December/January 2022

by Silke Hartung

Ex-Pat Files: Baynk

by Silke Hartung

Ex-Pat Files: Baynk

Kiwi-born electronic/dance producer Baynk has been playing away from these shores for more than five years, cutting his own (evidently successful) path on two different northern hemisphere continents in that time. Jock Nowell-Usticke actually only started making music when he was 21, and now closing in on 30 he has an array of accomplishments including collaborations with international up-and-comers, major festival appearances overseas, and a recently released album, ‘Adolescence’. That title derives from the album being a collection of stories from his youth that he felt he’d never previously had the chance to tell. Silke Hartung posed the questions.

Did you ever do Rockquest or any other typical Kiwi band comps?

Yes, I did Rockquest twice if I remember correctly! Such good fun. I really loved it & it was an eye-opening experience for all of us. We won the People’s Choice Award in the Whanganui Rockquest at some point! I was the keyboardist and had yet to discover production or songwriting yet. I can’t remember who wrote the song.

What instruments do you play somewhat decently?

I can play piano up to an acceptable standard. Saxophone and guitar I am passable but barely. The laptop is my instrument of choice most of the time.

When did you leave NZ for overseas, and what was your main drive to leaving?

I headed for Los Angeles on my first tour in late 2016, but only ended up moving there in 2018. I went because the touring opportunities presented themselves and I wanted to go on an adventure! I thought some international life experience would be a fun/rewarding experience. So far, that’s held. My heart has always been in NZ and I know I’m coming back eventually.

I left L.A. mid-2020, halfway through the pandemic because there was no touring, my girlfriend’s visa had run out, and I needed a change of scenery. London has always been on my list of places to live, and honestly, I wanted some traditional Kiwi company. L.A. is such a transitional and material place that it can be hard to forge real friendships. It’s like a social mirage. I did have amazing friends, but they took a long time to find. Also, Kiwis are hard to find in L.A. – I’m getting my fill in London now, so all is well!

Both my parents have lived here at some point, and I have a fair amount of family and friends here, unlike L.A. I live in Islington in a standalone two-bedroom, which was super hard to find, but needed as I love working from home but am also paranoid about making too much noise and upsetting neighbours.

What does Baynk actually mean?

It has no meaning. I didn’t want anything that already had a definition. I thought of it in the shower one day.

Who else is in the team behind Baynk? Whereabouts are they based?

My day 1 manager extraordinaire Andrew also bounced from L.A. during the pandemic and now lives in Sydney. My day-to-day manager Steven still lives in L.A. and holds down the US fort. My creative director and one of my closest friends Spencer also lives in L.A. My business manager Sunei lives in London. My booking agents, Ferry & Sam, live in L.A. and Sydney! My touring/production squad mainly consists of university friends, and live all over the world, Philadelphia, NZ, Colorado, London etc.

How would you describe your work ethic as a musician?

It’s very ‘all or nothing’. I’m either doing absolutely nothing or absolutely everything, all at the same time, and then sometimes separately. I get bored extremely quickly and am constantly trying to find new ways to make music and art exciting, so that I don’t abandon it completely.

How does your musical time get divided between various industry-related tasks?

If I had to guess it would be 35% of the time making music; 30% preparing for and playing shows; 15% making other forms of art for the project (music videos and social content etc.) and 20% admin.

Can you tell us about your attitude and strategies for dealing (so well) with your socials?

I kind of treat it like a gallery where I present my work. I wouldn’t say I particularly enjoy posting all the time or updating people on my day to day life. I think I need space to live and make things. Then come back now and then and talk about them.

I do talk to people occasionally, through comments or on DM’s just because I’m so grateful to have an audience, and I don’t want everyone to go unheard. I do see the potential for it to be unhealthy though so I try to only spend what time is necessary on it.

baynkWhat gear is essential for your live set?

Boring but audio interfaces by iConnectivity have been my lifesavers (PlayAUDIO12 & AUDIO4c). I used to have laptops crashing all the time so having two playing at once sets most of my fears at bay! For set control, I use an APC mkII and an MPD226. Wireless gear for singing, playing sax and IEM all fits in the same flight case as everything else so I can just fold it out on stage and play. I play a standard student saxophone (YAS-26) and use Ableton live on the two laptops linked with Resolume Arena for visual control.

