Pulling the Strings of Success with Vusive [Interview]

If you’re reading this, it’s probably safe to say that you’re a fan of electronic music. I think it’s time we give a little bit of the limelight back to live instrumentation. The raw, organic sound of a violin or a piano can easily get lost in the DAW. All the nuanced details that can be changed after-the-fact with software can demystify some of the magic in music-making with a physical instrument. For this reason, I was excited to sit down with Cincinnati-based Vusive for an interview. It’s not often that you catch a violin player at an electronic show, but Vusive has been out here pioneering his own performance style for years and has built a worthy discography to back it up. He’s been featured on such labels as Phuture Collective, Solace Family, Presently Lifted, Wtf’s That Sound, Aspire Higher, and enough others that I don’t have the space to list them all here. Hot off the heels of his recent performance at Infrasound, he gave me plenty to reflect on when it comes to the underground music community and the future of the music we love here at FUXWITHIT. Let’s get into it.

I’m excited to chat today, man! Congrats on your first Infrasound booking! How did it feel to be on the lineup this year?

It was definitely one of the most eye-opening experiences realizing that, you know, an artist of my caliber is capable of pulling a certain crowd for the beginning of the day, first day of a festival of Infrasound’s reputation and caliber. To me, it was humbling and it really showed me that anybody at my stage of career is capable of gathering fans from all over the country just to see a one-hour set from you. It’s always a great reminder to see how many people come up and say “Hi!” and and tell you how much they love your music and how much they actually care about your project. There’s more to it than just, you know, playing DJ sets, obviously. I’ve always been in it for the love of music and live instrumentation, and improvisation, and just like, songwriting in general. It’s always been really cool to see people start DJing, too, and sharing what they have to the world. But at the same time, the reason I got into this was not only just for myself but to share, like, my soul to the world. So it was really cool to see people that actually do give a shit, you know? Especially for the first set of the first day, while everyone’s setting up camp and trying to get situated and shit.

You can always tell when the people that show up early like that are, like, really, really passionate about what we do here.

I mean, you seem like a very community-oriented guy. Not just in it for playing sets or making money.

Right, yeah, I mean everybody has their own reasons to play music live for people, but yeah, for me it was really cool to see people that came prepared and showed up correct, and, you know, made sure that they didn’t miss the set. You can always tell when the people that show up early like that are, like, really, really passionate about what we do here.

I do remember going to that kid’s house, and I do remember seeing the technical side of that instrument and striking a bow across some strings. It really, to me, felt like it was the most expressive in terms of playing melodies.

So one of the things that I think makes you really unique is the fact that you do have this trend to do live instrumentation in your sets. Can you give us some backstory on that? How long have you been playing the violin, for example? What got you into it?

So there was probably the first five years of my life, like my parents kind of showed me a great amount of music and, you know, they had a piano in our room, in our family room, and, you know, of course, they were the typical Asian parents trying to force the kid on the piano. However, I think it took one instance where my parents took me down the street to my neighbor’s house, and at age five, my mind, it’s like a sponge. Anybody’s mind is like a sponge, you know? We absorb everything we see and take it to heart. So we went over to my neighbor’s house – I don’t even remember what the kid’s name was – but he was practicing violin when I got over there and I was just enamored. I was just, like, completely mesmerized. I don’t really even remember what came over me, but apparently that moment (at least from what my parents told me), I was like, “Yeah, this is what I wanna do with my life.” As a kid like that, I don’t really remember making that decision, but I do remember going to that kid’s house, and I do remember seeing the technical side of that instrument, you know, and striking a bow across some strings. It really, to me, felt like it was the most expressive in terms of playing melodies. Like piano was cool and all, I took maybe a couple years of lessons and learned the basics, but I think that’s when I kind of started to make that decision to just fully deep dive into the violin, you know. And then obviously you’re gonna suck for like the first three or four years, but after getting through that hump, you know, you just never you never stop. And I never quit and I never stopped practicing, and then eventually got into orchestras, and then bands. I played in, like, indie bands and metal bands. My buddy showed me, like, all sorts of awesome, you know, counterculture metal bands that that were really popping off in the emo days and of course, you know, I’d always love to have the chance to play in a band with my metal phase, but, you know, after after playing in so many and going through those kind of projects, I really found myself, more capable of doing a lot on my own. When I was introduced to Ableton, we were tracking Ableton songs on our band songwriting process and, you know, my cousin showed me a little bit. By about the time dubstep was coming around, that’s when I also noticed that there’s more to this than just, you know, instruments. So from there, I mean by around like 2011, I got my own Ableton suite and MIDI controller and then from there I just kinda, like, deep dove into that. Like, at first I thought about getting a DJ controller, so I did, and I was like, “Nah, fuck that. I’m gonna sell that and get an APC40.” Ever since then, it’s just been Ableton for the last 10 to 15 years.

