Zuma. - "Hands Tied Down" (Song Premiere)

By Kelsey Tang

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Sometimes, listening to Zuma feels like stumbling upon a cosmic corner — as a constellation of synths, sonorous drum pulses, and ethereal vocals flood the soundscape. Other times, listening to Zuma feels like revisiting a memory, when he overlays earthly sounds like the ocean over an electric guitar groove.

As the sun began to set in Los Angeles at 7:00PM, the day was warming up in Tokyo at 11:00 AM. Within our 2-hour video call conversation, Tokyo-based producer Zuma spoke on a span of topics from San Diego complacency to Japanese work drinking culture. The artist’s breadth of knowledge parallels with that of his recreational pursuits. Zuma’s the type of creative to immerse himself in a variety of endeavors — music production, photography, graphic design — while continuing to dream beyond what he’s already accomplished. (“Another dream is to have a restaurant that would act as an event space,” he considers. “It would be called World Fries, where we serve our take on carne asada fries through the lens of different cultural perspectives.”)

The geographic timeline of Zuma bounces between international borders. Born in Fukuoka, Japan, Zuma then moved to the states at age 4 — hopping from Brookline, MA to eventually settle in San Diego, CA. “San Diego is a gem — beaches, great weather, city is vibrant. But I felt myself getting stagnated. I felt more complacency there,” he recalls. So the artist uprooted and relocated back to his birthplace in Tokyo: “To reconnect with the intrinsic artistic culture of my motherland.” (He also landed a juicy job offer that served as a catalyst, but that doesn’t sound as stylish.)

Zuma boasts an impressive online resume: over 600,000 Spotify streams and an extensive SoundCloud discography reaching thousands of listeners. But the mass replays are far from Zuma’s intention. “In the era of music streaming,” he begins, “producers are more concerned about replayability and algorithm-friendly music.”

“Hands Tied Down.” Artwork by Zuma.

“Hands Tied Down.” Artwork by Zuma.

I ask Zuma to elaborate on his process of combining music with visuals. He turns to look up at a corner and scrunches his face: “When you listen to music with a singer or topline, basic human psyche is to listen to the spoken words. That’s the initial connection you make with a track — because whatever the lyric is saying resonates with you. It gives it more palpable meaning. But when listening to more abstract beats, that emotional connection is harder to make without lyrics. If I’m able to present a visual aesthetic or interpretation, I’m able to bridge that connection more efficiently.”

That’s why Zuma came to also design the album artwork for “Hands Tied Down,” a sultry summer track that journeyed across the states. “I made the beat in San Diego,” he explains, “then we fleshed out the track with the guitar in a studio in Boston, and then mixed in New York, and then had the vocals mixed in LA.”

And that’s how “Hands Tied Down” was produced in fragments from coast to coast, featuring a portfolio of artists and musicians from diverse backgrounds. NateyZ, a rapper based in San Francisco. Abby Sage, a singer/songwriter from Toronto, Canada. María Alejandra Dale Figeman, an LGBT punk-rock guitarist based in New York. And finally Zuma: “There’s a cool story at play here in how this single body of work was able to unify artists from our respective locations, utilizing music as a relationship anchor to connect us in deeper ways unique to artists.”

Jeffrey Wu