows n’ shit and they flew me around the country for different stuff. Like Brave New Voices, or to film a poetry video. That was in high school too.

You recently dropped a track with Michael Christmas titled “Pipe Down.” Tell us a bit about how the track came together.

One time we got super high, listened to a bunch of Cool Kids, and made the beat and hook in like 15 minutes during a random Ambaum session. Wrote the verse the next day. And then we sat on it for hella long. At least a few months. Then I saw Christmas was on tour with Warm Brew and as soon as I seen he had a Seattle stop, I hit my manager and told him we should try to open that show, because I had been fucking with Christmas’s stuff for awhile. We got the show- he fucked with our set, and said yeah to being on the song. It was cool. Super organic. He’s tight.

A good amount of your tracks are produced by Nima Skeemz—how did you two link up?

Well when I first knew I wanted to start taking music seriously, I didn’t know where to record. My homie Shelton Harris told me about Nima’s studio. I recorded all of the super early shit there. And then simply from being around each other hella, me and Nima started making music together. Eventually he ended up executive producing my Ambaum mixtape. He’s super talented and easy to work with. Fire with the keys. He ugly though.

With artists like yourself, Dave B., and Sol carrying the torch high for Seattle, can you tell us a bit about the music scene there? How has the city shaped your career?

The music scene here is cool. Super small. Everybody knows everybody kind of shit. And even if you don’t, you probably went to church with one of their cousins or something. Fairly supportive. The city shaped my career because there was so many outlets as a young person for me to take part in. Theres a lot of art’s programs for young people in Seattle. The Blue Scholars were the first local acts that ever really made me dive into the scene. I was a youngin’ going to local shows n’ shit. However musically, the city doesn’t really have a sound. Everyone is hella different. But yeah, Seattle is definitely a city to keep an eye out for. It’s a lot of fire ass kids in this new generation that want it hella fuckin bad. I’m excited.

What do you want listeners to take away from your music?

I wan’t anyone that listens to my music to be able to laugh at themselves. To laugh at life. At the really hard, fucked up, moments of life. Even my more serious music always has bits of humor sprinkled in because like, I always want people to remember that life isn’t that serious. Even when it is. You’ll be dead way longer than you’ll be alive. So make the conscious part of existence as fun as possible.

Any advice for artists out there?

Listen more than you speak. Invest in yourself. Like every last dollar. I’m doing this interview with 30 bucks to my name because of music expenses. Be yourself to the fullest extent. Authenticity literally always works. Conduct yourself as business. Learn how to send a proper email. Always pay the people you work with. Don’t throw your music in people’s faces. Let them find it. And I know I said invest in yourself…but don’t pay to play a show. That’s sus. Don’t pay for any blog placement. Also sus. Keep your publishing. And most importantly take notes from other people doing it. I watch how my peers move and figure out what works and what doesn’t- then apply that to what I do. Don’t be lazy. Make something every day. There’s free game everywhere. Go find it.

Any dream collabs?

Kanye. Green Day. Chance The Rapper. Bruce Springsteen. Lil B. I think that’s about it.

What’s next for you?

Hella shows. Hella new music. Hopefully, I can quit my real job soon haha.

Anything else you’d like to add?

I always get this question in interviews and I never know how to answer it so I’ma just put some opinions I believe strongly in:

Nacho Cheese Doritos are trash.
Forest Gump is the best movie ever made. Like ever.
House parties with Facebook event names are 9/10 the ones that get shot up.
Gym Class Heroes were one of the best music groups of all time, and don’t get the proper credit they deserve.
And last but not least, Fuck Donald Trump.

Keep up with Travis Thompson on Twitter and SoundCloud, and stream Ambaum below.

Show Recap // Stööki Sound at Bassmnt San Diego

London’s own Stööki Sound continues to impress with their stream of originals and remixes, most recently with their Ösiris EP. The duo comprised of Jelacee and DJ Lukey blend aptly swift raps with in-your-face production, making for a deadly combo not to be taken lightly.

