Shawn Wasabi is an anomaly in the music industry, a true creative that screams music prodigy at any given moment. Hailing from Salinas, California, the Filipino-American producer and engineer can sample sounds out of pretty much everything: from his toothbrush or running water to household items such as fruit to even a Lamborghini.
The 26-year-old states, “I make beats. I make mashups. I play on a Midi Fighter 64 controller. I post videos of myself online, making things on non-musical objects sometimes. Kind of like mechanical engineering and MacGyver-ish ingenuity.”
Given his background as a kid taking piano lessons and playing video games, Shawn first exploded onto the internet with the release of “MARBLE SODA”… and the rest was history. As the co-inventor of the Midi Fighter 64, Shawn created a custom fingerboard instrument which pairs directly with his innate talent in being able to sample endless records and turn them into pop smashes.
The music Shawn produces matches his personality to the T: vibrant, colorful, heartfelt, and exuding nothing but positive energy and vibrations. Fast forward to 2021, he unleashes his highly-anticipated debut album titled MANGOTALE, and most recently his newest single titled “i dip”.
Flaunt caught up with Shawn, who was posted in his home in Inglewood. Read below as we discuss his roots in Southern California, his classical musical background, how he got his name, inspo behind MANGOTALE, how “i dip” came together, working with Guapdad 4000 on “Halo Halo” remix, studio essentials, goals, and more!
I heard you can make music out of anything, can you touch on that?
I actually can’t, but I can do most things. If I was ever locked up in prison, I’d know how to escape. [laughs] That’s the type of musical brain I have: understanding how to be resourceful. If I’m camped up in a studio that I don’t recognize, how do I learn how to play the saxophone in the corner that belongs to someone else? It’s probably unsanitary. Being a producer means learning how to use your environment to make music. A lot of what I do is based on the idea of using the studio itself as an instrument.
What was it like growing up in Salinas?
It’s a farm town in the middle of California. It’s on the 101, an hour south of San Jose. We grow 90% of the world’s lettuce. I always tell that to someone every time we eat a burger or something. [laughs] In Salinas, that’s where we grow 90% of the world’s lettuce. I grew up as a really quiet, shy kid in school. I’d be in the library and study. I was also musical, I played piano growing up. When I was 4, I had a toy Casio keyboard that I’d use to learn songs from listening to my mom’s music collection by ear. That’s my musical background, that’s how it started.
What was your mom’s musical collection? Was she super into it as well?
She had a CD collection in this CD tower in the living room made up of Beatles, Jackson 5, Beethoven, Mozart. A split of 70’s type stuff, then she had a bunch of stuff from Beethoven’s best hits, Mozart’s best hits, and other classical violinist. I listened to a lot of that as a young kid. When I played piano as a 4-year-old, it was listening to Beethoven’s “Fur Elise.” I could pick out the notes, I could pick up the melody by ear. That’s what sparked the whole tornado that led to me making music today.
At what point did you realize you could do fit or a living?
I never really realized it. I’ve always had those moments, but it’s always what I wanted to do. I was always set in my mind. I was studying to become a scientist, but then I dropped out of college and started making beats all the time and DJing.
How did your parents feel about that?
Oh no they didn’t like it. They were so mad at me. They were disappointed, but now they appreciate it. My mom’s especially proud of me. She has my music as her ringtone, so that means a lot. That’s a good thing. My mom says “oh well, you turned out great. You did a lot better despite me being strict about your academic upbringing.” [laughs]
How’d you get your name, Shawn Wasabi?
My real name is Shawn Serrano. Serrano, like the spicy pepper. I believe it’s the chipotle pepper before it turns red. When I dyed my hair for the first time 9 years ago, the girl who did my hair, she was learning how to dye hair. She was dying her friend’s hair and when she dyed my hair, it accidentally turned green instead of the blue I wanted. She said “oh it looks like Wasabi,” and that really stuck with me as a defining moment, “Oh, here’s a funny joke that someone told me.” Then my actual last name is a spicy pepper and wasabi’s the alter ego alias of that. Something I could put my music under.
New single “i dip” out now! How are you feeling?
I’m good. I used to be obsessed with checking the numbers on my songs. I remember in the early days, I’d say “ah, ‘Marble Soda’ just got a million views for the first time!” Now I send the songs to the label, they put it out and that’s it. I’m so glad people are responding really well to that song. I’m glad that people like it. Someone said “oh, that song is such a club banger! It’s the perfect thing to listen to when clubs open up again.” [laughs] I appreciate that’s what people get out of it because I make so many beats and some of them are emotional. Some of them are stuff to dance to, I’m glad people appreciate that one.
How does the track represent your growth as a producer?
I was trying to channel back in 2008 when “Like a G6” came out by Far East Movement. The beat for that song is an 808 that’s been heavily distorted. I took that same concept and made my own 6-note melody out of that, where it’s an 808 moving up and down in pitch. It’s distorted and it sounds dope, it happens to sound tight. I put drums over it, I got my friend Chloe George to sing some stuff to it. It was a Voice Memo that we recorded, I put that through a bunch of effects.
