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As you will read most of the way through this interview, I was planning to write my huge, sweeping, exclamation point of a Chong the Nomad feature upon the release of her (at this point, long-awaited) debut album. I figured, “Since everybody else in town is writing about her now, I can hold off and save my masterpiece for the one big moment in an artist’s career.” Obviously it got to a point where I couldn’t wait any longer. Alda Agustiano — prodigious EDM/pop/hip-hop/R&B beatmaker, Cornish College of the Arts graduate — is living the life of a local superstar, the kind of charmed existence most musicians dream about behind that coffee shop counter or with their headphones on at the office. She’s a music festival mainstay here in the Pacific Northwest. She’s worked with some of the area’s most recognized artists — Stas THEE Boss, Perry Porter, Ben Gibbard. She’s got 21 Savage rapping on her shit! All on the strength of over a dozen singles, EPs, remixes, and beat placements. Allow me to repeat: no album.
Much like a critically acclaimed, avant-garde pop producer of a past generation, Timbaland, Agustiano can turn any object into an instrument, any sound floating through the world into a note in one of her compositions. The flick of a lighter is used as percussion. This was the artist who famously collaborated with an Airbus A350 with Singapore Airlines footing the bill, the artist who damn near went viral by making a beat off of field recordings from the ramen spot where she worked.
As Agustiano’s career continues to deepen in craft and skyrocket in popularity, she continues her run as one of music’s most reliably great singles artists with brand new single “Forward,” a twinkling, dreamlike love song that feels like birds carrying ribbons around your head. The soft edges of its video highlights the comfort of being in love; the trampoline jumps and bridge walks and sitting by the lake and petting dogs on a sunny day and watching movies together.
About “Forward” and its corresponding video, Agustiano wrote to me, “‘Forward’ was one of those songs that came out of me very naturally. Nothing forced. The same thing goes for the visual for it. Detroit artist Jax Anderson, one of my favorite people I’ve met in music ever, stepped up to direct it and I couldn’t be happier with what came out of it. We come from very similar backgrounds, she understood the awkward emotions that surround young queer love. I’m very proud of the final product. I’ve avoided being this vulnerable on film but it was about time, especially since it’s for a song I feel very connected to.”
So what happened when I arranged to speak to one of the brightest stars in Seattle’s music scene? I completely spaced on the fact that I scheduled our interview while we’re beginning to host live sessions for the first time in over a year and a half. I went to wait outside to let Alda in, and Cheryl Waters was sitting at a table in the Gathering Space. The members of Waxahatchee were standing onstage holding their instruments. There were cameras everywhere.
I’ve basically been waiting over three years to interview Alda about her out-of-this-world productions. It had been two and a half years since we had met in Boise during Treefort and almost got kicked out of a Mastering the Hustle workshop for talking too loudly. What’s another half-hour, right?
After Waxahatchee’s set wrapped up, Alda and I met outside, made our way to a recording booth, and launched into conversation.
KEXP: First question, how old were you when you first picked up a musical instrument?
Chong the Nomad: Oh, man. You know, I have my first memory of me being stoked on, like, I don't know, just general music playing. My dad had something on the radio, might have been Phil Collins, but I was drumming on the couch to it. My grandmother, my Oma was there with us. And I remember being like this [air drumming], "I am a God," because I was drumming along to this music and I couldn’t have been older than four. So that's like my earliest musical memory. But I would say that piano was the first instrument.
You took lessons, yeah?
Yes, I did. I took them for like five years. I hated them. I probably learned early on that I wanted to compose rather than just play the same two bars of music over and over again until I mastered it, because it takes me a while. I would much prefer doodling around on the piano rather than like reading sheet music. I took [piano lessons] on at like five years old, I think.
Yeah, I feel like a lot of beatmakers are like that. I mean, I have a little experience making beats too.
What do you use?
Back in the day I used FL Studio.
Oh, we're kindred spirits.
