photo by Ryan Van Ert
We spoke with up-and-coming electronic duo Shuteye — singer-songwriter Elysia Hang-Fu and veteran DJ/producer Alena Ratner — shortly after the release of their first full-length album, Hush Hush, earlier this month. The talented ladies' very different (but equally rich) musical backgrounds coupled with their shared hunger for artistic experimentation have helped them become a fast rising name in the music scene. In the short time they have been together as band, Shuteye has accomplished quite a bit (just read their impressive bio!), and they are just getting started.
UR Chicago: How/where did the two of you meet?
Shuteye: We met at Electrical Audio, a recording studio in Chicago, through a mutual friend Elysia was recording with at the time. Once their project ended we linked up in the studio to see what would come out of it and quickly realized we wanted to do more and Shuteye was formed.
UR: Both of you come from very rich, accomplished musical backgrounds. How do you complement each other? What would you say each others' strengths are musically?
Alena: Our backgrounds are so different; it's kind of like finding a missing piece to your puzzle. Elysia has formal vocal and musical training, and I only play things by ear, so it helps having her around to come up with more complex melodies and vocal parts. My strength is definitely in music production and engineering the final product. We complement each other because we can finish each others' ideas like people finish each others' sentences. That's been our process mainly, one person starts something and we finish it or recreate it together, and our ideas always complement one another.
Elysia: Singing and music always came naturally to me. I write by ear, and piano lessons I had when I was a kid made it easier to be able to create and play everything I'd hear in my head. Writing melodies and harmonies, as well as, vocals were always a strength of mine. Alena is a great producer and awesome with beats. I feel like we both add our own elements to the project, which helps create our sound.
UR: What kind of music influences and inspires you ladies?
Alena: I came from house music and more of the underground dance music scene. For this project, however, I tried to get away from all my influences and just challenge myself to do something different with no expectations. I think that's why it was easy to find common ground and create something out of the norm.
Elysia: I've always been into a broad range of music. When I was at the end of high school, I started finding vast amounts of music/bands that I would listen to repeatedly and study their writing techniques, chords, etc... I would listen to anything from the Pixies, Sonic Youth, Trail of Dead, Fugazi, Broadcast, Chk Chk Chk, M83, to name a few. I started finding myself submerged in the electronic sounds, which quickly started to show in the songs I created. I knew I wanted to start a band that did electronic music with a slightly different sound to it. So, when I met Alena, everything just began to fall place.
UR: We love the name Shuteye. Is there a deep meaning or story behind the name?
Shuteye: We actually sat in a café for hours with a thesaurus trying to come up with something that fit the project. We were looking up words that had to do with a dream state and the outer world, and then stumbled upon shuteye. The definition was a natural and periodic state during which consciousness of the world is suspended. We thought that was a perfect fit for how the music felt, so that was it.
photo by Emily Portugal
UR: Describe your stage set-up and the gear you currently use. Are there any plans to add to it in the future (dream gear, etc...)?
Alena: We actually changed our set up a few times since we started playing live. It was pretty difficult trying to figure out a way to do it comfortably with two people since we do so much in the studio, and we wanted that to translate well live. Currently, Elysia plays a Korg R-3 and a midi keyboard, which is linked to Logic Studio (the program we use to make tracks). She also has TC Helicon Voicelive 2 for one of her mics and a second mic linked to a TC Helicon VoiceTone Synth and into a Pioneer DJM 600 Mixer, which I control her vocal effects on live. I have an iPad with a synth app called Alchemy that I use to trigger effects and other sounds. Mainly, I use an APC40 with Ableton to play and sequence the music and a mixer to mix all the sounds together.
UR: What can you tell us about the Chicago music scene, pros and cons. Are there any local groups out there that our readers might not know about that you would like to give a shout out to?
Alena: I think Chicago has one of the richest music cultures on the planet. I'm super thankful I got to grow up here and be exposed to it — especially the dance music scene, which really changed my life and always pushed me to want to do more. The level of talent here is insanely inspiring. Pros for me would be access to the best talent in the world on any night of the week, clubs like Smartbar that have been around for over 25 years and you can call home, the kids that come out to dance and not to look cool and get numbers. There's so many great local artists; I'm really loving My Gold Mask and Gemini Club right now — also Big Dipper, and there's a ton of DJs and producers.
