Interview: After The Smoke on New Record and the Power of Creative Influence

Rob Coin aka Whuzi of After The Smoke

Rob Coin aka Whuzi of After The Smoke

Put out a large fire and you’re left with smoke; when the smoke fades away, all that remains is hazy, translucent air, reminiscent of something that might have just existed, but who could really know? After The Smoke, the creative brainchild of musician/designer Rob Coin, is just that — psychedelic trip-hop that leaves you in dazed state of mind, wondering what just happened, yet still wanting more. Comprised of Whuzi (Rob) on the microphone and Soft Glas (Joao), and Day G. on the keys and ones and twos, After The Smoke is an experiment in musical collaboration, dishing out sounds that defy genres – from R&B to funk, hip-hop to electronic soul. And when you take a listen to their newest EP, Microwaves, you’ll probably have a whole other list of ways to describe them.

Top Emerging Artist: After The Smoke

Whuzi and Soft Glas rocked Glasslands Gallery on January 14th, under the moniker After The Smoke. Without their usual live band and in a new city, the duo knew they had to make it count; if you ask anyone who was at the show, they most certainly did. Wavy keyboard riffs from Soft Glas blended with Whuzi’s highs and lows, until the crowd was swaying to their smooth sounds. The duo hit a perfect compromise of chill and hype, as evident through tracks like “Drunk Bitches” and “D.E.A.D.,” surely making [micro]waves in the NYC music scene.

We caught up with Whuzi and Soft Glas before the show and this is what the creative duo had to say:

Rukkus: Who is or WHAT is After The Smoke?

Whuzi: After The Smoke is a creative collective. It’s a culmination of different ideas artistic outlet for…for us its visual, it’s musical, it’s everything combined; whatever we feel like doing, that’s pretty much what After The Smoke is.

Rukkus: You guys are from Florida?

Whuzi: From Tallahassee

Rukkus: And you only recently moved to NY right?

Whuzi: As of 5-6 months…?

Rukkus: How’s the transition been?

Whuzi: It’s definitely been a transition that we were looking forward to. It’s played out perfectly as far as, you know, Tallahassee is a small college town, and it’s definitely fun — A lotta’ adventures we’ve gotten into being in Tallahassee — but it’s definitely a small pond compared to NY. I think we’ve grown up past that time. And it’s time to create something new, and NY is definitely the place to be.

Soft Glas: I think once we started travelling a little bit we started seeing how scenes are different from each other and how scenes are more welcoming or accepting of different kinds of music. We felt like NY was definitely where we needed to be as far as being able to come in contact with the right people.

Whuzi: You know with the internet you’re able to interact with different people in a more cost-effective way, but nothing replaces being in front of — right there — face to face with people. So we had to make the move.

Rukkus: How did you guys start making music together?

Whuzi: We both went to state [Florida State University]. And I think we roamed around the same circles as far as creatives go. But it was not as many people doing things seriously. Everyone says they’re doing music or they do art, but there are only a handful of people in Tallahassee who take it seriously. So it was bound to happen. You work with someone here and there and you realize they’re not really going for it. And so it was a magnetic thing; we ended up finding each other based on ‘oh I heard this guys serious, I heard he has a studio, I heard he does graffiti over here, I heard he handles his business well.’

Soft Glas: It’s funny, I was thinking about this the other day. Basically, Tallahassee is a crazy melting pot of talent.

Rukkus: Have you guys always been After The Smoke?

Whuzi: It’s definitely an evolution. I started ATS — me and another guy, actually. But times change and different attitudes change, but I always kept going. I know Joao had his separate thing, but he made quality music and we collab-ed on a couple projects from time to time. We used to do a full live show and we needed another drummer. [Joao was an] awesome producer, but also a multi-talented musician — drums keys, the whole nine yards. So he came in and it all gelled. It was just a natural progression.

Soft Glas: The cool thing is that I had these ideas about how hip-hop should sound. It was awesome to find somebody who was on the same wavelength, but he would also push me to get better. I would say working with Rob has made me a billion times better because he always wants to push and push — to evolve musically — which has helped me evolve too.

Rukkus: Who would you say you draw from musically? What are your influences?

Whuzi: You have to draw from somewhere. I think it’s a push and a pull, a culmination of different ideas. I grew up not listening to hip-hop primarily, but when I got into hip-hop I listened to Goodie Mob, Outkast, Pimp C…other southern artists. It was very limited, very narrow at that point. But as I grew, I dipped into different ideas. Like progressive rock and different indie bands, stuff like that. One aspect of ATS, is we all have a completely different background, but we find a way to connect it and respect each other’s sound. And we’re willing to say like alright Joao puts his own angle into it and he’s like ‘listen to this,’ and I absorb it and I’m like ‘OK I’ve never heard that before what if I come at it from this angle.’ And I feel like that’s how we’ve evolved the sound over time and we have so much more room to grow. The sound is very eclectic, our strength is that we’re willing to absorb different ideas and churn it out in our own way.

