Satica Talks K-Pop, PTSD, Self-Love and Her New EP, dear april, ily

JUAN GUTIERREZ | POSTED ON AUGUST 9, 2019OC Weekly

“Sati” to her friends, April to her family. Photo by Alex Oh

I met Satica in a quaint café in Chinatown, and as we talk, Ari Lennox’s “Shea Butter Baby” plays softly in the background. We connect over being Cal State Long Beach alumni and first-generation Americans. Though she is outwardly bubbly and receptive, I get the sense she’s also meticulous and strategic.

In a way, the Cambodian American singer has two personalities: Her professional résumé lists credits by both April Nhem and Satica. “My brother wanted to name me April after the Ninja Turtles,” she says, giggling. Though her mom decided on Satica, the cartoon-inspired nickname stuck. The theme of identity is front-and-center on her newest EP, dear april, ily, the title for which comes from her former AIM screen name.

As is true for many Cambodians in eastside Long Beach, Satica’s parents emigrated to escape Pol Pot, whose cruel regime killed an estimated 2 million people. Although her family left the brutality of the Khmer Rouge behind, they still carried invisible scars. “My parents were still struggling with PTSD and a lot of mental issues,” she says. “I just needed an outlet. It made me who I am.”

The youngest of six, Satica first started writing poetry in small notebooks to express herself. “I got punked on, so I never had a diary,” she says. “I knew they would look through it and use it against me and make fun me for stupid things, so I always wrote poems.”

This impulse to write led to her life as a solo artist and songwriter. By chance, the Far East Movement—famous for the 2010 hit “Like a G6”—discovered her music through a mutual friend. “The world is smaller than you think it is,” Satica observes. “They were looking for a vocalist, and my friend showed them my work, and then I started working with the Far East Movement.”

Her life could have been completely different. After graduating from Long Beach Polytechnic High School, she went to CSULB to study family life and child development in hopes of becoming a social worker or toiling for a nonprofit. “I wanted to do something that will give back to the community just because I felt I was affected by things going on with my family,” she says. “I would want to help someone else out.” 

However, when songwriting became a viable career option, she pounced on the chance. “I got signed with agency Transparency in 2014, and they have a huge network,” she says. “I had a collection of songs already written. I actually had one song out, and they bought it from me.”

Since then, Satica has worked as a songwriter with K-pop companies SM Entertainment and TEN Music Group and as a solo artist with the LA-based Moving Castle. Last year, she even got the chance to work with Tiffany Young of Girls Generation as the singer transitioned into a solo career. “When she came over from Korea, I helped her with everything,” Satica says. “I vocal produced, helped with soundscape, and helped her get in the rhythm of working here. Because when you work as a K-pop artist over in Korea, it’s very different. It’s like an artist boot camp. You have x amount you’re able to sing, x amount you’re able to dance, and everything is a lot more coordinated.”

Analyzing someone from the other side of the booth helped Satica shape her EP, which dropped on Aug. 9. It’s an emotional, personal recording influenced by Bon Iver, Frank Ocean and Julia Michaels, as well as the state of her life after moving to LA and the end of a long-term relationship. Instead of relying on another person, she had to trust her gut instincts and become more assertive. “I had to learn how to love myself,” Satica says. “If you can’t love yourself, how are other people going to?”

While having someone to rely on can be good, giving your power away may lead to unsavory people exploiting you. Satica learned this lesson firsthand when she moved to LA. “I think it’s different when you’re in a city where everyone wants something,” she says. “They don’t always have the best intentions. I have to remind myself that not everyone operates on the same morals that I do.” 

During this time, many people whom she had thought of as friends came in and out of her life, another influence on her album’s message. “A lot of it is about growth,” Satica says. “The reason I call it dear april, ily is it’s a reminder to love myself.”

Pond Frontman Nick Allbrook Told Me Something You Wouldn’t Want to Believe

Photo By Matt Sav

Editor’s Note: [I wrote this 2 years ago when POND released The Weather. POND’s newest album is Tasmania, so don’t forget to listen to that record, too. It’s great. This article continues my series of unreleased material. More coming soon]

If you don’t want The Weather’s nihilistic themes to bring you down, do this. According to positive psychology, to stay happy you need to follow the 3:1 positive to negative rule. So for every one nihilistic Pond song you listen to, listen to “Here Comes the Sun” by The Beatles three times to repress the dark feelings and repeat until you get through the whole POND album.  

