The undeniable banger of genre-blending alt-popper Yoshi Flower's new mixtape, Peer Pleasure, is the project's single, "Empty." On the track, he croons over a series of quick trap drum hits in the chorus with a simple, yet effective, line: "Now I'm feeling empty." For a song so concentrated on the shallowness of envying others and their material possessions, it's got quite a bit of depth. The trap drum kit, while currently well-overused in several Top 40 pop records, feels appropriate for this case.
Yoshi Flower isn't trying to construct a hit, isn't stifling hi-hats, and isn't pawning off storytelling for tight-fitted lyricism. He's doing what he does best; Peer Pleasure combines a variety of instrumentation styles, from moody beats to folky strings, with his sincerely pop-rock affectation and gloomy words. The tape ends up being a soundtrack to the most chaotic teen dramedy to have ever been made. It lands squarely between temperaments, allowing for a listening experience that's just as genuine as his previous release, American Raver.
American Raver, however, was a lip-smacking, treble-concentrated fever. Peer Pleasure ends up being a low-key pledge to the broken love affair we all have with our own psyche. He weaves a tale that's an easy first listen, laid-back and radio-ready, but upon subsequent listens, backing riffs and and sharper emphases come into focus.
PAPER caught up with Yoshi Flower ahead of the debut of Peer Pleasure and talked all about developing the mixtape, being a superfan on message boards, and getting boxed into one genre — and how to break out of it.
Hi Yoshi, how are you?
I'm splendid, how are you?
I'm great. You're out on the west coast right now, right?
Yeah, I'm in Montecito Heights, East LA.
Is that where you spend most of your time?
Yeah, I mean I've been traveling a lot, but I'll be here for a minute.
Have you been touring a lot this past year? Festivals and such?
I've been touring as much as I can, linking up with friends and following along on their journey. I was in New York for a few weeks just literally riding the subway and looking at things. I've been touring, though, I think I've played 100 shows in the last year. At first there were only like two or three people at them, but then now there's more.
Growing and growing, that's all it's about. I saw you post on Twitter the other day about who you're making music for, and that you're not doing it necessarily to grow an audience.
It is such a big world. I don't remember what prompted me to tweet that, but I think I know what you're referring to. I was with someone and they were like, "Why don't you just put out a two minute single, like 'Old Town Road.'" I was like, "Yo, 'Old Town Road' is fire, but that's just not me at this very moment and this very juncture. I didn't know what to say, but obviously I just aired it out on Twitter.
Like the rest of us.
I have no aversion at all to growing the cause and growing the fanbase because with my fans, we're all sticking to each other. I played a show in San Francisco and these girls came up to me and they were like, "Yoshi, I just want to let you know that we are all best friends because of your music." I was damn near about to cry because I was like, "Holy shit. I can connect people." Even if one person has some sort of connection with another person, or even a connection with themselves, then I'm ecstatic. That's some sense of validation to me, other than just being proud of my own work. To answer your question, I don't really make music with the intention of connecting to a certain type of person. I just want to be with people, whatever type of person they are.
I talk to a lot of artists, and a lot talk about having people connect to the music, but not many talking about connecting fans and listeners to each other under the music umbrella.
When I was in middle school in the 2000s and shit, when I would see somebody who had a Strokes pin or some obscure shit on their backpack, I would be like, "Woah. Maybe I could talk to them." That's just how I've had a relationship with music. When I created music, I was isolated in my room for years. I was in my bedroom just playing guitar and singing. When I listen to music is when I can connect with people and when I can get on message boards. That's just me personally. I'm a fan first, in all honesty. I love music, it's all I think about. It's not even always my music, I just always think about music. I was talking to my mom, she was like, "What are you up to?" I was like, "I'm just thinking about this Kendrick album." She was like, "Are you listening to it?" I'm like, "No. Just thinking about it." I guess for me, no matter how I try to spin it or cut it, I'm just such a fucking fan of music that I do think about the connections of people to people, other than just having people connect with my music because if I don't make music there's going to be another fucking person who makes music and can connect with people. It's a big ass world and touring has taught me that.
I'm on the message boards too, I'm with you. It's day in, day out, you're always trying to digest music. Being on tour immerses you, I guess.
Yeah, it's a real life forum.
Real life Reddit. With the mixtape coming out, when did you start working on that?
