Dallas Cotton (known professionally as Yung Bae) is playing with his self-described “demonic” cat when we connect by phone on a Monday. Cotton is slow to start, his cat exacerbating his “case of the Mondays” by inhibiting his coffee consumption. But coffee is not Cotton’s vice: Joints on the other hand have been supremely helpful in Cotton’s creative process, a process that has yielded his latest album—Groove Continental Side A—a feel-good, groove-centric record that hits just in time for summer.
Over the course of our conversation, we explore the album’s inspirations and origins, Cotton’s journey into music, and the pivotal role his family has played in his success.
Early on, how did music come into your life?
For me it was in middle school, when everybody had CD players and were carrying around their binders of CDs. It was the coolest thing. Around that time, I really started getting into music and started making burn CDs off of my iTunes library and would carry those around. They’d always have the most random mixture because I grew up on a ton of yacht rock and that kind of stuff. I was always interested in funk, but never delved into it until I really started doing music.
One of my favorite things—God love my mother for it—I think I bought 50 Cent’s Get Rich or Die Tryin’ CD and my mom goes, “Oh no no no no no.” She comes back with Will Smith’s Big Willie Style—which is still my favorite album of all time. Best album ever.
Each track is a banger.
I’m saying. Try playing that at any house party. Automatic win. It’s incredible.
That was also the closest I got to a sense of disco, especially on Big Willie Style, since he was out there sampling Patrice Rushen, Sister Sledge—and I was like, “Whoa, what is this?” At the time, I didn’t understand the concept of sampling. “Men In Black” was my favorite song growing up and my dad was like, “That’s an old song,” and I was like, “You’re crazy, this is Will Smith. What are you talking about?”
It wasn’t until my late teens that I started getting very interested in music and keeping current with bands and stuff. I collected a ton of records and was always interested in the physicality and just having something to hold. My grandmother gave me a ton of her old Motown and exotica records and so that all just kind of sat there.
Then one day, my buddy was like, “Yo check out this studio thing.” And I was like, “This looks like a spaceship.” We started goofing off, chopping up samples, and would get really high and record the worst hip-hop tracks of all time. I knew immediately this was something I loved and that interested me and made me happy, and it just kind of went from there. I started making mixtapes, and a couple weeks after starting, I was able to do this full time just off dropping mixtapes. From there, it sort of spiraled to where it is today, so it’s like a paid hobby in a sense.
It sounds like you knew what you were interested in, you pursued that interest, and then the interest suddenly became something that could provide you sustenance.
Yeah, and definitely in my head at eighteen I’m like, “Well, I can rock with that.”
I used to work at Costco for a bit too, and as soon as I found out I could do music full-time, I was like, “Yeah, that sounds a little bit better than pushing carts. This sounds like a pretty fun career.” And I just kind of went for it.
Thankfully, my parents were ridiculously supportive. Like, stupidly supportive. They still are. They let me quit, live at home, and make this city pop and future funk in their basement. I got super blessed with it, and like I said, it still feels like this glorified hobby almost.
How instrumental was your parents’ support in your growth, evolution, and process?
Massive. Most of my family still doesn’t understand what I do on a day-to-day basis. Trying to explain it to friends and family is like trying to explain rocket science on some days, which I have to imagine is weird and polarizing.
My dad has always been very interested in music, so he’s always sitting here feeding me samples and stuff. He’s actually had some pretty banger ideas. I have an official Willy Wonka remix coming, and he had called me one day and was like, “Your mother and I were just watching Willy Wonka. You should go flip ‘Pure Imagination.’” I was like, “Alright, dad. I can do that.” And then it tumbled into what it is now and he’s sitting there like A&Ring it. He takes a pretty hard interest in it, which I love.
They’ll come to my shows and be like, “What if for that section, you do the lights like this and that,” which is super fun. They’ve come out to a few festivals this year and have been super stoked.
I have a younger brother and a younger sister and what I do is completely different from anyone in my family. They’re both completely college routes—like my brother did something with biochemical engineering. He’s insanely smart and my sister’s doing something with veterinary school. Meanwhile, I’m just over here making disco like, “Yeah, dad—don’t forget to include me in the will.”
I always wonder what they think because I took this super untraditional route in life—unexpectedly—and they couldn’t be happier. I got super lucky. My whole entire family has come out to shows, including my extended family. They’ll even bring their friends from their prayer group from church.
It’s funny, I actually had a session with Lostboycrow—who’s on the second half of Groove Continental—and we were in one day and he’s like, “Dude, I think our dads met at church.” Apparently, we used to live super close when I lived in Portland and actually went to the same high school. So it’s just little stuff like that where my dad would hit me and be like, “You should work with this guy. I know his father.”
In terms of loving the path and loving music, what is it about funk that fuels you?
