ash.ØK not only produces music, but creates it too, and has mixed a variety of his musical interests and voice talent with his debut album, The Unraveled. The album will debut on Jan. 19, although buzz is already stirring about ash.ØK and his talent. His collaborations are nothing short of stellar on The Unraveled. Having enlisted the help of a variety of musicians and producer's who have worked with a notable who's who in the industry, this album is chock-full of all-over talent. ash also released the new single, the title track from the upcoming album, featuring vocals from "The Voice's" Rebecca Loebe.
In our interview with ash.ØK, he discusses extensively his debut album, his new music video featuring direction by young filmmaker, Patrick Mason, the collaborations featured on the record, and much more.
AXS: The Unraveled, your debut album, is filled with many experimental sounds...what inspired you to create and produce this album?
ash.ØK: For a number of years, I was actively working on projects for other artists while steadily building my own catalog of instrumentals. This archive of music, which continues to grow to this day, was always on the back of mind and I knew I wanted at some point to release a project of my own and to be honest, I knew I also didn't want to just throw a bunch of random music out there and label it an "album." Things really changed dramatically, though, about two years ago. A close friend of mine had mentioned to me over drinks that she had tried committing suicide but didn't go through with it. She was literally staring at a fistful of pills when she heard her baby daughter laughing downstairs, jolting her enough for that moment to not go through with it. The pressures in her life - financial, social, marital, to name a few - were weighing in on her and she felt that the pillars she had relied on for sanity (namely, her relationship with her husband, whom she had been with since high school) were giving away to the overwhelming stresses they were facing.
That talk with my friend was really a life-altering moment for me. To hear someone who always appeared so well put-together, who seemed to be living the "American dream" to a fault, feeling so internally distraught that she was ready to let go - to this day, it still shakes me. I went home and just started writing and the first song that took life that night was the title track, "The Unraveled." From there, I just pounded out ideas on paper straight through daybreak, just scribbles and fragments. I started exploring all the ways someone could feel distanced from a person they loved so much, how they could feel that their own circumstances, their outlook on themselves and their relationships could be a force in altering the trajectory of their life. I looked at my own life and tried to put myself in that place of coming to the close of a relationship and the different, many times unrealistic, expectations that I think we all push on ourselves in this new norm of filtered reality. The album is basically the amalgamation of the writings from that night with select instrumentals from my collection.
AXS: You had well over two-dozen guest artists on this record...can you elaborate on these collaborations, and what memories you have from recording with these impeccable artists?
A: This album is really an exploration of relationships and true to this theme, the underlying success of this project has really been because of the relationships that I have been able to cultivate with so many incredible artists. Some of my favorite memories include meeting these individuals who are so passionate about their craft, like Tina Guo, Robyn Cage and DJ Jounce to name a few, years before this album took place and knowing that I wanted to work with them at some point, but not knowing in what capacity. Eventually though, as the project really started to take form, I knew immediately who I just had to have on certain tracks.
So much of the production of this album centers around these kind of meaningful interactions - I remember my first conversation with Kid Moxie, for example, and she was really intent on trying to understand why I wrote the song, who I wrote it about, what the drive was beyond the typed words on paper. We really spoke at length about this one song even before a single note was recorded. I gave her my intentions in writing the lyrics - that feeling of being confined to society's expectations of success while sacrificing your own creativity or ambition. In the end, she absolutely nailed it - she gave this really dystopian, almost robotic delivery on my lyrics which I wasn't expecting but fit perfectly. And on the very tail end of the same track is this really whirlwind, emotional violin solo by Chrsyanthe Tan (who performs with a number of artists including Ariana Grande and Justin Beiber) that really closes off the song on a totally different angle.
AXS: You have released the title track of the album with a new video, featuring stunning vocals by The Voice alumni Rebecca Loebe...why did you choose her for this particular song?
A: The instrumental for this track was something I had created years ago - it was this really haunting, ambient piece that had a bunch of 80's pads and keys I had layered together over a really sparse, electronic percussive bed. That night when I first wrote the lyrics, they just had this aching realness to them, which was really a contrast to the instrumental's synthetic, almost dreamlike texture but it somehow just fell together. I knew I wanted someone who could deliver a raw sadness and I think it was around that same time I came across Rebecca's debut performance on "The Voice". She did this ridiculously amazing cover of Nirvana's "Come As You Are" which was this real gritty, powerful rendition that had a country type of delivery full of desperation and it floored me - I immediately I knew I had to have her on this song. Completely by chance just a few months later, I was introduced to a good friend of hers at an industry event and he put me in contact with Rebecca. She loved the instrumental, the lyrics, and we basically went from there.
AXS: For the music video of the same title, you had new filmmaker Patrick Mason to provide his visionary expertise...what's your history with Patrick and what do you like most about his vision with his work?
A: I had floated the rough cut of the song with a number of directors and to be quite honest, and certainly not to discredit anyone, it just never felt right. Everyone loved the rough edit of the song, they loved the storyline, but no one really seemed to truly grasp the emotion behind it all. I was literally on the verge of settling - or giving up, to be more accurate - for one of these directors, when around 3 am one night, while taking a break from recording, I stumbled on one of Patrick's videos on Vimeo and it simply blew me away. His work is just beautifully framed, he has this unusual command of telling these visceral stories without much more than sunlight and shadows. Finding this reel of work so eerily exact to what I was envisioning, the pessimist in me just assumed that I wasn't going to get a response and that this wasn't going to happen. In any case, I emailed him that night and just a few hours later, Patrick called me back, probably just as stoked about my story and the song as I was about his film work. We worked back and forth for months honing the story down - I was just awed by his attention to detail and how he absorbed the emotions in the music to be able to really create an equally powerful visual.
AXS: Your new album is an ambitious project, to say the least. What does this body of work mean to you?
A: When I produce music, I know it's something special when I can listen to it on rotate for months without getting fed up or tired. This album to me is on another level of that feeling. There are songs on here, even after two years and a trillion plays later, still gets me emotionally twisted. I really do put a thousand percent into my work and this project is the culmination of countless late nights and early mornings spent slaving over minute details in songwriting and production that most listeners will probably just gloss over - but there isn't a single thing I'd change on this album, no regrets at any level, and as a producer, that really is something I'll carry with me as an accomplishment.
AXS: The album is set to release in 2018, and are you planning a tour, what's next?
A: I'm having initial discussions around a live show for the album, maybe tied to some sort of a larger storyline or performance - nothing is set in stone, but hoping to have more details in the coming months. In addition to promoting the album, I'm also heavily at work on projects for a number of other artists, a few of which should be released early to mid next year.
I’m always listening to new stuff and I love it when artists send ideas through. With the release of “The Unraveled” video, I’ve had many new folks reach out for collaborations and right now, I’m trying to pick out a handful with concepts that I absolutely love and really want to work on. I encourage singer-songwriters, film directors or other indie musicians to get in touch - I'm always game for new ideas and for creating something totally against the grain.