"It's okay to be unapologetically yourself" a kid named rufus On Their Music & More

Queer-alt pop artist a kid named rufus draws on their experiences growing up in Malaysia, their journey of self discovery and their love for music to create heartfelt, unapologetic songs. They take us into their story.
a kid named rufus. All photos: Will Rowan
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"It's okay to be unapologetically yourself" a kid named rufus On Their Music & More

In one sentence, how would you describe a kid named rufus to someone who has just met you and your music? 

Witty, gay, brown kid that makes music your Mom can listen to (except for "how sweet does this sound?" which you definitely should not show to your parents).

How has your Malaysian heritage influenced your creative process and how different is the music scene in Malaysia from ones you have encountered in other parts of the world? 

Growing up in Malaysia, being a creative felt akin to looking at an aquarium up close against the glass. It was close enough to grasp the essence of what it's like, but there was always a barrier separating me from what lay on the other side. I often wondered what it would be like to be on the other side, in this case, the United States, often considered the capital of the recorded music industry.

Since I left, the music industry has experienced significant growth. Rising artists such as CLAUDIA and TY:DEL, who are also my friends, have become streaming giants in a population of 30 million people. It's a tight-knit and welcoming community, devoid of the drama and other negative aspects that make Hollywood the toxic playground it often is. While I definitely miss it, being in the United States and pursuing my passion has provided me with access to people, places, and opportunities that I never imagined I would have the chance to explore.

Navigating one’s own intersectionality is difficult, and having grown up in Kuala Lumpur whilst being queer must have presented its own unique challenges. Might you be willing to share some stories of your own experiences?

Furthermore, how has creating music helped you on your journey of essentially finding your identity? 

I didn’t realize I was queer when I lived in Malaysia. During my time in Malaysia, I wasn't aware of my queerness. It was only later, when I came to that realization, that I began to reflect on my experiences in middle and high school. Looking back, those moments that I didn't fully comprehend at the time suddenly took on a whole new meaning, leading to a profound revelation.

Back home, there’s this word known as “pondan”, which basically equates to the use of the slurs “transvestite” and “tranny” in English, just in Malay. I used to be called a “pondan” everyday, roaming the halls of campus, for my flamboyance, lack of interest in sport, and for having girl-friends instead of hanging out with the boys. It hurt me then, but it fuels me now. I don’t care how I’m viewed or criticized within the constructs of gender because it’s just that: a construct. It was made with the intention of classifying a mass of society without consideration for folks that do not fit within this set classification, and instead of finding a solution we’re erased from existence and public knowledge. That’s not the case anymore, and I’m thankful to the folks that paved the way for people like me to come to these realizations and exist peacefully in society.

Creating music truly helps me in discovering various aspects of my identity. Lately, I have been using it as a tool to express my queerness. Writing songs feels like keeping a diary, as I can listen back to this album in the years to come and reflect on the tremendous personal growth I have undergone. It allows me to delve into essential facets of my life experiences, such as my mental health and my journey as a queer individual.

The juxtaposition of the dreamy and sweet intro in contrast to the lyrics in your track ‘how sweet does this sound’ is really interesting.

Was it your original intention to pair both the melody and lyrics together like this? What is your process when it comes to creating a new song? 

Absolutely! It was the last song we wrote for the album, and like any (queer) young adult in college, I was having a lot of sex and figuring out my sexuality. I thought it would be really funny to write a song about said experiences. Then, I came up with the line “how sweet does it sound when you call me a whore?” and threw it on a beat Benji Cormack sent to me (which we heavily reworked from an electro-pop sound to an indie rock track), and the rest was history.

Creating a new song happens in a lot of different ways. Sometimes, it’s concept first and sound later, sometimes it’s a beat turned into a verse and chorus, and sometimes it’s all written in a marathon of a session. It really depends on the day.

Balancing being a student as well as an artist must be difficult. How do you strike the balance between writing and producing music, and university? 

I'll be honest, my time management skills are pretty terrible. Balancing my music and school commitments can be quite a challenge. But hey, I'm incredibly fortunate to have an amazing team supporting my music and professors who understand the hustle. It's almost over though! I'm a senior now, and graduation is looming next year. It's a bit scary, but in a good way, you know? Not many kids do what I do, so I feel lucky to have been handed these opportunities. Even if it kills me - doing music and school - it's something I'll proudly brag about for the rest of my life, no doubt about it.

Can you share one or two of your fondest or most meaningful memories from your career so far? 

Honestly, flying out to Austin to write this album was an incredible experience. It opened my eyes to a new city that I had never considered visiting before, and I instantly fell in love with it. Not only that, but I also had the privilege of making some amazing friends who mentored me throughout the entire process of writing and releasing this project. Those four days were truly the highlight of my life, and they gave me a glimpse into what my future could hold if I work hard and continue to believe in myself. It was an unforgettable and inspiring journey that I will always treasure.

What is the one song out of your entire discography that you think sums up a kid named rufus the best right now? 

“stuck in san antonio” is the song I tell everyone to listen to if they want to know who I am and aspire to be as an artist. That song is a work of art, and if you don’t like it, then don’t listen to my music anymore.

What were your biggest musical influences growing up? Are there any musical influences or artistic influences that are moving you a lot right now?

Apart from Top 40 radio, the moment I got my Dad to get a family Spotify subscription changed everything for me. My ADD-ass hopped from discography to discography and listened to the same song over and over and over again until the song made me sick. I’ve explored folk, indie, alternative, hip-hop, country, and pop genres, superstars and literal garage bands, and every mix of music you can think of. My taste constantly changes, but if you really want to know, I have a playlist of what I really listen to which you can listen to here.

What do you hope people take or feel from listening to your music? 

I hope that people will take away that it’s okay to be unapologetically yourself.

If you could talk to a ten-year-old you, what would you say?

Be easier on yourself. Tell Mom you want to talk to a therapist, even if she said no before. Ask Dad what taxes are and learn how to do them.

a kid named rufus' debut album whatever works is out Friday, July 14th via Nettwerk. a kid named rufus can be found on Instagram and Tiktok.
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