Thrilling multi-instrumentalist and producer, Perth’s Ukiyo chats with Ash Lee about his entrancing new single Good Enough featuring Maribelle. Good Enough is perfectly complemented by a hypnotic video that will take you on a mesmerising journey into a ravaged world, where the video seeks to compare a doomed relationship within the lyrics of the song to the state of the Earth – exploring the daunting idea of humans doing the bare minimum to get by – taking on the ‘good enough’ attitude.
Working with production company Blacklake who have made clips for OTR, Shallou, Martin Garrix and more, this is a 23 year old with a clear vision for his art, and an impressive host of accolades to hang his hat on. Will Smith and Casey Neistat borrow his songs for vlogs, US pop star Pharrell Williams and Dutch DJ Martin Garrix added him to their playlists – it’s promotion that money can’t buy and thanks to some big name fans, Perth’s own Timothy Arnott has amassed near on 30 million streams, and landed syncs with big brands like American Eagle, Ripcurl, Microsoft, Volkswagon, HBO and Netflix for the relatively small handful of electronic songs he’s released under his Ukiyo moniker.
Ash: So….”Indie-tronica”… I want to talk to you about that because I know that “synth-pop” started becoming popular in the 1970’s when people started using synthesisers, especially the iconic Moog Synth..but then you’ve got “indie-tronica” which is more from the 90’s era. Would you agree..or..?
Ukiyo: I am honestly horrible with genres and anything in that kind of realm so…
Ash: Yeah, personally, I don’t know if I would really wouldn’t categorise it as a genre…maybe more of a style?
Ukiyo: Yeah, like a wave I guess…like a New Wave. I think it’s the right terminology though, “indie-tronica” seems to be like, kind of like the newer wave that’s bring some of those older styles back in to electronic music..
Ash: And so are you influenced by any of the artists or musicians from the 1970’s then?
Ukiyo: Ooh, um…I think my influences from the 70’s, 80’s kind of thing is more from the movie soundtracks and stuff from that time…that’s definitely a big thing, the obvious one, to me at least, maybe not to everyone else but it’s John Williams and Stars Wars.
Ash: Yeah, how about War of The Worlds?
Ukiyo: Yeah! All of those kind of things, that’s my older influences. In terms of…let me think (pauses in contemplation)….definitely like, the production of Michael Jackson songs, ones with the heavier synths that’d be on the electronic side, most of the music I listen to from that era though is quite acoustic. I don’t tend to listen to a lot of that synth-pop in particular.
Ash: It’s interesting that you bring up soundtracks because ah, you know, BBC Producers would use synthesisers for their sound effects and to create film scores and I’ve listened to a lot your tracks and I feel like they are perfect for that and they have been used for some video games and other things haven’t they?
Ukiyo: Yeah, they have and it’s quite a predominant thing that seems to have happened.
Ash: It’s the commercialisation of it, is that something that you specifically intended your tracks to be for…as in, was that your target market or did it just happen?
Ukiyo: When I first started out, no, not really.. it was just something that happened quite naturally, I mean…I guess I have always just been so drawn to soundtrack music and that is where I draw a lot of inspiration from so it’s not really a surprise that it’s kind of had a big influence and you can hear that in the music but yeah; when I was first staring out I just, I got really hooked on some YouTube Vloggers and stuff. One in particular, was Casey Neistat who I ended up emailing and sending some music to and he ended up using it and so that was kind of what started, um, this whole kind of craze…we’ll no, not really a craze – just this thing where all of these video makers kept using my music.
Ash: So, that kind of linked you in then opened up a lot more opportunities for you?
Ukiyo: It wasn’t something I was really super conscious about pursuing at the beginning but then it was like these two separate things that just came together because I had this soundtrack inspiration and I was also really interested in YouTubers’ and stuff so, they came together and I’m producing music for them that seems to work for linking the video and stuff like that. I’m also just super invested in video makers, I’m always reaching out and following them and stuff so it works out really well.
Ash: That’s another thing I wanted to ask you, do you approach them or are they approaching you? Or is it a little bit of both?
