The DJ-producer wrote 'Too Real' in the midst of darker times.

Music

9.28.2017

Giraffage's New Album is a Soundtrack to His Past Depression

Imagine entering a world in which you can see, taste and feel sounds in addition to hearing them. This form of synesthesia can be experienced by taking in the multi-textured production style of DJ/producer Charlie Yin, better known as Giraffage. If you’re jonesing for chill electronic music that exudes human emotion coupled with dope beats, then Yin’s debut album Too Real (out October 20 via Counter Records) will satisfy your craving.

The San Francisco-based producer counts performing at Outside Lands in 2015 as one of the pivotal moments of his career. “I grew up in the Bay Area, so that festival has always been a huge mainstay in the Bay Area. It was really surreal for me to even play that festival. That was one of the first festivals my parents went to too. It was kind of like reaffirming what I was doing in music was on the right path,” Yin states. His journey has been one of ups and downs—Too Real was written while Yin was experiencing a bout of depression—but it’s only proven to make his soundscape and humble persona even more intriguing to us.

You can catch Yin on the Too Real tour kicking off next month in these cities.

What has helped you to develop your production style for Too Real?

So, I kind of took a step back. I’ve been listening to a lot of music I was listening to in the past; like a lot of music from high school and old music from the ’80s. So, I think I definitely took more influence from that rather than future leaning sounds.

What are some of the artists from high school you’re referring to?

I’ve been listening to a lot of Interpol lately. Just, like, a lot of bands—a lot of Interpol [and] The Strokes. I’ve been listening to a lot of Japanese funk type stuff like Yellow Magic Orchestra and the members of that band, like Haruomi Hosono. Soichi Terada is another one that I listen to a lot. He did the Ape Escape soundtrack on PlayStation. I’m just kind of all over the place.

Yeah! Well, I noticed that with the album you have collaborations with a couple of underrated artists—Angelica of Body Language and Michelle with Japanese Breakfast. How did you come across these artists? Were you already a fan?

For Japanese Breakfast, I’ve been a fan for a while. I actually got put onto to her by my management, but I’ve been listening to her for the past year or so. I just thought her voice would go really well with the instrumentals that I had. It was a pretty easy collaboration honestly. I sent over the instrumental, then she sent over a vocal take. We kind of went back and forth a few times, but it kind of just happened over the Internet pretty organically.

With Angelica Bess, I linked up with her in the studio. We just vibe very well together. Nothing really came out of the song we did together in the studio at the time, but I sent her over the beats for “Green Tea” and she just sent back one vocal take and she slayed it.

Nice! Well that’s awesome that it wasn’t a stressful collaboration process. I know sometimes working out schedules can be a bit of a challenge.

For sure! It all happened really organically. So I was really happy about that.

So, this album was written while you were going through depression. How did creating it serve as a catharsis for you?

I was going through a lot of stuff while writing this album. So, once the album was finally finished—each song represents a moment in time in my life for me—it was a physical manifestation of basically all that I was going through. It was kind of cathartic in a sense that I was able to move forward from it because it’s a finished product now. It’s like a physical manifestation of the problems I was going through. Does that make sense?

Yeah. So, basically the process of creating the album served as something that now gives you closure.

For sure, yeah.

At what point did you realize you had a completed body of work?

I wrote a lot of songs. I had, like, 20 songs or something. I [narrowed] it down to the best 10. It was an ongoing process. It’s kind of compulsive for me to write music. Even now I’m writing songs even though the album’s done. I had to buckle down and be like, ‘Okay, I should release these songs.’

Is there one particular song off this project that’s the dearest to your heart?

They all are honestly. I can’t say a particular single one would be more so than the others. The whole body of work is very dear to my heart.

Well, I’m going to choose one! [Laughs] I like “First Breath” and “Green Tea”.

Thank you so much!

Those are my two that stood out. Choosing “First Breath”, can you tell me how that track came about and what was your thought process in putting that record together?

I was trying to get a little experimental with that song. I was using unorthodox chord progressions and weird key changes. I took jazz piano lessons for a year prior to writing this album, so I brushed up on my music theory a lot. That song was kind of me flexing my music theory knowledge to be honest. [Laughs] Yeah, I just wanted to go down a weirder, experimental path with that one.

I had no idea that you had that musical background. Did you study music theory in school or is it something that’s new?

I didn’t study music theory until two years ago pretty much. So, I think this album in general has a lot more complex song structures because of my newfound music theory knowledge.

It definitely enhanced your appreciation for music I’m sure.

In some ways. There’s also a part of me that just hyper-analyzes every single song that I listen to now.

Going back in time, how does someone expected to be a doctor or a lawyer end up in electronic music?

[Laughs] I grew up in an Asian household, so it was always expected of me to go to a good college and become either a doctor, lawyer or a scientist. You know, one of those stem majors. I’ve always been interested in music just from a young age. From a young age, I knew that music was what I wanted to do in the future. I really had no interest in becoming an engineer or doctor or whatever. I did the whole college thing, but the entire time I was kind of just like making music. I was just getting passable grades. I was just locking myself in my room and making music.

Luckily, it all worked out in the end. I graduated and basically segued into music full-time. At first my parents were kind of sketched out because they didn’t really understand what I was doing. They didn’t really understand electronic music or anything. After a few months, maybe a year or so, they kind of realized that with what I’m doing I’m able to sustain myself. They came to a few of my shows. I think that really opened their eyes to what I’m actually doing.

That’s so cool that they’ve gone to your shows! They got to see you in action.

Every time I’m in the Bay Area, they come to the shows. They wear Giraffage T-shirts. [Laughs] It’s amazing.

That’s so awesome. I love it! I can kind of relate as a writer. My parents were never into the publications, like DJ Mag, that I write for. They read them now and I think it’s hilarious! Parents are awesome.

[Laughs] That’s amazing.

I always like to get the perspective of an artist about the electronic music scene. There are so many things people say are wrong with electronic dance music. However, what do you feel is right and exciting about the industry currently?

I think it’s really exciting that the barriers of entry are so low now. Literally any 15-year-old kid can just download a copy of Ableton or Reason and just get started making music. I think that’s one of the best aspects of electronic music.

Featured image courtesy of Keith Rankin

Stay tuned to Milk for more west coast vibes. 

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