Giraffage hits his stride

Charlie Yin tells us why his newest album is his purest release to date.

November 3, 2017

Bay Area bae Charlie Yin, known professionally as Giraffage, has taken the electronic music production world and flipped it on its side. The son of Taiwanese immigrants, he’s risen to fame from several standout EPs and albums, including his first, 2011’s Pretty Things, followed by a complete flip of The-Dream’s 2007 LP in 2014, Love/Hate;  he’s since had the opportunity to work with The-Dream himself, collaborate with the likes of Porter Robinson, go on tour with XXYYXX and Phantogram, and play the famed Boiler Room.

Still, despite all this growth, he remains down to earth and easy to talk to, with an unwavering focus on staying true to himself and seeking out the best sound. Yin continues to grow as an artist, pushing his music further and looking for new places to take his sound. Earlier this year, Yin released his debut full-length, Too Real, which he describes as his most “real” work to date.

His musical style is unique. Yin makes soft, familiar, atmospheric music with high-end production skills that continue to grow. He started Giraffage as a solo project to dice up pirated samples. Now, finding legal music is a challenge, he relies less on samples and more on creation. Still, this only pushes him further and a listen to Too Real will convince you that Giraffage was up to the challenge, and took it by the horns.

We had a chat with Giraffage to talk about feeling creatively drained, his thoughts on vaporwave, and his future releases.

Your debut full-length, Too Real, had a lot of features, as opposed to some of the other works you’ve released—what was it like working on an album with so many collaborations?
It was cool because Giraffage has always been a very solo project, but this was different. I prefer working alone; I think I’m the most comfortable working alone. It’s like two different domains; I always want to work alone, but whenever I feel creatively drained from working alone, I feel like a collaboration can really help.

Before you became Giraffage, you were creating chiptune music as Robot Science. Would you ever consider going back to it?
You know, I was thinking about releasing some stuff under Robot Science again, but I think it would feel disingenuous, because I don’t actually listen to a lot of chiptune anymore. I actually didn’t use any trackers while I was making chiptune—I used Reason and made chiptune sounds doing it!

That’s so cool! I didn’t know you could do that.
Yeah, I guess it’s more of a “hacky” way to do it; some purists probably wouldn’t like that. But yeah, there definitely won’t be anything in the near future, but you know, you never know.

A lot of people recognize you from your remixes of other electronic songs. What’s your advice for new artists and producers who want to increase their fan bases this way?
Make music for yourself first and foremost. I feel that a lot of the best art is created from a pure place. Worry about all the fame and the money afterwards. Stay true to yourself. And listen to a lot of weird music.

In the past, you’ve mentioned that you’re big into pirating in music. Has it been difficult having to let go of finding any random sample and adhering to legal boundaries?
It definitely has! I think for me, though, I think it’s cool to have restrictions, and now that I know I can’t, I have to be more careful with it. But it’s definitely been a challenge, and that has been a way to get more creative and try it out.

I agree with what you said about challenging yourself — that’s definitely how a lot of the best stuff gets created, with restrictions, whether mandatory or self-imposed.

I mean, that whole Justice album was made on GarageBand! I find that these restrictions can really open a lot of other doorways for creativity.

Do you ever make music with a vocalist in mind?
I’m trying to. I’m trying to get more into the back-end of music production, like writing songs for other people. For the Giraffage project, I’m really super picky about what I want [from] it, I had to listen to tons of demos to get the people that I wanted on the tracks.

You keep referring to Giraffage as a “project,” as if it is not a part of you or your identity.
It is a part of me, but it’s not all of me. It’s a facet of me. I want to get started on other projects; I want to release a techno project, I want to do a project where it’s like, me in a guitar band.

Do you play guitar?
Yeah, I play guitar. I started playing drums when I was 10 or 11, and then guitar. I didn’t get into any of that electronic stuff until I was in junior year of high school or so.

I know that your parents are Taiwanese immigrants. Did it create a sort of cultural strain when you had to explain that you wanted to create music for your career?
My parents are not musical in the slightest. When I talked to them about doing this, they just didn’t, you know, get it, because it’s not like I was standing there with a guitar—they just didn’t understand. They’re pretty progressive, for Asian parents, though, and when they came to my first few shows I think it really connected the dots for them and they were like, oh. They come to a lot of my shows whenever I play back home in the Bay Area now.

How do you think your music has changed from the days of Pretty Things to Too Real?
There was definitely a time when I was playing all these EDM festivals and I was seeing all these people around me. Too Real, I think, was a return to my roots. I took influences from indie rock and bands I listened to in high school. I think the album is a marriage of sounds from the past and present of my life. It was a different approach, but Too Real is the album that feels the most real and true to me.

Thoughts on vaporwave?
A-ha, I have mixed feelings about vaporwave. On one hand, I really love the music that they sample.

Do you like Blank Banshee?
I love Blank Banshee! But I have mixed feelings about vaporwave, really. Some I enjoy a lot and some I feel like they’ve just sampled something and pitched it down and added a reverb—and there’s nothing wrong with that, and I’ve done that, but I feel like. I mean, I don’t like how people can make, like, 20 albums in a week and release it as their own. It doesn’t feel like the work they have done was transformative enough to be their own.

What are you listening to now? Pick one song.
One song? Okay. This ambient techno producer, The Field. I really like him. There’s this song called “A Paw In My Face” I’ve been really listening to.

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