Cafuné’s Noah Yoo speaks on cats, bards and musical politics

Cafuné takes their name from a Brazilian Portuguese word which roughly translates to “the act of caressing or tenderly running fingers through a loved one’s hair.” It’s also an apt description of the band’s sound, which straddles the realms of alt-rock and indie pop — the way that Sedona Schat’s misty vocals and lyrical meditations weave through the many sonic layers of Noah Yoo’s production like fingers through hair.

And like the act of cafuné, the duo’s division of labor is not strict; while Schat performs more on vocals and Yoo performs more on bass, they have emphasized in past interviews that both write, both play guitar, and both produce.

Cafuné is on tour now alongside CHVRCHES – and they will perform at Mass MoCA this Friday, August 5. In anticipation, last week, we had the chance to talk to Yoo about nostalgic influences, fan engagement, and being a musician in 2022.

The duo has been releasing music since 2014’s “Letting Go,” and their debut album, Running, came last year. One track, “Tek It,” went viral on TikTok and has amassed almost 65 million streams on Spotify. The songs on Running are mostly about heartbreak, but they also smartly address topics like political misinformation (“Everyone Knows”) and depression (“High”).

The duo’s versatility extends to their production. Cafuné’s guitar-based indie pop instrumentals easily assimilate influences as diverse as breakbeat (“Empty Tricks”) and J-rock (“Tek It”).

Noah Yoo and Sedona Schat perform as the band Cafuné.
Photo by Noah Falge

Noah Yoo and Sedona Schat perform as the band Cafuné.

Q: In an interview in LA, years ago, Sedona described your music as a mix of the Strokes and Daft Punk. Is that still fair?

A: I think it’s more of a spiritual reference than anything. But I do think there are elements of both of those bands that are deeply rooted in our songwriting and the things we aspire toward.

Even when they came out, the Strokes were doing a nostalgia factor-type thing. They were reaching for sounds from the ’70s, television, stuff like that. The Strokes are 20 years old now, they’re just one of those bands that we grew up listening to, so it’s just this cycle of being inspired by all this different songwriting.

And I think Daft Punk is one of our favorite bands between the two of us, ever. But in terms of the actual sound of the music? Eh, probably not.

Q: Speaking of the Strokes, nostalgia, and reaching back, I’ve been on TikTok and a lot of the reactions to “Tek It” have been “oh, this makes me feel sad in a nostalgic way.” And I know Jack Harlow said it felt like a throwback as well, that it feels like 2006. How do you feel about it being judged as a throwback, retro, nostalgic song, and do you think that’s part of why it blew up?

A: Yeah, I think it’s definitely part of why it blew up, but it’s interesting. We weren’t trying to do anything retro-y.

To us, “Tek It” was one of the first songs where we felt like we were able to write something that was very honest to the music that we both really, really enjoy, and it was one of those instances where it was like okay, I want to write a song that I would be glad to listen to years from now.

And we really tried to distill J-rock influences, emo influences, mess around with autotune… we tried to distill all that into one thing and use that as the guidepost for the rest of the record. But it’s interesting, though, the nostalgia thing really does come through.

Because 2006, 2009, that era, that’s really when I first started listening to music as a kid. So, I guess it makes sense, you know.

Q: I feel like the music video is also kinda nostalgic in a way, with the anime inspiration.

A: Oh, absolutely, yeah. When the label came to us and asked us if we wanted an animated video, we were excited because we’ve always wanted to do an animated video.

One of my favorite pieces of music media ever is Daft Punk’s Interstella 5555, and hearing the music in that context has always made it resonate with me in a really different way. To do that in miniature basically, and to reference all these cool ’90s anime that we both really love, was pretty exciting.

Q: Yeah. Where’s the cat come from?

A: You know, it’s so funny. We’ve always thought about, like, “we need a band mascot. What should the mascot be?” And we both just really love cats. I don’t know, to an extent there’s like, the catgirl anime trope, but Sedona’s roommate has a wonderful cat named Walter, my longtime roommate had a wonderful cat named Gracie, it just became like this thing for us. I don’t know if it really came from anywhere, but we’re stoked about it.

Q: I’ve been listening to you guys since “Letting Go” from 2014, but I know you guys really blew up recently. What’s sudden fame like, and what’s the past year been like for you guys?

Q: I don’t know if it’s fame necessarily, but you know, it’s cool. I’m really appreciative of the fact that there are so many more people listening to our music now.

Even when we put the record out last summer, it felt like that was a really big achievement for us because we had never really had the bandwidth or the time to create a full body of work, and the pandemic was really the first opportunity for us to take a moment and put that together just for ourselves and really distill what we’re trying to say.

But it’s been cool to play at these shows and meet fans who are into the music already and make new ones, that part has been really really sick.

Q: You guys are so good at engaging with your fanbase. I saw all the different versions of “Tek It,” for example, that come straight out of what the fans want.

