We sat down with the up-and-coming Los Angeles based R&B singer songwriter, ASTN, to discuss heartbreak, tattoos, Pokémon, and the creative process.
While the Florida-grown artist is an undeniable hitmaker, the “Happier Than Ever” singer’s latest album, “Where Do We Go From Here,” has been a tonal departure from his usual sound. The album encapsulates the rollercoaster-esque aftermath of a breakup featuring haunting lyricism and a few songs anyone could get down to in the club.
Let’s jump right into it. Can you just tell me a little bit about how “Where Do We Go From Here” all came together?
Yeah, totally. So the first track on the project’s called “How Soon,” and that was the jumping off point. I wrote that last year in March. I had just gone through a three year relationship, and then we both ended up going our separate ways. So, it had been a while since I had felt those types of feelings of confusion and being lost. It was like a sense of freedom as well, like it’s all this giant roller coaster. The first song to come from that was “How Soon,” and when I wrote that, I didn’t realize I was riding a project. I was just kind of getting stuff off my chest.
Similarly, with the outro of the project, “Starlight.” I think it made sense for them to be the bookends as they were the first to come from the project, it felt like all the bottled up emotion I had from my previous experience kind of went into those two songs. Everything in between, kind of just filled the gaps. Where Do We Go From Here? is kind of like an eight track project about my year and the experience of moving on, having a good time looking back, wondering where it went wrong, analyzing the relationship, and learning from it. I feel like the project has a lot of questions in it and I’m not sure if there are any answers.
Do you usually approach things knowing it’s gonna be a full project?
I don’t think so. I don’t think I’ve ever been a big-picture kind of person. I think I will just write however I feel in the moment. Obviously, during the last year and a half of writing this project, I’ve written so many more songs than just the eight featured. Like I said, the first two songs, “How Soon” and “Starlight” were the two points where I was like, okay I’m starting to build something here.
Down the line, I would love to be able to put something together conceptually. Before any lyrics are written, I would love to be able to sit down with all my collaborators and come up with the idea, and then put everything to music. I feel like that’s where really, really, really good bodies of work are made. This project was just getting stuff off my chest and it felt like it was necessary for it to happen the way it did.
How did you balance that necessity while working with people?
I think one of the beauties of songwriting is, it’s almost like a version of therapy a little bit. Obviously, it’s not intentional therapy where you’re going there for a specific reason, but it’s funny, some of these songs, the more vulnerable ones, were written with people that I was meeting for the first time. I think whenever you go into the studio with someone as a songwriter, you are ready to hear whatever they have to say, or you’re just open and willing to go in whatever direction they want. Especially if you’re a songwriter working with an artist, you’re kind of just going there like, “how are you feeling today?” blah, blah, blah. You just take it all in and try to regurgitate what they say in the form of a song. It’s just something I really appreciate about really good songwriters and this project is filled with them. They, they just really know how to put your mess of a brain and your consciousness into a song. That’s what I’ve been doing for a while too. I wrote a lot of my own stuff, but I feel like the beauty of this project was that it feels so personal. However, it has a, a big sense of relatability. And I think that comes from the collaboration part of it being okay. It’s not just my experience, but it’s also that this project is moving the songwriters too.
How much do you consider how fans will react or, whether or not it will be marketable when you’re writing personal songs?
Whenever it comes to songwriting, I feel you’re intentionally trying to write something that is relatable. I feel like people do this all the time trying to make whatever a “hit” is nowadays while also trying to make something everyone can relate to. I feel like a lot of people, even me as a listener, love when people are super, super, super specific about their situation. If it rings a bell with you at any time and it’s specific, it hits even harder. Also, I don’t think someone listening to your music has to relate to the entire song, but if it’s one little detail that reminds them of something, I feel like that’s all it takes. So, as an artist, you owe it to yourself to make something that’s true to you. If your situation is very specific and you wanna talk about that, I feel like you owe that to yourself.
Your single “Element” is a little different for you. Can you tell us a little about that song in particular?