I like that beatmakers are meticulous, but also you don't necessarily have to have that mastery of an instrument. I played instruments in band [class]; I played French horn and I sucked at it. I was never—
I played trombone in band, yeah.
I played it for six years and still didn't get any better. But with beatmaking, you just have to have a good ear.
There's a freedom to it. Yeah.
Did you start out at fourteen with FL Studio or was it like the original Fruity Loops?
I started out with whatever version of Fruity Loops was out in 2008; I downloaded the free demo for it. And the thing is, I would tell my parents not to turn off the computer because you couldn't save files; you could export [but] couldn't save files. I would leave the computer on and just work on it for like days at a time. I think the first thing I made was a remix of "Crazy Train" [by] Ozzy Ozbourne. Like a techno remix [hums part of the melody]. I had a group of friends that were very into Tiesto and Deadmau5 and just a lot of like progressive house music. And I fell in love with that stuff. And I started listening to all of that because I was like, “Whoa, I don't need a complete mastery.” I don't need to be like a prodigy at any sort of instrument. I could just go for it.
I wish I could find those early projects, just to giggle at myself. Maybe there is a thumb drive somewhere.
So you were listening to house. Is that what got you into beatmaking?
You were like, “This is dope. I'm going to do this.”
It was the simplicity that enchanted me. It was like, “Oh my God, this is an eight- to sixteen-bar loop. But it makes me dance, it makes me feel good.” And I think that there was this beauty and fascination to that for me. Like, how can you do that? How can you get away with that? How can you get away with that simplicity. Especially with minimal house. What's the trick to that and how do you build an ear for that? Man, my dad all the time, he would listen to my early stuff and he'd belike, “It's good, but there's a lot of repetition.” And I'd be like, “That's the point.”
But the trick with house music is that you don't want people to notice how repetitive it is. You kind of want to put them in a trance. I guess I've been trying to figure that out still to this day.
You took this beatmaking love, and you went to Cornish. Let's talk about how you graduated high school and decided that you wanted to go to music/art school.
Let's unpack that. [laughter]
I'm very thankful that my parents were supportive of me. They had a moment like, “Oh, you really like this music making stuff.” And I remember I showed my mom a symphonic plug-in [I downloaded]. I used that to make some cheesy, cheesy trailer music. But at the time I thought I was amazing. “Oh, finally, it doesn't sound fake.” I was really stoked about that. And then my mom and dad heard that and were like, “OK, you do the music thing.” Instead of telling them I wanted to DJ and make electronic beats, I told I wanted to score films. And that was the more serious career direction that convinced them.
Ah, so you used the little Trojan Horse to get your way.
Uh, pretty much. But, you know, I don't think I was that smart. I think I was just desperate to find something in music to have my parents on the same page with me.
Your mom won Chopped, right?
Yeah. Thanks for mentioning that.
That's crazy. When I was doing my research and found that out, it really spoke to me because I feel as though, food is an artistic industry.
It really is.
And so, growing up, I know that your parents wanted you to have a career-career, like a quote-unquote, “grown up career.”
I think that's indicative of a lot of working class folks. My parents did the same thing. I definitely wasn't into writing [as a career path] yet, but I knew I wanted to be an artist of some sort. And I was encouraged to get a “real” job. What was that like [in your experience]? It seemed like it worked out because you got to go to Cornish.
It's scary. It was always interesting because there was kind of just slight pushback. I would always tell them a lot of lies, like “I'm going to try to go into engineering.” I was just trying to convince them that I can make music work at the end of the day. So going to Cornish was like my baby step towards that direction. And telling them I'm going to do film scoring and be a studio intern was just reassuring them that, yes, I can make money off of this. But little did they know. [laughter]
Cornish made me the composer that I am today. My private instructors, Janice Giteck and Jarrad Powell were very big influences on me. And it was always interesting because looking back like Janice, definitely I sat down and notated everything by hand and [there was] a lot of focus on melodic and harmonic movement and arranging with her. And I was like, “Oh yes, I can be a composer. Look at me, frickin’ Quincy Jones in here.” [laughs] You know, like I felt good about myself for the first time in my confidence as a composer with her.
