When I first heard about Steve Aoki in the mid- to late 1990s, from friends of mine (colleagues of his) at UC Santa Barbara, the future mixologist to the stars was simply described as the son of Benihana founder Rocky Aoki and the brother of supermodel Devon Aoki, who threw great parties at his Isla Vista apartment, popularly known as the Pickle Patch. The festivities have expanded, taking Aoki around the world and bringing him incredible opportunities such as collaborations with DJs Armand Van Helden, Tiesto, and Diplo, and remixing for Kanye West, Drake, and Robin Thicke.
Caught between his current Aokify America tour and the upcoming release of his sophomore LP, "Neon Future," the DJ/producer mixed it up with Download.com about his new single, his current tour, his favorite apps, how his college days inform his music today, and the most difficult thing he's ever had to overcome.
What can you tell us about the "Bring You To Life (Transcend)" single?
You know, I put out the instrumental version of the record earlier this year, and it was called "Transcend." And I've been trying to find the right lyric with the right touch to it, and Raz, who's a top writer I've worked with for a while now, really centered it and made it exactly what I was looking for.
The message is also exactly what I'm looking for, about bringing people to life with music. So it's a really positive track and also musically something I've really wanted to expand on, because I've been known to put out really club-raging bangers, and this is a different kind of sound. To have a more vocal progressive record just made more sense.
You're currently out on the Aokify America tour. How has that been going?
It's been incredible, and I'm really excited, because Pharrell Williams is on four of the dates of the tour. It's just a stellar lineup with Borgore and Waka Flocka, and I'm having the time of my life, touring with this great group of guys.
When I was in college, two of my closest friends went to UCSB, while you were there, and I kept hearing stories about your now-legendary Pickle Patch parties.
When I was going to school there, it was probably one of the most politically active campuses of all the UC schools. I was part of a student group of people who were just handling business -- doing, executing, and organizing on so many levels. I was so inspired in so many areas, and it was just a great time for me to be a sponge and soak in everything.
I read on Wikipedia that you majored in sociology and feminist studies.
It's sort of accurate. I majored in women's studies. I was a highly politicized student, and the most radical department at school at the time that made the most sense was women's studies. With school, you first find your way, meaning your colleagues, and then later on, I became friends with the professors -- hanging with them, talking with them -- and they treat you more on their level when you actually do your work and read your sh#t, and you participate and then get more involved.
It's not just about being in school; it's about really engaging and learning and taking it outside the classroom and doing real work. So professors would ask me to take their classes. It was really hands-on and a really great time. I was reading and writing and being a part of my community, which is a big part of where I am right now.
What did you hope to gain from those majors?
Well, at the time, I was planning to stay in school, and I applied to 15 graduate education programs, so my intention was to get my graduate degree or a PhD and do community work and research. But I had to make a decision, because I was putting on shows in my living room (that you heard about from your friends) and throwing crazy parties, and I started my label in college, and I was like, "Do I stay in school? Do I do the music thing? Well, both don't make any money, so it doesn't really matter." I wasn't making a decision based on economic growth. I was making a decision based on my love and my passion.
And I got accepted into schools, but I had to go where my heart was, which is music. You can do all these things through music, so I think, in the end, I made the right decision, because this is where my heart lies and my strength lies. You know what they say: "You go with your strengths."
Sell us on the Steve Aoki app and the Steve Aoki's Aokify app.
The Steve Aoki app is an all-encompassing app, constantly updated with info on my shows, music, and photos. It's more for the fans who want to find out more about me. The Aokify app is a sticker app where it's got over 200 or 300,000 users, and you just download stickers and put them on your photos. And it's not just my hair. It can be facial hair, T-shirts, bikini tops, or a million other stickers to turn your photos into a party. It's fun and people love it. It's really cool.
These days, what is your DJ software of choice?
For producing, I use Ableton, and for DJing, I use Serato Video. During my show -- unless I'm doing back-to-back sets with other DJs, for which I just bring a USB to make it easy -- I use Serato Video, because I'm playing real-time video with my songs live, so it's an incredible software you can use where you can have video playing with your music.
I'm assuming you have an iPhone and an iPad?
Yes, I do.
While on the Aokify America tour, do you ever use any apps to stay in touch with people back home?
Yeah, what a good question. I really like these app questions, because no one asks me about these. Skype, FaceTime, text and call my mom and family, and stuff like that. I'm very simple, not too advanced on the apps. But I always want to learn what the better app is.
Of the popular music discovery apps, do you have a preference between iTunes, Pandora, Spotify, and Rdio?
Spotify is my source. Spotify is the way I listen to music that I don't have on my iPhone. I use it every day.
You've led a very charmed life, in most regards. What stands out as the most difficult moment in your life thus far?
Well, yeah, when my father passed away it was very difficult -- and not just for myself, but also for the family and all the people that he touched. He was really an incredible human being, very philanthropic and so generous, and I still deal with it. Anytime that your mom or dad dies, it's always hard.
What's next for you?
My next project is my new album, "Neon Future, " which will be coming out sometime next year and is filled with incredible collaborators. More singles will drop in the meantime, but if people want to stay in touch with my music, they can follow me on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook.
Check out the "Bring You To Life (Transcend)" music video with Richard Simmons here: