By Jesse Rodriguez
Running to Utopia is an art collective based out of the Lehigh Valley. The collective consists of rappers and overall artists Kon Grey and Mo Gardens. Their music is rooted in hip-hop and rap but their use of synths, experimental loops, and elements of spoken word makes their music genre-bending all while their lyrical content keeps it grounded and relatable.
Pick Me Up from the Middle of Nowhere is Running to Utopia’s latest EP. In this EP, we’re presented with atmospheric and spacey instrumentals that match the existential lyricism. This project remains true to Running to Utopia’s evolving style all the while solidifying their grounded and unique perspectives.
In 2017 while scrolling through my discover page on Instagram, I came across Running to Utopia, when the collective was in its beginning stages. They had a couple of songs on their SoundCloud page and the content that they had been putting on Instagram was very promising. I followed them, and four years later I finally got a chance to speak to them and talk about their latest project and to get more insight into their creative process.
JESSE: It’s nice to meet you guys in person by the way! It’s insane because I’ve been following you guys since I think 2017?
KON: It’s nice to meet you too! Word, since probably the beginning really!
JESSE: I’ve been wanting to connect with you guys for a while so I’m glad it’s happening now! To start us off – and this is a question I’ve been wanting to ask you guys for a while. What do you guys need to flesh out a project? What are you tapping into in that creative state?
KON: To flesh out a project, it just comes super organic like I just kind of have an idea. We’re never kind of like, “Oh we need to make a project.” It kind of comes naturally like we both kind of universally feel like we should put out a body of work and then it’s just really based on what we’re going through in that current time, that’s how we usually start to piece it together. That’s kind of why like My Rooms a Mess is even titled My Rooms a Mess because there’s no real structure to it, and then Pick me up from the middle of nowhere that EP kind of had like a vibe that it wanted to fit in, that kind of like lost/spacey aesthetic but even the music was like very natural, we just kind of sat down and made it.
MO: Yeah, a lot of the time nothing really has an outline, nothing is ever pieced together that way, it’s always just made intentionally first and afterwards it’s put together. And I don’t know what it is but I feel like just like us in general we have like some type of mental connection where things will just happen to work out, things will just fall into place, that just factors into how our projects panned out.
JESSE: Which track on the EP was made first? Did that track inspire the concept for this EP? and is concept important to you guys when making a project?
KON: I think we started apricot juice first.
MO: Yeah! Wait was it? Or was it Bumma?
KON: It was one of those two but I think apricot juice came even before bumma, cause bumma was like Jay Jays idea on his own.
MO: That’s what I’m saying though! I guess it depends on what we’re saying as made first like which one was finished first.
KON: I’m thinking of started first.
MO: Bumma might’ve been started first because Jay Jay recorded that a minute ago.
KON: Word, I feel like it was generally around the same time.
MO: Yeah so it’s sad bumma day or apricot juice.
KON: Word one of those, the funny thing about both those is that neither of them were made with the idea that they were gonna be on a project, the concept of the project didn’t come till a little bit after when we were starting to finish up both of the songs, but yeah-apricot juice, we were both just chillin in my room and that’s how that started. Bumma was Jay Jay’s song.
KON: Yeah Suos song. He wrote that and recorded the hook and the first verse and then him and Mo had worked on it for a little bit and then I did my verse and suo came back and added another verse at the end. As far as the concept goes, I don’t know, like I said we just kind of had the idea of kind of wanting it to have that spacey/lost aesthetic to it and those songs just ended up fitting really well. We always just try to do something different whether it’s super concept heavy or not. We just kind of think outside the box and do something that’s new for us when it comes to creating.
MO: Yeah, I don’t like staying stagnant and getting comfortable in like one sound so whenever we put something out I don’t want to have to try to follow it up, like follow it up in a progressive way but not like trying to stay in the same energy.
JESSE: Whenever I listen to an album I always wonder what song helped form the concept and direction of the whole album so when I heard this new project (Pick Me Up from the Middle of Nowhere) and I heard apricot juice I feel like I pulled a lot of the concepts and ideas from that one track.
KON: I think that even with my writing specifically, i’ll be thinking of the same general topics for a period of time, whenever you’re going through things in life, you’re going through them for a while, for instance, I probably wrote apricot juice first and then a lot of those ideas came up in the other songs because I was still going through them.
JESSE: In Apricot Juice, Mo you said “run around the valley like a maze, it’s my home but I could never stay, someone pick me up from this place” And Kon you say “I told god put it on me, I can take it, I’m so ready” this is kind of the same mind set of wanting to be presented with an opportunity to really put yourselves out there and gain more experience out of life. Do your hopes to leave your home and gain experience include music or do you think there are other paths to explore?
