ASBO Meets: CRUZA

Hailing from Orlando via San Diego, CRUZA are a band that transcend musical genres. Not ones to be held down by the constraints of one sonic, CRUZA fuse R&B, psychedelic and alternative rock creating a captivating, well-rounded and mesmerizing sound. Fresh off their recent signing with Terrible Records who are helping release their debut EP. ASBO met with vocalist Adam Kain, guitarist Charity Joy Brown and bassist, percussionist and producer AJ Roth to discuss CRUZA’s journey, upcoming EP and future plans.

Photo Credit: Gabriela Da Silva
Photo Credit: Gabriela Da Silva

Where are you guys from and how did you meet and end up forming CRUZA?

AJ:  Alright, so me and Adam we’re from Alabama we went to middle school, high school and a little bit of college together, we've pretty much known each other since we were kids. I started making beats around 2013, trying to get Adam to sing on some beats here and there. We put a song out on Soundcloud people liked it, Urban Outfitters put one of the songs on their playlist, that’s kind of what gave us a little boost.

I met Charity through Instagram, I just heard her stuff and liked it, we made a project together. Me and her would kind of go back and forth and just collaborate on different things

We're just on the same page, so one day I just asked her if she wants to be in the band. The quality of music has gone up since the three of us have come together.

What are some of your first memories relating to finding an interest in listening to and making music?

Adam::As a kid I remember being around five or six years old and my favorite movie was the Jackson 5 series, ‘The Jacksons: An American Dream’, that was my first real introduction to music and performance. It instilled a passion for music in me at a young age.

Growing up in my family home, my parents would always be playing Stevie Wonder, The Temptations, mixed with gospel music because I grew up in a religious home as well.

The combination of those things really kind of instilled music and singing at an early age. Then I started singing in church, and then even our school choir once I met AJ when we were in high school.

Charity: My experience is similar to Adams, my parents and their love of gospel music played a big role in the kind of music I listened to growing up.

My dad plays the piano for church and my mom has always sung in the choir, watching them really inspired me. When I was like 10 or 11, my dad got me a guitar. There was a woman who lived opposite the guitar shop who did lessons, I started taking lessons with her.

She really encouraged my songwriting, I was becoming like a teenager at the time so I had all these feelings, I always like journaling my feelings so I ended up turning a lot of them into songs

AJ: I was really influenced by my parents' tastes as well, they played loads of music growing up. My dad is really into jazz. He plays the saxophone and was always playing Kenny G, Boyz II Men, Luther Vandross. My Mum is from Guyana in the Caribbean she’s really into reggae. What got me into producing was the artist called ‘SpaceGhostPurrp’ . He had a video where he went through step by step how he creates his beats. It really clicked with me that these artists I love were making their music through their laptops. I found out the program they all used and started making my own beats.

Your latest single, ‘indeed’ is a smooth, relaxing banger, can you tell us about the creative process of making this track? Did you have a plan pre getting into the studio or was it more organic?

AJ: It kind of just came to us naturally, I remember I was making a drum and bass loop and sent it to Charity who put some sweet riffs on it. Listening to it I thought yeah this might work as a song, then I played it on a speaker and Adam just started freestyling vocals over it. I recorded it and it honestly came out great, it was very organic.

Adam: Once AJ played it for me, it sounds dramatic, but it was like the melody came to me from the heavens, that only happens with certain songs.

Sometimes if I write I feel like I'm forcing it, so sometimes I will freestyle and see where the instrumental takes me, instead of writing everything first. It was just one of those that organically just came together and just has this infectious melody and sweet like feel to it

After I finished writing it, I realized that the lyrics actually have some meaning to them that is pretty applicable to most people, it's about having a close friend you like, that you secretly have feelings for but don’t want to ruin the friendship.

If you weren't doing music, what do you think you all would be doing instead?

Adam :So, for me, I've always been like an entrepreneur. I just never wanted to work for anybody. I had a cleaning company in college so if I wasn't doing music, I'd probably like to own a couple of businesses. I'm very much a creative person, so I think I'd also maybe be into something fashion or design-based.

Charity:  When I started college, I wasn't doing music, I was doing journalism because I've always liked writing. I thought I could do that but also eventually bridge it over to fashion and end up doing fashion journalism or interviewing artists.

AJ: When I was in college, I was doing graphic design and computer science but I would look to the future and have no clue what I had in store. Honestly could not see myself doing what I did in school, I really had no clue.  I think I always thought id maybe do something internet related

As a band, you sonically mix R&B, psychedelic and alternative rock, how do you make sure these multiple sounds work together?

AJ: So for me, I just try to borrow different elements from genres, the drum pattern might be more hip hop or R&B focused. But then I might use some more alternative rock sounding drums as the actual drum sounds, then try and have a bassline that’s more funk-influenced. This is accompanied by Charities guitar playing which is very soulful and with Adams vocals it has everyone putting their influences into the pot.

