Sitting at an outdoor patio at Dripp Coffee, it’s sprinkling and Jose Antonio Aleman is trying to figure out if his latte was worth $5. “I’ve been subbing out milk because I saw this meme that made me laugh, it said ‘you’re not lactose intolerant, you’re just not a baby cow’ and I thought ok, any time milk upsets my stomach that’s why!”
Story | Zara Hurtado
Photos | Courtesy of Joe McFly
This kind of playfulness is at odds with the dark, moody sounds of Aleman, who performs and produces under the name Joe McFly. His experimental beats and haunting vocals is trademark to his unique style of music, which has been described as everything from Goth to trip-hop.
McFly admits that he isn’t big on labels or genres for that matter, much like Childish Gambino who has made himself one of the most versatile musicians in the game thanks to his genre-pushing albums. Gambino even went far enough to say that genres are dead in a recent interview with Real 92.3, where McFly agrees. “I see [the music industry] as The Hunger Games; you’re competing with other artists to get a spot on a label or whatever your goal is. If you’re coming out and doing something someone has already done and it’s a genre that’s post-dated, I’m personally not impressed.”
As an artist with such a distinct sound, it’s difficult to react or characterize his music with one word when you first catch one of McFly’s live sets. Is it house music? Hip-Hop? Maybe little bit of both?
“My goal is to make music that’s ahead of the curve. What I’m hoping is that when people look back at the music I’m making now, in three years, people will barely start making music like that,” he said. “That’s why when I play in front of certain crowds, people don’t know how to react. I’ve had a lot of people tell me ‘no one sounds like you.’ When I hear people say that, I’m like ‘OK, I’m accomplishing my obscure sound.’”
Not one to confine himself to one genre, McFly has experimented with other groups such as garage rockers I Am the Coffin and hip-hop collective Slay Squad, along with releasing his own lo-fi solo tracks. Collaborating with a diverse group of musicians pushes him to maintain his integrity as a songwriter, a challenge McFly welcomes. “When it’s my solo stuff I’m able to write whatever I want without having to take into consideration ‘OK, what is this person’s crowd like?” he explained. “I like the challenge of being on a different type of track. It pushes me from being comfortable and making the type of music I usually make.”
After meeting one Slay Squad member in his early DJ days, the two linked up and reconnected at a show at The Glass House. Since then he’s become family, working side by side with the group’s main producer and providing vocals to some of their tracks, such as the trap-heavy ‘Muska.’
Staying true to his versatility as an artist, McFly has started releasing acoustic tracks including his latest, ‘Fool of Me.’
Inspired by a past relationship, ‘Fool of Me’ is a reflection of love lost and the pain of realizing that you were wronged. It also happens to be the most personal of McFly’s tracks to date. “If people are lucky, they might get to fall in love early on like from age 15 to 21. There’s a chance of you meeting the first person you think is really fucking cool and get really close to them. I dated a girl, it was the first time I fell in love, it ended and it came with all this inspiration.”
He seems to casually brush off the end of this relationship, but his songwriting shows how much of a romantic he really is. “80 percent of my songs where I talk about a girl are usually about her. The other 20 percent are hypothetical women. Sometimes I’ll write a song thinking, ‘the next person I fall in love with, this song is for you. I just wrote it before I met you.”
If you pay close attention to McFly’s lyrics, accepting a situation and turning it into good is a common theme, an attitude that he also reflects in his personal life. A believer of numerology, McFly has a tattoo on his forearm, “Δ111Δ”.
“The three ones are the group of friends I hang out with, they have a collective under the three ones. Just like words put together mean something, numbers in sequences mean something. Ever since I discovered the frequency of “111,” I feel more attuned with myself.”
McFly has a new album in the works, which he says is “80 percent done.” He was faced with setbacks, particularly with the album’s conceptual art. After seeing his designed mirrored on a famous rapper’s latest two albums and losing his album title to a friend’s T-shirt design, McFly decided not to push his luck.
“I took it as a sign from the universe that I need to re-conceptualize this album. At Night was about to be called Insomnia. When I think about it, I’m like, ‘I was going to drop Insomnia instead of At Night?’ That would have been two different projects. So now whatever spawns from this might be better than what I had.”
Whether or not the 111-frequency is responsible for this, McFly is having a moment of clarity. With radio appearances on KXLU 88.9, a slot at Viva Pomona festival, and a show in Brooklyn, and a set at SXSW’s Rare House showcase under his belt, the young producer is set to make a breakthrough.
As we start packing up, McFly gets a text from one of the Slay Squad guys. They’re playing a show in L.A. that night and McFly is not about to miss it. Once he’s answered back, he looks up and says, “Performing gives me this high better than any drug could give me. If I do a crazy show and everything goes as planned and the set was amazing, I’ll be stoked. I’ll wake up, stare at the ceiling and think, ‘whoa last night really happened.’ That’s what I live for mainly, it keeps me hyped on life.”