FRONTRUNNER Gets to Know…Yuno
If ever there was an artist who perfectly encapsulates modern-day pop’s blurring of boundaries when it comes to genre, it’s Yuno. Influenced by hip hop, reggae, rock, R&B and very much marching to the beat of his own drum, the unpredictability of what sound will come next is fresh and exciting. Yuno’s debut EP “Moodie”, released in 2018, is an eclectic mix of guitar solos, smooth hip hop and electronic beats that shouldn’t work together, but they do. The result is a powerful, candy-coated journey through heartbreak that has taken Yuno to heights he never imagined; the question is, where to next?
While he works on his debut album, FRONTRUNNER spoke with Yuno about his latest single, January’s “Somebody”, self-production, how he took music from his bedroom to the stage and more.
I know that you grew up in Jacksonville, Florida, but that you’ve always wanted to move to New York. When did you move? How’s it been living in New York?
Yeah, about two years ago. It’s been great! Well, it’s kind of mixed because it was really nice when I originally moved and finally getting to go out and be more social instead of just being in my bedroom at my parents’ house in Florida. Just being able to be social is really nice, but then that only was for a year and then the pandemic hit, so then I was just back to being at home all the time just like I used to be in Florida!
Has the pandemic affected your creativity at all?
Yes, it has. Just because I got really into the groove of going out and working with other people for the first time – because I was so used to doing everything by myself – and I would go to studios and work with different producers to help me bring my songs to life and sound better and cleaner. But then the pandemic hit, and I had to go back to doing everything by myself which was slightly disappointing because I was having so much fun working with other people. But it’s also nice being able to kind of get back to my roots and just do everything myself. But then also being able to find different ways to collaborate, like with Somebody, there’s a producer, Christoph Andersson, and we worked together on that where I just sent him pretty much the whole song completed to my best ability. He would send me versions back with ideas like, ‘let’s change this, let’s make the 808 deeper, let’s add this extra guitar part.’ And I’m like, ‘oh, that’s a good idea,’ and then I could add my own things to it, so it was a cool way to collaborate. He’s in New Orleans and I’m in New York so it was like a long-distance collaboration, but it worked out. I feel like I’ve made a lot, but it comes in waves. I’ll have a time where I’m really inspired, and I’ll just sit down for like weeks and just make a bunch of music and then I’ll go for months without making much of anything. So, the inspiration hits at different times.
Does New York inspire you?
Yeah, it definitely does, and like it always has, because I’ve taken a lot of trips to New York. And those inspired my music a lot, which is kind of what made me want to move here. I just really like the fast pace and I’ve always been like a fast thinker. My brain moves pretty fast, so being in New York helps that a lot; I have ADHD and constantly need something to listen to or to be doing while I’m doing another task, I always have to multitask. So, in New York, it’s a similar thing because just hearing cars and hearing people, it kind of calms my brain having a lot of noise in a way, because there’s so many things for me to react to. Any time I spend time in New York and then I go back to Florida and it’s so much quieter, it feels too quiet to me. I’ve really gotten used to being in New York.
Your parents are of Jamaican descent, has that had an impact at all on your music?
I’m sure it has. Growing up I didn’t listen to much Jamaican music just because I heard it all the time. So, it wasn’t something I was really looking for, but it was like, “Ah it’s Sunday again, my mom’s listening to reggae in the kitchen!” Then as I got older, I definitely discovered more of it, or listened to more of my favorite things that my mom used to play. My parents are also from England, so I grew up looking at a lot of British TV shows, British music and stuff like that. So, that’s definitely had an effect on me.
I read that skateboarding culture has been influential for you – can you tell me about how that shaped your musical taste?
I started getting into skateboarding when I was really little, maybe ten, or something. I used to play ‘Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater’ games a lot. Those games got me more into skateboarding and the music on the games. Even the skate videos I would watch – different skateboarders would pick their music – and that was really good for introducing me to different types of music that I wouldn’t have found, otherwise.
I always credit my older brother as shaping my music taste. When you’re young you want to look up to something to kind of influence your tastes, don’t you?
Yeah! I didn’t have any siblings. I grew up an only child, so I feel like I’d always find a way, or sometimes I’d have friends who had older siblings and their older siblings would show them music and then they’d show it to me. So, I guess I always tried to find my own way to find new music or just had my friends help me out.
Can you remember any songs or bands in particular when you were growing up that had an impact on you?
There’s a band called Prozac in America, they’re called Simon and Milo, and they had a song in the Disney Channel original movie, “Get a Clue”, with Lindsay Lohan. Their song, “Get a Clue”, was just this really fast, short, pop song, and that was one of the first times I heard music that really amazed me. There are so many changes throughout the song: a pre-chorus, and chorus, and post-chorus, and bridge and so many things happening. I was like, “That’s what I want to do.” That was the first album I ever bought with my own money.
I think the first album I ever bought was a Britney Spears album!
In January, you released your latest single “Somebody”, which is very reminiscent of 2000’s emo music. I was wondering what inspired this song? Did the nostalgia of that era play a part?
