Okapi Sun are self-proclaimed, “tribal pop dance party enthusiasts,” inspired by a rare crossbreed (The okapi, a zebra-giraffe creature, is real, but only found in the Ituri Forest of the Congo.) Okapi Sun, comprised of Leo Okapi and Dallas Okapi, liken themselves to this intriguingly lovely creature, as they are a rare breed of their own, being both multi-cultural and producing a sound that blends, embraces, and boasts both electronic club music and pop. They are about to begin a short string of California dates before SXSW that begin February 1st at the Hotel Café in LA and their debut LP, Techno Prisoners, drops April 29th, courtesy of Phaedra Records. Until then, listen to the album’s first single, “Johnny Kiss,” for free on Diffuser, while you read about the girls telling me the story behind Okapi Sun.
Izzy: What is it that actually brought the two of you together? You each have quite eclectic backgrounds.
Leo: We met in a club in Berlin a few years back. I lived there at the time, studying music, and Dallas was traveling, visiting family. I was out with friends and I saw her awesome hair at the bar when we were ordering drinks and me and my friends started talking to her. I decided I wanted to go explore the US. I always wanted to live in California and see New York and LA and discover the music scene over here, so when I made my way west, I called her up. I decided to stay and we both hit it off as friends and on a musical level. We’ve both played in a few projects together, but when we both got this job we found on Craig’s List in a recording studio as a “Creative Assistant” and ended up lumberjacking all day, instead of learning the trade, we decided it was time for something fun after work! We both have classical music backgrounds and both love pop music and are suckers for a good hook, so when we finally got together in our rehearsal space, it just clicked, musically.
Dallas: Yeah, like Leo said, we met overseas and reconnected when she came to San Diego. I really think the “Artistic Creative Assistant” position pushed us into this project… We were really looking for a creative outlet!
Izzy: This project is still relatively new, so I’m curious: What have been the highlights of Okapi Sun, so far?
Leo: For me, the highlight has been seeing people at our shows having fun and dancing. It’s great to see the Okapi Sun Tribe grow and every show has turned into a dance party so far. We got flown out to Atlanta from our label, Phaedra Records, to mix with Grammy Award winning producer/mixer Neal Pogue (Janelle Monae, TLC, Pink, Franz Ferdinant, Nicki Minaj, M.I.A., etc), that was pretty cool!!! I’m really excited about our first full-length coming out. It’s great to see how the songs evolved from our jams at the rehearsal space.
Dallas: For me, the two biggest highlights of the year were our licensing deal with Puma and working with Neil Pogue. I’ve always loved Puma and we were excited to be a part of their new Soundchuck product. And of course it’s extremely exciting to work with a Grammy Award winning producer / mixer; Neil is amazing and it was great to work with him and to see everything first-hand.
Izzy: Have you had any particular favorite reactions to your music?
Leo: We had a few gigs now where we go dance with the crowd on our last song and it’s great to see people having fun and singing the songs along with you. Also, I was visiting my family in Germany last Christmas when we just had finished the masters and I played the songs to my sisters and my parents and they were all dancing around in the living room [laughs]. That made me feel real good.
Dallas: I agree with Leo. The last song we perform, “Tribe to the City,” is a lot of fun! We always move down into the audience and dance along… You never know what will happen, which makes it exciting… And you always come across that “one” crazy/amazing dancer!
Izzy: Your debut album, Techno Prisoners, comes out this April. What were the album’s most significant influences and inspirations?
Leo: Well, we never really sat down and purposefully picked a genre and decided that we are going to make an EDM-Pop project now. We just wanted it to be dancy and fun. From the start this project was about us two having fun making music together as a creative outlet . That meant us just being ourselves, experimenting with vocoders and weird drum loops and different synthesizers. We would go in our studio and just start putting on a drum loop and let the magic happen and record whatever came out in that moment. Later we go back and, since we both love a good pop song, would mold the jam into more of that format.
Dallas: I guess you could say the inspiration was to have fun. Neither of us had ever played or written electronic music before this project; in fact, I had a purely classical background up until college, but we decided to experiment together and that was the type of music we ended up with!
Leo: Influences: I grew up mainly with Euro 90’s pop, like Ace of Base, Dj Bobo, Dr. Alban, Aqua, Culture Beat, etc… My mom is a big Cat Stevens fan and my dad had all the Rolling Stones albums at home. I also grew up playing classical piano and really got into dreamy stuff, like Chopin and Debussy. Now I listen to mainly pop and EDM, like Daft punk, Foster the People, Chromatics, Isaac Delusion, Empire of the sun, etc… I also recently got into Cheryl Lynn, Rick James, Gap band as well and loving it!
Izzy: You have quite a cool sense of fashion (And I’m not usually a fan of “loud colours.”) What does that take inspiration from?
Leo: Well thanks 😉 I think we just wanted to be colorful and stick out a bit. It fits well with the Okapi animal, since it’s a mixture of a bunch of different animals in one, looks very eclectic itself. Also, usually musicians love to dress in dark colors, since we like bright colors and fake fur, we were like: let’s just brighten up the stage a bit!
Dallas: The project definitely gives us an outlet to experiment, be creative, and do crazy things! We have fun thinking of different styles and fashion statements that we like and making them our own! It’s like the real Okapi… an electic mix of awesome-ness!
Izzy: You have a handful of upcoming West Coast dates, in addition to SXSW. What can be expected of the band live? And is there any chance of a full-scale tour later this year?
Leo: We are working on a new stage show with a few new songs and obviously playing our full-length live. You can expect wearing bright colors, alien masks, and playing a bunch of different instruments, jumping around on stage and some serious drumming going on. We have a white, furry drum kit and a hell of a dance party going on at every show!!! We’ll be on tour heading to Austin for SXSW and then heading northwest, making our way back towards LA.
Dallas: I think you can expect more masks, new songs, and brighter colors! We want the live show to be an experience, so we are always trying to think of fun things to add to the show!
Izzy: And finally, what are your biggest and wildest hopes for 2014?
Leo: Obviously I hope that people will love our new album and enjoy our music and keep on having fun at our shows. I really want to just go on tour the rest of the year. Just keep on going. I love to travel and play music at the same time. I really would like to play a big festival sometime in the near future, like Coachella or EDC or tour through Europe! Dream big 😉
Dallas: It would be fun to get involved in some music festivals this summer!