Asha Imuno “PHONICS” is the Ideal House Party Soundtrack [Premiere]

Photo by Manny Singh

Imagine your life is a movie. It’s a warm cloudless night and you’re in someone’s backyard surrounded by friends. The music is loud. Everyone is dancing, and life can’t get any better. The perfect soundtrack to this scene is anything by Asha Imno. Better yet, just listening to his music can make any moment in your life seem like a house party.

Blending left-of-center R&B with west coast hip hop and other genres we can’t even define yet, Imuno is letting his passion guide him to take confident risks in his music. Those unexpected elements make him so interesting to listen to. Imuno’s sound is reminiscent of Loyle Carner’s authenticity and August 08’s ease all the while championing his own artistic allure. 

The SoCal wunderkind splashed onto the scene in 2020 and is now making waves with “PHONICS.” The new single features some of Imuno’s favorite artists Westside Boogie and Tempest. While lyrically, themes of a complicated relationship are explored, there’s nothing convoluted about how the song makes you feel. Imuno described that feeling as “[something] you could only get from the West Coast.” 

We got a chance to get to know the passionate artist ahead of the release of “PHONICS” and his debut album Pins and Needles due in March. 

Ones to Watch: Where are you from in SoCal and what was it like growing up there? Was there a pretty artsy community?

Asha Imuno: I'm from Moreno Valley, and in a nonconventional way, for sure. It's a lot of kids just trying to find something to do. The music programs, the art programs, rec centers - all these things are vital to that community. So you have options whether you want to get into trouble or get in the arts. It's like you either stay there because that's just the way that you want to live your life, or you immediately find some other avenue to get out of there. And for me, it was like music for sure. In school I was in the jazz program and concert band, just playing music to stay out of trouble. I was the kid who would stay back till 6 p.m. because I built a relationship with the band director.

OTW: You very much are an artist. I heard you’ve toyed with sculpting, painting, and even explored film score composition. It seems you could’ve done anything. Why music? 

Imuno: Music has always been my first language. My earliest memory is a musical memory. And my family just championed that. [Music] was a much simpler way for me to express myself. I kind of have always been inclined to express myself through music as opposed to sitting down and talking to someone when it comes to processing feelings, experiences and all of these things. I still draw, I still paint. It’s actually something that I want to incorporate more into my world.

OTW: What inspires you artistically? You said you still draw too - what kind of things in your life have you seen, experienced, and done that informed your sound?

Imuno: My sound is definitely very multifaceted. I like to think of myself as a multi-hyphenate in every way of my life. That shows in my art. I’m very much inspired by daily life. I'll just be walking up the street with my phone to start recording the dripping off like a pipe or something.

OTW: No way?

Imuno: For sure! I feel like the role of the artist is to find the magic in the world around themselves. And for me, that's kind of my way of reflecting the times, but also specifically my small lens in the grand scheme of everything. So conversations with friends late at night and shared experiences of people who look like me or don't, but have spiritual commonalities inspire me. I’m trying to be something for the jazz cats, the opium guys, the Kendrick Lamar conscious rap listeners, and the grungy street dudes. I want all of them to have something to play. I want to allow space for people to feel included in the sonic world in a way that also gives them space to wonder. Like, I have a lot of songs where it starts as a ballad and then it turns into something hype. Everything is woven together.

OTW: That keeps listeners interested. It also creates that curiosity for listeners because we don’t know exactly what is next. You spoke about having your music really connect with people in different types of ways. I read that you are a part of KOGO, a POC artist community. I’m dying to know more about this. How’d you get started?

Imuno: There's so much to say about KOGO. It’s a company that was founded by two of my closest friends. The whole idea is creating an incubation chamber for burgeoning artists and creating a way for new artists who find their blueprint and create a toolkit for young art. It's been three years now that I've been a part of the community and it's a formative time for us as everybody who, when we first met, was at the beginning phases of their projects are now getting ready to share them. We’ve done some events with Waiting Room. It was in a storefront downtown. Half of it was an art gallery showing some of my favorite local artists and the other half was a live event with three artists performing. 

OTW: Good art survives especially when you're uplifting one another. This sounds like a cool thing. Tell me though, how did “PHONICS” come about? I’m very curious about what led you to tap Sara Kawai for her harp-work on the track? 

Imuno: So the initial idea for “PHONICS” actually started mad long ago, like 2 years ago. Me and Zach Ezzy, who's a co-executive producer of my upcoming album Pins and Needles. It was like one of the earlier things that we had made together, and we were just like, let's just do some fun sh*t. A lot of the album is super conceptual, emotive and vulnerable. And this song is still that, but in a way that kind of catches you by surprise. He, Jack Dine, and Sara Kawai- we're just all really good friends. Sara is the coldest and hardest working. So it's like, we want harp? We're not going to pull up a sample like, we gotta go to the keeper of the harp. We ended up getting connected with Westside Boogie and Tempest, both of whom were some of my favorite artists coming out of California. Boogie went crazy on this, and I always wanted to make something that felt the way I felt when I was 16 at those house parties. I was listening to Boogie’s mixtapes when I was in high school at those parties.

OTW: That’s so full circle. You made it for the whip and the house parties - if you’re on AUX at the party, what songs is “PHONICS” going to sit between on your playlist?

Imuno: Ooh! Okay, first it would be Drakeo The Ruler’s “Betcha (Freestyle)”, then “PHONICS”, Blxst & Bino Rideaux’s “Doin Yo Stuff.”

OTW: Pins and Needles is coming out March 1st. While you have obviously released music before (Good News), this is your debut album - how are you feeling? 

Imuno: It’s really energizing, honestly. For it to be something that I'm sharing with my closest friends that were a part of those earlier bodies of work, and we've all been alongside each other sharpening our craft. All of the components feel like they're starting to grow, like, a time lapse of a seed when they plant the seed and it starts to grow. It feels like we're getting to that point where you can kind of see the leaves. It’s empowering to feel like after years of work we’ve been careful about and tactful about sharing, we're getting ready to share it. Everyone a part of it pushed each other super hard to make something that felt fresh.

OTW: It’s a big piece of work, what did you learn or discover about yourself as you were putting it together? 

Imuno: Embracing the synergy, allowing enough room for the divine to just shape things. Whatever we might have planned, giving it that head room to just go somewhere completely different and trusting ourselves to rock it. The value of working with people who you genuinely f*ck with and believe in their creativity. And this idea of my work being a free flowing, living, breathing thing as opposed to the final product. The final product is just a reflection of the process, so the process has to be where the magic lives.

OTW: Who are your Ones to Watch?

Imuno: CONNIE, SAGA BOUY, REHMA, Wakai, Gidi, Michael Brown at Entropy Studios, Rizz Capolatti, and the KOGO family.

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