Electronic Artist Azakaela Speaks on the New Album and Life as a Trans Artist in Montana

Coyote Music was lucky enough to catch-up with Azakaela on the eve of the release of "Dream of Wings" to talk about the record, the LGBTQ+ community in the area, and taking inspiration from Tool's Maynard James Keenan...and 90s video game music.

Coyote Music: Azakaela, you're in Livingston, Montana (or are you in Bozeman?). It's not that often that we run across Montanans while doing music reviews and interviews!

Azakaela: I moved from Bozeman to Livingston in 2021, got priced out ya know -insert single tear emoji-. I was born in Devils Lake, North Dakota in 1991 and moved to Bozeman in 2009 with my highschool sweetheart.

CM: Livingston is a small rural town, which aren't known for producing electronic music artists. Can you talk a little bit about your musical inspiration in that genre?

Azakaela: Growing up in North Dakota I was inspired to learn music from grandfather who taught me guitar and I played everyday till my fingers bled in classic cliche style. I wasn't obsessed with being the greatest guitarist in the world so I mostly played in rock and metal bands and only ever did electronic music on the side.

When I got started I was big into Trip-Hop and alt electronic acts like Massive Attack and Puscifer as well as the EDM acts Blackmill and Glitch Mob sometime in the 2010s and that was what inspired me to start making music electronically. I also took a great deal of inspiration of electronic retro music that was spiking in popularity at the time, Synthwave stuff like Lazerhawk, Waveshaper, Perturbator and Carpenter Brut.

Oh and I should probably mention, that my biggest overall inspiration when it comes to my digital music is 90s video game soundtracks haha -- A lot of the music I produce is for game soundtracks and I release those on azakaela.itch.io.

CM: Along with your musical development, your lyric writing deals a lot with your own self-discovery. Especially with it being Pride Month, could you talk about how you've been able to become your true self in a community that, I'm assuming, may not be very supportive of those sorts of things. 

I walk when it's scary because I want it to not be scary when others do the same.

Azakaela: I wish I could lie and say it's been easy. It's been an uphill battle and there are times I still don't feel comfortable even walking down the street -- but I do it anyway cuz I want people to know that you absolutely have the freedom to be yourself no matter what circumstances might be and you can do it unapologetically. I walk when it's scary because I want it to not be scary when others do the same. Especially for a place as beautiful as Montana -- Hate doesn't own land. Everyone deserves to live where they feel called to.

But all that being said, I have the support of my loving wife, Brooke Benson, and many darling friends who have known me pre-transition and have seen my growth. A lot of them are musicians as well from the Bozeman area and have supported me during moments that would have been otherwise difficult.

I also have a lot of friends who are LGBTQ+ online is where I find a lot of solace. We live in an age where connection isn't always neccesarily tied to physical locations...and sometimes, admittedly, I'm sort of a shut-in especially now that I've entered my 30s. (insert joy emoji)

If you're not far along your journey, or have not yet begun, my advice is to let your Inner Self do the speaking. It knows you best. And lastly on this front... You are loved, appreciated and not alone.

CM: Living so rurally, is there a community in which you could perform live or market your music to regionally?

Azakaela: I usually go to Bozeman for that sort of thing. I used to play in a couple bands based out of there. Kannabyss where I sang and shredded lead guitar (a stoner metal band) and Halleys Return where I played bass (punk/grunge). Our favorite venues were always the Zebra Cocktail Lounge before it got bought out by snooty weird rich people, and the Filling Station, a place that holds many fond memories.

I also volunteer in Bozeman at my friend's studio, The Gallatin Underground (theguradio.com) and we record and support up and coming local musicians on the weekends by recording FREE livestreams.

While I'm not as active in the scene as I used to be, I still try to play shows every now and then -- I still haven't worked out a great way to perform my electronic set other than just singing to backing tracks. But other times I am called to be featured in my friends acts, like Ivan Superstar, where I lay down sick rap verses. One time I played a set of my rap and electronic music at the 49er Bar here in Livingston. Turn out wasn't great, but it was a memorable night and I had people vibing on my stuff (even singing along).

Tools of Azakaela's Trade
Tools of Azakaela's Trade

CM: Who are some musical artists who inspire you?