It sounds great. I love the rougher, more raw aspects of that particular song because it reminds me of having fun in the studio versus everything having to be crystal clear and mixed down perfectly. As a producer, it’s the growth spiritually. You go through the phases of the producer where you care really deeply about certain things and everything has to be clean and everything has to be perfect. Now I’m at that point where I want to make the beat in 5 minutes and hopefully it’s dope. Hopefully, it’s great. It’s letting myself make mistakes and letting myself click buttons until it sounds good, not being so overly critical about myself all the time. I’m glad it helped me grow in that way.
What changes are you going through on the daily?
I’m cooking more and more. I went to H Mart last weekend, I was gonna make kimchi soup. I’m trying to learn how to make Kimchi soup from this girl I’m talking to, it’s her favorite food. She showed me her own recipe, but I’m trying to learn how to do that. I got loads of food and tofu. I also went to Tokyo Central and bought a pound of Kobe beef. I’ve been learning how to cook more and more often versus getting takeout all the time.
I’ve been getting into a lot of classical music a lot, it’s part of my meditation routine. It’s what I played on the piano growing up. That’s what I started out on, it’s my classical training background. That’s my fundamentals, knowing how classical music sounds and knowing the theory behind it. Also I got some plants recently. I know plants love classical music. Having that playing on my speakers all the time, I like to believe that it helps them grow and become healthy.
Debut album MANGOTALE out now! What’s the meaning in the title? I saw you shed some tears on Instagram.
That was such an emotional process. It’s always hard for me to talk about it. I always had a bunch of songs for an album, but I never had a way of making it cohesive and coherent. From February to May when the lockdown first hit, I was stuck at home all the time. I spent so much of that time making it a point to myself to finish up this project I’ve been working on for the past half decade. I sat on my computer nonstop all day, every day, working on those songs. Mixing them and mastering them in my living room, making sure those beats were perfect.
I look back on it now, I’m glad I got that out the way. I’m glad it’s something I personally enjoy, it’s a labor of love that I put my heart and soul into. You never really get to the point where you’re done, there’s always something new to work on. There’s always new music you always want to create next, there’s always some new goal in mind. That first album is the thing I’ve been wanting to put out my whole life as a musician. Now, I’m still making music all the time. I’m still making beats all the time, but I’m not giving a fuck as much as possible. A lot of the music I’ve been doing recently, it’s still my same style but also a lot more raw emotionally. A lot more me having fun, you know?
Talk about your “Halo Halo” remix with Guapdad 4000 and Chevy.
It’s a Filipino dessert with blueberry and mango ice cream. I love that song so much. I’m so glad that Guapdad jumped on it and did a verse, he killed it. I listened to it on repeat non stop for a whole month, Guapdad’s one of my favorite rappers. He’s also from the Bay Area, he’s from Oakland and he’s also Filipino. I listen to his stuff a lot. He has the Dreamville stuff and he has this new album he put out with !llmind, which I’ve been listening to a lot.
The other feature, Chevy, is one of my favorite musician friends ever. She’s super talented. She does Twitch streams and sings really well, has her own sound. That song has a really cool collaboration between the 3 of us, it’s very dear to my heart because it’s Filipino culture. This is that dessert my mom would make growing up, and we’d get from Jollibee. Now as an adult, I eat it and it’s actually too sweet. [laughs] But as a kid, it’s the best thing ever.
3 things you need in the studio?
Every time I go to the studio, I always bring a case of Topo Chico sparkling water. I always get a candle. There’s always a whole process to this. I bring my MacBook obviously, my backpack with my gear and my Apollo interface. I try to bring a MIDI keyboard sometimes, and my MIDI Fire controller. More recently, I’ve been bringing dark chocolate to the studio and eating it as a snack because it’s good for your brain. My mom eats a lot of dark chocolate, it makes you feel good. It makes you feel more slightly emotionally uninhibited, which helps with the creativity process.
What would you be doing if you weren’t doing music?
I’d be at UCLA. My alternative was going to university and studying Biology. Either that or being good at skateboarding. [laughs] I can’t skateboard, but there’s so many hobbies I get myself into. I’m that type of ADHD creative work where I get obsessed with something new every few months, and that becomes my whole entire personality for a bit.
Do you have any goals for yourself at this point?
I want to get good at classical music again, which I’ve been doing a lot of electronic pop music. Nostalgically, I want to make some stuff that reminds me of what it was like being 4 years old and listening to my mom’s music collection. I’ve been getting back into listening to Tchaikovsky Concerto and finding appreciation for that. I want to get good at piano again. I want to get good at the violin, which I used to play in orchestra. I want to reconnect with musicality, that’s what I’m trying to do.
What can we expect next?
I do have songs that I’m trying to put out. I always have songs in the pipeline that are supposed to come out, but I’m waiting on getting some features cleared. I haven’t been posting on social media a lot. If I do post on social media, it’s me making jokes on Twitter. For now at least, I want to keep most things a surprise. Next time I put music, I want it to drop and whoever appreciates it, appreciates it. If it goes up, then cool.
Anything else you want to let us know?
Listen to my new song “i dip.” Listen to my new stuff when it comes out. Listen to my new project MANGOTALE, IT’s a labor of love that I put my heart and soul into. Check me out on social media. Follow me on Twitter, Instagram, andYouTube.