Artist Spotlight: Cafuné

    Sedona Schat and Noah Yoo have been honing their own brand of dreamy, sentimental indie pop as Cafuné since their days as NYU students in the early 2010s. Six years after releasing their first EP, Love Songs For Other People – a collection of fun, upbeat electro-pop tracks with a straightforward concept – the duo have today returned with their debut album, Running, via their own label Aurelians Club. Pivoting to more of an indie rock sound, the 9-track LP is a testament to their evolution as musicians: as it flits from alt-pop to shoegaze to bossa nova, the interplay between Schat’s tender, affecting vocals and Yooh’s kinetic, layered production injects dynamism to the tight melodic structure at the core of these songs. Written over a period of years but recorded mostly during lockdown in 2020, the album’s scope is at once intensely personal and outward-looking, and when these underlying tensions rise to the surface the effect is striking: “I’m crying/ We’re crying,” Schat’s processed vocals soar over a hectic instrumental that threatens to drown her out on ‘Empty Tricks’. But it’s a sense of forward momentum, not isolation, that ultimately drives Cafuné’s music, even when the road ahead feels wholly uncertain.

    We caught up with Cafuné’s Sedona Schat and Noah Yoo for this edition of our Artist Spotlight interview series to talk about how they started making music together, their collaborative process, and the ideas that informed their debut album.

    Do you mind sharing how the two of you first met and the first impressions that you had of each other?

    Noah Yoo: Sedona and I met in college – we both went to the recorded music program at NYU. It’s kind of a small program, and I remember that Sedona was one of the first people I reached out to on Facebook when I was still a high school senior, just to be like, “Hey, I’m going to be your classmate.” [laughter] So, we were classmates and just friends for a year or two, and then we started writing songs together in 2013 or 2014. Sedona was living in the city after the freshman year of college, and I came back to visit and needed a place to crash. And I remember I ended up just sleeping on her couch, and we were bored and wrote music. So it was like, “Oh, cool, we could do this. This feels meaningful.”

    Sedona Schat: I guess my first impression of Noah when he reached out to me on Facebook – I remember one of the first things we talked about was Two Door Cinema Club…

    [Noah laughs]

    It was that era.

    NY: Yeah, it was the era of “Wow, the debut is so good and the follow-up is so bad.”

    SS: Ha! But yeah, I feel like we definitely early on bonded over a lot of just music that we both really enjoyed. That, like, pop punk… Is it even pop punk?

    NY: What, Two Door Cinema Club?

    SS: No, obviously Two Door Cinema Club isn’t pop punk, but the… I don’t know.

    NY: Just the mall punk that we both grew up with.

    SS: Mall punk!

    NY: So, Sedona grew up in Nevada, like rural-ish Nevada, and I grew up in Virginia, and so coming into this program with a bunch of kids whose parents were famous musicians and stuff, it was a pretty eye-opening experience for both of us. It was like, “Oh yeah, we want to study and do music,” and then we got there and it was like, “I don’t know anything about anything.” So college was a lot of learning a lot and listening to a lot of different music and exposing ourselves to a lot of different stuff.

    SS: For sure.

    NY: But to finish answering your question, my first impression of Sedona… Oh, it was that you smiled a lot.

    SS: [rolls eyes] Oh my god.

    NY: That was mostly it. If you’re talking about first impressions, it’s like, “Dude, she smiles like all the time. Like, what does she have to be happy about?” [laughter]

    SS: This guy, oh my god… He used to literally bully me. I had a friend in college and we took time away from the friend group because they just bullied us.

    NY: Yeah, we never let them live it down.

    SS: And I was just like, “They’re not even being nice to us anymore.”

    NY: There was a moment when Sedona and one of our friends came to the rest of the friend group and said, “Hey, if you guys aren’t nice to us, we’re not gonna hang out with you anymore.” And we were grown enough where that should not have happened and all of us were like, “Oh… sorry.” [laughs] But hey, you know, we’re here now.

    Does it feel strange reflecting back on that time, or are you nostalgic about it?

    SS: Definitely nostalgic about it. We had so much fun our freshman year, and yet things, just on a more like global level, have really gone downhill since then.

    NY: I think I’m nostalgic about it too because it just felt simpler. We were really excited about anything to do with music.

    Do you mind sharing an early memory of the two of you working together on music?

    NY: The first sessions we did at school studios as opposed to in our bedrooms – I remember that we cut vocals for our first single, and it wasn’t really working; the singing was good but it wasn’t at the same energy that the track was. And I remember I kind of got frustrated, and I was just like, “Run around the mic.” And she was like, “What?” And I was like, “Run around the microphone in the studio like 10 times, and then do the take.” And she did it, and it worked. After that I was like, “If we are both constantly thinking about how we can get what we want, it feels like there’s a meaningful creative partnership there.”

