Music, at its best, always tells a story. Whether it’s a romantic classic from the 1800s or the latest Top 40 hit, the songs that last are those that connect with listeners via their universal stories. And for the past twenty years, recording artist Abel Okugawa has been doing just that, creating his own unique blend of electronic music that fuses urban flavors together with natural, organic elements to tell his own musical story, using the hidden intricacies of sound and rhythm to bring life to each and every one of his projects.
The arts came naturally to Okugawa who was born into a very artistic and musical home to parents who were actors. Both graduates of the prestigious Carnegie Mellon University, his parent’s work in theater and film were a huge influence in his understanding of story. His father’s love of music played a key role too, Okugawa growing up seeing his father playing bass, banjo, and guitar in multiple bands through the years.
His parent’s lifestyles also led to some interesting influences as well. He shares, “When I was six years old, my mother was touring about with Robert Frippe and the League of Crafty guitarists. She had become an Alexander Technique teacher by this time and she took me along with her to Germany for a week while she taught…Being in that atmosphere with musicians living and studying together with Robert, playing music day and night, made its impression on me.”
Building on those influences, Okugawa began working on his own material at the age of twelve, working at multi tracking sounds in his father’s small studio in their home. Band experience would follow as he entered into high school and when he stumbled upon his first drum machine, the Roland MC303, the artist’s path began to take form.
“I began at 14 making beats,” Okugawa offers, “Performing at warehouse parties and art shows in Virginia and New York. I was fortunate enough to be able to study first hand with people working in the field and created circumstances in which I could experiment and practice my growing skills with intensity, learning how to experiment with what makes the right conditions for each artist to achieve their best work while recording.”
Those experiences led to a myriad of great opportunities for the artist, seeing him try on multiple musical hats. Among those hats was a five year stint in New York City which found him building custom studios in Times Square, one of which, a personal studio for Funkmaster Flex, that was featured in Source Magazine. Producing and engineering opportunities also came his way, finding him working with clients such as Tom Peloso of Modest Mouse, Craig Honeycutt of Everything, and JOMF of Portland Fame. Not limited to music, he also developed his video design skills and more while working for Filament Production, working on projects for high profile acts like Dave Matthews, Zac Brown, and Enrique Iglesias.
Along the way, Okugawa continued working on his own music, releasing his first independent vinyl record in 1999, and collaborating with other artists such as his wife, Red Flower Lake, on tracks like “Winds,” her haunting lyrical notes merging with his unique blend of Dub, Trip Hop, and Electronica. As his music catalog developed, he then began to license out tracks under the auspices of his own Music Composition and Licensing business. The artist’s keen attention to detail, professional demeanor, and signature storytelling within his music quickly began to draw work from outdoor sports companies like The North Face and Red Bull, a variety of commercials, and in extreme action climbing and base jumping videos.
Not limited to commercial sounds, Okugawa has also had the opportunity to score music for the big and small screen. After composing the score for the Emmy Award winning King Lines in 2008, the artist’s work on Mantra the next year won the award for “Best Film Score” at the Dark Carnival Film Festival. Additionally, the artist’s portfolio boasts his score on several films having won the BANFF Festival’s highest honors while he’s worked as sound designer and mixer for Boyd Tinsley’s celebrated film, Faces in the Mirror.
Yet as his success continues and his brand grows, Abel Okugawa is not content to sit back and rest. He continues to wrestle and explore with his music, seeking to find new sounds and new textures to help draw out emotion within the story of his music and life. For Okugawa, music is about more than just a paycheck; it’s a spiritual experience and he invites you to come along and search out the Muse with him.