Last month, Stööki Sound swung by Bassmnt to open for the legendary bass-head Bauuer. Jelacee and DJ Lukey brought their unparalleled energy to the stage, piecing together elements of hip-hop and electronic with their grime-heavy sound. Needless to say, it was a night to remember and we hope to have them back in SoCal soon!

Check out a few photos from the event below, courtesy of @jennicamaephoto.

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Creatives Corner // Meet Ethan Punal

[Cover Photo by Valentina Perez]

It’s always a cool experience to see a crossover between mediums. One such artist to bridge the gap, Ethan Punal, has continued to grow his audience with a constant stream of poppy artwork. Drawing inspiration from the likes of music contemporaries Kali Uchis, Father, and Syd to Andre The Giant and Dragon Ball Z, his vibrantly colored portraits reimagine many of the leading icons in hip-hop and pop culture.

I recently had the opportunity to chop it up with Ethan on his background, development, and plans for the future:

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Ethan Punal // Photo by @locos_lens

For starters, who is Ethan Punal?

Ethan Punal is just a kid who grew up watching cartoons and playing with action figures who decided real life was not as fun as the ideas in his head. I’m 21 years old now and I am from Kendall in Miami, FL.

How long have you been making art?

I have been creating stuff ever since I was a kid. My mom is a really talented artist and always had my little sister and I finger painting or doing some other creative stuff like that when we were younger. I used to draw whatever Dragon Ball Z character I didn’t have a toy of and use the drawing as a toy, same thing for Yu-Gi-Oh cards.

I began to take it seriously towards the end of high school when my friend Kaelin asked me to be a part of this group he was putting together named Khans. Being around other creative kids who were my age but also wanted to get to a certain level based off their talents was inspiring to me and I haven’t stopped going since.

How would you describe your art in three words?

Super duper cool.

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A lot of your pieces are portraits of hip-hop artists. What draws you to the genre?

Rap music has always been the genre that most attracted me. When I was younger my brother would show me a lot of stuff he liked. I remember he bought me College Dropout by Kanye when it came out on CD. When I got to high school he bought me a shitty MP3 player from Best Buy. I would always try and find the best music on LimeWire so I could try and put him onto some new shit whenever he would pick me up. So that kinda got me going on developing my own taste in music. Something about the idea of telling your story in whatever way you can and translating emotions, whether it be flexing, talking about your come up, a significant other, it just seems so raw and passionate to me. I’m also really big into more electronic sounding music like Tame Impala, Toro Y Moi, Daft Punk etc. and a couple bands like The Strokes, The Growlers, Led Zeppelin, etc.

What do you want fans to take away from your art?

I would like to translate the idea of not taking anything too seriously and to have fun. My drawings up to this point are satirical/shitty renditions of really cool people. Every now and again I’ll do a piece that also have some obvious deeper meaning to it and I want them to look deeper into it. Even ask me questions. I want to talk about it. I try and drop drawings every day to simulate the nonstop flow and over saturation we get from pop culture and the media. I’m trying to bore you while still stimulate you visually with some cool shit, if that makes sense. I don’t know if I’m doing a good job, but I’ll probably keep doing it till I’m dead.

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You mentioned the oversaturation that’s present in many artforms today. Do you have any advice for the aspiring artists out there trying to get noticed? Is standing out something artists should be concerned with?

It’s really all about just making sure you’re making exactly what you wanna make and being you. It sucks when you start seeing other people get attention and it makes people feel like they need to compromise themselves in order to be more widely accepted, but fuck that. Just do you and shit will come around the way it’s supposed to. The world doesn’t need another pair of leather pants or distressed shit that’s done the exact same way as all the others. Go out and have fun and you’ll make cool stuff and meet people who you’ll actually wanna be friends with along the way.

What’s next for you?

