"It's been a really big two years." Inside Whethan's meteoric rise to the top
Two years since we first met, the now LA-based musician has become one of electronic's most exciting forces.
Header photo and all in-article photos by Jimmy Fontaine.
Two years ago, we met a then-17-year-old Chicago musician named Ethan Snoreck, who at the time, was collaborating with names including genre-leaders Skrillex and Flux Pavillion without even putting out a debut single. Instead, he was flipping singles by Zayn, Elohim and Mssingno on their heads, twisting soaring vocals into flurrying synth and crashing percussion, drawing comparisons to musicians like Flume and Rustie as he rose amongst the 'Soundcloud' era of synth-heavy future-bass. However, unlike some of the artists rising at a similar time, Whethan's music continued to evolve and transform, to the point that now, two years later, he's tipped as one of electronic's most consistent and adored names.
It all kicked off with Can't Hide, the Ashe-featuring debut single that launched the career of Snoreck as a fully-fledged electronic musician creating completely original work. It signalled a new direction for the now-LA-based musician built around bright pop hooks and choppy productions that distanced themselves from the pulsing synth of his past remixes, something over two years of consistent singles and collaborations has seen evolve and grow into the various forms it takes today. Savage combined a soaring vocal from US singer-songwriter MAX with a thick, warped production aided by Flux Pavillion; Love Gang saw Charli XCX's playful vocal meet a euphoric production built around an addictive guitar hook; High, which saw him collaborate with international pop front-runner Dua Lipa for a Fifty Shades soundtrack, saw crunching piano chords and subdued bass mix with Lipa's instantly-recognizable vocal - the list goes on.
Life Of A Wallflower is Whethan's debut major label EP and it's an encompassment of his growth and evolution over the years, capping off an era marked with personal and musical change with an eight-track release that feels like a masterclass at what Whethan does best. Songs like the EP-opening Wallflower unite pitched vocal-synth and pulsing melodic hits for a track that almost feels like a Porter Robinson-esque take on his initial, beat-driven sound - something that makes a return to end the release with the almost euro-trance-turning I Miss You - while tracks such as EP highlight Superlove take London alt-pop duo Oh Wonder out of their comfort zone, combining their catchy vocal with a clanging production more built on clever traditional pop songwriting than the fierceness of his earlier, club-centric work (it works brilliant, by the way). Radar, another EP highlight, brings together a twisted, distorted production with the vocals of English electronic duo HONNE while Be Like You, which features New Zealand duo Broods, takes on a more menacing sound with its thick, snapping sound.
For Whethan, Life Of A Wallflower wraps up a chaotic stage of his career. In the time between his debut single and debut EP, he's become one of electronic's leading names, with Billboard Chart positions and a common run-in with virality - such us when he almost 'broke the internet' by bringing Walmart yodeler Mason Ramsey out on stage at Coachella this year - suggesting a bright future in the mainstream too. He's also graduated high school - taking a second off from his US tour with The Chainsmokers to attend - and DJ - the party, moved to LA ("I think that [moving to LA] definitely adds a lot to the process of making music," he says), worked with Rage Against the Machine guitarist Tom Morello and Portugal The Man, played Jimmy Kimmel and just about every US festival there is - and that's just the start. Life Of A Wallflower is a look into the chaos and how it's shaped Snoreck's sound, something he's hopeful will continually evolve as he experiments and dives into sounds different to those he's worked with in the past.
In celebration of the EP's release - grab it HERE - and in anticipation of his first ever Australian shows at Perth's Origin Fields and Sydney's Field Day festivals this summer, we re-connect with electronic's rising force to see exactly how things have changed.
We first met you for an interview two years ago, just before you released your first ever single. You were 17, living in Chicago, still in high school, doing exams and what not - what's changed since then?
Wow, yeah so much has definitely changed - it's been a really big two years. I really learned that things can change so quickly. Just thinking about it now, where I was even a few months ago is completely different to where I am now. By then, I was still in Chicago, getting my hands on any remix opportunities I thought were cool and trying to work on my own original music. I definitely think I'm much more original music-based now and definitely more excited to get into the realms of building really awesome projects. I've gotten to tour a lot more since then, and put together a really awesome show that I'm really happy with.
Moving forward, I want to make really cool music videos. I also finally got my hands on some awesome merch - I've been waiting to do really cool designs - and so on. I guess that now, I'm much more hands-on and excited about the creative process as I was before.
I guess one of the bigger personal changes that happened during that two year time was you moved over to LA, right? How has that changed things?
I think it's changed things dramatically. So many people that I work with and want to work with - artists, industry, whatever - are in LA right now, and tons of other creative people as well. I think that definitely adds a lot to the process of making music - always collaborating and being able to collaborate with the people around. I just love LA. It's beautiful. Really nice weather for the most part, except fires right now, but everything else is beautiful.
When we interviewed you it was just before you released your debut single, and you mentioned that you were trying to find your sound and what exactly that was. In the time since, you've gone through pop, light and heavy electronic, hip-hop-infused stuff and so on. Do you think you've found that sound now?
I've found a sound to a degree, but it's not the sound. It's only the sound for like, The Life Of A Wallflower EP. I feel like that EP wrapped up an era for me and it all sounded cohesive and connected in a way that suggests that I've found that sound, but I don't know if I'm ever going to find that sound completely, other than the little touches I put on the songs to kind of show my work. I'm always trying to see what's new and keep evolving. That said, I definitely feel like I've gotten more in touch with a certain way of making songs that I like and I always want to try new things, but stick to the stuff that makes me feel the most unique.
You mentioned that the music you make is constantly evolving. Where do you see it evolving to next?
