CAFUNE

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photos / Lauren Nakao Winn
story / Ruth Jiang
creative direction / Erica Russell

Speaking to Sedona Schat and Noah Yoo over Facebook call a while ago, it was hard not to feel the intensity of the two’s lively, friendly, and earnest nature — an energy that strongly embodies the music they produce under their alt-pop duo, CAFUNE.
Both recent graduates of NYU’s Clive Davis Institute of Music, Sedona and Noah have been creating music together as CAFUNE for more than a year or so. A desire to be authentic not only shines through in lyricism and sound, such as in breezy pop tracks like “Don’t You Forget” and “Warm Body”,” but is also a strong cornerstone in the way that the two friends view life and all things outside of music as well—it’s no wonder Pharrell’s a fan! Check out the words we shared with CAFUNE below to see just what I mean…
Just curious, what are the origins of Cafune? How did you guys meet and create the project as it sounds like today?
S: Noah and I met freshman year. He messaged me on Facebook before we got to school and then the first couple months of school we were core, original, freshmen “squad.”
N: That’s a very eloquent answer.
S: And then I started dating someone and went away for a while and we kind of reconnected when he helped me with a solo project. And it went well and that summer he crashed at my place and we wrote a song then. So July 2014 was the official start of the band
N: Working on the first song, it was the type of thing where we worked really well together and saw eye to eye musically so to me it made sense for us to have an actual project. Our first song as a band was “Letting Go” but if you look for Sedona’s SoundCloud, the song we did together is still up there. It’s called “Oh Hello.” It’s actually really good; it’s really, really slow…
S: [Laughs.]
N: It’s really good! I don’t understand why whenever I say that you laugh. You can kind of hear what the band stuff is gonna become but it’s really different. It’s very much “Sedona’s vision” and I’m just kind of working in and around it as opposed to the band stuff which is very much both of our composite musical values.
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What’s something you guys do at your live shows that isn’t reflected in recordings of your music? What’s something in your recordings you wish would reflect itself better in live shows?
N: For all our live shows in New York and some of the upcoming ones in the Northeast, we’re bringing on a drummer, our friend Andrew Campbell who also goes under the name URSAE. It’s really good stuff, I’ve heard his music. He also drums for us, he’s a badass drummer. It’s way more of a band feeling which is what I always wanted. Interesting electronic performance is super difficult to achieve; innately, the performer in question can interface with a computer and a crowd at the same time in an interesting way. I think artists like Diveo, Porter Robinson, Moon Bounce, these people are really adept at creating narrative but also being technically, musically impressive in performances. The point is, I wanted us to feel more like a rock band in a live setting. And I think as far as what from the production we want to bring to the performance, I would love to incorporate another guitarist or keyboardist.
S: Something that we’re trying to do is incorporate more visuals. I want it to feel more like a cohesive theatrical experience, an arc. We’re still working on that for sure. Getting closer. Part of it is giving yourself the space to be like, “Yeah, I can be theatrical about this.” Both of us are deathly afraid of being cheesy.
N: But still manage to be cheesy… I want it to be less reliant on Ableton. Which sounds super hypocritical for me, because I’m such an—
S: An Ableton champion
N: Because no one around me uses Ableton. Which is crazy because everyone on SoundCloud, all these producers, Ableton is like their life blood. In the school we went to, I was like the only kid that really used Ableton.
S: Everyone was using Logic and Pro Tools
N: And being all snobby about it. But at the same time in the live context, to me it’s really limiting to me because what I prefer to do is play guitar, play bass.
S: There’s less room for improvisation
N: Less room for fun stuff to happen and way more stuff to go wrong. So I think that’s one thing. I’d just like to make it feel more live. I really want to re-imagine our songs in the live context as opposed to just performing them.
S: Bands that we really admire, like Phoenix and Daft Punk, they both do really cool stuff with their live shows. They put intros and outros and special live versions of stuff…
N: Playing with musical motifs…
S: Yeah, and we’re so into that.
N: It’s really important.
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I did some digging and your first track “Letting Go” sounds vastly different from your most recent tracks. It’s this more rockish sounding jam, and from there you’ve got a series of chill covers before jumping into the oh so lovely “Warm Body”. I was wondering about how you two have both developed musically and personally since the first track you released?
N: I guess with “Letting Go” we kind of wrote that one on accident. We wrote it in 24 minutes, the whole thing. And we were really excited about it, we weren’t really thinking about what kind of project we wanted it to be in the long run like “oh, should this have more synths” or “what’s our style?” We were just really excited to have written a song in 20 minutes and immediately like—
S: “This is good, I like this!”
N: And yeah, we were really excited by it and just went by it. The EP is a lot more synth-focused because that was just the kind of stuff I was dabbling with at the time and I had a bunch of songs/tracks that were kind of my own. It was like what we want to do right now, so we just put it out. As far as where our sound is going now, Sedona and I have been doing a lot more writing together as opposed to on our own. Let me backtrack a little bit, after we released “Letting Go” there was a period of 6-7 months where Sedona was in Paris and I was in New York. So we got really used to working over Dropbox and sending each other ideas, demos, tracks, that type of thing. Once she came back we were still stuck in that mode of “Okay, I’ll work on it on my own, give it to you, you do your thing.”.Now we’re better settled into a pocket where more of the time instead of coming to each other with ideas, we’re just sitting down with our instruments and writing them ourselves, workshopping them on the spot. Which is how “Letting Go” came together and which is how one of our other first songs came together.
