I sat down on the rooftop of my work building in the SoMA district of San Francisco and peered at the disgruntled skyline that stood in front of me. Not the prettiest view of San Francisco, but anything aside the dreary icebox office below my feet was going to be way more appealing. I stared at my notebook, going over scribbled notes, trying to decipher between ink scrawls and Yeek guitar riffs and weezy vocals to figure out, ‘what the hell am I going to ask this kid?’ His music is a mishmash of a whole lot of everything — being that this is a hip-hop blog and I chose to interview him, you’d think that’d point me in the right direction. However, from song to song, project to project, Yeek’s brand of indie-rock-pop-punk-electronic-hip-hop is more than just genre-bending music. There are tidbits and snippets everywhere, sounds and techniques meticulously crafted to live in-between the lines at any given time signature. More importantly, with songwriting that’s honest and relative, Yeek offers a clear window into the tug-of-war game between heart and mind that plagues the ever-so lovestruck, yet indecisive Generation-Y. We caught up with Yeek to talk about his music, his relationship with our fair city of Los Angeles and the stories in his fourth project, “Love Slacker,” out today.
The 5th Element Mag: Where are you from originally?
Yeek: I was born in Jersey City and moved to Florida when I was 13 and spent high school and college there. When I was 22 I moved to LA and I’ve been here for two years.
5th: How did you get into music?
Y: It’s cliche, but when I was a kid I was always surrounded by music by my family. I was surrounded by it all the time, so it was kind of just natural for me to pick it up. My dad was a musician, he had a drum set up and guitars in the basement and my cousin would always come over and play his guitar; he’d always play Nirvana’s “Teen Spirit,” Blink-182 and he’d be playing all these guitar riffs. My brother and my other cousin would also play Nirvana covers with this garage band and I looked up to them so that made me want to learn too.
5th: When did you start writing your own music?
Y: I started in high school. There’s a lot of development because I did a lot of transitioning; I first started in punk bands and at the same time I was writing hip-hop. To me, hip-hop and punk have a lot of similarities and are more synonymous than most people think it is and I was really heavy into both cultures when I was in high school. The hip-hop I was doing at the time was more like ‘comedy rap’ but we were taking it very seriously; we were writing albums and producing but on the side I was playing in and promoting these punk band shows I was doing. After high school I started taking hip-hop more seriously and not playing in bands so much. I was in a hip-hop duo and we were putting out EPs, albums and setting up shows, selling merchandise. It was very similar to the music I’m making now, but with rapping in it. This group was the reason I moved out to LA but my friend got really sick and had to move back. By that time I was already doing Yeek on the side but once he left, our work together became less consistent because we were separated. So I just started doing on my solo work as Yeek seriously.
5th: Have people tried putting your music into a box?
Y: It’s funny because whenever someone asks me to categorize my music, I kind of avoid telling them because sometimes I don’t even know. Sometimes I just want to tell them to just listen, but then I had to think about how do people receive my music, what are they going to hear when they listen. And really, it’s just a mix of everything that I like, now and when I was growing up. So you’re going to hear underlying hip-hop, indie rock sounds and you’re going to hear approaches of punk music. I kind of look at my music as a whole package instead of just solely the sound; it’s the way I decide to approach everything from the artwork to the songwriting style and lyrics. It’s definitely a mix of everything I’ve absorbed in my life, my emotions and feelings poured out organically.
5th: Has being in LA influenced your creativity?
Y: Of course it did, but so did living everywhere else I was. My music wouldn’t sound the way it sounds now if it wasn’t for moving to LA because a lot of my music is based upon my experiences here and the way I portray and perceive LA as someone who isn’t from here. I like to call myself a “temporary Angeleno,” because there’s so many transplants from so many different places but I feel like sometimes they tend to act like they are from LA. I want to bring an Angeleno vibe to my music but I don’t want to pretend like I’m from here. I have friends that are born and raised in LA and they say my music has a LA vibe to it which is cool but that’s mostly because that’s where I am in my life right now and that’s what I’m being inspired to make.
