Australia has a new avant-popster in BOY SODA, aka Brae Luafalealo. The Sydney singer, rapper, songwriter and producer has been establishing his rep for three years. And now, amid much intrigue, comes his debut EP, THE DISTANCE BETWEEN THINKING AND FEELING (TDBTAF). Luafalealo has described it as “a project of six conversations with myself about love and healing and celebration.”
Growing up in idyllic Terrigal on New South Wales’ Central Coast, Luafalealo developed a passion for throwback R&B. He initially considered himself a vocalist, but later developed an interest in production and contemporary sonics. Luafalealo attended the University of Technology Sydney, studying music and sound design. But, networking aside, Luafalealo decided it had negligible value.
“I went into that course thinking it was gonna put me in the position that I’m in now – and that kind of happened organically by itself,” Luafalealo tells Music Feeds over Zoom. However, Luafalealo did appreciate having an “amazing mentor” in country music veteran Rod McCormack.
In 2019, Luafalealo independently released his first single, ‘Time For That,’ a trap-soul duet with mahni. Soon after, the young buzz act flew to Los Angeles to support Florida’s Dominic Fike at a Camp Flog Gnaw x Converse pop-up show.
Last year, Luafalealo signed to Warner Music Australia and let fly the pining ‘LOVEU2BITS’, the lead single from TDBTAF. The speculation was that he’d drop an EP – working title The Glow Up – on the back of November’s self-care bop, ‘WELCOME TO THE GLOW UP’ (a track helmed by EDM DJ/producers, Korky Buchek, that recalls classic Craig David). But Luafalealo eventually settled on a more existentialist concept.
TDBTAF is a manifesto of selfhood that explores anxiety, doubt and emotional growth. Even the EP’s aesthetics are meaningful – the dimly-lit cover art features an image of Luafalealo’s car, which was a gift from his grandparents. In the latest single, ‘BIG’, BOY SODA realises the vital importance of having purpose and perspective. Among the EP’s revelations is the cruisy ‘LONELY’, co-produced by the Brisbane grime act Nerve.
Luafalealo launched TDBTAF – and what his label has credibly declared “SODASZN” – with a headlining gig at Sydney’s Lansdowne Hotel. In June, he’ll open Jarryd James‘ Vivid Sydney concert alongside a pal, the indie-soul singer Liyah Knight. “I think she’s amazing as an artist and as a person,” Luafalealo says. “It’s nice to look to your left and your right and see friends doing it as well.” For BOY SODA, the release of THE DISTANCE BETWEEN THINKING AND FEELING is only the beginning.
Music Feeds: Your secret EP, THE DISTANCE BETWEEN THINKING AND FEELING, has just dropped. It’s an intriguing title – I had some idea you might call it The Glow Up. But tell us the story behind that.
BOY SODA: I think the whole project for me says a lot about my relationship with hyper-self-awareness and my relationship with self-love as well. I always find myself being very emotionally-aware and hyper-self-aware of the way I feel, to the point where I disassociate a little bit. I can kind of look at myself from a third person view. It’s that push and pull of sitting with my feelings and also not over-analysing them too much sometimes.
It’s the distance between the two things that I’ve been learning to balance, especially while I’ve been making this EP. So it just felt the right way to deliver the story and the world that exists within this project.
I could have gone with something like The Glow Up, but I think it might not have been indicative of the journey that is evident in six tracks. So I was really happy to connote it, in that sense. I’ve had a lot of bright colours and vibrant, saturated visuals come out with a lot of the singles, [but] having a more lo-fi, nocturnal feel to the album cover sets it up to be received in a more mature way.
MF: There are three singles and three new songs on this, and one of those new songs is ‘TWENTYOH5’, which blew my mind. It’s the most epic beat switch.
BS: Oh, thank you! My music director and housemate, Blake Wares, who has an artist project under lovemedo, he’s got a studio in the house, I’ve got a studio in the house. And I always had ‘TWENTYOH5′ – I wrote it at my parents’ house when I was in a little bit of a rut, to be honest, and feeling a little bit depressed that day. So most of the lyrics were just me in my old bedroom.
Then Blake came in one night and I knew it needed to be revamped, ’cause it was a-year-old at this time. It wasn’t a reflection of who I was musically. And he was like, “Oh, we could do this or take it to this section…” I was like, “Yeah, let’s just start a new session and try it and, if nothing happens, then no love lost.”
Over the next two nights, everything we did, every idea we came up with, just seemed to fall into place instantly and be perfect. When that first ’70s Bee Gees-inspired section comes in, that’s him singing – which is real cool to me as well, because we built that song together. We were very aware of what it was at the time.
So [I’m] very lucky to have said what I’ve said and then to have also made it with a friend at the same time, because I think I needed a little bit of support to finish it.
MF: Which of the new songs are you most excited for people to hear?
BS: Definitely ‘TWENTYOH5’. I think it’s the most musically brilliant song that I’ve made to this date. ‘LONELY’ is very close to my heart as well and says a lot about how I deal with things in my head. I think that feeling of being in a room full of people and feeling super-alone at the same time is such a jarring thing, but such a universal experience that people have. So I have a feeling that’ll be a very special song for people to find as well.
MF: With ‘LONELY’, what strikes me is, when I go on Reddit, somewhere like AskMen, I’m surprised so many people are really lonely. It’s sad to see some of the comments. It’s almost normal for people to be profoundly lonely. No one reacts to that anymore. But is that something you think is generational, that existential loneliness out there?
BS: I think we live in a world where we’re encouraged almost to compare ourselves to everyone – except our own experience. Making a song like ‘LONELY’ is, one, very cathartic for me; two, it’s a shared experience and other people can relate and not think that all of these feelings that they’re having are exclusive to them and that no one will be able to relate.