Ukiyo: Yeah, it’s definitely a bit of both. At the start, there were two…it was really like…yeah it was actually only two people that I reached out to at the start. There’s a guy named John Hill who is an American Skateboarder and he make skating videos and I was watching him at the time and I reached out to him and sent him my music and then he used it. Casey Neistat was the second person I reached out to and he was just so big to the point where it created this snowball effect and everyone that watched him wanted to use the same music that he used and so it just kind of spread out like that….I haven’t really reached out to anyone myself since then, it just kind of grew some legs and started running by it’s self.
Ash: I thought that may have been the case… a lot of people don’t realise that sometimes it’s having the initiative and courage to reach out to the people you admire, and to share something you’ve created with them because it could be that connection or collaboration that allows the scope of your musics potential to increase dramatically. It can be the vehicle for breaking into the scene.
Ukiyo: Yes, absolutely – it can definitely open up opportunities on a global scale.
Ash: So, what kind of setup do you have? Are using mainly samplers, synths, drum machines, computer programs….?
Ukiyo: Yeah, so, it kind of changes and I quite intentionally want each song to start very differently. I don’t have any templates or that kind of thing which is something that some people do in the electronic world, they kind of have like just a template to start and they’ve filled it with new things on top and they call that a new song..
Ash: Yeah, they have like a “sample bank”
Ukiyo: Yeah, that kind of thing. I like to try to find something sort of super unique that I have never really touched on or used before for each track so it’s definitely coming from different places. In general, it’s usually some kind of small sample that I will chop up or manipulate or something that’ll get the idea rolling for a new song. That’s always sort of been the case, I’ve kind of gone through different styles of music now it’s very like…almost pop and just solely electronic whereas it kind of went through a very hip hop-ish purely sample based phase so it’s obviously very sample based back then but now I have brought that sampling and started using a bit of sampler and audio where you can reuse it and that sort of thing.
Ash: I feel like you’re Sound has got a chill out vibe to it and I have a lot of friends that when I’m at their house, it’s the kind of music that they would have playing through their sound systems, in the background…kind of like what’s been played here, now (at Bills Bites and Eats in Leederville)…
Ukiyo: Yeah and that’s like, probably, 90 % of the music that I listen to is this kind of stuff as well…just when I’m working or you know, doing whatever, I’ll have this kind of stuff on and I guess that’s why I like creating it as well.
Ash: I used to work as a specialist visual arts teacher in high schools and I used to play this kind of music in the background in my classroom and for some reason it seemed to provide an atmosphere where the students would have this kind of inwards reflection almost and they could concentrate more on what they were doing…
Ukiyo: I actually did, ah, only very briefly but I did graphic design at uni for a while and um, one of the best parts of that was that the lecturer used to always bring in some kind of playlist with unique music to each session and it was always really cool to get inspiration from that.
(Ash Lee gets side-tracked: That’s pretty cool, I actually had a group of year 12 ATAR students…it was a small class and pretty much all of them were doing ATAR Music and so they would come with in with playlists and play them for me and I would be like “ohhh, I’ve never heard this before – it sounds awesome, tell me who the musician is so I can add them to my playlist” and then they’d say “It’s my music Miss, I made it.” That would always blow me away and I’d have wtf jaw drop moments…)
Ash: You collaborated with Maribelle, can you describe what that experience was like for you?
Ukiyo: It was really…(pauses in contemplation)…effortless, is the word, which is kind of annoying for interviewers because there’s not even that much to say about it but yeah, I didn’t know her at the time but I sent her a message with this song and it kind of like had an idea of what is was because I had been going through like a creative block at the time and I just couldn’t stop focusing on comparing myself to others and I was just getting myself down so I was trying to really focus on not doing that and yeah, just trying to be confident in what I was doing and this song was one that come out of it. I kind of go through phases where I’ll be making slower, more somber stuff if I’m stressing about things and then there’s that relief and I’ll make an upbeat song like this so it was very much about getting through that. Maribelle understood that instantly.
