From a Jacksonville Bedroom to Touring The Country: Meet Yuno, Sub Pop’s Latest Signee

Interviews, Sub Pop 30, Concerts at the Mural
05/29/2018
Dusty Henry
photos by Dusty Henry (view set)

TRANSCRIPTION BY MOLLY WYMAN

Yuno is standing on stage to a packed crowd at the Crocodile on a rare balmy April night in Seattle. He’s interpolating 50 Cent’s “21 Questions” into one of his original songs, backed by two musicians helping flesh out the rhythms to his magnanimous creation. He looks like a seasoned pro, just making another stop on tour. If no one told you, you wouldn’t have realized it was only the fourth show he had ever played in his life – and even one of the first shows he’s ever even attended (at least in the single digits).

The term “thrusted into greatness” certainly apply to the Jacksonville, Fla. songwriter. Yuno – his real name’s Carlton Joseph Moodie but everyone calls him Yuno – has been self-releasing music via his Bandcamp page since 2010, all recorded from his bedroom. He’d barely left Jacksonville and never played any shows when he was approached by Sub Pop’s A&R representative and full-time Shabazz Palaces emcee Ishmael Butler about signing to the Seattle label. But despite his “inexperience” outside of his hometown, it’s easy to see why Sub Pop’s taken a liking to the burgeoning songwriter. The six songs on his label debut EP Moodie – out June 15 –show an astounding range. Lead single “No Going Back” has already amassed over 2 million plays on Spotify with its jubilant, bouncy riff and a hook that will embed itself in your brain for days. But he also includes songs like the deceptively psychedelic “Why For” and the romantic summer simmer of “Fall In Love” and “So Slow.”

The fact that Yuno’s last name is Moodie is some sort of cosmic coincidence and an apt name for the record. He traverses moods and intimate feelings with grace and ease all across Moodie. He’s embodied a world of emotions without leaving much beyond his own front door. As he embarks out into the world, we caught up with Yuno to learn more about where he’s from and where he’s going next.

 

KEXP: Let’s start at the very beginning. You were born in the Bronx, right?

Yuno: Right.

But you moved to Florida when you were pretty young and still an infant?

Yeah, I was nine months old.

KEXP: So what brought you guys to Florida?

My mom's sister. She moved to Florida because her husband is from Florida. So, yeah, basically I have just been in Florida as long as I can remember.

And your parents are from the UK, right? They moved here and are Jamaican in descent and everything?

Yeah, from London. My grandparents are from Jamaica, and they still live there. And my mom, she like, goes back pretty much every year to go visit my grandparents. I haven't been back to Jamaica in probably, like, 10 years now.

It's cool because there's so much in your story and in your music of these different places that informed who you are. But for most of your life you've lived in Jacksonville, Florida. Can you kind of tell me a little bit about what it's been like living and growing up in Jacksonville and kind of what the experience was like?

I don't know. It's... I feel like Jacksonville was just kind of plain. It's just, like, a place. Especially since I don't really go out much. I spend most of my time at home in my room, by myself, working on music and art and learning how to create new things. Growing up, though, I went to the mall a lot with my friends, and we'd go out skateboarding and stuff, but my favorite skateboard shop in the mall closed down and then stores started to close more and more, so I just stopped going there. I didn't really have many places to hang out but they're starting to have some. There's starting to be some new stuff popping up in Jacksonville that's cool. So yeah, I still don't go out much though. Even my band, they're from Jacksonville, and I met them online, and we met in person for the first time to practice songs for this tour.

You've described yourself as kind of a homebody. Do you think that had a hand in you creating and using your imagination in that way to entertain yourself?

It's one of those things where I don't know which came first. If I started spending more time alone and isolated first, or if that's a product of me wanting to create my own things and have control over it. So, yeah, I never know which, what controls what, but it's just something I'm used to at this point, and it's strange for me to now be leaving my home and going out and then having shows and people are going to see me and going to meetings and doing interviews and stuff. It's like a whole different thing because I'm so used to being by myself.