My plan is to take a step away from the artwork people know me for for a while. I wanna start taking more pictures and hopefully I can finally get started on this movie idea I’ve had for a while. There’s some clothes being made and I think I’m finally ready to start working on my magazine, but who knows, I might wanna be a doctor tomorrow.

Anything else you’d like to add?

Follow your heart and don’t be a bitch. You’re cooler than you give yourself credit for.

Keep up with Ethan Punal on Tumblr, Instagram, and Twitter.

Show Recap // Hide & Go Freak December 2016

[All photos by Mikey Avila]

Topping off a fleshed out year of performances from the likes of ROM, Deffie, and Gravez, as well as local talents including AbJoSemaj, and PRVDNT, Hide & Go Freak returned earlier this month with a bang. From San Diego’s own Don BLu, Coastal, and JR Jarris to Brooklyn’s finest Tha Yellow R Kel, the night was filled with good energy and top-notch sound selection.

We’re excited to watch H&GF continue to grow in the coming months as one of San Diego’s leading monthly events, with plans to venture out along the West Coast. Stay tuned for more details on January’s H&GF and peep the photo/video recap from Mikey Avila below.

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Show Recap // Relive Trapo’s Shade Trees Live in Brooklyn

On December 5th, Wisconsin’s Trapo came to Brooklyn’s Rough Trade to perform his recently released Shade Trees. Trapo commanded the stage during the more rap centric tracks “Riot” and “Stop Me,” bounced through the more soulful “Oceans” and slowed it down for tracks like  “Love Is…” and “Meeting Mariah.”  The 18 year-old confidently showed off his versatility as if he’s been doing this for years.

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After finishing Shade Trees, Trapo wrapped his set up with “She Moved On” and “Chicago” from his SHE EP, which dropped earlier this year.

View the rest of the photos here and follow me on Instagram for more.

Artist Interview // Will Fraker On His Debut EP Falling Into Place

Three months ago, Will Fraker was a relatively unknown entity. A singer/songwriter and producer native to the Bay Area, Fraker has been making music since he was eight years old. At 12 he began singing, adding to his repertoire alongside a background in classical piano. In the years following, Will grew into a talented musician with an astute musical intelligence and sharp ear. The Oaklander has always remained in touch with the Bay’s music scene, working with local groups and performers providing his signature R&B flourish.

Among Fraker’s first major contributions to the scene was a vocal sample in Caleborate and G-Eazy‘s Bay anthem “Want It All.” The track features samples from a song Fraker put together, and has been a driving force behind Caleborate’s ascendency to a Bay staple.

Will and Caleb’s relationship has proved fruitful—the two linked up again on Fraker’s debut single, “Can’t Read.” The single sees both Fraker and Caleb venture out of their comfort zones, blending Will’s classic R&B vocals with Caleb’s energetic bars to meet somewhere in the middle, creating what Will describes as an “R&B banger.”

“Can’t Read” was Will Fraker’s introduction to the world. The track blew up, and Fraker kept the momentum with the release of his debut album, the self-titled Will Fraker EP. A collection of six tracks including “Cant’ Read,” the EP picked up where the single left off and was prominently featured in Spotify’s R&B discover section and on the front page of iTunes. The project’s popularity was unprecedented, but completely warranted. It’s a concise demonstration of Will’s immense talent, and for the amount of work put into it, well worth a listen. I got the chance to sit down with the man himself and talk to him about the creation of the project as well as his future in the music industry. Revisit the Will Fraker EP and check out the full interview below.

Introduce yourself to anyone who may be unfamiliar with your work; who is Will Fraker?

Will Fraker is a singer/song-writer, producer. Now living in Brooklyn, but based in Oakland. My sound has its roots in R&B. I love hip-hop grooves and I love jazz changes, but when it comes to vibes and energy, I’m shooting for something in the realm of R&B or neo-soul. I grew up playing classical piano so that’s an influence on my style as well, since it shapes my harmonic sensibility and the way I voice my piano chords. But yeah, I try to mix a bunch of influences.

