Interview with Andy Suzuki and the Method

Jason Gorelick, Andy Suzuki

Article By Yvonne Lo
Photo credit Ingmar Chen

At NYU’s 2014 TASS Night Market, AsianInNY had the opportunity to meet and interview with the headliner band, Andy Suzuki and the Method. Their live performance kept the crowd pumped and on their feet. It was definitely a night to remember.

The independent NYC- based band is featured on the Urban Daily’s top 25 bands to listen for and on PolicyMic’s “11 Badass Asian Musicians who are Shattering Stereotypes.” It’s true. Beyond their good looks, sweet smiles, and warming personalities, Andy Suzuki and the Method are rising stars. The band is fronted by the songwriting trio Andy Suzuki, Jason Gorelick, and Kozza Babumba; two Jewish-half-Asians and the grandson of Grammy Award-winning Nigerian percussionist, Babatunde Olatunji.

Andy Suzuki – Vocal, Piano, Guitar
Jason Gorelick– Violin, Vocal, Guitar, Piano, Bass
Kozza Babumba– Hand Percussionist/Drummer (tambourine, floor tom, shakers, cymbals)

Q: How did the band form? How did you find music?
Andy: We met at Brown University. When I was a freshman, I met Kozza, who was a senior at the time, in 2006. We started playing music and figuring it out, exploring different sounds; some sounded better than others. We started playing shows, and we were learning by doing, which is what we have been doing most of the time. When I was a senior, Kozza graduated and I met JG, who was a freshman at the time. By that time, we did a little bit more, and put out our first album, which was still us figuring it out.

Q: What did you major in when you attended at Brown?
Andy: I majored in Economics, hilariously enough. Let’s hope I never use that degree.
Kozza: We all graduated, I majored in International Relations.
Jason: I majored in computer science.

Andy Suzuki

Q: How did you decide to pursue music as a full-time career?
Andy: I knew even freshman year when Kozza and I were making very mediocre music together. I knew that I saw potential and I thought, ‘This is what I should be doing.’ Whatever we were studying at Brown would be a back-up plan, and it’s starting to look like we won’t have to back up on. I just needed seven years!

Q: How did the Name Andy Suzuki and the Method came to be?
Jason: When I joined the band, the name was only Andy Suzuki. He had played with Kozza for a while and a bunch of other people, whoever was around school basically. It was all fun. I think, when I started playing with Andy a bit, we thought how we can make this a band name and not just the front man’s name. For a while we had the idea that it would be ‘Andy Suzuki and the’ something. Then, Kozza gave Andy a T-shirt for his birthday.
Andy: Yeah, it was Jason’s first show with us. Kozza was living in New York at the time. He came up from New York to play at Providence with a shirt he had custom made with “Andy Suzuki and the…” on it. Kozza was the one really pushing for it.
Kozza: I was pushing it hard.
Andy: The band name actually used to be, “Andy Suzuki with Kozza on drugs.” That’s actually what it was. But, Kozza wasn’t into it, so he got that shirt. Once I got that shirt, I was touched.
For me, from my perspective, at one point it was practicality. But at another, I also saw that potential. I thought it would be much easier if I tried to muscle my way in there. It was actually a lot more practical before because at one point we didn’t have as much of an audience. If I had a band name versus Andy Suzuki, I know that my friends and family would come more regularly to support the band. It would be more than just Andy.

Q: How did you become “the Method?”
Andy: That’s something our manager just realized yesterday that a lot of our fans don’t even know it. It’s a hidden music nerd joke. The Method is the Suzuki Method. Jason learned to play violin with the Suzuki books. So we decided to go with the Suzuki method like a music pun. We thought a lot of people would get it.

Q: You recently released your highly anticipated LP, Born out of Mischief. It has a folky take on rock music. Was that the original direction you wanted for your music?
Andy: Yes, definitely. It took us a long time for us to find our sound. It took a long time for me to find what kind of singing felt natural and best for me, what kind of songs really worked for us. I feel like with this album, we found it. It’s our third album. We worked on it for a long time. Good things are worth waiting for. I feel like, what we accomplished was not even close to the original direction we had way back in the day. But, it has definitely cemented itself as what our sound is today – a folk-y, blues-y pop.

Q: What was your inspiration for the album?
Andy: I was tired of singing high notes and pitches all the time. I was just singing so high all the time. I grew up on singing R&B stuff –Boyz ll Men, Usher. It got to the point where it just became unsustainable, and stressful. So, I started singing lower and in doing so, a bluesy twangy thing started happening. I was like wait, ‘okay.’ This was also around the time I started listening to some country music. And the combination of those things led to this folky direction versus the initial misguided R&B direction.
Kozza: I think also, organically, I think one of the big songs in our set is keep it loose, keep it tight, – and we heard Andy do a lot of Bluesy stuff on it and we thought it sounded really great with his voice, and we started saying ‘why not write songs that were like this?’