And then I switched over to Jarrad because she retired my junior year. I didn't have a lot of self-confidence when it came to my mixes. I mean, you hear this pristine stuff coming out of the studios in L.A., in New York. And then you have the flip side, where I go on SoundCloud and there's a 15-year-old that has the most advanced [arrangements and mixes] and their drums would knock way harder than I could ever make mine. And I was struggling with, “What's the number? What are the numbers here? What are the plug-ins that I have to use? What are the tools?” With Jarrad, I figured out my mix, my sounds, my atmosphere. That's all up to me, that can be my own art that I can manifest through my own influences; I can have my own perspective on that. And that was such a powerful realization I made with him. And I wouldn't have made that without him doing his own therapy thing to me during our private lessons.
I owe a lot to Cornish. I got pretty lucky because when I graduated, I had—we'll get into that later. But, yeah, I did BeatMatch at Vera Project the last month of my senior year, and that kind of just changed everything for me.
Let's talk about that now.
I love coming down here [to KEXP] because [Vera’s] right there and I'm just always like, “Ohhh.”
My senior year was really chaotic because I signed up for this beat battle and my senior recital was at the same week as this beat battle. So when you're starting out as a beatmaker, you're constantly improving with every beat. There's always another jump up. I just was really starting to get serious about this, so I didn't have a lot of beats in my arsenal. I was writing slappers here [for BeatMatch] and then trying to organize rehearsals here [for senior recital]. And it was chaotic, but it worked out in the end. I was the only female competitor out of 16.
Yes. And I think to this day they had to cancel the last one, of course. But to this day, I think they have had three years of BeatMatch. I've been the only female-identifying producer beatmaker who has competed.
Wow, that's crazy.
Hopefully I'm not wrong, but I know Jacob [Zimmer] organizes it. I'm still pretty sure I have that, it's still me. Yeah, it is crazy, isn't it?
Yeah, because especially in the past three or four years, parity and representation have become very important [from a public standpoint]. And so there are a lot of women-identifying beatmakers who have come to the fore because people are hungry for that perspective.
Oh yeah. It's silly, but I thought I was hot stuff and I went in pretty cocky and I lost in the second round. [laughter] The prize was Upstream Festival  and Austin Santiago, my wonderful, wonderful manager, was organizing that event. He and I talked before it started and we clicked pretty well. Again, the prize for winning, it was a cash prize and a slot at Upstream Festival that year at Pioneer Square.
Man, I was bummed. The second round too, it's like you have a taste of success... I was going against Jamie Blake who's like a really, really talented producer. It was fine. But I was really crushed. Austin came up to me later that night and he was like, “Oh no, we're going to find you a place in Upstream, don't worry about it.” I was like I was only playing house shows up until then, or art shows. I never had an opportunity like that. He booked me. And then a month later he became my manager. So it's it's a good story.
So, that hell week when you're writing slappers on one end and trying to compose on the other, do you see that as kind of the impetus of what Chong the Nomad became?
Whoa, that's beautiful. I probably actually never, I've never thought of it that way before, but I always look back on that week as just a blur. But now that you say that, it does feel like that in a way. I did grow into my own a lot that week. And I was challenged.
Your compositional skills are really fresh.
Thank you, thank you.
And the thing that I notice — and I don't think this is an original thought at all — but all of the super musical people that come up in the Seattle music scene have roots in Cornish. I mean, not all of them, obviously, but anyone who comes from Cornish and then jumps into the scene, they're like always super musical and their ideas are so fresh.
