ATTLAS is currently on his Storyline Live tour, where he’ll be playing a total of 7 shows in the U.S and Canada. He recently dropped volume 2 of the Storyline mix, and we were able to chat with him before he played at his first stop in San Francisco.
How are you feeling about the release of your Storyline volume 2 album?
I’m actually really excited. It’s really encouraging that there is sort of an audience and a demand for a mix like that because it is a pretty nonchurchical it’s not really a DJ mix it’s not even a produced hour of music. It’s sort of a hybrid that sits right in between those two worlds. And it is for me personally really encouraging to because that means that electronic music has a very wide spectrum of perspectives on it. It’s not just about playing the hit records, it’s not just about making sure you’re mixing the right keys or hitting those kicks at the same time. There’s a chance for music to be a little more emotionally resonant, kind of introspective and patient. It’s the kind of the track selections by the artists that I love that might not necessarily be the tracks that play out- because in a club on a night out and people are drinking and blowing off steam from the week- demands a different kind of energy and you want to give them a different kind of evening. But electronic music is such a wide geography of musical output that there needs to be the outlet for these kinds of tracks and these selections. For me it’s personally encouraging, not just that people like ATTLAS, but also that there is an audience for those tracks that I’m picking, like a down-tempo forte track, or that I can take an indie pianist and use that intro, and then use vocals from my own tracks over things that might not necessarily be those tracks that I play out but yeah, I really like that people like Storyline because that’s the kind of stuff that I like working on and it’s close to my background musically as far as production and writing and arrangement goes.
I’m excited that it’s done and I’m excited that there seems to be a positive reception towards it.
What are some influences in the album?
I think there’s three main acts that do things that are similar but not in a terribly obvious way. Matthew Dekay, who kind of has a deep house act, that did a couple mixes that were in a similar vein. One of my personal favorite working artists right now is an artist DJRUM that releases on 2nd Drop Records, and a lot of the UK dub, and garage kind of labels, and he’s in that. And then there’s an indie folk artist out of Kansas called Adam Gnade and he did these folk records that are very much the hybrids of a personal narrative scored to your own backdrop of composition and I figured I would give my own take on it and hopefully was articulated in a way that stands out.
You have a lot of musical background in different genres as well, do you think that shines through in this album?
I don’t necessarily think that my background, I mean wasn’t performing to an extraordinary degree on these sort of mixes. It’s sort of a modern musical collage, but you know I hope that my musical ear and taste sort of comes through. I open with a piano track that I love and then I close with a piano track that I wrote. There are kind of threads of commonality when it comes to the instrumentation and the emotional spectrum that I try to cover but it’s pretty terrible to be objective about yourself.
Did you always want to get into the genre of electronic music?
I only really sent out one electronic music to one label ever, which was mau5trap and deadmau5 ears, cause that was my threshold for quality. Before I was signed to mau5trap I was actually in LA interning, and then I got a contract under a composer there and it was only when I went back to Canada when I combine what I learned working in studios and composing with my love for what electronic music was happening, especially with acts like Joel. So it was really only that one label that heard the dance side of the composition that I’d ever done. More long form and narratively focused composition has always been at the core of my writing, and Storyline is very much a hybrid of those two worlds but I would love to really do my own Storyline where all the dialogue is written and there’s actors. And maybe I’m describing a musical now that I think about it *laughs* but the combination of elements is, I feel, as much as fun electronic music is in the DJ world it still feels a little bit two dimensional. It’s something that is being presented to you, and you’re not so much a participant. And even though Storyline mixes are still something you’re listening to and you’re primarily an audience member, I do like the fact that you can bring your own emotional experiences towards it that it becomes more of a participatory experience. I feel like I’m still not quite there in a 3D musical story-telling environment that I envision but you gotta skin your knees a few times before you can really launch yourself.
How do are you feeling on your first tour with this set up?
