As the COVID-19 pandemic, Oval Office hysteria and racial tumult raged outdoors his studio partitions, Flying Lotus spent 2020 with a laser concentrate on, of all issues, anime. The acclaimed musician/producer, whose actual identify is Steven Ellefson, created greater than 200 tracks for the rating of Netflix’s new anime sequence “Yasuke,” which premiered April 30 on the streamer; an accompanying soundtrack is out now through Warp Records. Beyond its stellar animation, “Yasuke” has drawn consideration for its title character, a real-life sixteenth century samurai of African descent — a very uncommon displaying in anime. In a lot the identical manner, Flying Lotus has spent his profession breaking down boundaries between genres, from his jazz-influenced work with Kendrick Lamar to strategically dropping the “Twin Peaks” theme track into his psychedelic DJ units. Variety spoke to the artist about his inventive course of for “Yasuke,” his current Grammy win as co-producer of his pal Thundercat’s newest album and what’s subsequent on his musical horizon.
You fell in love with anime at a fairly younger age. Do you bear in mind what first actually drew you to the style?
I had a cousin who owned a couple of anime films on VHS. They had been all stacked up on one another and the photographs appeared so loopy. One was “Akira.” One was “Fist of the North Star.” One was “Wicked City.” We watched them, and he was like, , these aren’t for teenagers. I used to be 11 or 12 years old, getting my thoughts blown seeing these things. That was actually my intro — seeing the actually unstable, loopy stuff like “Ninja Scroll” proper out of the gate. That’s the place my love started, and it has blossomed and advanced.
Even at that younger age, did you discover the shortage of variety represented within the characters?
Yeah, however I feel there’s one thing with anime the place you are OK with that, in a bizarre manner. It feels inclusive to Japanese tradition, however that is form of why we prefer it. It would not make any sense, however there’s one thing concerning the Japanese-ness of it the place you are form of like, that is their factor, and we respect it for that. It has been form of fascinating being on this place to do music for anime now, as a result of I feel for thus lengthy, I felt prefer it would not be actual. Even doing the intro music for an anime was like, no manner is that this going to occur. Me and Thundercat would joke about that as a risk, like, they should hit us up for an intro! We must be the blokes doing that kind of factor. Eventually, it occurred.
In the case of this particular challenge, how did it come collectively?
“Yasuke” got here to me through a producer I labored with on a pilot — a music show for Apple. The producer, Matt Shattuck, hit me up out of the blue and requested if I wished to work on an anime sequence about Yasuke. I used to be like, are you kidding me? You hit up the precise individual. You hit up the right individual, truly, as a result of on the time, I used to be within the deepest anime gap I’d ever been in. I used to be watching years of anime that I’d missed in a concentrated, mainline-into-my-system form of manner. It was actually wild, man. I used to be like, dude, this cannot be actual proper now. But sure, I’m the individual. Let’s go. That was about three-and-a-half years in the past. It’s so loopy, as a result of I bear in mind once we began the challenge and speaking about timelines, speaking about 2021 appeared so friggin’ far off on the time. Like, is that this ever going to occur? Probably not, however let’s simply undergo the motions anyway [laughs]. Now, right here we’re. I used to be introduced on as govt producer. I form of helped out with the story and helped steer issues slightly bit, however my essential factor was music. There was a second the place we talked about there possibly being an episode that I’d direct. That in all probability would have occurred if COVID did not occur. It stored me right here in L.A. whereas everybody else was in Japan engaged on stuff. But when it comes to engaged on music, I most well-liked to be right here, and doing the again and forth with everybody else wasn’t too tough.
Yasuke is a samurai warrior of African descent. It can be simple for that to be a gimmick, however it looks as if that is not the case right here in any respect.
It’s humorous. There’s an anime camp that actually likes the fantasy ingredient, however lots of people solely desire a traditionally documented model of Yasuke’s life. I actually do not feel like anime is the very best house for that. It’s a very fascinating factor to listen to what everybody has to say concerning the show. I feel it is simply all nice — the dialog, and having a brand new hero emerge. There are plenty of narratives that we do not discover in Black tradition, or that we do not get to specific. Some individuals identical to what they’re used to. They wish to see one thing they’ve seen earlier than. They do not wish to see Black characters in fantasy. They’re not prepared for it. But I feel it is superior to strive new issues and shake issues up. That’s clearly going to piss some individuals off. But there are plenty of new individuals which can be into anime. Plus, it is a show for 12- to 14-year-olds. Numerous adults could also be in search of the live-action film.
What was a typical day within the studio like? Would you pull up a random scene and get to work, or would you simply compose with out taking a look at image?
That’s query. My course of was slightly little bit of each. Once I found out what I wished the sound of the show to be, I spent a while away from the image producing some music. Then I spent a while trying proper at it and attempting to fill issues in. The one factor I discovered as a trick to scoring is to make use of the metronome when I’m watching a scene play, as a result of even when individuals do not deliberately do it, there’s an implied tempo in each scene, each film and each motion sequence. There’s an implied rhythm. I’d faucet the tempo out, and as soon as I had that pulse, I may create from there. I felt very free on this challenge. It was very enjoyable. Nothing felt like a stretch, musically. Although, the warfare stuff was actually tough, as a result of I’d by no means actually finished a giant warfare scene earlier than. That stumped me for a while.
What cracked that code?
Playing music [laughs]. Actually enjoying and not interested by it a lot. I may have procrastinated myself into loads of holes, however once I was engaged on that opening warfare battle scene of the show, I felt like I may need been out of my league. Like, what am I doing? I simply began working, and all of the sudden, there was this complete lovely factor there. The means of procrastinating will be necessary. I’ve to mull over concepts for awhile earlier than I commit.