Azakaela: Maynard James Keenan of Tool, A Perfect Circle, and Puscifer spoke to me a lot when I listened to all that material, especially Puscifer -- The lyrics and the story always came first and he wasn't afraid to tackle challenging complex metaphysical emotions and concepts.

I appreciate Blackmill's musical prose as well, everything off of Miracle changed how I viewed what you can achieve with merely sounds in story telling.

San Holo's future bass repertoire is a favorite of mine, especially the song "Hold Fast" which inspired me to up my game as a producer.

CM: What about inspirational figures outside of the realm of music?

Azakaela: My wife, Brooke Benson inspires me most. <3 She can do no wrong, she is literally an angel sent from heaven. Without her, I am nothing!!!!

Neil Gaiman who wrote the Sandman series, Coraline, Neverwhere, etc -- He's my favorite author and non-musical creator. He understands so much about the human condition and the nature of reality and weaves the stories he tells so beautifully.

... I'm also hella inspired by my fur babies, my dog Apollo helps me get through the day with his cute corgi smile.

CM: You've written, recorded and released A LOT of music (15 albums on Bandcamp, alone). When did you begin? Was Necronym really released July 12, 1991?! And can you talk about your growth as a musician since recording your first song?

Azakaela: I think I really got started with electronic music production in 2017, before then I had played around for a while with various DAWS but I finally discovered Ableton then and fell in love with the art of producing.

Necronym was actually an amaglamation of all the tracks I had made while I was still learning the tools that I made before I began my transition. Necronym is latin for "Dead Name", and since all those songs to me kinda belonged to a different person, I set the album release date as being the date I was born. It's kinda a joke I guess.

I feel like just this last 2 years I've finally come into my own as an artist, beyond just experimenting or trying things out, I've discovered my voice, both compositionally and literally. I used to be scared of my voice, because it gave me dysphoria, but then I realized it's my god-given instrument, and it's beautiful and it would be a waste to not utilize it fully. I also just through the process of having done this a while, have finally achieved better sounding mixes that don't make me sad cuz they sound bad in the car anymore lol

CM: What are some of your current goals, musical or otherwise?

Throwback: Live at The Filling Station w/Kannabyss
Throwback: Live w/Kannabyss

Azakaela: I really just wanna keep telling stories and make the beauty I wish to see in the world. For one of my next releases I'll be unveiling an epic hour long rock opera that would make Tolkein proud. I have been working with talanted singers and voice actors from all around the world to create something that I think everyone will be able to enjoy on multiple levels. I'm really apprehensive to finally get it out there, Dream Of Wings was the result of me feeling stuck while I wait for getting vocals back from the talent haha

Otherwise my goals. I just wanna build and connect with my audience and keep on the grind.

CM: What sort of connections has your music helped you create? I mean, I was raised rurally before the internet existed. So for me, playing in a rock band in my garage didn't create any connections anywhere. :) I'm wondering if your songs online and how you've developed your brand over the years has forged many bonds with others around the country (or even around the world).

Azakaela: Oh yes it has. I have clients who seek me out for my style for not just Video Game Soundtracks, but also for films and animations. I'm currently somewhat swamped with that kind of work, but with my output I'm not too worried (although sometimes I feel like I'm permanently on the edge of burnout). I have friends from all walks of life all around the country, and the world at large, many of whom know me because we met through discussion of music. Some of them have become life long friends.

CM: Do you perform your music live and, if so, can you talk about where it's taken you (be it regionally or beyond)?

Azakaela: I do, but not as often as I'd like. As you can imagine, there's not much of a scene for electronic music here that isn't just club music -- so almost any time I have performed has usually just been for the other bands I asked to play with me that night. I need to get better at promoting myself.

CM: The latest record, Dream of Wings. You've provided a great deal of context around it but is there anything else you'd like readers to know about the album?

Azakaela: "dream of wings" and "see me when you're dreamin'" were both recorded the same day a few hours apart.

CM: Is there anything in particular you'd like to share about your music or yourself that we haven't covered?

Azakaela: Be on the lookout for more! Espeically my upcoming Rock Opera, Artifact which will be released in 3 Acts. Also... in regards to my music, a lot of it is for free, but... ya can... you know... buy it? Please? hahaha

CM: Thanks so much for taking the time to answer these questions!

Azakaela: Thank you so much!

Posted on 6/11/24