When it comes to being Asian-American in the music industry — even more a biracial Asian-American — it may come with a double-edged sword.
“You’re too white to be Asian,” some may say. Or, “You look too Asian for us to make sense of you.”
As a strong believer in learning by doing, Andy Suzuki & The Method, comprised of vocalist Andy Suzuki and percussionist Kozza Babumba, have spent the last decade making music around New York, exploring their sound from folk pop, hip-hop, R&B and soul. The two friends met while at Brown University in 2005 (Andy studied economics and jazz piano; Kozza international relations) and realized they had potential to make great music.
But with four albums under their belt and a new record The Glass Hour (released February 3rd), the two aren’t strangers when it comes to delivering. The new album encapsulates the sonic journey the two have explored in order to find “their sound.”
As a natural acoustic player and singer-songwriter, Suzuki mentions that he could never fight the “bluesy” sound in his voice. “What am I doing singing R&B?” he laughs to himself as a half-Jewish half-Japanese dude. But his soulful, clear-cut vocals tinged with elements of folk, rock and new electronic-heavy elements is something I find completely different from any band I’ve heard today.
Their fourth single “Shelter” features some of those soulful grooves and heartfelt lyrics that the band is known for, yet the electronic elements take their sound to another level. Like a soft blanket to the ears, Suzuki’s tender vocals against the Method’s smooth and sexy beats are just one of the reasons this band is one to look out for.
“Every album we have a new sound and we’re evolving and searching for what works best for us. I’m a strong believer in learning by doing and we decided it’s time for us to stop fighting the R&B,” Suzuki explains. “[Our producer] Juny Mag brought the future pop.”
Suzuki was glad to speak with me about his new “future pop” record, hustling for the past ten years in the industry and his Asian-American identity.
Rachel Ann Cauilan: You guys played here recently at the Hotel Utah in San Francisco. How was that?
Andy Suzuki: It was great, it was great. It was my second time playing there, a lot of people were there, it was great.
RAC: How do you like California shows? Are they any different from playing on the East Coast?
AS: We just played in New York last Thursday [March 2nd] and Boston the night before. The only difference honestly is that we have a bigger fanbase on the East Coast ’cause we’re from here. Word has spread more here but we’re building in California.
RAC: So I know you played at USC’s Hapa Japan Fest last February 25th, and I wanted to ask. When it comes to you being half-Asian, do you think that’s helped you in your career?
AS: Good question. Honestly it’s hard to say in the sense that all I know is all I know. All I know is our successes and our shortcomings. I don’t know what people think when they say, oh yeah check out this band Andy Suzuki & The Method and if they hear my last name they’re intrigued or turned off. I believe there are some people who are more intrigued by the fact that my last name is Suzuki, and I’m sure there are some who are kind of turned off by that. In short I have no idea, but someone could write their dissertation on it, haha.
RAC: That’s a good point. It’s so interesting when you are half because you are dealing with both sides. You’re never fully one thing.
AS: And that’s what it is. At the Hapa Fest I kept introducing myself as half-Japanese half-Jewish and someone was like, that’s an interesting way to put it because people these days tend to say I’m Japanese and I’m Jewish, meaning I’m not half of anything. That’s like the “woke” way of being biracial, but yo, I don’t feel full Japanese or full Jewish at all. I feel half of both for sure. I would never claim that I’m a Japanese person or a Jewish person but I would claim that I am as Japanese as I am white or Jewish.
RAC: So I know you came out with your new album The Glass Hour a month ago. What kind of responses have you been getting, because it is a very different sound from what fans might be used to?
AS: We thought we might lose some of our current fans which would be sad, but we felt we could gain a bunch more too. But our current fans love the new sound. People are still weighing in on the response but it’s been huge.
RAC: How have the past couple of months looked like to prepare for these live shows?
AS: It’s been a crazy marathon for the past months preparing for this New York show that just happened. Last night we sold 190 tickets so there were over 200 people and that’s a big show for us. When we open for people the shows get bigger, but if we’re headlining and can draw in 200 people, that’s awesome.
