Q&A: Giraffage Gets ‘Too Real’ on Music as Therapy, Asian American Heroes, and Lessons from 2017

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We’ve had our eye on Giraffage for a while now and are proud of the strides he’s made in his musical career over the past few years. While the multi-instrumentalist and producer may not be a newcomer to the industry, it’s clear by his debut album, Too Real, that he’ll be taking 2018 by storm.

Charlie Yin, aka Giraffage, tweeted that the “the process of writing this album broke [him] apart and then put [him] back together.” The two years it took for him to complete the album certainly resulted in something beautiful. Filled with distorted vocals, shimmering synths, and percussion that resonates through your whole body, Too Real is a well-crafted masterpiece that surpasses any typical structure presented in a lot of electronic music.

Giraffage embarked on his Too Real Tour in October and wrapped up the North American leg before heading to Europe in 2018. We were fortunate enough to grab a quick interview with Yin in the midst of the craze on tour, finding out more about the healing process of making the album, being a role model for Asian American youth, graduating from UC Berkeley, and million-dollar invention ideas.

OTW: You played San Francisco last night and San Jose on the tour - how has it been playing on home turf?

Giraffage: It’s been really good. I’m actually moving to Austin in January, so the show that I played in San Francisco was kind of like the last hometown show for San Francisco. It was kind of bittersweet, but it was a really good show, and probably the best show of the tour so far. Also, for the San Jose show, my parents came out to that one, so that was a treat.

OTW: Any reason why you’re moving that you can disclose?

Giraffage: Honestly, I just grew up in the Bay Area, and I’ve been here for so long that it’s just a welcome change in my life. I do really like Austin, and I also bought a house out there, and I really can’t do that in the Bay Area, so that was definitely one driving reason for the move.

OTW: What did you want to bring to this tour specifically, and is there anything in particular that you want people to walk away with from your live shows?

Giraffage: This tour is probably the most “live” tour I’ve ever done in the sense that I’m playing keyboard, and it’s also just 100% original songs and remixes I’ve done. I also have this crazy big production that I just spent a lot of time on, and I just feel like the show encompasses my brand very well. I feel like I put in a lot of time and effort into the show—like I made a lot of visuals as well—so I just think it’s a really cool, cohesive package that I was trying to accomplish.

OTW: So your last full-length album was in 2013, Needs, and your last EP was in 2014, No Reason. What was brewing between that time and the release of Too Real?

Giraffage: I was definitely in a slump in the past few years, just creatively and mentally. After I wrote the first song for the album, “Slowly,” that kind of informed the direction of the rest of the album. I guess it just rejuvenated me a little bit and got me out of the slump. It was a two year process.

OTW: More than anything, would you say that the album was a form of therapy more than achieving like a specific goal with it?

Giraffage: It was definitely more of a therapeutic thing. For me, I kind of compulsively make music. I would be making music even if it weren’t a career for me.  So I think it was good to finally have some concrete art for me out into the world.

OTW: Can you talk about the meaning of the name of the album? Does that tie in with this sentiment?

Giraffage: Yeah, it’s an homage to realness pretty much. I just went back to my roots. There was a period of time I was playing all these EDM festivals, and I was starting to cater more to that type of audience. This album was kind of a departure from that in that there’s almost no build-up, drop, build-up, drop songs, and just going back to my roots, being real, and being true to myself.

OTW: Do you have a favorite track on the album?

Giraffage: It’s hard to pick. It’s kind of like choosing your favorite son or something (laughs). I think maybe “Slowly” might be the most impactful because it was the first song I wrote for the album, and that was the catalyst for the album.

OTW: I think that one’s my favorite too. Let’s move on to talk a bit about you as a person. You graduated from Berkeley with a degree in political economy. Why did you choose that major?

Giraffage: (laughs) Honestly, I just didn’t really know what major to pick, and that was an all-encompassing major. I don’t know, it was basically interesting for me at the time, and after a few years of doing it, I realized I really hated it. But I was doing music the entire time, and luckily, I was able to segue straight into doing music full-time right after I graduated instead of taking like a marketing job or something, which is what I was originally going to go into.

OTW: Since you were making music in college with a major that sucked for you toward the end, was it difficult for you getting through your studies while having a different passion?

Giraffage: I mean I never was the best student or anything—I just wasn’t focused on school at all. I was just focused on making music. I would literally skip class all the time to go home and make music. It was definitely a struggle to balance both aspects of my life at the time, but it was possible.

OTW: Do you ever feel there’s a sense of responsibility or pride being an Asian American artist?

Giraffage: Yeah, I think so. I think it’s really important to have heroes who look like you growing up. For me, there weren’t a lot of Asian American musicians whom I looked to growing up just because there weren’t that many. But there were a few, and the ones I did look into, I really gravitated toward. The guitarist from Thrice (Teppei Teranishi), I remember, was my hero growing up. I bought like the same guitar he had and everything (laughs). Without that external force, I don’t even know if I would be doing music right now. I definitely think it’s super important for young Asian Americans growing up right now. It’s cool to see that there are definitely a lot more Asian American artists right now.

OTW: As this year draws to a close, what’s one thing you learned from 2017? What’s one goal you have for the upcoming year?

Giraffage: I think 2017 was really about me getting back in touch with my roots. I’ve been getting into older music from my past, like music I would listen to throughout high school, just bands like Interpol and The Strokes. I think that was the theme of 2017 for me, just being real and true to myself. As far as goals go, I have a few ideas of where I want to go with the Giraffage project, and I’m kind of interested in doing side projects and exploring different genres of music. We’ll see. I’m moving also in a month, so that’s going to take up a lot of time. I think 2018 will be a pretty successful year.

OTW: You mentioned Interpol and The Strokes. How do you think these bands informed your style today since they’re pretty different?

Giraffage: They’re definitely different, but I grew up writing music similar to those bands rather than just straight-up electronic music, so I think those types of melodies and chord progressions found their way into my music now.

OTW: Who are your ones to watch artists or people you’d recommend us listening to?

Giraffage: There’s a label called Peoples Potential Unlimited. They put out all these 80s reissues I’ve been really into. This guy Shadient makes really cool techno-inspired music. Boy Pablo, Rina Sawayama, and Clairo are other artists that I recommend.

OTW: Last question! On Twitter, you recently retweeted a couple of your invention ideas from a few years back. Any new ones?

Giraffage: I actually forgot that I came up with that sleeping bag with arms and legs idea I tweeted about until I saw it in Walmart. They actually made it now. That’s what inspired the whole retweet chain. I kind of wanted to see if anyone would link me to something that has been made that I thought of years back. I did have this idea recently that I also tweeted about, how Uber should partner with record labels. Record labels should have Uber drivers play music from up-and-coming artists in their cars.

OTW: Yeah, I saw that! That’s honestly so smart. That should be implemented.

Giraffage: That’s a million dollar idea (laughs).

OTW: It honestly is, so props to you for that!

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