Soft Glas: I came from a musical family. My dad is a jazz pianist; his dad was pianist as well. I was always surrounded by everything BUT hip-hop. Jazz, classical music – I’m a huge classical fanatic like Debussy, all these amazing composers. And then it’s crazy, shout out to Day G (another producer for ATS, he lives in Florida still, but he needs to get his ass up here). He introduced me to a whole bunch of other stuff. It’s really cool that everyone in the group is pushing each other and TEACHING each other. We’ve taught each other a lot. Before coming together we were very limited in the worlds we’ve lived in, now it’s like we’ve helped each other grow.

Whuzi: I grew up in a church with my family. So I listened to a lot of gospel music, which is ironic for what I do now. But it has so many sounds; it’s a very lush thing, and I feel like that’s where I first got into music. I was always a problem child causing my mom headaches and so with church. She would say ‘c’mon, you gotta go to church.’ The one thing that connected me to anything was listening to music and the choir. I grew up in a Jamaican church — straight Jamaican. So it was like a lot of reggae fusion.

Rukkus: I want to go to that church…

Whuzi: It was a really dope experience. I was able to pull form that and grow into hip-hop with that type of background. So that’s the approach we take; our roots aren’t necessarily in hip-hop, but hip-hop is what connected everyone together so it’s always gonna create a different perspective for the sound.

Rukkus: Your social media game is pretty on point; you guys mention your Tumblr your Tumblr fans a lot. People hold a sort of stigma against artists who come up on Tumblr, especially because of the kinds of people who are on it. How do you feel being labeled a Tumblr artist?

Whuzi: I mean, fuck the stigma. At the end of the day, not all of us grew up in NY, or in LA. We grew up in Tallahassee. We come from South Florida originally, but most of our college years were spent growing up in this backwoods — ‘hick town,’ middle of nowhere town. And a lot of America — if you’re not in the big markets you’re probably from some backwoods motherfucking spot. And not just Tumblr but being able to…the problem lies in it if you just embed yourself in the internet and you don’t go out and that is your life.

But to break through, to connect and see something different, what’s the harm in that? You know, to be able to say ‘I don’t have 500 dollars right now to book a plane ticket to go see what happens in this other state.’ At least through this lens I can experience something and get over that hump. And I feel like in the internet age the landscape has changed as far as musically because young people are able to connect with so many different sounds so much more easily. I think the youth of today is a lot more progressive than even like 10 years ago.

Soft Glas: That stigma is terrible. On Tumblr you’ll find some of the most creative kids — they’re kids too. They’re like 15 year old, 16 year old kids, and their Tumblrs are obviously a reflection of their creative minds. And you just see like these kids are on some other shit. And a lot of our fans are those kids and I think that’s beautiful — like I think that’s priceless — because you have a bunch of these kids who choose to include you in their creative reflection. So you’re part of their imagination and their creativity. All Tumblr does is materialize that, it’s just a visual — it’s something you can see. A way for somebody to express it in an original way.

Whuzi: And like, don’t let that be the end goal; don’t say ‘I have the best Tumblr page ever, my life is complete.’ But like there’s real kids who put up their artwork and I’ve checked it out through Tumblr and I’ve invited them to come to the studio. And they’ve expressed to me and say ‘yo this is the first time anyone’s recognized my work.’ So I’ve taken them from being in their living room, in their bedroom doing whatever they do, creating their art, to putting it into the real world so they have a new experience. I may not be the end all be all, that’s just a stepping stone. Next thing you know, a year from now, two years from now, they might be taking that to a whole other level. So I say fuck that, whatever can get you to the next level, use it. It’s a tool.

Soft Glas: Kendu was through Tumblr, right? Yeah he was. So Kendu is actually the one who made the Microwaves cover and he reached out through Tumblr.

Microwaves EP Cover Art was designed by Kendu, an ATS fan on tumblr

Microwaves cover art was designed by Kendu, an ATS fan on Tumblr

Rukkus: So, it’s not just you influencing your fans, your fans influence you too?

Whuzi: That’s how ATS operates. It’s a community, bringing creatives together and not hindering each other for being creative. It’s using the community to enhance your art overall, so that’s what we do.

Rukkus: So taking social media even further, you guys have reached out on Twitter and Facebook looking for interns? What are you looking for?

Whuzi: So right now, I think artists and musicians are always complaining about the industry as if its this one monolithic thing that can’t be bent or changed and it’s dying, which it is in most aspects. But out of death, you can have rebirth. So what I’m trying to do — we’re expanding what ATS is about besides just making records or whatever. So the internship is bringing – well, we have our own studio where we do visuals, videography, photography, music production obviously. And so it’s for those young guys, whether they’re in high school or fresh out of college and they don’t know which direction to go into.

