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boylife - Butterfly in a Hurricane

When I connect to the zoom call with the rising musical talent boylife, he is relaxed, displaying a manner of casualness that really does suggest his peace of mind. He talks in bright bursts, swinging between comical responses and moments of in-depth contemplation – is it a polarity that is even prevalent within the few singles he has under his name. Quite frankly, his calm demeanour eases me into the conversation, and a lot of the time I forget I am talking to probably my favourite newly-discovered artist of this year. Ryan Yoo, also known as the gifted solo songwriter boylife, cannot be put into a box, his music traverses through all sorts of genres, merging the turbulent with the divine. boylife shares with us his most honest experiences, opening his mind to the world, allowing us to really hear the emotional whirlwind within. He describes his sound as "Whatever I want" and when listening to his collection of singles, this makes sense. From the multi-layered, distorted gospel track 'church', to the soft and delicate track 'peas', boylife proves his ability to remain undefinable, with every new single to bless our ears coming packaged as a new pleasant surprise.

Growing up, for the most part Ryan was listening to pop-rock. "Blink-182 was my favourite. And whatever else was on the radio. I didn't tend to go out seeking my own music as a kid. I really loved that first Maroon 5 album… I still love that album." as one would expect, the rest of his original dive into new music was through his parents'. "My parents would be playing classical shit around the house; my dad especially would be playing random stuff here and there… he'd be playing Louis Armstrong and stuff like that. That's where I got my first taste of jazz music. But yeah, for the most part, it was just the pop-rock shit… nothing super intense or unique." Now, his musical role model is Prince, Ryan constantly praises the legendary icon, even stating a song that he wishes he had written himself was Princes’ 'If I Was Your Girlfriend'. "That one for sure – I think that it's just one of the most brilliant and twisted songs I've ever heard in my life. The perspective and the way that he wrote it, it's so striking and revealing."

Ryan studied music at the University of California, Los Angeles. While he says there wasn't any one moment in which he decided to pursue music, he remembers the moment in his last term at UCLA where he thought he was able to. "Leading up to this, it just wasn't really a reality for me to be a musician and shit." Ryan reveals the lack of Asian representation in the music industry tunnelled his views on his own capabilities. "In the United States, in the mainstream world, everybody is either white or black. There are some Latino folks sprinkled in, and for the most part that's how it is. So for me, I hadn't seen many Asian people in there… so it wasn't really a thing that crossed my mind, not just the idea of being a musician, but being a star". But this changed while having a conversation with one of his dear friends at UCLA, he kind of just went… why not? After that conversation, it clicked, and his eager pursuit began. "I was like, fuck it" says Ryan. "I feel like I've always been a person that's always wanted to do the most absurd version of my dreams. I'm not afraid of failure or being embarrassed or losing. So I've always wanted the most ridiculous version of that… and I asked myself, why I hadn't been like that for music?"

boylife's creative process comes across as unsystematic. When asked about it, he shifts into a comical concentration… "I never know how to answer this question… I just tell a different lie every time." He says with a grin. "So… my creative process, basically what I'll do is I'll go to the local liquor store, and grab a bag of chips and a beer… and I'll just smash them down my gaping maw. Then I'll burp really loud and whatever that sounds like, that's how I decide on the key and the tempo of a song. I don't really know!" This very unplanned and sporadic creative process, combined with the intimately honest nature of his music is what makes boylife so incredibly captivating. "It's never the same for any two pieces. I will say that the vast majority of it happens in my head, like the time thinking about compared to executing it is like eighty-five–fifteen… I think people would be surprised to see how little time I actually spend physically working on music." While the process seems very unpredictable, intuition finds its way through the sporadic. "It's all feeling. Sometimes a song might have everything and every idea that I might have imagined on it, all ready to go… but even though it is objectively ready to go, it's not ready where it counts the most… inside my skull. When I feel like it is ready, it's ready, and there is no objective or marker for that. And again, it's very different for every song." boylife's music is ultimately the embodiment of his innermost layer. However, reaching into that innermost layer can be difficult. Obviously, some life experiences, especially some that hold such a sacred place in our hearts and minds, can be hard to translate into words on a page. We've all had them, the moments that leave us speechless… the feelings and memories that are so personal to us that are incommunicable to convey with words alone. "Some songs take me years to figure out. I'll have the idea of what I want to be saying but I won't have the ability to say it yet. I definitely have a bunch of stuff I haven't put out yet, and also songs I'm still working on. Who knows when they'll be out and ready. That's often the case because with the boylife music it's really about the internal world and being able to capture that both musically and lyrically. It takes time."

