Rising Trio Autograf Dare to 'Dream' Big: Exclusive Premiere and Q&A

The Chicago outfit unveil their first original track & conspire to combine electronic music with installation art.

Take two art students and a derivatives trader separated by state borders. Direct their energies toward dance music with an overdose of imagination, and you've got the latest Hype Machine sensation.

Autograf -- comprised of Jake Carpenter, Louis Kha and Mikul Wing -- have chalked up eight Hype Machine No. 1 releases by remixing the likes of Stevie Wonder, Lorde, Pharrell and ODESZA. It's the same formula that elevated Kygo to stardom, but while Autograf's style is sometimes similarly labeled tropical house, their sound is more edge than euphoria. Pairing glitched vocals, lurking bass lines and live instrumentation from custom-built instruments, the outfit has built a sizable Internet following that has helped them obtain booking representation from CAA and attract major-label interest. 

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The trio have kept all forthcoming original material carefully under wraps, but you can listen to the full premiere of their first single "Dream" exclusively on Billboard:

Billboard also caught up with the three producers to discuss the making of "Dream" and Autograf's future artistic ambitions.

How did the process of making originals like "Dream" differ from the remixes on which you made your name?
Jake: We like to approach originals in kind of a similar way as remixes by starting with a vocal. When we start with the instruments, we'll typically fill the whole thing up and then the problem becomes you don't have enough room to put a vocal in. But if you work the other way around and already have the vocal, you can play off the strengths of it.

Louis: For example, on a track we did featuring Janelle Kroll, we started with an Imogen Heap acapella and almost made a bootleg remix of it. Then we took out the vocal and worked together with her to create something new.

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Jake: This one wasn't originally called "Dream." The piano lines were kind of the big thing. We'll often start with chords, then steer the track away and just keep those chord groups to take them into leads. With this one, the chord progression worked so well that we never really took it out of the piano stage. 

Louis: This song kind of became a rallying project for us, because around the same time we were working on it was when things were getting pretty serious for us in terms of touring and recognition. We realized, "Hey wait we're kind of living our dream right now." It sounds a little corny, but when you're working on a project really hard, you don't realize what's happening until you take a step back to reflect.

You guys come from really diverse backgrounds. How did Autograf come together?
Louis: Autograf started out as an art project. Jake went to art school for sculpture and painting. Mikul did a lot of street art, had some galleries in Chicago, and was doing underground loft parties. At the time, I was a derivatives trader. I got so deep into DJing with Mikul that we were doing weekly events during the week. I'd show up on the trading floor drunk, trading millions of dollars. I probably shouldn't even say this. (laughs) But that got me over to doing music full time.

Jake: I went to art school for metal sculpture and got offered a job when I graduated to work for the Department of Defense in Kentucky. I was doing R&D, weapons development, and underwater robotics. I literally don't think I can say the other thing, but it involved some exotic metals welding and fabrication. One day, I just kind of called it quits. A lot of people wind down by watching TV or playing video games but for me I've always been into music. For about two years, making music became my video game, my way to relax after doing classified stuff. I put it online and linked up with the guys.

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Mikul: Where EDM was going and what the parties were becoming wasn't somewhere we wanted to be at. Just heavy drops, crazy bass, stuff like that. It started with the loft party, then Jake booked us to DJ a gallery down in Lexington and we had him play in Chicago. We had the idea to do a party taking from the Warhol factory concept with a modern twist. So we built all these crazy sculptures to set a tone for what we wanted in an art party, and that was the first event we played together. We built this crazy eight-foot tall soup can that weighed a ton, and some cigarettes that shot smoke out of them.

Since you build your own instruments and stage installations, what is your future vision for your music's intersection with art?
Louis: We like to build shit. Jake built an eight-foot robot and a studio in his backyard from the ground up just for the hell of it. Michael is finishing building an electric djembe to add to our live set. Right now we have a marimba. We're going to continue to build more instruments, controllers, and filters.

Mikul: I think that's one of the ways we'll be incorporating the art aspect. We're building these instruments from scratch, and they're almost art pieces in themselves. This djembe's going to be cast in pure acrylic with LEDs in it, and it'll be sound reactive. So it'll almost be like a sculpture that's playable. We'd obviously love to do a touring show with bigger sculptures, but it's financially tough to make that happen sometimes.

Jake: We basically want to take a Boiler Room party and put a bunch of art in it. 

Louis: Our whole mantra is to do everything ourselves in this day and age when everything's just manufactured. A lot of people are hiring companies to do the art for their stage production, but we do all our own artwork. It's not about getting famous overnight; it's more about the journey you go on and how you get there. 


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