Ash: Maribelle definitively added a pop flair to the track and I imagine that would’ve been uplifting for yourself. Contextually, there is a very deliberate relationship between the lyrics and the visual aesthetics of the accompanying music video..at least there is for me anyway, I don’t know if other people who don’t have the background in visual arts etc that I do would pick up on it though….
Ukiyo: I’m interested to know what you linked as…will you tell me or…?
Ash: About my interpretation of the contextual meanings behind the lyrics and the visual aesthetics of the music video?
Ukiyo: Yeah, I like things to be ambiguous so I like people to be able to articulate what their interpretation is…
Ash: Well, ok..the first time I watched the music video, I was intrigued…..I’m not sure if intrigued is the right word but I really noticed the transitional movements of the visual imagery used – it stood out as being significant because the graphics were pulsating with perfect alignment to the rhythm and beats but I didn’t really notice or pay attention to the lyrics, I mean I knew they were there but I was kind of entranced by the visuals and the phasing….it was like watching the different frequencies of the sound waves…but then I rewatched it and concentrated on the lyrics and I definitely felt that, conceptually, the contextual meaning of the relationship between the lyrics and the visual graphics used in the music video signified the regenerating, dying and living nature of the earth and the various cyclical phases of seasons or environmental status of the earth. BUT, I also felt as though one could take that interpretation and apply it to people as well and what I mean by this, is that people also experience those different phases, states of mind, go through relationships that alter over time and then, when interpreting it this way….when I said earlier that “it was like watching the different frequencies of the sound waves…” – well now it was as though I was watching the pulsating rhythms of a persons heartbeat….so yeah…that’s what I thought….was I…?
Ukiyo: That’s ah…yeah, that’s pretty close to what I wanted to put in there. It’s obviously quite a subtle thing because I think Ukiyo and my music is all kind of about escape and so I don’t want to overtly push a huge message or statement right in the front, in peoples faces. I want it to be something you kind of get lost in so I try to balance it but yes, definitely with the music and the video; it was wanting to compare the messages Maribelle had and what she was feeling in the the relationship that she wrote the song about which was a similar message to what I wanted portrayed in the video which was about how I was kind of de-friending myself and thinking that it wasn’t good enough and then Maribelle was saying that it was. The video was then also kind of comparing those feelings to our relationship with the earth so, it was meant to be symbolising that our relationship with the earth can be…like, we just take a good enough approach where we just do a little bit to make ourselves feel good about being sustainable and those kind of things but that there’s so much more that we could be doing. There are more music videos coming for future releases and they build upon that idea, so, this is like a “Part One” to a sequel almost.
Ash: Did you produce the video yourself or did you have someone helping you out with that?
Ukiyo: I didn’t produce this one myself, I have done a few in the past but this one was done by a group called Black Lake who are based in Canada and they’re really cool. They did a music video for a song I did recently with a guy named OTR, it’s called ‘Midnight Sun’ and they did that really well so I brought them back to do this one and I think they nailed it again.
Ash: Yeah, I’ve seen that music video too – they did do a really good job. I have to admit, I was a little confused about who’s song it was though…
Ukiyo: That was a song that we both worked on, that was a weird one actually because he’s managed by the same people as I am so it was a collaboration that came naturally. He had this super rough demo of that track (laughs)…this is going a bit off track from Good Enough but anyway, he sent the demo to me and it turned out that I had a song that was really similar, like same chords, same key..so we mashed them together and that was the result – it was a really good collab and just felt like it was meant to be, kind of thing.
Ash: Oh wow, that’s really cool. You actually touched on something earlier that I wanted to ask you about; Do you get nervous about performing/releasing new material, worry about whether will people like. It? Or are you just doing it anyway because who cares what everyone else thinks right? Just have the ownership of your creative content and say “here’s something I created – and give it to world regardless”
Ukiyo: That’s definitely the goal but I don’t think I’m….I am far from perfect in that regard. Performing is a big thing for me, I’m not built to be on a stage (chuckles) so, um, I definitely get nerves there.
Ash: Feeling nervous before a performance is good thing, I think, it means you that you really care about what it is that you’re doing, that it’s important and that you want to do it well.
