Ish Couture and Eartheater on Making 'Bulletproof' Music

Ish Couture and Eartheater on Making 'Bulletproof' Music

By Tobias HessMar 06, 2024

It's a perfect night in the PAPER-verse. In the waning hours of a Monday evening, scenesters and stars alike gathered in Shinsen, a cozy sushi spot deep in the Bowery to celebrate the release of NEW MANTRA, the new EP by Houston-born, New York-based rapper and producer Ish Couture. Making the release special, is fact that NEW MANTRA is the inaugural project of Chemical X, Eartheater’s new label imprint with Mad Decent.

On NEW MANTRA Couture pushes his techno inflected hip hop further, featuring frenetic drums that skid across your brain waves and pulsing bass synths that force your hips towards motion. Couture’s voice and lyricism too throbs with intensity as he merges a punk’s sense of chaos with a rapper’s precision. It makes sense that Eartheater, the patron saint of the current wave, would choose Couture to launch her new venture. Always on the pulse and never bound by genre, she is the kind of artist who has a gifted eye for collaborators and comrades, be they designers, producers, or in this case, signees.

Photography: Maxwell Vice

The night’s performers and attendees similarly represent the current pulse of the culture. PAPER regulars DJ Miss Parker and Sevyn 0000 spun, with Eartheater lending her voice for a rare freestyle atop Sevyn’s bouncing tracks. Also in attendance was our cult-favorite popstar, Miss Madeline and one of Brooklyn’s buzziest photographers Maxwell Vice. All of them gathered together, underneath a ceiling of balloons, to move and celebrate Couture, who came in fashionably late at 11:30 PM in full-star-mode. Performing the new EP for the raucous crowd, it was clear why Eartheater signed the nascent rapper. The energy was palpable, and as Monday turned to Tuesday, a sense of momentum kept the dancers glued to the dance floor.

Eartheater chatted with Ish Couture from Los Angeles the following Sunday for PAPER. Together, the celebrated their new creative venture and delved into Ish’s path to this moment.

Photography: Maxwell Vice

Eartheater: I’m in LA in my hotel in the cafe downstairs.

Ish Couture: Fire.

Eartheater: Where are you?

Ish Couture: I’m in my crib, in LES.

Eartheater: Cute. How are you feeling about everything right now?

Ish Couture: I feel really exact and invincible.

Eartheater: I’m so glad you feel that way. I mean, releasing music is the best feeling. I flew out here right after playing Boom Boom Room [in NYC] and I had to leave at that high when your song “TESTING” came on. I need to find out who was DJing–

Ish Couture: It was Crush [Sahara].

Eartheater: That was so cute. Cause we were just sitting and chilling, and all of a sudden your song came on and it’s the best feeling when you can see DJs and people really enjoying it, you know?

Ish Couture: Yeah, the whole energy in the room changed with the song.

Eartheater: Honestly, yeah. It’s just such, such good music. And I’m so proud of it, I’m proud of you. I’m excited for what’s next, but also we have to just enjoy this moment.

Ish Couture: Yeah yeah, be in it.

Eartheater: The meaning of “mantra” is a word or sound repeated to aid concentration and meditation, or a statement or slogan repeated frequently. So what songs do you think on the EP represent that? You obviously have these really full, long verses that are packing in a lot of visual adventure, but then it breaks down to this moment where you’re just repeating a mantra essentially.

Ish Couture: Well, to be honest, all of the songs have a mantra inside of them.

Eartheater: Period.

Ish Couture: “THE BREAK” is releasing, it’s breaking the glass and punching the wall. Going through that door and just opening all the gates that you never knew you could open or that you always knew you could open, really. It’s like taking that dive in the deep end.

Eartheater: Yeah, “THE BREAK” is definitely the perfect example of that.

Ish Couture: “TESTING” is like being inside of it and not knowing what’s happening, but you’re just like, “fuck it,” you know? Like I’m testing on my body, I’m in it now. So there’s nothing I can do about it [laughs].

Eartheater: Yeah, because inevitably if you’re breaking through a membrane, you’re breaking through a wall, you’re going into something you haven’t been in before.

Ish Couture: Right.

Eartheater: So it is a test, you are an experiment. And it’s a really positive way to look at pretty much any experience no matter how testy it can be. Let’s keep going, take us through the whole EP.

Ish Couture: “LISTEN TO THE FEELING” is like your conscience, that voice inside your head. “Life I live it, it hurts/ I try not to kill it/ But you know you gotta end it/ Listen to the feeling.” Feel it, like this is why you broke the door, to test all this shit. This is what it’s telling you to do.

Eartheater: You’re getting used to it, you’re finding your footing, you’re finding your equilibrium.

Ish Couture: Yeah, exactly. “SEX IN THE CITY” is really just ratchet. It’s like–

Eartheater: It’s like, then you’re there. You’re like, “I can own this bitch. Let’s take over, let’s go.” And then after that it’s “LOWER EAST”?

