A spiritual obsession with water  

By Alex Mazey

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Full disclosure, I’ve needed to chill out from the terrible matchmaking on a massive online battle arena I play most evenings so I’ve taken the time to enjoy playing ‘Recettear: An Item Shop’s Tale’ on Steam whilst listening almost exclusively to your music. Two words I enjoyed saying as a child were ‘turquoise’ and ‘aqua’ – the latter word being the title of your 2019 album. Listening to the title track on ‘Aqua’ feels like I’m lying on the bottom of a hotel swimming pool. When I think about the atmosphere you evoke through the sound’s dreamy waterfalls, I find myself wondering if there were any cohesive intentions behind that album as a whole?  

Saaaz: Firstly turquoise is my favourite colour besides purple so I appreciate those two word obsessions a lot. Also full disclosure I’m not the strongest writer so excuse bad grammar etc from me if there’s a lot of it in my responses ~~ Honestly my music is quite watery and emotional I find. I always feel like if my music had an aura (v indie I know) it would be blue or purple. I was going through quite an inward facing time where I was quite internally aware, there were lots of deep emotions and questions I was asking –  I was submerged in all of that, so it makes sense to me that my music was giving off that feeling to you. I remember considering calling my album something like Evian (after the water brand) as I was obsessed with the Fiji water / Vaporwave iconography that was huge in the lofi scene round then. I can’t remember if there were other alternative titles. but after picking out my song selection for the album I thought naming it after the track ‘aqua’ worked best for multiple reason – the iconography at the time, my spiritual obsession with water (Pisces Energy BABYYY) and deep emotions. I did really think about it all deeply in the process as it was my first album. I wanted to communicate my musical tastes and ‘sound’ to people confidently. So pouring over it a lot in its creation, process, and titling was definitely on purpose.

I was interested in the thematic cohesiveness behind ‘Aqua’ since the 2021 album ‘Mood’ in comparison seems to provide a warmer listening experience. It has a distinctly cosier, bedroom feel to it – an intimacy that was perhaps lacking in ‘Aqua’. Was it your intention to create an album that held a different sound to the first album, or did that just come about naturally? 

Saaaz: It’s natural for me. My music is a translation of my current self creating it. (Though obviously delayed to the listener a little. I write songs usually about 6months – 1year before they’re actually released – so the ‘self’ being portrayed is maybe an older one slightly..if that makes sense). When I made Aqua it was cold, watery and quite sad, because that was the place I was in. I wasn’t actively trying to create that feeling; I was just journaling with music. Mood was a mix of later creations I had made after I’d become a kinder person for sure. I guess any warmth you hear was whatever emotional development I had made from there. I still think of it as a somewhat sad album (especially) the latter half but it definitely communicates the more honest and empathetic qualities I was experiencing more. On a slightly less deep note I was becoming obsessed with the classic lofi sound round that time. I had spent the years leading up to that one trying to show my interpretation of the genre but for mood I was in the process of trying to perfect the universal sound everyone loved from lofi. So it’s warmer and more bedroomy because I was emulating that feeling I got when discovering classic lofi for the first time.

The word ‘hypnagogia’ probably belongs in the same cultural trash can as ‘hauntology’ and ‘liminal’ but those terms seem somewhat overused only because they still seem so applicable not only to the culture but to certain feelings that manifest so well in your music. (I have a theory that the ‘non-place’ – a term used in the anthropological sense – can provide an intermittence from the semiotics that governs us. As such, those liminal territories have since become hyperspaces often presented as a simulation of an outside reality; thresholds intending only to lead us back to more of the same.) With an experience of something like liminality in mind, I particularly enjoyed the track ‘Elevators’ on your 2019 album. I usually dream of empty hotels and ever since I watched the video of Elisa Lam playing with the buttons in an elevator in the ‘The Cecil Hotel’ I have this peculiar and irrational fear of elevators. Like – it’s not in any way a full-blown phobia just yet but there’s definitely this odd suspicion that remains in the back of my mind which I think is – by extension – a feeling very much felt towards the ‘liminal’ space. I’m also reminded of really beautiful tracks like ‘waiting room’ or perhaps ‘loop’ on your 2021 album which recalls in my mind the eeriness of hotel lobbies – (I have no idea why really because I’ve just gone back to listen to that track and there’s a lot less eeriness to it than I remember.) To get to the question then, I wanted to ask for your own thoughts in regards to liminality, particularly its relationship to your music since the lofi genre seems so intimately connected to those kinds of spaces?     