Are there any particular venues you frequent as artist and/or punter?

I’m more of a festival/one-off artist show type person. I just went to Field Day in London for the second time, which I loved. Before I started making music I must have attended RnV 4-8 times. Laneway holds a special place in my heart as well. I just love that festival, the line-up it curates, and the vibes are always immaculate. I think festivals were one of the big reasons I became an artist.

You’re obviously not shy to collaborate. How do such connections typically come about?

Usually through management. I’ll ask Andrew to approach people whose music I’m passionate about, and if they reciprocate, then it’s all go. Sometimes I’ll DM them on Instagram. I also spend a lot of time working with my good friend Rutger who has an artist project as ‘The Nicholas’. He’s a multi-talented artist/producer and fills out a lot of the musical holes I have.

baynkWhat’s your studio set up in terms of essential gear you couldn’t do without?

The most essential is my Mac Pro. I came up with writing everything on the original MacBook Air but I am so happy to now be working on something that doesn’t overheat or hinder my output.

My most used and loved ‘musical’ piece of kit is a Prophet 6, followed closely by a Crumar Seven electric piano. I tend to run both of these through guitar pedals to get different sounds – my favourites are Holograms Microcosm and Fairfield Circuitry’s Shallow Water. Rutger is the king of this process, and we got a lot of song starters for the album using this method. For recording, I run everything clean through an Apollo x6, usually using an SM7B & CL-1 or occasionally a TLM102. Rutger used a Juno-60 a fair bit on the record as well.

In August, Elton John played one of your songs on his show. Can you tell us how that came about, and how it made you feel?

I was pretty elated. It meant a lot. He’s obviously a legend so I would’ve been floored by any opinion, let alone a good one. I think he said, “He’s got a good future as a producer because I really love that track,” about Esther. Have to credit Tinashe for her vocals, Annika Wells for lyric writing with me and Rutger for some small touch-ups on production/arrangement. I think my publicist Roo managed to wrangle that one. She’s great.

Your artwork for releases, videos and posters are all so gorgeous. How much of that is you, and how do you approach the designs?

If I had to guess, it’s maybe half me. Most of the ideation comes from myself and Spencer. Spencer has taught me so much, and I’ve definitely inherited some of his taste. We usually come up with an idea and then either do it ourselves or find the right people to get it done.

With this album, we were inspired by an artwork by Siné MacPherson called the Lexical Spectrum which is basically a visual representation of the Pocket Oxford Dictionary.

The methodology behind the work led to the want to have some generative method for how each song’s artwork was created. We found an incredible Swiss design team called Eurostandard who developed the technique. From that point, each artwork for every track was generated and then smushed together to make the cover.

Talking about ‘Adolescence’, who did you work on the album?

On initial ideas, I usually work alone. That being said, I wrote a lot of the music with Rutger (The Nicholas) and a fair amount of the lyrics with Annika Wells. Ryan Schwabe did an outstanding job of the mixing and mastering. As far as featured artists and other collaborators, there is (in order of appearance), Tinashe, Cosmo’s Midnight, Instupendo, Drama, George Nicholas, Cub Sport, Chiiild, Rainsford, Chelsea Lena, Lauren Baker and Golden Vessel. The album itself is just a collection of stories from my youth that I felt I never got the chance to tell.

What were your original plans for 2021, and how did your year ultimately work out in Boris Johnson’s UK?

I had London shows and a few festivals which got pushed, but I had an album to finish so it wasn’t the end of the world for me. The visa crisis for EU touring musicians is excruciatingly painful. I hope that gets fixed as soon as possible. I don’t think I’ve spent enough time in the UK to fully appreciate the problems they/we face. I also have an Irish passport in addition to my Kiwi one, so that is a rare stroke of luck in a post-Brexit world.

Have you got any tentative plans for the new year?

I’m not a big planner, but a large tour of the States followed by a return to my beloved homeland to see family, and perhaps play a couple of shows. I’d love to tour Europe as well, so hopefully, something over there pans out. As for the rest of it, your guess is as good as mine.

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