"Get weird with it," and more words of wisdom with What So Not
His massive Australian tour with A-Trak is coming in v-hot.
A perennial best pal of the Pilerats team, Chris Emerson has grabbed the bull by the What So Not project horns since parting ways with Harley "Flume" Streten last year, and it's been f'in exciting to see it grow into an unstoppable force on a gloabl scale. This year we've been getting our first taste of Emerson's solo productions, including that huge Innerbloom remix, and most recently his GANZ colab with JOY., Lone, and ahead of his upcoming Australian tour with A-Trak and Rome Fortune, we got the legend on the phone to talk Gemini, George Maple, A-Trak, new music and more...
So Gemini seems like it was a huge release for you last year, both in terms of the EP as well as the track with George Maple, how have you felt about the reception for both?
Yeah, amazing. Very interesting times around that point, managed to finally get the music out and people seemed to really love it and I'm so happy. I couldn't be happier. I really loved those songs, a lot of work went in to them and so it was great to see the reception they got. Especially Gemini is one of those songs that's really popped off, it's a little softer in moments but still goes very hard and strong. And it's great to see the reaction.
And Speaking of huge tracks for you, I'm hearing Lone everywhere at the moment, what was that like working with GANZ?
Yeah, man, I honestly am. Maybe it's because I'm playing it all the time, but I have heard a lot of people talking about loving that track and I'm really curious what that was like working with GANZ and how you feel about that track.
C: That’s so cool to hear, because I don't get to spend a whole lot of time, unfortunately, in Australia anymore. So it's really cool to hear that it's doing well over there and it's getting played a lot. I actually played it at Groovin’ the Moo, I think it was still quite new, it might've only been out about a month or something. But I almost felt like by the end of the tour, they were really reacting to it. And I have this alternate version that I built just for my live shows, so yeah I'm excited to be playing that when I get back. But yeah it was cool working with GANZ - Jordy - he's been a good friend of mine for a number of years, he's a really amazing producer, we get along great and we see eye to eye creatively and musically a lot, so it was a really simple process. Took a while to finish the song because we live in different continents and we’re both touring and travelling so much, but yeah I'm very happy to have that one out there.
And on the tour tip, you're back in Australia soon and co-headlining with A-Trak, which is huge. How did that connection come about and what does it mean for you to be touring alongside someone such as him?
It's pretty amazing, like he was a guy… You know, I used to go to festivals and he was the guy I wanted to see, so it's pretty amazing to come around full circle like this. There was a quote up about this tour and he kind of just said he loves Australia so much, he has so many fond memories of it and… It's funny that the last time he was here was actually the time that he met me. And he was one of the first international acts supporting and big-upping What So Not. I remember we did that Van She remix way back and he posted it on the Fool’s Gold blog and got us a bit of traction in the US and things like that. And I've known him ever since then, kept in touch, talk all the time. We send each other music and things like that. See him at all the festivals over here of course, because everyone’s on the bill here in America. So, yeah, very cool to have him on the tour, and of course Rome Fortune. And of course I'm really excited to come back and to put the show on for everyone.
Image via @reachyasi.
So what can people here in Australia hope to expect from a What So Not and A-Trak live show?
C: A-Trak is very much getting back in to scratching, which I'm so pleased about. I think there was… I had a big talk with DJ Craze about it, actually, I bumped in to him in Miami and he was at my show. Him and A-Trak had been training for EDC, they've been battling each other as like a training camp and they've been talking a lot about it… I mean even I used to get… I wasn't scratching but I used to get technical using 4-channel CDJs and lots of layering and builds live on the fly… And a lot of us stopped doing that kind of thing because dance music got so popular that the crowds really shifted from people that were may be there to see something quite technical and interesting to people that were there because they loved dance music. And it's hard to dance to complex scratching and things like that, so I think there's this thirst for it now. I know when Craze put up that video ‘#realdjing’ that went crazy on the Internet and a lot of guys are coming back and going for it again. So I'm really excited to see A-Trak do that, I think we’ve got some surprises planned, me and him doing some things together. And then I've got my entire visual show, I'm going to be playing all this new music that nobody’s heard yet, I haven't actually played this anywhere in the world and it’s all going to be premiered on that tour.
Everyone wants to know what they're going to hear from you in terms of new music, especially with the success of Lone, so what can you tell me about the new music in terms of sound and the direction that you're taking it?
