WUNDERWORLD Domination: An Interview With Aries

Aries gained a following with how-to videos for musicians on YouTube and evolved into a genre-bending artist with a hardcore fan base. So, what's next?

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Aries is the first astrological sign in the zodiac—a symbol of fire. Aries is also the moniker of the Los Angeles-based, Orange County-raised multi-hyphenate whose real name is up for debate. Surrounded by flames, Aries struck a deal that ignited something in him. “When you first get into music, when you really get into it, you sign a deal,” he tells me over our Transatlantic video call. “Everything I do outside of music is somehow still connected to music and I can’t escape that. Not that I want to, but it’s as if I signed a deal with the music devil and he’s like okay, everything you do now has to be for this music thing.”

Aries took this to heart, cultivating his own eclectic musical persona. The 22-year-old released his debut album WELCOME HOME via his own independent label WUNDERWORLD in 2019, and followed with two singles in late 2020, “FOOL’S GOLD” and “CONVERSATIONS." With a genre-agnostic ethos, Aries' skill set ranges from singing and producing to directing and illustration, and he is intent on fulfilling his pact by establishing an entire creative world around his music. When I ask what he wants to achieve, the answer is simple: “WUNDERWORLD domination.”

On our video call, Aries sits reclined against a neutral sofa in a minimalist room. His fish tanks linger on the edge of the frame, a piece of the sea, a constant source of inspiration and childhood comfort transported into his home. Later in our call, he leans forwards, eyes shining. He looks around the room, weighing up the size in comparison to his childhood bedroom—the place he started to make music. Reminiscing, he recalls nights spent at the beach and it’s evident how much has changed. 

A fascination with alternative music led Aries to commit his thoughts to lyrics long before he thought of himself as a career artist. He pauses when he thinks back, hints of fondness and embarrassment arising out of nostalgia over middle school years spent “getting high and doing freestyle raps with the homies.” Even before this, it was in elementary school where he began to experiment with creating videos inspired by the developing YouTube scene. This early interest would later serve Aries as he navigated the digital landscape, garnering attention and a dedicated following from his YouTube channel.

“I’ve tried many things to become successful on YouTube,” he explains. He initially focused on an episodic series before introducing his how-to video: an array of visuals which dissected and recreated the production behind popular records on the verge of taking off. It wasn’t long before they gained traction, bringing in millions of views and attracting a community. Surrounded by music lovers and creatives, it became the ideal environment for the young artist's pivot to releasing original music.

Now, Aries is determined to keep alive the sense of community that has been a hallmark since his YouTube days. Two years on from the remix contest of his debut album's “SAYANORA,” he reintroduced a similar competition for new single “CONVERSATIONS,” with 10,000 people signing up and over 1,000 entries.

As he gears up towards new releases, we caught up with Aries to discuss his journey so far—growing up on the internet, YouTube’s influence, the WELCOME HOME tour, WUNDERWORLD, and more—in his first ever editorial interview.

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Tell me what an Orange County upbringing looks like.
An Orange County upbringing is probably the best kind of upbringing you can have as a kid, it’s almost like a perfect world. A lot of stuff there is super polished: the whole county is basically a suburb. As a kid growing up, that’s like a perfect world because you can go outside at three in the morning and you’d be good. There really wasn’t anything to worry about there so it was very safe. But in my later years I’ve realized there are hella Trump supporters there too, lots of white conservative people. Even the kids in my high school, you’d think it’s just the parents, but a lot of the time it was like, “Oh these motherfuckers are racist.”

What did the local music scene look like?
This is a great question because I’ve always wanted to talk about this. With everyone that did music over there, I feel like no one did it together. Everyone was always super lowkey about it and no one helped each other. I was never part of any community with my own music. I heard about my friends in their cliques where they come from, or you’ll see a lot of similar artists come out of the same area kind of knowing each other, but I have none of that. There was no teamwork back there. I was doing my own thing all the time and whoever else was always doing their own thing—they usually sucked, but so did I at the time! 

No one really supports that creative work over in Orange County. Whereas LA, even growing up I knew I needed to get out there eventually because people are very accepting. It’s much more of a creative playground.

If it wasn’t for a local scene around you, how would you find new music growing up?
Spotify. It was before they had a "fans also like" section so it just said "related artists" and it was always on the side of big artists' pages. So I would just go and find an artist I’d like, listen to all of their songs and then go through the related artists. Back in high school is when I found the most music I’ve ever found. When I’d go to school, I was always listening to music. I always had one earphone in and chances are I’m probably paying more attention to that than whatever else is going on.

