27 Apr Interview: MELVV’s rise from local Midwestern DJ to festival regular
Meet Wisconsin-born producer Jeffrey Melvin, known by his stage name MELVV. His music career started out like any other bedroom producer, gaining a huge following on SoundCloud before taking his first spin onstage. In his early days, MELVV attributes much of his success to fellow UC Davis Alum and YouTube star, Jenn Im, who regularly used his tracks in her videos. At only 21 years old, he has gained support from some of the biggest acts in the industry like Jai Wolf, Big Gigantic and Louis the Child. After MELVV’s set at Lawntopia, we got the chance to learn more about his rise up the music industry.
Since you grew up in Milwaukee, how did you find yourself in the EDM community?
There’s a little scene there… it’s not huge but it’s really cool. Mostly it was internet stuff. I remixed a Cashmere Cat song and put it on SoundCloud and from that…SoundCloud gaining traction, that’s how I got management.
In terms of how I grew in Milwaukee, it was just going to shows and hitting up venue people. [They] all knew about my music and saw the SoundCloud traction online, and they were like, “you should start paying shows here.” They asked me to open a bunch of their shows after I did the Cashmere [Cat] gig and I opened for Haywyre, Mija and a few others. I think the Mija show was my favorite show I ever played there.
Who do you listen/look to for inspiration?
One of the most obvious ones is Cashmere Cat. He brought me on my first show that I ever played [at age 17 in 2015] which was really cool. I looked up to him a lot. He’s worked with everyone that I really want to work with. I opened for him for the first time during the tour he did with Ariana Grande… He played the Bradley Center with Ariana and had a 7pm set. I was on at 10pm at this club and he came after his Ariana set and headlined the club. So it was him going from like a 10,000 capacity show to a 500 capacity, intimate show.
What artists do you really want to collaborate with?
I really wanna work with Kanye West. I LOVE Kanye so much. I think he’s a genius. He seems to never have any regrets and he’ll just say like the craziest things. And sometimes I’ll hate him for it but he’s a genius at PR. He’s willing to go to any length to promote himself, and like call himself a God… he’s crazy but it’s amazing. Ariana Grande is definitely my #2 that I want to work with next to Kanye.
How did you juggle school with your growing music career?
So I actually dropped out [of University of Wisconsin]. I was split between business and communications. But I kinda knew I wasn’t coming back a second year because in second semester I got a tour with Big Gigantic and Louis the Child. And then I dropped two classes and I didn’t go back!
How did your parents feel about it?
At first, they were so mad. And then they were okay with everything once it was a way to make a full living and be independent. They thought it was cool and then Warner [Atlantic Records] started hitting me up. When I dropped out, all I had was Coachella and the tour [with Big Gigantic and Louis the Child] so that wasn’t even really enough to fully persuade them. But they’ve always been supportive of everything and they want me to keep doing music.
You just released your new EP, Stress Relief. Congratulations! How does it feel to be done with it/are you happy with it?
Yeah! The thing with that one is that it was a bunch of old songs basically. When I signed with Atlantic, they were kind of moving forward with different songs. But I liked those other ones that I have too! So they were like, “just put them out for free,” and they were down to distribute it and stuff. I mean I’ve had [Stress Relief] done for forever so it’s nice to have it be listenable now…Plus I’m glad to kinda move on. It still felt like new music even though it was hella old. Now I can truly move forward and actually release all the new stuff too.
And with the new music, you’re also set to go on your first headline tour this May. Are you looking to incorporating different aspects into your show? Maybe a live set?
Sort of yeah! I actually first started on piano, then I switched to drums, and then I got back into piano. Keys would be really cool to start for sure. I’m just trying to figure out a way to make it work without… I want to make it something special…it’s such a huge unknown going out there and playing my first live set. I’d be stressed! So until then, this headline tour is all DJ sets but maybe I’ll do a live show next year… I mean I have no idea.
What is your favorite part about performing your songs for a crowd?
It’s cool to see everybody react to songs. I like interacting with people too… for the Hippie Sabotage tour I was always kinda on the rail. I talked to people a lot mid-set, I’ll sing along to songs with people. It’s kinda cool to go out there and completely be a part of your own show. For DJ sets, sometimes you just gotta do something to make it more of a performance… and make it feel like a house party as opposed to just watching someone bob their head.
What was the craziest performance you’ve done?
For a while it was Coachella because that was super early on and I had never really played a crowd that big before. Recently… probably on the Hippie tour in Boulder, Colorado. I love that city, it’s like a little college town and everybody there is insane. It was sold out—probably 1500 people—everyone’s moshing half the set. I crowd-surfed on the last song… it was super personal.
If you were to pick up an instrument right now, what instrument would it be?
Guitar for sure, especially because of my buddy Two Feet. He signed to Republic and he’s got this song called “Go Fuck Yourself” and I showed it to my management like right away. I think guitar is becoming so much more relevant in electronic than it ever was before. Plus I love indie bands, like I wanna BE an indie band.
Who is your favorite indie artist right now?
I’ve been into a band called Now, Now for the longest time. I saw Hayley Williams tweeted one of their songs once, and I was like how does she know?! It was one of those weird moments… like wow she knows an undiscovered band that I love too. And Hayley Williams is one of my favorite people ever. I love Paramore so much. I want to work with her! That was one of the first things I brought up with Atlantic.
Is there a certain unexpected genre that you would want to explore with your music?
Probably folk. One of my favorite bands is Angus & Julia Stone and I really want to put something out with them. I was actually connected with Julia once and she sent me some stuff to work on and I never really finished it. It was really good but I couldn’t figure out how to finish it.
How do you know when a song is done?
You kind of don’t…I really don’t know how to describe it. Once you realize that if you add something more that is distracting or takes away from the vibe or makes it sound too busy. I make a lot of minimal songs and I don’t really put too many elements in there. So whenever it sounds full, I guess, whenever it feels like enough to be a song. I like fewer elements and a stripped down sort of feel for my songs.
When did you begin to find your own personal sound?
I started making music when I was 12, so for a while I was just copying people and seeing if I could make stuff sound as good someone else’s in that same exact style but as something different. And I did that with Deadmau5, but I was just doing it from scratch and seeing if I could make it. I was making a lot of progressive house for years just because I love that Deadmau5 album called Random Album Title. Eventually I kind of just stumbled into what I liked once I stopped copying everyone.
MELVV has got a lot more exciting music in the works, but he’s leaving the studio for a bit to debut his Stress Relief Tour this May. If you missed him at Lawntopia, you have another chance to catch him at San Francisco’s 1015 Folsom on May 10th! Tickets at https://www.eventbrite.com/e/melvv-at-1015-folsom-tickets-44410941321?aff=site
Lawntopia, April 6, 2018
PC: Trevor Goodman