I'm on a super old-school disco hit, mixed with 80s synth-wave vibes right now, and I'm finding a way to incorporate that into the songs I'm making right now. It's been fun so far, and I'm excited to see where it can fully go to. I definitely want to make a lot more harder songs though, and mixing it with some really soft stuff as well.
This is your first official EP, right?
Yeah, first official EP. I've only really put out singles up to this point.
Congratulations on that - that's very huge. It's also a pretty ambitious project, your first EP. What were some of the challenges you faced along the way and how did you overcome them?
I definitely faced some challenges when it came to picking the final track list and making sure all the songs were 100 per cent, because I become such a perfectionist doing that - I want to make everything so perfect. I've made so much music over the past year or two, so it was really difficult to summarise everything and put everything on there that I felt wrapped up this era of what I was feeling. I ended up going with four songs that were already previously released and then four new ones as well that were all recently made.
Overcoming that hurdle was tough, but I basically just worked out what stuck with me the most over time and which ones I would be able to listen to after all this time, and I think that's what it came down to.
Every piece of original material you've put out so far, except for a few tracks on the EP, have been collaborations. Is there anything that draws you to collaborating? Or was it as simple as needing top lines for productions and not wanting to or being able to do it yourself?
It's definitely a mixture. There have been a lot of cool opportunities to work with super cool artists that I'm big fans of. I've been lucky enough to jump in studios with people like Oh Wonder and really vibe out and actually make something we both enjoy, which is super cool and definitely not an experience you get making music by yourself. Honestly, though, a lot of it does totally come from needing top lines from writers and singers that I like. Also, sometimes I'll get into a room with other writers and we'll make a song, but then we'll have to find who's right for the top line, which is pretty fun too. That's like a whole new side of music writing that's super fun - reaching out to artists you think will fit the track to see if they want to work on songs.
I know it's like choosing favourites, but is there any particular collaboration that has stood out for you?
Yeah, Oh Wonder for sure. We pretty much caught up in the studio in LA, got pizza, hung out for a minute, and then basically started making music. We lumped together a song in like 15, 20 minutes. It felt amazing and it was such a crazy process where nothing felt forced - it was super laid-back, and I think that's what helped with the easiness of the song's creation. The song turned out awesome too. Otherwise, I'm a huge fan of HONNE as well - love those guys and they were awesome to work with. Radar is one of my favourite songs on the project too.
BROODS is another act on the EP, and because they're from New Zealand, they're super popular down here - like, they just did stadiums with Taylor Swift for example. What was that process like?
Yeah, they're crazy. I've worked with Georgia from BROODS for a little while now and we basically just made a few songs I never really finished. Then, we got Caleb - the other half of BROODS - into it as well, and he basically took what we had made and added a base to it that I just loved so much. They were super down to work together, and we just made it happen over the Internet. They were in Australia and I was in LA, so we kept going back and forth online, making sure it was right.
There are two instrumental tracks on the album that use distorted vocal samples and snippets instead of full guest appearances. Is there a particular reason why you decided to include those two among all the collaborations?
I think it's just because it's what I still like to listen to. Even if I don't make it as much anymore, I still like music that is very instrumental-focused and focused in on one idea in particular - something short and sweet, without needing a whole song built around it. I feel really connected to that music, and it carries a lot reminiscence of my first remixes. Before they were super big remixes with full written songs, they were just simple vocal chops above a beat sort-of-thing. It felt right to include some of that in here too, brings it all together I think.
And it shows you don't need guest collaborators to make a song too, which I guess is important.
That's true. I haven't done a lot of stuff like that lately, so it's cool to do and they're heaps of fun to make. The reaction to them so far has been pretty good too. I was actually surprised that a lot of people have been connecting super well with those ones, I tend to get caught in a loop of feeling like I always need an awesome feature on a song for people to connect with it, but apparently not all the time.
Is there a different process for you when it comes to working on a song like Wallflower, which is instrumental, versus something with a guest feature like Radar? Or are they both built the same way, regardless of whether you're bringing in a guest feature?
I feel like the canvas of instrumental tracks is a lot more open, just because so much of making a good song, in my opinion, is finding a good combination of the vocals and the production together. When you're working on a song like I Miss You or Wallflower from the EP, you can focus more on production and do so much more inside of that, rather than trying to work around something else, like vocals. They both have strengths and weaknesses and I love doing them both, which is why I prefer to do a mix of both.
You haven't done much with hip-hop in the past aside from a few remixes and bootlegs, which is interesting because I know it's something that definitely inspires you. Is that something you want to explore in the future?
Yeah, for sure. Hip-hop has always held such a special place in my heart. My Dad listened to a lot of hip-hop music when I was growing up, so I think I was always very influenced by a lot of it, especially the beats and rhythms. And yeah, I still listen to a lot of rap. I haven't gotten the chance to fully immerse myself into the hip-hop world yet, but I'm definitely putting my foot in the door a more as time goes on to try to get into that world as well. My bootleg of BROCKHAMPTON is probably a good example of that.
So you're coming to Australia over the New Year period and it's your first time here too, which is super exciting. Is there anything in particular you're scheming for the trip?
I'm definitely so stoked for the whole trip. I definitely want to see a kangaroo and a koala - that would be so sick and I need some photos for the gram. I definitely just want to see as much as I can. I've been so inspired by Australia and a lot of the music scene there, so I'm definitely keen to see how it works down there in person.
Is there any Australian music that inspires you in particular? Or is it just our general music output?
I've always been in love with Kevin Parker but electronically, I always felt connected to Future Classic, and artists like Flume - of course - and Hayden James. That whole scene was so popular when I was first really getting into music and that really inspired me; it's just always felt like the coolest music. Australia is so inspiring.
Whethan will make his debut appearance in Australia at Origin Fields Festival - tickets, full line-up and more info HERE - and will play at Sydney's Field Day - tickets and more info HERE.
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