Do you think growing up there has influenced your sound, or really just who you are as a person?
Yeah, I definitely think it has. No doubt about it, If I’d grown up in LA I’d probably have like a… Damn, that’s actually really weird to think about. I feel like I would have a slightly different sound. I think in Orange County I didn’t live too far from the beach and so I was getting a lot of influence from there. Just the vibe. When someone hears a song I want them to feel the best things of what I felt.

I picked up a lot on that sea imagery throughout your songs.
Yeah exactly, I love the water. I don’t live too close to the water anymore. Even if you’re not overlooking it, if you ask someone who lives twenty minutes away from the water, you can literally feel the water. If you live somewhat close to it for long enough, if you’re gone from it you can feel that it’s missing—and I lowkey feel that. There’s just something about being close to a body of water. 

I remember nights where I just needed to get out of my room. I’d always go to the beach, even alone, sit there, and try to have the sound of the water wash away whatever I was feeling. Even at night time, I’d drive through the beach or park and just let the vibes of that city seep in. At night time it gets quiet and it feels like there’s not one person in the city. The thing is with LA there’s always some activity. Over there, you wouldn’t even see one car and it felt like there was just no one watching, it was very cool.

I read that alternative rock was one of your earliest inspirations. Who stood out?
The first band I ever personally got into was Linkin Park. And they’re still like my go-to band you know, I love them for life. I guess this isn’t really alternative rock but System of a Down and just bands like that.

What was it about Linkin Park that grabbed you?
Um, let me tell you the real shit. Before I had my own taste in music, it was always my Dad playing music. I was a big fan of Naruto--it was right when I moved to California so I must have been eight years old. I watched a lot of Naruto and then I would google on my Dad’s computer ‘Naruto music.’ This was when AMVs [anime music video] were starting to happen.

I didn’t know this but technically the first AMV ever was the music video for Linkin Park's “Breaking The Habit.” And then after that came this huge wave of people putting Linkin Park songs to like actual anime series and it was the crazy fight scenes and stuff. I remember just watching the ones with Naruto. So I found Linkin Park through looking up Naruto music and there’d be all these AMVs which I’d listen to like, oh shit.

What did your family think about your decision to pursue music?
It was a very slow burn. I was putting out music but my parents had never listened to it much because it sucked for such a long time. I think it was after I started gaining fans that they saw other people liked it and then they liked it too. [Laughs] Nah I’m dead serious, they never said one thing about my music until then. I mean I would show them but now if I go over to the house they’re listening to my music. They never did that before.

Where did the fascination with music begin?
My fascination with music began when I was watching a Linkin Park live in Texas DVD. I’d watch them perform live on stage and I just really wanted to do that. That was around third or fourth grade. And then I’d say around my middle school years I was getting high and doing freestyle raps with the homies. Did that, and then I was like oh maybe I can try this out on random beats. I was picking Dr. Dre beats on YouTube and making songs to them. [Laughs

By the time high school came along when I was 14 and a very anxious kind of homebody. I was producing my own stuff—all of that sucks in retrospect. But it was like I was always going to be at home from how anxious I was and so I guess it was a great time to kick off that music career of mine, whether I knew it at the time or not. I think it was both the best coping mechanism and first taste of everything. 

Was there anything before music that you wanted to do? 
Sometimes I just write this question off but… No, I don’t think there was before music. But during my music process, I didn’t even want to produce music to be honest, I really just wanted to perform on stage like Linkin Park did in that Live in Texas DVD. I realized I've got to make music and no one around me knew how to do it so I had to learn myself, so I did that. But along my music path I’d say I realized that I wanted to be creative in other areas as well, things like design, doing voice acting, and one day acting. I have no actual acting skills at all but I feel like I could pass as a decent voice actor right now. And video! I’m completely forgetting about video.

I didn’t even want to produce music to be honest, I really just wanted to perform on stage like Linkin Park did in that Live in Texas DVD. I realized I've got to make music and no one around me knew how to do it so I had to learn myself.

Tell me more about how you got into the YouTube side of things.
I mean I’ve tried many things to become successful on YouTube. The how-to ones were the ones that kicked off, but I had a series on there prior to that where I had episodes. And those are all gone now. But I tried many things.

