Vallejo-based artist, SELA. is a prolific creator of transcendental tracks capable of transporting you in and out of dreamscapes and mythical realms. Since the summer of 2011, he has already released a significant amount of material on Bandcamp. Despite being delayed by a job and doubt, SELA. was picked up by Tokyo-based record label flau, at the young age of 19.
On a surprisingly warm day, SELA. joined me on campus in some forgotten corner near Northside to discuss our mutual fear of bees, the proper pronunciation of “flau” (Is it “flou” like “flounder” or “flaw?” We still don’t know!) and most importantly, his music.
When did your interest in music begin? Did you always know that you wanted to make music or was there a decisive moment?
If I could credit [my interest in music] to anything, it was probably Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater. That game always had different genres of music, like skate punk, metal, and rap. When you’re a kid, you don’t really put labels on it. Then when I was in middle school, I found this website called multiply.com. It was this Myspace-type blog site where they let you post songs and videos. People would post playlists and albums, and you could just look through people’s whole library of stuff. It just started from there, me just looking up stuff.
Is there any special meaning behind “SELA.?”
There’s not. When I was in high school, I would do graffiti—not on stuff but just practicing it on my own so that maybe one day I could be cool enough to do it on stuff. I liked the way those letters looked together, so that [became] my name. When I started making music in 2011, I tried to think of some other things, and I could not. I spent a long time wondering, “What would be a cool name that would represent me?” and nothing came to mind.
What is it like being a self-starting artist in the Bay Area?
You would think that it’d be a lot more vibrant or easier in a way, and it’s definitely not—it’s just weird. In my own hometown [Vallejo], I don’t really have many like-minded musicians. There are of course, a couple of people who rap, but it’s just dry, for a lack of a better word.
Your next album, Anniversary, is scheduled to be released on May 7 under flau. Is there a difference between working as an independent artist and working as a signed artist?
I would say it’s too soon [to gauge the difference], because I’m not on that level of doing crazy long-ass tours, but a direct difference is waiting. If I just mix something and I’m done with it, I can call it quits whenever I want and post it, get downloads or money. I can go on whatever timeline I want to and make any executive decision I want at any time, but when you’re on a label, it’s all planned, you have to go through people and get approval.
Tell us about the inspiration behind Anniversary. Is there anything we should know before listening?
The idea for this has changed three times now. What we’re doing now is the Anniversary LP and selected songs from all the stuff I’ve put out. That’s going to be a second CD with thirty of those songs, but those are only going to be digital. The idea originally was that it was supposed to come out on the anniversary of my first release—when I first started making music, which was August 21st, 2011. So it was supposed to drop August 21st, last year. That didn’t happen. It was supposed to a culmination of everything up to that point. It was more like a thank-you to everybody that bothered caring the whole time.
The initial year I thought of it, I was working, so I didn’t get anything done. That’s why there’s this large gap [where I made no music] from 2012 to 2013. This time around, I tried hitting up people to collaborate with, but it would get to a certain stage and they would stop responding. By this time, the idea kind of got lost. Instead of being what I said initially, it ended up turning into an introduction to my music. The first half of the LP is more beats, and the second half is hella more serious. The B-side is a collection of thirty older songs that Yasuhiko [the label head] picked out. It’s kind of turned into an anthology, a collection of songs of me—an opening.
Some of your tracks on your Anniversary and night thread seem to be hip-hop-influenced. Are there any specific rap artists that have influenced your work?
It’s not one of those things where I have this one artist who is my favorite guy. It’s more like different scenes, in general. I think back on the stuff that I heard on the radio as a kid. It’s just kind of like this dim light in the back of your mind that blows up when you remember what it was. I also had the whole—what people call—“backpack phase.” In middle school and early high school, it was straight-up MF Doom, Quasimodo, Madlib, and Wu-Tang.
One track that stands out on your SoundCloud stream is “Heartbeart” (feat. Allie). It’s very subtle, yet so evocative. What was going through your mind as you were producing the song?
I forget if I made that with [Allie] in mind. How we started talking was that she sent me this long message telling me about her stuff, what she does, and that she gets what feeling I was trying to convey. She had sent me something, and it was hella pretty, and it inspired me. She’s one of those people who make all this stuff and think they suck and never do anything with it, so no one knows how talented they are. She came up with [her part for “Heartbeat”] all on the spot. I sent her the instrumental, and she just sang over it, and I mixed it. As far as the sample and the actual production, there wasn’t any special story to it. It was just something we made, but people have asked if it’s sampled. It’s this song, but I forget the name, because it’s one of the hundreds and hundreds of songs that I download and keep. Eighty percent of them are foreign, so I forget their names. I’ve stopped trying.
Looking back, how would you say you have changed since your first EP, Be Fair, back in August 2011?
As a person, I’ve learned to be more—not even positive or complacent, but grounded mentally, I guess. By that I mean that when I was first making music, I used to get irritated. I wished I had more attention on me—not because I think I’m better or I think I deserve it, but I would love to be in the position to do something that I love. Obviously it wasn’t that way, so I would get mad that something didn’t turn out a certain way. Since then I’ve realized that everything that’s happening isn’t happening to you but for you.
As an avid music producer and an overall music enthusiast, who do you recommend we listen to?
Article by Linda Choi