You've lived there almost exclusively your whole life. Did you do a lot of traveling at all and have experiences in other towns or has Jacksonville been your point of reference?

Jacksonville has mostly been it. I moved to Jacksonville when I was 10 and before that I lived in Largo. Kind of in the Clearwater, Tampa Bay area of Florida. So those are really the only places I've kind of known. I haven't really traveled that much outside of Florida except for New York and Seattle now. And so that's one thing that I'm looking forward to with starting to tour and stuff, is being able to travel and see all the places that I've wanted to see for a long time.

Was your home a very musical household? Do your parents listen to a lot of music? Are they musically inclined themselves?

They don't play music or anything. They don't sing or anything like that but they've always kind of played music. So I've heard a lot of different types of music growing up from soul and R&B to reggae, dancehall, and rap from my dad in the car and stuff like that. So I kind of, I guess, growing up I kind of ignored it a lot just because it was constantly coming in, and I was trying to discover my own taste in music, but I've realized how that stuff has influenced me now in my music nowadays.

I feel like sometimes, it's easy to, when your parents are listening to something you want to tune it out. Like saying, “I don't want that. I'll try to find my own path.”

And then now I'll be thinking about it, and be like, oh yeah, I really like this one song my mom played all the time and stuff like that.

And do you feel like some of that, those sounds kind of made it on the new record?

Yeah, definitely. I feel like that's kind of one of the, I guess, main themes of it is it's just a lot of different songs and sounds that I've grown up listening to and enjoy now just kind of all meshed together. So there's everything from dancehall to modern hip hop to kind of early 90s hip hop all combined. There's some soul stuff, pop stuff, just everything that I like kind of thrown into one. And I'm glad I was able to contain it on the EP because I was kind of worried about that at first and having all these ideas and not knowing where to put them but I feel like I finally found a place for all of them with this.

Yeah, you definitely cover a lot of ground over six songs. So you're saying it was kind of by design that you wanted to highlight these different facets of your influences?

Yeah, I'd say kind of. I just didn't really spend time working on things I didn't feel like stood out, I guess. And usually that's what happens. I'll work on a song, and if it doesn't feel like it's important then I just won't end up finishing it. So all the songs that are on the EP are all the songs I made for the EP. There's nothing that didn't make it because nothing else got finished.

 

That narrows it down pretty easily for you. It's really cool that you have so many different sounds but it flows so well. Were you thinking about how these songs would, as you were finishing them, of how they would fit together? I don't know if it's sequencing or just the style you're doing, but it feels like a really cohesive unit despite all the variety.

I was actually really worried about that, about it not sounding cohesive, and I've been nervous even after it was done. I was nervous about it, but getting feedback from people, they told me that it felt like it had a nice flow to it. I definitely tried to make sure I put the songs in an order that felt good and even put a lot of thought into what songs would come out first and everything so people get a different taste of the different sounds and stuff like that. So you know kind of what to expect from the EP, and I guess it's to not expect anything specific because there's a lot of variation.

So you record everything yourself. You play all the instruments and everything. How did you kind of get into doing that? I know you said you spent a lot of time at home but, what else spurred you into that direction?

In eighth or ninth grade I tried to start bands with friends, and they never really worked out. We never would even have a practice. We might come up with a mix CD of what our influences are going to be, what our logo is, but we'd never actually have a band practice. So, I actually went to see this guy MC Lars perform, and it was just him on stage with a laptop and then I realized: Oh, I can play guitar, I can make beats. I could just make music myself. So that's what I started doing. I didn't really know how to sing or anything. I'm still learning. I've never taken singing lessons, which I really want to though. But yeah, I just kind of figured I could do it myself without relying on other people so I've always done it that way.

And how old were you when you started recording and writing?

I was probably about 15 when I started recording and writing.

Some of the influences I was reading about of yours got me really stoked. Specifically, the Tony Hawk soundtracks, AFI and things like that. I feel like especially bands like AFI, they don't get, I think for people in their 20's those bands were really pivotal. And they don't get talked about as much. Do you do you feel like those bands were just a starting point for you in your “musical journey” or whatever? Or do you feel like they are still impacting the music you're writing today, and are they showing up in this EP at all?

