Standing Apart Means Trusting Your Sound for BAYNK
BAYNK’s rise to fame is more than luck and a laptop–it’s a commitment to the unique sound behind each song.
BAYNK is living the dream. Before embarking on a solo career as a producer and performer, the New Zealand native, real name Jock Nowell-Usticke, was simply a student pursuing a chemical engineering degree, playing in a local band. The story is as old as (modern) time. After teaching himself to produce music electronically through various YouTube tutorials, he uploaded his music to SoundCloud. Now, he’s headlining an American tour this spring after an impressive resume of touring with the likes of Matoma and San Holo. His tropical, mellow sounds and roomy melodies do more than lull the listener, they’ve already garnered him an internet following of over a million monthly listeners on Spotify, and a tour in summer 2018 that saw all four shows sell out.
However, BAYNK wasn’t always BAYNK. Prior to his successes, Jock was forcing himself to finish schooling before pursuing music fully. “Chemical engineering felt like work 100% of the time, whereas music feels like work 30% of the time. I was a fairly lazy chemical engineer,” he says with a laugh. “In fact, I’m lazy when it comes to most things I’m not passionate about.” He ended up branching off from his band to avoid telling others how to play their parts, his biggest issue that he wanted everything to have a particular sound. The solution? To write everything himself. His career took off after viral attention surrounding his songs online, featuring unique sounds paired with visuals he made himself, which served as a tool to separate him from the excess of bedroom producers and DIY DJs.
I knew I wanted the relationship to take place in a white void with no horizons to kind of remove the realism and make it seem like it was all in her head.
It’s this devotion to the artistry that really drives BAYNK’s success. Take the artwork for his newest EP, Someone’s, created by an artist who goes by the name of Linnnn, for example. He wanted something simple and subdued in nature to capture the essence of the song. “Most of my music can be quite spacious,” he explains. “She took that idea and re-created it visually.” Her work captured how he felt creating “Settle,” his latest release, and so she created the rest of the artwork for his EP.
The music video, which Jock helped direct with the aid of director Spencer Graves, encapsulates the confusion of navigating a relationship with another person using dizzying camera work, a blank background and sporadic dancing. “I thought of it in the shower,” Jock admits. “I knew I wanted the relationship to take place in a white void with no horizons to kind of remove the realism and make it seem like it was all in her head.” The effect is visceral and hypnotic, a video that fuses the simplicity of BAYNK’s aesthetic with the complexity and messiness of casual dating.
“Settle” is the result of BAYNK’s most recent collab with British vocalist Sinead Harnett. His single with Sinead was like the proverbial lightning in a bottle, “like meeting an old friend I hadn’t seen in 5 years.” They spent the majority of the session writing what he describes as a “pretty mediocre song,” before scrapping it and coming up with the chords for what would be “Settle.” Sinead freestyled the lyrics. When BAYNK is producing a song which features another vocalist, he ensures “there’s enough space for them to be creative and interpret it in their own way,” and of course, dialling back any intensity or “weirdness,” to give their voice room to breathe. This should be straightforward, as anything sounds entrancing atop his catchy synths, but you can tell he has fun playing around with the music he creates.
By now, BAYNK is no stranger to collaborating with, well, strangers. They “tend to yield the best results even though the session might feel a little awkward at first,” although, he adds that the next best thing is to work solo, so he’s not overwhelmed by someone else’s constant presence. “Working with friends is a lot easier going and fun,” he says.
As an NZ native, BAYNK is in good company these days with the likes of Lorde, Robinson and Six60, to name a few of the more prominent artists. But of playing back home, Jock says the pressure is tenfold. “It’s a home crowd with half my friends in the front row, it feels more like I’m under a magnifying glass there.” While he loves it, the lead-up can feel understandably exhausting, both physically and mentally. “Anywhere else I feel far more comfortable.” And with his American tour kicking off at the end of January, this is good news for BAYNK lovers, as Jock describes being on the road as his ideal inspiration conditions.
The biggest surprise to the NZ native on touring in North America is the receptiveness of the crowds who come to the festivals and shows knowing the words, ready to have a good time. He describes the whole situation as surreal, being so far from home but having fans spread out everywhere from Boulder, Colorado to Nashville, Tennessee, two of his favourite American stops. Boulder for its striking landscape and awe-inspiring mountains and Nashville for its people, who he describes as being very similar to those of NZ, carefree and happy. In BAYNK’s transition from special guest to the headliner, he has carved out a legitimate space in North America in an age when music festivals and self-starting musicians are aplenty.
It’s hard to stand apart with the wave of bedroom producers growing with each upload. For Jock, it was a question of time, and “how far you’re willing to go to make yourself sound unique.” Apart from a keen ear for what sounds good, which Jock obviously has, he suggests “mangling samples beyond recognition,” or finding obscure vocalists to gravitate attention to your music. “Your own voice and taste is the most unique thing you have, it just takes time to work out what you like and how best to translate that onto your computer.” This is exactly what BAYNK has done with his most recent releases: each song feels vulnerable enough to be authentic, and with a splashy beat and beachy vibe; it evokes enough of Jock’s laid-back personality to feel like you know him. “Just be different whilst still sounding good.” He says, on advice for those still on the path to figuring it all out. “Easier said than done.”
Words by Brodie Sharpe – BAYNK kicks off his spring 2019 North American headline tour January 31 in Boston, USA.