How has being where you’re from shaped your musical style? Can you identify any of the influences that dictate how you make music, be it geographical or just as a fan of music?

I grew up during the hyphy movement; I remember listening to people like E-40 and Too $hort, and while obviously that style isn’t specifically channeled in my music, that energy was so contagious and really instilled in me a sense of bay pride. Even though my music isn’t really geographically specific in its style, having gotten my start here and working with people like Rexx Life Raj and Caleborate is a continuation of that pride.

I see a really cool renaissance happening in the Bay right now, and I’m excited to play a role in that, however small. The shift towards more soulful, harmonically driven production and vivid, nuanced story-telling is putting the bay back on the map, and I’m so excited to see where all the amazing artists can take it. Even though I’m not [living] here now, I still feel a really close affinity to this scene.

You’ve mentioned a lot of different names, as well as a background in classical piano and jazzier stuff. Your music draws on classic R&B, but also contains some more modern techniques; I feel both play out really well in Black Berry. Stylistically, how did you try to put your stamp on this EP?

I feel like my music is very often a product of what I’m listening to. Every artist has their own sound, of course, but at the same time every artist is just channeling their surroundings through the filter of their creative identity. I definitely was intentionally going for a neo-soul/electronic R&B vibe, but was also just hoping to tell my story as honestly as I could by writing from the heart.

I remember hearing James Blake for the first time and feeling like I was hearing something that was so genuine that it didn’t matter if he fit neatly into a genre or followed traditional song structures; he was actually one of the people that inspired me to make music for this reason in particular. Frank Ocean is also huge influence and inspiration of mine. He helped me see that you can tell your story and share your perspective even if it doesn’t fit people’s expectations, in fact even better if it doesn’t. The impressionism of his writing is something I aspire to big time.

That’s always something that’s struck me as unique to where we are in the music industry, there’s so many platforms to put out music. It’s really beneficial to new artists but it can sometimes work against them, instead of being the “first Will Fraker” people are the “next James Blake.” How does it feel for you to work with those kinds of comparisons?

Obviously that’s a great comparison to have made for me at this stage [laughs] but at the same time I’ll never be that because our styles are actually quite different. I have a much heavier jazz influence and my production will never venture quite as far into electronic and dubstep as his does. It’s flattering obviously, but I really want to distinguish myself as well. If you’re constantly being compared to someone else it’s going to be really hard to shine brightly on your own.

“Can’t Read” was my first introduction to your work, and I’d imagine many people’s first taste of your music. I was struck by how you took the reigns on that song. How did that particular collaboration come around, and was there one thing the two of you were going for that made it work so well?

t was an honor to have Caleborate rap on it. Making that song was a crazy process. I wrote that hook one day after recording the keys on an actual Wurlitzer and the bass on a monophonic synth with a friend at his house. I recorded the vocals and had this little demo made up. I wasn’t really sure if I was going to release it – we make a lot of shit just messing around that never gets released or finished  but I was really stoked on this hook so I gave it to Kyle Betty [who works with Raj and Caleb] and he flipped it into one of his signature hip-hop beats. It turned out Caleb was psyched to rap on it so I was like “damn now I’ve got to write a solid verse.” And what I ended up with felt a little bit like rapping-singing, which is a little outside of my comfort zone. I just sat down and wrote it and let it evolve in my head; it turned out to not really have any repeating melody – it was just this free-form verse that just sort of happened..

And then it blew up. You rode that wave a bit into the release of your first EP, which was just as popular. Were you expecting the exposure and success of your project or did it catch you off guard?

Definitely caught me off guard. First of all, I have so much gratitude for Caleb and Raj because having their names on the project helped it so much. Much love to those dudes. That was a huge, huge opportunity for me.

