LA-based producer, DJ + singer-songwriter Ethan Budnick, better known as Robokid, is changing the game with the start of his new project and his continued work as cofounder of the well-known label Moving Castle. We caught up with him on his latest single Next Year, upcoming projects and the evolving label that's transforming the music industry.
Asymmetric Magazine: Tell us about your current work as a musician and your recent release Next Year.
Ethan Budnick: Right now, I've been working with a lot of musicians–different singers and writers. For a while I was just producing a lot of beats but not really putting anything out. I wasn’t happy with what I was making, but I felt pressure to release music because I was being booked for festivals and other gigs. I took some time off from releasing music and got back to the basics of why I started making music in the first place. Up until I wrote Next Year, I hadn't written a full song in a long time, and when I made it I knew I wanted to put it out as my first song to this whole new project I'm working on. I’m using the with the same sounds I used to make [as a DJ] but have been changing the structure to be more pop-oriented and adding my own vocals and writing. After working with a lot of singers and writers and watching how they work, it inspired me to sing on my own tracks. Next Year is about that feeling of not fitting in and wanting to be different but realizing that the most important thing in life is to stay true to yourself.
AM: How would you describe your sound?
EB: I originally started making music in an electronic/emo band in high school with my friends, but I didn’t really take production seriously until I got into EDM and dance beats. My sound is a mix of all of those elements and a variety of indie, pop and R&B influences. It's hard for me to describe my own music; it's really just whatever comes out when I write and has a lot of feelings.
AM: What themes do you typically pursue through your music?
EB: A lot of my music is about the human experience and my own personal life. I like to write about things that I feel a lot of people can relate to and things that might help others through certain situations. In Next Year, almost every line has a double meaning. I like writing music that isn't so literal and can be interpreted in a bunch of different ways. Next Year can be seen as me talking about or to myself, but it can also be viewed as me giving advice to someone else. Typically I’m writing about my personal life because that is like therapy, but sometimes it's fun to be in character and write from another perspective. Also, I really love writing diss tracks, but I haven’t put one of those out yet. I really just want people to learn my story by listening to my music.
AM: So, what advice would you give to aspiring musicians and artists?
EB: My biggest piece of advice is stay true to yourself. Next Year is the perfect song for that. For awhile, I was comparing myself to my friends and other artists who were really successful, making a lot of money and touring a lot. I was always thinking, what am I doing wrong?, and I would think I had to do things exactly how they did it. You don't need to be like everyone else or copy other people. Stay in your own lane, and do what you want to be doing. It's more fulfilling to be yourself and people will care more about what you’re doing, too. People can tell right away when something is genuine or is fake. It's okay to want to be a popular musician and follow trends to an extent, but make sure you do your it in your own way. I make music because I love the stuff I make. When I first started making beats, I never thought I'd sing because I thought I was a terrible singer. But a friend had me sing on a track once and edited my vocals, and then I realized that you can do anything. I realized shortly after that I really do have something to say, and it's real to me. So much of the music out now has so many people involved in the writing process that you can't even tell whose idea or story it was to begin with. Music is so much more genuine when it's genuine and means something to the artist.
AM: What's your biggest inspiration?
EB: Musically my inspirations are all over the place. I grew up listening to producers like Kanye West, The Neptunes and Timbaland, as well as a lot of post-hardcore, indie and emo bands like Circa Survive, Chiodos and Death Cab for Cutie. In about 10th grade, I got really into hip hop, rap and pop music and was obsessed with Benny Blanco and Dr. Luke. I would research all these pop producers because I thought the productions were so interesting. Then I got really into electronic production, so those are the staple genres that inspired me to start making music. Anthony Green, Pharrell and Kanye West, and Skrillex are all huge influences. I really used to love how Skrillex sang on his own songs and chopped up his own vocals. I feel like a lot of people forget that he sang, and I wish he would more still.
AM: What music are you currently listening to?
EB: I was really obsessed with the new Toro y Moi album. Also, I just did a bootleg remix of Kelela's single Frontline–I'm such a huge fan of her. I also love the new Tommy Genesis single. I guess you could say I’m really into R&B at the moment.
AM: What role does LA play in your work?
EB: It's a huge melting pot for meeting people. People from all over come in and out, so living here is great to take advantage of working with so many different people. Also, being able to bring [artists from] the Internet into real life to collaborate is the best thing. There's such a huge network of artists here. I used to live in Boston, and it was hard to collaborate because it seemed like a lot of people dabbled in music, but it wasn't really their passion and no one took it as seriously. Coming out here, you get thrown in and are inspired by everyone around you.
AM: Speaking of working with different artists, can you tell us about starting the label Moving Castle and the work you guys do out here?
EB: Yeah! I met musician AObeats online, he showed me Manila Killa's music, and we basically just decided to start a little collective. Over time, things progressed, and we became more of a label. In 2015, we started signing and putting out artists' singles, and we made LA our home base. It's grown so much, and now we work on signing artists, creating merch, designing artwork, and helping artists develop and promote their EPs. We also have a storefront on Melrose where we started having pop-up events. It's a great time to have an independent label because the music industry is evolving a lot. It's shifting towards the listeners instead of the big labels.
I make music because I love the stuff I make.
I have something to say, and it's real to me.
AM: How did you land on the name 'Robokid' as your alias?
EB: It's a funny story. When I was a freshman in college, I really wanted to be a DJ, and my friends and I were really high and trying to come up with names. My one friend had a shirt that said 'Kid Robot' that he wore all the time. Also, one of my favorite DJs at the time was a DJ named Unicorn Kid. So, I combined those to come up with Robokid, and it just stuck. I've tried to change it before, but it's a part of me now.
AM: Where is one place you feel completely in touch with your creative self?
EB: At home sitting at my desk. I move around a lot, but I feel the best creatively wherever my own set up is. I'm comfortable to just be myself, and there's no pressure. I'd rather work out of my house than a studio.
AM: Is that where you do most of your writing?
EB: I write lyrics anywhere. In Ubers, out at night, wherever I am. I'm always writing lyrics in my phone when I think of something.
AM: What can we expect to hear from you next?
EB: I have two songs coming out next week with singer-songwriter Phem. She's just starting a new artist project of writing solo and expressing herself, so it's really cool to help her with it. I should have another single with my vocals out soon, and I'm working on my EP out next year.
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