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RIP Exclusive: A Conversation With Independent Artist Azra About The Future Of Music

Kayla Moreno Aug 14, 2023

I'm always a fan of genre-bending artistry. As a Bay Area girl myself, I'm even more curious when I get introduced to genre-bending artists from where I was raised. There is something special about geographic sound; artists from certain places will curate their work based on what they heard growing up, cultivating a unique perspective that blends experiences into their body of work. I knew there was a bright light in independent artist Azra from the second her EP appeared in my inbox. Once I learned that she moved to San Jose all the way from Korea at a very young age, I really got it – and became a fan instantly.

We sat down to discuss her EP, The Chronicles of Substance Pop: The Rebellion at length. I was fortunate to have a 30-minute conversation with Azra, bonding over shared experiences, music production, and the future.

Kayla: Before we get started, I'm going to give you a bit of background on RIP, like who we are and what we do. But there's also a really cool fun fact hidden in here somewhere; the universe is absolutely crazy. Anyway, our publication is ran by non-men and our goal is to give a voice to people who might not have those opportunities otherwise. Obviously, we'll cover art made by men, but we don't have any on our staff. So, when I was looking at your work, I realized immediately that you're a perfect fit. You're playing a show tonight, right? Some of my childhood friends are in your opening act (Niels Sorenson and Ryan Glick from Used To Be Valentines).

Azra: Oh no way? So are you from San Francisco, or...?

Kayla: Yeah! I'm from the East Bay, so I was born in Concord and I lived in Orinda growing up. What part of the Bay are you from?

Azra: I grew up in San Jose, like Saratoga!

Kayla: So like South Bay! There's lots of cool music there.

Azra: Oh, absolutely! Growing up it was just like a lot of music. Very diverse. Yeah, but that's so cool that you know (Used To Be Valentines). I can't wait to meet Neils because we've been DM-ing each other and sharing music and even last night I was like, "Can't wait to play tonight!"

Kayla: The world is so small! Please tell them I say hi. I actually knew Niels from elementary school, and Ryan used to jam in a band with my dad when I was 12. That said, our roots have a significant impact on what we create as adults. You moved to the Bay Area when you were really little, right? What impact did that have on your music now?

Azra: I think it had a lot of many different effects. So, I moved to the Bay when I was nine years old and it was a lot. I also immigrated here from South Korea at the same time. So when my family and I immigrated from South Korea, we landed in JFK because that's where our relatives are. And then basically after about a month of staying with my relatives in New York, we moved out to San Jose and it was, it was hard because I had no idea what it was like here culturally.

I only knew half of the alphabet and I personally wasn't trying to go to America. It was really, you know, my parents and also my older brother wanting to go to America and it was just perfect timing for my family. So that's why we came. But for me, it was just a shock in every single way.

Not knowing English, not knowing the culture, and just having been a very active person growing up in Korea around my peers, my hometown and everything. It, was a big change--the culture shock.

Kayla: Absolutely. And the Bay area is kind of like, it's its own entity in a lot of ways. We joke about it online or whatever... people do memes, you know, but there's a lot of truth to it. Even – this is not nearly as crazy as you immigrating to America from Korea – but moving here to San Diego when I was a kid, with the juxtaposition of even going right down the state is crazy! Especially in terms of music because Southern California music does not sound like Bay Area music at all. I was hearing a lot of those influences, especially in your song "Soul Ties." You even transition seamlessly from speaking Korean and then speaking English. Was that intentional, or did it just flow like that naturally?

Azra: Well, so it kind of happened naturally. So growing up in Korea and America, I listened to K-pop a lot but I was also exposed to American pop music and R&B, and classical music very early on because my mom sang in a choir and she just loves music. And so I was exposed to all these different genres. And then even moving to America, the way I learned English was forming two girl bands, one was a K-pop band with two of my first Korean friends that I met in San Jose.

And then another group of friends from my school who are mixed race. But then fast forward to this project, I wanted to create something that kind of blended all of the different influences I have in music from pop, to punk-rock, metal, to hip-hop as well as K-pop.

So, you know, putting this project together, it just made sense for me to create a song that not only touches upon my roots and how I found my community over the years, but also to make it in half Korean and half English because I'm like, "oh, that's perfect because that's what the song is about."

Kayla: That was such a cool choice. And it really brings it in with the – like you said, the overall message. I noticed that something you do that a lot of the EP is you have this really, like pop girl vocal in the verses and then you switch to this like true metal vocal in the chorus and it's so neat. Like, you were described as like pop-rock and it's true but not quite.

I just can't think of a word (and this is a good thing). This is an amazing thing because it's really innovative. You got like the Britney vocal in the verse and then you easily switch to this raspy gritty metal chorus. It has me really curious about your influences. What metal bands do you listen to?

Azra: The reason for that is probably because growing up a lot of us were exposed to a bunch of different stuff, like pop, R&B, hip-hop, and metal. Especially in the Bay Area. I have to make sure, you know, that heavy 808 bass beats are included in my music.

But for me, I grew up with a lot of musical theater and theatrical pop music. I would sing along to Whitney Houston, Celine Dion, and Tina Turner. There were a lot of big, classically trained vocalists like Lady Gaga. So I think that's where we're all in a similar DNA strand.

But for metal, I loved Children of Bodom, Megadeath, and Metallica. I liked some punkier stuff like Nirvana.  

Kayla: That's really amazing, we have a lot of similar influences. If you keep going down this path, I could see you influencing upcoming generations, too. I'm not sure if that's your intention, but it's totally in the cards for you.

Azra: Influencing people isn't really that intentional, but I am very intentional with the messages I put in my songs. I try to share different lessons, thoughts, and emotions that I've experienced through my lyrics. People will ask if I make "pop music" and I don't like saying "yes" or "no" because I don't like the restrictions that genre labels leave on artists. I just make what feels right.

Kayla: And it translates! Nothing you sing feels forced. It doesn't seem like you're trying to rewrite or change anything. So I know you write everything, but do you produce your stuff, too?

Azra: No! I don't really identify myself as a producer, since it's a bit of a loaded word – but I help with production wherever I can. Production is a crazy skill and talent. It's its own kind of art. There's a lot of value in collaboration. I love making stuff with other people.

Kayla: Totally. I tried doing a solo project during COVID because you couldn't really jam with anyone but it just was not fulfilling. The production of one of your songs reminds me a bit of a Lady Gaga song, "Marry the Night." I think if you keep going down this route, a full-length LP could totally live in the realm of Born This Way.

Azra: Oh, that's great. Definitely not intentional. But I think, again, it narrows down to who I was influenced by – like the big pop vocalists.

Kayla: It really shows and it's amazing how it all blends together so well. Can you tell me about any of your plans for the future?

Azra: Yeah! Right now I'm on tour. Of course, I have my show with your childhood friends at Bottom of the Hill tonight. After that, I'm heading up north to Sacramento, and then Seattle. I'm hoping that I can continue to tour and spread my message all over the place. After the tour, I'm hoping to work on more new music and share that, too. I really love connecting with fans.

After talking with Azra, I'm going to need her to bring her Bottom of the Hill lineup to southern California so I can go to the show! She's doing incredible things for rock music, and the industry at large. I feel honored to have been introduced to her and her work at this stage of her career. She's only going to continue to play bigger venues over the next few years, and I will get to say, "I knew her when!"

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