DiS founder Sean Adams meets Uffie but first...
The Case for the Defence
It's hard to say why you love something when people hate it quite so much. It almost makes you feel like you only express why you love it to offend people. Maybe I do love Uffie's music and her cartoon-ish me-me-me lyrics that little bit more because it rubs people up the wrong way. Referring to yourself in the third person, responding to her haters in opening verses and getting naked for photo-shoots, it isn't exactly a recipe for shifting vinyl boxsets down at Rough Trade East or winning the hearts and minds of fence-sitters.
Yet, it is this mixture of Paris Hilton-esque hyper-reality and a magnified sense of self that makes Uff's reactionary, anti-snob, anti-IDM, TMI-pop, so utterly symptomatic of the noughties and so utterly punk-rock. The trouble is, the world of the web is so tribalistic. Relevance and fitting in is ridiculously important. Uffie doesn't do agreeable, she does divisive and that doesn't fit the algorithm of these sheepish times we're living in. Forcing people to have an opinion helps you rise to the top, sure. Times change, fast, opinions shift in a matter of minutes in these shallow digital days of ours.
The crowned princess of electro got a kicking when her debut album arrived ("Finally, I know, after years!") following some time ducking out of the limelight, far away from the discoballs and the flashing light of Justice's cross to give birth to her first child. Fast forward to a few months ago and the collective 'meh' of the blogosphere led to the status quo decreeing that Uffie missed her moment three years ago and that's it, move along missy we're busy swimming in the chillwaves and sleeping beneath the witch house.
Perhaps I'm just not that fickle or perhaps I can't move with the times so flippantly. Then again, my listening and love has never been defined by genre or flavour of the millisecond tastes, and I had the record blasting in my headphones for weeks, utterly confused why people hadn't drifted into the ebb of the slow-tro of 'Illusion of Love' or had their asses whipped into shape by her interpretation of 'Hong King Garden'. Songs, songs, songs, Sex Dreams and Denim Dreams was dripping with them. Sure she's that hot chick and she knows it but look beyond it and you'll find songs with lyrics that patchwork the past and magnify the minutiae of our lives. Be it classic tales of parking lots versus paradise or talk of shooting dice, these are the sorts of songs I love. A truly great song has something personal that's also universal, even if it's a glimmer of something that triggers or prickles an emotion. The documentary approach to storytelling in folk music and hip-hop were incredible mirrors of moments in history that had individuals and their perspectives to the fore, and she's managed to pinch a little bit of each. The frustration, honesty and idealism, it's all here, opening up prickly chasms of nostalgia and glimpses of a near-future in ways that seem surface, and maybe they aren't 'deep, man' but when this record works, it's utterly sublime.
Sure, amidst the auto-biographical lyrics there's a sense of attention-seeking and maybe Uffie's early forays were the ultimate lyrical trolling, from the fortunate position of being Ed Banger's Nico riding the MySpace wave to the top of the Hype Machine chart. In fact, our falling out of love with and embarassment about those days spent on MySpace is perhaps the underlying reason for the Uffie backslash backlash. Or maybe it's just jealousy, begrudging someone success, especially a self-proclaimed hot chick who gets to work with some of the most talented musicians in the world but as she says in 'MCs Can Kiss' "don't hate the player, man, hate the game!"
Basically, Uffie might be the most berated musician of the past 10 years, DiS is 10, so what better time to run my chat with her about Ke$ha, MySpace, the haters and more...
Uffie on Momentum & Making Music
DiS: You've been away for a while, have you noticed things change much since you've been away having a baby?
Uffie: Definitely, the competition, the videos; everything changes every two months, it's crazy! It's kind of annoying because then it becomes about making so much and doing so much, rather than taking the time to create things of a quality, y'know, it's all about quantity.
DiS: Did you expect, when you first uploaded songs to MySpace, for things to blow up like they did?
Uffie: Honestly, the first year and a half I didn't seriously think about making an album. I know that I was signed for it but it started for fun. I wasn't really thinking about it, especially not as a concept. So I only started thinking about it last year. Hence, y'know, the delay...
DiS: How did you start making music?
Uffie: I was dating DJ Feadz and guess he figured like 'American girl, I can put her on my record'. So I wrote 'Pop the Glock' and they put it on MySpace and Ed Banger really liked it and offered a record contract. So I was, like, 'ok go to school or..' and it sort of went from there.
DiS: What sort of music originally inspired you to start writing music?
Uffie: When I was a kid growing up in Hong Kong, I was always listening to my parents music, Eric Clapton and stuff like that. When I came to the States I got super into hip-hop. I really was obsessed with hip-hop as a kid. Then I grew up and got more into rock and electro and stuff.
DiS: Were there any benchmarks for you that you thought 'that's what I want my record to be like'?
Uffie: No, not really. I knew, last year, when I started working with Mirwais and he asked me 'what sort of stuff do you wanna do?', I really wanted to do something a bit more like, singing, and I really wanted to experiment more with lyrics and actual instruments. I got more into the rock sound, instead of electro.
DiS: How much of it ended up as real instruments?
Uffie: About 99%.
DiS: So there's a lot of samples of the sounds you and Mirwais created?
Uffie: Yeah but they're a pain in the ass. Like, we sampled something, and I think that delayed the record by another couple of months but it all worked out.
DiS: You refer to Uffie in the third person, how much of that is a character that's so much bigger than you? Is it your naughtier side blown up?
Uffie: It's my split personality (giggles). I mean, it's funny, if I had not done music I'd be a completely different person. This life, like, enables you, it kind of fuels your naughtier side. It's not a completely different person or persona but I'm definitely more care-free when I'm working and I don't think about consequences and stuff like that.