A: Oh yeah, here’s the thing. The sped-up thing, right? People were asking, “oh, did the label make you do this?” and stuff like that.

I was like, you know, they asked us to, but if we had said no, they would’ve been like, “cool.” For me, I don’t see any reason not to. It doesn’t compromise the song necessarily in any way. That’s just the way music is now, you know what I mean?

Once you release music it doesn’t belong to you anymore really. It’s yours, it’s the listener’s. Enough people decided that they like how it sounds sped up, and they fuck with that energy. And so, why not, you know what I mean?

Obviously, there are boundaries and there are lines to that type of thing – you can’t let people dictate your art – but I do think that there is something to be said for listening to what your audience wants and engaging with them on a different level than maybe what it was before, when it felt like artists were coming down from the mountaintop to give fans something and then disappear again.

I’ve always been a fan first and foremost, and that’s still kinda how I approach everything. Before being a producer or a guitar player or anything like that, I’m just a music fan.

Q: How do you feel about the song at this point?

A: “Tek It?” You know what’s wild, it was for the longest time our favorite song on the record. It’s one of the older songs on the album. If anything, I’m grateful it’s that one. You know what I mean? It would be kind of a pain in the ass if it was a song that either of us didn’t really like and we had to play it every night on the road.

I feel good about it. I feel like I should have more of that type of “oh, it’s not even that good” feeling, but I’m very happy with it. I’m very pleased with it, frankly.

Q: One of my personal favorites from the album is “Everyone Knows.” I love how politically engaged it is. Do you have any thoughts on making more political music and on becoming the next, like, Dead Kennedys?

A: Haha, I don’t know about that. But “Everyone Knows” is definitely one of our favs too, kind of for that reason. When we were writing it, we wanted to write a song that interfaced with the moment in a more direct way, but one thing that we kept coming back to is like, everything is relationships.

Politics is about relationships — everyone’s personal life is about the relationships they hold with people and how they engage with those relationships and how they conduct themselves. These sorts of social ties, these social bonds, that translates onto a bigger level.

With something like “Everyone Knows,” our thinking was, this is an insane moment in time where anyone with half a brain can see all this insane stuff happening. When we wrote it, it was about, like, Trump, but it applies to so many things.

You can tell when people are lying to you, and I think that it’s very important to be able to pull that out, to call it what it is. In terms of more political music, I don’t know, all music is political to me. There’s no such thing as non-political music, in my opinion. If your music is apolitical, that in itself is a politic.

Q: That’s true. I’m an English major and that’s what we say about all the texts that we read. What’s it like making a living as a young professional musician under late-stage capitalism?

A: Good question. Can I be honest? This is a relatively new thing for me. I had a full time job until two months ago. Doing writing – marketing copy – for a music company.

Being a full-time musician is still something that I’m wrapping my head around, to be honest. I think that the most prescient experience so far is that some people think that your song blows up and then you get a lot of money and then you’re good.

But in reality, there’s a machine now. It’s like being on a train and you’re both the conductor and the owner of the train, but also you can’t get off, and also you gotta make sure that all the passengers are good, and also that the train fuckin’ rocks. You know? That’s the vibe.

So it’s like, oh good, I have become a small business owner. That is not really what I want, but at the same time, it’s also like okay, how can I use this newfound situation to take care of my people and do the best job that I can and provide what we do?

A lot of my friends are like, oh, what’s it like being a rockstar? I don’t know about that. I think I’m more of a bard. I think I’d like to be a bard, you know? First and foremost.

Q: There was a TikTok you guys had about packing up all your merch and shipping it out to fans. Did you expect all the non-artistic labor that would be involved in this?

A: Honestly, we did expect it. Shipping the merch, that was early on when we realized that we had new fans and we wanted to engage, but we didn’t have any of the infrastructure to do any of that. I kinda looked forward to it, to be honest.

I was aware of the economics of being a band ultimately come down to being an effective t-shirt salesman, but also like, I’m with that. Is it ideal? Should artists be mercantile textile movers, necessarily? Probably not. But sort of the economic reality… I don’t know, it’s nice, being on tour has made me realize how I love this more than any other thing I’ve ever done.

Q: Do you ever feel any uncertainty about the future? If so, how do you deal with it?

A: The future broadly? Sure, plenty of uncertainty. But in terms of the band, I keep finding myself mentally coming back to the fact that this is what we’ve been preparing towards.

We were doing this for ten years with no expectations of blowing up or having a hit or anything like that, so for us it’s like, oh cool, we get to do the thing on a larger level. And that feels really fucking good, for sure.

By the Way Berkshires is a digital magazine exploring creative life and community — art and performance, food and the outdoors — and I’m writing it for you, with local voices, because I’ve gotten to know this rich part of the world as a writer and journalist, and I want to share it with you.

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