When a financial trader, a gallery owner and a defense contractor come together to make art, a hit electronic group is not what many would expect. Yet that’s exactly how Autograf came about. Made up of Jake Carpenter, Louis Kha and Mikul Wing, this Chicago trio has been blowing up the blogosphere with their unique, melodic blend of tropical and future house.
Alongside their two smash hit tracks “Metaphysical” and “Dreams,” which racked up millions of plays, and their remixes of Odesza, Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye and Fatboy Slim songs, the group has earned themselves a national tour and spots on festival lineups this year, including Lightning in a Bottle.
We sat down with Mikul and Louis to find out more about the group’s creative vision and what they have in store for 2016. Autograf plays at 1015 Folsom this Friday, February 12. Tickets available here.
For those that don’t know, your first act as a group was a Warhol-inspired art show/dance party at the House of Blues in Chicago where you showcased your first artistic work as a group, an eight-foot can of soup. How did Chicago react to this dance/art party you put together?
Mikul: That was our first show we did in Chicago. The idea was a merging of our love for art and music – doing this new kind of event for the city. It was over two years ago now and it was our intro as Autograf to the world. We sold out the House of Blues so it was a lot of fun.
Did you ever think Autograf would get as big as it has?
Mikul: I don’t think so. We were all doing different things before, previous projects. We casually started the group mostly as an outlet for our visual art. One of the first things we did was make these sculptures in the style of Warhol, then we started putting music out and it just took on a life of its own. We became a more music focused group even though that wasn’t necessarily the intention from the beginning. We kind of just went with it and we find ourselves these days trying to put some focus back into the art, the original doctrine of the group.
You guys have been making works of art to go along with some of your songs, right?
Louis: For the last two singles we’ve made original works of art and for the upcoming albums we’re doing some paintings as well. There is an EP coming out very soon.
Mikul: The first single off the EP comes out next week and it features Patrick Baker on vocals. Patrick is a vocalist who has been on a lot of cool tracks with guys like Lane 8 and other deep house producers. The track is called “Future Soup” named after our very first creation, that eight-foot soup can we made for our pop art event in Chicago. The EP is named the same as well. We just thought it would be cool to tie together our first body of musical work with our first creation as a group.
What roles do each of you play in the creative process of the group?
Louis: The three of us have individual roles but we’re working as a collective and this collective happens to be the group called Autograf. Oftentimes someone will take the lead on something, for example Mikul will start an art piece and then everyone else will have their two cents. I think the thing with us is that we’re very critical of each other. So someone takes the lead and the other two just tear it to pieces until we get to the finished product. Same goes for music, live sets, DJ mixes – everything pretty much that we do works like that.
So who took the lead for your hit track of 2015, “Metaphysical?”
Louis: Jake and I played a show in New York. I think one of the first times we played in New York was at Slake, and singer Janelle Kroll came out to that show wanting to meet us. The next day I had to go but Jake had another day in New York and they started the track together there and we finished it up back home.
I hear you build your own art installations for your shows – how do they connect with the music?
Mikul: We’re doing a new live show in which the art and the lights are both gonna be synced with the music, so we’ll have two computers up there running separate sessions. They’ll be linked so that the art and the lights can go along with the music but without us having to plan out any of the actual set ahead of time. It allows us to freestyle what we’re doing up there but at the same time keep everything in sync.
Louis: Normally when you do art installation, you have a large space and you don’t’ necessarily have to travel around with it on airplanes. But our challenge with this tour is how to create something that we can essentially take with us as a band. We have a week to figure it out so hopefully it’s something cool for everybody.
Mikul: We’re setting up our 3-D printer right now at the studio so hopefully we’ll have some prototypes made really soon.
Based on your similar experience, what advice do you have for people who are stuck in unfulfilling day jobs but are afraid to give it their all and pursue creative aspirations full time?
Louis: I used to have a day job – I worked in finance as a derivatives trader. Jake was a contractor for the Department of Defense and Mikul owned an art gallery. On the road we talk to a lot of fans, and many have a similar story. They ask “how did you do it?” I basically say it goes something like this – you do your passion as a hobby and then you get so passionate about it that it starts consuming all of your time. All the while you’re still working full time and there just comes a point when you get so successful with your hobby that you can take the leap. I think it’s important to be passionate about the hobby, the music, the art, or whatever it is for you, and just to keep working at it.
When you’re doing both things, having a day job and working on art or music, you’re not gonna sleep much. It just takes a lot of hard work to be able to pull both off until you can fully transition.
You guys have played festivals all over, and soon you’ll be at Lightning in a Bottle where many Bay Area folks will be in attendance. What have you heard about this festival?
Louis: Yea everyone in California who I talked to after the lineup came out said it’s their favorite festival in California. It’s just kind of this different world they build for the festival, especially the stage we’re playing on. It’s got its own personality to it, or so they say.
Mikul: People say it’s like Coachella, before Coachella became super mainstream and corporate. So it’s got the spirit of Burning Man. Sounds really cool to me. Can’t wait.
We heard SF is your favorite place for Asian food. What are some of your favorite spots?
Louis: Katana Ya for some soba noodles. I think there’s this NY vs SF ramen war going on, but I’m pretty happy with SF.
Mikul: Just walking around Japantown and going to all the places there that are good. There’s also a pretty awesome Vietnamese, greasy spoon, hole in the wall place near the Tenderloin that’s pretty awesome called Tu Lan. It blows my mind.
Are you done with the backyard studio you have been building?
Mikul: The backyard studio has been done for a while. It’s a mess! We’re never there to clean it up, there’s so much shit everywhere. We’re just traveling or building art all the time. We have a week until the tour so maybe we can do some tidying up.
What are you listening to right now?
Mikul: People are constantly sending us tracks so I’m always going through those and listening to what people send us.
Louis: For me it’s usually a little bit of some of the stuff from the openers on our tour like Chet Porter. His stuff is cool. Today I was listening to The Petit Biscuits. That stuff is really awesome to work to. Both really new, young guys.
You guys have a phrase you keep putting out there: “leave your autograf.” What does it mean to you?
Louis: It’s about leaving behind something to influence others. We all have the power to make a positive impact on the world through what we say and do. Leaving your autograf means leaving your mark on the world. It’s not about vanity or leaving behind a trumped-up legacy. We’re not trying to be pharaohs to build temples to ourselves. We’re trying to contribute to the collective consciousness of the universe.