A Conversation with Asha Imuno: The 'Pins & Needles' of Personal Growth [Interview]

Brooks Finby
Nani Garcia

If I had to pick one thing that stood out most from my conversation with Asha Imuno, it would be his humbleness. He speaks gently and thoughtfully, choosing his words carefully. It was immediately apparent that the 22-year-old artist is the kind of person who would rather celebrate others than himself. Yet, his latest album PINS & NEEDLES is a body of work that is easy to brag about. It’s a richly detailed, cohesive project that seamlessly flows from one fantastic track to another, painting a colorful, multifaceted portrait of a life in flux. The project has been in the works for years, weaving together the full range of his life experience through the highs and the lows. I spoke with Asha via Zoom to dive deeper into the meaning of PINS & NEEDLES, his creative process, and his perspective on appreciating life in the “full 360.” 

[This interview has been edited for length and clarity.]

How did being raised in Moreno Valley shape your sound? What did you grow up listening to with your family?

It’s definitely shaped my sound to be somewhere where there’s not a definitive sound or style that people are accustomed to. It’s a melting pot of sounds from the Bay Area and LA, but also there’s a big punk scene there too. Everyone’s trying to find what they want to grasp onto sonically. 

When I was little, I was out in LA a lot because my grandparents and cousins were all there, like Watts and Inglewood. I was getting exposed to P-Funk and G-funk as a kid. That’s where “ZIG ZAGGING” comes from – that bounce. My pops was also a huge hip-hop head, so I grew up listening to Wu-Tang and Busta Rhymes. Classic, 90s-era hip-hop was in my ears before I even knew I liked it. Also, funk, soul, and classic R&B stuff too: Isley Brothers, Gap Band, Erykah Badu, Mary J. Blige.

Do you think being involved in jazz and marching band during school influenced your sound significantly?

That was the foundation, for sure. I first started creating music as a composer. Before I was in GarageBand, I was in MuseScore doing film score composition as a hobby. It made my ear inclined to more cinematic, more anthemic types of layering. With the music I’ve been making recently, it feels like I’m bringing it back home. I’m merging hip-hop and R&B with jazz and bossa nova sounds that I was practicing trying to learn how to play instruments growing up.

What was it like moving to LA at nineteen to pursue your music career? 

It was seamless, honestly. I was lucky enough to have my closest friends waiting for me out here. We were all around the same age trying to figure out what to do with music. At the same time, it was a completely different pace. But it was what I needed to grow. At home, I wasn’t really finding my tribe. When I moved out here, we were all chasing the same thing together, trying to get into the studio. It was my equivalent of a college experience. I feel lucky that I had that kinship.

Why did you choose the title PINS & NEEDLES? What does it symbolize to you?

PINS & NEEDLES deals with development and growing pains, that duality. In order for you to appreciate the full experience of life, you have to experience every aspect of it: the celebration and joy, and the self-doubt and pain too. The title comes from being stuck and what you have to do to get unstuck. It’s meant to be danced to. When you’re stuck, you have to literally get up and move.

This project is meant to empower people to embrace what’s hard for them to embrace; to give people permission to be the full 360 of themselves, rather than one specific part that they feel is easiest for them or others to digest. Over the course of working on it, the meaning has changed somewhat, but at its core, PINS & NEEDLES paints a picture about what it’s like to grow and change in all aspects of life.

On the track “BULLSEYE,” you mention your older brother’s incarceration. If you’re comfortable talking about it, how did that impact you and what would you say to kids dealing with the impacts of the prison system in their families?

Man, it feels like a blow to the heart – especially when it happens for the first time or when you’re young. You have no control. You know that this person is so much more than just a moment, that they can do better, yet their entire life can be taken away from that single moment. These systems have to be changed. There needs to be an emphasis on creating new ones, whether that’s more opportunities for rehabilitation or finding an income after you get out.

It’s hard to speak on incarceration unilaterally because every situation is different. But it impacts the family structure. For me and my family, we had to re-group. I have a baby nephew, so thank god my brother got out of that situation. He didn’t have a pops, so it can be cyclical in that way. 

It was definitely a wake-up call for me. I was in a situation where that could have been me. I was at the edge of a lifestyle that I couldn’t get any further from. I realized I was trying to be someone I was not. That lifestyle can go a lot of different ways for different people. Some people lose their lives. That’s the side of it that we don’t see; when motherfuckers want to talk about how cool it is to crash out and not pay attention to any of the repercussions, it leads to broken families and broken dreams. We have to pay more attention to that side of things.

