There is little doubt that 2014 has been a great year for UZi. After earning their stripes by conceptualizing, producing, and creating VHS-infused viral videos shot on VHS camcorders for the likes of Wiz Khalifa, KiD CuDi, RiFF RAFF, or Kreayshawn, the Los Angeles-based duo, comprised of Gabe and Mike, has made a successful move into music with a string of lo-fi pop music releases through their SoundCloud. Thanks to their creative ambition, refreshing approach to music, and star-studded collaborations, UZi’s direction is clearly showing up. Their latest claim to fame? Joining their good friend Wiz Khalifa on his ‘Blacc Hollywood Big Secret’ tour, which kicks off today at the Observatory in Santa Ana, CA. We caught up with the band in LA, to find out more about the relationship between their audio and visual craft, their take on pop music, the shady aspect of the music industry, and their hometown.
It’s hard to find some solid information on you guys. When did you decide to move from video to audio?
Gabe: We actually started to do music before we were shooting music videos. However, the thing was that every director was basically flaking on us while shooting our music videos. So we just went ahead and bought a camera and started playing around with that. Once we saw the potential of growing as videographers and growing into the culture as artists, we decided together that we would not drop any music until the timing was right and we would actually be seen by people.
Your video style is very VHS-infused. Your music kind of sounds like that too.
Gabe: Our sound is pop. We try to make pop music for cool people, not pop for kids or soccer moms. We want to make music for kids that know what’s up.
How would you define pop music?
Gabe: That’s a really good question. It is a certain type of sound, just like trap music or country music are certain types of sound. With our songs, we take a lot of the same textures that you hear in Top 40 songs, and then Mike arranges them in a way…
Mike: We try to use the same structures that you can find in a standard pop song.
Gabe: We try to make it more sophisticated and cool.
How would you define each other’s roles while doing music?
Gabe: Mike is responsible for the work behind the boards, being a music mastermind. He plays every instrument and he engineers, he coordinates and makes all the beats.
Mike: Gabe does all the vocals and writes all the melodies. It’s a really collaborative process. Gabe helps me curate beats and I’m helping him curate melodies. We can’t do UZi without each other.
You’re in the process of recording your album. Tell us about it.
Gabe: We are close to finishing it actually. As far as the concept is concerned, we are making a pop album. We can’t disclose the names but we have a lot of people’s favorite Top 40 acts featured on our songs. But the thing is, we are not major artists. The album is like a play on the industry and it’s bridging underground and pop.
Mike: We are making an album that requires a major label budget for free.
Coming from a video background, how do you experience the music industry?
Mike: It’s not really different, it’s kind of the same, synonymous.
Gabe: The business is 100% shady. We’ve been talking to some of our friends, who’ve been in this industry for a long time and had successful careers, so we are soaking up as much knowledge as we possibly can. They would not let us make the same mistakes they did. I think we are doing a good job in being aware of the shadiness that goes on.
Mike: We are surrounding ourselves with good people.
Is LA the right place to make music in terms of network and so on?
Gabe: Yeah, there’s no better place.
Mike: LA is the sh*t. It’s a really good time to be in LA right now.
Gabe: It’s cheap to live here. It’s always sunny and there’s an endless amount of weed, hot girls. It’s a vibe. On top of that, everyone is out here. You can literally make your dreams come true just meeting people that you meet out here. No bullsh*t.
Let’s talk about your trip to Japan with Travi$ Scott. Mike, you grew up there. How was it for you to come back? And Gabe, was it your first time out? How was it from a creative/inspiration point of view?
Gabe: It’s been sick. Very inspiring. Just us being able to travel the world off art is unreal. We’ve traveled to Paris, London, the Netherlands. It’s just unreal.
Mike: We can’t really zone in on place. It’s crazy how small the world is, how similar people’s perceptions and interests are. You can find positive people with high energy everywhere.
Will you always stay loyal to the VHS style?
Gabe: Definitely. There are some people that pioneered that style and I think UZi is the act that brought back this VHS-style to a mainstream audience. At the same time, we are growing as artists and we’ve been directing on red cameras and movie cameras. Being loyal to VHS doesn’t mean that we won’t do other styles if needed and appropriate. We love to just grow. We’d love to shoot tv commercials in the future, more mainstream music videos and short films.
How do you discover new music?
Mike: Twitter and radio and Worldstar Hip Hop. Also, word of mouth is really big. A lot of the times it’s just friends telling us about good music, but honestly, I’ve been listening to a lot of music that I was listening back in high school these days. It’s been rather nostalgic, ’90s sh*t. I’ve been listening to a lot of Eiffel 65 lately, Limp Bizkit, music from that era.
Gabe: SoundCloud is making a good job in terms of making people really listening to music again and discover new music.
What is the music industry missing?
Gabe: Fresh perspectives.
Mike: It’s like being late to the party all the time.
Gabe: The game is too basic and super predictable. I wish everyone would just smarten up a little bit.
Mike: It’s a lot of mediocrity out there. No one’s pushing the boundaries. No one’s trying to do risky, dope sh*t.
Gabe: It’s been about money, cash, h*es, gangsters, and so on, for like 15 years now. Decades even. I’m half black, half Filipino. Mike’s Persian. We feel like there needs to be different races in hip-hop, more color in the music industry. That’s what we are trying to bring.
Mike: We are very different.
What has been your biggest industry lesson?
Gabe: There are three. The first, most important thing for any aspiring artist, is to make plays. Make sh*t happen.
Mike: Be on point, reliable, trustworthy. It sounds really generic, I know, but being a good person in general goes a long way.
Gabe: The last piece of advice, get the f*ck out of your hometown and move to the big city if you want to do things.
Do you think genres are still relevant in 2014/15?
Gabe: I wish they were.
Mike: Genres do serve a purpose. We do need a little bit of organization for all this music and these artists and it out there to make it more accessible to people. We need genres to make sense out of sh*t.
Gabe: UZi loves genres. My whole thing is genre-play.
Mike: It’s a parody on genre.
Gabe: Exactly, that’s us. You might hear my lyrics and be like, “OMG, that’s something Justin Bieber or Miley Cyrus would say.” But then you hear Gucci Man’s drums and synths, and some Avicii-like sounds. You’re supposed to think of all these different artists but at the same time you are subconsciously listening to us.
Where is your band name coming from? Variations of it run all through your social media handles.
Mike: UrbanDictionary.com. It just looks good. It just felt right. We see it as a funny, bubbly cartoon character, like Sponge Bob or something. It’s not meant to be literal. That’s another parody aspect, ironic even, of what we do.
You are making plays. You are embarking with Wiz Khalifa’s on the ‘Blacc Hollywood Big Secret’ tour in October. What can the audience expect from you?
The audience can expect the hottest show ever. You have to come see it to fully understand.
Any final words?
Gabe: We are trying to be the hardest band in LA right now. As we’ve said, it’s a really good time to be in LA right now. There’s a lot of cool kids. We are working hard to make something happen from out here.