But yeah, it totally caught me off guard. I was really proud of what I had done, but wasn’t expecting anything. I’ve been making music since I was eight and singing since I was twelve and I had always wanted to release something polished, so the goal was just to finally have a solid piece of work. I’ve played in some bands over the years and I released some stuff in high school that I’ve since banished from the internet [laughs], so this was really my debut. The goal for me was to get at least a few people who didn’t know me to listen to my stuff so it wasn’t just some good EP that my mom listens to [laughs].

I was confident, I liked how it sounded and I was really proud of it, but I had no real expectations. So when it got the love that it did, I was super excited and humbled and motivated. I figured that having Caleb on “Can’t Read” and Raj on “Show You More” would help it get exposure, but when the whole project took on a life of its own that was really really exciting. And then the Spotify placement happened, and the project being placed on the home page of iTunes R&B happened, and I started realizing that people were listening to it that hadn’t even heard the single. It was a really special feeling and lit a fire in me to keep going. It felt good to finally have something to show for my years of just telling people I make music [laughs].

You’ve been making music for so long, and obviously have a lot of musical intuition, but getting that first project out is always hard. Talk us through the creation of the project and how it felt to get over the hump of a debut and the creation of your project.

I was not overly precious about it. Ultimately, things just fell into place and we had the six tracks. I was working with Ian [McKee] and we were under a time constraint more than anything. I have so many half songs that I’ve written and songs that go through different iterations, so when certain songs started to become finished products, I just rolled with it. Tracks like “Show You More” were once totally different. With that one in particular, I loved the chords but did not fuck with my original melody at allOne day, I was in the studio with Raj and he helped me re-write the hook, and all of a sudden it was something new. Raj fired out a verse – he’s one of the most prolific rappers I’ve ever seen, he’s one of those people that can just write it then and there. With the chorus and the verse in place, it was close to finished so I had to go with it. I ended up writing my verse in the car on the way to the studio for my last session with Ian [laughs]. To be honest, a lot of the project was like that, very last minute or in the moment, stuff that I was forced to come up with on the spot. But that’s how I function best – the pressure helps me tap my creativity.

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Tell me a little bit more about the creation of the songs on your EP.

“Can’t Read” and “Show You More” I definitely wrote to feature a rapper, you know? “Tracks” is a funny story. I had sent Ian this video I made on some acapella app on my phone. You know that four-part harmony you hear when “Tracks” starts? That’s literally the iPhone sample. And then Ian flipped those vocals to be the harmonic foundation of the beat, those slowed-down vocal chords you hear throughout the song. That was different from anything I usually do – in general, I like to have full creative ownership over the song, you know, writing it all the way from start to finish – but I really liked the beat Ian made so I went with it. “Black Berry” was the next one. I sent him the stems of the demo and we worked on it from there. That’s probably the song I had the most creative control over. “Swan,” on the other hand, was originally produced by Ian and Turk. I really liked the vibe and had a specific experience I wanted to write about, so they let me write to it and add my own bridge. Overall, it was a very organic process. I didn’t try to overthink it and by the end I had these six songs put together and I was like “you know what? This feels pretty good.”

I’d be interested in hearing something like what you were talking about with really stripped down, gospel vocals, just you and a piano. Do see yourself trying to create a certain, very distinct sound or pursuing certain subgenres of R&B?

I love the hip-hop and neo-soul vibe, and I definitely want to continue working with rappers, but I also really love the sound of just me and the piano, which is something I’ve been doing more as I’ve started doing performances in New York. It was hard to translate tracks from the EP to a live setting, so I’ve written a bunch of songs that work well with just me and the keys. I could definitely see myself leaning towards a more simple, stripped down R&B sound going forward.

This is a very exciting time to be an R&B fan, there’s so much going on all over, and also a very exciting time to be you. You made this EP, left the county, and then you come back to see its on the front page of iTunes, Spotify discover, and people all over are showing it tons of love. What’s next for you?