There's a hard push to be weird there. It's very much “show don't tell.” I've been confused and lost in so many classes there just listening to the examples they would give us. I'm like, “How is this music? What is the? What? Why is this music?” That school got me asking those questions all the time; they make you think. And like I've been really into D'Angelo’s Voodoo recently because I'm trying to do a lot of studying for this potential album [I’m working on]. And the mixes on that are crazy. But there's so many weird ambient noises going on here and there. But it's all very intentional. And that's because people like people love the abstract when you go really deep into things. Cornish really taught me how to reach out.
How did you develop your live show? The first time I got to see you was at Treefort 2019 at the Shriners Hall.
Lovely write-up too, man.
Oh, thank you.
I really appreciated that.
It was fun to write. It was just an incredible atmosphere. Like I think you did... Didn't you do a DJ set and a performance set at Treefort?
It was a hybrid. That might have been the first time that I had to do it that long. I did like two or three gigs where I was singing and doing the live thing and man, I had no idea what I was doing. It's a little hard because there's just not a lot of references. I am a big fan of Yaeji, and I was watching her live performances. I was watching Big Wild's performances and just going through these people there; this weird singer/songwriter but we're also a producer but also we still like to DJ. Yeah, it's just not a lot of references for me to go off of. So I just stuck to what I knew best. And that's harmonica, ukulele and DJ.
I'm really glad that, like, I did some shows happening again because that was my biggest, that was the source of my drive, to just write festival bangers and be what can make everyone's booty quake. I love thinking like that. And Treefort that, that was the first time I was like, “OK, I'm pulling out all the stops.”
It really showed.
Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.
When do you think you were first like, “Oh, this is really catching on?” Was it when you quit your day job or was it some time before?
I think [it was] when I quit my day job. It's funny because, I've definitely learned within the last few years, the grass is definitely not greener on the other side. I quit my day job and all of a sudden it's like, “Oh, how do I do my taxes and how do I…” I would get inspired constantly when I was a line cook [to the point where] I would have to hide in the freezer and beatbox my ideas into my phone, a lot. And now all of a sudden I'm sitting all the time doing my YouTube thing and I'm like, “Oh, I should I should write today or do something productive,” you know? So it's been, that's been a weird thing to get used to.
The whole Singapore Airlines thing, I was like, “Okay, okay, this is my living now.” And that was such a big exclamation point goal in my outlook on my life that once it happened, I was like, “Okay, all right. Um, no turning back here.”
I feel like one of the things that sometimes people talk about but is still a hidden lesson is that point where you quit your day job. And it's like, “Oh, this is my job now.” Last year I went through it myself when I started writing full-time. And at first it was hard to find a routine; it was a drain as far as inspiration goes. How long did it take you to find a routine?
I'm still trying to find it, man. I'm still trying to find it. It's exhausting. I had Stas THEE Boss over for a quick session once, and I was just talking to her about how inspiration can strike you. And she was just like, “Don't force it. Don't force it, it'll come to you.” But I'm like, I think now I'm just trying to figure out how to make that inspiration come to me more often and just doing it with the daily things, just be more active. Listen to more music. You know, just hang out with one of your friends and just talk nonstop and inspiration comes in different ways. So, yeah man, the routine thing — it's impossible.
It's just an adjustment. And at the same time, it's like you said, inspiration comes from everywhere.
Exactly. And you never know how or when it will happen. So I think you just have to be open to a lot more energy around you and then it'll happen. I think all I'm saying here is just I try not to just sit down and watch TV too much.
Yeah, I totally get that.
Because I [watch] YouTube. I just go down like the Internet rabbit hole because it's just those three things. Here I am telling you this and just yesterday, I think I watched about three hours of Friends, so I'm only human.
That's funny because I was just thinking about this this morning. I was, uh, a little slightly stressed out because it's like, “Man, I've got to interview Alda today. I've got to go home and work on this piece for another website. I've got this and this and this tomorrow.” And then I'm like, well, this is actually much better than just sitting around [steaming vegetables], watching Better Call Saul for four hours.
The fact that I was like, “I'm going to walk here and I'm going to make a good day out of it,” you know, talking with you and having good company — it's like, “Okay, the endorphins are back. Let's do this.” I was not feeling ready for Treefort that's happening next week.
