Get To Know Ashtraypunk [Interview]

Miles Opton

The streets of Brooklyn have been a breeding ground for art and culture since the birth of the city. The streets are littered with creativity from galleries to bookstores to studios. An almost kaleidoscopic landscape of artistic talents, constantly evolving and mixing, makes Brooklyn one of the most important and influential cities to keep track of in the art world. Today, we got a closer look at this evolving landscape, connecting with Greenpoint / Williamsburg’s multifaceted Tony Stewart, AKA Ashtraypunk; A producer, designer, cinematographer, and creative jack of all trades, Ashtraypunk introduced us to the artistic community he calls home. 

How’d you get started making music?

I started making beats when I was about 16 years old. I had a desktop computer at a really young age & that made me super tech savvy so when I first started producing music I wanted to know the ins and outs as far as programming stuff. I remember constantly listening to music & that same year Magna Carta, Yeezus, & Owl Pharaoh came out. I thought those albums were so ahead of their time as far as hip hop. I’m really into boundary-pushing music, I’m going to transcend rap. 

Can you tell us more about your cinematography? 

I began filming at 12 years old with those point-and-shoot cameras. My mother would have them in her room & I would take them without telling her. I used to huddle up all my friends & we would trespass, walk the train tunnels, bother police, etc. Similar to producing music, my ability to go crazy on the computer helped me edit & sequence all our footage. I would color grade the hell out of them & really approach them as a film. I still have a lot of those videos & bring them up when I feel like having a good laugh. The masks used for the visuals were designed by JiggyBlvnco (BVNDO) & I shot the entirety of “Wanderlust” with MHDollas & Lu Banga. My dawg Deesmoove is briefly in the video too.

And your product design?

I believe my visual practice introduced me to product design. I was always into how the way things looked. I never thought of it as product design until I got much older & sophisticated. Growing up me & my mother would have these little arguments about certain products because she owned buildings & would always have me with her in these interior shops. She said I would always rant about the things I didn’t like. I think being able to differentiate things you’re into & aren't into helps you understand yourself a little more. Fasho. 

Coat designed by Scott

Who or what are your biggest creative influences?

Jean-Michel Basquiat, Maya Angelou, Steve Jobs, Tupac Shakur. There’re so many people I can name. Finding out about youtube at 10 years old really broadened my ways of learning about them all. I would watch interviews & read whatever article I could find about them at the time. I was really into knowing why they carried themselves the way they do & why they made certain decisions. Why Basquiat went from writing into painting. Why Tupac went from drama to rap. How Steve Jobs merged science & the arts. How Maya Angelou would speak & articulate herself. I had this affinity for wanting to know about everyone's creative process. 

There’s clearly a community aspect to your last project, Wanderlust, what’s your vision behind the piece? (Tell me a bit more about the artistic community in Williamsburg, Brooklyn.)

My neighborhood here in Brooklyn is constantly flourishing with creatives! It’s been super gentrified but I learned to embrace it. I had the opportunity at a young age to be around & witness other creatives like Martine Ali & Cavier Coleman back when they were here at West St studios. There’s a new condominium being built every other day here but there are still studios & lofts that are occupied by artists who remain in the neighborhood. It’s super classist sometimes. There would be times I would collaborate with people with little to no resources & other times with creatives who do have the resources. I wanted to bridge that gap. No biases, just good creativity. 

I wander around a lot! Almost to an extreme. I usually end up meeting so many different people by stopping by friends' art studios, galleries, libraries, music studios, conferences, live events, etc. I was recently at Washington Square Park & I walked right into this chamber music organization across the street! I met this woman who helped me direct these violins for a song. Johan Lenox had told me about the significant overlap between Violins & Cellos. She was the one who would help me interpret that. 

How did everyone get involved?

I normally create everything on my own first. Working in solitude sometimes gives you this intense focus you can’t achieve with others. I curate the sound & visual designs on my own until I feel like it’s cohesive enough to share and work on with others. It can be sporadic. After that process is over I collaborate with other designers, photographers, songwriters, filmmakers. Sometimes my friends will suggest artists they’ve seen or met that we should work with. I was always moving from A to B trying to accentuate what we’re doing with whoever would help. That is where the word “Wanderlust” comes in. This innate urge to be somewhere all the time. Spending countless nights losing sleep wanting to make the best product wherever possible. 

Is there any significance behind the robotic figures in your brand?

I’m a huge fan of art created by cinema4D because you can create an entirely different reality. That program has no limits. Those robotic figures skyscraping the city is an example of that. It was originally going to be one robotic figure but this was before Glocky Ortiz began to really start producing for the project & became like an A&R for it. Super grateful for that guy, that’s my right-hand man. Me, NTGYC, & ArrogantKei designed most of the graphics used for the music.

Tell me about how you got involved with Keyon Christ, Steven Smith, and Abstract Mindstate? 

I came across Keyon on SoundCloud when I was in college. He only had one song & that song blew my damn mind away. It still does!  It’s called “Gods of the City”. Since then I would always talk to him & he talks very cryptically. I really think that man is from the future. Plus he got to smoke with Rihanna & James Fauntleroy.

There used to be blogs like reddit online that I would visit & through there I had found out who designed the new balance 574, Steven Smith. It wasn’t until he started working at Yeezy that he started putting himself out there more & became more omnipresent. I reached out to him & I would always send him designs that weren’t always by me but just shoe designs I’d come across. The first thing he ever said to me was that my handle Ashtraypunk reminds him of someone named Captain Beefheart. I thought that was pretty hilarious. 

Abstract Mindstate (Olskool Ice-Gre & EP Da Hellcat) are these two legends from Chicago who can rap their asses off. They’re signed to Yeezy Sound. Kanye used to work with them almost two decades ago & Greg was an A&R at G.O.O.D Music. Ye brought them back together when he decided to produce their entire album last year. He said Kanye made them like 100 beats. That’s insane! They had this viewing of their documentary & I tried sneaking in, to no avail. This was before I ever spoke with him. I told Steven Smith about my attempt at getting in & he offered to let Greg know that I wanted to go. It all could've been so simple. I can be overly ambitious sometimes haha

Magazine designed by Tony Stewart

What have you learned from them?

When I produce music it's always about the feeling I get first. The vibe, the way it makes me feel & think. Keyon has synesthesia so he sees sound & I think that definitely shows in his designs. The way the drums hit & the way the synths are automated. He showed me that producing music can be a unique visual experience but on a godly level.

I’m a design enthusiast & I can rant about it all day. When I come across a design sometimes I will send it to Steven Smith if it’s compelling enough. I remember seeing the Nike Go FlyEase & asking him about it. He broke it down for me, the functionality of its design. I’ll go to him about things like that & also send him designs before I even publish them because I really value his opinion. He’s a legend! He’s up there with people like Tinker Hatfield!

Greg from Abstract Mindstate is super insightful. You can distinguish that by even listening to their music. We were working on these designs for some of the songs they’ve done & after that I told him what my intentions were creatively for my team. He gave me props for my approach & told me “It’s about being a part of something and not always about a quick come up.” That was his mindset when he first positioned himself with Ye 22 years ago. 

In a few words, how would you describe your music?

Illustrious, important, amazing. It’s always hard to describe my music but I definitely approach it with delusions of grandeur. I always have this urge to innovate but still wanting to resonate with people. I feel like the city has its own sound right now but I also feel like it’s missing that theatricality. Those same nuances that I gravitated towards growing up. I think the last artist to represent that here on a high level was A$AP Rocky

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