Gimpleg had the pleasure of speaking with Oakland’s Cardboard People. Together they discussed their name, influences, religion throughout their music, their latest single “And Still, I Rise”, and so much more!
1 Hello and welcome to Music Shelf. How are you doing today?
Yunoka: Hey ya’ll !! We’re hanging in there today.
2. My boss is a sentient bottle of mustard, so I’m used to some unusual types of people, but I’ve never met a cardboard person before. What does Cardboard People mean, and where did the name come from?
Yunoka: Cardboard People is everyone and know one. And all of our friends are Cardboard People.
Jim: Yunoka is correct. Many years ago, in another life and another phase of music life, i had a little melody. And my friends around me would sing …”All of my friends are cardboard people”… and eventually i realized that Yunoka & I were the Cardboard People. The song became the song Faster, and we became Cardboard.
3. Your music has R&B, Rap, Pop, Hip Hop, and even Disco and Funk influences. Can you describe what your songwriting process is like?
Yunoka: The songwriting process for us is like taking darts and throwing them to the wall onto pieces of paper with different genres on it. We pretty much write music based on how we feel that day.
Jim: I make a ton of tracks and my head is a music factory. I make things and often sit down with the intention of something for Cardboard People. THen i play them for Yunoka and we see what happens. She also writes and brings in songs from her realm as well. The realm of Mystic Mighty Dragonslayers!
But to be slightly more serious, I love all those genres you mention and always have so much fun creating beats, chord progressions, and feelings, then having a great singer / lyricist to basically sit in a room with, move around and sing out loud and see what’s fun and what feels like music. That’s how you write songs, esp with beats underneath.
4. What music did you grow up listening to and how did your love of music develop?
Yunoka: I grew up listening to so much music. My mom played a lot of R&B, Gospel and House music. My dad played a lot of Hip-Hop and Rock. I listened to Classical and Pop music on my own and my grandparents played a lot of Blues and Country in the house. I been cooing and singing the moment I arrived on planet earth lol. I’ve always worn a pair of headphones. There is literally a picture of me barely one year old with a walkman. I danced before I really sang in front of anyone. Music moved through my body before I vocalized. And the moment I really heard myself after self teaching myself notes on casio and recording it on a cassette had me hooked
Jim: I was addicted to the top 40 and bought a lot of .45 records. I’m an 80s kid and the 80s were amazing. It was the era of synthesizers and drum machines and the world felt like a jukebox to me, and Cardboard People is a jukebox. As a producer i have so many different deep loves musically for so many things it’s too much to get into. All time Personal heroes are probably Barry Gibb & Kate Bush.
5. Your first single, “Bondage” came out in February of 2020, right before the first lockdowns from the pandemic. How did the pandemic impact your direction as a band?
Yunoka: I felt like it gave us time to really develop our live show and sound a bit more. We decided to focus on being an “Internet Band” for the time being and release the body of work we had created as singles. We created “pandemic” videos for almost every single we put out and I think that time of just promoting online help us define our sound, our bands mission, and our overflow for creating music.
Jim: I kinda liked the pandemic. I ran constantly and did alot of remote work and enjoyed not having to do the whole “live” side of my life for a year or two. Being a musician is this constant slingshot back and forth between recording , releasing, and promoting/performing. Taking the performing out was a nice break. We write some great songs on some weird, quiet days. Obviously the pandemic was also really stressful in other ways, but i just took it one day at a time.
6. Typically Cardboard People consists of Yunoka Berry and Jim Greer, but in your live performance promo for your upcoming single “And Still, I Rise” you feature a 4 piece band. How did that come about and are they permanent members of the band or only a part of live performances?
Yunoka: Cardboard People is a modular band, we are everyone and no one. Sometimes you get a two piece, sometimes a 4 piece and hopefully in the future a 10 piece ! lol It’s a very collaborative project and if we could have everyone who collaborated play shows with us, we would.
Jim: I got lucky. I got see Yunoka in another band with Genesis & Rhonda before this band called the Onyx, and they were so bad-ass, i thought to myself “If i can prove to them that i can write music good enough for them to want to play, i’ll consider that a huge win”. I like small personal goals like that. I always want to be proving myself to myself and others who i am in any kind of collaboration with. Now that they will play shows with us when possible, it’s a ridiculous amount of fun to stand there play with such great players and such a great front person. It feels like a huge treat every time.
7. What artist would you most want to collab with?
Yunoka: Our sound is so wacky and genre-bending, I would love to do a track with Tyler The Creator.
Jim: I would like to work with Pharrell or Andre 3000.
8. What artist would you most like to tour with?
Jim : I’d be happy on any tour with a band with soul and vibe . I really like L’Rain, Alice Smith, Aloe Blacc, Cate Le Bon, and other kind of interesting “mid level “ artists who to me are pushing some envelopes musically. I’m not as crazy about pure hip hop acts, or pure pop. I like music to be a little more challenging and intimate if possible, and for the performance to feel pretty spontaneous.