Releasing such personal music for the world to hear must be daunting… but boylife remains fearless. "When I started putting out the boylife shit, I made it my rule that I have to feel like I've accomplished what I've set out to do before the song even comes out." boylife bares his soul to us, letting us find peace in his words – with each honest song's purpose is to help someone feel a little less alone. That remains at the forefront of his intentions. "I'm not measuring the success of any one song by any metric. No radio shit, no sales shit, no streaming shit. It doesn't make a difference to me if I get two streams on a song or two billion streams on a song. That's not ever the point or really even a consideration. I'm always staying in my creative zone, and to do that I feel like I need to stay out of the numbers.” Reflecting back on the goal boylife approaches his music with, he adds: "Getting to a point where I feel like the song accurately evokes that feeling that I was trying to express, that's always kind of difficult." Peeking into Ryan's personal life, we touch on his first boylife single 'peas', which touches on the unconditional love a parent has for their child. While reaching into the deeper meaning of the song, I discovered the Malaysian writer Yi Jun Loh who wrote, "Instead of hugs, kisses, and words of encouragement, my mom loved through bowls of cut-up fruit. A simple bowl of cut fruits is the purest, most common expression of an Asian mom's love." With the lyric "I could peel peaches for you when you wake up" boylife references his Mother's loving gesture he experienced throughout his childhood. "All the Boylife songs are really personal, and that one in particular is really just for me to kind of just bottle up for myself this little wisp of what it feels like to be loved unconditionally. That's my family, my mum and dad are very special people and I respect and admire them deeply." Near the beginning of the interview, alongside prince – boylife admitted that his father was his role model. "They're super, super supportive. Not that I think things would be any different if they weren't because I'm a very stubborn person. But maybe in part because they raised me and understand I'm a stubborn person that they're very supportive.

boylife certainly comes across as living in the now, almost as if his creative process mirrors his life… sporadic, yet flexible. If he lived his life too calculated, it just wouldn't be as fun. "I'm definitely in my head all the fucking time. I guess I wouldn't characterise myself as a daydreamer because I'm usually very preoccupied with the present – where I feel like my idea of day dreaming might be rather like fantasising about the future. Well… no I guess I do that as well… I take everything back… yeah, I'm a daydreamer." boylife is travelling on unmapped roads – or maybe just without the map. "What is most important to me in life right now? Number one is not getting Corona virus. Number two is dinner… I ran out of groceries. Number three is family. Number four is my dog… who bit me in the face, I hate him. I'm not really concerned with things that should be important to me I suppose… That's the most honest answer I've ever given anybody about anything ever."

Being an absolute fan of what boylife has already put out into the world, I'm eager to know if we will hear anything else soon… so, as the interview closes, I ask him if he has any upcoming projects. boylife avoids spilling any information, and if he really could physically zip his lips shut, you bet he would. So instead, as an ending question – I ask him if he has any advice to give… the floor is his. He remains silent for 30 seconds or so. Not sure if my connection had dropped and his zoom video was frozen, or if he genuinely was contemplating an answer. Bursting back into conversation, boylife confidently says "Not being afraid to look like an idiot is a superpower.” This may be an accurate mantra to represent boylife as a whole - explaining the seemingly sporadic, yet entirely successful nature of boylife. Mixing his life experiences, with his brilliant wordplay and nonchalant persona, he is clearly utilising this superpower, and proves that he is a rising force to be reckoned with.

Check out boylife on Spotify below:

Words by Oli Spencer

Photography by Oli Spencer, shot over FaceTime.


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