I met Man Akin in East Los Angeles on a sunny Saturday afternoon. I had found some pink diamonds from the 99 and pink windbreaker pants; and was hoping that he would like them as much as I did. Thankfully, he loved the diamonds and the pants fit perfectly. We spent the day exploring the neighbourhood, taking photos, and talking about his music video for Lucid, his creative process, and how sometimes the best thing for your art is to be able to throw it all away to be able to grow and evolve as an artist.
Malaika Astorga for Pink Things: How did you first get started in music? Could you describe the California indie music scene for those who aren’t familiar?
Man Akin: I originally came out to Los Angeles with five of my friends from school in DC; but I’ve been making music my entire life; since I was probably six years old. I’ve always been singing, taking piano lessons, playing in shitty pop punk bands at rec centers — anything and everything.
So last night at Emo Nite, it was kind of crazy hearing those songs I used to play. Taking Back Sunday especially always reminds me of playing those shitty shows for maybe 20 people; my mom driving me to band practice and hating me for it.
Pink Things: Yeah, pop punk especially evokes such strong emotion and memory. All of a sudden you’re back in your childhood room, screaming the lyrics by yourself. Was there much of a music scene where you grew up, or in college at all? Or is it just something that you’ve always been interested in despite environment?
Man Akin: It was definitely something I’ve always been interested in. I grew up in central [New] Jersey, really the middle of nowhere — very heavy emo, pop punk, thrashing mosh pit type shit. I was that scene kid on every level, embracing the haircut and all.
I was in a band like that and listened to a lot of that music, but a lot of my influence comes from blues and funk. Hendrix and Stevie Ray Vaughan — that’s why at my core I’m a guitarist. I became infatuated with music through blues guitar.
PT: It’s interesting how people can learn through their instrument. Some people will be inspired to make an entire song based off vocals, while others are focused on the drums, and then build the song from there.
Man Akin: When I was first starting to learn how to play music, I focused on guitar. From there, I became obsessed with learning every instrument; which has ultimately led to how I work now. I make everything myself. I produce, write, play every instrument on the track. So when I listen to music now, I feel like I’m studying it.
The best songs are the ones where you can go back and hear something you didn’t before. You can listen over and over and never get bored. You don’t get everything the first time. There’s a kind of mystery to it. Mystery is everything to me; that’s the magic of it. If you get everything the first time, why would you listen to it again? It doesn’t appeal to me as much.
PT: What kind of music do you listen to now?
Man Akin: I go through phases. I listen to everything current, pop music, and every major release.
PT: What do you consider pop?
Man Akin: Pop to me is anything that’s trendy. You have to study from it to learn the sound and strategy. I feel like music nowadays is 50% sound and 50% branding and strategy. Pop music marries the two. I still listen to The Beatles and Zeplin though, they’re still the core of my inspiration. I feel like sometimes artists will get caught slipping into thinking that they have to replicate what’s trendy and blowing up around them. I try to not overcomplicate things, and leave them as simple as possible.
I worked with a close friend of mine when I first started making music. We made dance music, and were trying hard to satisfy a niche. I felt like I was becoming really good at producing when I was working with him, and he was becoming really good at video work and graphic design. That evolved into me learning how to produce and create everything on my own. It’s been three years since then, and now I feel like I’m at a place where I can do exactly what I want.
PT: It’s great when your technical skills are at a place where you feel comfortable experimenting with anything, and knowing that you’ll be able to make it work.
Man Akin: I believe that you should be excited when you don’t know what you’re doing. When you know what you’re doing, it’s boring.
PT: Let’s talk about your video for Lucid. Did you plan out the aesthetics of the video, or was it more improvisational?
Man Akin: We wanted it to be a giant trip. The way the timeline of the song goes, things evolve around you without you being able to control it. The colours are a huge part of that. We had a ton of props to play with. Having additional visual effects gave it that surrealism that’s so important. Not overdoing it, but having those moment that you just can’t plan. The big reveal at the end alludes to the peak of the trip. The change of scenery, colour, and texture are all really important elements of the video.
PT: Where did the inspiration for your name come from?
My name, Man Akin, comes from both the literal meaning, but also the concept of tactile sound. When you say the two words together, there’s the literal meaning which plays off being able to dress up the project however I want. I deliberated on the name for a long time. I write down lists of lyrics and names in phone, and it was from one of those lists. I also wanted to change my name from my real name. I don’t want the music to be entirely about me. It detracts from the music if it’s all about one dude.
PT: Is there a way that you balance branding and pure creative inspiration? Do the two line up well or do they have to be negotiated?
Man Akin: I record voice memos in my phone of a chorus idea, and write the whole song out of that. It works that way for any aspect of my music; stemming from one part of it and later turning into a full song. When inspiration comes from wanting to please a certain mentality, it doesn’t come out as genuine. When I notice that happening, I try to acknowledge it and move on to something out. It’s kind of like a gut feeling.
Actively sacrificing music and just accepting that something isn’t going to work is the hardest but most important part of the process. I would always try and finish songs that weren’t working, but I just had to let go. I had to train myself to do that to be able to make better music.
PT: What are your plans for the project?
Man Akin: I’m in a great creative space right now for making music, and I would love to go on tour in good time. I have three songs coming out in the next three months. I want to try and create as much of a world around those songs as I can, and get tight with the band.
PT: Last but never least, what does pink mean to you?
Man Akin: For the record; I grew up in a house of women and have never been afraid to be feminine. I’m a pretty feminine guy. I’ve never understood the negative associated between femininity and pink. I think it’s a great stand out colour that I personally believe more people should wear. My favourite pink is neon pink. I like to associate music with colour, and for me pink is very breezy. It’s approachable, and vibrant, not too warm or cool. I really like that pink can be anything.
Photos of Man Akin by Malaika Astorga, edited by Man Akin.
Special thanks for Cuties Cafe who let us use their patio for our photo shoot, The Bearded Beagle for the pants, Blossom Records, and of course to Ursus Magana, Man Akin’s all-star manager. You can watch Lucid here, and listen to Sunshower here.