So, aside from the violin, are there any other physical instruments that you also know how to play right now?

Yeah, I played drums in my metal band. I played guitar in another metal band. Then I played drums in the indie band I played in. I most recently left a group that was a jam band. It was like a funk fusion jam band, but yeah.

That’s quite the world tour you’ve got!

It’s neither here nor there, it was… it was definitely a lot of instruments that kind of set a lot of, like, my style apart from others, I think. It’s the multi-instrumentalist in me, you know, between the drums, the guitar, the bass, and the violin, and piano. It’s basically just strings and percussion for me. I’m a strings guy.

You said that with Ableton you found that you could do a lot more on your own and kind of find your own musical direction, so what made you stick with the combo of producing and playing string instruments as opposed to going all digital, or vice versa?

It was the only one that I knew I was most expressive on, especially when it comes to making, like, really soulful leads and melodies. And bringing it on stage live is a lot easier than trying to bring, like, a bunch of hardware and some synths and, you know, your sound card, and your laptop… and all that shit usually ends up failing anyways, ’cause I don’t have the money to really afford all the best. So it’s definitely a limiting thing when it comes to trying to perform my music live.

Flying Lotus, Flume, Mr. Carmack, Jon Casey, Chee, tsuruda… Those are some of the big ones that I’ve always looked up to.

Let’s talk some more about your backstory here. Can you give us a list of some of your biggest musical influences and why they’re on that list, electronic or otherwise?

Yeah, I love this, I love this question. Yeah, I definitely pay a lot of homage to, like, Flying Lotus, Flume, Mr. Carmack, Jon Casey, Chee, tsuruda… Those are some of the big ones that I’ve always looked up to. Definitely people like Anderson .Paak are big inspirations to me. People like Smino, for another example. In the hip-hop world, those are definitely big, big influences on my sound. Oh, and then as far as, like, bands go, I would think that Khruangbin. Also, Chon (they’re a math rock band), and probably people like… Hmm, I guess for my last biggest influence, it’ll probably have to be like Earth, Wind and Fire, or all the stuff from my favorite indie days. I don’t know, yeah, that’s just a few I can think of off the top of my head.

That’s a damn good list right there. I love the callback to the indie days. I feel like that’s when a lot of electronic music started to pop off, especially singer-songwriters like James Blake and Toro y Moi. A lot of it we just used to call “indie” or “electronica” back in the day.

That’s a perfect example, yeah.

Alright, so enough about your backstory. Let’s talk about the future now! How about the rest of 2024? Can you give us a sneak peek on anything that you might have in-store release-wise or performance-wise, or anything else?

So, performance-wise, I’ll be coming back to Minnesota, actually. There’s gonna be another festival called Bass Ribbon Pines coming up, so I’ll probably be doing that one right in tandem with Secret Dreams. I’ll be guest violin on a Ghost Gardens set at Secret Dreams. So, I’ll probably end up flying out either Thursday night or Friday morning back to Minnesota to do that set at 1 PM on Friday, and then I don’t know. I can’t decide whether I wanna sneak back to Secret Dreams or not, but yeah, there’s a few people I’m trying to catch on Saturday at Secret Dreams. Then, yeah, typically I kinda try and do a lot of stage work, too, so I’ll probably be ending up stage managing the silent disco at Lost Lands again this year. As much as I kind of have a bit of a bias against riddim, I’m still really supportive of the riddim community at Lost Lands. That’s something that I don’t pass judgment on, especially when, you know, people like Excision are bringing on some of my own favorite personal up-and-coming acts. So yeah, that’ll probably be coming up later on. Hopefully, I’ll get to play more than a silent disco set at Lost Lands, but for now, I think I’m pretty much there on the silent disco stage.

Can you give us some insight into your songwriting process when you make music? Do you do the same thing every time, do you have a pattern that you run with, or do you just kind of wing it in the studio whenever you wanna go make a track yeah?

