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"You can pick out any lyric from any song and it goes back to a true story": An interview with BOYINSPACE and KARAN

"You can pick out any lyric from any song and it goes back to a true story": An interview with BOYINSPACE and KARAN

The beat uncoils slowly, at first with a lightness of being ethereal in essence but languid as if from a codeine high, then, the bass hits, plunging the listener back down to earth – but the hangover from being up in the clouds never quite leaves. Listening to a BOYINSPACE song is to travel between two planes. His reverb-drenched voice is the guide that helps the listener navigate the astral expanse of his production but his tales of love and its malcontents are unmistakably Earthbound. 

Together with his friend, schoolmate and collaborator KARAN, the Overseas Family School graduate has been building a blossoming body of work steeped in the seismic impact that The Weeknd’s early work is still continuing to have on hip-hop. His two EPs No Connection and SOMEWHERE IN THE HILLS, as well as his string of singles, including the great ‘Don’t Call Me’, are evidence of his inspired musicality as well as his drive towards mastery of a sound that he holds tremendously dear. 

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Tomorrow, KARAN and him will play their first-ever show, at no less than The Pavilion at Far East Square. Ahead of the big day, hear from the pair about how and why it makes the music it does and just what it means to it in its interview with us.

Tell us more about yourselves, how you got into music and why you make music. 

BOYINSPACE: I was born in India and I came to Singapore when I was three years old, so I've grown up here my whole life. When I was 13, I moved to Houston, Texas for two years. When I was in Houston, a bunch of people got me into hip-hop, like properly. I never really found something that I could listen to all the time, until I started listening to hip-hop. Moving back to Singapore, I met KARAN because we were both in grade nine. And from then, it's just always good energy between us. 

I wanted to get into music so I was always trying out a lot of stuff so I was doing SoundCloud for a year and a half and seeing what people thought. I was producing my own beats, even rapping and freestyling. 

2017 was when I decided I wanted to be "BOYINSPACE". That came from me feeling introverted, and at times, alienated. The capital letters were inspired by PARTYNEXTDOOR. 

KARAN has always been part of my music – beat-choosing, talking to producers and such. 

We'd play our music in school because they gave us a small room in our English class, and that was where we made our song 'XO'. People liked the music, so I kept putting out singles. And since KARAN has always been part of the production, I said to him, "Why don't you just hop on a song?" and he did, so that's how it happened. 

KARAN: I've always liked hip-hop ever since I heard Drake's first album, even though that's probably more R&B than hip-hop. I must've been like nine or ten at that point. From that point on, hip-hop is all I ever listen to – I don't listen to pop or anything, for which my friends in school get really pissed at me. [laughs] 

But then again, if BOYINSPACE wasn't around, I would have never bothered getting into music. We used to record stuff back in grade nine, but it was really, really bad. But that kind of shows the progression from then to now. 

If you're talking about what goes through our heads when we make music, it's honestly just city life – life in Singapore, and the parties and such. If you listen to our music and compare it to some other local artists, I feel like what differs is that we don't have that same interaction with local flavour. 

What made you want to hold your first show on such a large scale?

BOYINSPACE: Doing it at the end of the academic school year, for us, is like a send-off to all of our senior friends. We wanted to go big, because our core group – our first-ever fans – all want to see us live. Our fans have been our main support group before we started getting big. In terms of the venue, we were leaning towards *SCAPE as well, but we just thought it was too big. The Pavilion, although it's a pretty big size, is still really compact and you can get close to everyone, so that's the vibe that we want to go for. 

KARAN: We had a couple of people in another school perform our song, and the reception they got was insane. So I thought if someone else can do our song and get a good reception, then we can do our own song and expect a similar or even better reception. That's probably one of the reasons why we wanted to do a big show. We’re definitely nervous about our first show but after that you'll start thinking where you can go from there: How do we turn those 200 people to 400 and then 800, and so on.

What's been the most arduous part of putting the show together? 

BOYINSPACE: Personally, I get very stressed from contacting legit people – licensing officers, the government, and sending them the set list and such. We make music for people to listen to, but when you start reading the lyrics and you send them for clearance, it gets really awkward. But it got cleared, so we're fine. The hardest part was really just the licensing for me, because numbers aren't really an issue for me, right now, and we're trying to put up discounts so more people buy tickets. 

Going into the show, where's your head at? 

KARAN: I'm nervous, man! Like, BOYINSPACE is pretty good with these things, but I've always had massive stage fright ever since I was little. So, going into the show, I'm a bit nervous. After you get past the first five to ten minutes, you'll probably be okay. But, when you first start playing, that's when the nerves set in. 

BOYINSPACE: That's why we wanted to get an opening act, so we can get everyone ready and gauge how to proceed from there. 

Being from out of town, what do you think of the local hip-hop scene?

BOYINSPACE: I think, the best thing about Singapore is that it's so small, so word spreads so fast. If it's good stuff, if it's something you can bump to, it spreads. For me, there's definitely a list of local artists that I definitely want to work with. Like Axel Brizzy. I've never spoken to him but I listen to his stuff and I think that this guy's got bars. 

KARAN: It's hard to just listen to bars on bars on bars; you need to switch it up a little. I feel that that's something that I do see a lot with some of the local artists. I like the new Ca$hie$h song 'Facetime', as well as BIGDBANGLA's 'Bengali Sauce' – it has a story to it. The fact that he's bringing his own culture into it is pretty cool, too.

BOYINSPACE: I think, with the local scene, the only issue that artists like KARAN and I have is that, there doesn’t seem to be an acceptance of why this [our reality] is a reality as well. 

