Chicago producer Bardo is playing in Champaign for this first time this Saturday, alongside electronic duo Boycut and singer-songwriter Fiona Kimble. The show is happening at Cowboy Monkey at 9:30 p.m. and costs $7. We caught up with Stephen Bardo prior to the show to talk about his early influences, both musically and geographically in Japan.
Ghost Track: It seems like you’ve really latched on to your early influences and try to replicate them or memorialize them in your music in a way. How important are these acts to you?
Bardo: I don’t know if I ever intentionally pay homage or try to replicate what acts like a Tribe Called Quest or The Roots contributed to music because I don’t think I’m capable of doing what they did well enough to do them justice. They’re extremely important to me though, and I think their influence on my music is pretty audible, but I think it’s something that has happened naturally as I’ve continued to find my sound. Groups like The Roots, Tribe and Outkast are all cornerstones of my musical repertoire because theirs was some of the first music that I can remember hearing as a kid overseas with my parents. Albums like Low End Theory and Aquemini also set the bar high and showed me that music isn’t about boxes or trends, it’s about feeling, in my opinion. I also feel very grateful that I’ve been able to work with so many talented musicians in and out of the Champaign-Urbana music scene to help me realize a sound that’s worthy of comparison to those names that you mentioned.
Ghost Track: You recently released a single, do you have an upcoming release coming out soon that that’s apart of?
Bardo: The last official single that we put out with a video and everything was “Do Them Thangs” and that’s most definitely a part of this new full-length album that we’re currently putting the finishing touches on. There will be much more information coming about that within the next couple of months as well as more singles and videos. We’ve also put out a few loose tracks here and there that may find their way onto the new project, or they might just randomly pop up a bit later down the line. Who knows.
Ghost Track: Is there a title for your upcoming album?
Bardo: The album is going to be called Gringo. We’ll be putting out more information about that as we get closer to the release.
Ghost Track: You lived in Japan when you were younger. How did that influence your development as a musician?
Bardo: It’s impossible for me to sum up everything that my time in Japan have done for me in outside of the studio in just a few sentences. I could literally go on for hours. It blew my mind. I’ll say that living overseas, and particularly in Japan showed me at a really young age that it’s a big world out here and that I can only succeed by finding out who my true self is, and being just that, which I think is what I have been actively doing with my music for the past couple of years.
Ghost Track: Was there a specific experience that made you step back and say, “Hey, this place is huge and I need to be myself to succeed?”
Bardo: I can’t think of just one particular experience that lead me to that conclusion. I would say that the numerous differences in culture and the way of doing things between the Midwestern United States and a place like Tokyo was what really planted that idea in my head. And honestly, it’s pretty tough for a black kid to try to blend in in Japan (laughs). I really had no choice. My family and I used to get crazy stares all the time on the train and the bus, but once I started making friends and I realized that the stares were more out of curiosity than malice, I got used to it and realized that I didn’t really have a choice but to be me.
Ghost Track: Do you feel like you picked up some things other American artists, especially in your genre, wouldn’t have?
Bardo: Tokyo is one of the best music cities in the world. I think a lot of people on this side of the world, especially up and comers overlook Japan and East Asia, which are huge markets. I think the open mindedness of the youth in Japan and their ability to celebrate Western music and their own traditional music, as well as sustain vibrant local hip hop, jazz, soul, house scenes was always something that was really cool to me, coming from the US where we’re still slow to catch the wave from overseas sometimes.
Ghost Track: That’s awesome to hear. Did you see a lot of shows or experience a lot of live music there?
Bardo: I was a young kid when I was there so I didn’t get to see a ton of live shows there. I saw a lot of karaoke though (laughs). That’s another reason that I want to go back so badly is so I can experience Tokyo and the music scene as an adult with a different perspective and really soak it all in.
Ghost Track: Do you have any goals to go back to Japan at any point and perhaps take your music overseas? It seems like it would be bringing a new musical and cultural style that may offer an intriguing mix.
Bardo: It’s funny that you ask that. “Tour Japan” is something that I write down daily as part of my goals. At this point, I’d say that bringing my music across the water to Japan as well as Latin America has become more of an objective and a pillar of my brand moving forward. I hear stories all the time of artists going to perform in non English speaking countries and everyone in the crowd knowing the words. I want that. And I think that it’s important to include those people too, even if they don’t speak English or completely understand my message because the feeling and the energy of my music has no native tongue.