“Yo I’m Yuki.” That’s how the then 17-year-old producer casually introduced himself to Jaden Smith at ComplexCon last year. “It was the most casual music interaction I’ve ever had—it was awesome!” Less than a year later, Yuki found himself the youngest producer on Smith’s sophomore album—the MSFTSMusic and Roc Nation-released ERYS. The visual concept album features Tyler, The Creator, A$AP Rocky, Willow Smith, and Kid Cudi. We spoke with Yuki about working with Smith, producing the album’s lead single, “Again,” and how Trash shaped the album’s sound.
As a concept album, how was 'ERYS' conceived? How did your production style play a part in shaping its sound?
Y: The whole concept and sonic direction came from Jaden! I joined the team as it was starting, so I think I was lucky. I got to see what had already been laid down and put my twist on it...I was able to bring my ideas to life—not just as a beat-maker, but by looking at my contributions on a bigger scale. For example, if I make a super hard trap beat like “i-drip-or-is,” how can I make it more cohesive and ambitious and have it flow well with the more raw tracks like “Blackout” or “Riot.”
I treat my work, not like beats, but more like full songs or experiences. I like my production to live and breathe and evolve as the track goes on, and I think that compliments Jaden’s process of creating.
You mentioned Trash and the role it played in creating the album’s unique sound. Can you talk more about how that took shape and what Trash equipped you to do?
Y: My mentor, James Rim, put me on to Trash when we first started and I was literally like, “OMG this is the craziest distortion plug-in I’ve ever used!” I was almost overwhelmed at the potential I saw it had. Trash helped me push the limits on things. It helped bring out the anger and evil that the ERYS alter ego personifies. It also helped me with balancing things out. I think with a lot of distortion, how it’s used is very straight forward, but with Trash it gave me the freedom to experiment and find the perfect mix of chaos and simplicity.
We actually interviewed Rim last year after 'SYRE' dropped. Knowing Rim’s work and seeing the other credits on 'ERYS', you’ve clearly collaborated with some pretty heavy hitters so early in your career. What was it like being the youngest producer in the room?
Y: At first I was terrified, especially being from New Zealand where everything is almost too relaxed. It was hard to push myself to create to my standard when I felt like everyone else was handing in like five beats a day. […] After a while I used the “underdog” feeling as fuel to push myself. I would go home and just work on two ideas and focus more on how I can make something really special that sticks, rather than forcing music out and feeling like I’m contributing less than others.
You produced the album’s lead single, “Again.” Talk about your creative process on this track.
Y: That first half took the least amount of time to make but the longest to perfect! I made it on the spot after being inspired by Jaden talking about mosh pits or something. I imagined a crowd hearing that initial build-up and just going crazy when it dropped! It started off super simple, just the synth elements and basic drums, but I ended up feeling like it didn’t offer anything special production-wise. So we got live drums played, I beefed everything up, added a bunch of guitar, and structured it a bunch of different ways.
For the second half, it started with Jaden singing acapella for like four minutes. I heard that and spent an hour trying a bunch of different chord progressions with it. I sent the ideas over, and James Rim really helped capture the emotion with the Syre Electric-esque effects he added.
How do you approach producing tracks that are so seemingly different in genre while maintaining a cohesive sound? Riot and Blackout come to mind as great examples of very different songs that share a common feel.
Y: It goes back to being authentic. I came up with the first drafts of Blackout and Riot in my bedroom, so to elevate them more in the studio, I was thinking “Are the drums being played true, stylistically?” “Are the guitar tones cohesive with, not only the rest of the album, but the other rock/heavy metal elements?” Overall I just wanted to help Jaden bring his vision to life and enable his voice.
What excites you about being a producer right now?
Y: I’m excited to take things further. It’s so much more interesting to me when I can go any direction and truly have creative freedom. With my musical background, combined with what I learned through making ERYS, I’m super excited to see what I can offer! I have so many artists that I think I could make the tightest shit with.
You know how on every trap album, there’s always that one song that stands out and is produced super differently, that is adventurous and unique? I’m trying to bring that energy more. Someone who embodies that to me is Wondagurl. I’m just trying to go wild.
Check out ERYS on Spotify.