“Me and my father had a really rough relationship, and I’m named after him, so I kind of wanted to spite him, but also be a part of him,” AUGUST 08 says to begin our interview.
The 26-year-old Los Angeles-born, Koreatown-based singer makes his intentions clear from the jump: his upcoming EP, Father, is a type of reckoning, inspired by his tumultuous relationship with his father. Their rift began to sour his relationship with the rest of his family, and August’s newfound success had him feeling both nostalgic and bitter. While music has been there for him since day one, this EP was a much-needed outlet.
“Me starting to have some kind of success as a songwriter and producer made me really think back on the good times I’ve had just with myself and with my family,” he explains. “Me not being able to have those times anymore, because me and my family don’t get along… The project is called Father, saying it’s okay to have father issues. It’s okay to not have control over everything that’s going on. That project is me pouring out those emotions.”
Even so, August’s vulnerability doesn’t trap him in a state of despair. A self-proclaimed optimist, he credits giving himself permission to feel through his emotions as the trick to his sunny disposition. “What I’ve learned is, you have to feel,” he tells me. “You’re either going to be happy, or you’re going to be sad, but you have to take time to let those emotions out.”
Though August grew up in a state of without, he wants his music to have a ballooning impact. “I want those kids who are out there, who don’t have an outlet, to find an outlet to make themselves feel better because I never had one,” he concludes. “I really want those kids to look at themselves and say, ‘This is what’s gonna make me happy. This is what’s gonna make me feel good about myself.’”
DJBooth’s full interview with AUGUST 08, lightly edited for content and clarity, follows below.
Starting with your stage name, is there a specific memory tied to 2008?
You know, the month of August is the eighth month. So, the reason my name is AUGUST 08 is because it’s my father’s birthday, his birth month is August. I did that because me and my father had a really rough relationship, and I’m named after him, so I kind of wanted to spite him, but also be a part of him.
I usually start an interview by asking about childhood, but since your upcoming EP, Father, is inspired by your own, what in your present life inspired you to go back to those feelings of family tension?
Success, honestly. Me starting to have some kind of success as a songwriter and producer made me really think back on the good times I’ve had just with myself and with my family. Me not being able to have those times anymore, because me and my family don’t get along. Me and my father’s relationship, us not getting along, is one of the main points of that. So I wanted to make a song like “Lately,” make a song like “Funeral,” and the project is called Father, saying it’s okay to have father issues. It’s okay to not have control over everything that’s going on. That project is me pouring out those emotions.
Do you view making music as a way of creating and fostering the community you felt you were once lacking?
No, actually. Music was just something that’s always been a part of me. I’ve always wanted to be some kind of musician. I wanted to be a drummer growing up, that was my thing. I didn’t really listen to the radio, but I played the drums and I picked up the guitar when I was 16. Music was always there, it wasn’t an outlet. This project was an outlet for my family but growing up, music wasn’t just an outlet.
I know you have relationships with Compton, Long Beach, and Lynwood.
Absolutely! Compton is where my parents are from, where I lived for a short time, and that’s where I was young. My grandma stayed in Compton, my friends stayed in Compton. That definitely affected my character, the crazy stuff that goes down there and the beautiful stuff that goes down there. Lynwood, I lived there for a short period of time. The same experiences I had in Compton, I had in Lynwood. The same kind of goes for Long Beach, but I kinda became more of a man in Long Beach. I learned a lot, went through a lot of gang activity, losing friends to gang violence.
What do you want kids from each of those places to come away with after hearing your music?
Honestly, don’t be afraid to have emotions. I want those kids who are out there, who don’t have an outlet, to find an outlet to make themselves feel better because I never had one. I want those kids to find something to make themselves feel special. My high school didn’t have a music program, you know? I really want those kids to look at themselves and say, “This is what’s gonna make me happy. This is what’s gonna make me feel good about myself.”
I read that, thanks to a friend, you had your musical awakening all at once. What were those first experiences like diving into music?
It was crazy! It was beautiful, because he showed me… I knew stuff that was on the radio, growing up there was all the [laughs] ratchet shit that was playing on the airwaves. He sent me something that was left of everything, just left. I kinda just clicked and instantly related to it, and clinged onto it. That led me to start digging for other things, like Black Star, which is…
That’s one of my favorite albums. I have the CD on my desk.
