Interview - Elk Road

Interview - Elk Road

A WA-based producer getting some serious heat of late.

Elk Road is Rory Garton Smith, a producer who's been studio-bound for a few years now, although only in 2014 launching the Elk Road project. His production talents are already garnering plenty of attention, and judging from this interview it's full steam ahead...

For those unfamiliar with Elk Road, can you give us a brief description of your music?

That point between fall and winter where you feel nature's anxiety floating in the air. Deep, terse, and expressive... No I’m just kidding. It’s a combination of all my favourite things about music. Deep progressions, instrumentation mixed with electronic stuff, blip leads… I have grown up listening to everything man, really, like, there are elements of the soul scene from decades past, fused with modern era pop progressions, and the upcoming album even has hip hop elements running through it. All my music contains a lot of live instrumentation and organic elements which I think is important if I want to fool audiences into thinking I’m more than a bedroom producer. When everyone’s using the same 10 plugins, and someone comes along and introduces a bass/electric guitar and real drums into the mix, it stands out. That’s our goal here, standing out in a saturated scene and breaking through. You can only supersaw so many supersaws before the saw gets rusty.

Why the name Elk Road?

In late January I sat down and wrote out 10 words I thought were beautiful. I mixed and matched until I got this. I wanted it to be marketable and have some imagery in the name. You hear “Elk Road” and you think of places in your mind, I love that. I get the same thing with names like “Tame Impala” and “Pretty Lights”... you get taken somewhere, transported. Beautiful, marketable, memorable.

Who or what are some of your biggest influences?

None - I’ll explain. You know, it’s a funny question for me and touches on something I think about a lot. Elk Road is brand new, but for years before that I had all these other fun bedroom projects that were basically clones of my influences. I spent years just being that clone guy. This isn’t a negative thing at all; I think it’s a rite of passage all producers go through. No one can be expected to open a DAW and make something brand new straight off the bat – they have to learn the ropes first, see what other people are doing, go deep into a few scenes and find the elements they like. You can see it now in Australia actually, there are 500 guys coming up doing the “Australian sound” - and this is not a bad thing at all. 20 will make it big, and in a few years the others are all going to develop off into their own unique grooves and we’ll have an amazing generation of unique and talented individuals. People getting inspired breeds new ideas and fresh directions. The exact same thing happened with dubstep around the world – look how many artists and young bedroom geeks got drawn into that UK scene and learned all about sound design and audio engineering, and then, as it started slowing down, they launched off into their own endeavours and created something brand new. I know local lads Slumberjack had the same thing as me, we were all just messing around in our teens making bass music under different aliases, and then it’s like, hey, somewhere along the way we actually scraped together enough knowledge to go and make our own thing. Now this generation is coming up and it’s a blast, everyone’s happy, the scene here is so healthy, you never meet anyone unfriendly, not a soul, everyone just wants to hang out and give a hand.

I think for me, I spent all these years having fun messing around copying other people. Around August last year I was like, man, I really don’t want to be that guy just copying any more. So, I sort of walked away from all music for a few months. Focused on my studies, ignored the charts, ignored the electronic scenes I’d be a fan of for so long. Then in January, I got into the studio and just started writing purely for fun without A/Bing with any other tracks, and it grew fast from there. In fact, I actively avoided all musical influences at the time, I think I was so afraid of being that “clone” guy that I wanted to just not even hear the trends of the month, for fear that I’d just get inspired and do that. I wrote an entire EP without listening to any electronic music. Didn’t even use Native Instruments Massive (producers will know the significance of that).

It’s a point of pride for me that with all the labels and all the AnR hitting me up in the last few months, not one person has ever messaged me saying “Hey this new track sounds like X artist”. They’ve been like “man, respect, you’ve found your place in the scene, you’ve found your little niche”. No better feeling on earth to be able to be an individual creatively. It’s an interesting thing to think about especially when you consider my history (#1 on Beatport dubstep a few years ago under an alias, pushing a VERY different sound. Two years before that I was working with Armin Van Buuren doing trance stuff under yet another name.. I’ve definitely been around a bit – I’ve been that guy… so refreshing to do something new and just focus on the one thing and watch it actually grow.

So, in summation, I’d say – nothing is really musically influencing me right now, but it’s okay because I’ve found other ways to source creative inspiration (English breakfast teas/playing sport/going to the dog beach). Historically, my influences have been Pretty Lights, Ratatat, Moderat, Mat Zo, Danger, Radiohead…

You were quoted saying “Fall in love with the process and the results will come” – can you elaborate a bit on that? How does that relate to Elk Road?