Definitely more music. Coming as soon as possible. Moving to New York was a big step towards me developing my live set. I love being in the studio and messing around with writing and producing new music, but I also wanted to get my live chops back up and perform more, do bigger shows. I felt like I was kind of lacking that for a while. So, since getting to NY, I’ve been focusing primarily on performing. Recently, though, I had a session with a studio and recorded a cover of a song that they’re going to try to sync to a movie or TV show, which is rad. I’m being very intentional about moving forwards and putting in the work but I’m also just going with the wave. The next big goal right now is finding a creative partner. I’ll probably be releasing some singles soon and ultimately a full album would be great down the line, but until then I’ll just keep working, keep networking.

Berkeley and Brookyln are two areas pretty rich with musical talent. Are there any artists you could see yourself or would just like to link up with?

Well first of all I’d love to keep working with Ian. That was an amazing creative relationship and he really helped me realize my vision. He really paid attention to what I was hearing in my head, which was dope. But yea, absolutely, there’s other producers from the bay I’d love to work with, someone like Mikos Da Gawd – that would be awesome. I’m in contact with Drew Banga which is something I’m excited about.

But right now I’m mostly looking for a producer in NY that I can work with steadily.

There’s so many people out here, so it’s important to just put yourself out there and not stress too much – it’s just not possible to have complete control over your trajectory. Things start to pan out with patience and hard work – have to trust the process, you know.

As for artists, there’s so many singer/songwriters that I really look up to; there’s this guy Moses Sumney who I’m a big fan of, Nick HakimGabriel Garzon Montano – these are all people that are role models more than collaborators, though. If I ever got to work with any of them it’d be a dream come true.

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What advice would you have for other aspiring artists or performers out there?

Just do it! I wasted so much time. I always wanted to be an artist but I was too passive about it, and now that I’ve released a project I look back and think: “fuck, what was I doing?” It’s easy to get backlogged with music, songs, half songs, whatever, and not want to release anything, get too attached. Just go for it. Finish a song or two and find someone who can help you push it out.

Anything else to add?

Please look forward to more music. I’ll be creating more and I’m super glad to be where I am.

Keep an eye on Will Fraker. His musical talent, drive, and humility is a combination that promises a great deal. Stay up to date with him on Facebook, Soundcloud, and Twitter, and keep bumping the Will Fraker EP on Spotify, Soundcloud or Apple Music

Vince Staples Announces The Life Aquatic Tour With Kilo Kish

Vince Staples has surprised fans today with a special tour announcement. The man behind Prima Donna will embark on a slew of shows starting on February 24 in San Diego, with frequent collaborator Kilo Kish along for the ride. No word yet if a new project is on the horizon, fingers crossed, but in the meantime you can check out the tour dates below before tickets go on sale this Friday.

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Show Recap // Hide & Go Freak October 2016

[All photos by Mikey Avila]

Over the past summer, local DJ and producer JR Jarris has continued to grow Hide & Go Freak. His event takes place on the second Friday of each month at The Hideout and has featured local talents AbJoLuPRVDNT, and Semaj, as well as LakimJoe KayROM, and Deffie.

I recently had the great pleasure of indulging in plenty of Pharell classics and summertime anthems at the October edition of H&GF. Check out a few photos from the night below, courtesy of local photographer Mikey Avila.

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JR opened the night with a few throwbacks before handing the stage to Vii, who came through with “Norf Norf” and Coastal‘s edit of the NxWorries hit, “Suede.”

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Returning for his second performance at H&GF, Deffie delivered a high-energy set.

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OriJanus, who JR named as one of his favorite producers, kept the momentum going throughout the night.

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Finally, Huh What and Where producer Gravez and JR closed the night with their edits and originals. H&GF is one of leading showcases allowing the music and creative scene in San Diego to continue to grow—we can’t wait to see who’ll be at the next one!

Be sure to catch JR performing at the House of Blues Block Party on October 29 and stay tuned for info on the next H&GF.