Oh yeah. You're on the main stage, right?
Main stage Saturday night. I'm really glad that I had the Barboza show that happened and Day In Day Out that was just right here [at Seattle Center]. So I do feel prepared. It is a brand new [set], way different from the show you saw at Treefort. More than two years ago now, which is just crazy to think about. But, yeah, that's a good feeling to say that out loud, because rebuilding the set has been, uh, a pain and a half, but a very exciting type of pain.
So while we're talking about Treefort, weren't you booked for Treefort last year?
So let's talk about how you quit your day job, you're a full time artist, you're rockin’ shows, and then the world shuts down. What was your personal mindset going into that and how did you cope with it?
It's funny because I knew when Treefort canceled [the pandemic was serious]. I feel awful about it going back to it now because I did have a little sense of relief because my, my life was going — it was just foot was on the gas all the way down and it was a little terrifying because I'm a big procrastinator and I was leaving it up for the last minute for Treefort, figuring it out new stuff, because I think back then my set wasn't that much different. I guess there's a silver lining to everything, even a worldwide pandemic.
But still, everything shut down. My main source of income, gone. But I was so fortunate because I just signed on to Roget Chahayed's producing publishing company, TruSauce. And I have a contract with them now. I got to write music for them all throughout quarantine.
Oh, that's great.
That opened a whole new world of, like, disappointment for me. [laughter] Not from working with incredibly talented musicians, but just writing like 50 ideas a month, like really good [ones] and just putting my all into it ... and no one wants it. But then I was like, “Okay, well, I'll just send it to more people.” I got to discover the world of writing during quarantine. And like, I had a lot of Zoom sessions and it was very interesting.
So I'm really glad that I had something to keep me preoccupied, because boy oh boy did I hate live streaming. Oh Lordy. I mean, all of a sudden I was having anxiety over my laptop or my controller not breaking down or making sure I had a backup of music just in case everything went down. All of a sudden I had that to worry about. And tech and camera and lighting, but mostly the tech, you know. It's just all of a sudden I had to figure out surprisingly getting direct input working right for a live stream is just almost impossible, especially when I'm trying to add in the ukulele and harmonica stuff. So I figured it out, eventually. Thankfully I had a mixer. But yeah, man, that was an adjustment. Still, I was very fortunate that I still made the full time music thing work throughout the pandemic.
I feel like a lot of musicians learned some new skills because of the necessity of live streaming and still trying to foster community with all of us having to be inside.
It's funny because it happened towards the end of when... People still live stream now, but as live shows are coming back, that's happening less and less. But it's so weird when you talk about the timeline of the pandemic, because it's still happening and we're just going up and down, up and down all the time. It was around October of last year where I got asked to, again, the Vera Project. I did a little thing for them. And that was just what I was like, “Oh, let's get creative.” I got to have a lot of fun with it. I recorded over one track on FL Studio and a little bunch of cameras. I had a fog machine in my room that turned on the smoke alarm. Finally I was like, “Oh, okay, I can make this work and have it personal.” So yeah, being your own [live event] producer is kind of a little bit of a skill that you pick up.
So in signing this publishing deal, you managed to get on the soundtrack of a Marvel blockbuster [Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings]. Let's talk about all that.
Yeah, man, that. [laughter] It was a lot of work from the team, work for writers [of music]. It's Roget Chahayed, Taylor Dexter and Wesley Singerman. And there are some of the most talented sonic manipulators I've ever seen in my entire life, I've ever heard. So I get the text like, oh my God, 88rising is providing the soundtrack for Shang-Chi and Roget was the head of everything. They immediately went to him for ideas and stuff and I was like, “OK, it's the big time now.”