Now that times have changed and you’re recognized increasingly outside of YouTube, what do you plan to do with your channel?
I mean I’ve kind of neglected it so I do want to come back in a way but not overstep my boundaries. I still want to be able to focus on my music but I do want to utilize that platform. 

What’s your relationship with fans like? Do you find there’s a difference in the relationship between those who have discovered you from YouTube and those who have discovered you independently?
The people that have found me through YouTube will always tell other people that they found me in 2017. So they’re definitely very gatekeeper-y, not that that’s a bad thing. It’s actually pretty cool to see where people found me along the way. I want to see new faces all of the time so it’s nice wherever the fans come from.

My relationship with fans is like… I mean I don’t think that I ever put myself out there too much, but I think I’ve gotten the closest with them now. They had an Aries Discord running and this year I decided to get on there. And shout out Tim Henson of Polyphia, who was telling me I should get on Discord because it’s a great way to interact with fans, and they kind of just run the show regardless. I still suck at Discord so I don’t really know what the hell I’m doing on there but I’m able to engage here and there so I’d say that’s been the closest I’ve gotten.

There’s a kind of sphere of YouTubers making music—do you see yourself as part of this community?
I do. There might be a stigma around it, when someone calls you a YouTube artist or a YouTube producer, but I don’t think that’s bad. That’s how I did it, that’s how I found my way into the game so I don’t mind it. I have much respect for all of the guys still going hard with the YouTube production kind of stuff. I don’t think it really matters how you come up. As long as the music’s good, that’s all that’s ever really mattered to me.

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You direct and edit your music videos. Is it important for you to have the creative reigns across mediums?
Yeah yeah, because it turns out the way I want it.

Would you ever direct outside of music?
Yeah, but that’s not really where my brain’s at right now. I could see myself doing it but I don’t think right now. It’s the same thing with cooking for me—I know one day I’ll get into cooking but not right now. I can’t make food at all. 

It’s weird, I feel like it should have come to me by now because I had a really weird haircutting phase where I’d love to cut people’s hair, and I think that’s where my artistic side came in. I got super into it and now I’m not as into it but I’ve gained the knowledge and I’m happy knowing that I did it. And it’s weird because I feel like cooking would have happened by now but it hasn’t.

I’d be making some gourmet shit that I probably wouldn’t even eat myself because I don’t have that big of a palette. [Laughs] I’m honestly kind of a picky eater. But I just want to make some nice ass food, maybe start up a YouTube channel, I don’t know. But I’ll probably be 40 by then.

It’ll come eventually.
Yeah, I don’t know, I think I’m going to make music until I’m dead. I think I’ll always be doing some kind of music, it’s always fun for me. There are always ways to make it fun, even if sometimes it’ll become really draining and I’ll wonder if this is good for my mental health. There’ll be a lot of times I’ll get myself caught up in the perfectionism aspect of it which doesn’t even exist to normal people’s ears.

It’s a lot of time to spend on your own music so I think it’s natural to kind of get caught up in and overthink it.
Yeah, it drives me absolutely insane. For “FOOL’S GOLD” and “CONVERSATIONS” it was the first time that I brought an actual engineer to work through with me all the way to the end of the song, and we would bounce back and forth on mixing. It just takes a huge load off of you.

Do you do anything outside of music to keep your head grounded?
If I want to go watch a movie, I’ll be like, “Oh I’m going to go and watch this movie, I think it’ll be great and it might inspire me to make music.” Or, let me go take a walk and I might get some inspiration. Everything I do that’s outside of music is somehow still connected to music and I can’t escape that. Not that I want to but it’s like I lowkey signed a deal with the music devil. He said everything I do now has to be for this music thing. Not that it’s bad, I mean if I was trying to escape it, that would be pretty scary but I’m not. I like where I’m at.

Tell me more about WUNDERWORLD.
WUNDERWORLD is the world I’m trying to create. It's everything that isn’t Aries I would say, like my merch. It’s still connected to me because it’s me pulling the strings and painting the picture, but it’s not me at the same time. I want to develop merch and do cool stuff over there that doesn’t have to be entirely attached to Aries. And WUNDERWORLD stands for Wonderful Underworld.

“CONVERSATIONS” and “FOOL’s GOLD” feel like an evolution in sound. What prompted this shift and where do you want to go from here sound-wise?
The reason I wanted to move away from the WELCOME HOME stuff is because I just wasn’t really happy with anything that I made past that point. Even if it sounded remotely similar I just wouldn’t end up being happy with it, so I was trying to experiment and see where I could push myself. 