Soft Glas: Or girls.

Whuzi: Yeah, or girls, definitely keep that open. So it’s for people to come together and say I do this, and it doesn’t have to be artistic, I see artists as far as genius people at marketing coming up with innovative ways to use the internet, coming up with applications and stuff like that. So whatever you think is your strength, this is a platform that we’re opening up to try to enhance and teach each other. Like I have opportunities, I film stuff. For instance, Microwaves took a while to do because we had to do every fabric of that project, form the production to the mixing to the videos to everything was created in house by us. But if we had another videographer fresh out of film school and he needs an opportunity, or a designer like Kendu or other artists like that who come in and give their creative input. I feel like it would do us a favor but also help them, and it’s a back and forth.

Rukkus: Are you guys signed? Looking to get signed?

Whuzi: Right now, the platform is open. We’ve been looked at by everyone, and right now, we’re technically signed. We just need to ink the deal with Warner Brothers. And with that being said, that’s another reason we’re looking for interns; we’re trying to use that platform to help expand our reach and our resources to tap into. With that said, me working closely with people at Warner and, connecting this to the statement I said earlier about the industry reaching a state of stagnation, I want to help change it in a positive way. Whereas if an intern or some kid fresh off the block is like ‘I have new ideas or I have this other artist who I think is cool,’ then why not use that lane in a positive way. That’s more of how we’re using that relationship. We’re still doing our independent thing; Warner still lets us do our independent thing. But a kid fresh out of college, we could be like ‘hey, listen he’s been helping us, he could be helping you too.’

Rukkus: Universal removed one of YOUR YouTube videos when one of their artists used your song without your consent. So your beef with Universal didn’t draw you away from signing with a major label?

Whuzi: It was never a beef against the overall industry. It was a beef with the tactics, specifically with that YouTube video. And being an independent artist and not having a ground to stand on. And us just having a platform with Tumblr and having fans to help us reinvigorate the conversation and actually get our justice. If we didn’t have that, we’d be shit out of luck. Credit to our fans.

Soft Glas: It’s really easy to villain-ize major corporations and the industry; it’s super easy to be like ‘bleghh’ and I mean yeah to a certain point a lot of fucked-up shit happens, but I think what we’re trying to do, the point were at right now, were finding a way to flip it on its head and use this industry in a different way than it’s been used before. To see what we can do to find a silver lining, and alright, a resource is a resource, now how can we take that resource and use it in the smartest, most creative way possible? And that’s what Rob was saying, we want to connect creatives with people in power. Ultimately that’s what it’s all about; it’s about being in touch with the people who do have power without losing anything, or losing as little as possible from your end. So using that power, connecting it with creativity so when power and creativity come together I mean look at Kanye or people like that. I think that’s ultimately what we’re trying to do.

Whuzi: Trying to be influencers, trying to have a voice. And were in this for the long haul. Outside of just this project, Microwaves, and the next project, and as far as making music and being creative, this is our life. So you know 50 years from now if I’m not putting out a record, and I see a kid 18 year old who has talent. I want to be able to say, instead of saying ‘hey you have talent kid, here’s a pat on the back’ I want to be able to say ‘you have talent, let’s do something about this.’

Soft Glas: So we’re more effective than just a co-sign, we want to be in that position where the co-sign is just the beginning. Not only can we sign you, but we can develop you, shoot your videos, design your website we can do all those things for you. I think that’s what were in the process of building right now.

Rukkus: So where do you see After The Smoke in the next 10 years?

Whuzi: ATS would be more of a brand, a bigger brand than it is now. Keeping with the creative collective idea. That’s where I want it to be. We’ll have a physical location, we’re tapped into different markets. Back to the question from before, yeah we’re signed, but the reason we signed with Warner versus anyone else is because people I ended up meeting over the last year, they saw the vision versus ‘yo lets just put out this record.’ It was more like ‘you guys want to be influencers,’ so they’re giving us more info than just ‘let’s make a hit record real quick.’ It’s more like this is what happens in the industry, let’s show you how to work with it.


Rukkus: Drink of choice?

Whuzi: Highlife

Soft Glas: Coconut water

Rukkus: What is the ideal situation to be in when listening to Microwaves?

Soft Glas: I would say in a different place, whether that’s high, or drunk or spiritually enhanced whatever it may be. Get out of your own head and hear it from a different perspective.

Whuzi: I would say lock yourself in a basement or somewhere and listen to its while you’re under some type of influence of something ’cause I feel like you need to really resolve some shit. Detach yourself.

Rukkus: Describe ATS in three words without using ATS?

Whuzi: Really chill wave [laughs].

Rukkus: Is there one artist you want to work with in 2014?

Soft Glas: FKA Twigs.

Whuzi: Last year it was Juicy J for me, this year I think I switched it up.

Catch After The Smoke at a concert near you!

Article by Arpan Somani

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