For W’s annual The Originals portfolio, we asked creatives—pioneers in the fields of art, design, fashion, comedy, activism, and more—to share their insights on staying true to themselves. See this year’s full class of creatives here.
You are a soloist, but you’re also an amazing collaborator, having become famous first as the lead guitarist in the band the Internet, then going on to produce, write, sing, and play with the likes of Kendrick Lamar, Solange, Chloe x Halle, and many more. What makes for a great collaboration?
Chemistry, humor, talent. With every single person I’ve collaborated with, there’s a relationship that I keep, even after; it’s not transactional. The Internet set the tone for how a collaboration should be: super natural, everyone should feel safe, everyone should feel free—’cause everyone works so differently. Over the years, I’ve learned collaboration is keeping the space open and full of jokes.
Your new album, Gemini Rights, opens with the song “Static.”
That song’s about going through a breakup and not trying to run away from the pain of it. “New boyfriend ain’t gonna fill the void” is kind of like saying, a rebound isn’t gonna help. You can’t just put a Band-Aid on it. I’m not gonna run away from the pain. I’m about to feel this shit.
So it’s safe to assume that you went through a breakup?
Yes. And that song was the first one I wrote, two or three weeks after it happened.
How would you compare the writing and recording process of Gemini Rights versus your first solo album, Apollo XXI?
Apollo XXI was a hectic time in my life. I was in between a tour with the Internet, moving out of my mom’s house, and falling in love at the same time. I was impulsive and all over the place. I made that album in, like, two or three months. This album, I took my time. I made this one in the studio, rather than different Airbnbs or in my home. But I made the studio a home, as far as the energy and how I treated it: as a sacred place where I could just relax and decompress and only think about music. I had friends in my space, and this Japanese incense that is fucking amazing. It felt cozy and super inviting.
I’m also curious about the process of making The Lo-Fis, the EP you released in 2020. Your song “Infrunami” went viral on TikTok, becoming the soundtrack for hundreds of thousands of videos.
That EP was made up of old demos and songs I was writing around that time. I love demos—they’re a way for people to feel connected to you, because I’m letting you into the process. I love listening to Prince demos and stuff like that because it feels so personal. You feel like you’re in the studio with them. “Infrunami” doing its thing is crazy. I wrote that song when I was 16 or something. It wasn’t meant to be a thing, but I’m grateful.
Does virality matter to you?
I love it. I want everybody to listen. It’s dope for everybody to interpret it in their own way. Am I gonna spend my energy being mad about my song doing well on TikTok? No, I’m not. I’ll spend my energy being grateful and working on more stuff.
Is there a difference between seeing a song be popular online and experiencing its popularity in real life?
I love playing live because it shows me what is real. I remember when I played “Infrunami” live, and everybody was singing! I was like, This is crazy. Like, this is a fucking demo I made a long time ago. I couldn’t even sing that song when I wrote it. I used to record really low in my room in my mom’s house, because I didn’t want anyone to hear me. So a lot of my old recordings literally are me trying to sing softly.
What type of music did your mom’s family listen to?
We listened to gospel, Sade. My sister loved Musiq Soulchild and John Mayer, Tracy Chapman, “Fast Car.” That riff is everything.
Grooming by Alexa Hernandez for Tom Ford Beauty at The Wall Group; fashion assistant: Jacqueline Chen; special thanks to The Village Studios, L.A.