Starting anew in LA comes with many moods. Surprisingly, the afternoon can be the loneliest. Everything is cooking and everything is yellow. Not in the romantic Coldplay way, but more like the city has been sweating since sunrise and the umber haze is the stain left behind. But out of those endless afternoons come California twilight with all its whimsy. Next thing you know, the city that smelled too bad to spoon is looking like the lover you left behind. All the asphalt sighing the day away, every window a whisper of color.
This sultry side of LA is what inspired anti-pop duo Uruguay’s new single. As a less aggressive tune, “Whisper” is as much an escape from the haze as it is a step in a new direction. But wading in the unfamiliar has defined Uruguay for the last year, as they made the big move from New York City to Los Angeles.
“I feel tied to most everything, as long as it moves me.”
Stepha says of their musical leanings. This statement could also be applied to the duo’s bond to one another. Having moved to East Harlem from North Carolina, the Big Bad Apple took its toll and they soon found themselves without home or shelter. It was the grace they found in each other as well as strangers (one being a munificent bakery owner from Uruguay) that kept them from breaking. And we are all the better for the music it has engendered.
We caught up with Stepha and Ben for the latest in their wild journey together, now in unprecedented times…
“Whisper” was written as an escape from a feeling that was hanging over the two of you upon your move to LA. How long had you been stuck in this funk and did this song lift you out of it?
Stepha: For me, there was a HUGE culture shock when we arrived in LA, and with living downtown without a car. I felt isolated and it takes a while to build your friend groups, so the first 8 months were mad hard. The song took me out of myself at times but also amplified my insecurities because its more upbeat and unlike things we had made before. So, when you make something new in a new place that is always refreshing but also f*$@ing scary, lol.
Ben: I agree, moving to L.A. was wild! Not really knowing LA, writing Whisper tapped into an undeniably strong, sultry and sexy feeling the city has, particularly at dusk. And that allowed me to tap into how the city was speaking to me and took me out of that new-city disorientation, at least for a moment.
Your sound is described as anti-pop… yet “Whisper” is quite a palatable, catchy tune. What are the elements that make up an anti-pop sound and are those things you aim for within the production of your music? Perhaps a measure of sorts of where to go and not to go musically?
Stepha: Thank you for saying it’s palatable, that’s such a great word! So, we are more or less genreless, but if we had to put ourselves into a genre I’d say more Anti-pop. We really dive into deeper and heavier sh*t at times, but things that I personally need to get out of my body and into people’s ears. I think that makes us more in line with that genre. That being said, I don’t feel tied to anything, or rather I feel tied to most everything as long as it moves me. We have a definite sound because we are distinct people (if you hear us, you’ll know its us), but we also go rogue cause that’s a fun thing to do and I think that’s real and sensual and exciting!
Ben: Yeah, I don’t think either of us think about genre at all when we’re making music. We’re both influenced by so much music and art that spans decades, and I think that finds its way into our music naturally. That diversity is one of the reasons we self-describe as anti-pop.
There’s been quite the exodus from NYC to LA in the last ten years. What was the biggest allure of California that sparked the big move?
Ben: I’ve traveled my whole adult life. I started studying abroad in college, and haven’t been in one place for more than three years since. I think we’re both adventurous as well, and LA is an obvious music hub, so we wanted to come see what it was all about. We’ve met the most amazing people in both places, so our family is wide-spread! It’s great.
Stepha: I totally agree w/ Ben, I wasn’t modeling professionally anymore and we were both ready to actually start putting work into being a band so we said, f@$k it! Let’s move!
The two of you met while struggling to find a home in NYC. Can you tell us a little about that period of your lives and how it brought you two together?
Stepha: Okay, so we met in NC and moved to NYC together. However, upon arriving we went through hell and ended up being without a home together. Which, thank God because I don’t think either of us could have done it alone. I think situations like that and seeing a different side of life (much like now) either open people’s eyes to what a gift life is or breaks people. We happened to both be compatible and tough enough to get through that and still like one another on the other side. I needed Ben’s steadiness and gentle nature. And I think he needed my quickness and heart. But that’s how we know we are going to make it as far as we want to go, because we have already been at the bottom and survived it.
New York has a way of wearing people down, more of a constant grind than LA… have you found this to be true since your move to LA? Or has it been impossible to tell because of the dystopian feel of the pandemic?
Ben: New York is definitely a hard place to live, especially if you’re not from there and have to figure out how to make a start. Driving up to the city with your life’s belongings and just seeing the whole thing is like…damn! We had a hard time of it at first, and it was really intense, but we eventually made our way and adapted. LA was much slower getting started. It wasn’t as intimidating, but in a similar way we had to adapt to the culture and how the city operates. While it’s not as in your face, there are so many things you can do and people you can work with in LA, so that grind is up to you.
Stepha: Completely agree, it’s hard being in LA with or without a car lol, but its cheaper and slower paced. NY – you have literally no control and you are always in need of money hahaha. But, we go back-and-forth between the two places (although with Covid we have been stuck on the East Coast). We need the constant buzz and grit of NY because it keeps us sharp. But, we also need the laid back comfort of LA because it helps us connect with ourselves.
Needless to say the last couple weeks have been unprecedented in certain ways… Do you have one significant moment of the last week even that you think will be ingrained in your mind for a long time? And perhaps contribute to something creative in the near future?
Well, I’m a woman of color (black and Native American) and I (Ben) am surrounded by family and friends that are POC. So, this hasn’t been a real eye opener for either of us because for us these are things we have known and struggled with daily. It’s just currently (and rightfully) being showcased in the public eye now. We hope that this current BLM movement opens up opportunities for POC in multiple avenues – including the music industry. If some of the unfairness that I (Stepha) and others have received changes due to this movement, and this moment, then that will most definitely be ingrained in our minds forever!! Because it will effect our lives, and future generations, etc.
We need to be agents of change because we were given a voice, so we will continue to make music that people can escape into, but also that doesn’t sugarcoat what is really happening. And we will continue to give our time, money, heart, and soul to our people who need to be lifted up. Everybody eats!
Has there been one artist or song that has kept you inspired throughout quarantine? If you were stuck at home with that artist, what would be the one thing you’d ask them?
Ben: J. Cole. He is an incredible lyricist, sogwriter, beatmaker, and I really respect his message/ how he carries himself. He’s always pushing toward a place of honesty for himself and the world we’re living in, and seems to genuinely care about people. We need more leaders like that. I have no idea what I’d ask, but it would be dope to work with him!
Stepha: Dua Saleh is pretty dope, they are an East African (I believe) gender queer artist in MN. Their song “mOth” is my sh**********t lolol. Okay, so if I were stuck at home with them I’d ask them if they wanna make a song with me for every major event during quarantine. Just get a bunch of beer and mad snacks and make a song a week to keep track of the time, hopefully, we’ll come out of this with something amazing. The songs would probably look like this: “Panic”, “Boredom”, “Complacency”, “Murder Hornets”, “Boredom”, “Bad Haircuts”, “BLM”, “A Hopeful Future”. Idk… hahaha <3
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photos / courtesy of artist
story / Chris Hess