    What did you like about the way that each of you approached writing and performing that you think still holds true?

    SS: I think Noah is good at focusing on detail work and sort of like, corralling, if you will. I think I encourage more out-of-the-box thinking or flexibility, and he keeps us grounded.

    NY: Yeah, I joked for a long time that I was like Sedona’s editor. A lot of the time with our writing, the way it works is that we’ll take a scrap that one of us makes and have a frank conversation about whether or not it makes sense for us. Because like it’s always been like, there needs to be full buy-in from both of us on an idea, regardless of how excited either one of us is. And I mean, it’s definitely led to arguments in the past, but at the same time I think that it’s good because it keeps it consistent and it makes it sound like Cafuné. It will only sound Cafuné if both of us are actually 100% down for it.

    SS: In terms of how things are composed, Noah definitely is creating instrumentals much more frequently than I’m writing fully-formed songs. And sometimes it’s something in the middle where we’re sort of workshopping something together. But I think that the harmonic signature is an interesting blend of our tastes and sensibilities.

    How do you feel that you’ve changed as musicians and as people since releasing the Love Songs for Other People EP back in 2015?

    SS: I think in terms of the personal journeys that we’ve gone through in the past six years, both of our jobs really did things to us as individuals. Noah has worked in music journalism, and not only is he constantly taking in so much music, I feel like your tastes very much shift as you as you continue to work in music journalism.

    NY: Yeah.

    SS: And I have just been going through a lot for a really long time. [laughs] I work a physical job and I went through a physical injury and recovery period, and I think we’ve both dealt with depression and this post-grad, like, “Whoa, this is not what I thought was gonna happen after I graduated.” And then of course, the pandemic. So there’s a lot of personal stuff that has happened since we put out that EP.

    How has your collaborative relationship changed over time?

    SS: Has it changed? How much has it changed?

    NY: I think that it has changed – well, I think it’s changed insofar as Sedona and I’s relationship has shifted a lot. There were periods of time between graduation and now when we just were not speaking to each other, just because we were both…

    SS: Lots of personal stuff. We’ve definitely gone through a lot together.

    NY: It was a contentious relationship for a while, is what I’ll say.

    SS: I don’t know, it’s still contentious.

    NY: It’s still contentious. And this was like, creatively and in a lot of ways. There were moments when we just did not see eye to eye on how we were spending our time. But I think that what both of us realized is that there is kind of a really good self-fulfilling cycle where if you have someone that you are accountable to, at the end of the day you will try really hard even if you don’t necessarily believe that you’re making something that’s meaningful. Because there is another person that is insisting that it is.

    What was it that you feel like got you through each contentious period and pulled you back into a mindset where you could create something that felt meaningful in some way?

    SS: First of all, we both just invested not only a lot of time but a lot of hope in – and it really does truly feel like something that is worthwhile, and we can accomplish something together that we wouldn’t be able to accomplish on our own.

    NY: Having time to reassess what the priorities were in my life and what made me happiest – because being in Cafuné is not financially supporting either of us, I think I realized that a lot of the time I was happiest when I was either writing something new or performing. And I think both of us feel that way, where being in that zone is where both of us feel the most alive and like we have purpose, so to speak.

    SS: Indeed.

    NY: And so I think that shared desire is the thing that gets us through any other type of fight.

    Is that what prompted you then to start working on your debut album? When did it start to feel like something you were actively working towards?

    NY: When we put out ‘Tek It’ near the end of 2019, my thinking generally was, “We have enough songs for an EP, let’s put ‘Tek It’ out, and then in 2020 we will finish and release an EP at the beginning of the year, and then we’ll try to finish and release an EP at the end of the year.” So that was the plan, and then after the pandemic hit, it felt like a moment where because everything was upended – I had always been of the mind, “No one listens to albums, we gotta get traction –”

    SS: [points at Noah] He listens to albums.

    NY: Yeah, but you know what I’m talking about, people’s attention span is all over the place. But because of the pandemic, I was like, “You know what, we have the time, we have the bandwidth for once, we’re most of the way to an album from this EP…”

    SS: A tight album. A 9-track album.

    You’ve said that this isn’t necessarily a quarantine record, but it was informed and borne out of the experiences that you had during lockdown. How did you go about maintaining that balance between something that felt specific to your experiences and something that spoke to the world around you?

    SS: I was able to stay at a friend’s apartment alone during that time, and I felt like I had the space to process a lot of things that had happened to me on a more relationship-level. I think both of us were spending a lot of time talking about being deeply troubled by everything that’s happening in the world and how powerless and insane it made us both feel. I definitely feel like sometimes we were hesitant about being too specific or too preachy when it comes to more of the global feelings.