S: We did randomly put out the EP right around that time and we did talk about the idea that the music we would make would ride the line between dance/electronic music and alternative music because that’s the stuff Noah and I both like and it all aligns in a very specific center and place. I think the stuff we’re writing now is the first time it’s actually successful because the first EP is very clearly way more on the dance-y electronic side and then you have two songs in there like “oh, this is a guitar song” and now it’s actually what we say it is.
N: I think on the new stuff we’re backing a lot away from using really, really bright synths and those kinds of textures.
S: Our primary base for the music is still electronic and digital but it’s also just emotionally different. We’re older.
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What have been some of the biggest challenges you guys have faced together as Cafune?
S: It’s been a challenging year, man. We just graduated college and are trying to figure out how to pay student loans and be adults and also have this band. In Noah’s case, he’s doing really well with writing stuff and a lot of it is just like figuring out a life balance where both of us are healthy. Beyond that, being in a band is such an intense thing — we’ve had to learn how to adjust to the person’s type of communication needs. Basically spending a ton of time with each other and dealing with personal things that are really sensitive. Particularly for me, I’ve had to learn how to be less precious with any lyrics or anything that I write because we’re both just trying to come up with the best project. Inevitably, with ego, emotion, and all that stuff we’ve really had to work hard to establish a good standard for our work flow.
N: Being in a band with only one other person has made me realize that there’s no majority; that we’re just kinda it. It’s like, okay, we both have equal share in this, we both contribute creatively equal amounts, and if you come to a disagreement on something you either compromise it or you don’t. But every week we get better at that. Which is really important. And like Sedona said, real life gets in the way a lot of the time.
Lyrics can come from a very personal part of someone, yet the title of your debut EP ‘Love Songs For Other People’ completely changed the way I thought about the songs on that EP when I was listening to them, kind of like the way listening to Sia’s ‘This Is Acting’ album made me feel. Your EP title is pretty self explanatory, but I was wondering about the significance behind the title, and whether this sort of detachment was made deliberate for a reason?
S: That’s really interesting actually that you interpreted it that way. I didn’t even consider the idea, though it makes total sense. Basically, the title came from the fact that Noah and I were both in pretty serious relationships at the time and all of that emotional songwriting we were doing together. We were writing romantic songs together directed at other people. Detachment… it’s funny that you say that because to a certain extent, now I feel a detachment to those songs, but it’s not because they were written for other people.
N: Why do you feel a detachment?
S: I feel a detachment because obviously we were removed by time from them. You know, like the other day at rehearsal with “Runaway”… It’s like a song that a lot of people really really love but for us it’s like, I wrote all that stuff before I went to Paris. I just feel so far away from that emotional thing… what that song is about. Or you know, any of them.
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Your music inspires listeners to dance, to feel empowered, to honestly be put in a good mood. I think it’s very powerful that these elements can come together so smoothly in a pop duo that obviously is not fabricated or carefully engineered to feel one way or the other. It feels wholesome listening to your music. I want to know, if you could give aspiring artists any single piece of advice to keep them going and continue with their career, what would you tell them?
N: Can I get that advice?
S: We’re not trying to be cool, we’re not trying to be anything other than what it is, what we are. In my case for sure, I’m just not able to convincingly act any part.
N: Any advice I can give… It’s just better and less effort to just do your thing as authentically as you can. Because if you feel like you need to act a certain way with certain people because that’s what “being in the music industry” is or some bullshit like that, I just can’t do that. I’m just unable to do that successfully… Whenever people ask me what I do, I very rarely call myself an artist. Because there’s all this stuff that comes with it, like an ego thing. Being an artist you inherently have to be a really selfish person because you’re declaring to the world, “Hey, look at me I have this thing that you should listen to and you should care about it!” and it’s pretty crazy to wake up everyday and be like “I have to make people give me their time” and you have to prove to these people that you’re deserving of their time. My point is, for aspiring artists, be honest with yourself and what you want. If you are like a very glamorous, dramatic “Gaga” type, if that’s who you really are, you should do that! It’s not like you should just be really unassuming either. But no matter what, you should do what you feel is an accurate representation of yourself as opposed to following trends or doing what other people are doing. Or being contrarian because it’s the cool thing to do, because that’s also one of the worst things. Also watch a lot of Youtube tutorials, on a more practical note. If you’re an artist you have no excuse not to constantly be getting better at production, constantly getting better at songwriting, constantly getting better at performing. You have the greatest treasure trove of performing ever available to the history of mankind.
S: Well said! It’s always funny when Noah gives that talk like “to be an artist you have to be really self-absorbed” and I’m just like…
N: You do have to be really self-absorbed!
S: Right, but Noah is like a producer, a writer, he has lots of different labels. Even though he’s also a songwriter and is an artist, he kind of rejects that label whereas I’m just like “Yeah I’m an artist.”
N: I’m not calling you self-absorbed!
S: I think it’s funny. I agree with you to a certain extent, you have to be a certain level of self-absorbed to construct that certain kind of creative ego.
N: Okay.
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