Checking in with Abel Okugawa

What were you doing right before we called? 

I was in the process of coming up with a gear list for this recording and live music video that a producer friend of mine, Raphael Wintersberger, and I are trying to do. It’s actually in New York City, so it’s going to be a big trip. Since it’s a music video and a live recording, all the gear has to look cool. The video is going to use a lot of vintage equipment, so we’re just trying to get our list together. 

What are you working on right now? 

Abel Okugawa is the head engineer at Monkeyclaus studio, in Nelson County, where he also makes downtempo electronic music for films and for your plain old listening pleasure. Visit his website at

I’ve been gathering and cataloging music for licensing and use in sports movies, so I’m doing a project called Sun Wukong—it’s sort of world-trip-hop music. We just finished five tracks and we’re going to put that online and also make it available for production companies.

What’s your first artistic memory? 

When I was young I would take boards, scrap pieces of wood, and start attaching different nails to make junk sculptures. I remember realizing it was something unique I had made and it didn’t really look like anything before, so that was definitely an old, creative experience. I think it was just a project that my Dad would give me to do to occupy myself. He gave me scrap material and a lot of it was neon, because it was in the late ’80s. It would be neon-pink, and there’d be Velcro, because Velcro was a new product. Stuff like that.

Tell us about your day job. 

I work as an engineer and producer. I work at Monkeyclaus Studio and I’m also producing a movie with a company called Filament*, which is a feature film. So I work for a couple different places. The rest of the things I do are freelance, but I have been able to have a full-time job producing or engineering music, I’m into audio/visual arts. 

Tell us about a book/painting/record/piece of art that you wish was in your private collection? 

I was just thinking the other day, wouldn’t it be great if you had the Mona Lisa. Not that I particularly like the imagery of that piece of art, but just the culture status and value attached to that piece of art. It would be interesting to be that one person to have it. 

How do you prepare for work? 

One of the main things I like to do is to make sure I’ve eaten something, have some good food and then I feel ready to go and do stuff. Sushi rice is really good, but I’m not Japanese so maybe I shouldn’t say that. It’s good to have your mind able to think, to make you hungry. It’s not visible but when you get creative it makes you hungry.

Who would you like to collaborate with locally? 

Just to name two people: Loren Oppenheimer and Rahimah von Briesen. A vocalist and tabla player. I want to produce 10 songs with them.

Do you have any superstitions about your work? 

I think I’m having less superstitions about my art, in a way. In general, I’ve had a lot of weird experiences with recording, with things being there that shouldn’t be, or that should be there and aren’t. 

Which of your works are you most proud of? 

I have a song called “Reparations” that was a collaboration between this hip-hop group called Regime Change. It was a serendipitous song. It was great.

What is a concert, exhibit or show that has recently inspired you? 

I think Sade’s new album Soldier of Love is just a great album. She’s an artist that my wife introduced me to and I just think she’s awesome, and I have all of her albums. It’s great.

If you could have dinner with any person, who and why?

All my ancestors. I think that would be interesting to have a huge family dinner. 

What would you do if you knew you couldn’t fail? 

I would fly. Just take off. If you can’t fail, I guess that would be the best thing you could do. I’d probably visit my closest friends and family. Wherever they are.


*Correction made Wednesday, October 13: Filament was incorrectly referred to as a movie. It is, in fact, the name of a local production company, not a film.

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