FADER Mix: Meishi Smile

The producer and Zoom Lens founder breaks out the old KoRn and Slipknot, then gives a really thoughtful interview about his next album.

I really admire Zoom Lens. The label Meishi Smile founded seven years ago is simultaneously one of the most supportive labels for artists around, and just one of the most aesthetically compelling labels in existence. You can never predict what their next release will sound like—because clearly they're giving left-field and unsung voices broad creative control—but you can bet that what comes out will move you. It's a best-case scenario of running a label like a collaborative patchwork quilt: if you get the right people to create their own squares—sincere math-punks, footwork producers, and slept-on pop singers—you know that when you stitch it all together the juxtapositions will be beautiful chaos.

That's, naturally, the deal with Meishi Smile's FADER mix. Commissioned in anticipation of his forthcoming album, …belong, it's a wild, emotional ride from nu-metal to nightcore to noise. I've been shepherding these FADER mixes for a few years, and I've never heard anything like it. While a lot of this music is really affecting on the gut level, the thought behind the selections is super intriguing, too, so it's great to hear the stories behind it. In our accompanying interview, Meishi Smile talks about how a KoRn CD scared him as a kid, some of the surprising inspirations behind his music, and how he's building a label based on acceptance.

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Where are you right now? In my own head. Drinking hojicha. I like the concept of tea because it is equally a stimulant and relaxant. It describes my mood very well because I am constantly anxious about nothing or calm about everything. I find myself typically very manic or very depressed to many extremes. I think this mix describes that fairly well to some degree.

I just want to hop right into this mix. What do Slipknot and KoRn mean to you? Most of my childhood was spent indulging in the genre of "nu-metal." In fact, Issues by KoRn was the first album I purchased and was the reason I began to play guitar. I recall a specific song, which was "Trash," that shocked me so much I had asked my mother to call Best Buy to try and return it. That was possibly one of the most defintive musical moments in my entire life. Everything about that album disturbed me. I felt it was a necessary evil towards my psyche at the time.

Throughout later years I began to separate myself from listening to such music, as I had developed a sort of shameful aversion to it, mostly due to the critique of my peers. Nu-metal is extremely important to me in the sense that it poses this sort of strange dialogue concerning people's objectivity of taste. Nobody seems to want to take nu-metal seriously nor deem it to be good music, despite the commonality of such emotions or darker subject matter discussed within the genre. We would rather desensitize our approach to understanding others on an individual level by viewing things with irony rather than attempting to be sincere. I believe we shamefully repress a lot of anger within Western culture due to such trivialization. To me, anger is a gift and you should use it wisely. There is much to be angry about in the world currently, and I find such creative outlets to be extremely important.

I’ve only read about your older noise projects, so it was cool to see some of that side represented on the mix. Why isn’t the noise aesthetic as much a part of Meishi Smile now? (Or if I’m wrong to say it’s not, how do you see it continuing?) When I first began Meishi Smile, much of it was created in contrast to who I used to be and the community that helped foster who I was at the time. I made a conscious effort of separation even if I still enjoyed that music personally. Initially, I only felt the need to represent that influence sparsely in my music, but lately throughout my live sets I tend to incorporate more screaming and what some have referred to as "power electronics."

I've never really enjoyed being apart of many of the communities that tend to share similar interests to me, nor have I ever connected strongly to them on a personal level. There has always been some degree of misunderstanding. I continue to feel that way even now. There are many people who embrace Japanese pop culture, net aesthetics, etc. but our outlook on such things vary so differently. I tend to dissociate myself with a lot of crowds because I feel like I'm not entirely about one thing or the other. It's not to place any specific blame on people because on the surface my music does appear a certain way, but the way I tend to feel differs greatly from others. I believe my influences are always going to be represented in a way that doesn't necessary allude to them in the most typical fashion. I would like to feel that I'm always alienating someone, even if it's myself.

My next album I plan to release is called …belong. The title is about representation of the you. The indentation signifies hesitance when attempting to speak on behalf of your inner most self. The only thing you truly belong to is your own.

Is there a connection between the mix and the new record? The mix is very romantic, yet violent. I think both are symbiotic. That is how I feel about my next record.

I wrote a song called "Pastel." It's one of my favorite songs I've ever written. The lyrics come off as if they are about feelings of self-deprecation experienced throughout the dissolve of a romantic relationship. They appear rather violent and confrontational. However, the song is actually about the death of my grandfather and the guilt I felt about no longer being able to express certain things with his passing. A sort of general grieving consciousness and denial of what had transpired. He suffered from Alzheimer's, so it was a slow descent.

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Lyrically, I wanted to mature a lot on this record and represent broader subject matters, even though I feel like I can be horribly esoteric at times still. The word "blood" has a heavy emphasis throughout the album because I like the association that color has. I imagine pricking oneself on the thorn of a beautiful rose. The things that attract you the most are what bring you chaos. With love inevitably comes grief, but with grief inevitably comes an appreciation for all that can be loved.

Last year you had that trip to Tokyo. Now, with some distance, what are your big take-aways? Have you applied any lessons to running the label? I was in Tokyo approximately one year ago now and I've increasingly realized the importance of that trip on both a personal and creative level.

Zoom Lens was essentially created out of my own self-identity, so there are some tendencies towards what it does that uniquely represent who I am alone. One of those themes is the desire of normalization. The ability to uniquely identify as your own without the association of being typecast for certain reasons, whether those reasons be engaging in certain actions or interests or being born into a specific ethnicity, religion, gender, sexuality, etc. There is a deep complexity beyond everything. While that is a broad concept and what ultimately characterizes Zoom Lens as something far more "encompassing" beyond just my own personal views, much of that concept is rooted in my own experiences as an Asian-American.

Lately, there are many people who identify aesthetically with East Asian culture primarily as something of a cheap passing trend and I tend to find that a bit dehumanizing. I've had many conversations with Kazuto (LLLL) and Zeon (Ulzzang Pistol) about these sort of subjects, whom are from Tokyo and Manila respectively. Kazuto once related these issues in some ways to the coining of "queer rap." Depending on your outlook, the term can actually be detrimental and restrictive to those of the LGBT community and many of those artists don't support the term.

I want artists like Kazuto or Zeon to be able to represent themselves for who they are, not just for the assumptions people make about their country. I hope for Zoom Lens when embracing certain influences outside of who we are, where we're from, etc. We are representing an appreciation, and the desire to bridge cultural gaps and the exchange of art and ideas without borders.

I really believe in who I work with and what they represent and the purity of their intentions. I'm very selective with who I associate with now. In that sense, I really respect how labels like Cascine and Flau operate and how they represent a diverse roster of artists both native and abroad. It's about the music, the art, and the individual, all captured in a very sincere way without flaunting an unnecessary weirdness around itself.

What's your favorite thing to cook, and how do you prepare it? Unfortunately, I'm not much of a cook. But good food is of great importance to me. My last meal was bun thit nuong and an avocado shake. I know Kyle (Uio Loi) is a huge fan of the latter as well. Thanks to him and and Shako-Pani for the creamy song on this mix, which carries the same namesake.

From The Collection:

FADER Mix
FADER Mix: Meishi Smile