Origins, Streaming Overlords & Starting From Zero

Audioverse Interview with April Dawn Bernardo • Premiered Oct 31, 2023

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Transcript edited for clarity and length

"The Bun." What's the story behind the name?

Well, it's a nickname I've had since my teenage years. You know how high school nicknames are. I've been a lifelong skateboarder, starting at around four or five years old, and I still skate to this day. In skateboarding, it's a common phenomenon for everyone to have nicknames. It's not something you consciously choose; it just happens.

One of my skateboarding buddies in high school noticed that I was always asking for money during lunch breaks or between classes. It was usually small amounts, like 10 or 25 cents. I was always scrounging for money to buy honey buns. They're a kind of sweet, doughy pastry with syrup, and I couldn't get enough of them. My friend started calling me "The Bun," and the nickname caught on in the skateboard community and beyond.

I got into music through skateboarding. Music was a significant part of skateboarding culture, especially punk rock music. Skateboard magazines, like Thrasher, featured music reviews and introduced us to wild and crazy music. We'd order the music and started playing various instruments and forming bands. That's how I got into music, and here I am today.

Did you imagine yourself in the music industry as a kid?

Yes, it's interesting because, on one hand, yes, and on the other, no. I knew early on that music was my passion, and I had a strong desire for it, particularly the guitar. I believe everyone who gets into music has that Genesis moment when they see or hear someone play an instrument, and they connect with it. For me, it was the guitar, and it was my uncle, Kevin, who played a significant role. He's a world-famous session musician now, but back then, he was just a kid.

I vividly remember a moment when he played something specific on an unplugged electric guitar in my grandparents' living room. The way he played it left a profound impact on me, and it became the driving force behind my desire to pursue music. That moment was a turning point in my life.

There's a second part to the story involving my Uncle Kevin. He had moved to Toronto, Canada, which is the country's largest city and a hub for opportunities in the music industry. We were on the phone, and I was bombarding him with questions about guitar amplifiers and recording. He described how he was recording songs in his bedroom on a four-track cassette recorder. This was way before computers, and it blew my mind.

The idea that you could fully express yourself, tell your story in sound, and have the opportunity to do it all yourself was enchanting. It was then that I realized that this was what I wanted to do with my life, and I've been living that dream ever since.

I remember a different branch of my music history. I had started playing some guitar, and though I was terrible at it, I had a guitar and knew how to use it to some extent. A friend of mine, Keith Body, and I used to skateboard together. One day, we were at my house, skateboarding on a ramp behind my house. After we were done, we were back at the house, and he noticed the guitar.

He asked me, "Do you know how to play it?" I replied, "Yes, like this." I showed him something simple, and to my surprise, he immediately picked it up. It had taken me a long time to even coordinate my fingers to hold the guitar, but he just had a natural inclination for it.

I said, "You should do this; you're really good at it." He seemed surprised and asked, "Really?" I encouraged him, and he went home and told his parents that he wanted to learn to play the guitar. Within a week or two, he had learned all the songs of the bands we listened to and more. He couldn't get enough, and he had this natural ability. To this day, he's a phenomenal guitar player.

It's fascinating how people can pick up on their natural talents, especially when it's someone close to them. When you have that opportunity to get close to something you're passionate about, it can really propel you. It's different from just seeing your idols on television and thinking, "That looks exciting, I want to do that."

Who is a person that you've looked up to on your music journey?

I've never really had heroes or idols in the same way many people do. I look at the world a bit differently, probably because I'm neurodivergent in several ways. I've never had that one person I truly looked up to. However, there were things that I found interesting or captivating, almost like spectacles. I would see something visually and sonically interesting and want to delve into it.

When I was really young, a spectacle that caught my attention was the band Kiss. They had the makeup, the fire, the costumes, and it was all so over-the-top. As a four-year-old, I thought, "What is this? This is insane!" It was mysterious, and I wanted to understand more about it. It was not so much about their music, it was the spectacle and the performance that fascinated me. I didn't really care much about their music, but I think that experience had a role in shaping my ideas about being a music artist.

What is "heavy without the metal"?

Interviewee: My musical interests are driven by the punk rock scene, particularly the DIY (do-it-yourself) ethos. Heavy metal, while I find many aspects of it artistically and technically interesting, is a culture I don't entirely identify with. The metal aesthetic, attitude, and perspective don't align with my outlook.

I come from the punk rock background, especially the DIY scene of the 90s, which took on various influences while maintaining a DIY, no-Gatekeepers attitude. I don't wrap myself in the metal culture, but there are elements of metal that I find artistically intriguing.

One thing you would change about the music industry?

Interviewee: What I'd like to change about the industry itself is the overwhelming influence of major labels over how everyone else conducts their business. The internet initially disrupted this control, creating a bit of a "wild west" period where no one had complete dominance. However, in recent years, major labels have regained their hold, especially in the realm of streaming services like Spotify and Apple Music.

