Berklee Popular Music Institute Selection AJNA at Outside Lands Music Festival [Interview]

AJNA is a band made of students at Berklee College of Music on the East Coast. Through the Berklee Popular Music Institute, this group auditioned among 300 other groups to be selected to play one of 7 popular music festivals across the US and Canada. This indie group crossed the country to bring their sound to San Fransisco’s Outside Lands Music Festival. We caught up with the band to chat about how they ended up at the festival, how they ended up at Berklee, and what’s next for the group who just dropped their debut EP Uncensored Space on August 4th.

The band is as follows:
Aaron Kennedy – synthesizers, vocal processing, “all the computer shit” – from Utah, USA
Saguiv Rosenstock – the pedalboard but run through a guitar, “the Dance Dance Revolution of this age.” – Costa Rica
Sidney Bichet – keys – New Orleans
Felipe Maldonado – guitar – Equador
Carlo de Biaggio – bass – Italy
Zak Icaza – drums – Equador

Check out the conversation right here:

Sensible Reason: How was the set?

AJNA: Great

SR: Short and sweet?

Aaron: Concise

SR: How did you figure out what to play with only 25 minutes?

Aaron: That was actually the easiest part. Came together really fast.

SR: How did you guys all come together?

AJNA: We met in school.

SR: You guys are part of a particular program at your school, correct? Tell us about how you got to Outside Lands.

Aaron: We are from Berklee College of Music, that’s where we all met. We have a program called the Berklee Popular Music Institute. They held auditions for around 300 bands this year. They do a bunch of live auditions, submit videos and stuff. Then they widdled it down to 5 or 6 and sent each one to a festival. We were lucky enough to be one of them, and this is the best festival.

SR: Why do you think it’s the best? Why do you think they sent you to San Fransisco?

Sidney: With the SF Jazz collective being here and the opera, the diversity that San Fransisco has, even the pop music that comes out of here. I think it was a good idea to send us here because it was showing us how diverse the music scene is and how it can influence a lot of people. There aren’t that many cities where jazz, and classical, and pop can all be equally as important and I really respect that in San Fransisco. I’ve noticed that’s a huge thing here.

Carlo: The culture is crazy, the art and music culture here is crazy. We haven’t had the chance to walk around that much, but the little hikes we’ve done around the city…

Aaron: You can feel it just walking around.

Zak: It’s the first time for a couple of us, it’s only my third day on the west coast.

SR: How did each of you get involved in music?

Aaron: I’m the only musician in my family, but my dad always appreciated music and art, so I was always listening to music. I never had a moment where I got into music, it just became more and more obvious over time.

Saguiv: When I was 6 or 7 I had one of those kid compulsions where I told my mom I wanted to play piano for no reason. I wasn’t even listening to music or anything. She bought me a keyboard and after 3 years I was like “I’m done with this shit.” For 2 years I didn’t want to hear anything with piano. I got into rock music, I was actually listening to music at that point and then I started to play guitar. I started lessons at 11 or 12.

Sidney: I actually come from a really musical family, so it was always embedded in my childhood. Especially being from New Orleans, it is a lot of the culture. I played sports mainly, and when I got to high school I thought I should really pick one and I just really liked music and stuck with it.

SR: What was your favorite sport?

Sidney: I’ve kickboxed since I was 10, I actually still do it.

*The rest of AJNA was unaware of this fact and had quite the surprised reaction*

Sidney: I was going to either do that or music up until 10th grade. I got injured a bit and decided to stick with music.

SR: Now you have a backup instead music doesn’t work out for you.

Felipe: There aren’t that many musicians in my family, but my older brother is a really great artist, he’s a fashion designer. So from the beginning, I felt that sense of art and talent. I started playing drums and I didn’t think I could sing for shit, but after a while, I stopped playing drums and started singing and playing guitar after.

Carlo: I think I picked it up from my sister because she’s the only musician in the family. I started taking lessons pretty young. I took a few piano lessons when I was young as Saguiv, and I used to cry. So sort of I gave up for a few years but then I discovered electric bass and went back to music.  I also played sports, but then I just went for the music.

Zak: This is an easy one. My dad is also a drummer, so I never started it’s been a thing I’ve done since I can remember. But yeah my dad is a drummer, he’s a full-time musician but of course, he is one of my biggest influences.

SR: Tell me about the name AJNA. What’s your reasoning behind it?

Felipe: So “ajna” means the third eye in Buddhism, but it’s more a representation of the different planes of reality that exist beyond our physical reality that we can see. A lot of the themes of our songs talk about dreams and lucid dreaming, but it’s kind of an escape from what happens in our day-to-day lives. It came from that representation.

Felipe Maldonado of AJNA (Photo Courtesy of Outside Lands FilmMagic/FilmMagic)

SR: How does the creative process work with all these heads together? Do each of you assign your own parts, do you disagree on ideas at all?

Aaron: Felipe writes the songs. He’ll come up with the chords, rhythms, and melodies, the core of the song and we’ll play that song 150 times in a row. What he brings to the table, we all learn and play and massage into a finished product. Everyone works their parts, sometimes someone finds something cool and we work off of that, but it evolves from what Felipe brought as a demo to what you see on stage.

SR: Do you ever butt heads when it comes to what is brought to the table? Are you ever like “fuck no I’m not playing that!?”

Aaron: There are contrasting ideas but not in a bad way, not like “that doesn’t sound good and you’re an asshole.” It’s not in a mean way. You have to be honest about music. I think everybody here knows that.

Felipe: I feel like going to music school helped a lot in that, having that character of not taking things personally, like “change your guitar part” and I cry. What serves the song best.

SR: Tell us about your debut EP Uncensored Space that came out August 4th. Is there a theme to it? 

Felipe: The EP is called Uncensored Space so when you’re listening to it, it’s kind of a space where there is no space of where you should be. We talk about lucid dreaming and things like that. It’s our first EP but we already have 4 and a half songs written for our next album which will come out next year. Two songs we played today. We’re hoping that with this EP that we could get signed. That would, of course, be the best thing to happen, so we’re hoping to get signed in New York. I can’t wait to start working on the next one.

SR: you think you would stay on the East coast or would you think of moving somewhere else?

Felipe: Since we’re all from different parts, it’s a bad thing and a good thing. We all want to explore South America more and maybe go to Asia. Alissa, our tour manager is half Japanese, so we’d like to hit that at some point. But we’ll be in New York for at least another year and if something pops up we’re always going to be available for whatever happens.

(Photo courtesy of Outside Lands/ FilmMagic/FilmMagic)

Ashley Cizek

Went to school at UW-Madison, graduating with a BA in psychology. I hula-hoop, I write, I enjoy sunlight.

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