Our sound is super different so we had to change a lot live show-wise. We are going from an organic folkier sound to what we call our music, future pop with an R&B edge. So there are some instruments we can’t recreate live on stage. We are playing with a laptop and an interface to connect to the PA system; the drummer has in-ear monitors and is listening to a click to line up with the sound we have coming through the laptop. We graduated in a sense. It’s a lot of technology to learn, not to mention new performance style. I’m barely playing guitar on these new shows. I’m just being this frontman and being as silly as possible.
RAC: How do you like that kind of change?
AS: I love it. I play guitar but I’m really a singer so it frees me up to sing more. P.S. it’s harder. The guitar is a crutch for sure and if you can’t hold a guitar you just have to perform.
RAC: Was that a scary change for you?
AS: It would have been a while back, but I love challenges and that’s why I’m in this game. When I started I was playing piano and singing and it was super singer-songwriter. And then we came out with our album Born Out Of Mischief (2013) and the sound changed to a more organic folk sound and me standing up and playing guitar. It’s like that famous evolution of man image. It doesn’t feel like a huge change, it’s been gradual.
RAC: How did you approach the recording process for The Glass Hour?
AS: Every album we have a new sound and we’re evolving and searching for what works best for us. My voice naturally tends to go R&B because I grew up singing and listening to Usher, Boys II Men, Dru Hill, 112. We decided it’s time for us to stop fighting it and our producer Juny Mag brought the future pop.
I actually had a Japanese manager for a while in 2010 and was going to pursue music in Japan but decided to stay here. He hooked me up with some New York City musicians to record a Japanese demo and Juny, who is a Japanese guy who lives in LA, became a good friend. I sent him some of the songs me and Kozza were writing and he started producing them, filling out the tracks and arranging them. He really took our melodies and lyrics and pushed us to a place we weren’t necessarily comfortable with and it was amazing. I don’t like to use the g-word “genius” too frequently, but he’s right there.
RAC: So I know you have been working in the music industry for the past decade. What is one thing you would’ve liked to tell your younger self back then, when you were just starting out?
AS: Wow, good question… This is advice that some artists hit me up who are just starting out and I tell them all the same which is, focus on the music and only the music. You need to have something recorded that is amazing and undeniable. All the other stuff — the live show, the social media, getting an interview written up about you — all that will come later and none of it matters until you have recorded music that sounds undeniable. So don’t waste your time getting your Twitter looking right. Don’t waste your time even perfecting how to do a live show. Just record and write, record and write, and keep doing that until you have something that sounds undeniable.
RAC: That’s solid. So since you are on the East Coast, I have to ask. What do you see as the pros and cons of being in California vs. New York?
AS: First off, I was hating on In-N-Out. We had it one time and oh my god In-N-Out is amazing. Obviously the general weather on the West Coast is way flier than New York City. But it seems there are way more music industry people on the West Coast in LA. It’s almost easier to be a musician on the West Coast because you just have your car and throw your amp in and you have more space for rehearsal. New York is kind of a nightmare because if you have to transport a bunch of stuff, it’s a nightmare.
But I love New York. I’ve been living here for a long time, it’s my home and I feel like it’s one of the flyest cities in the world. If it’s a Monday night and you want to see a dope band in a bar that’s open late, will have a cool vibe and just be a unique spot, New York has fifty of those in every neighborhood. You just take New York by foot and that’s what I love.
Catch Andy Suzuki & The Method bringing the love to the East Coast this month at the following locations (tickets at link provided):
SUN MAR 19 @ Jammin Java, Vienna, VA
FRI MAR 24 @ HI-FI, Indianapolis, IN
SAT MAR 25 @ Elbo Room, Chicago, IL
THU MAR 30 @ Apple Store Williamsburg (Acoustic In-Store Show), Brooklyn, NY
Watch their latest music video “I Can’t Live” filmed live on a New York City subway.
Be sure to check out Andy Suzuki & The Method's latest records The Glass Hour (2017) and Born Out Of Mischief (2013), both available to purchase on Amazon.