Author: Sydney Hemmendinger
Whether he was overheard singing in the Chilcott showers last year or caught harmonizing at the last Cadence performance, Alton Luke’s (sophomore) melodic singing voice has resonated all over Occidental’s campus. He broadcasted his talents Nov. 6 from Oxy’s campus to the rest of the world when he launched his debut mixtape “It’s Complicated” on SoundCloud, under the pseudonym Vaughn.
Previously, Luke had only released individual, unrelated tracks onto his SoundCloud; some were covers while others were original tracks he had written over another artist’s melody.
While “It’s Complicated” may be his first finalized project, Luke has been singing for his entire life and first showed off his singing chops in middle school.
“I started performing at my 8th grade talent show,” Luke said. “I sang Jet’s ‘Are You Gonna Be My Girl?’ with a band, we were nice. We killed the talent show. We were called ‘The Feds’ because we wore fedoras. I was signing autographs for 6th graders.”
Writing music, however, was a skill he did not acquire until his junior year of high school. Since then, he has written whenever he has felt inspired to do so. He revealed that “It’s Complicated” was written about his ex-girlfriend from home, whose voice can be heard on his track “Cotton ///,” one of his favorites on the tape. He got the idea for the mixtape in April, wrote all its songs in three months and finalized the recording process in five.
Luke said that he needed the music to speak to him in order to write the lyrics. He does not make his own beats, so he searched for sounds that would spur him to write. He scoured the Internet for days on end searching for the right beats, wanting to make sure the melodies he chose were distinctive and special.
“I spent days looking for the right songs. I probably went through 500 songs on YouTube just to find cool ones that really meshed,” Luke said. “I looked for uniqueness and whether a hook came to me on the spot.”
He explained that Kanye West, A$AP Rocky and Party Next Door greatly inspire his music, describing his sound as part of the Renaissance R&B movement. To Luke, this type of music combines soul and experimental production.
“It’s not the roots of R&B. It’s a new twist on it, it’s the new renaissance of it started by Kanye with ‘808s and Heartbreak,’” Luke said.
Another similarity he sees between himself and many of these artists is the use of a stage name. He chooses to release his music with the name Vaughn.
”I was attracted to that name when I saw this reality TV show that was in Atlanta,” Luke said. “There was this smooth, bald, black dude named Vaughn and I wanted to name my son that.”
He still plans on bestowing the name upon his future offspring, but will continue to use it for his music as well.
Luke put as much care into promoting his project as he did choosing his stage name — he had a vision.
“I wanted a sh**load of nice a** candid pictures and cool videos to make people confused and entice them before the official release, and it worked,” Luke said.
To make his goal a reality, Luke assembled a team of Occidental students to help him promote the project. He thought that a team of students would allow multiple people to be involved in promoting the project.
Luke convinced student models, photographers and videographers to use their talents to help him — and they did, free of charge.
“It was a fun project to work on and it was rad to see all of his friends come together to make it happen.” Kat Kepler (junior) said, one of the model’s featured in his promotional pictures and videos.
Starting in late October, he began posting provocative photographs and videos accompanied by cryptic captions to Facebook. The captions changed depending on the photograph, but all of the pictures featured the same phrase: “Nov. 6.”
“So many people came up to me and were like ‘What’s happening Nov. 6?’ And I just told them wait and find out,” Luke said.
Luke said that this promotional tactic is necessary to his craft. He believes that all forms of art are interconnected and therefore sees his mixtape as more than just music; instead, it is an all-encompassing piece of art, which is why visuals were necessary.
The reaction to his tape, according to Luke, has been mostly positive, with many other artists, like rapper Quez, praising his music. However, he acknowledged that many of his peers thought his voice was over-edited. Luke said he agreed that the filter on his voice was too heavy, but that he had done that because he was recording with a lackluster microphone. He does not plan on ever removing the filter altogether because he believes it is crucial to his sound.
“Some people have said they would rather me sing like sincerely me, but that’s like telling me to be a different artist,” Luke said.
He hopes to continue his growth as an artist, despite not wanting to make a career out of this passion — instead, he aims to be an orthopedic surgeon. Luke said that he would continue to make music until he no longer has enough time for it and confirmed more music will come soon. He has already begun work on his next mixtape slated to drop next year.
“Look out for Fall/Winter ’16,” he warned.
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