    NY: Where we landed, though, is that everything is a relationship. Like, your relationship to another person, your relationship to the society that you live in, your relationship to your employer. And so a lot of the writing came from the framework of relationships, but it applies on a bunch of different levels.

    Was there a moment during that process where you were either surprised or deeply connected with an idea or song the other person had come up with?

    NY: Yeah. Sedona wrote ‘Empty Tricks’ last June, around the time of the Floyd protests. And that’s when we were kind of nervous, because it was just kind of like, “Okay, is this heavy-handed? Does this fall over into that territory?” But I think both of us ultimately liked it because it gestured more at the centuries-long history of people being just brutalized and subjugated by the state, not just the specific instance. And I really think that Sedona tapped into a cathartic thing that elevated that song a lot for me, because there’s something I was uncertain about until I heard the vocal and I saw the writing.

    SS: And honestly, there’s a moment in that song where I’m really blown away by his production, definitely in that bridge. I think it’s a very special moment. I feel like ‘Everyone Knows’ is one of my favorites, that was one where we were kind of jamming and you came up with that guitar part and I was like, “Oh man, that’s really cool.” I feel like the way that one came together was deceptively easy.

    I’m glad you mentioned ‘Empty Tricks’, because that is a track I had in mind when thinking about the previous question. Another song I wanted to single out in relation to the production is ‘Talk’, which reminds me of A Moon Shaped Pool-era Radiohead.

    NY: A lot of bossa influence on A Moon Shaped Pool, a lot of bossa influence on our music I think rhythmically, yeah.

    And I love how it fits with the mood of the song lyrically, where it sits in this very confused space. I was wondering if you could talk about your headspace going into that song.

    SS: It was definitely an afternoon where we were, like, not having a good time. The mood was just very dark. And so, Noah’s on one side of the room playing guitar and I was on the other side of the room kind of mumbling into a mic. We were just trying to get something out, and eventually we went back to those mumbled vocals. Even to this day, recreating that live is weird.

    NY: Yeah, it’s gonna be interesting to figure out how to perform it. With all the vocals through most of the song where it’s hard-panned and there’s different lines happening, the reason it’s that way is because I basically clipped together a bunch of takes that we were improvising. The lyrics are uncertain, everything about it is uncertain, and it kind of fed into the song itself, that confused feeling, the paranoia. And we tried to re-record it, but it just didn’t have the same vibe.

    I’m curious if you see music and sounds in a very visual way.

    SS: 100%. Me, for most everything. Like, seeing a memory or seeing an atmosphere or a setting even if I haven’t been there.

    NY: I think I used to be. I think lately I’ve been a lot more kind of focused on individual sounds and how the sounds make me feel, just because I think that when I think visually, I tend to oversimplify.

    SS: That’s something that we’ve talked about before as another example of the dynamic between us: I’m more big picture, broad strokes, and he’s a little bit more like, “Okay, what’s specifically going on?”

    To bring things together, I wanted to ask you about ‘Running’, which ends the album on a pretty nostalgic note. The final line in particular, “Remember when you used to send me songs?” reminded me of Another Michael’s ‘New Music’, which opens their debut with a similar sentiment, where it’s kind of romanticizing the act of sending links to songs. What does it mean for you to end the album with this question?

    NY: I have always loved music about music. It resonates with me more than, like, music about real human things. [laughter] Because it’s like the main way that I experience a lot of emotions, honestly, is through listening to music.

    SS: Oh yeah.

    NY: It wasn’t on purpose, but it felt like a full circle thing from our EP, where we’re positioning it as a collection of love songs, and now it’s a little more wistful, it’s a little more sad. I don’t know, did I write that line or did you write that line?

    SS: I wrote that line, bro! [laughter]

    NY: I gotta ask!

    SS: Yeah, I wrote that song about a very specific experience and relationship, and I definitely very much forever associate certain songs with certain people. It’s really meaningful for me to connect with people through music in that specific way.

    With that final line in mind, do you hope anyone who enjoys listening to these songs shares them with others? What do you hope people ultimately take away from the album?

    SS: That’s the most rewarding and heartwarming thing to imagine, is people putting it on a playlist and sending it to each other. And the fact that there are people that are already excited about it, I just hope that this delivers emotionally for them.

    NY: Yeah, we do have a hope that on some level people find it like a balm, something that is comforting. Something that they can kind of have to themselves if they want. You know, some of my favorite music ever is music that I would never play in front of another person; it’s music that’s just for me when I have headphones on, that type of thing. And I think if we’re looking for anything, if I’m looking for anything, it’s that. It’s just the hope that like, “Hey, being alive can feel… bad. [Sedona laughs] I hope that maybe for like five minutes you don’t feel bad.”

    This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity and length. 

    Cafuné’s Running is out now via Aurelians Club.

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