There’s always been these little parts of disco that have popped out at me. As a child, I always loved hearing any string or woodwind arrangement. Anytime those would come in, I was drawn to them, and I think I’d call them bittersweet. Funk and disco are some of the only genres that can really sit there and uplift but also hit you in the feels and make you nostalgic and reminisce.
I always loved how loose disco was, how it’s almost this giant party constantly. I love weddings and they’re always ripping disco at weddings, which was key. I’ve also had a soft spot for hip-hop and I grew up on a lot of east coast shit where most—if not all—of their tracks were very sample heavy. That’s the kind of stuff that always stuck out to me. I love ninety-nine percent of hip-hop today, and a lot of these guys sample disco and funk too, which is super cool. There’s just this warmth [to the samples]. I can’t really explain it.
Disco and funk are so versatile in a way, too. There’s no limit to what kind of environment the music can fall into.
It’s one of those genres that people don’t know that they love. People might sit there and be like “Disco sucks,” but I know their asses are out on the dance floor at a wedding. The corniest elements are the best parts. That’s what makes disco so great. It’s such clean, good-hearted music, and it’s also such tongue-in-cheek. It’s ridiculously tongue-in-cheek. I’m like, “Oh my gosh, these people are dirty.”
“What was grandma listening to back in the day?”
There’s a whole Donna Summer song where it sounds like she’s having an orgasm.
Literally. Like, do you nudge that in the studio?
In terms of the studio, maybe talk a bit about the new music you have coming out and the inspiration behind it.
The new album is Groove Continental Side A, and this one’s been three years in the making. It’s taken all of these turns and journeys, so this is the first part, and the second part will drop later this year.
With this one, it’s me taking the concept of future funk and being motivated to get away from sampling. I’d say there’s only a couple actual samples on the album and the rest we completely made from scratch, or interpolated and replayed, or changed it up and made it a completely different track, avoiding using the samples altogether. So that was a super fun process, though it still has that old future funk, old Yung Bae feel. I wanted to take it and elevate it.
I had this end goal sonically, which I feel I finally achieved, where I was really invested in marrying this joint idea of disco late night meets super happy, giddy, tongue-in-cheek Motown—but also, meets exotica, space-age lounge influence. I was very invested in the percussive elements and sampling weird stuff.
It’s also the first time I’ve worked in collaboration with more people and really allowed features on top and allowed other people to add their touch to it as well. I then went in there and put it all together to make sense of it. This process was way more fun because, in the past, I’d strictly just worked alone, and this go around, it was like every track on the album was a happy mistake. It was like an accident how we started it, and then we’d have so much fun collaborating that I was like, “Oh wait, let’s keep pushing this idea.” It feels perfect to me and I’m super ready to have it out.
From a creative process standpoint, how does weed play a role in both your work and your personal life?
When I was eighteen/nineteen, we were just degenerates. We’d hit the 711, buy a thousand candy bars, go home, eat one of them, never touch anything else, and just make beats all day. We’d just keep getting high and getting high and rinse and repeat. It was incredible.
I stopped smoking for a while, and then a year and a half/two years ago in lockdown I started smoking again for anxiety and for being at home, and now it’s quite literally part of my twenty-four-seven routine. In fact, I was just smoking a joint before we hopped on this call.
Yeah, creatively it’s truly helped alleviate this pressure that will sit there that I normally have going into a session. Most times now, I do whatever comes to mind, and if it sounds good to me, it sounds good to me, and if people like it, that’s pretty fucking cool.
[Weed] has really taken off a lot of that edge and like I said, it’s very much now a part of my daily routine. I wake up, water some plants, roll a joint, have some coffee, catch up on work, and then head off to a session where we’ll usually share a joint there. It’s become one of those things where it’s a “bonding moment” on these smoke breaks.
From a creativity standpoint, it’s completely opened every door I’ve needed. It’s been great.
Any particular strain you’re enjoying these days or method of consumption that’s been helpful unlocking you to yourself?
Mostly last year, I was smoking bowls. Now, I love just having a joint and my girl loves rolling blunts, so I’ve been on that lately. I thought I had a lot more tolerance [laughs].
I just started rolling my own joints and there’s this one strain—Barry White—that’s absolute fire … But besides that, I get so disappointed down here [in L.A.]. It’s so expensive. When I’m up in Portland visiting, I always feel like the dude messed up when he checks me out. That shit would have been $70 in California, but it’s $25 there.
I love the convenience of traveling with weed now, too. I can take it and fly out with it if I need it and I don’t have to source it out in some city. Most places now you can fly back and forth with it.
Last May, I was at Outsidelands next to EarthGang over there and in our green rooms were these things that looked like something Jack Sparrow would pull rum out of—a giant wooden box filled to the brim with weed. I was walking through the airport with it thinking, “This is the day,” [but nothing happened]. They make it so easy now. Plus, more and more people are smoking. You go into a dispensary and there’s every walk of life in there, which is really cool.
Follow @yungbae and check out https://groovecontinental.com for tickets and tour dates.