I started working on it in February, right after the new year. I made this song with this guy and we were talking about the themes of it and how we basically boiled it down to this analysis where people have this approach to life where, "If X, then Z. If I only have X, then Y would happen. If I only was perceived in X type of way, then Y would happen." It's a really transactional set of emotions and he was just like, "Man, you should write a whole album about this." I went to the studio three weeks later and made all of it. I just sat down and thought, "What are things that would make me happy?" I wrote down a few of them and then I wrote the songs.
Has that always been your process? To digest ideas in conversations?
I think it varies. I'm a sponge. I think everything for me is really intensely observational. It could be something I'm feeling inside, but everything is observational. I do get a lot of inspiration from my direct support system, even just talking to fans in forums. Now people actually hit me up and before nobody hit me up unless I said some controversial shit in a message board. It really varies. They're either insanely selfish vessels or just brilliant mirrors, in my opinion. They're just observations, I'm not even a critic. Inference.
Sitting perched and watching. Is there a song on this tape that represents that conversation really well for you? I have my pick, but I want to hear what yours is.
There's kind of couplets for me on it. There's a moment through the exploration of "Validation" and "Empty," that really expresses the side of the coin where, through seeking validation in an arena that is finite, you may end up feeling empty. That's one moment of it. The rest of the tape kind of delves into the material or intangible images that we try to attain to have happiness. There's a moment going from "Validation" to "Empty" that I think encapsulates a big part of the tape. Also, something as meaningful as going from "Car" to "House" at the end of the tape. I just wanted to subtly, subtly express those types of journeys we do to cope with the human condition. Then, there's a part in the tape where it's something as simple as a standalone tune, the song called "Space." I don't know how familiar you are with the tape.
I've listened to the whole thing through a couple times.
I don't know if there's an exact moment that encapsulates the theme, but I think the project as a whole is a collage and a set of musings on the human condition rather than one certain spin on it. What did you think?
I was going to say "Empty" as well. I get attracted to earworms, things that stick in my head and become mantras.
It was a pure example of humanity at its finest. We were having the most fun making it in the studio and it ended up being the most... I don't know how to say profound in an "I'm not super lit"-way. You know when you try to do something and you think that it's meaningless and it turns out to be something of extreme omnipotence and you're like, "Woah! That was wild!" That was a moment for that. The bridge, I was like, "Man I just want to have fun! I don't want to take myself too seriously. I just want to be like when Soulja Boy says his name a bunch of times." So, I was like, "Yoshi! 2019!" and it ended up being this moment of full meaning when you're speaking to yourself and just trying to cope with emptiness and fulfillment. We were having the most fun and just not trying to think of anything and sure enough it ended up being something of maximum depth to everyone involved. I think that's just a good example of how we go about things IRL.
It's definitely my favorite. Just to talk about production briefly: I think when a lot of interviewers don't know what to ask, they'll rely on a genre crutch to get an artist to describe themselves within a certain confine. What I thought was great about this tape, though, is that it felt genre-less. It makes sense that you said you lurk on forums because it feels influenced by all music.
So it's something that I've tried to reconcile with, sometimes being frustrated by, sometimes being empowered by the fact that I do have visceral feelings in my stomach when I listen to music. I feel a knot being tied and untied when I listen to fire music. It feels like there's someone tying a fucking ball of yarn and then at some point during the song or the album it's like an untying, an orgasmic, visceral connection. It's pretty much impossible for me to dissect all those different threads of that knot. So when I'm going about my day and I'm producing, it's literally whatever coming out of me. It would be pretty much impossible for me to honestly make music that is just one genre. If I was making music that sounded like one genre, I would be turning my back on literally 90% of my inspiration. I'm just trying to channel shit that I think is ill. I feel like I'm an example of a real person making music. Obviously I don't make one genre of music because I don't listen to one genre of music.
Nobody really listens to one.
I was just in Brooklyn, in Greenpoint, with some homies who were straight up guitar rock Brooklyn dudes and they were listening to the new Sheck Wes, and they were like, "I can't believe I slept on this!" Then they stopped and started making alt-rock. At the end of the day what I make is alternative pop music, I guess. I want to be like alt-rock, new wave royalty, and whatever I make, I can play it for Kanye and be proud. I can play it for Dev Hynes and not trip about him wanting to grab coffee. That's all I want to do, and if kids can connect to me doing that, just trying to maintain my pride and integrity, then I'm fucking happy.
Photos courtesy of Dylan Peterson