I think that quote was in relation to an interview regarding production stuff right? To explain –there’s such a massive learning curve in music production, it’s never ending. So, when people ask for advice, I think a big thing that a lot of didactic-producers skip over is just to make sure you’re having fun. There’s all this mentality like “Yo you HAVE to make sure you’re EQing THIS way and you HAVE to make sure you’re COMPRESSING enough but not TOO much and you gotta use X Y Z plugin to do this and that or you’ll never ever be Calvin Harris” hahaha. That scares people off you know? When someone starts, the very first lesson should be “Yo man, let’s set this room up so you can sit in here and be happy”. A big part of this is making sure that your room is the kind of room you’re able to be in for hours at a time. Look around at all the guys making it right now. Some of them might not have amazing hardware, some of them might not have the newest most expensive plugins and so on, but you know what they all mostly have? Comfortable chairs. Good environments. An air conditioner. The mindset that they can relax in the studio for an 18-hour session and just work, free of distraction, and enjoy it. So, yeah, if you’re able to make the process fun, you’ll get better fast and it won’t feel like work. Hell, this shouldn’t ever feel like work, pretty sure that’s why most of us got into this in the first place, to avoid the 9-5 grind. If it ever stops being fun and feels like work, I’ll have lost all creative joy, and I’m going to bail and finish my law degree and be a turbo-corporate-lord on St Georges Terrace. Mark my words. Elk Road will litigate hard.

You’ve just completed two months in the studio – what can we expect from the music you made in this time? Was it an intensive two months, or a bit slower paced?

Really enjoyable, not intensive – just fun. The idea was to write enough quality material in a big, eight-week power session, so that I could settle down and focus on my album for the rest of the year and still have tracks coming out to keep the project growing while I was working on the big first LP. Management brought me a ton of sick tracks to remix officially from some killer major labels and major indie labels, so that we didn’t have to worry about the whole bootlegs-getting-deleted thing (big producer problem at this tier of the scene). I knuckled down hard and completed a ton of them and we’ve picked the best ones. They’re trickling out now. These first two Atlantic ones are the start of it. Actually speaking of bootlegs, apparently Britney Spear’s manager has now heard and really digs the Toxic bootleg so I think it’s safe from a take-down for now, we’re pretty stoked on that haha...

I also needed that two months to work out who my team was going to be. I’m really proud of who I have got on board now. Dom and Sam here in Aus are outrageously competent and hungry. The guys I work with in the states (Zac, Matt and Nima) are the same – everyone’s just having a blast, there are no bad days. Now the ball is just rolling and we’re growing at a good rate and getting the right offers.

You also do a bit of ghost writing/production as well right? How does that come about?

Yeah - it’s good fun. There’s a relatively ignorant stigma associated with it but I couldn’t care less – half the good producers around the world are on publishing deals, I think people on the outside don’t see the full scale of the music industry so it can be hard to understand. I’m still very much learning the ins and outs. You might be hearing some pop I’ve produced on Nova and have no idea! I’m stopping it now to finish the album, there are only so many creative hours in the day.

It’s been just over six months since Elk Road’s inception, and you’ve achieved quite a bit in that time – what’s next for you?

Thank you. Making the album is what’s up next. These remixes are just going to trickle out over the coming months but they’re all finished and sitting here privately on Soundcloud ready to drop. I’m less than half way through getting enough originals together, but it’s starting to really get going (ask Sam and Dom how many tracks I bombard their inbox with... it’s a good breed of chaos). We’re having a blast with it, and the early tracks so far have been received very positively by the labels we’re in contact with so it’s super exciting.

The hard part now is finding top liners for the tracks. There might be 500,000 good vocalists in the world, of that, there might be 50,000 who are accessible easily online, of that there might be 5000 who have a good timbre for the song, of that there are maybe 500 we can actually afford, and of that, maybe 50 have access to a good studio… We have to find those 50. I’m writing with several incredible songwriters in New York that come from major publishing companies. They are so freakishly talented man, I get so pumped when I get emails from them with new concepts. It’s an honour to work with such people. We’re working together to fill the instrumentals with lyrics before we find vocalists. It’s easier to sell someone on a work that sounds more completed, you can’t expect even the best AnR guy to be able to fill the gaps of your unfinished work with his/her mind.

We’re also lining up the Australia gigs for later in the year… Really pumped for that. I’m aiming to make it to the states very soon. If the offers keep coming from there and we keep growing, I will go in a heartbeat.

 

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