My first set ever was less than a year ago. It was opening for other acts on the label, it was for Matt Lang and deadmau5, and through the winter I was kind of fighting for those opening slots. I did the bus tour and opened in a bunch of clubs for acts that I’m familiar with, and that fit in the genre that I was writing, that kind of techy progressive hybrid. Then this summer I got to do my own run of shows where I was headlining those same clubs that I had been opening at a year ago, but this is the first one where we’re sort of articulating a concept through the next few dates. I’m looking at it as a proof of concept. We’ve done Tomorrowland and Nocturnal Wonderland. So we’ve hit these festivals and we’ve hit clubs like Output and Stereo, and these legendary clubs, and we’ve done Treehouse in Miami. So I know that there is a place for the music that I like to write in those clubs and those festival environments but because I do have the background in exploring other sounds we figured that this is kind of a half way point between bringing a piano on tour and those club worlds. So if these next run of shows go well, then it’s something that I can take and hold on to and say “Hey, this work and there’s a way to expand that,” whether it’s involving vocalists and more instrumentation and expanding on the ideas and the concepts. But you know it’s as much my responsibility to write stuff that has relevance as it is for audience to show up and the promoters to support it.
How has being signed to mousetrap affected your music?
It was really the only label that I sent my stuff to, so obviously the patience and generosity that they extended to me was the first real “boom” in this side of the industry. More specifically, and speaking more towards their encouragement was the fact that as an unknown, I hadn’t played at any show before I put out anything. I had two EP’s before the first show was even played, and on those EP’s were all these kind of dance tracks that were in sort of that deadmau5 sonic geography but there were also down-tempo tracks, and piano tracks, and ambient tracks and there were things that were not really pop crossed, but they were very vocal driven and almost had that pop structure. So the fact that I’m on a label where I can be that creative, and I can put in a dance track in the same week that I put out something that doesn’t even have a single bit of percussion, it’s just piano and droney synths, is creatively that kind of push of the cliff that says “No it’s up to you.” But when it comes to the specifics of the other artists on the label, I put my own little neuroses and frustrations and queries over the entire industry, not only the production side or not only how to release a good track or a good five tracks, but I talk to the people on the label all the time, be it EEKKOO when he’s playing his techno shows, or Matt Lang whose working film projects and building sound libraries and producing some of the most sonically dense techno right now, or going to Joel’s house which is 20 minutes away from where I live and to mix a track and have him there to collab on a livestream with him. I think those are the things that are those asterisks and those x-factors on the label that are going to show up in your contract but they are the obvious advantages to working with that group of individuals.
You were named “One to Watch” by Billboard for this year. Has that pushed you at all so far this year?
I can give them a list of artists to watch that they’ve never even heard of, but yeah. It didn’t actually push me. I kind of had that drive at the start of the year anyway. Last year there were some interesting comments. I’m not really a huge social media, online kind of person. I mean I only just got a smartphone in April. And I only just figured out how to do a live video today, and that was the first time I learned how to do a video camera on this thing *picks up new Samsung phone*. I mean there’s a lot of kind of personal growth, and early on there was kind of the deadmau5 sound comparisons, which, initially flattering, I was more motivated by the respect to Joel, and the way he’s built sound and he has, and I was like “I can figure out those kick sounds and those synths and how to build around that structure. But more specifically now I kind of have this duration of an open window where I can still release music and decide “Okay, what does ATTLAS sound like and what does Jeff sound like” and as I write and experiment and delete things and hide things and put things out there I think, slowly chipping away the block of ice into something that resembles my voice but I think that’s the real challenge right now, is to kind of evolve past what trends and what’s kind of the sound of the summer and then what’s kind of the next hot iteration of electronic dance music and how you kind of separate yourself from the pack. Because I think there’s a growth curve that kind of peaks quickly. I mean you can go back to festival line ups from five years ago and be like “Oh, fuck, that artist was huge, what happened to them?” but they did sound like everything else that was big that summer or big on those stages. And I think the artists that I listen to have found longevity through an honest form of authorship through their own work and their own expression of their voice so I think that’s the bigger battle right now, find something that’s a long term plan. I love writing music too much to give it up because I just didn’t try hard enough, right?