I took my first trip to Miami, and I’d never been to Miami before. I feel like maybe that’s where the song came from, me being in a different space with a different collaborator. I got to work with Poo Bear down in Miami, which was a super good time. It was great to be in the studio with him. I feel like I learned so much just as a songwriter and a creative. His work ethic is so good, it’s really inspiring. We wrote two songs on that trip, “Element” and “On Schedule.” I don’t really make a lot of music like that, but “Element” is more like club, uptempo, high energy. I’m usually more mid tempo, laid back, chiller, but I felt like it was necessary to have this on the project. I’m glad Poo Bear brought it to my attention that he wanted to do something like this. It really makes the project feel like a rollercoaster ride, kind of like a breakup. I feel like the project does that with “Element” being what it is. That’s why I love this project so much. All of the collaborators on it really pushed me to come up with new sounds and to use my voice in different ways while challenging me lyrically. I think “Element” is a big highlight of that atmosphere.
I want to go back to the very beginning, what got you into music?
My dad was a drummer growing up. When I was three or four he bought me a little drum set and I was just like, poking holes in it, having a good time. I think he could kind of tell that I had something going on musically. When middle school came around, I ended up joining the school band, and I went on to do drumline in high school. That was my baby at the time, especially in high school. We moved around a lot. So I didn’t really attach to friend groups that often. I didn’t really see any sense in making friends if I thought I was going to move soon. Instead, I really grabbed onto music and, and took it seriously.
In high school, around my sophomore or junior year, I started producing in a Florida studio. It was just me and my buddy messing around one night, making dubstep music, which was insane. That’s where I started, as a producer. Then, towards the beginning of college I ended up getting a mic and an interface. No one wanted to record all my beats, so I taught myself to sing between 2016 and 2017 and then started recording covers, learning how to record my vocals through trial and error. That’s when I kind of broke into R&B music, I was also studying jazz in college at the time. I feel like Jazz and R & B have a relationship going on. So, I started releasing music secretly without my parents knowing and one day they found it and they were gassing me up about it which felt great. My parents loved it so much, and that was when the light came on for me, I was like, wait, maybe I can do this as an artist, you know?
So we have to talk about tattoos, what was the first one? Does it still exist, or have you had it removed?
Yes, it still exists. My song “Flowers”, released in 2018, was my first song to hit a million plays, and I wanted a tattoo significant to that moment in my life. It’s funny, I feel like a lot of people go through this, but you start with tattoos that mean something or have a big significance in your life and as you go, you kind of start filling up your body with nonsense.
That first one, how did you feel when you got it?
It’s cool because it’s like a time capsule, you know what I mean? I can remember exactly where I was when I got that. I remember where I was in my life. A million plays is still awesome to me now, but back then, it was such a massive deal. It’s almost like a reminder to just enjoy the journey. It’s about the little milestones you hit along the way. It acts as a solid reminder not to take anything for granted.
You mentioned the journey of not taking tattoos so seriously anymore, was it a slow process or did it start after that you started getting silly stuff?
It was definitely slow. Me and my sister got some matching tattoos, so I have those. Honestly, after that it kind of took off. I have a couple Pokémon on my arm. I have a sword, some anime eyes, a skeleton, an eight bit eyeball, and none of that really means anything to me. I love Pokémon, but it doesn’t have a massive significance in my life. It’s pretty funny having those few significant tattoos surrounded by chaos.
Have you seen any fans with tattoos?
I’ve seen someone put my lyrics on them or, I have this hand tattoo that I’ve seen a few of my fans get, which is super cool. I’ve seen one person do it on their hand, but usually they’ll do it on their arm or their leg. Part of me feels like a parent where I’m like, “why would you do that?” I’m just getting whatever, like I said on my arm, I don’t really care. Whenever I see fans with tattoos of my music, I’m like, “why would you even think about doing that?” Then I have to remind myself, they’re the same as me; they don’t really care.
Which tattoos are your favorite?
I have a Pokémon Emerald cartridge on my arm. It’s this big, green block. I love it because I’ve never seen anybody with it before, I’m sure it’s been done, but I’ve never seen anybody with it even on the internet. This big old Pokémon cartridge is the first one I ever got when I moved to Los Angeles, and ever since my tattoo artist did that one in LA I was like, you’re my guy for life.
Who is your guy for life?
His name is Chris, @electricink09 on Instagram.
What are the plans going forward? Are you touring, doing shows, working on a new project? What is your next move?
I have a ton of music, and I’m still writing new music. That’s my favorite part of the process. It would be sad if I ever stopped writing. I’m also doing some one-off shows right now, trying to just pop around and continue performing. I’m also working on building a live set as well. I would love to tour soon and get on the road and see different places. I think that’ll be a big part of me and my journey. Probably late fall or early spring would be ideal for a few shows here and there. So I think that’s next on the horizon, and while the next project hasn’t started yet, I have a few ideas cooking.