Everyone who’s passionate about music has one of two dreams: If you make music, you hope the right person will notice your talent and connect you with the resources that can transform a hobby into a career. On the other hand, if you’re not blessed with the gift of creativity (your humble reporter will now take a bow), you eagerly seek the opportunity to discover a promising artist at the start of his or her career and then follow along as they earn overdue acclaim.
Both scenarios fit for 27-year-old Jacksonville native Yuno. After spending a few years quietly crafting exquisite pop nuggets in his home studio, Ishmael Butler, frontman of avant-garde hip-hop groups like Digable Planets and Shabazz Palaces, discovered Yuno’s tunes on Soundcloud. They corresponded digitally for a year, then Butler introduced Yuno to the folks at Seattle’s Sub Pop Records, who snapped him up; his debut full-length drops later this year. For context, Sub Pop is famous for introducing bands like Soundgarden, Nirvana and Mudhoney to the world in the ’80s and defining the modern diversity of indie rock in the ’00s and ’10s with bands like Beach House, The Shins, Sleater-Kinney and Fleet Foxes.
“I guess Ish stumbled across me on Soundcloud and told me he liked my music,” Yuno tells Folio Weekly in an interview that sets records for humility. “Eventually, he said he wanted to show my music to the rest of the people at Sub Pop and apparently they liked it. So signing with them just kinda happened.”
For an artist as decidedly DIY as Yuno—he writes, records and produces all his music; directs, edits and even stars in his own music videos; shoots his own press photos and used Kickstarter to fund the 2013 debut album, V—signing with such a big label could go one of two ways. But even under the new Sub Pop banner, Yuno says he’ll still retain complete control of his breezy, bedroom jams.
“It’s great because Sub Pop will still let me handle everything myself as much as I want to,” he says. “I still record everything myself, I still do my own press photos, I directed my own music video, I did my own track artwork—now I can just upgrade my gear and have some extra support.”
If Yuno’s first Sub Pop single is any indication, that support is going to be a game-changer. “No Going Back” is a buoyant jam based around spiky keyboards, insistent snare hits and warm, layered vocals. When Yuno breaks into a series of high-pitched “na na na” phrases, there’s no resisting the urge to sing along; when he adds in a pained “Yeah, baby,” you can just feel the emotion on the edge of breaking free. As Yuno told Sub Pop, the song is about “Wandering around, not too sure about where I want to go, but definitely sure about where I don’t want to be. Just trying to make sure I have some fun along the way.”
Discussing it with Folio Weekly, Yuno was similarly low-key about the song’s roots. “It just started with that keyboard sound,” he says. “It’s pretty simple, musically—just keyboards, bass guitar, drums and a guitar solo at the end.” But what a guitar solo it is! The music crackles with Yuno’s nearly two decades of experience—started playing at age 8 when his dad bought him a $20 flea market guitar.
What takes “No Going Back” to the next level is the video, which juxtaposes scenes of Yuno hanging out on New York’s vibrant, sunny streets, with shots of him and a friend driving around the vast, empty parking lot at Regency Square Mall. Though it’s a now-shuttered relic of Jacksonville’s late-20th-century retail heyday, it’s also a special place for Yuno. “It’s so empty there now,” he says, “but growing up, there was always so much going on. Now it’s kind of just gone.”
Yuno’s been a Jacksonville resident since he was 10; his parents are originally from the UK by way of Jamaica. He says that multicultural upbringing, along with frequent trips to New York (he finished the shoot for “No Going Back” there two weeks ago), are reflected in the diversity of his music. “The experiences I’ve had in New York with my friends influenced the sound and lyrics of the music, along with the Caribbean culture I grew up with, the rock music I listened to when I used to skate with my friends, the hip hop my dad would listen to in the car … it’s a combination of a lot of different things.”
Yuno says his debut album, finished but not dropping till this summer, will feature such stylistic skips, inspired by his love of skateboarding videos and their far-flung multiplicity. “When I’m trying to get the right vibe for a song, I’ll listen to it with a skate video on mute in the background and base the feeling off of that. The new songs are all pretty different from each other, so it’ll be nice to hear everyone’s reactions to them,” he says.
That wide-eyed view may be what makes Yuno unique—though he’s been making music for years, he rarely plays out in public nor does he often go to a show— he’s not quite sure how people will react to his creations. “I did a couple of shows with some friends, like, 10 years ago when I was just starting out, so I’m looking forward to putting together a band and figuring out the logistics of playing a live show,” Yuno says. “I’ve always made my music myself in my room, and now it’s going to be out in the world. It’s kind of weird knowing that other people are going to start hearing my intimate stories. But it’ll be cool to perform and see people in front of me enjoying my music.”
Since Yuno is overwhelmingly modest about the impact of his music, we’ll give the last word to Ishmael Butler, who brought Yuno to the attention of Sub Pop: “First time I heard Yuno, I peeped, of course, that he possessed all the trappings of a great musician, impeccable taste on his riffs, songs catchy but not corny, familiar but dopely strange. There was seductive magic that I couldn’t and still can’t put my finger on, which is the essence of his uniqueness. Kid’s a star, man.”
Listen to "No Going Back" on Soundcloud, or connect with Yuno at facebook.com/Yvvno.