And here's the thing about a production that large: they're very specific about what they want. But at the same time they're not there. I'm going to be as vague with this as possible. But like we heard a lot of: “We want a breakbeat like this with video game noises, but think about the sample from this song and then maybe around the two minute mark, make it like this and have a total complete beat switch around here” and like on and on and on and on. And two or three of those things is sound advice or sound critique, but ten of those in the list are going on. It's like, “We don't know what you want anymore.”
I mentioned this with the Seattle Times interview, I kind of kind of gave up and I knew I was like, “Oh, I'm just a little weirdo, kind of the odd one out here.” But it's fine because it's like I didn't want to make any sacrifices to my own sound. But then one day, yeah, they sent me this beat that the three of them made already and had sent in, and the beat already had vocals on it. They were like, “Hey, do you want to beat switch on this one” and “They really like this one.” I mean we must have sent in like twenty five to thirty ideas. So I took everything I learned and kept it in mind what they wanted and kind of snuck in my own quirkiness to it. You know, I think one of the most important things I've learned about as a producer is that you really want to just support whoever is rapping, singing, anything; you want to support what's already there. My main thing in these sessions is that I love to drum program, drum programing is my favorite thing.
So yeah, I just sent them the stems for the beat switch and then a month later they told me 21 Savage was going to be on it.
I did a heel click in the airport, I was so stoked. [laughter] And it was going to be the first single off of the movie and it was in the trailers and you know, it happened. I thought the process was happening so slow, but all of a sudden it was August and they were about to announce the song. And I was like, “Oh okay, it's happening now.” And then I didn't know about going to the premiere till a week before it happened. And it was a week before, it happened on my birthday. So I flew down. It was great. It's funny. Life is funny like that.
Life is weird, life is full of surprises.
You know, it's always what you don't imagine. Somehow you get there, but it's not how you pictured at all. Like, nothing close.
As we're winding down here and as we move into the future, you're finally working on your album. Let's talk about that a little bit.
It will be a process. I'm a little hesitant because it's just, um, everyone wants their debut to be perfect, and I think I'm trying to accept that it doesn't have to be, because this is my first album and I still have my growing pains. I can say I'm a perfectionist here, but honestly, it's just I want to be purposeful with every single second on this next project. And that's hard because that means with a big project like this, it's better when you have a team working on it with you.
So, it's not that I don't work well with other people, it's just, um. There's a quote I go back to from Janelle Monae, and I think Tyler, the Creator said something like this, too: Don't sacrifice anything for your vision. Even if that means stepping on people's toes a little bit and I hate stepping on people's toes. But I think going into this and it's still very much and like, I'm still whittling down a bunch of demos I have on my desktop and trying to figure out exactly what kind of direction I really want to take with it. So it's definitely in early, early, early, early stages. I think going into this, I want intention and everything — everything needs to have a purpose to it.
At the same time, you don't want to try too hard.
I feel like that's the catch 22, right? Production is a solitary art. But at the same time, you realize that you need to work with people. So you kind of get that warring sort of conflict in your personality. I know that I would have the same struggle if I were collaborating with people where I want to exact my vision one hundred percent. And at the same time, I don't want to step on people's toes when it comes to input.
I still want to get along with people. That's how you get opportunities and make connections: getting to know and build relationships with people. But you don't want to piss anyone off in the process, but that's it's also a skill, to learn how to stand your ground. I'm trying to keep that all in mind.
The reason why I've been listening to a lot of D'Angelo and Erykah Badu lately is because I've been really fascinated with neo-soul mixes. And I wouldn't have got into that rabbit hole if it weren't for me reaching out to a friend up in my TruSauce thing; Taylor Dexter, and having a lot of trouble with this one demo. And it's about the venue, the Neptune [Theatre]. And I really love this demo, but it's just not hitting the way I need it to hit. He gave me three references and he was like, “I can hear this, this and this.” And one of those was, D'Angelo "Feel Like Makin' Love." And I was like, that's the mix. That's the kind of depth that I want in the song. So I've just been obsessively listening to all of that. And I wouldn't have. Inspiration is pretty powerful that way.