Saaaz: Full disclosure I had to Google some words there. Also excuse my dyslexic brain if I’ve understood the question wrong ~ yeah I’ve always been obsessed with something dystopian and empty sounding, I think that is my interpretation of liminality. There’s some songs I make like the exact ones you mentioned which are my in between feeling inspired by eeriness and emptiness. Those songs don’t really have a ‘soul’; they’re not me conveying any big feelings or experiences. It’s just that in between space. Since I’ve never really used that term properly I’d say I can only answer it in a way that I don’t know for sure. I am oddly intrigued (like everyone else it seems) by that weird in the middle feeling which doesn’t have a purpose in the most obvious sense. I think it’s the one time people feel very alone, not even in the bad way, just alone with the situation, so it makes them uneasy but they also crave it because it’s us just having a real quiet moment with ourselves. Maybe that’s way off though – I did just do a meditation in the park so I’m getting a bit spiritual with it.

I’ve previously written about the pairing of lofi with anime visuals recalling a sense of hypnagogia, but I worry that I’ve already used up my pseudointellectual word of the day. That being said, I’ve also been interested in how the pairing of lofi with anime conjures a sense of farsickness in me. An example par excellence being your latest (at the time) YouTube upload, ‘first frost’ – which I’ve really enjoyed. Maybe it’s just the case of following in the footsteps of a now established convention of the genre, but maybe you’ve got some thoughts of your own regarding that aesthetic amalgamation between anime and lofi? 

Saaaz: It’s so hard to say for sure. It could be really simple in that the ‘weird kids’ who liked anime also were the ones pioneering the genre or producing. Those kinds of interests seem to pair in people’s minds, but I guess that still doesn’t answer why. I grew up loving anime, its art, fashion influences, the different culture to my own and it being a special thing I felt only me and a few others enjoyed. I found lofi separately when I was getting into producing and just was pairing that stuff together because I saw others doing it and it aligned with my current obsession with anime. A more obscure perspective is that there has always been a big relationship between anime & music amongst those who love it. I remember making AMVs (anime music videos) to emo bands etc and showing the story through loads of genres — there was a big community doing that too. Maybe because lofi has become so popular it infiltrated that community more effectively than other genres and just because more of an obvious combo than anime & other music genres. Also lofi had no ‘persona’ or self as a new genre and maybe becoming popular alongside AMVs just made people consider that that was the defining thing lofi was. And tbh anime aesthetics are on point.

‘My Bad’ is probably one of my favourite tracks you’ve produced. It’s such a vibe with the ocean waves(?) at the start melting into the sense of a ticking clock – all those allusions of time passing – opening up into that hard phonk sound before the fade out. It just goes so hard and embodies such a spectrum of emotions. I suppose I just wanted to know what were you thinking and experiencing when you made that track? In other words, do you have to enter a certain headspace when you make your music – is there a process – or does it just come naturally? 

Saaaz: It’s both, it comes naturally out of the headspace I was in but it’s also my process of trying a new genre. I had just started getting into phonk music so I was exploring all of that. Funnily enough that song is named after an interaction I had with my friend I can’t remember which one of us said it but it was a lil phrase that was thrown around in the convo. For some reason it stuck out for a title because I had been talking to them earlier. Cause phonk is kinda heavy I guess I linked that song with the feeling you have when you’ve made a mistake or said something wrong and have to apologise. (Even tho I’m p sure the convo in question was something minor like I had got a date or a word wrong the message before). My headspaces to create stuff are so varied, sometimes I’m happy, sad, angry, unsure etc. I just sit down and do it. I have a process now where I basically finish all songs the day I start them (minus trying new genres and maybe final mixing/mastering) and I’ve been doing that for about a year or two now. It just means that the feeling I was portraying gets closure and I don’t ruminate over it all for too long.

In closing, I wanted to ask you a relatively normal question. Are you working on a new album, and what can we expect from saaaz in the future?

Saaaz: Of course I am. Next one is due later this year. I think it’s my most special one. I’ll share the title with you it’s ‘Break my <3’. This album is special because the label I’m releasing it with was one I’ve aimed to work with from the second I started producing lofi. I can’t believe I’ve actually got to the point where I’ve achieved it, but expect a vinyl and tape release with this one. I feel really lucky to have a chance to do this with a label I’ve wanted to work with, but I feel even more lucky that people have enjoyed my music enough to make labels and other projects I respect take me seriously too.

‘break my <3’ is out October 7th

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Alex Mazey’s latest book, ‘Sad Boy Aesthetics’ is available at Broken Sleep Books. 

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