That’s my favorite album, for sure. That album changed my life.
It made me more in tune with Black culture, and just being emotional and available. On that album, they weren’t afraid to be political. They weren’t afraid to talk about love and say triggering things. That definitely helped shape me.
Do you ever struggle with getting vulnerable in your music?
Lately, it’s been a little tougher, because it’s more of a showcase thing now. Now, when I make something, it’s always being shown to someone. But, I’m still vulnerable. I’m still able to say, “Hey, here’s my emotions. Here’s how I’m feeling in the moment.” Lately, I’ve been having new emotions, so I haven’t been as sad boy-ish [laughs] because there’s a lot of good in my life. It’s constantly changing, though, so the music changes with it.
In terms of career, how has signing with 88rising helped to facilitate your growth?
They’re great people, from the artists to the staff. Everyone is a good person, so they helped me open up and become more in tune with what I want and who I want to be. They’ve created a lane where you can be who you are and not be afraid to let that shine. Musically, we just feed off each other. There’s so much music out there, looking at [Rich] Brian or looking at Joji, there’s so much music out there that I wasn’t tapped into that they showed me, like, “Holy shit, this is crazy!”
Your latest visual is for “Lately,” a record that is tied to this feeling of yearning. Where were you at when you wrote that song?
That song was inspired by my ex-girlfriend. I’m not gonna say her name 'cause she’s gon’ sue me [laughs]. I was sitting in the studio with my guys, Barney Bones, Josh Lockhart, Jeff Kleinman and Michael Uzoruwu, who all helped with the record, and she was also there. I was like, “Why is she here? Why am I trying to revive something that is not revivable, that does not make sense for my life?” I thought about that with my family, how… I’m having all this success, and none of this success means anything without family and love, and that just made me feel really lonely.
So the first lyric I came up with, like, everyone knows there’s no such thing as a Lamborghini with suicide doors. It’s like an analogy to say that when you’re lonely there is nothing that can help you cope with that, but family. So even when you have the riches and you ballin’ out crazy, you’re still gonna want someone to share everything with and help you do that.
On the whole, the EP seems to be driven by very difficult-to-reconcile questions, opening with the screaming line: “Where you been!” Was that intentional?
Actually, I made that track, “Missed Calls,” as an ode to Kid Cudi. I’m a huge Kid Cudi fan. The screaming thing came from another artist I’m really close with, DUCKWRTH. He was going through something at the time, just hella emotional, so I was like, “Yo, just get on the mic and do your thing.” It just worked. That beginning part was actually a minute long, but then we cut it down. DUCKWRTH is also on “Funeral.”
How do you come to accept that some questions and some desires just go unanswered?
That question is a weird question to answer because that’s something no one can control. There’s always going to be something you can’t answer, so you just gotta be optimistic about it, or are you gonna wreck your brain about it? I think nobody should wreck their brain over anything. I’m a very optimistic person. I let everything really roll off my back. Nothing holds me down, you know?
There are equal parts escapism and realism in your music. How do you balance that when writing?
The way you balance that is by showing real emotion. What I’ve learned is, you have to feel. You’re either going to be happy, or you’re going to be sad, but you have to take time to let those emotions out. A friend of mine told me a few years ago, “Yo, you’re one of those guys who always suppress your emotions. If you took one day to cry and let all the pain out, you would have the best month of your life.”
There was a bad situation that happened to me, so it took time to feel it and let myself go, and the next day, I just felt amazing. So each song with an emotional vibe, that’s because I chose to go through each emotion at that moment.
Do you ever set aside time to cry?
Well, you don’t ever know what’s gon’ happen. I’m a very optimistic person, so for me to want to cry, it has to be something super, super sad. It has to be something crazy. When that crazy serious thing happens, that’s when I’m like, “Yo, it’s time to go home and be with yourself.” Because I’m never home. I’m either touring a lot or in the studio. When those times come where I need to be with myself, I know when to go home.
Does that work? Do you feel better afterward?
Absolutely! Before it was like, I would be a little upset about things more than I should be upset about them. That’s never good for anyone. But doing this definitely helped me put a lot of things into perspective, like, nothing is actually bad. It’s just the way you treat it. There’s people out there who are very sick, and there’s people who, all is lost for them. And we’re complaining about this simple thing that’s happening to us?