16 Oct Interview: Ekali shares about his creative journey, upcoming releases, and future plans for his career
For everyone who attended The Buzz, UC Davis’s largest welcome back event definitely started the school year on a high note. Before all the magic happened on stage, we got a chance to sit down with Nathan Shaw, the mastermind behind Ekali. Shaw is an electronic producer from Vancouver, Canada who began pursuing music at just 13 years old. In his early days, Shaw began doing session work as a jazz bassist, then eventually landed a spot in a band called Said the Whale whom he toured with for six years. He didn’t start producing music until 2013 at the age of 23, and decided to leave his band in early 2016 to fully pursue his third project, Ekali.
Tell us a little about how you came into the EDM music scene. When did you know that music was going to be your full-time career?
Music has always been my full-time career. I dropped out of high school when I was 16 and I started doing music, playing bass, and playing in bands, and found that I wasn’t entirely satisfied. I wanted to be making entire songs but I wasn’t a good singer. I was just writing bass parts and guitar parts. So I just started making music on the computer. That was when I was still in the band… There’d be six of us be in van and I’d just be in the back seat making music. When that started taking off, my band gave me an ultimatum to choose between the two projects so I just chose my own. I’ve never had a job in my life, it’s just been music since I was 16.
Have your parents supported your career since the very beginning?
No, no… I mean my mom always has. But, both my parents are musicians and my dad toured for a while and he was a bit disenchanted about the idea of touring so he didn’t want me to go on tour. I think as soon as they saw me succeeding and doing what I love, they were totally cool with it. My dad got to see me perform at Life is Beautiful, which was the first time he’s even seen me perform.
How was your time at Life Is Beautiful and how did you celebrate your 26th birthday while working?
Well first I went to my friend Whethan’s show in Vancouver on the 22nd and stayed out until 6am. Then got on a flight at 9am so I was running on 2 hours of sleep at Life is Beautiful. But the real party was the Life is Beautiful set… it was a sick birthday celebration! Best show I’ve played so far, definitely my favorite one.
How do you stay motivated while touring and playing shows?
It’s really, really hard to stay motivated. I have to be in a good happy mental space to create music and touring is like the most volatile thing in the world… it’s really difficult to stay focused. I think trying to exercise daily is like the main thing cause it keeps your head nice and clear. Sometimes when I’m in a creative block, I go for a run and then come back and make music again. Another one is just keeping good people around you all the time. I used to tour alone and touring alone for a month is the most depressing thing in the world. But when you have your best friend around who’s also your tour manager, it makes things a lot easier and a lot more fun.
Can you talk me through your creative process? Does it have any quirks or routines?
I like to light candles when I’m working. I need everything to be very tidy when I work otherwise I have a very hard time focusing on what I want to do. A lot of people start with drums or percussion, but I usually try to make a mood happen first… sadness or happiness. I just add textures until I feel something and that’s when I start adding in everything else. I think the mood is the most important thing.
Who do you listen/look to for inspiration?
I’ve been trying to clear my head of all the electronic music in the world lately and kinda just let my inspiration let guide me. But I’ve been listening to a lot of ZHU, Illenium, Bonobo, Droeloe, Whethan. I listen to a lot of rap music as well… A$AP Mob, Denzel Curry (who I recently did a song with).
Who are your top artists that you want to collab with?
I’m not really trying to collaborate with producers right now. So these are all vocalists: Tory Lanez, A$AP Rocky, Tove Lo, Dua Lipa, and Zayn.
Your newest Awakening Mix was definitely more on the chill side. And you mentioned on twitter that your new releases are going to be around 90bpm. What made you break away from your past releases to start on different styles?
Not a lot of people know my really old stuff, but my really old music was very chill. You wouldn’t hear it at a music festival. It was really relaxed but when I started playing more festival and playing my songs up more, my music got a bit more hype. But I never really stopped thinking about making that mellow music. And the Awakening Mixes are meant to show that side of me, the more chill relaxed type of music… I kinda have two different sides to my musical spectrum and I want to make sure that both of them are equally represented at all times.
Can we expect any Jazz influences in your new releases?
You could say that for sure. Probably not in the chords but definitely in the mood and the percussion… dark, kinda dingy club vibes for sure.
Have you ever thought about going into different areas of the music industry or are you purely focused on being a musician?
I don’t think I ever want to be involved in the music industry… I also don’t ever want to have a boss. I just want to be in charge of my own life so I can’t see myself migrating anywhere else in the music industry. I could definitely see myself doing other things completely. I want to be a chef at some point; I want to own a restaurant. I’m an entrepreneur at heart… as far as music is concerned I’m just a creator.
Are you looking to do something like Action Bronson who made his name as rapper and a chef?
I think less so; I think it wouldn’t even be tied to my artist project. It wouldn’t be Ekali’s restaurant, it would be Nathan Shaw’s restaurant. I just don’t see myself always being a musician… when my time as a musician is over I want to do something completely different.
[BONUS ROUND] So since you like to cook, if you could have only 5 spices in your spice cabinet what would they be?
Not including salt and pepper right? Oh man… sage is one, thyme, rosemary, paprika, and cumin.
Seems like we’ll definitely be seeing more projects from Mr. Shaw in the coming years, but for now he is off to kickstart his Babylon World Tour in New Zealand. Entertainment Council wishes Ekali the best of luck on his 42-day tour and if you missed him at The Buzz, don’t worry! He’s coming back to Sacramento on December 20 at Ace of Spades. Tickets at https://www.eventbrite.com/e/ekali-ace-of-spades-tickets-37040005654
The Buzz, September 26, 2017