It's interesting to note that people have access to an incredible library of music but often opt to listen only to what's heavily marketed. While I understand that not everyone is a music enthusiast and just wants to jam to popular hits, it can hinder those who seek more obscure or experimental sounds. The problem is that major labels have found ways to overshadow awesome music and exercise control.

For example, Bandcamp was initially an amazing platform for discovering music, especially for music nerds who seek unique jams. However, it has gone through acquisitions and is in danger of losing its initial essence. Major labels are in the way, and it can be frustrating.

My hope is that we can let the listeners decide what they truly enjoy and encourage that power. This isn't to say we're powerless as listeners, but access manipulation and gatekeeping are the most discouraging aspects of the industry. It's frustrating when these elements take precedence over the proliferation of culture and ideas through music and art.

Where do you get your inspiration when creating music?

I approach the creative process somewhat differently from what is often considered traditional inspiration. While I do experience moments of inspiration, I don't heavily rely on it. When inspiration strikes, I make sure to follow it, as any artist would. However, my approach to creating music is generally more methodical and practical.

I'm motivated by an interest in design and the creation of things that don't yet exist. I believe it's essential to distinguish that not everyone pursues music for the same reasons. People have various motivations, ranging from wanting to be part of something or being drawn to the spectacle of it. So, not everyone is necessarily driven by artistic or creative motives.

For me, art and design serve as the main motivators. I'm inspired by the notion of creating something new, expressing thoughts, ideas, and unique perspectives on reality through music. Simultaneously, I approach music with a design perspective, where I analyze the architecture of music, seeking interesting aspects. I often find myself wondering about what if scenarios, such as combining different architectural elements or deconstructing existing ones. This deep curiosity and the drive to experiment and explore possibilities are at the core of my creative process.

What’s the one project that you'd consider that best represents your music?

That's an interesting question, and it's a bit challenging to pinpoint one particular creation. As an artist, I haven't always thought about my work being intertwined with my identity, but this notion has emerged more prominently in recent years. Over the last decade, my "Bunn" persona as a solo artist has gained increasing popularity, especially within the past three years. During this time, I've received feedback from listeners who express that they can distinctly identify my sound within my music. It's a signature sound that stands out, and I didn't actively set out to create it.

So, it's difficult for me to identify a single "Holy Grail" creation in my body of work, but my "WTLNDS" project has been significant. I was initially averse to using the blues, as I had a somewhat negative opinion of it based on my previous experiences. However, when I decided to explore the blues from my own unique perspective, it transformed into something that still sounded distinctly "Bunn." I realized that even with a foundational blues framework, I could make it sound like my own creation, which was a fascinating discovery.The fact that I could take something as ubiquitous as the blues and still make it sound like me was a revelation.

If you had the chance to talk to aspiring artists what advice would you give them?

I would say to go all in, to pursue it with full dedication. The path of an artist can be challenging, but it's less difficult if you're fully committed. I often find that idealism can be a problem, especially your own idealism. You can be your own biggest barrier. I used to be very idealistic about how things should work, how they should unfold, and the criteria and credentials that surround the process.

As an artist, you may want to control your story, but it's crucial to find a balance between authoring your story and allowing your audience to interpret it. A significant part of the storytelling happens on the receiving end. You may find that your music is understood differently than you intended, but that's part of the beauty of art.

I have artist friends who play styles of music that are just slightly outside the primary genres, not quite punk, metal, or rock. When listeners provide feedback, they often say things like, "I love the way you do this; it's so much like Metallica." This feedback used to offend us when we were younger because it was so off base and we would interpret it as being classified as something we were not. However, it's important to understand that people interpret what they hear based on their own understanding and exposure.

As an artist, you can be your own barrier by trying too hard to control how people perceive your work. You have to be 100% yourself, authentically you, and let your actions speak. Share those parts of yourself that are genuine, and don't worry about how people might initially perceive your work. You can't control how others interpret it; they bring their own lens.

The path to becoming an artist is challenging, but the worst thing you can do is not fully commit to it. It's not something you can dip your toes into; you have to dive in. Going all in means accepting that you might not be great at the beginning. Most people are not excellent when they start, even if they're talented. You have to accept that you'll make mistakes, but that's how you learn and grow.

If you don't go all in, you won't get far. Going all in means that you're committed to your craft, even when you're terrible at the start. It's about making mistakes, learning, and improving over time. The overnight success stories are rare; most artists work for years to find success. You have to keep going, make albums, and gain experience.

Becoming an artist involves understanding the mechanics and the process of creating and sharing music. It's about working with your audience, navigating the challenges of music platforms, and finding success, which can be measured in various ways, from streams and sales to views.

In the end, it's about getting out of your way, staying true to yourself, and going the distance in your artistic journey.


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