Seattle-based musician-producers Kjell Nelson and Andrew Wentz have been making records since Nelson’s senior year at Garfield. Their latest project is Hightek Lowlives, and is their first collaboration with Otieno Terry, winner of the 2014 EMP Sound Off! competition. Their debut full-length Humanoid Void is the first release on the brand new Northwest hip-hop punk-influenced Cabin Games label.
The story of the album is as illuminating as the talents which created it. Fresh off their collaboration with Zoe Wick (Built To Fade) called Secret Society, Nelson and Wentz shifted gears and brought Otieno Terry into the digitalized, slow burning mix. Humanoid Void is thus a smoking sweet electro-soul concept album about love and alienation, spirit and fate.
“Humanoid Void is the journey of ‘Damien’, a time traveling half-human/half-robot from future Earth,” Nelson says. “Damien travels to 21st century Earth to study human emotions. Specifically love, to help fill the void created from centuries of technological singularity.”
The name for the collaboration came first, but the three artists are all really into Science Fiction. Nelson explains, “We were writing a video script for ‘What It Be, What it Do?’ (the third track on Humanoid Void) and Otieno said he wanted to be a robot. It all expanded from there.”
The uncanny narrative for Humanoid Void explores the pains and pleasures of passionate relationships with human beings, before it reaches an apex with a lesson in “Outro” from guest vocalist Colette Bing. To end the speculative fiction song cycle, Terry deeply gut-punches the listener with one of the strongest songs of the year “Sometimes” as its epilogue.
Terry says, “We purposefully stopped there, because having the choice on whether or not to move forward is more important than the answer. Also, we wanted to leave room for a sequel.”
The glorious bass-fed shimmer of Humanoid Void has been weaving together for some time. It specifically started when “Drew and I were tracking a couple rappers for some bucks one night and OT showed up to sing a hook for them,” Nelson explains. “We knew pretty quickly we were going to make something cool together. Most of the songs started as beats written at my spot in Beacon Hill. I’d usually just play OT a couple beats and soon enough I’d look over and he’d be writing to one. We definitely co-produced these together though, OT would come in and add bridges, change chords here and there etc. All the lyrics and vocal melodies are OT’s.
Bladaow Studio is Nelson’s and Wentz’s studio in Beacon Hill. Every part of Humanoid Void was was crafted there: the beats, vocal tracking, mixing. “’Sometimes’ was a song that OT brought in and we ended up flushing it out together. More of this on the next record!”
Hightek Lowlives teamed up with Cabin Games when label collaborators Rich Jensen and Brodie Stevens saw Otieno Terry sing at gallery/venue Lovecitylove one night. “OT told Andrew and I he had met Rich and I insisted we meet up with him and talk shop. We all vibed out over dinner and we took it from there,” Nelson says. “We’re all really happy about the release on Cabin Games.” The album features excellent guest spots from fellow SF fan Gabriel Teodros, and OT’s cousin Kwame Morrow.
Hightek Lowlives and Cabin Games are charging hard out of the gate with this fully realized, deeply passionate, and inspired first release. Cabin Games will keep expanding the music scene with a diversity of flavors — five more albums planned for the next year. And OT, Nelson, and Wentz are probably going to get a lot of attention for a first album that combines so many genres and ideas with such vision.
More news to come about Cabin Games, and more shows to announce ASAP! Please come out to the Vera Project on Saturday, April 5 to see Hightek Lowlives in such an electric line-up. Also: Please hit Big Freak with anything you may need related to Hightek Lowlives, Humanoid Void, Cabin Games, and anything else you’ve heard about all the excitement brewing up between them (and us!). 2014 is going to be an incredible year for music, whether it be soul, hip-hop, 808 punk, R&B — the sky’s the limit!