Majestic Casual is well known for curating music which saunters between the lines of commercially appealing and unorthodox. And in 2019, they released "Tonight" by Aiwake - an electronic r&b track decorated with lush synth patches and vocals that are akin to a dream by virtue of their surreal nature.
More releases followed from the Toronto based artist, including official remixes from notable acts such as Instupendo and Hazey Eyes. As the number of releases grew so did my fascination with his distinctive sound and the story of Aiwake, which is somewhat confined by an air of mystery. In this insightful interview, the air is cleared as heopens up about the birth of his musical career, inspirations and so much more.
For those who are unaware, how was the project formed and what does the name Aiwake mean to you?
It all started after I moved to Toronto. I had been working on different projects while I was still living in Europe. Back then I was mostly writing for indie rock bands but started to experiment with electronic music a bit more. I had a few tracks lying around and It all accelerated after I met a future friend of mine, DJ/Producer Euan Robertson. I moved to a studio next to his in a huge mansion downtown.
A lot of Toronto based artists were working from there at the time, the place was really inspiring. "Childish" and "Birds" were written pretty spontaneously back there. The Aiwake project really started to take shape after those 2 releases.
It was originally supposed to be spelled a|wake. As the ceremony that takes place before a funeral. It's not so much about death, but more like nostalgia. A celebration of a feeling that has left us, that is gone. Later, someone suggested to replace the | by i, I liked the idea, It made it less figurative.
In between the release of “Palm City” and “Tonight (Sundown)”, it seems that you took quite a hiatus since there wasn’t any music released for 6 months. What was going on in your life during that period?
To be honest, it didn’t seem that long. Things were evolving in a certain way, and that time was definitely profitable. It led to what the project has become. “Tonight (Sundown)” is the track that embodies that progression. Mostly in the way, things were being put together behind the scene. Euan started to focus on his own project Pray First while I started reshaping the project into a more personal/independent act.
On the subject of “Tonight (Sundown)”, that is by far one of my favorite releases of 2019! Could you take us through the process of how that gem was created and what the lyrics are about?
I got a baby grand piano in my apartment 2 years ago. Since then I've been recording endless late-night sessions. I usually wake up the next day listening to whatever I played the night before and try to translate it into an actual song. "Tonight" came out of one of those. After figuring out the chords, I used a synth instead of the piano and started working in a rough beat with some distorted noise and reverb. I came up with some weird vocal chops and played it on repeat for days. The first drop of the song is actually almost the same 15 seconds loop I played over and over again before the song was even arranged.
I don’t know what the lyrics are about. I know how It makes me feel when I sing it, I also think it the overall sentiment of the song is pretty self-explanatory. Really, the lyrics are about whatever people want them to be about. And I love that approach. I hope everyone will have their own interpretation of it, and connect to it differently. I don’t want my explanations to guide them a certain way, my original intention doesn’t matter that much.
The sound of Aiwake is one that is tremendously recognizable, particularly when it comes to production as the use of heavily reverberated synths is abundant. Do you ever fear that your sound may be regarded as repetitive, or is there a reason for having a bit of a familiar sound?
I studied electronic music production, and one of my favorite things early on was to create my own synths from scratch. Messing around with filters and effects for hours. As much as I love writing songs, I love working on textures even more. I've always tried to create a specific atmosphere before I even start working on arrangements or vocal melodies. The fact that people recognized it is actually extremely gratifying. That type of production resonates with me at the moment, that’s why I want to explore it even more. I don’t see it much as repetitive, but more as a theme.
In your personal experience, what are some of the pros and cons of being independent artists?
At first, I definitively idealized what being signed to a label meant. I don’t think many artists have the maturity to go independent straight away. I had to experience the business I was in to get a better understanding of it. After seeing how most labels are being run, I knew I could build a team that could work even more efficiently. With the interest of the project coming first. If you are willing to spend time and energy developing a project, things will progress your way and turn out to be more beneficial. Then it seems that for every con, there is an alternative.
Some artists may define success as sold-out shows, or even their tracks doing exceptionally well on the charts. But for Aiwake, what does success look like?
Having the opportunity to express myself for a living feels like a privilege. That really is what it comes down to. Making music is an incredible job to have, no matter numbers or sold-out shows. I do feel successful in that sense.
How has living in a culturally diverse place such as Canada influenced your perception of the world and the way you create your music?
I’ve moved around a lot over the past 10 years. I’ve lived in Brussels, Melbourne, London, Budapest... The movement has always been part of my life. It feels like I’ve been a foreigner everywhere I've lived since I was 19, but here it's a bit different. I’ve been part of a nice little bubble, and what comes with it has definitively affected my music.
That said, I wish the cultural diversity could be more stimulating. The city is expanding so fast that a lot of creative spaces are being sold and turned into condos, music venues are closing and rent is so ridiculously expensive. Not many immigrants, including foreign artists, can afford living here. It feels like the city is prioritizing expansion/consumption over real cultural diversity. If Toronto wants to become a creative hub like it claims to be, artists should be able to take part of the expansion.
You've previously stated that the sphere of R&B/Electronica has become saturated as of late and you'd prefer the Aiwake project to sound like no other. So what do you do to keep your sound distinctive and not like other contemporary R&B/Electronica artists?
When a genre becomes popular, it tends to become generic. Which is expected I guess. We all have experienced Spotify playlists where all the songs sound the same. The consumption of music can really become tasteless. I try not to be influenced by the algorithm and gentrified playlist. I’m not against it, but I try to stay stimulated differently. The fact that I’m involved in every step of the project also plays a huge part. From producing, singing, recording and also mixing, it obviously makes it pretty distinctive.
You seem to keep a very mysterious and low-key profile on your socials, why is that so?
I’m not really comfortable with social media to start with! Most of the content I come across online seems pretty unnecessary to me. I don’t think sharing an excessive amount of content is constructive. Besides the fact that it gets pretty intrusive, I don’t think it is interesting. I'm not trying to be mysterious for the sake of it, I just wanna share some genuine/relevant things about the project in a way I’m comfortable with.
So… 1) An artist/band you would have a D.M.C (Deep Meaningful Conversion). 2) An artist/band you’d love to party with. 3) Artist/band you would like to be within the studio for a week.
- I've always found Pete Doherty fascinating. Starting with the libertines and later with the Babyshambles. His book of albion really had an influence on me when I was younger. He definitively is an artist I’d love to converse with.
- A friend of mine spent the night with the Arctic Monkeys after they played in Toronto. I definitively wish I was there.
- James Blake. He’s been a huge influence since 2011. I relate to his work even more nowadays. Songs like "Overgrown"/ "Life around Here" has grown on me even more deeply.