Jock Nowell-Usticke, aka BAYNK, was at a festival in Budapest called Sziget when he found out he was playing Laneway. He’d left to “get food and wallow”, and was in the middle of a supermarket when a text came through from [Laneway producer] Mark Kneebone. “I lost my shit and started screaming,” he laughs. “People thought I’d gone crazy.”
Jock speaks quickly, nervously, and laughs often. He stares into space when he talks. He is easily distracted. Halfway through our interview Jock thinks he sees a friend in St Kevin’s Arcade and stands up to call her name across the cafe, when she doesn’t look up he sits down in a rush. “Maybe it isn’t her,” he mutters. He calls her name again. “It looks so much like her though…” He finds a picture of the mystery friend on facebook and shows it to me, “do you think it’s her?” Could be.
A year ago, the now 23 year old was finishing a degree in Chemical Engineering at Canterbury Uni and heading home to Hawkes Bay for the summer. “I hated engineering, it’s just not for everyone” he explains, adding, “Dad wasn’t going to let me drop out.” When Jock was little, his mum used to get him out of bed early five or six days a week to practice the piano. “She doesn’t even play any musical instruments, and she’d just sit there and watch me do scales.”
His interest in electronic music came from artists like Flume, who has “always been” one of his favourite artists. Jock was at Uni playing in bands when he first stumbled across the Australian producer, who influenced his move from live instruments to just his computer. “I love that I can make a whole song with just my laptop and maybe a microphone,” he explains. “I can just be on a bus or on a plane, feel inspiration strike…”
His music-making process seems much less a result of spontaneity as one of sheer will. While working at Craggy Range winery over the summer of 2015, Jock came home each night and wrote the beginning of a song until the early hours of the morning. The next night he’d make another song. At the end of a fortnight he picked the incomplete song he liked best and worked to finish it. That was how his first track, Sundae, came to be.
These writing sprees are a method of working he read about on the internet. Kanye West allegedly did something similar, three summers of five beats a day. Jock may be an affable guy, all shrugs and self-doubt, but his drive to succeed strikes me as quite formidable.
When Jock finished working and started travelling, he left Sundae on Soundcloud. The track now has more than 35,000 plays, and it’s the reason for his discovery and inclusion in the Laneway line-up. He’s recently followed it with a new summer tune, Could You, and accompanying video, shot and edited by himself using a chair as a tripod. It was filmed in a dream house in Nice, France, with a friend and his mum. It’s silly and fun, somehow both a celebration and parody of privilege.
Jock talks in a stream of consciousness, oscillating between bravado and self-deprecation. “Is it cocky to listen to your own music? He asks me, “I’ve always got it in my iPhone because I want to try it on different sorts of systems, and my friends are like, ‘you loser, stop playing your own tracks.’”
The music industry is crowded and daunting when you’re starting out. “People like me are so reliant on blogs and social media, and it’s so crowded and so pushy… I really wanted to get some of my new songs premiered with big blogs,” he explains, “it’s kind of awkward because you see how long they listen to them for. So I sent two songs, and they got listened to for ten seconds.” He pauses, “I need to work on the start of my songs.” He laughs, but he isn’t joking.
In all Baynk imagery, Jock’s face is covered – with images of ice cream, of palm trees – the things the tracks make him think about. “Originally I loved the whole idea of anonymity, obviously I’ve completely lost track of that because there are photos of me everywhere.” Our conversation is filled with big sentences like this one, in which he’s already thinking leaps and bounds bigger than the current moment. “I think it’s really cool to have the person disconnected from the music. I’ve always wanted for the music to be the main focus, not the person, but then I know that if you want to be big, your fans have to know you.”
With his next breath, he returns to the territory of the humble and unsure. “I want my music to stand alone by itself. I’d love to do an album. I’d love to have a whole body of work, but I think I’m too new to the production thing, I need another 1-2 years to have my own signature sound. I think I’ll just keep releasing singles, until it gets more focused.”
See BAYNK at Laneway Festival on Monday 1st of February at Silo Park.
He’s playing in the Thunderdome at 3.10pm. There are still a few tickets left.