I feel like they kind of are probably showing up in this EP just because they're ingrained in me. And, that's the music that really taught me a lot. But there's kind of a lot of variation in the music that I grew up listening to and that influenced me. Like, everything from N*SYNC, that was like the first cassette tape I ever got, and then there's this band Prozzak that's called Simon and Milo in America, and they have a really poppy sound. But the way their songs are, I guess, structured was something very new to me, and I learned a lot from that and having a lot of different poppy melodies and a lot of different changes in songs and stuff. So I still take influence from that now. Then I kind of gravitated into punk and pop punk and all that sort of stuff in middle school. And I had a friend who would get CDs from his older brother, and then when he was done listening to them he'd give them to me. That's how I got into AFI and Rancid and HIM and all that stuff and yeah, a lot of that stuff had a lot of influence over how I make music now.

It's cool to hear you talking about watching skate videos as inspiration because, especially with the music videos, there's definitely that kind of vibe. Could you talk about your history with skate videos or how they've kind of influenced you or how they've captured you over the years?

I guess it mostly just started with Tony Hawk games. I had like, every Tony Hawk game. I played a lot growing up. I think I got the first one pretty much the week it came out, and I would play it all the time. I heard a lot of new music that I hadn't heard before and then started watching more skate videos and hearing the different music that different skaters would use. There's a lot of variation. There would be punk, there would be, like, Johnny Cash sometimes, and that's how I discovered a lot of music was through skate videos. I didn't have an older brother or anything to really show me anything, and even my friends would all pretty much mostly find their music the same way I did. So yeah, stuff like that was really helpful in helping me discover music and figuring out different types of music that are out there that I had never heard of before that I enjoyed.

The skating world and music world are so intertwined at least with the culture in it. It's just kind of cool to see that come full circle. The Tony Hawk soundtrack, I know that's a big one for people. I think that is where I first heard the Sex Pistols. It's big for a lot of people.

I think I heard Black Flag on there too. I remember Del the Funky Homosapien was a big one for me where I'd never heard someone rapping in that way, and I was like, funny, but good rap. So stuff like that was definitely very new to me and shaped a lot of, I guess, my musical taste.

I think you can see that, really. You know, you mentioned the soundtracks go from everything from Black Flag to Johnny Cash. I feel like on your EP you kind of – I mean, you don't have a country song or anything out there – but you go across a big spectrum. It kind of seems like that might be kind of internalized in a cool way.

Yeah. I guess I don't have a specific sound. I feel like I've never felt like that, but I have specific tastes, I guess, so that helps my songs kind of be more cohesive, but I just like kind of creating whatever comes to mind rather than cultivating one sound and sticking to it.

Do you still skate?

I do not still skate. I actually stopped skating because I got a crack in my skateboard, and my mom got really scared, and she said I can't skate anymore until I buy another board, and I didn't want to buy another board because I didn't have money for it so I just stopped skating.

But do you still engage with that world at all?

I haven't really. I just kind of lost touch a bit with it, but I've definitely been looking back into it, trying to find out find out about new skaters and stuff. I definitely want to do some more research and see what else is out there now. I'm sure there are a lot of new tricks that I've never seen before.

I think it's cool that even with the poppier elements and all these different ska or reggae and stuff and dancehall and all that, that there's also this kind of a punk ethos that's kind of woven in there. Do you consider yourself as growing up kind of punky? You grew up in that skate culture.

Yeah, I feel like, just from the music I grew up listening to that that's kind of definitely in there because that shaped a lot of me. Even learning to play guitar and playing power chords and stuff and learning guitar tabs. Learning guitar tabs is how I learned how to play guitar. I've never really taken lessons. I don't know any music theory at all. So, yeah, definitely, that definitely suits me and you could say it reflects how I create my music in the same type of way because that's what I learned with.

You've talked about how you were born in New York, but you've kind of always wanted to go back. That seems like that's been kind of a muse on the record. Can you talk a little bit about your relationship with that city and how it kind of impacts your writing?