Ish Couture: Yeah, so “LOWER EAST”–

Eartheater: You’re dropping a pin on the map.

[Both laugh]

Ish Couture: “LOWER EAST” is like, “Oh I’ve been through it and this is what it is for me in this moment.” And if you’re gonna do something, you gotta do it all the way. 100%. No fucking cap, there’s no going back from here.

Eartheater: Period.

Ish Couture: It’s full 10 all the way. And then “PHOENIX” is really that cycle, it’s the finish line and the starting point.

Eartheater: Exactly. I just saw this amazing little clip of Patti Smith talking, where she was saying you can’t ever be satisfied. You obviously have to enjoy a moment, enjoy a world. Every EP, every album will be a world, and you have to live in it and create that space. But I think it’s really poignant that the last song on the EP is “PHOENIX” because it could have been the beginning of the EP, it could have been the end. Because it will always be the beginning and the end together, it’s fucking sick. Do you believe in manifestation?

Ish Couture: 100%. That’s the only reason I’m here right now.

Eartheater: When you were a kid, what were your most vivid dreams? What were the visuals, what were the inspirations?

Ish Couture: Well, when I was three years old I fell down my spiral staircase.

Eartheater: Oh my god.

Ish Couture: In this house on Burning Tree in Houston and I went into a coma for three days. I remember waking up and being very present and being tapped into everything in the world. Like I could feel the birds and the bees and the trees and the wind and everything was all connected, and we were all in this huge organism together.

Eartheater: Wow, I never knew that story. That’s terrifying, but also very moving. I feel like I’ve heard stories similar. Like when someone has a stroke or someone's drowning, something that is actually really scary, you end up communing with a higher state. No wonder you’re such a spiritual being [laughs]. So you sort of knew you were special then.

Ish Couture: Oh, for sure. I would look into the sky in elementary school, and look in the clouds and just knew there was something else out there for me. I was really shy growing up. People were like, “He doesn’t talk, he’s too cool.” And I’m like, “Nah, y'all just don’t get it.”

Eartheater: So when did you start producing music?

Ish Couture: I actually started producing music in 2018 when I made that move to LA. I was just getting YouTube beats and shit, and I felt there was something missing inside of my music. I wasn’t going all the way to the point that I needed to be. But once I started producing my own music, that’s when I finally felt it was a full song and a real moment.

Eartheater: That’s impressive. You got very good at producing very quickly. From all the beats I’ve heard that you’ve produced, it feels like you are guided by a very clear vision. Sometimes when you can hear in a track that they went a lot of places — even if it ends up in a good place — you can hear all of this meandering, which is fine, but I don’t hear that in your music, which is what is so bulletproof about it. It feels really deliberate and you don’t use a lot of sounds. You pick four or five really well-designed sounds and are clearly carving into them more. I mean, it’s kind of a reflection of the way you dress. A reflection of the way I see you choosing the people around you. It’s all a mantra.

Ish Couture: It’s all super nostalgic.

Eartheater: Are you a romantic?

Ish Couture: Of course, I’m all about the love. I didn’t really have that many romantic relationships in my early ages, so it was always something that I yearned for and now I’m at a place where I appreciate it a lot.

Eartheater: I love the way you put that, that’s real. I actually was a late bloomer with real relationships, as well. How old were you when you had your first kiss?

Ish Couture: First kiss, like real kiss, or like truth or dare kiss?

Eartheater: My literal first actual kiss was when I was 17. I was such a late bloomer.

Ish Couture: Shit mine was 12. But wait nah nah, my first real kiss like, “Damn, I’m kissing this girl, right now–”

Eartheater: Yeah, yeah, yeah.

Ish Couture: Shit, I was probably like 20, 21. Like a true emotional kiss.

Eartheater: I definitely hadn’t experienced being in love at all until I was like 20, 21, for sure. So moving on... [laughs] Let’s talk about fashion. Did any of the new collections stand out to you? I mean, your name is Couture. You love fashion, you’re a great dresser.

Ish Couture: I really liked Maison Margiela’s show. I liked the whole Gatsby, 1920s style. Like super elegant, mysterious. Everything has an emotion to it.

Eartheater: Yeah, that was incredible. And Pat McGrath, her makeup, was incredible in that show. If you’re shopping vintage, don’t think about the new collections, are you going Rick Owens or Balenciaga?

Ish Couture: I would say Rick Owens because his designs are more universal and I feel like they mean more than Balenciaga does. Balenciaga thinks about shit in a mainstream way.

Eartheater: Yeah, Rick never loses his sense of fantasy. And you’re such a fantasizer, you build your own worlds and I can see Rick’s clothes really being in affinity with your world.

Ish Couture: Yeah, Rick has been the same since he started.

Eartheater: Do you have a scent that you wear?

Ish Couture: Maison Margiela, Replica Coffee.