“Is tha someone else in on the lion?” Pond frontman Nicholas Allbrook asks over-the-phone in his thick Aussie accent. There is an awkward pause after this question. Because of a scheduling mix-up, a PR agent put me through to Allbrook while he was in the middle of another interview. I excuse myself, hang up, and wait for 10 minutes until we are able to connect again.

If you know who Tame Impala is then chances are you’ve heard of POND. Allbrook was the touring bassist for Tame Impala from 2008 to 2013 and Kevin Parker of Tame Impala was involved with POND from 2009 to 2011. Parker stepped away as POND’s drummer in 2011 to focus on Tame Impala — to jerk off his acolytes (To be clear, I am a fan) who never picked up a vastly superior Dungen record (I’m also a fan of this band and Parker is too, so listen to them). Despite his departure, Parker still makes himself available to help produce POND’s albums. Allbrook insists that “Kevin [Parker] has the golden ticket to the band, he is always welcome, he’s grandfathered in.”

However, POND is a different beast from Tame Impala. If Tame Impala is the bright groovy conscious part of the mind, POND is the deep dark unconscious. Instead of taking cues from the Beatles, Supertramp, and The Flaming Lips — as mentioned by Parker on a Sound Opinions episode —  Allbrook was inspired by 70’s glam rock (think Marc Bolan and Mott the People) and these influences are clear as day on The Weather. Allbrook also mentions Travis Scott, Jay Dilla, and new era Kanye a la The Life of Pablo as inspiration, and although some tracks do contain samples, I’m not sure how these influences factored into the new record. To me, POND’s newest album sounds like if Marc Bolan tried to sound like the Beatles while trying to play prog rock. It’s messy but brilliant.

Allbrook described The Weather in a press announcement as “a concept album, not completely about Perth, but focusing on all the weird contradictory things that make up a lot of colonial cities around the world. Laying out all the dark things underneath the shimmering exterior of cranes, development, money and white privilege.” When I asked what he meant by this, Allbrook responded that this was said with some irony, but it something that he believes to be true. “Behind every civilization there is an English man twirling his monocle, drinking his gin and tonic. There is a lot of repression and a lot of blood that was spilled to build up the empire.” 

The way The Weather came together was a happy accident. According to Allbrook, when they finished laying down the tracks, the record came together in an unexpected way — or so the myth-making goes. They just wanted to make an honest album. “Well it really wasn’t intended to be a concept album, it turned out a lot more linear than expected,” says Albrook. “It’s something that is kinda hard to articulate… but we are generally coming from a place of more honesty. There is definitely less psychedelic bullshit thrown in,” says Allbrook with a laugh.

A strain of the Frankfurt School Deconstruction is also found in the video for “Sweep Me Off My Feet” — the album’s single. The video consists of stock footage of happy families living a picturesque life juxtaposed by a glammed out Allbrook singing about his penis and his shame (Lacan can apply here). Allbrook explains that: “the song is about wanting to live the ideal perfect life, and the stock footage I thought was a good representation of that unrealistic expectation.” To Allbrook, life is now a commodified idea, but a cheap knock off which is doomed to fall apart. If it’s realized, it’s only for a moment. Skin sags and wrinkles, houses get foreclosed on, marriages crumble, people get hooked on crystal meth, and a link which describes something new and exciting is just mundane clickbait designed to increase ad revenue.

Although honest about the dark side of life, Allbrook realizes there is a reason why people repress these negative thoughts and feelings. “I think everyone gets fed up when things get stacked up and get too heavy and you think why can’t the world grace just smile upon me,” says Allbrook.

Allbrook’s view of life is akin to a bomb that wants to love and destroy. This tension is evident in the album and is perfectly articulated in “30,000 Megatons” where he sings about his desire to blow up the world. When I ask him about it, he explains: “I want everything to be blown up sometimes, but at the same time, I desperately don’t want that to happen.” Let’s just hope things don’t have to blow up for them to change.

Retrospective: Syd Tha Kyd Finds Her Own Voice

Courtesy of Artist

[Authors Note:] I interviewed Syd more than a year ago but never published the conversation. This profile has been sitting in my cloud collecting ones and zeros, so I decided to release it through my own site so people can read it. This is one of many backlogged profiles I have on file that haven’t seen the light of day. I will release more interviews of other artists soon.