Just growing up I always thought [New York] looked really cool on TV. I'd watch shows like Ghostwriter seeing people living in New York, and it just seemed cool. So it was a place I always wanted to go to. So, when I finally did go it was really cool to see all of these kind of different cultures in one place. You can explore a lot of different cultures just by going to different neighborhoods, and there's always constant noise and I, in my head, I feel like that's how I am. I kind of need something constantly going on in my head to stimulate my brain. So that's really helpful. I just really like the environment there. It's really quiet sitting in my bedroom in Florida, so it's nice also even just being able to go outside and walk to a store or something. Or walk to a park, sit down and then walk back home. It's definitely good for my creativity I feel like. That's why a lot of that stuff from the EP was influenced by that.

Do you plan on moving there? Is that the long term goal?

Definitely at some point. I don't know if I'll be there forever. I'll have to, I guess, see what it's like actually living there. But I definitely want to move there at some point.

Did you write the songs on the EP before signing to Sub Pop or were these songs you kind of created as a unit together?

Kind of a mixture of both. Some of the songs that are older are maybe songs that I started three or four years ago. Some of them were more recent. After I signed with Sub Pop I was kind of nervous about it because it was a whole new world for me, and I was, like, maybe they want a certain type of song. So I kept trying to come up these different ideas for my EP and what exactly, what direction it would be in, and then I couldn't really change my path in a way that wasn't organic. So I just went back to working on the stuff I had been working on, and then I feel like it came out pretty well and cohesive. I made what I was trying to make, basically.

That's got to be a good feeling.

Yeah, it was definitely a relief to have it done. There was a lot of work in trying to get it just right, and even getting it mixed and mastered was my first time going through that process because I'm used to attempting to do that stuff myself. So that was really cool to be able to have it sound exactly how I wanted it to sound.

That's must be a wild process going from complete 100% DIY to suddenly having these resources.

Yeah, for sure. It's really weird but really cool because Sub Pop has been really cool about letting me just do whatever I like. I sent them the EP with the songs in what order they are and everything. I didn't send them any extra songs and everything was fine. There was no, like, “We need this sort of song, we need this type of single.” It was just whatever I did was good with them. I did it. I did my album art. They were fine with it. All that sort of stuff. My music videos, they were fine with it. It's really cool because I still get to do my own thing but have a support system there also.

 

[Shabazz Palaces’] Ishmael Butler was the one that reached out to you initially? How did how did that kind of come about? How did he contact you?

[Butler and I] were talking about that. I don't know exactly how he found my music but he just messaged me on SoundCloud one day and said he liked my music and told me he was working with Sub Pop. We kind of just kept in touch for probably like a year or two. I didn't put out anything new in that time but he said he wanted to send my stuff to Sub Pop and play it for them and see what they thought of it. Apparently they liked it, and they flew me out to Seattle to meet everyone and signed a deal.

That's wild. Were you familiar with Shabazz Palaces or Digable Planets or anything?

I was vaguely familiar and then looked up more afterwards and also starting to listen to Digable Planets after knowing him gave me a lot of new influence for the EP. A lot of those New York sounds that he was making back then and that was, like, when I was born, he was making stuff with Digable Planets. So it was cool having that kind of revolving door of New York, I guess.

And you mentioned having a lot of creative liberty or control or whatever you want to call it, specifically on the artwork as well as the videos. I'm kind of curious how you went about defining the aesthetic for this record or for the project? I know pink is a big color that you like to use a lot. Pink and black. So yeah, kind of curious about your thinking there.

Pink is just my favorite color. My bedroom used to be pink and black when I was in middle school. I painted it with my cousin over the summer, and it just kind of got overwhelming a bit having a lot of very bold colors in my room. So eventually I painted it white again. But, yeah, I'm just always into visuals. So I like to be able to have control over that. It's just really my taste. It's nothing too specific. I definitely heavily associate visuals with music, and I'm always even using visuals for reference while I'm recording to make my songs sound like something looks, kind of. I was watching a lot of VHS, like old skate videos while working on the EP to kind of help everything mesh together because, I don't know exactly what it is, but certain visuals have a certain sound to me. I kind of use that to make my songs work together and to be able to finish songs. I might be stuck on a song and might see something that kind of inspires me to add something else to it and finish it up.