So in the build up to this interview, I feel as though I had been waiting for you to put out an album because I'm like “That's when I'm finally going to do my Chong the Nomad feature. Like when Alda puts out an album—”
I'm glad I told you now it's going to be a bit of a long time coming. I'm starting to get a little bit of tunnel vision for it too. But still, it's scary.
But also the thing that I like about us doing the interview now is that you take me back to 80s, 90s dance producers who put out fifteen to twenty 12-inch white label singles and were rockin' festivals without an album. It feels like a blend of the old school and the new school...
Because you have this approach that is, I guess you could call it archaic because I feel like a lot of dance producers [nowadays], they do a lot of mixes and they do put out albums.
There's a lot of sprinting towards that first album.
I have two EPs that I'm proud of. And when it happens, it happens, you know.
I mean, working with Ben Gibbard, how do you know...
It was a lot.
Let's talk about that.
Yeah, let's talk about that. [laughter]
Yeah, let's unpack that.
He's so cool, man. He's so cool. Yeah. Let's talk about this real quick, because I like telling this. When I went to Bellingham, for that Double Major show with ODESZA and Death Cab. When I first got the call for that gig, and that was a very, very good call, I was like maybe like Foreign Family, the ODESZA collective, maybe they kind of caught wind of what I was doing because I love that electronic world. And I did a lot of EDM sets, so I was like, “Yeah, that makes sense.”
It was Death Cab that reached out. They found my music through a tweet from an A&R, from a reply from my manager, and they just happened to check out my music and they dug it and they had me remix "When We Drive" off of their last album [Thank You for Today]. I sent that in before the actual show, so they've heard it. And before my set, Ben Gibbard comes up to me and then we start talking. I like seeing them play, too. I mean, they've been doing this forever and they're just so good live. But he was telling me he was like, “Oh, we really, really liked your remix,” and he starts singing his favorite part back to me, the beat like not his vocals, but he's like when you do the [starts singing the beat’s melody]. And I was like, “Oh, this is surreal.” It's never how you imagined it's going to happen, you know?
But he DMed me after the show and he was like, “Hey, if you ever have any ideas, if you ever want to work, please let me know.”
And then I sent him "Provider" and I was like, if you can sing this part. And I wrote vocals for Ben Gibbard, which is kind of a flex; but, it's the flex that I never thought I would have.
That was a song that meant a lot to me, too. He was a part of a lot of people, like people from my generation, like my teenage years, you know, just a big, big, like big figure in a lot of people's lives.
Even going back generations, me pushing 40; when I was in my early 20s, Death Cab was the important band that was speaking to the experience of being in your early 20s.
Everyone has their sadboy experience with their music. [laughter] So, yeah, he's just, he's the sweetest. I would love to write with him again someday. Definitely.
You could be the next Jimmy Tamborello.
Oh my goodness.
So you're, for all intents and purposes, until you put out your album, you're a singles artist. Do you think about that a lot?
Yeah, yeah, I do. I do. And it is because, like, it's just. I think it's a skill to just be able to have tunnel vision and just be like, “Oh, I'm doing my own thing, keep my head down and keep working.” But like, you know, we're artists. An artist that I'm in love with right now is Remi Wolf, and she's just — double single, AB single, AB single. And she's got an album coming out soon. And it's just like it's hard because you look at that because those artists kind of have that type of schedule where once they're already on their way to their first album, they're releasing that. They're already on their second or maybe even the third. That's terrifying.
But on the flip side, I would say that my favorite Tyler, the Creator song is "911 / Mr. Lonely." And that beat, he made like years before that album came out; you’d hear it in his fashion shows and it's like wow, if it takes that long to, like, perfect something. And apparently, he said in an interview he went through like 20 versions, probably more, of that song. And it's like there's nothing wrong with taking your time. You just gotta do it when it's right.
