Photography Daniel Marty

yoshi flower's 'american raver' is the pledge of allegiance gone goth

The Detroit-raised artist talks Lana Del Rey, the Republican Party, and the nostalgic value of Ford Motors.

by Nick Fulton
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Oct 12 2018, 3:44pm

Photography Daniel Marty

If you attended Bonnaroo Music & Arts Festival in 2017, you might have noticed a handful of political-style yard signs reading “TAKE ACID AND GO SEE YOSHI FLOWER.” Like many others at the festival, you might have also wondered what the hell was up with those yard signs, which spawned a whole subreddit. It turned out they were a marketing ploy from Los Angeles-based musician Yoshi Flower, who was booked to play Bonnaroo on the back of a demo tape that he submitted to the festival organizers. At the time of his appearance at Bonnaroo, Yoshi had not released any music, hence the cries of “Who the hell is this guy?”

Speaking from the freeway somewhere between Toronto and Montreal (he’s currently on tour with SG Lewis), Yoshi tells i-D, “The reality is that I just didn’t have a good mic to record my vocals at the time. I could play [the songs] live, but I wanted the fidelity to be at a really high level. So I was playing shows before I released music, [and] it created this mystique.”

The ploy worked. Yoshi says several hundred people showed up to see him perform at Bonnaroo, thinking that it was a secret side-project of a much larger act. Instead, what they witnessed was the first ever Yoshi Flower show, and he says, “after that moment things started to be like a little rolling ball.” He’s since signed to Interscope Records (home to Eminem, Selena Gomez, and Lady Gaga), opened for Dua Lipa on her recent US tour, and collaborated with New York rapper Rico Nasty.

Now, after a series of successful singles, including “Brown Paper Bag” and “Just Cuz We’re Paranoid Doesn’t Mean They’re Not Onto Us,” Yoshi is delivering his first major project — a mixtape titled American Raver, which reworks the American Pledge of Allegiance into 10 defiant party songs. It’s an honest expression from a young songwriter who is conflicted about his role in modern America, and straddles the edge of rave culture and the rage that dominates our everyday. The fact that American Raver is also a collection of love songs almost gets lost among the devastation.

“The mixtape was written from a place of observation and a place of being in the middle,” explains Yoshi. “And it was written from a place of someone who is navigating the paradox of being American. I feel like I was at a crossroads of radicalism and utter apathy. I see both those ways of being, and I feel like I’m just smack bang in the middle while all this crazy shit is happening.”

American Raver opens with Yoshi plucking his acoustic guitar and singing the words “speeding through the mist on PCH, life is such a bitch with a pretty face.” It’s a somber song (titled “I Pledge Allegiance”) about our obsession with wealth and fame. Later in the song he sings, “you’ve been making money, money don’t make you.” Track four, “And to the Machine” is a buttery smooth R&B jam, and it’s also where Yoshi gently begins to seeth. But it’s on “Invisible,” the eighth track on American Raver, where he finally erupts. The production here is dark and dense, and the lyrics take a more direct approach to political activism. In a riff about getting high on benzos and diazepam, he sings, “at least I’m not as fucked up as the government,” and later, amid further references to getting high, he takes a swipe at the Republican Party.

Yoshi grew up in Detroit during the global financial crisis, and much of his music is informed by witnessing the accelerated downfall of the American middle class. He went to public school, played in a “cosmic trap” band named Gosh Pith, and watched as the American Midwest’s reputation as a place of prosperity dissolved. “I was in high school at the start of the recession, and then four years later Detroit [filed for] bankruptcy. I don’t know how anyone could write anything other than a gothic or dark narrative, coming from that,” he says.

Perhaps, without even consciously realizing it, his proximity to Detroit’s default is the reason he has been drawn to other artists who embrace the gothic narrative. He recently recorded a cover of Lana Del Rey’s “Video Games,” and is right now using a reimagined version of Grant Wood’s American Gothic painting as a tour poster. “I reworked that painting because I knew that he was commenting on the American Midwest industry, and the landscape at that time, and I wanted to comment on my experience of it,” he says of the famous artwork.

Much like in Wood’s depiction, Yoshi’s own version of the Midwest is full of conflict and contradiction. Asked about the Ford hockey jersey he’s wearing in the clip of him performing “Video Games,” he presents an insightful monologue on the nostalgic value of Ford, and the dangers of glorifying a company that has been accused of abandoning the American working class. “Ford’s the perfect example of how the blueprint of the American neighborhood was written. You look at the symbolism and the nostalgia of something like that, of me wearing a Ford hockey jersey. That was the precipice of industry. That was why everyone who migrated from the south and wanted equality made the migration — [they] wanted to come and work for Ford... But the reality is that after they built up this amazing infrastructure, they left. The nostalgia of it is what’s the dangerous part. I love wearing that jersey, but at the same time if I’d ever thought about it, I’d be like, fuck, this is tragic.”

American Raver is the direct result of this conflicted narrative. It may be Yoshi’s first expression, but it warrants his name being added to a growing chorus of young artists who are calling for structural change. And Yoshi would be happy to have his name listed alongside his idol Lana Del Rey, who recently called out Kanye West for his support of the MAGA mantra. Maybe together they can Make America Goth Again.