You mentioned before that you hadn't really gone to very many shows. I think this was an interview where you said like you'd been to like, 4 or something total, and you hadn't really played shows yourself until now. What has that been like? I think it's such a rare and cool experience to see someone go in totally fresh to that experience. What's that been like for you?

It's been strange, but really cool at the same time because when I'm recording songs I don't think about my live show or how I'd kind of translate my songs to a live setting. But now that I'm having that experience and hearing my songs live and playing them live. It's cool to see what things I could add or, like, how certain things sound because there's a lot of things, like, there will be really loud 808 subs that sound really good on loudspeakers but I never hear speakers that loud because they don't really go to shows. So it's definitely really cool and interesting, and I feel like I'll be able to take that back with me when recording future stuff and thinking about ideas that would enhance the songs live appeal.

Have you enjoyed playing live and the new experience?

Yeah, it's been fun. I get nervous still, but I feel like once I get onstage it kind of goes away for the most part, and I just enjoy myself onstage.

Is your whole band from Jacksonville as well?

Yeah, they're all from Jacksonville. They're actually roommates. I met the drummer online because he just liked my songs, and he offered to be my drummer if I ever needed a live drummer. Then this tour came up with Twin Shadow, and I needed to get a band together. I hit them up and said, Hey, will you be my band? We needed to find another member, and he remembered that his roommate plays like, every instrument pretty much, so we got him too. Yeah, we all met for the first time like a month ago, and now we're touring together. I meet everyone on the Internet, even people that are in my own town.

I mean, that's kind of the name of the game now, it seems like. Everything lives on the Internet in the music community. There are no more boundaries. That's wild going from making music in your home to being on tour with Twin Shadow. I think you guys just started the tour, right?

Yeah, we've played two shows together so far.

Has being able to watch him play each night been influential on you or are you taking anything away from his performances as well?

That's definitely been helpful, and I feel like I can take a lot from it and learn from it. Because I don't really see shows, so the more I see, the more I can learn what I could do better and also the fact that he also has a similar live set-up. It's interesting seeing someone who's done it for years do it versus us being new and stuff. So, yeah, there's a lot to learn from, and I feel like we're kind of taking that in at each show and even just with our own set-up. We learn a lot because if we have a mess up on stage the next show we know to watch out for that, and if we have another one we know to watch out for that. So we're learning a lot as we go, and things are getting smoother and smoother. I'm looking forward to doing it more in the future.

 

I was looking at a playlist you made recently of tracks that you're into, and I noticed that you lean really heavy on hip hop and grime. I'm kind of curious how many of those elements do you think come into your music. Specifically, the first thing came to mind was your drums and how big and awesome those sounded. Kind of like hip hop but mixed with that indie pop style you're kind of doing. I'm kind of curious to hear more about those influences.

I don't know. It's one of those things where it's just what I listen to. I guess I don't really listen to much music that I feel like sounds like my music. I just kind of try to really make songs that aren't something I normally hear. But a lot of the times the music that I listen to is music that I feel like I couldn't make, but I don't know. I guess I just enjoy it because it's stuff I wouldn't think of, but I still really enjoy. I know I started listening to a lot of British artists when I was younger to kind of, I guess, connect with England just because I've never been and my family is from there and so much my family still lives there. So still, now, I guess I have a large taste for British rappers and musicians and stuff.

Do you find that having that approach of listening to music that is not similar to what you make helps you as an artist? Do you think that stretches you in any way?

I think it might because I guess it helped me take elements from different places to add to my music that I guess I normally wouldn't take from if I was just listening to stuff that was more similar to my own. I guess there's not much new that I can take from stuff that's already similar to what I'm doing. So, yeah, I think that does provide something new.

The first song on the EP, "No Going Back," recently 1 million streams and counting. What has that been like? That's got to be kind of crazy how the songs are blowing up.