Elysia: I'm definitely amazed by the talent Chicago is harboring. There's a lot of gifted and talented musicians I have crossed paths with along the way. So far with my experience playing in Chicago, everyone's been very supportive not only with our band but many other aspiring local bands, so I'd have to pass on cons. The first band that comes to mind for me in Chicago was when I saw Mahjongg play in the basement of a loft party. It was one of my favorite sounds from a Chicago-based band that I remember within the first couple songs. Everything from the hard beat to the grungy basement and sweaty dancing people was perfect.
photo by Ryan Van Ert
UR: Tell us about your recent release. Any good stories/anecdotes during the recording process? How long had you been working on it?
Alena: Hush Hush took us FOREVER to record... just kidding. We actually finished most of the album a year ago when our first EP was released. I think the longest part of it was the mixing. We ended up not liking the sound originally when it went to mastering, and so we mixed the tracks again with Jamie Carter at CarterCo in Pilsen, and he's amazing. He really revived the tracks, and then we had them remastered at Boiler Room with Collin Jordan, who is also amazing. I've been stalking Boiler Room's website for years. Collin has mastered all the Cajual Records stuff as well as Kanye West and lots of other great artists, so we knew we had to go to him. The only tracks that we finished this past year were "Dreams" and "Died." "Dreams" started out as an old beat from my lesbian hip-hop group that I stole back, and then Elysia hopped on and killed it with the vocals. I also reworked the beat and we added a few sounds in, and it's become one of my favorite songs on the album. The studio has grown a lot since we started Shuteye, so I'm now able to mix the tracks and do everything from home which is very helpful — we work much faster now.
Elysia: Alena and I worked really hard on the songs that we chose to put on the album. It was a good and refreshing feeling for both of us to finally be able to release the album. I think as artists, it gets difficult to be patient in putting songs out because all we want to do is keep creating. It's almost necessary to be balanced and feel sane. We did have a few times where we couldn't stop laughing while trying to record, but I think overall it was the joy and excitement in hearing what we heard in our heads finally out on instruments and put together. When writing a song from stage one to the very end, it's always changing and evolving. I can say to hear the songs come together brought a happiness and a fulfillment in me that I couldn't get from anything else.
UR: I know this might be like asking a mom who her favorite kid is, but out of all the songs you have done, which one(s) are your favorite?
Alena: "Died" is definitely my favorite song on the album. I started writing it when one of my good friends passed away last November, so it has a lot more meaning for me and reminds me of him. Also a crazy story, the first time we played "Died" live was at After Dark (a party at the Art Institute's Modern Wing) and my friend's twin brother, who lives out of the country, randomly showed up at the party right before we were about to go on, and so he got to hear the track first. It meant a lot to me and I will always feel really connected to that song.
Elysia: "Sun Night Sky" would be a big one for me. It was one I started writing back when I was 17. I loved it from the moment I wrote it, especially with the ending that is a sudden change from the rest of the song. It still feels like a huge achievement to have finally been able to take it out of the library and re-work and finish it. When I write, a lot of my expression in what the song is about or the current emotion I'm trying to express is translated through the sounds, harmonies, and melodies more so than lyrics at times. I've always felt that reaches people on a deeper level than words. I tried to play with high pretty sounds intertwining and pulling with the lower sounds to express more on the idea of death and in the feeling of being free from a solid structure, yet somehow still bound to earth by the ones mourning and holding on.
photo by Emily Portugal
UR: What are you plans/goals for Shuteye in 2013?
Alena: I'd love to play more festivals and tour. I miss traveling, a lot. I'd also really like to remix more artists — that's been really fun. We're going to be releasing singles and EPs from now on, so we can have music out more consistently. I'm not very patient and don't want to wait around to finish an album, especially with our schedules.
Elysia: I am looking forward to playing more shows! I would love to tour and get to Europe as well. We're also going to get some music videos done in 2013 — we're working on that now!
UR: Finally, what advice can you give for budding musicians that you two might have learned the hard way in your years leading up to where you are now?
Alena: Learn your craft and don't take shortcuts. Respect is earned. Don't ever give up. Be positive and support other artists. Learn the business side of music; it's just as, if not more, important as the music itself. Always be yourself and don't follow trends. Take ear breaks.
Elysia: Do not be a perfectionist or no music will ever get put out. Always write even when you feel uninspired. That's how you learn and grow as a writer, and that's also how some of your greatest songs can unexpectedly be created. Definitely what Alena said about the business side, because I'm still learning it. Try to respect, compromise, and trust in the abilities of the other people you collaborate with. Be aware of when you doubt yourself, and stop it! Stay strong in what you believe in, and know you are always capable of more than what you think.
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