After releasing Choice(s) in 2016, gaining global recognition, backed by concerts both locally and internationally, Emanuel Psathas—notably known as Name UL—is currently in a state of reflection, and shows no signs of slowing down anytime soon. Here he is waxing poetic about his recent movements, album curation, and the current state of music.
With your father being the acclaimed New Zealand composer John Psathas, how do you think this affected your upbringing and approach to music?
It’s definitely set a bar to inspire to musically. Just having a person like that around who has the knowledge when it comes to creative process and harnessing it. Sometimes it’s been a bit of a disconnect, just because he did classical music and I’m doing hip hop. Obviously being in a household where there’s a lot of music, other than just hip hop, it’s had a significant impact on my music.
What’s been going on with you since the release of Choice(s)?
I’ve been in an interesting space creatively, seeing how it went and what the response was, which was largely positive. Personally, I’ve just been trying to get better at making music, and learning as much as I can. I think after I did Choice(s), I was like ‘Oh man, that went great, but there’s a whole lot I need to learn and suss out before I put anything else out’. It’s mainly been like a boot camp, just making music every day and trying to fit it around day-to-day living.
I notice you guys have picked up some decent funding lately from NZ On Air. What’s the process been like?
It’s been great! NZ On Air has been really supportive of us. They’ve made the process really easy, and we’ve been able to make some real epic videos because of it, and if that wasn’t there, I wouldn’t know what we would’ve done to get the videos to that standard. Being able to work with industry line gear and the top production companies has all been made that much easier.
You like to involve your friends as much as possible when it comes to producing video projects, right?
Totally. Like my latest video, “Falling”, was directed by one of my best friends. I just feel like there’s a lot of younger people, who don’t get given opportunities to make their ideas come alive. I feel like a lot of people I know are super talented, and if there’s some sort of way to get their ideas out where they want it, I’m going to help do it.
I’d way rather have five people listen to my album start to finish, than a hundred thousand people listen to one song I put out.
How does KWOE (Kids With Open Ears) feed into that?
It’s our collective, so to speak. We’ve been working on every aspect of it that we can think of. Creating merchandise. Doing shows and events. With a few partners we put on Mr. Carmack in Wellington earlier in the year, and it was super successful. We want to put out a KWOE compilation, and get a bunch of artists we really like to do a track or two on the project and release it later in the year. Again, just using it as a platform for all our other music. We’re just trying to grow it smartly.
How was Mr. Carmack? Was it following his performance at Laneway?
Yeah! We got a last minute opportunity where we managed to pull it all together and it was crazy; it was packed out. It was really cool to hang out with him and make music. We went to the studio and worked on stuff. Showed him around Wellington. Drove around the South Coast, it was so good!
How do you feel about the disposable state of music these days? What do you think is the key to producing something that is truly memorable?
Honestly I think it’s so much to do with making a body of work; you can make music for people to like or you can make music for people to listen. That’s how I go about it. If you want to get people’s attention then you can release a song, and make it really entertaining and in the first 30 seconds get them hooked, but for me it’s almost like I want my success to come from albums; I feel like they’re complete bodies of work. It’s hard, everything’s changing. People don’t have the same attention spans but I’d way rather have five people listen to my album start to finish, than a hundred thousand people listen to one song I put out.
You’re trying to build an experience around people listening to the album.
Yeah! You want to build a catalogue if you want it to be something that sticks around, not just 40 songs you put out. Even on albums people put out ten singles, but it never really feels like an album though. People are going to hate it and people are going to love it. So you might as well make something you’re happy with.
Lastly, what music have you been most excited about as of late?
Recently I’ve been listening to J.I.D, who’s a new signee to Dreamville. The new Childish Gambino album is pretty fantastic. Frank Ocean, Jay Z and Tyler Creator’s latest song, “Biking”, is pretty epic as well. I try and keep my ears open to as much as I can, but it’s a different game when you’re making stuff yourself, as everything you listen to is going to have some sort of influence on you.
Text and photography by Connor Hill