Were there any musical Influences or reference factors that helped get you going creatively?
Vangelis was an enormous inspiration for your complete sequence. I’d been listening to his music for the previous couple of years fairly diligently, particularly as a result of I’d fallen in love with synthesizers in addition to the method of enjoying synthesizer to image. I discovered his course of to be tremendous inspiring, like watching him take a look at the display screen and enjoying, and not sitting down writing. I wished to try this — to have all of the instruments at my fingertips to assist me say what I’m feeling versus what I’m seeing. It was a lot enjoyable. To be honest, the “Blade Runner” soundtrack has been with me my complete life. There’ve not been too many months go by with out me listening to it. “Blade Runner Blues” particularly was a giant inspiration for the entire “Yasuke” soundtrack. I borrowed lots from that vibe.
How many complete hours of music did you make for this?
I have not correctly calculated it, however I did about 200 tracks for the entire show.
Were there any eureka moments the place you felt such as you made one thing so good that you just would possibly wish to reserve it to your personal album?
There had been a few these moments, however solely as a result of these items did not sound just like the show in any respect or match that world. I used to be excited to create them, however I used to be so on this factor — it was all I used to be watching. I solely ate Japanese meals. I solely watched samurai films. It was a full-on immersion, as a lot as is feasible being in L.A.
Did the world round you creep into the inventive course of final 12 months?
There are micro parallels with what is going on on now, however the sequence was written three years in the past. You want you might put some particulars in from the current second, however you are operating with some issues you will have felt awhile in the past. I’m an escapist, man. I used the music, and this chance, to flee the fact of what I used to be listening to, seeing and feeling. It was the worst of instances, final 12 months. It was very uninspiring. But I used to be grateful to have this challenge to have a look at and work on. It was value it, and it actually stored me going. For plenty of inventive individuals, once we misplaced the chance to go on the street and do reveals, we needed to look at our value and our price. Suddenly, the best way we made cash was upended. Lots of people had to determine different methods to earn a living. It made plenty of musicians really feel nugatory. I hate to say that phrase, however, yeah. Getting this challenge going and profitable the Grammy through the pandemic was big for my morale.
Can you consider a particular cue from the rating that fell into place instantly?
“Kurosaka Strikes” — that second in episode 4. There’s a forest struggle between Yasuke and this demon warrior girl. I knew that second needed to be partaking. I used to be little nervous, however as quickly as I began engaged on it, it fell into place simply. I used to be like, wait a minute. Am I truly finished with this? I am unable to have simply completed it in an hour. When you’re employed on a show, it’s important to transfer so quick that it pushed me into this place the place I felt like I may crank issues out, particularly as soon as I had the melodies and themes down.
What are you most happy with within the completed product?
I’m actually happy with so many issues with “Yasuke.” I’m proud that it is the first foray into hopefully a lifelong profession on this world of music for anime. I’m happy with everybody, even behind the scenes, who needed to step out of their consolation zones to assist put this collectively. Hopefully there are alternatives that may come from this show, even for the subsequent producer or beat-maker. So many optimistic issues will come from this second.
You received Thundercat to sing on “Black Gold,” which is the intro music for every episode. He’s a recognized anime fan, so it should have been enjoyable to share this expertise with him.
It’s simply a part of my nature when one thing occurs for me that I’ve to deliver my homies alongside too. That’s at all times been my factor, even when it is not at all times for the very best [laughs]. And that is his factor: Mister Heart on His Sleeve. In this case, I feel it labored out rather well. He and I are typically shocked too, like, wow, that is what we do. Niki Randa is a singer I’ve labored with on plenty of my tasks, and we hadn’t finished a track in awhile. To do that one was actually enjoyable, and I do know the followers had been blissful to listen to that she and I had been working collectively once more. Denzel Curry can be an enormous anime fan. People would have been mad if I did not deliver him into this factor, and I’d have been mad myself, realizing how huge of an anime head he’s. I used to be gunning for him to be part of it from day one.
Denzel did the voice of Darkseid Batman on the current DC Comics “Sonic Metalverse” sequence.
I’m ready for these calls, man — the DC and Marvel calls. This week, it’ll occur [laughs]. Hey. I’m attempting to place that into the air proper now.
Could you ever see this music working as a dwell rating efficiency alongside the episodes?
We truly considered doing one thing like that. I’d like to. I’m actually happy with the work I did, so I’d like to do one thing like that if it got here up.
How far alongside are you on new music? It’s been a pair years for the reason that final correct Flying Lotus album.
To me, that is that second. I really feel like I’ve invested as a lot of myself as I’d have the rest. But, I do have extra music coming that I’ve been engaged on. Hopefully it will not take too lengthy to complete it. I’ve been speaking to Freddie Gibbs about doing a little stuff. I’ve been speaking to T-Pain about doing a little stuff too.
You talked about Thundercat profitable the very best progressive R&B album Grammy for “It Is What It Is,” which you helped produce. The Grammys have been mired in controversy of late, however I think about it should nonetheless be feeling to have your work acknowledged on this manner.
It feels nice. It feels nice to know that individuals have an opportunity, particularly as they have been including these new classes. The various class was so huge. When individuals hear that identify, they assume various rock. But it may very well be me, Hiatus Kaiyote, Thundercat and even Run the Jewels. All these issues are so completely different. I feel it is nice that they are increasing. I really feel like plenty of it actually comes right down to the voters. I’d think about plenty of the individuals who complain in all probability do not even vote. I would like to really vote subsequent time, as a result of I did not final time. The precise Grammys know who makes the good things. It’s the individuals who vote who aren’t at all times caring about our pursuits.