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Stranded Civilians Appreciates The Beauty Of Humanity

Written by on July 8, 2021

North Side Chicago-based alternative hip-hop duo Stranded Civilians made their mark on the city’s music scene with September 2020’s Nirvana. Now, the duo returns with their single “Midwestside.”

Comprised of longtime friends Tony Santana and Aubry, Stranded Civilians is a prime example of collaboration done right. With catchy lyrics touching on themes of adolescence, romance and personal spiritual growth, the duo made a splash in the Chicago hip-hop community with EP Teenage Dreamin’ in fall 2018 followed by debut album Nirvana in fall 2020.

Stranded Civilians’ latest single, “Midwestside,” marks their second track featured In Rotation on Vocalo — the first being Nirvana‘s most popular track, “Couples Skate”, in October 2020.

We dug deep with Aubry and Santana about their backstory, most prominent influences, spirituality and what listeners can hope for in the future.

“I’m inspired by my community. Everyone I meet inspires me because everyone has something to offer. I’ve written music based on conversations with Uber drivers. I don’t think people understand nor appreciate the beauty of humanity.”

Tony Santana

How did you meet, and when did you decide to start collaborating? 

Aubry: Tony and I met in middle school, and I’ve known him ever since then. During the summer of 2013 he basically hit me to start a group just for fun. And that’s when Stranded started for real, and after a couple years of us doing solo work, we rebranded Stranded in 2017-18 and it’s been that ever since.

What does living in Chicago mean to you, and how has Chicago contributed to who you are as people and as artists? 

A: Being in Chicago is being amidst culture. You witness so many different types of art on the daily. Being in the creative scene brings you closer to so many kinds of people and creates a bond with a lot of different groups. It’s a lot more close knit than people may think. It’s really all about submersing yourself. Chicago gives you a certain outlook on things that you can’t get anywhere else.

Photo courtesy of the artist.

When you were growing up, what musicians or groups made you want to pursue music? 

Tony Santana: Growing up I listened to everything. I would say the artists that made me feel like I wanted to make music were people like A$AP Rocky and Zack De La Rocha. Obviously, these are on two different sides of the spectrum. But, in retrospect, I always respected people who I believed navigated the world on their own terms. There are many people who are talented but there are few who can make you care about them being talented. These two spearheaded movements.

A: For me it was a wide range. From my childhood I had Wyclef Jean, Sade, The Eagles and countless others. For the moments before high school it was people like Kid Cudi, Fugees, Gym Class Heroes, Weezer and even Chance the Rapper. I think it was the idea that music can be a wide range of things that made me want to create my own, more than anything.

Who, musical or otherwise, inspires you the most? 

TS: Someone I look up to a lot outside of music is Russell Brand. I yearn for compassion and empathy in a world where so much is going on. I really resonate with a lot of his sentiments regarding mindfulness, world peace and spirituality.

Additionally, I’m inspired by my community. Everyone I meet inspires me because everyone has something to offer. I’ve written music based on conversations with Uber drivers. I don’t think people understand nor appreciate the beauty of humanity. We are fortunate to be here at the same time. I really like Naval Ravikant as well. I’ve learned a lot from him about business, branding, and navigating life with a platform.                                

A: My inspirations come from my peers. My homies. Love to 99TheProducer, Mugen! The Human, CldWaterr, Mohit and everyone else in the circle I’m blessed to call my family. Even the ones that don’t make music at all but are still fans. They create the inspiration and make me want to create the best content each and every time.

Are there any artists you can’t stop listening to right now? 

A: At the moment, a lot of Tyler, The Creator and JPEGMAFIA. Saba has been on repeat since high school to be honest, as well as EARTHGANG and Smino. For most of my college career, Charles Hamilton has been my go-to. I love his work ’cause everything is so different and he has literally like a million tapes out. I bump him for major inspo, whether it’s rap or producing.         

TS: I can’t stop listening to Larry June and Curren$y. These are my guys right now. I feel like they make music for the fly cats who get money but aren’t necessarily hood. They make the soundtrack to my lifestyle. Similarly, I listen to a lot of old school music. Lately I’ve been listening to a lot of Minnie Riperton, Luther Vandross, Marvin Gaye and Teddy Pendergrass. I love the vibes this music exudes. I tend to listen to contemporary artists who sample this music. I’ve also been huge on Skepta, Pop Smoke and Drake these last few years. These guys are responsible for a lot of my flows. 

The album cover for Nirvana depicts you in meditation and incorporates philosopher Alan Watts’ teachings. What role do meditation and spirituality play in your lives, and how often does that shine through in your music?

A: Spirituality and meditation, in a way, is directly about being in tune with yourself. [They are] two of the highest forms of introspection, self control and rebuilding. Everyone has things they can do better or rebuild about themselves, mentally or physically. When Tony presented the idea of what Nirvana would be, he prioritized what the idea of it was and what it meant to him. When I was producing the beats for most of the album, I listened to Alan Watts’ definition of Nirvana and it instantly drew me in. I knew where I wanted to take it and build from the ground up.

TS: Spirituality plays a part in all of our lives, whether we know it or not. We’re spiritual beings living a human experience. With that being said, meditation is key for me. It’s necessary and a part of my daily ritual. The power of self is crazy. Man is intrinsically spiritual. 

What makes your sound unique?

TS: Our sound is unique because it’s ours. We have our own unique experience and are our own individuals. We tend to forget the inherent uniqueness of people due to how accessible music is now. On a different note, I think that Aubry and I experimented with a lot of different sounds. We’re inspired by everything and everyone, and it shows in the music.

A: Our sound uses rap as a base, but combines so many different elements. As a producer, listening to everything allows me to tap into different sounds, different melodies and different strategies when approaching composition. Even though we essentially make rap music, I can’t listen to rap all day. There’s more to it. We basically combine elements of rock, R&B, jazz and soul.

Photo courtesy of the artist.

Are there any artists you’ve had dreams of collaborating with? 

A: Would’ve loved to have got one with Mac Miller. But maybe someday.

Mac Miller

Definitely EarthGang, Saba, JID, Tobi Lou, Larry June and Isaiah Rashad to name a few. And of course the Kendrick Lamars, Drakes and J. Coles of the world.     

TS: I would love to make music with Nombre Kari. He’s one of the most talented artists I’ve heard. I think we both kind of resemble that early-mid-2000s blog era music. We’d make sumn’ crazy. Second, I want to get on a track with Freddie Gibbs. Freddie Gibbs is probably the rapper whose beat selection and projects I like most. I would love to get on a track with him with no drums. I think we’d sound great together.

Is there anything exciting on the horizon you would like to share with us? 

A: OBSIDIAN EP on the way very soon. More singles, more music, more shows, more Stranded. Just trying to supply content to those who love and put new people on to the vision. 

TS: A lot more content is coming soon. Creation over consumption is the mindset for 2021. Becoming better people, putting out better music and creating new experiences is what you should expect this year.

Follow Stranded Civilians on Twitter and Instagram, and stream In Rotation on Spotify below.

Interview edited for length and clarity by Erik Anderson

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