KON: I kind of think it really all comes back to music. we’ve been in the valley for a while, and while we definitely learned a lot of things in these last few years, we kind of do feel like we’ve hit a glass ceiling just as far as knowing that you want to expand and do more, even if it’s just learning and experiencing more, I feel like we haven’t gotten that opportunity all too much yet so hopefully that’s the next chapter for us, but we can only manifest and try our best.
MO: I see it as just going at your own pace, if you see the potential for yourself then its gonna come if you continue steadily, but yeah, we’ve been working.
KON: I think we just need to create a clear plan of what we’re trying to do and what our next step is. We put out the tape, and the EP and just in general like what the collective is trying to do from here on, we’re not all too sure yet but it’s just a learning curve.
JESSE: Later on in make luck, kon you say “think that I might die for these records and these pipe dreams, show me the road I choose if I leave it alone” I know that I’ve had these same kind of thoughts, do you guys feel like being a creative person can be challenging at times and How do you stay motivated when feelings like that come up?
KON: I think it’s just simply that most people don’t take that route, so it’s hard for them to really understand and It can even be with simple life things. I go to work and it’s really stressful to me because you know you’re not supposed to be there or you don’t feel like you’re supposed to be there working a 9 to 5 but you also know that if you took any other route that it’s going to be difficult. You have to find your balance as a creative and just understand where you want to get and what you’re gonna do to get there. You have to root yourself in gratitude and just let the smallest things motivate you. I know that it’s going to be super difficult to stay motivated, but you just have to have that gratitude and understand that it’s a blessing to even be here.
MO: That grounding stuff is very essential. I feel like we get lost in a lot of what it is to be a creative person, and people try to glorify it in different ways for what it’s not meant to be. You have to ground yourself to what made you want to do this in the first place. It’s definitely a challenge but it can be done.
KON: I think it’s like asking yourself a lot of questions. I think a lot of my creativity comes from me observing things a lot, but you can’t be over observant because that can cause issues in other aspects, it’s just about finding balance and that’s something we’re still trying to work on.
JESSE: What I love about your projects is that they’re very introspective and thought provoking, for the intro of “My Rooms a Mess” we hear the “today I feel” excerpts and on “Pick Me Up from the Middle of Nowhere” we’re presented with a similar thought provoking intro with the motif “pick me up” is this something that’s intentional? Where does the inspiration to do this come from?
KON: I would say that’s intentional. The way it kind of worked is we finished all the songs for the EP and then we went back and made the intro and the outro. I don’t know if that was necessarily what we were thinking at the time specifically but it definitely was there to give you something you could listen to but also kind of picture where we’re coming from if that makes sense. Saying “pick me up” over and over just kind of felt right and sounded like a cool idea.
JESSE: Much like your last project your music isn’t bound to any genre especially your instrumentals. You have your hip-hop roots but at least to me, your songs are more like soundtracks to the overall concept rather than trying to be something specific is this something that you aim for while recording?
KON: I think it comes naturally, I think we’re just inspired by so many different things and it’s like we could never be just one of them. It would be false or fake of us to place ourselves in one box, at least when I try to create I try to pull inspiration from all over the place, from whatever I’m feeling, whether it’s rooted in hip-hop, and that’s probably the majority of what we listened to growing up. We don’t go into a project trying to make a specific sound, we make it and that’s just how it turns out.
MO: For me when I’m producing it just kind of happens. technicality wise I try to figure stuff out because I know the music I like has a formula to it so I’ll intentionally try to figure that out, but in general, it’s just what feels right at the end of the day, it’s never something forcefully placed in a lane.
KON: You said our projects sound like soundtracks over a concept and I think that’s a lot of what I listen to. between Frank (Ocean), Tyler (the Creator), Kanye (West), all these guys who make music to fit a certain feeling as opposed to it being more conceptual than literal and vice versa. It’s just all to make you understand what we’re trying to convey, I think that all just happens naturally.
JESSE: My favorite track has to be “something called life” I love the vocode on the vocals and I think it’s a song that really hones in on your sound. its synth and loop heavy while keeping the hip-hop roots and throughout the duration of the track there are layers of vocals that drop in and out. I wanted to know who produces the beats?
MO: I do all the stuff for the most part aside from maybe the Hiroshima beat from “My Rooms a Mess.” I pretty much produced everything. I produce, record and engineer everybody.
KON: Sometimes we’ll have like references like the vocoder for instance that was just something I wanted to try, so I was like “yo Mo lets do this Daft Punk style over these vocals” and he goes in and geeks out and figures out how to make it all happen.
JESSE: Thanks a lot for the insight you guys. It was really nice meeting you in person and thank you again for taking the time to do this interview!
KON: For sure homie! We should do more interviews whenever!
MO: Yeah for sure!
Check out more of Running to utopia’s music on all streaming services and platforms! And make sure to follow their instagram and twitter for updates and content!
Featured Image by Product by Seven