KARAN: While we do live here – I've been here for about five years, now – and of course, everyone in Singapore's pretty friendly, the lives that kids going to international schools live and the lives that kids going to local schools live are not the same. That much is obvious.

BOYINSPACE: Yeah it's very different. Last year, I wasn't really into a lot of the local scene, but it was this year, when YETI PACK hit me up, was when I realised that there's a lot of different stuff. A lot of the music that we talk about is like what happens at a party, before a party and after a party. Whereas the local scene is a lot different – the whole comedy factor comes into play. Even with YETI PACK, we heard 'Broke AF' and we think it's a good song to turn up to, but we can never make a song like that. KARAN and I don't have that comedy thing that they do, and they pull it off so well. We have to kind of accept that in the sense that there's a different way to do music. For instance, my inspiration comes from The Weeknd, Jaden Smith, and the artists who are emotionally-driven – that's who they are and how I am; I connect to myself emotionally. In Singapore, a lot of people, even when it comes to visuals as well, they embrace that comedy factor.

Do you feel like outsiders? 

BOYINSPACE: Yup, hundred percent. Someone sent me a beat and asked me to do a verse, and I was listening to it and I thought like, "Yo, this is like some different stuff!" – I've never been on this kind of stuff. It's refreshing, cause like, "Okay, this is also happening in Singapore", but we definitely feel like outsiders. Every time I've been asked to do a verse, I don't come in with the same mindset as, "Oh, what are they doing – I wanna do something like that". It's completely different, I come in with that whole outsider feeling. That's what I think also makes up BOYINSPACE: It's coming from an outside view.  

A lot of my music comes from heartbreak and anxiety. That's just a fact – whether it's a poppy song or a sad song, it comes from the idea of proving yourself, like how an underdog has to. 

'Don't Call Me' is arguably your best song yet. What does it mean to you? 

BOYINSPACE: Well, I had like a thing with a girl. We were like talking and got really close after like two or three months. What I didn't realise was that this whole time, she had a boyfriend. 

KARAN: And it's crazy because I met my girlfriend because he knew this girl. 

BOYINSPACE: To keep it short, we had such a good emotional connection and we'd be spending so much time together, and I kept forgetting that she already had a guy. Because of that, we used to fight all the time. In the song, I say "You got a man but you hit me up whenever you're bored / And I come through cause girl, that shit feel so good". 

But it got to a point where it was so toxic and it was driving me insane – How can you have such a good emotional connection with someone and be with someone else the whole time? For me, if I want the physical side of a relationship, I can get that. But I was looking for something emotional. So it was like: How can we have something so good emotionally, that even you felt it?

It was just this conflict in my head and it came to a point where I didn't want to talk to her. Which was why in the song I said "Don't call me when I'm in my zone / You want me, but I'm good alone". That's how I feel right now – I'm better off without you. 

That's the thing about mine and KARAN's music: You can pick out any lyric from any song, and it goes back to a true story. If you took off the effects on my voice, you could actually hear me angry. Our music is always true – it’s always about a real-life thing. 

You have a signature spacey and cloudy sonic aesthetic. What draws you to that sound?

BOYINSPACE: It's very inspired by the The Weeknd and PARTYNEXTDOOR. They have that effect on their vocals. I’ve liked that because my dream is to go to Los Angeles so I want to have a sound you can have a nighttime drive to. I imagine I’m driving in the hills of LA. The way I make my music and put effects on my voice is for those late-night drives. In Singapore, we can't really do that – I mean, we can, but it's not aesthetically aligned. 

'Don't Call Me' is the most BOYINSPACE song. If you play that on a late-night drive, I can guarantee you'll enjoy it the best, because it's made for it. It's made for when you're lost, anxious, confused – You just sit down and drive, or you're at the back of a cab, you just enjoy the music. The fuzz and the reverb gets in your head and it hits you harder. That's how I always engineer my music. 

KARAN: My style is probably very similar to his, although I will say that he's a lot sadder than I am [laughs] and it kind of reflects in the music. I do try to keep my music relatively upbeat, even if it has a gloomy undertone. 

Well, because I've only been recording since, maybe, December, I'm still at that point where I'm still trying to figure out how I can solidify my sound. I'm still stuck between doing stuff around what he does or trying something else completely. We still have a lot of songs together that are unreleased. But I want to be true to my story. That's why I didn't think of coming up with a different name, because that's me and I'm going to do what I want to do, and we'll see how that goes. 

Finally, what are your long-term plans? 

KARAN: Right now, we are in talks to figure out some distribution stuff. If things are headed in that direction, then, let's see this through. Of course, university is still something that I need to do, and so does BOYINSPACE, after he serves National Service. Right now, I'm looking to go to Vancouver or San Diego for university. 

BOYINSPACE: I am probably enlisting in August this year, but the thing I like about NS, right now, is that I get to stay in Singapore. I don't know how the timeline is like for my music yet, but I get to be in Singapore to see stuff for myself. Because I feel like KARAN and I haven't been recognised in Singapore, even though we've been here so long. So it's good that at least one of us is staying – it keeps the consistency and awareness of what's happening. 

KARAN: Honestly, no matter where we head off to, even though I've been here five, almost six years now, Singapore's home. It feels like home. Even if I do leave, my family's still going to be living here. Basically, our music is still going to be based around Singapore. 

Catch BOYINSPACE and KARAN live at the Pavilion @ Far East Square on Wednesday, 12 June, from 7.15 onwards. Tickets, $25, are available here. For more information, click here.

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