Ukiyo: Exactly. It was funny…on my first tour, I tried eat monitors for the first time and they were great but they were almost too good because I felt like I couldn’t really feel the crowd and I almost didn’t get nerves because I felt really disconnected so I’ve stopped using them because I realised that I needed that bit of nervousness to put me on the edge to where I was really alert.
Ash: Yeah, being able to have that connection with the crowd is important because then you can feel the vibe and take it to the next level..
Ukiyo: 100% yeah.
Ash: So do you have your own studio at home or..?
Ukiyo: Yeah, I’ve got a nice place down in South Fremantle and I have a spare bedroom in the house that’s become my dedicated studio now so that’s really nice, I don’t have to worry about transporting gear and stuff.
Ash: That’s cool, I have my own studio too and it’s definitely good to not have to worry about lugging things around and being able to leave everything setup so you can return to it again later and it’s right where you left it.
Ukiyo: Yeah definitely, I like having stuff ready to go whenever the inspiration strikes and even if I had my own dedicated space somewhere else, I’d still be bringing stuff home with me all the time so I had it there with me in case I felt inspired.
Ash: You’ve worked with a lot of people, do you have any stand out collaboration experiences/moments?
Ukiyo: oh man, well, they’ve all been amazing really…
Ash: Has there ever been anything really funny or stupid that’s happened?
Ukiyo: (chuckles) Nah, not really, they’ve all been very smooth and I haven’t had a lot of collaborations that have come out yet either so….although I’m collaborating on album that’s coming out this year and there’s definitely been some funny stuff there but I can’t reveal who’s on the album yet so it’s kind of a pointless story to bring up at the moment (both laughing)..
Ash: Oh go on, you can tell me in confidence – I won’t repeat it #pinkyswear
(The next 10 minutes of our conversation was incredibly interesting however twas’ for our ears only!)
Ukiyo: Everyone I have worked with so far and the people I am currently working with are always really fun, we always have a good time, it’s the best kind of fun and it’s really enjoyable to collaborate with people who aren’t difficult to get along with.
Ash: Do have any regrets?
Ukiyo: Oh wow…um…ah, not really, I mean there’s always little regrets but I think every decision gets you to where you are, you know; the good and the bad. If I hadn’t made a bad a decision a year back or whatever then it may not have lead me to where I am now and I am really happy with where I am in life right now so no, I don’t really regret things.
Ash: Yep, I agree, every decision made or action taken in life should be done with ownership and sometimes it’s better to have the mantra “I can’t look back, I can only look forwards.”
Ukiyo: Absolutely, you can look back and learn from it but you can’t look back and change it so there’s no point dwelling on regrets.
Ash: If you could change something about the industry in Australia/Perth, what would you do?
Ukiyo: Um…what would I do? That’s a tricky one for in Australia, specifically, because I really just love it and I don’t have a lot to fault.
Ash: What about globally then?
Ukiyo: I think in general, a lot of musicians are trying to be more connected and I think that’s something we’d all like to work on changing, on working towards the establishment of a music industry that is more globally connected. That’s a difficult thing to do though because a lot of the time we get so involved in what we’re doing individually but whenever musicians are involved in things that forces them all together, like writing camps for example, it’s always great fun and we love it so much and want to do it more. In an ideal world, I would love to just get to hang out with musicians more and I think that being able to do so would benefit the direction or pathways that are available to musicians in the future.
Ash: I’m not sure if there’s already one but I think a writing camp that brings musicians from all parts of the world together would be a really good idea..
Ukiyo: Yeah, that’d be pretty hard to do in practice..to organise.
Ash: Do you think so? I mean obviously, right now, of course it wouldn’t be possible but I actually think that if more of the industry leaders, or more specifically, the governmental leaders throughout the world actually understood the global economic value of the music industry and the arts then it would be quite easily achievable and a worthwhile venture…..Maybe one day, in the future, we can work together and make it happen. Thanks so much for meeting up with me, I’ve really enjoyed chatting with you and I am super excited to hear more of your music soon!