Despite a youth spent falling in love with music and going to festivals, by the time Hawkes Bay, New Zealand native Jock Nowell-Usticke discovered electronic music, he was already a multi-instrumentalist, studying chemical engineering at Canterbury University. Although he was familiar with the work of artists like Flume and Skrillex, he’d assumed that a band were behind their dynamic productions, until a friend introduced him to Ableton. “As soon as I opened it my mind was blown,” he remembers.
He’d been recommended the programme as a means of recording his band – in which he was played saxophone and keys – but it soon morphed into an obsession with production. “My whole band started getting tired with me because I was changing everything and it was getting to that point where it was unplayable live,” he admits. “And that was the point where I realised I should just do it myself.”
Now aged 28, Jock is an established artist/producer working under the alias BAYNK, with a trilogy of celebrated EPs, over 250 million streams, headline tours in US and Asia, and festival spots at Lollapalooza and Coachella under his belt. When the pandemic hit immediately after a 17 date North American headline tour, BAYNK found himself returning to those formative years of musical discovery and youthful innocence. “I was concerned that I didn’t have enough heartbreak or trauma to make decent art,” he explains. He soon found himself asking the question that would drive the ideation behind his debut album: “If I don’t feel like I have any emotions to pull from now, then why don’t I just write about my childhood and adolescence?”
Adolescence, the resulting 11-track collection, chronicles a time in which Jock wasn’t expressing himself musically. “I’d never got to write about the most heartbreak I’ve experienced, the most lust I’ve felt or the most high I’ve ever been,” he says. “The music I’m doing now was not an option, I didn’t even know it existed.” Drawn from experiences that took place between New Zealand and Europe when he was between the ages of 14 and 22, the songs were recorded between Los Angeles and London, where he relocated last year inspired by the cities’ alternative music scene.
Sonically revisiting snapshots from his past, Adolescence plays through like a coming of age movie: ’Touch Me (Hold My Hand)’ is the song he would have wanted to hear at his first music festival, while ‘Mine’, featuring Australian band Cub Sport and co-produced by Canadian experimental soul act Chiiild, recalls teenage moments on the backseat of his car. “It fascinates me now that I’m 28 looking back on that period and how uninformed I was, and how much more inspiring music creation and going to festivals seemed to be,” he says. “Adolescence is me trying to re-encapsulate first falling in love with music.”
Lead single, ‘Esther’, was written soon after he moved to Los Angeles from New Zealand, and features rhythmic pop star Tinashe. The track is inspired by a girlfriend he had at the age of 14, who was hooking up with a friend behind his back, but he didn’t care because he wanted to be able to tell people he was with her. “It grew from that into the idea of the dream girl that you always have in your head, and it’s not really a possibility, it doesn’t really exist,” says BAYNK. “There’s definitely people who are better for you than other people but they’re never going to be the perfect image of what you see in your head. At least for me. Everyone has flaws.”
‘Esther’ offers an early indication of the blend of electronic indie and pop sounds that listeners can expect to hear from the album. “I’m just trying to break the ice and get listeners prepared for a little bit more of that sound,” he says. After writing ‘Esther’ when arriving in LA, he spent a year and a half trying to avoid pop before finally giving in: “It’s my first album, I wanna sing and I wanna be pop again,” he declares. “I don’t care so much about being cool anymore. I’ve stopped being as fascinated with production as I originally was and I started being more fascinated with songwriting and lyricism and what makes a song catchy.” This ethos translated across all of his work, as a multi-faceted creator, meticulous about every detail that goes into his work and its presentation. “It’s about the whole package for me,” he explains. “It’s not just about the songs. Putting together all the artwork, concepting and co-directing the videos. It’s like a puzzle that needs to be worked out and finished. I just love the process.”
Having started out in bands, BAYNK’s transition from his laptop to the live stage has been a natural process. Although DJ shows seemed to be the natural fit for peers in his scene, BAYNK’s curiosity lead him to expand his sets into a captivating performance that incorporated singing and playing saxophone with his own production. “I’m always looking for something to make the live show more interesting; it became show visuals, and then playing saxophone better or singing better, making the shows as incredible as they could possibly be,” he says. His innovative sets have lead him to sold out shows across the US and Asia, including performances at iconic festivals such as Coachella, Lollapalooza, Electric Forest and Life is Beautiful. As the world begins to open again, BAYNK is keen to be back on the road, with a 22 date US tour and a sold out November show at London’s XOYO already in his diary.
Opening a new chapter, post-lockdown, with his debut album Adolescence BAYNK welcomes listeners to join him in rediscovering the open-eyed curiosity of youth: “Try and find some of that childhood energy, that adrenaline that everyone had at some point. Just the same thing that music in general gives to me when you find a good track and it makes you feel a specific type of way. As many people as I can give that to as possible is always the goal.”