Interview/Music: Asta Hiroki

Asta Hiroki

Experimental electronic producer and visual artist – Asta Hiroki returns with a new jazz-infused track titled ‘Hiding Place’.

The new track finds him teaming up with the talented London-based electronica vocalist– Lylli, to create another downtempo masterpiece. Intimate and haunting, Hiroki keeps the instrumentation simple and his blend of ambient electronica combined with the delicate vocals from Lylli make for a truly beautiful listen.

In addition to the original, there’s an excellent selection of remixes on the release coming courtesy of fellow producers – Tristan de Liège and Moth Equals.

The talented newcomer has been championed by BBC 6Music and received a host of international radio support from the likes of KCRW, KEXP, Radio Nova, and Couleur 3. His last single ‘Channels / Vulnerable’ was placed on over 10 official Spotify editorial playlists including the coveted ‘Fresh Finds’ playlist, achieving over 600k streams in the process.

We caught up with him to talk about his background, remixes and plans for the future. Read our interview below and grab his brand new single ‘Hiding Place’ here.

What are you up to at the moment?

I’m pretty busy at the moment! Currently, I’m preparing my next few releases and some video work for my live AV set, writing and collating tracks for an Asta Hiroki album and on top of that I’m also moving house and planning a new studio build for the garden. Not much time left over but it’s all exciting stuff.

What’s your earliest musical memory?

It’s difficult to pinpoint one earliest memory as my parents always had all sorts of music on around the house when I was little. Between my Mum and Dad’s record collections, I was hearing all sorts of stuff like Phillip Glass, Tom Waits, Velvet Underground, and Radiohead on a daily basis from a young age. I think I always enjoyed listening to different things but it was probably when I saw a live band at school aged 4 that I was blown away by the drums in this performance. After that I think I knew I wanted to be a musician, the energy made my 4-year-old self absolutely hyper.

What is your background? How you first got into making music?

I took piano lessons for a few years when I was a kid and though I enjoyed it the instrument originally didn’t have as much allure as the guitar so I switched and focused on the latter. Then when I discovered jazz in my early teens I reconnected with the piano again and began to study once more as well as compose. Those two instruments are still my strongest and I tend to gravitate towards them when writing for the most part. As I got older I became more interested in how the recording process worked so I originally learned music production at a studio in Islington (that I believe no longer operates) called Britannia Row.

Pink Floyd built it to record ‘Animals’ and some of ‘The Wall’ there, and I used to travel up once a week and that was where I got my first exposure to studio work, engineering and the like. It really opened my eyes to see beyond just playing an instrument and consider both the artistic and scientific sides of the recording process and beyond. After that, I was hooked and built a basic home studio which has gradually increased in size and components over the years. Then for my degree, I spent a lot of time down at Brighton Electric studios, which again was a great environment to learn in and had some really nice kit and staff on hand.

Tell us a few things about your new track ‘Hiding Place’?

The new track is a collaboration between myself and a vocalist from London called Lylli. It’s a bittersweet song about what happens after relationships end and growing as a person. Lylli’s lyrics are really poignant and her vocal delivery is gorgeous, while the music is on a laid back electronica/jazz tip – like Massive Attack jamming with Robert Glasper or something similar. It’s coming out on Jalapeno Records on 14th June and also has an official music video to accompany it if you like that kind of thing.

‘Hiding Place’ sounds a little more jazz-tinged than the previous releases. What are some of your favourite jazz records?

I struggle to pick ‘top 5’s etc’ so I’m pleased you said ‘some of your favourites’ these ones are all constants for me but there really are so many…

Art Tatum – Alone

One of my go-to records to spin around the house. Tatum makes the piano sound like a full band and I can’t help but admire his unbelievable virtuosity on the instrument.

Charles Mingus – Mingus Ah Um

This is THE record that got me into jazz. ‘Goodbye Pork Pie Hat’ is probably my favourite song in the world so would be the standout track for me but this record has many other beautiful moments too like ‘Self Portrait in 3 Colours’ alongside some real swingers too. He was a quite a complicated character and quite possibly a genius. You might have picked up I’m a bit of a fan. I’ve read and re-read his autobiography and seen the Mingus Big Band several times, if you are sleeping on it I thoroughly recommend Mingus and this album especially.