A similar example is like when Kanye West went to Hawaii to record “My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy” and it was his surroundings that helped him make that music. All this music I’ve been dropping while I’ve been living here is all from my LA experience, all the emotions and the feelings. I’m not one to share how I feel in person so I see my music as an outlet, the one place to express myself. I try to avoid articulating too much of my feelings when it comes to the personal stuff so I throw it all into my music.
5th: I only ask because as someone who was also a “temporary Angeleno” at a time, I understand that the city garners a different kind of creative energy; it’s free-flowing and borderless.
Y: When I’m in LA it feels like a movie. Like when I’m riding the bus, which I could never do in Florida, or when I’m skateboarding as far as I can go or taking the train, things that people that were born here take for granted because its always been accessible to them, I treasure those little things. It feels like I’m such a foreigner in this big movie. I’m from the South and there’s nothing there, there’s swamps. For me, it’s really overwhelming to take a bus because it feels like I’m in this five-minute scene in a movie. What I’m trying to do is take this five-minute scene and turn it into a three-minute song, and I want my music to be like the score of this scene and I’m the actor in it. And that’s how I feel about LA, like it’s one giant movie and myself and everyone I meet is just a character in it.
5th: Are there certain artists or musicians that you draw directly from into your music?
Y: I’ve been listening to a lot of The Clash, I was a huge fan of them in middle school and I just started listening to them again because they were one band but there were so many sounds in one. They were considered punk but you can hear reggae in there, you can hear UK punk, rock-a-billy and folk, just so many different things going on in there.
And this might sound totally left field, but I’ve also been listening to the recent Justin Bieber album a lot. It’s so catchy but its also eclectic. I know that’s weird to be going from The Clash to Justin Bieber but that just proves how all over the place I am. I’ve been listening to “Channel Orange” again too because what else am I going to listen to if he’s not going to drop the new album.. I’m a fan of songwriting and lyrics too but more recently I’ve just been lurking on SoundCloud too to check out new artists and see what everyone’s up to and to stay up on what’s current.
5th: Yeah, that Justin Bieber is the one. “Sorry” is definitely the jam.
Y: Yeah, he came up on that one. It’s so much more tasteful than any other stuff he’s put out; that Journals album had Chance the Rapper on it and different styles; I liked that too but this last record was definitely a good look. The marketing for it was so good, he had Retna do the album art and it was something I just really dug into. And it’s considered modern, it’s hip, but its also really refreshing to this body of work come from him.
5th: With your music being a reflection of your thoughts and emotions, what kind of places is “Love Slacker” coming from?
Y: In a nutshell, “Love Slacker” is really just my journey through LA. Within it there’s a story of my wishy-washiness around love; I mean in this day in age a lot people our age don’t seem to know what love is or we think we know. I guess it’s my love/hate relationship with romantic love. It’s a little bit of telling the state of being post-break up, post-flings and all these other potential interests I may or may not have. There’s stories of a break-up, a girl I liked but didn’t work out, one about a girl I met at a bar, there’s also stories that are about that romantic, infatuation type of love, like when you’re caught in the middle of it.
But then there’s also those emotions where I’m saying “fuck this, fuck that” to all aspects of it. I really just wanted to capture that weird paradigm because everyone feels that way at some point. I know someone out there is going to relate to it and its going to resonate even though it may not be the exact same story but I felt like maybe if I told my version of these stories, it’ll help someone feel better about their own. Because that’s how music affects me, it helps me feel better about myself and helps me know that I’m not the only one feeling this way. And I want to help people with that, I want them to know that you’re not crazy for feeling that way, that it’s totally normal. “Love Slacker” is really just that; I feel like we have this obedient sense of love and right now I’m just not good at that; I suck at it right now even though I know could be good at it.
5th: What’s going on for 2016?
Y: For now, I have a show at the Lyric Theatre on Dec. 11 after I drop “Love Slacker.” From there, everything’s pretty much a secret but I’m always working on music so it’ll come out when it’s ready.