Do you have a goal for next year that you want to accomplish?
I have so much written that I would like to finish and put out and structure it into an arc that makes sense. Not to say the album is dead or anything but I think the fact that there was a anticipation towards like a Storyline mix means that people still wanna be captivated for a duration. They’re not just gonna wait for 50 seconds, and see if they relate to the vocal and if the drop heavy enough. I think there are enough artists who are doing that that I don’t wanna crowd their lanes creatively. So I think for 2017 it’s about figuring out my own voice. If I was super selfish I would say I would wanna score a film and put out a piano record and then tour a really cool live set up. But, I mean, that’s a really selfish ambition, and I think those are things you have to earn, they don’t just happen.
So do you have a lot of interest in film and doing film scores?
Yeah, I think there’s something to be said for writing for longer form because you have the advantage of working with visual geography you have the advantage of working with character performance, stories, you can develop and expand upon motif and theme writing in a way that has a place in contemporary pop dance but it doesn’t really offer you the same sort of ways to flesh it out over duration of an hour and a half. I mean if someone is watching a long shot from a steady camera, or chop shot, you have three minutes to build up. Whereas on a dance floor people don’t really have three minutes to stand around and wait because you’re writing something emotional. There are artists who do kind of marry those two worlds accurately. But putting it all under the ATTLAS umbrella and saying that some things belong in a kind of private, at home listening and something’s I’m really excited to take to clubs.. So it’s kind of about building the separation and the identity to all the kind of expression and musicality that I aspire towards.
So is that where the theme of Storyline stems from?
Yeah, I think so. I realized quickly that I tried early on to put those smeary-synthey-droney bits of exposition with the quotes and everything. I tired them in clubs but it’s a very different environment. People go to the washroom, then go get a drink, then go smoke, or they get there really late or get there really early and they’re really tired so you can’t really expect that captive audience from the first note you play to the last and for them to appreciate the nuance of the arc. I mean it does work once in awhile but I do think it is a different animal. You’re not sitting down in a theater paying attention to all these things sober where you can shush the person next to you. These are live environments where people are going there to blow off steam so it is kind of about finding the balance between everything that Storyline is as a private listen where people can put it on in the car or when they’re studying or by themselves because they can focus on every note, nuance, arc and shape of the story that I present, and versus in a club of where it sometimes takes you two minutes to even recognize what techno track that is because of all of the cacophony around you. I’m kind of eager and a little apprehensive to explore that balance and what that divide is and how to walk that tightrope of the music that I love to write and which tracks makes sense to perform.
Is there anyone you’re looking forward to working with soon?
I mean I’m happy to work with anyone I can. I mean collaboration is pretty tricky in the electronic sphere because of the nature of the work. I will put in a separate category vocalists. Vocalists have a very specific way of working, they either come to you with a melody or chorus or an idea or concept and then you can sort of work around that. Electronic collaboration is a little more difficult, I find, just because electronic musicians, at least, compositionally tend to be more introverted with ideas. You can have an idea in your head and it can be six hours of processing and writing the melody and bouncing to audio before you even know if that idea sounds good or if it was just in your head. So a lot of it is 6 steps forward and then 5.99 steps backwards when you realize, “Hey it didn’t really work out.” So it’s not like I can have a guitar and then someone plays a piano over the guitar and those things can happen spontaneously in real time. I haven’t figured out the perfect way of collaborating in the electronic sphere. I know it does work though. Remixes are kind of the obvious explain. You can take someone else’s stems or vocals or synth line or hook or something and you can build your own idea around that. But so far anyone I want to work with is just kind of selfish indulgence. I wanna kind of write enough music to where people wanna work with me first. I do feel like you have to earn the privilege of those kinds of works.