Grant Green – Green Street

‘Green Street’ is an album that for me epitomises the smoky New York jazz bar sound. A Blue Note classic, energetic and shuffling. Great for driving!

Thelonious Monk – Underground

When I first heard Monk play on this record I was blown away by his phrasing, chord choices and overall compositions. I don’t like to throw the word ‘genius’ around lightly but again I think this guy earns the right. I’m a sucker for a jazz piano ballad and ‘Ruby My Dear’ remains to this day one of my favourite pieces to play on the piano. One day I may do a cover of it if I think I could reinterpret it in a way that is interesting and might do it justice.

Tom Waits – Small Change

I used to hear this around the house when I was a kid and it never really left my consciousness, I love Tom Waits’ storytelling beatnik style of vocals that just paint the pictures so vividly. No matter that I’ve heard it a million times already – I can’t get enough of it. The lyrics to ‘The Piano Has Been Drinking’ and particularly the line in the last song ‘I Can’t Wait To Get Off Work’ where he says ‘Tom do this, Tom do that, Tom….don’t do that!’ always make me smile

You’ve remixed a couple of tracks by Tristan de Liège, and he returns the favour on ‘Hiding Place’. Do you have any plans on putting out a record together?

Yes, Tristan and I are putting plans in place to record together at the moment actually. Hopefully starting with a UK session towards the end of this year and potentially a US session next year. In addition to the remixes, he’s also played saxophone on some of my unreleased material but it’s been a goal for both of us to get into the same room together and write something for a while. It’s just the geographical logistics that get in the way, but the desire is there and I’m sure there will be a release of some sorts coming on that front.

Just wanted to say your remixes for Tristan de Liège are incredible. When remixing a track, what do you usually gravitate towards first – is it the beat, the vocals or maybe the arrangement? Can you take us through the process?

Well, thank you! For me, it’s really about finding the parts of the track that make me excited and then seeing what I can do with those ideas to elevate them and fuse them with my sound and style.

When it comes to remixing Tristan’s work, one of the things I love about his tracks and typically gravitate to are the strings. He has a great ear for arranging and some talented session players so I love to use those parts as they are usually very emotive and interesting. The creative process is different each time but usually I’ll try come up with a few bars of ideas then think about what section that could potentially be and map out ideas in rough arrangements first to then fill in the gaps.

For the ‘Sunfall’ remix I knew that those beautiful vocals and strings needed to take centre stage so edited the arrangement and then tried to create a soundscape and beat around them that would complement and back them rather than fight for the spotlight.

On ‘Mbali’ I wanted to fuse styles and use more of the bassline and orchestration sounds so it became more about the beat than the vocals. It morphed from an LA beat scene style to more IDM / glitch influenced at the end – I like the structural freedom that comes with a remix and I tend to use them to experiment a lot.

 

Is there one piece of equipment that you absolutely couldn’t live without?

That’s a tough one. I’d say the Fender Rhodes is an integral part of the Asta Hiroki sound – it’s my default keys choice. My Dave Smith Instruments REV2 synth has definitely been becoming more central in recent months too as its got so much sonic range. I have my go-to bits of gear and plugins for sure but I guess the only piece of equipment I really couldn’t live without is the iMac that I use to put it all together on! Everything else is fluid.

What’s next for Asta Hiroki?

I have a decent amount of unreleased bits floating around that I intend to get out there starting with another single or EP featuring the singer Muhsinah who has previously worked with Flying Lotus and recently 14KT. Hopefully, it will be this year that comes out. There’s also a remix for my labelmate Flevans which should see the light of day sometime this year again via Jalapeno. Then once I’ve moved house I’ll be building a garden studio and hopefully organising some recording sessions with Tristan de Liege and a couple of singers I’m writing with atm for some potential album tracks.

Thanks for chatting and good luck with the release of ‘Hiding Place’!

Thanks for having me and good luck back at you!

 

 

CF Smith

Write for Music Is My Sanctuary & Stereofox.

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