Adam: What helps often is that it comes really naturally, we all have pretty similar tastes and appreciation for different genres. We all listen to a lot of different stuff, so when it comes to putting those sounds into a pot together, it just flows naturally. One of our biggest influences Is Gorillaz, they have always been so good at genre-blending.

Charity: Not every song has the same amount of influence so there is lots of room to pull from different places for different songs. Not every song is going to pull from R&B or psychedelic rock. Some songs lean one way more than others, so it's not too formulaic when it comes to each song.

What influences you as a band? Both musically and non-musically?

AJ:I 'd probably say the state of the world, I look at the mood of the world and how bad it is right now. I feel like we as  a society need music. The state of the world really influences my music.

Adam: I would say, the complexity of human nature inspires me a lot. I'm really into human behavior, social experiments, things like that. People can be so complex but so similar at the same time. So I draw a lot of my inspiration off of like stories, whether it's in relationships, whether it's my own, or what's something that somebody shared with me, I draw lots of inspiration from that

Charity: Similarly, I've noticed I find myself most inspired by experiencing life.  Just over time, all my relationships, my friendships, my relationship with my parents, my relationship to the world and how I view myself. Depending on what I'm experiencing in my life at the time,  my music changes a lot thematically, but I always pull from my relationships to people and how I feel because that is always changing,

Your song ‘Lost Soul’ with Mick Jenkins is brilliant, it feels like a perfect collaboration. How did that come about and what was it like working with him?

AJ: Ok, so with Mick, me and him went to the same college, he was older than me but roommates with a guy I grew up with, so I used to see him around a lot.

Adam :Our connection to him goes further than that actually. So years ago, when we first started making music, we had a mutual friend who was close to him, she sent him some samples from our demo and he was blown away.

We wanted to do some production on one of his projects, but you know how music is, it just ended up falling through, but that early connection planted a seed.

We knew once CRUZA got started that the door would be open for a potential collaboration and like you said, the collaboration is a perfect fit. Our music is a style he is used to rapping on and the song sounds great.

What has been the most rewarding thing about being in a band?

Adam I'll say this, due to the fact we officially formed during quarantine we haven’t got a chance to perform any shows yet. But recently Charity came to visit because we live in different states, we practiced a lot, ran through our set loads and for me, the most rewarding thing was being together in person. Being able to feed off each other and perform together. We felt so in sync, it was magical to me.

Charity: The majority of the time I've been making music, I've always avoided working with other people. I used to think I made the best stuff whilst alone, but I don’t think that’s true anymore. It takes particular people to take me outside my head and be able to create with others. So it's been so rewarding just having a band, having people who I feel comfortable to create with, and it gives us a chance to live out our dreams.

AJ: So for me, when I make something, send it to Charity and Adam and get their parts back. I sit down and put it together and just sit there listening. Those moments are so rewarding when everything comes together, those moments make it worth it, when you know the music is sounding great.

So you're working towards releasing your debut EP with Terrible Records, what can you tell us about the creative process , how has it been formulating your  first EP?

AJ: Man, it's kind of been bittersweet, as artists you go through a lot trying to get your music out there. We have learned a lot, there's been ups and downs, but it's all been a learning process. I'm really glad I've experienced these things. Overall it has been good, just some ups and downs when learning about being signed.

Adam: Yeah, it's definitely been an adjustment for us, we came from being completely independent just creating and releasing songs how we want, when we want. The label experience hasn't been bad, we've learned a lot from partnering with Terrible Records. They've taught us a lot. It's just that there are some growing pains like with most things, we're definitely making it work. We've been able to make some cool connections and get some good exposure. We just want to keep on pumping out songs and finishing the EP so we can deliver the best product that we can.

What is your biggest goal as a band?

AJ:  CRUZA is a great vehicle for all of us in the band to get where we want to be musically. I would love for five years to be able to see all of us doing our thing musically, using the skills we learnt in CRUZA.I hope with CRUZA it opens lots of doors for us and really helps our musical careers.

Adam :As cliché as it sounds and as flawed the Grammys are as an institution, I would still personally love to be nominated and win a Grammy or two, I want us to be respected and have critically acclaimed projects. I want to put out some timeless music that people will cherish forever, and that they will be playing for their kids years later. That’s the cool thing about a band like AJ was saying, it gives you the space where like, each member can go off do their own thing for a bit, but still come back to the band.

Charity: I just want all of us to be able to music at the highest level, then create opportunities for artists in a similar lane to us. I think another thing would just be being able to do what we want to do creatively without being stressed out, without being tied down,  having that creative freedom would mean everything to me. Not having to worry about how we're going to get this budget or worry about these certain ideas. I think that that's when we have room to create our best music.

Words: David Pratt