Eartheater: Oh nice, stay up [laughs].

Ish Couture: I like a sweet and sour.

Eartheater: They’re beautiful. I just bought one of those Replicas for my boyfriend recently. When you consume media are you online or on paper?

Ish Couture: I would say I’m both. Whenever I’m at corner stores I’ll take pictures of newspaper articles that feel like they’re staples in time, like a moment. But when I’m on my alchemy, like four in the morning beat, I’m online looking at astrological shit.

Eartheater: Right now with music you’re blending so many different sounds together. It’s really, really refreshing. I thought it was interesting that you only recently found out about the Prodigy. And Keith Flint, who’s one of my heroes and idols, who died recently in 2019. It was really devastating to me.

Ish Couture: May he rest in peace.

Eartheater: But I love that your sound is so similar to Prodigy, which is one of my favorite bands, and I just assumed it was a reference. But you created that sound without even knowing about Prodigy and I think this is an example of how you are tapped into your fantasy. You're not copying things, you’re genuinely speaking to an inner drive. When I talk about this new EP with people I don’t usually like to say it sounds similar to something, but since the Prodigy is the most iconic, it’s like musical reincarnation. The spirit of this sound is really blooming into a new world. Right now, if you could only pick one: rap or techno?

Ish Couture: I don’t really listen to techno music because I live it and it’s inside me. So I listen to pop, you know? Like I gotta listen to The Weekend a lot, right now. I listen to Kanye. I listen to things that are outside of my frame, so that I can put them inside of my future.

Eartheater: How many days out of the week do you think you’re in the studio?

Ish Couture: Probably three days. I would like it to be every day.

Eartheater: That is one thing, you are consistently in the studio. Do you record at home at all?

Ish Couture: No, I like to keep my home a peaceful resting spot.

Eartheater: That’s healthy.

Ish Couture: Actually, last night, well this morning, I was recording in this high-rise studio room in the city as the sun was rising and that was the vibe. That was the energy. Having that perspective around me, that’s what’s going to create the new sound and the new feeling. Being in a room sometimes boxes you in, so I like to have a good visual as I’m recording.

Eartheater: There’s not enough windows in studios in general. I want to go there, shit.

Ish Couture: I can take you.

Eartheater: I’m on a mission to find some new studios in the city. This is a PSA announcement. If you know the environments, studio settings, hit us up please. Because I can’t be in a boxy room that smells like mold with a fake persian carpet.

[Both laugh]

Eartheater: You’ve been in the city for a few years now, right?

Ish Couture: Yeah, I'm going on my third year.

Eartheater: You did not skip a beat. You’ve been on the grind, but you’ve also been enjoying yourself. Like when I just watch you and see the way you move, I feel like you’re having fun and you’re fun to be around. You are gaining fans for your music, but also gaining literal followers. I love the people that you bring around. People are around you because you project an aura and a vibe that is nice to be around. I recently found out — and this is more about the fans that like your music — but I recently realized that my people are called “Tears.”

Ish Couture: Tears? [Laughs] Fire.

Eartheater: If you could name your fans, what are they called?

Ish Couture: I’ll let them decide that.

Eartheater: These are silly questions: If you could have any ’90s supermodel in a video, who would it be?

Ish Couture: Naomi Campbell.

Eartheater: I was gonna say Naomi Campbell or Kate Moss. I mean, both of them would leap to be in a Couture video. If you could score a fashion show, what designer would it be for?

Ish Couture: Jean Paul Gaultier. Fire.

Eartheater: I can really see that. If you could do a five-city tour, tomorrow, what five cities would you go to?

Ish Couture: I would first go to Houston.

Eartheater: Yes, hometown.

Ish Couture: Hometown. H-Town, hold it down. [Both laugh] New Orleans. That’s where my heart is, that’s where my family is from, real voodoo child shit. Obviously, Los Angeles just to fucking fuck it up. New York because it’s my city. London, Berlin, I know they’d eat that shit up. I wanna go to Bali and do a show. That’s like my dream destination. Rio de Janeiro.

Eartheater: Oh my god, I would love for you to collab with some balie funk producers. That would be so sick.

Ish Couture: That would be crazy.

Eartheater: Okay, three more cities. Just for the manifestation.

Ish Couture: Glastonbury, is that a city or is it just a festival?

Eartheater: It’s a festival, but say that, say that.

Ish Couture: Glastonbury, for sure. Shit, Nashville. Fuck around go to Tokyo, tap in.

Eartheater: Hell ya. Well I feel like that’s a good place to end. You know I always love talking to you. I didn’t even talk about Chemical X, but it means so much to me to work together. I can’t wait to see where we go, what we do. I want to bring you on tour with me for the next one. 2025 Eartheater Ish Couture on the road to all the cities you mentioned.

[Both laugh]

Ish Couture: Let’s do it.

Photos courtesy of Chemical X