It's definitely strange to see it on all these places that I would look at before. I would look on certain playlists to see what other music is out there, and then now, seeing my songs up there next to those songs is really cool and a lot of it is stuff that I don't quite understand. Like, I don't understand how big certain things are where my song gets placed or what playlists it's on but I get told by people, I guess. So a friend will send me a picture like, “Oh, we just heard this on the radio and all that stuff.” So that's been really cool to experience that and singing my songs out in the world, I guess, rather than just on my computer.

 

It seems like you're finding a new audience, and it must be cool to kind of engage with them and people just connecting with your music.

Oh, yeah. It's been different playing shows and meeting people afterwards because I'm so used to, like I said, just being by myself. It's interesting now putting my music out in the world like, in person, and having people respond to it in person has been a totally new thing, but really cool to meet people that are connecting with my music.

Along with having these different styles of music you're going to different emotional places. Can you talk a little bit more about some of the themes? I know the longing for New York is in there, but it seems there's just kind of a general wishing or hoping or something.

I guess it's just a lot of songs about trying to figure out feelings and stuff. I guess writing songs is a great way for me to process feelings because a lot of times I guess I have trouble making decisions or knowing exactly where I want to go in life. So being able to write about it and just kind of speak off the top of my mind helps me figure things out. So I guess pretty much all these songs have that in common, and they're all written at different stages so there's songs like "Why For" that are kind of about being stuck and then songs about no going back that are about moving on. So they're just kind of all throughout different experiences.

What are you planning on next? Are you working on a full album or anything like that?

I'm just kind of taking everything one step at a time. A lot of this is very new to me so I'm kind of taking it all in and seeing what happens. I guess I'll be doing some more touring and stuff: so figuring that out and everything and expanding my band and changing the set up a bit, especially after these shows being able to go back to the drawing board and figure out what else can be added and what can be changed. So I'm looking forward to doing all that and working on some new songs.

Has it been overwhelming at all to kind of go from being a bedroom artist to touring and releasing records on Sub Pop?

Yeah, there's definitely, like, a lot of overwhelming parts of this, but overall, it's like a really good experience. There are good problems to have. A lot of times I'll be really busy and don't know what I should put my time towards, but I've been having more people help out which has been good at helping me balance my time and me not having to handle like all of the responsibility of this stuff. So that's been helpful and things have been kind of finally, like, getting a bit more chill, and I kind of have more of a grip on it. Before it was definitely brand new to me, and I had no clue what to do. It's a lot of new stuff for me still, like I said, just being by myself and now I have all these people counting on me for things. It's a lot of pressure sometimes but I feel like now I'm a lot more comfortable with it.

Were you super familiar with Sub Pop before you were signed?

Yeah, for sure. I grew up listening to a lot of different Sub Pop bands, and a lot of them have probably heavily influenced my music now. I'd say the biggest one, actually, is Flight of the Conchords just because they kind of do their own take on a lot of different genres but it still has their Flight of the Conchords sound to it, and I feel like that's something that I've taken with my music, I've done with my music is kind of go different places with it but still make it cohesive in a way.

You've tried a bunch of different styles and genres and this album obviously has examples of that. What type of music or style would you be interested in trying or experimenting with that you haven't yet or that maybe you've only dabbled in?

I don't know, because it's really always just on a song by song basis. I don't really, I guess, think of things as much in sounds I just think of them in songs, really. So if a song comes to mind that I feel like I could make and I'd have fun making, then I usually just go for it. So, I feel like there's nothing that I've been held back from. But I feel like I'll discover something new or come up with something new and then create that. I feel like it will always kind of be an always evolving thing and just constantly making new sounds. And I'm glad I have this EP as kind of my first thing to introduce to the world because in the future people don't necessarily know what to expect just because there's so much of everything on this one EP, so I can kind of do whatever. I have the freedom to make whatever sounds I want to make in the future.

You set yourself to kind of go anywhere.

Yeah, I hope so. That was definitely the goal.


Yuno plays Concerts at the Mural on August 10, presented by KEXP and Seattle Center. Moodie is out June 15 via Sub Pop.

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