Definitely. That song I kind of wrote, I guess, with the intention of mixing my feelings of being isolated as a teenager and just being at home in my bedroom all the time. Now, with the pandemic and being at home in my bedroom all the time! I had all this freedom of moving to New York and getting to go out all the time, now I’m back to being at home and it definitely brought back some similar feelings. So, I wanted to capture that in a way that also did the same thing with music that I listened to as a teenager; kind of for inspiration, then also more modern hip-hop and trap that I listen to now. Kind of combining those two to make a new song.
You usually do a lot of the production and directing yourself, but the music video for this song was directed and edited by Jordana Koffsky. What was it like working with others for this video?
It was really nice, actually. I’ve usually done things myself out of necessity, because I didn’t have anyone around me to help, so I figured out how to do things myself! But Jordana’s a friend that I met when I moved to New York and it was so easy to work together. We know each other well, so we can tell each other what we want to do. It’s really, really comfortable. It was just three people working on the video, very chill. We filmed it in the [production designer’s] living room. There’s a lot of posters on the wall that I designed, show flyers and stuff; I put little secret messages in there. That was a lot of fun. It was a cool, collaborative project to do with friends.
As a very self-reliant artist, is it important for you to have a lot of creative control over what you’re doing? What do you like about working by yourself?
I like that I just have so much control over everything. In the same way of being a solo artist, in general, I don’t have to necessarily ask other people for permission to do things or agree on something with other people. When it comes down to it, it’s just whatever my idea is. So, that’s always nice, but it’s also nice to collaborate and get some extra ideas from other people and use their knowledge and resources to help my ideas come to life.
Do you have any advice for other artists who are looking to be independent and produce their own work?
I’d say just keep doing it, because there’s so many things that I thought I couldn’t do because I didn’t know how. I researched things and figured out how to do it, or figured out the easiest way, it was great because I was able to actually get things done and do things that I never thought I could. Just making sure that you’re in control, and anything you want to do, you can do. I’ve always thought of it as, if I like something that I make, then there’s probably somebody else in the world that will also like it. That’s what generally keeps me going.
There’s a real juxtaposition at play with your music – a lot of your songs are upbeat, and you have this colourful pastel aesthetic and even the illustration on the cover of “Moodie” is of you laughing – yet lyrically your songs are quite sad.
A lot of my songs are lyrically kind of sad, but they always sound really happy just because that’s the way that comes naturally to me when I make music. If I make a song that is sad and sounds sad, it just makes me sad to share it! I like to make music that sounds happy, even if I want to get out some sad emotions, lyrically. I’m generally a very positive, happy person and I feel like music is my way to get out and get over any negative feelings I have. Or, it’s a nice way to get out negativity in a positive way. This is why it’s always nice to hear when other people relate to my music and tell me my music helped them get through a hard time. My music also helps me get through hard times.
Since you’ve started doing more live shows over the years, has that affected the way you make music?
Yeah, definitely. That has been a really cool experience for me because before I started playing shows, I’d only been to four live shows. I didn’t have much of an experience of what live shows were like or what different types of music sounded like in a live setting. When I went on tour with other bands and heard them live or heard my own songs live, I realized which things sound really good in a big venue. There’s different things like 808’s in my songs. I like to have really hard-hitting bass, and those sound great live. Every time I’m working on a song, I’m like, “Let me put a really hard-hitting 808 in here.” There’s heavy guitars, and they’ll sound really cool live. I always like to think about those moments or even dynamics in songs where things get really loud and then go really quiet. It feels really theatrical in the live setting. I definitely use that for inspiration when I’m working on music now.
There’s multiple genres and styles in your music, so what’s it like putting a set list together?
It was really difficult in the beginning. I feel like I’ve kind of nailed it down generally with my band where we go off of crowd-response and see how everybody reacts to things. We also have to think about our setup, because some of us have to switch instruments. When we play live, I play guitar, bass and electronic pads. My guitarist plays guitar and keys, my bassist plays bass and keys, and everybody has to kind of switch over. So, we have to plan that out! I also have to plan out if I’m holding a guitar, holding a bass, or nothing. Then, just the crowd response and what we think people will look forward to. We have a list of songs that we don’t play every show, and a list of songs that we do play every show.
I noticed a lot of the recent comments on your video for “No Going Back” are people who found that song after hearing it in IKEA and the film, “Moxie”. What’s it like for you to hear your songs played in these contexts?
It’s really cool! I remember growing up hearing music in a movie, or a store, or on the radio and being like, “What is that song?” Then having to look it up and figure it out. Then I get to listen to it all the time once I finally find it. It’s nice seeing other people do the same thing with my music.
Where would you love to hear your music featured next? What would be the dream?
A dream of mine has always been to exist in a cinematic universe, like if somebody was listening to my song in a Marvel movie. Then it means I exist in the Marvel Universe!
What kind of sounds can we expect from you in the future?
I’d say more hip-hop sounds. I guess the main reason why I want to do more hip-hop is that it’s primarily what I listen to. A lot of people don’t hear it in my music; I’ll say, “This song, to me, sounds like an old Jay-Z song,” and then people are like, “Oh, I thought it was this indie band!” I realise that people don’t hear it the same way I do, so if I add more of the hip-hop in, then they’ll hear how I’m combining hip-hop with pop, alternative, and all these things together.