Just the act of putting [out] a song like that, and also putting myself in a vulnerable position to talk about that, is really important to me – because, personally, I don’t think that being lonely is a bad emotion. I just think it’s a human emotion, the same way that being happy is.
I’m navigating fucking everything on this project and figuring it out. And sometimes I don’t figure it out on the songs, but you can tell I’m in the process of doing it. Life is ebbs and flows. You know, the ebbs can be really hard – and that’s when I wrote a song like ‘LONELY’ and a song like ‘TWENTYOH5’. But life and feelings aren’t linear; they’re fluid, and not demonising them and just speaking about them frankly was a real priority for me while I made this.
MF: Another thing I liked about this EP is that the focus is on you as an artist. You could have rammed it full of collabs and features, especially given that you have that presence now in the Sydney scene. Was it important for you to make sure that it was your artistic identity coming through? In future, would you actually like to do more collabs?
BS: Yeah, I definitely love working with other artists, and that includes producers. There’s something very special about letting my ego go and not thinking that I can do everything myself. When you put yourself and another person in a space and you allow your creative energies to mesh – and you’re also introducing new inspirations and different experiences to create one result – [that] is really special.
There are so many variables depending on who you work with, how they’re feeling on the day, what they learnt that week. So that will always be crucial to me. I love doing that – and just creating art with other people, ’cause I don’t wanna do it by myself all the time.
But, in saying that, it wasn’t a decision not to have anyone on this EP. It’s just I never felt the need. I didn’t need anyone’s help to tell my story of my own reflection. I really wanted this first EP to be all mine, in that sense – just for me and by me.
There’s a lot of co-producers on it as well and they’re artists in their own right. So, if you look at it from that perspective, it’s a very collaborative project. But I just wanted to exist in my own world for this one.
MF: Obviously, the Sydney scene is burgeoning. I wonder how you see your role in that – and how you feel about the focus on Australia. From what I understand, you’re also getting a bit of a push in the UK.
BS: Yeah, absolutely. I feel very proud to be part of this Sydney scene and surrounded by so many just beautiful, creative souls that make art for art [and] not to sound like anyone else or to be something that they’re not. There’s a lot of people around me standing in their truths, and that’s really inspiring, especially making R&B/hip-hop music, which Australia really doesn’t know how to facilitate yet. But doing that around other people that love it, and are good at it as well, is really important. So I’m proud to be part of the music scene here and I’m proud to be around so many beautiful creative minds.
MF: Why do you think Australia hasn’t caught up with facilitating that yet? Because Sound Unlimited/Renegade Funktrain and Def Wish Cast were active in the Sydney scene in the early ’90s, these OG groups. Why is the industry here still so behind?
BS: Oh, look, I don’t have an answer for that, to be honest. It’s something that I’m aware of, but not something that I feel a direct responsibility for, because I just wanna make art. And people will either facilitate it or they’ll miss the boat. So it doesn’t change anything for me, apart from the way that people observe it and receive it and that will always be a subjective thing. I kind of don’t put a lot of weight in that.
MF: You’re part of the change, anyway, I think.
BS: Yeah, exactly. I have a lot of trust in that process; in just artists existing the way they do at the moment in Sydney.
MF: You performed at that Camp Flog Gnaw x Converse show in LA with Dominic Fike. Did any opportunities come out of that?
BS: Not that I can point to anything specifically or tangible, but having such a big company [in Converse] back me like that, and give me opportunities like that, really solidified my backbone and really validated that what I was doing was something I was allowed to do and something that I was good at. So if anything – and this is invaluable to me – it was the fact that I left that experience feeling confident and proud of myself and feeling like there is a place for me to assert my existence as an artist in these spaces.
MF: Did you meet Dominic?
BS: Yeah, he’s awesome. I met him briefly. When we first rocked up to soundcheck, it was just him playing guitar to an empty room – no people in there, no glasses clanking or cluttering, just him filling out this empty hall. I think he was in his zone, but he was very polite and had beautiful, warm energy when I met him. So hopefully the next time that happens, we’re making a song together!
MF: I’m curious about your tour plans. You’ve announced a show with Vivid Sydney, opening for Jarryd James. But what else is on the horizon?
BS: I don’t know what else we’ve got locked in at the moment. But any opportunity to go to a different city and meet new people and communicate the things that I’ve said on this EP to a live audience, I would jump at the opportunity to do.
The Vivid gig – I’ve done a few sessions with Jarryd and I love him. We have made some awesome songs together that I think will see the light of day quite soon as well. So, yeah, [I’m] just excited to be back in the swing of things.
MF: What’s next for you? Are you already thinking about your next studio session – even your next project?
BS: You know, [I’m] cutting down a lot of the back catalogue at the moment to figure out what I wanna say and reveal for the rest of the year. There’s a lot of material that has built up over the last year. So I’m really excited to reveal what I’ve been working on, and reveal different aspects of my artistry and about me as a person as well. I don’t like to speak about things until they’re ready and done, but there’s definitely a lot of me that I want to give to the world this year.
MF: Have you got much planned over winter?
BS: Yes, it’s my birthday in July! So I’ll be taking a pause to celebrate everything and celebrate the people around me that contribute to who I am as a person and as an artist. [I’ve] got a couple of writing trips planned. So I’m just excited to really hone in and elevate my music on a lyrical level and on a musical level as well. It’s gonna be a busy year. I’m really excited to see what the fruits of that labour will look like.
MF: Are you a Cancer or a Leo?
BS: Cancer! A little part of me thinks people will listen to this EP and just go, “Oh, fucking Cancers!”
THE DISTANCE BETWEEN THINKING AND FEELING is out now.