At the end of March, Noah Yoo was sitting at a restaurant in Brooklyn, catching up on emails. Yoo plays guitar and writes songs for Cafuné, a duo he started with Sedona Schat in college, and one of his emails alerted him to the fact that their 2019 song “Tek It” had been Shazamed close to 3,000 times that month, “way higher” than usual. Yoo was taken aback. “I hit up a friend who works in the industry and said, ‘Do you have any tools that might explain what’s going on here?’” he recalls. ‘”Are we getting played in a very popular cafe?’”
The “Tek It”-loving cafe proved hard to track down. But Yoo’s friend came back with another explanation for the sudden uptick of interest in the single, one that’s often associated with Shazam surges in the modern music industry: “They were like, ‘It’s TikTok, you idiot,’” Yoo explains. He didn’t have the app on his phone at the time, but its users had started to incorporate “Tek It” — a compact slice of guitar-pop that camouflages a blunt kiss-off with buoyant riffs and high, pretty harmonies — into their videos. Two months later, versions of “Tek It” have soundtracked over 135,000 TikTok clips and helped to launch Cafuné’s first streaming hit.
The duo released a new video for the single on Thursday (June 2) and announced their signing to Elektra Music Group, which allowed them to quit their day jobs. Perhaps no one is more surprised than Cafuné. “We dreamed of it, but we had gotten to a point where it was like, ‘I accept this is my lifestyle’: We meet one day a week, we work our jobs, we play three or four shows a year,” Schat says. “We never saw this for ourselves,” Yoo agrees.
The pair met at New York University, where they started attending the Clive Davis Institute in 2012. Both played guitar and wrote songs; they also happened to be “intensely into” bands like Phoenix, Daft Punk, The Strokes, The Killers, and Two Door Cinema Club. (The latter sparked their first-ever conversation.) Yoo worked on one of Schat’s songs sophomore year, and it went well enough for them to form Cafuné as a side project.
At the time, “Sedona was pursuing her own singer-songwriter stuff,” Yoo says, “and I kind of wanted to be a DJ.” Cafuné was a low-pressure outlet — “a way for us to work on stuff and put it out without worrying about branding or anything like that,” as Yoo puts it. “We had peers who were very serious [about breaking into the music industry], and we respected that, but I was like, ‘I don’t want to play the game, I’m not legit enough for that,’” Schat adds. “I just wanted to find someone who I can make music with.”
The pair released their first EP, Love Songs for Other People, in 2015. It opened with “Lay Low,” a thumping electronic track that suggested an alternate route for the group — pop that was more club-friendly. “In 2015, guitars were not in vogue,” Yoo says.
But, he continues, “when we started playing shows, we realized the kind of show we wanted to do wasn’t electronic.” And when the two of them wrote tracks together in a room, the results tended to be “more explicitly rock-leaning,” Schat notes. This was reflected on their 2018 single “Least Coast/Little Broken Part,” and when they put out “Tek It/Friction” the following year, “those were like, ‘We are a rock band,’” Schat says. The pair found time to record their debut album, Running, during the first year of the pandemic, and released it in 2021.
One of the quirks of a music industry that’s hyper-focused on TikTok as the force driving streams is that release dates don’t matter all that much anymore. “Tek It” has been available to stream since November 2019. At the end of March, Cafuné was plugging along with a little more than 130,000 monthly listeners on Spotify, according to the music analytics company Chartmetric. Once the track caught the attention of TikTok users — first in a wave of anime edit videos, then spreading to more general clips about how “this song makes me really emotional,” with a brief detour into videos where TikTok users tumbled off their beds while listening to “Tek It” — that number ballooned to more than 3 million in just six weeks.
Cafuné’s trajectory — viral TikTok moment followed by major-label signing — has been a constant in the music industry for at least the last three years. “It’s amazing when any artist blows up on TikTok and they get to see their life change,” says Zack Zarillo, who signed Cafuné along with Johnny Minardi, vp of A&R at Elektra. (The duo are signed to Public Consumption, Zarillo’s joint venture with Elektra; the roster includes Chloe Moriondo and Sydney Rose.)
But Zarillo believes it’s also important to differentiate between acts that have been putting in the leg-work to build a career before a TikTok moment — his management company, Alternate Side, works with several of these, including Yot Club (“YKWIM?” now has over 250 million streams on Spotify alone) and Vundabar (more than 157 million streams for “Alien Blues”) — and those who have not invested time in building that type of runway. Cafuné are “two people who have been best friends making music for a decade,” Zarillo says. “They want to keep doing this for another 10 years. And hopefully that second ten years is a lot bigger.”
To that end, the duo is now focused on lining up a run of shows, releasing more music and trying to ensure that the listeners who play “Tek It” also make their way through the mouth of the fandom funnel and get to Running, according to Minardi. (He liked that Cafuné’s track “Empty Tricks” reminded him of Imogen Heap.) “It’s amazing that you’re having this thing happen on the internet,” Minardi adds, “but there’s also this need for connecting with fans.”
For now, a pair of musicians used to doing everything on a shoestring budget will enjoy a chance to work in more lavish settings — “They were able to use an engineer for the first time” when recording an acoustic track, Zarillo says — and the time to fully commit themselves to music. “I’ve been working in food service sort of my entire life,” Schat notes. “It definitely feels very surreal. Is this the end of that?”
“Having the opportunity to expand what we think is possible because of this [moment],” she adds, “is really cool.”