A few Saturdays ago, I was visiting my girlfriend at Rhubarb Garden Market — a DIY art and vintage fashion backyard pop-up showcase reminiscent of a Seattle not ground into the dirt by tech commerce and disposable goods marked up to the heavens. A community vibe permeated the space; dog-friendly, family-friendly, diverse in pretty much every category of identity. Tables everywhere with a different set of goods being sold. Crafters, growers, jewelry makers, painters, collage artists, and secondhand treasure hunters alike. While people admired my talented partner’s hand-sewn quilt coats — repurposed from blankets she has practically driven across Western Washington for — a band played on the deck, distortion ringing into the overcast sky and maybe freaking out people coming out of the Fred Meyer nearby.
Through personal research, I found out the band was named fine, but I thought they were an indie-pop trio until they unleashed the sort of delightfully punishing art-rock that could most accurately be described as Unwound-esque. I bought their two EPs as soon as I returned home.
And as this title suggests, my first thought was, “How in the fuck did I not know about this band sooner?” snarls, released in 2018, not only has the sort of energy other local bands like Versing and Feed have gotten a lot of mileage out of, the songwriting is immaculate. Violent imagery (“uncle menarche,” “paint me nice”) plays with the notion of desire (“honey”). “wire” might be one of the best songs to come out of the city in years; an inescapable earworm articulating the nightmarish reality of being a woman in the world through three characters and a weapon.
Last year’s pout leans even more heavily into the Unwound comparisons on “cute breath,” reworks “honey” into an alternate universe where the Blow covers Memphis minimal synth-punks Optic Sink, and crafts a sense of melancholy beauty on “mother morning.” fine is officially on my radar, so anticipate a future Throwaway Style feature in the future.
Back in August for our recurring installment tracking the artistic whereabouts of AJ Suede, I wrote about his newest project Avada Kedavra and emphasized his gifts as a beatmaker. Almost through divine intervention, his next release touted a reimagining of the July album featuring a handful of choice producers, and quite predictably, it bangs. Frequent Suede collaborator (and one of the region’s best rap producers) Wolftone shines on “Dbltrpl” and “Rdgthrm,” while Khrist Koopa (whose name you might recognize from the original Darth Sueder tape) gets his Alchemist on with the beat for “Mndhvy.” Bloodblixing pushes the sample to the red on “Chrnvsr,” and Mudwater steals the show with the warbly, dying synths on opener “Nxcptn” and the mournful blues of album highlight “Hss.”
Not to mention there is a remix of “Nebuchadnezzar,” styled like the seemingly lost art of the posse cut, where Astral Trap and Blake Anthony absolutely black out on the song's first two verses.
Suede has mentioned Re:Vada Kedavra is his Side B, referencing the final installment of Westside Gunn’s unfortunately-titled-but-musically-really-great mixtape series—delivered in two parts last month. I’m sure I’m not the only one cherry picking from both versions to create my own ideal Kedavra.
It’s almost November already! Time flies when you’re fretting about the world and witnessing the collapse of society in real time! Freakout Festival has turned the festival dead-zone of wet and grey mid-autumn into a destination spot, returning for its 2021 installment November 11th-14th in its home of Ballard. Its cup runneth over with great live music, from local mainstays like Jarv Dee, Beverly Crusher, and Shaina Shepherd to internationally known rippers like the Seeds(!!), AJ Dávila, Cedric Burnside, and Los Esplifs. A few of the acts are playing twice over the festival’s five days, so hopefully you won’t have to navigate conflicts — Burnside, the Black Tones, or Acid Tongue on Friday? The Shivas, Tres Leches, or Beverly Crusher on Sunday? You still have over a month to map out your festival experience, so check out the schedule here and scroll past it to buy tickets if you haven’t already!
Alda Agustiano on her (former) job as a line cook and the sounds you can only find in a kitchen.
KEXP shares a new single from Seattle electronic music producer, Chong the Nomad.
Two of Seattle’s premiere DJs and producers chat about their process ahead of their S’women/Love Memo split vinyl release on Crane City Music.