Lately I’ve been trying to focus on doing something different and not getting too comfortable with where I am. Still trying to make the music sound good, but I want WELCOME HOME to be WELCOME HOME. I want to make new music because that’s what makes me happy, just pushing myself. Because at the time I was pushing myself with WELCOME HOME. But now if it ends up sounding like that era, then it doesn’t sit well with me. WELCOME HOME, that's like my baby, but he’s grown up now, I can’t play with him anymore. I need to make something new. I think that once people see my vision more drawn out, more things coming out, and I’m able to paint the picture of where I’m going, people will get it. 

Right when I put out “FOOL’s GOLD,” some people were like, “Oh no, go back to your old sound.” But that changed when I put out “CONVERSATIONS” and they ended up liking “FOOL’S GOLD.” So I just think that with every release people will start to see where I’m trying to go a little more. People love those songs but you can’t make everyone happy. 

How do you feel when you put out music?
I enjoy putting out music once it’s done and finished but by the time a song is out I can 100% guarantee you that I hate the song. I despise it, I cannot listen to it. I wasn’t able to listen to “FOOL’S GOLD” for a month, even the music video, I just couldn’t watch it because I’d spent so much time on the video and song. Now I can go back and watch it objectively and it feels really good.

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A lot of your music has been teased through Instagram snippets. Did you always know that certain songs would evolve? I’m curious how you feel about snippets because I know some artists see it as an obligation to satisfy fans.
I feel like snippets are completely cursed for me now. All of this new stuff that I’m going to put out, it’s probably not going to be from any of those snippets. It’s cursed for me because my dumbass would [tease songs] when I’m not done with them so I’d have an obligation to finish them, and then I’d just end up never doing it because I didn’t like the song anymore. Time goes on and I’m over it. [Laughs

But there are some like “CONVERSATIONS” that were a year old and had been just sitting on my computer. The vibe we created it in was fun. It was literally a party at the studio and I was pretty wine drunk, we were just talking about random shit. I thought it made no sense at first, but then coming back to the song it makes complete sense which kind of makes me wonder if that awakened something for me?

Awakened? How so?
I was pretty drunk and I wasn’t writing anything down, I was just going off with whatever was coming to me. When I was there, I was listening to it like, "Does this make sense?" And then a couple of days after I listened and everything made sense, the chorus and everything. Then it sat on my computer for a whole year and I decided to put it out. 

I feel like it’s a song that a lot of moms would like, and they could play it at a H&M. And it kind of came true. After I put it out my friends were hitting me up like, “Yo dude my mom loves this song!” So it all worked out. I’d say all the songs that I’ve got coming out are much different than those prior. I feel like every one of those songs kind of sounds like its own thing.

You went on the WELCOME HOME tour last year. What was that like and how was adjusting back to life after?
It’s actually pretty crazy, it was the best time of my life and then when I came back home I got super depressed. I think it’s just because I was exposed to so much stimuli and there was a blast every single night. I went into that from not really doing much, just working on music in my own bedroom all the time. Came back home and went back to doing nothing again and I got really depressed. I needed another high so I started shaving my beard off and shit to stop myself from resorting to anything crazy. Just like doing whatever to feel something. But then after the Europe tour the comedown wasn’t as bad because the tour was a lot shorter. I’ve got to be careful of that.

For me, it sucks and starts not being so fun when I get so picky. But if I’m just pumping out music, literally not thinking about anything and just in the vibe, that’s the best.

Do you find that making music itself helps with your mental health?
Yeah, when I’m having fun with it. For me, it sucks and starts not being so fun when I get so picky. But if I’m just pumping out music, literally not thinking about anything and just in the vibe, that’s the best.

What’s next for WUNDERWORLD?
I plan to put out merch. I think shortly after this interview comes out there’ll be a merch drop and I want to have basically a whole line or season of clothes. I really want to get into that world more, doing that kind of stuff, using my own brain to develop these things.

What’s in the cards in general?
People can expect new music, that’s all I’m saying.

As it’s 2021, do you have any new year's resolutions?
Yeah, I’m gonna get really buff. No actually, I have no idea. That was a joke but you can leave it in. Aries wants to get real buff.

2021. What are you most excited for?
I've no goddamn clue, I don’t even think that far into the future. I’m just thinking today usually. I can’t answer that. [Laughs]