Q: Being Jewish-half-Asians, were there any struggles you had to overcome?
Andy: Yes, Jason and I are both Half Asian, Half Jewish. I went through the same thing that any teenager has to deal with while growing up, identity issues. Who are you? We’re still trying to figure out who looks more Asian between me and Jason. It’s a top conversation. What are your thoughts?
Trying to figure out who you are was the main struggle. I remember waking up and looking at the mirror thinking, ‘Do I look more Asian today or more Jewish today?’ I also remember thinking that I wish I looked more Asian, because I have the privilege of walking around the world as a white person. But, I can also flex my Asian Muscle when I need to. Overall, it’s been one of the more beautiful parts of my life, certainly an identity thing, especially when I was growing up in DC. Since day one, I was surrounded by people of different race and culture.
Jason: I went to school and grew up in a very white community. I looked pretty white to most of the people, because the kids at my school didn’t encounter a lot of Asians. I think people just treated me as if I was white. But, at the same time, there was always the question, ‘what was my identity?’ My mom is Korean, so what am I? How do I fit into that? All of my cousins were full Koreans. I don’t even know if we were treated differently, but it was always different during those family events.
Andy: Any Biracial will tell you the same problem, especially those who have to cross borders. I speak Japanese pretty well, but I can’t communicate with my Japanese family in a real way, not like I can with my Jewish family. There’s that, and many layers. I think it’s a beautiful thing to have to deal with.
Jason: For me, it’s pretty much the same as what Andy was saying. But since I grew up in a white community, I didn’t think about race that much. I was thinking more like every other kid, ‘What do I want to do with my life?’
As for the Korean language, I know a lot of words, and how to read and write. I can say things, but I don’t speak Korean, it’s really hard for me.

Jason Gorelick

Q: As the grandson of the Grammy Award – winning Nigerian percussionist, Babtunde Olatunji, do you feel like you have to prove something? Is he your inspiration?
Kozza: Yes, I’m definitely inspired by him. I do think about him every time I have the chance to practice my craft. And yea, there is also the feeling of having something to prove. It’s sort of a competition in my head to try to see if we can make something magical happen. It’s a great motivation. It helps me every time, through the difficulties, and practices can be hard. I’m definitely not out of his shadows yet. He cast a long shadow. His Grammy count is still killing ours. But, I think we’re on the right track for sure.

Q: You’ve recently toured Brunei, how was that experience like?
Andy: We went to Brunei, it was kind of crazy. We were the first international artists to play a concert there in 15 years. So, it was a big deal, a big news story. Brunei is a very strict Muslim country. So, we were somehow able to seep through the cracks and go through some red tapes. It was wild there, because we were the first artists to play there in 15 years, a public concert. They don’t even have concerts there, no concerts; it was like a whole thing. We mostly played at colleges and hotels, and it became a whole thing. The tour was extended for another week. Brunei is definitely a big part of our fabric.

Q: How does it compare to performing in Southeast Asia and the U.S.?
Jason: When you’re invited to play at any festival, it’s an honor. It’s a different type of honor to play at a school, because we kind of know what the crowd will be like. At venues, it will be different and at festivals, it will be different. I think the festivals are like awards for music, but people aren’t getting awards. It’s something where we can reach a whole new group of people and often where we can have a lot of fun ourselves.
Andy: We love college shows, venue shows, shows. I like doing shows.
Kazzo: They’re all different. It’s so crazy. It may always be like this, but, every process of this has been fun – in terms of recording, and everything has its own perk and what we like about it. But for us, the live shows are what we think is the strongest and what we find to be the most fun.

Andy Suzuki

Q: What’s your best performance ever given?

Andy: Mercury Lounge, March 4th was a special show for us. It was like tonight, but tight. There are certain things you hope to hit, moments you remember and others remember, and execute properly. That night, it just happened that all cylinders were working.
We just got back from a California tour. Every show is fun, for different reasons. You work hard; you work hard to make the album, the songs. There’s rehearsals, you change the arrangement, see how people react, and it’s all fun. Here’s what we worked, listen. If you enjoy it, that’s how we measure if it was successful or not.

Q: How do you compose your music? Is it a group effort? What inspires you?
Andy: On the last album, we pretty much worked together. We co-wrote the songs. We have the process that we used that we thought worked for us, and that’s our little secret.
Jason: We write it together. We approach each song differently, it’s never the same. It’s what spontaneity allows.

Q: What’s next for the band? Any upcoming shows in New York, any new songs?
Andy: In New York, our next show will be on May 6th at the Mercury Lounge.

Q: Do you have any words or comments you would like to tell your fans?
Andy: As someone who grew up with identity I grew up, I can’t be a part of the Asian community the way I would like to because of the way I look and because I am Asian as I am not Asian. That’s what I am.

We were recently mentioned on an article, “11 Badass Asian Musician Shatter Asian Stereotypes.” That was huge for us. When we were touring in California, we had fans come through from tons of cities that we’ve never played at. They became fans after reading the article. Here, tonight, at NYU’s 2014 TASS Night Market there were several people who also read the article.

To be embraced by Asian music fans, to be embraced by Asians in a way that I didn’t feel like I would be able to… The fact that music is allowing that to happen is such a beautiful thing. You are all the best! Thank you for your support!

It was a pleasure to meet Andy Suzuki and the Method. If you have not heard of them yet, check them out. Their music is soul-grabbing good feel music that will keep you pumped up and ready for the world.

Don’t forget to leave a comment below and let us know who looks more Asian?Jason Gorelick or Andy Suzuki?

Jason Gorelick, Andy Suzuki, Yvonne Lo, Kozza Babumba

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