DiS: How would you describe the record in terms of themes or a manifesto?
Uffie: It's really hard as it varies, completely different genres. It was really hard to make it sound fresh, as the material was recorded over such a long period of time and I had to throw so much away. It definitely still has that fun, like, sarcastic, party vibe. There's a lot of singing on it.
DiS: How did you feel about singing, as I heard when you first recorded yourself speaking in the mic you were really-really shy?
Uffie: In rehearsals it was terrifying singing in front of people for the first time. It was something I really wanted to do cus I wanted to be a bit more mature with the music and as I've just had a baby I thought to myself 'I'm gonna be performing for quite a long time', so I had to really think about what I was writing. Mirwais sat down with me and made me sing with him. It was horrifying at first but, like rapping, you kind of get used to it and you find your voice, and it gets easier.
DiS: To what extent were you tempted to use autotune and vocoders, especially for the Uffie aesthetic?
Uffie: I just really like it! I think it sounds so much more fun. It's not really hiding anything, I just love the way it sounds.
DiS: Do you think there's an authenticity to your use of autotune and other digital technology?
Uffie: Totally! What I do is electronic music, it is futuristic stuff. Of course, to make your voice, closer to the electronic music, it fits better. I'm not, like, making pop records. Like, human and machine, it brings you closer to it.
DiS: Because your music is more human than machine and the sort of label your on is more men-inside-machines, do you think that's why you've received some of the reaction you have?
Uffie: Yeah, it pisses people off. Again, it's a catch 22. Some people connect more because it's more human. Like, Justice, I love but its not really something you can listen to in your house. Whereas when there's vocals I find music much easier to connect to."
DiS: I love how much you smirk at the thought of annoying people...
Uffie: Ha. Well, it's kind of fun. It was a joke for me when it started and making people so angry is funny.
Uffie vs The Internet
DiS: What did you feel like when you first uploaded a song to MySpace? Hope and excitement?
Uffie: I just really wanted a music page too! (giggles) I thought that it'd be fun. It wasn't a very serious thing. I just remember MySpace back then, everyone was talking about it, it was like the Twitter of now. I didn't really think about it, I just went ahead and did it. I was really surprised by the feedback. Everything was happening through MySpace, I booked a tour in Australia. Literally EVERYTHING went through MySpace. It was crazy.
It was great because for me, especially as a fan of a musician, you could talk to them directly, and it brought them down to earth, on a more personal level.
DiS: I imagine, that closeness, wasn't all good, especially for people who don't like your music?
Uffie: Yeah, it's a catch 22, there's, like, the good parts and yeah, there's lots of REALLY bad."
DiS: Do you ever get direct abuse? Like your YouTube comments are completely abhorrent, it must be really hard to completely ignore it? I guess people even end up telling you what's been said, even if you have avoided it.
Uffie: When I was younger, I used to spend hours reading it and it was really horrible, so I stopped. There's always gonna be people saying bad stuff, about someone like me especially. It's just kinda like too much to deal with, so I just ignore it now.
DiS: To what extent, in what you create, have you consciously or unconsciously tried to antagonise some of those people?
Uffie: Its fascinating to me, like, people spend so much time and so much energy talking about something they hate, but, I mean, if I can make them that passionate about it, it's something!"
DiS: Has there every been a time when you've decided to never use the internet again?
Uffie: I guess like a year and a half ago, Feadz called me and started telling me about something he found and I was, like, stop reading it. It would stress me out and I would play shows and I'd be thinking no-one was going to like it. I would only focus on the bad stuff, so I had to take a step back."
DiS: Do you have any advice for any musicians...
Uffie: ...DON'T Google yourself! That's a bad idea. It's so destructive.
DiS: What have been the most positive things about the web, because it seems you've not really been behind most of the things that have happened, and you've not been a very active participant in the web, like your line about 'never posted a bulletin'...
Uffie: Yeah, totally. I'm not into it. My label forced me to open a Twitter account. I don't understand the point of wanting to tell people what you're doing all the time. Like, I dunno, I guess I missed this but I'm not really into this whole blog generation thing. It does have really good effects, I do get asked about more relevant stuff now and people hear about stuff now that wouldn't have been heard if it wasn't for the internet.
DiS: Do you feel that you maybe have your songs so that you can communicate so you don't really need to use the internet as a communication tool because there's an element of your lyrics that are similar to what people would write in blogs. Do you think there's a problem that some musicians spend so much time communicating via the web, so what they think, and not really saying it in their songs?
Uffie: That's true. For me, when you express yourself, it's through music, I guess when they take to their blogs, they're using up all their material. (giggles)
DiS: Do you ever look at what Courtney Love posts online or anything like that?
Uffie: No but I heard she like, rants. I guess all of this stuff can be really harmful. I can just imagine you come home drunk and start blogging, it can be quite destructive. And I think it ruins this image people have of you, as an artist, and I dunno, and when they open their mouths, it's like shhhh. It kinda kills something."
Check back tomorrow for part II.
- Spotifriday #64 - This Week on DiS as a playlist
- Interview: Uffie on Uffie, Girl Power and Ke$ha (Part II)
- Interview: Uffie vs The World (Part 1)
- Watch: Uffie 'Difficult' (World Premiere)
- In Photos: Bestival 2010 @ Robin Hill Country Park, Isle of Wight
- Spotify playlist: 10 Years of Solo Artists - Part 2: Beats, Bleeps, Björk & Beyonce
- Sonar 2010: the DiS review (Saturday)
- Watch: Uffie feat. Pharrell Williams 'ADD SUV'