9. A few of your songs have references to religion and some of your videos have religious imagery. What role does religion have in your music?
Yunoka: I think we all grapple with religion at some point of our lives. Regardless of your religion or none for that matter, we all have had questions or questions. Sometimes we get answers, sometimes we don’t. It is such a taboo to talk about it and one thing about me I WILL dive right into taboos. I wrote so many papers in high school and college on religion and spirituality that it makes sense it would show up in my songwriting.
Jim: I have encountered deep religion right in front of me. There is no doubt in my mind that the Sun – the huge star we all see every day and that gives us life.. Is actually God. And that the shape of the Sun is the shape of an Egg. ( more or less). And that from the Egg, life is born. I believe we as humans are unable to comprehend the true nature of “God” as we have called it but can only see or sense the patterns. Patterns like round eggs, spinning galaxies, ripples on a pond, waves crashing. These are the elemental forces of the universe and they are hiding God in plain sight. I do not believe there is a sentient God judging our daily activities, but something far far more mysterious and unknowable and also probably really basic. Like God is probably hidden in a frequency we can’t quite hear, but it’s always turned on. I do think the Sun aka Light is the giver of life, the true God, all powerful being. The interesting thing about stars is that they don’t seem to be sentient. but like everything else, they are born, live and die in a glorious supernova. So they are alive. but we don’t understand what kind of alive they are, because our minds can’t comprehend it.
10. Many of your songs address injustice in the world. What inspires you to write about injustice?
Yunoka: I know as a society we tend to be desensitized to injustices cause every time you are scrolling or watching TV, someone is fighting for the rights to be heard. We can never stop talking about them. I’m a Dark Skinned Black woman, me just existing is political whether I want it to be or not. I would like to live in delusions like everyone else but it’s not my reality. I have to demand space and time to just be human.
Jim: as a white dude with an amazing education and raised to be a critical thinker and live with an open heart and mind, it is clear to me that while i cannot fight injustice alone, and do not have the means to be a full on social justice warrior, through my craft of music and collaboration i can do everything in my power to help marginalized voices be heard. Women and POC have been oppressed for centuries, and it’s women’s voices and often POC voices that i find the most compelling to listen to, and i don’t think that’s a coincidence. Of course there are great white artists too, but I listen for soul and pain and emotion and there’s a lot of that in the voices of the long-oppressed. if humans are going to sing, it should be real, and as i have experienced a lot of tragedy in my life, i get healing from relating to other people singing through their own pain.
11. Up until now you’ve been releasing a lot of singles. When did you decide that you wanted to release a full length album and what can you tell us about the album?
Yunoka: Well, the album signals that we are tying up the work we did with the pandemic. We have so much music and concepts. The band is a modular band and that means the sound is modular as well. The album allows you to see the story with all the singles put together.
Jim: Yes we are finally releasing it all as an album. This is chapter one of Cardboard People, and it feels right to bundle it all up and present it as an album.
12. You are located in Oakland, California. What are some of your favorite things to do in the bay area?
Yunoka: We’re actually based out of Berkeley and I actually live in SF now. I’m a transplant through and through so I really enjoy wandering through the city and finding little charming boutiques and restaurants.
Jim: one of my favorite thing to do is wake up on Saturday or Sunday when the weather’s good and drive over to Crissy Field ( under the GG bridge ) with my 8 year old daughter. If you get there at 9 or so there’s nobody around, and you can frolic on the beach and run around for a couple hours while people start to come out, and it’s just a magical place to just sit on a blanket and watch the weather change and the ships go by and hear the foghorns blow. by the time you leave it’s crowded and there’s no where to park, but you don’t have to deal with any of that if you just get there early. Which is my philosophy in life.. always be early and everything is easier.
13. Your upcoming single, “And Still, I Rise” has some pretty powerful lyrics. Can you tell us anything about what that song means and where it comes from?
Yunoka: the lyrics for this song comes from growing up in the projects and just watching people make a way out of no way. Still live and enjoy life even in poverty. Its a dedication to the ‘hood’ to my family to my city. I was a Black Alternative kid and I got picked on relentlessly for the way I dressed, to skateboarding on the block, to the music I listened to. Black folks will tease you but in the same breath also support you. And although I was even further “othered” so many people from my neighborhood encouraged me to be myself and still root for me, even till this day. I may have been a little weird to them but they believed and had hope in my dreams just as much as I did.
Jim: That’s all Yunoka. I just listen. I started the song with a Sequential Prophet 6 synthesizer playing three chords in this gorgeous arpeggio.
14. Your album comes out March 7, where can people find it and how can people show support for Cardboard People?
Yunoka: We actually pushed back the date to April 7th because we wanted everything to be amazing and perfect and it’ll be on all streaming platforms. You are also able to purchase physical copies directly from us !
Jim: follow us on IG and come to a show. Just know that it exists!