It depends on how I’m feeling that day. A lot of days, it’s hard to find a lot of inspiration, so sometimes I’ll just kinda, like, play around with some chords or, you know, a couple other days I’ll whip out some instruments and start making some content for TikTok and Instagram. Those are separate from all my official releases, obviously, so those are really typically just for fun. I’m actually headed to a studio east of here to do like a pool day/studio session and make some content for reels and TikTok. Other than that, when I make bangers, it’s usually late at night, like late as fuck at night. Or maybe I’ve, you know, gone out for a night and stayed up all night, and might bring a few homies back to the studio after we we’re done getting all goofy, and, yeah, just make a beat at the end of night, sometimes all the way up until the morning or the next afternoon.

Peak hours right there! You’ve kind of been making waves for yourself out here lately, what would you say is your proudest accomplishment up until this point? Whether in terms of production, or just self-accomplishment, or anything else music-related.

I will definitely say obviously Infrasound is, like, one of the biggest things I’m proud of this year that has happened for me. It just happened so fast. Then another big thing that happened for me right before that was that I got on one of the Team Supreme cyphers that that they started up again: volume three with Lord Genmu and Dome of Doom. That’s another big dream of mine that I’ve always had since like, 2017. I’ve been listening to them since forever. I got introduced to Team Supreme by Mr. Carmack on his, I think it was one of their earlier cyphers, and then, yeah, only recently they started it back up again. So it was really cool to see them have a lot of support from the community still, even though they’ve been gone for more than a couple years now. Love those guys, shoutout Great Dane.

As far as artists that you’ve been listening to lately… you rattled off some of your influences earlier, now who are some of the more slept-on undercard names that you’ve had on repeat lately?

Love that, yeah. I can definitely think of one right off the top of my head: it’s been Keeth. He’s been doing a lot of future beats stuff with, like, Lucid Monday. Also olswel and Dilip. I think bass-wise, definitely DÊTRE. I don’t know how to pronounce it. Volume Unit’s been killing it lately. L*o*J is mad slept-on. They’re also one of my bigger influences that’s kind of slept-on. Dabow has definitely been making waves lately. ZCR is a God right now, he’s fucking GOATed. There’s plenty more I could list off, but I’d say FUXWITHIT is one of the main places I source my sound.

Hey, we love a good shoutout! We’ve got two questions left that are a bit more random. Let’s hear a fun fact about yourself that we probably don’t know. It can be anything at all!

This is a tough one, I definitely have thought about this one a couple times. Let’s see… what is one thing that’s not too off-the-wall but not too basic… I guess I’ve been to almost every continent. Every continent except Antarctica and Africa. Those are two really tough ones to get to.

it’s been really cool seeing a lot of cultures elsewhere and taking inspiration from that, and, you know, taking it to heart

So you’re an avid traveler?

Yeah, so I guess I’ve been traveling since I was little. My mom has worked for Delta for since, like, the 80s and all. I’ve always had kind of a privilege of being able to fly forever across the world. So it’s been really cool seeing a lot of cultures elsewhere and taking inspiration from that, and, you know, taking it to heart, which is probably why I’m so community-driven. We also end up doing mission trips for this charity organization that my parents run. We typically hit Vietnam every year and fundraise, and all that.

Oh, that’s awesome. So is your heritage Vietnamese?

Yeah, yeah, I’ve done a lot of philanthropy work with that and gone back at least like three or four times. And that’s always been really humbling, experiencing people less fortunate than you try and make a living.

Sounds like you very much embody the idea of “think globally, act locally.”

That’s definitely a good lifestyle to live by.

Last question, do you have any words of inspiration for your fans or aspiring producers out there?

Yeah, I’ve definitely learned a lot the past weekend, and the one thing I really did learn was don’t put so much pressure on yourself. Don’t hold such high expectations of yourself. Everybody’s really stuck in the whole, like, grind mentality, and I’ve found out after trying to spend so much time reaching those expectations that you shouldn’t be so held up or caught up on not meeting them, too. You know, we can all hope to have Ws all the time, but we’ll have to take some Ls every once in a while, too. I mean, this past weekend there were a lot of ups and there were also a lot of downs. I had a really transformative experience when it came to Infrasound, you know? I know it might not be considered your transformational-type festival, but I definitely had that kind of experience. Just realizing that, like, there are certain things that I need to come to terms with myself, and I overcame that.

Just be happy and be real.

It’s all about what you make out of it.

Yeah, that was really cool seeing a lot of good times and a lot of times of self-reflection, especially at a festival like that. I mean, I guess the general message is, you know, don’t overthink shit. And, you know, don’t hold yourself to such high expectations. Just be happy and be real.