What’s up next for you after the tour?
I mean there’s a lot of things I want to do and something’s I know for sure I’m gonna do. I know that mau5trap as a label has gone from a relatively cozy roster to expanding and growing and bringing in a lot of artists. We’ve started in LA, we did this record label party where all the artists get together and put on a showcase and that was a warehouse party and that was a blast. Those kinds of environments are great because the pressure isn’t on presenting your own studio work in a unique way it’s just about making sure the party is good because it represents the label. But I have about 20 tracks that I want to finish and then narrow down to the best 6 and make a unique arc, and expand on the ATTLAS sound that I think is out there in the ether that I kind of got to pull and kind of shave off and narrow down into something that stands out and is unique. But yeah I hope 2017 is an exciting one. I like writing and it’s been wild ride for the last 18 months. And if I get hit by a bus tomorrow it’s been a real trip, and if not then I think I have the momentum to continue forward in a pretty fun way.
How are you feeling being on tour right now?
As excited and exhilarating as it is to be on the road, I’m very much a studio writer as well. That’s my background, so you learn every time- these tracks work on the road and these ones don’t. And it’s actually funny because I played a club where there was like smokes and lasers going off, and I felt, not an obligation really but a responsibility to make sure to maintain the energy in those environments and then people come up afterwards and they say “Oh I was really excited to see ATTLAS but what happened to all the quotes and all the mellow stuff?” and I just thought “Ah, I didn’t really feel like it fit tonight man.” So I’m hoping that, and tonight will be a little different because it’s a free party and it’s just an hour set. But the rest of tour I’m not playing clubs, I’m playing live venues, which is very different, and it does give me a chance where these are all venues I would like to show what I can do. I mean I’m only doing half gear tonight, I only really have this *picks up small keyboard* and a few controllers but the real thing will have a full table of stuff. So if that all goes well, I wanna do a thing where… do you know David August? He’s closer to the idea where you can tour with all your gear and you can build your own sound and your own identity. It’s not as quick as say, “Ok I know how to produce music and what’s popular right now, great I’ll produce that, and I’ll get a bunch of huge bookies and maybe play at the stage at this festival.” So I think having your own identity and your own little world of sound to explore gives you longevity but I don’t think it’s as quick a peak, but I’m excited to be patient.
Why did you choose the name ATTLAS to perform under?
Well the obvious answer is I didn’t want [my name] to be out there, I mean I’m not really extremely outgoing social person. I mean I’m a pretty quiet and to myself person and I thought I would like a little separation because then it’s going to be kind of like this cape I put on. And if people like it or don’t like it I can just say “Oh they just don’t like ATTLAS, they don’t know Jeff.” I can kind of protect myself a bit because I was worried that if people don’t like something or I screw up one night or whatever, I don’t want people to say “Oh I hate Jeff,” and me respond with “No, no, you just don’t like a version of Jeff.” But the other answer is that I think with the name ATTLAS there’s kind of an ambiguity of to it, I mean it’s not as obvious as a name like BASSNECTUR, where you know exactly what kind of music you’re going to get with BASSNECTUR. I mean, it is just an artist name, I’m not gonna, you know, get into the deep philosophy on it because it’s just dance music, people are drunk when they hear it. But the reality is that I do write a lot of stuff. I love having influences from a lot of different areas, both physical geographies and emotional geographies and I think if of an atlas, which is a book of maps and places and peaks and valleys and everything, and I wanted to set myself up to kind of cover a spectrum of sound. And I didn’t want to lock myself into one iteration of electronic music. And hopefully ATTLAS will be that umbrella that does cover all the stuff.
After the interview ATTLAS went on to play a amazing set, that showed that he is very much so an artist that will go on to do uniquely creative things. His many inspirations and influences showed through, with mixture of sounds that ranged from deep synthetic beats to jazz to a remix of a popular Rihanna song. If you have a chance to go and see him live, I would highly recommend it.