I’m not much of a dancer. Let’s just get that out of the way right now. George Michael summed it up in "Careless Whisper" pretty well when he said, "These guilty feet have got no rhythm." It’s not that I don't like dancing, it’s more a case of not knowing quite how to move my arms and legs in sync while making them do different things at the same time. But just because I don’t got moves like Jagger doesn’t mean I can’t appreciate good dance music when I hear it.
San Diego has its share of quality four-on-the-floor EDM artists, but none have seemed to capture an audience recently quite like the up-and-coming duo Okapi Sun. Honestly, it would be doing them a disservice to classify them as pure EDM -- a term typically reserved for DJs and rave culture. Their music is a mix of synth pop and electro beats; there’s no 20-minute remix where they're just nodding their heads onstage sheltered by a buffer zone of turntables and laptops. Instead, they hop around the stage like kids in a birthday party jumping castle. Their stage aesthetic includes white fuzzy-covered drums and clothes that look like they had a run-in with a group of angry highlighters. Make no mistake, the ladies in Okapi Sun -- Leo and Dallas -- are all about fun.
After meeting in a Berlin night club, they reconnected in San Diego when they both started working at a local recording studio. It was during that time that they "jokingly came up with a concept about being aliens from the future sent to planet Earth to start a dance party throughout the world ... and Okapi Sun was born!" Of course -- who hasn’t come up with that idea on the job? Whereas I daydream about Bronx pizza, meeting the cast of Bob’s Burgers and sleeping, these upstarts plot world-domination dance parties.
Over the course of one year, the group has played countless shows (including SxSW), self-released a four-song self-titled EP, signed an endorsement deal with Puma and, recently, inked a record deal. Luckily for us, Okapi Sun took some time out of their overscheduled schedule and talked to us about their music and what 2014 holds in store.
Dustin Lothspeich: How do you feel about where the group is at now vs. what it was when you first started out?
Okapi Sun: Our first show was Jan. 18 at the Casbah. We’ve played about 60-something shows this year and defined our sound and style. We’ve come a long way, and it's not going to slow down next year. The great thing is that people like it, and that makes it so much more fun. When we have fun onstage, and stay true to who we are, people have fun with us and our shows turn into dance parties. That's what we want. When we first started playing, it was in front of, like, 10 of our friends ... and now we’ve sold out our last Casbah show. We are superhappy that our fans like to dance with us and have a good time.
DL: Has the sound changed during that time?
OS: The writing concept still stays true to our first freestyle writing experiences, because it totally works for us. We go in our studio, get all caffeinated and sugared up, put on a beat and start playing whatever instrument feels good in that moment, and then just sing over it. Later we go back and mold the jam into a pop song. Even lyrics are usually written like this. We have been getting better and faster with the writing process, and are now working off of our different strengths in songwriting -- which makes the song come together faster and more advanced. We usually can write about five new songs in one of those jam sessions.
DL: Has EDM always been an interest?
OS: We never really sat down and purposefully picked a genre and decided that we are going to make an EDM-pop project.... We just wanted it to be dance-y and fun. From the start, this project was about the two of us having fun making music together; it was initially supposed to be a creative outlet from our day jobs. We are writing what we feel and being ourselves. Since we had never played EDM before, it was a new challenge to tap into, and we had to learn how to use certain DJ software and new equipment to bring our sound across live. Our friend Lee Schneider, who is a DJ and EDM producer in San Diego, helped us out with that. Thanks to him, we now know what a "drop" is. We’re definitely still at the beginning of tapping into electronic music, but we're looking forward to getting more involved in that style as Okapi Sun evolves.
DL: You recently signed a record deal: How did that come together?
OS: We started playing more in Los Angeles and had a show at the Hotel Cafe. It's usually a place where people sit quietly at their tables and listen to a singer/songwriter perform. By the end of our set, we had the room dancing. We didn't know until later that Phaedra Records came and saw us perform, and they really liked us. Phaedra is a new label from Los Angeles. We like that they're young and ambitious, and we think that their ideas and concept fit well with our idea of having support from a label. It's nice to be able to focus more on music and performing instead of having to worry about money all the time. It's also great to have more professional support on PR, radio and booking levels.
DL: I’m assuming there’s a debut album in the works then? What was the process like?
OS: Yes. Most of the tracks, except vocals and guitar, were recorded by us in our rehearsal space. We just started looping and layering. Since a lot of the sounds we use are synths and electronic drums, we didn't really have to go record in a studio. But we wanted to mix "real" instruments with EDM, so we went back and forth for vocals and guitar, between Christopher Hoffee’s Chaos Recorders studio in Encinitas, and giving Lee the drum and synth tracks to beef up the sounds a little.
After we got signed to Phaedra, we went and began mixing with Ethan Allan in Los Angeles. Then, Grammy award-winning mixer/producer Neal Pogue's agency contacted our manager and said that Neal really liked our songs. So we were flown out to Atlanta, where we had an amazing mixing experience! Two songs on our upcoming album will be mixed by Neal, who has also recently mixed and produced names like Janelle Monae, Snoop Dogg, Outkast, Pink, TLC, Nicki Minaj, M.I.A., Franz Ferdinand, etc.
DL: Tell us about your endorsement deal with Puma.
OS: Brian Karscig [from the Nervous Wreckords and Louis XIV] asked us a while back to do a Focus Space Life video for their online Focus Space Live sessions (Focus Space is part of Wheat Accessories, which works with Puma). They recorded us playing "Wasteland." Brian was in a meeting with Puma, and he showed them our video. They liked the song and our look. Next thing we know, we had Puma endorsing us and featuring that song for their new product line, Puma Sound Chucks. [Check them out here.] The product was launched worldwide on Black Friday 2013 and is available through Apple.
DL: Do you think it’s important for bands to chase endorsements?
OS: Endorsement deals are a great way -- with today's web overload of music -- to be exposed to a larger audience, stick out a little and also be able to support yourself. I think many people often don't realize that having a band and trying to make a living in music is the same thing as starting and owning your own company! There's a misconception about it, since some people do it as a hobby, and it seems like you’re having fun all the time. What they don't realize is that if you are a full-time musician, it's a business and includes hours and hours of work. After all, Okapi Sun's music is our product. Endorsement deals are a great way of producing an income. As long as it's something we can connect to, and it fits within our moral standards, we think it's a good thing. If you have a chance to have your music heard worldwide, get paid and get a free shopping spree -- we say go for it!
DL: So what's in store for 2014?
OS: We are so very excited for 2014! We’re going to play so many shows all over this planet, and wherever we go, there will be a dance party. Our first full-length will drop at the end of March 2014 on Phaedra Records, so make sure you download! We just teamed up with Solid Gold PR (LA/NYC) starting in January, and we hope to be hitting the road this coming March for the rest of the year. In other words: new shows, new songs and many, many awesome dance parties!