“The fin, I think, represents my role in the Internet. The fin of a fish, or of a shark, is made to steer and direct. I wanted something that was a watery. There are a lot of water references and blue vibes in this album,” says Sydney Bennett over-the-phone.

Although the Internet has been on a hiatus since their last record Ego Death, Bennett and the rest of the band have been busy releasing solo records. According to Bennett, this was done to experiment and release pent up creative juices. And stepping back from her group the Internet has given her a fresh perspective on music. “What was great about releasing solo albums was it didn’t alter the core foundation of our sound,” says Bennett. “And the only reason it doesn’t is because I don’t feel the need to put trap drums on it, and Steve doesn’t have to go full-Prince on it, and Matt released his Jet Age album with more quirky sounds. I think it made us all appreciate what we have as a group even more.”

Sydney Bennett who is now known as plainly Syd, dropping ‘Tha Kyd” moniker, has had a meteoric rise since her Odd Future days. Not only did she help put together the Grammy-winning band The Internet, but has finally pushed out her own critically acclaimed solo work, releasing her album Fin earlier this year and her EP Always Never Home which is comprised of two B-sides, one of which was a collaboration with Korean artist Dean.

Bennett’s new solo record Fin is a tasty electronic-pop experiment, a shift of direction from the Internet’s jazzy sound. She wanted to showcase her versatility and eclectic range to challenge people’s expectations of her.  “I think it has opened people’s eyes about what they thought of me, as far how far my versatility goes, when it comes to writing and making music,” says Bennett.

Fin definitely intersects with the Internet’s core sound because Syd’s voice is at the center of both. However, this album is Bennett’s vision.  “I wrote a lot of it myself and the rest I wrote with one…two other people,” says Bennett. Her main writing partner is artist Nick Green. They met at one of his performances in Los Angeles. She became a huge fan and then an eventual collaborator. “I somehow got in contact with him and he helped me write “Dontcha” from the second Internet album,” says Bennett. Since then, they’ve had a solid writing relationship. “Sometimes it’s nice to write with someone else, sometimes I’m stuck and I need help.”

Bennett’s focus on writing has made her more self-aware of what she is saying, but, paradoxically, it’s made her more careless when she creates. “When I’m writing things these days I’ve gotten good about letting go. I think more about it after the fact, after the song is written,” says Bennett. Although Fin’s lyrics tackle themes like money and fame, the core of the album is about relationships and love. “If it’s not about love, it’s about a struggle of some sort or state of the world, but I tend to write about things that I’m passionate about. I think the world is ran by love. Every aspect of life, really, has love in it,” says Bennett. “So I think it’s very easy to get caught up writing a bunch of love songs.”

Another contrast from previous albums Bennett has worked on, Fin has less features. The new album boasts only two: Steve Lacy and 6lack. However, this was by Bennett’s design. “The only song that I felt that needed someone was ‘Over,’” says Bennett. “I wanted someone to do it justice. I reached out to a couple people…actually I reached out to one other artist and they didn’t know what to do with it.” 

Unable to find someone, Bennett found herself stuck at an impasse. Luckily, right before Fin’s release, Syd found someone by serendipitous circumstance. “I heard 6lack album right before my album was due really randomly,” says Bennett. “I felt that he would be perfect on that song. Which he was…I think.”  

Critically, Bennett’s work has been received with praise. Apart from a few controversies during the beginning of her career, she has not been very polarizing. “I don’t think people really write negative stuff about me. I’m easy to love. I don’t think I’m a very polarizing figure,” says Bennett. “Very few people don’t like me and I like that. I want to keep it that way.” Although, she did get angry when I brought up Odd Future and being accused of being a misogynistic lesbian — probably because she thought I was attacking her — she was still forthcoming about her past. Because of how past critics have handled her material, she wisely chooses to stay away from critiques about her work and lets it speak for itself.

To Bennett — for better or worse — art can be a tool for projection. Like any tool, it can be used to fix or to hurt. When ambiguity presents itself, people tend to fill in the gaps with their own histories, knowledge, fears, and hopes and sometimes even act on them. Knowing this, Bennet decided to let those projections go. “I don’t really care for it. It’s all opinions. And there’s plenty of music I don’t like that does really well. Art is very subjective.”