Thank you for that answer. I know it’s a difficult question, but my hope is that someone feels seen and heard reading this.
Transitioning back to the album, which track do you feel most proud of and which did you have the most fun making?

The one I had the most fun making for sure was “DO u WANNA BE HIGH?” I’ve always wanted to make a really funky, soulful, and groovy callback to Parliament-Funkadelic and Outkast. I wanted to make a pocket that you could just sit in and dance. It’s one of the shortest songs on the album, but it awakened a whole new palette for me that I didn’t know I could occupy before. It came from me and Solomon Fox freestyling in the garage studio of the Kogo home. It’s probably the most stream-of-conscious track off the album. 

The one I’m most proud of is a tougher question because there’s different shades of expression across the album. But, honestly I would have to say “PUSHING BUTTONS.” It hit all the targets of the music I love. It’s a holistic expression of who I am.

I always like hearing about that stream-of-conscious creative process. That flow state is so magical. It’s why I think jazz is the highest form of music, artistically speaking.

I definitely agree. You go to a different place. Your spirit leaves for a second. Have you seen the movie Soul?

Yeah, it’s one of my favorites! I love Soul.

Same. They captured that experience so well. When you lock into that state, it’s a divine thing.

So what do you hope fans take away from this project?

I hope it’s an appreciation for the full range of experiences, sensations, feelings, and conversations that come with life. I was very intentional about trying to convey the top and bottom of the wave of my experience. Especially at a time where kids are the most overstimulated they’ve ever been, it’s easy to fixate and idealize one specific way of being. I think a lot of PINS & NEEDLES is an embrace of what is, whether that’s positive or negative. All aspects of life. I want people to be able to live with it when they feel like they’re on the top of a mountain, or when they just got done crying, or when they are getting home from a long day at work. I want to accentuate each feeling because they all deserve appreciation and introspection.

Could you tell me more about being a part of KOGO and GUIN records? 

With GUIN, the relationship has been fire. Everyone genuinely gives a fuck there, you know? We have meaningful conversations, and they give real feedback. The support they have shown throughout everything has been amazing. I’m excited about what we’re about to do next.

KOGO is a community of artists and multi-disciplinary creatives. They’re also my closest friends. It’s been instrumental to everything that I am as a creative and as a human. KOGO is home for me, not just in the physical space. We’re all sounding boards for each other's ideas. Especially in the incubation phase, where artists are trying to figure out their sound, KOGO provided that college-like experience. It’s dedicated to creating avenues for artists to build community. 

My live event series, WAITINGROOM, is a community event about creating intersectional spaces for different mediums of art and housing the community to celebrate all together. We’re about to do the third installation. Each time, the community grows and we see new iterations of everybody’s world. The way we look. How we feel. Who we’re bringing to the event. It’s a place for people to connect. 

A community like KOGO is extremely rare. It genuinely doesn’t exist anywhere else in music culture. I feel blessed to be a part of it.

Which rising artists are you most excited about in 2024? Who’s on your playlist right now?

I’m really excited about Chenayder. She’s so hard. Her voice is unlike anything I’ve heard before. She’s also mad young, so it’s wholesome to see her come up.

I’m a massive Mk.gee fan. Two Star & The Dream Police is incredible—

It’s so good! I’ve had it on repeat. It’s almost heavenly at times.

His sonic palette is so reminiscent of big band 70s stuff, but it’s also a fresh new take with hints of electronic production. I can nerd out about it. It’s one of my favorite albums to come out recently. 

CONNIE too. He’s completely in the future. He’s also my dawg. We have “Watch My Step” together on the album. He’s about to do some really crazy shit.

There’s a lot of really fire music coming out of Lagos. Yarden is really hard. He has this song “Wetin” that I’ve been running over and over again. This dude 2face Pronto is just coming up, but his shit is so tough. It’s like drum-and-bass meets juke meets trap. It doesn’t make sense how good he is with how early he is in his career. 

Oh, oh—454. I have to mention 454! He’s one of my favorites. I’ve been listening to his album Fast Trax 3 over and over again. A lot of my newer stuff has a similar energy.

Finally, what’s next for you in 2024?

Beyond WAITINGROOM 3, I’m going on a support tour with Berhana, my first ever. I’m looking forward to performing more. I want to continue to drop more of the music I’ve been cooking up. I’m excited about all the collaborations I have in the works too. I want to be up in everybody’s session, even just as a fly on the wall. I want to watch the world grow bigger this year. 

Asha Imuno’s new album PINS & NEEDLES is available now on all streaming platforms.

Copy Link

Related Articles