I really tried to… let me think... I opened the Groovin’ The Moo tour with this brand new song that's not out yet, and I'll be playing that one… You’ll probably find some cheeky videos of that laying around some places. And then I think there's maybe three or four other new songs, one of them will be coming out very, very soon with a music video and everything… And then the rest will be on this body of work and I'm excited to see how the crowds receive it in Australia. I don't want to spoil too much, I want to wait for the people to hear them and judge for themselves.
So you worked with Bauuer and George Maple on producing that Ghost track for Tkay Maidza, what has it been like for you to see her success (especially since she's just been nominated for that International BET Award), and what are your memories of recording that track with those huge names?
It was amazing. George Maple’s been working on a whole bunch of the Tkay stuff and it's been so cool to see Tkay really come in to her own and just really go and make things happen, and just dive headfirst in to this crazy scene over here in America. She just did that brand new single with Martin Solveig, that's really, really cool. I know a bunch of the songs that she's working on which aren't out yet and they’re amazing… They're so amazing. So I'm very excited for her, it's so amazing to see her get nominated for that award as well.
You've worked in the past with RL Grime, like for Tell Me, is there any future work with him in the pipeline at all?
We’ve actually worked on… He actually sent me a text, funnily enough, two days ago like “we should finish that other track, Tell Me 2”; like we always say “let's make Tell Me 2” like that's our running joke. We really love working together, like we gel well together in the studio and we've just never finished another song… But there's this one I did with him and Skrillex, and we were talking just a couple days ago and about how we really should finish that off and just give it out for free or something. Or do something cool with it.
You've been involved with some huge tours and some huge festivals already, what would be some of the craziest experiences you can remember having on tour?
Still the craziest show I've done was when I did Coachella live over here, it was a very difficult time for the project, there was a whole lot of things going on making it very hard for me to keep moving with it. But, just before, I think it was the week of Coachella that I managed to get the Gemini track out. I was self-managing the project at that time, and Harley had left, and it was really, really tense. But I was so excited because I finally had all the creative freedom to do everything I wanted to do, and it was more a race against the clock at that point but I managed to build the visual show… Which I'm sure you can see a bunch of things on YouTube about, a lot of bright colours and tribal imagery and all of that. I managed to organise all of the collaborators from the Gemini EP to come and perform it live before it was even released. That was a real big moment for me, that Coachella show. One of the funniest things I've ever seen was at Snowglobe festival, some kid crawled up on to the roof, just hanging from the ceiling and raving… And luckily didn't fall down, which was great.
So who are you listening to right now that's sort of influencing you, or that you're really vibing with?
I try and just… I try and keep tabs on new things that are happening, but really I like going backwards. I like going and listening to things from the past, and trying to understand what made them so great. Whether it was a point in time, whether it was everything happening, you know, maybe in the economy or in the media or what was going on in the world, and if that was the voice of a minority or something. And, you know, listening to the tones, the textures, the melodies, the mood of everything. I just went back, I'm listening to Gorillaz' Demon Days, I'm listening to the Moby's album Play. I've been sitting on this one for a while and haven't properly listened to it yet but the Miguel album [Wildheart] is amazing. So that's the sort of spectrum I'm going… I'm picking something current that I think might be really cool to listen to and then going back to listen to some classic albums that really touched people and had a big impact on the world. And I generally… I'll listen to those throughout the day while I'm going through some emails or going running and they’ll really inspire you when you jump back in to Ableton or when you get in to a studio.
I’m really curious, what’s your favourite A-Trak song?
I love that thing he did with Laidback Luke years ago, that really got me in to more techy kind of stuff and it was a cool combination of sort of scratchy synth work and the whole sort of Dutch sound that was going on at the time. But I think his biggest track was the Heads Will Roll remix that he did.
If you could give any advice to up and coming artists or DJs, what would it be?
I would always say do something different. You know, if you're struggling to think of something different, look at all the things that you like from all these different fields and genres. And try and make something that's a combination of everything. I think it works well if you start by trying to replicate things that you're fascinated by, and then taking those tools to go and develop your own sounds and concepts. I'd also say to young producers, don't just produce. Get in to visual arts, design your own artworks, have friends that you hang around with and work with who can help you. You’ll stick your heads together to make whole concepts, you know, make videos. Record your own voice, play instruments in your computer, do all kinds of things. Just get weird with it. Walk around the city recording people talking, recording buses go by, recording things scraping in the gutter and just try and make the strangest, most awesome music that you can.
TOUR DATES (click poster to grab tickets):