“I like to offer a ‘solution’; a feeling that whatever you’re going through you can overcome it.”
Interview by Arnold van der Walt
Image credit: Julian Bajsel
Every so often you come across an artist that you simply know is destined for greatness. You can see it in the way they carry themselves. You can hear it in the way they speak. You can feel it in the way you connect with them. Big Wild is one of these artists.
Big Wild has seen extensive support from some of the biggest publications in the music industry after his breakout track, ‘Afterglow’ topped Spotify’s Global Viral Chart and was used in a US TV advert for Apple Watch. Heavily supported by ODESZA who invited him along on their tour, Big Wild has reworked tracks for CHVRCHES, ZHU, Gallant and ODESZA. His rise to fame has seen him grace stages at EDC Las Vegas, Lollapolooza, Red Rocks, Bonnaroo and CRSSD which has seen him amass an impressive 130+ million Streams on Spotify alone.
Known for his energetic live performances, Big Wild is capturing the hearts of music lovers the world over and it’s easy to see why. With music that aims to uplift, build and inspire, this American producer has a fruitful career ahead of him if his past works are any indication. With no signs of stopping soon, we hope you’re ready to enter the big wild alongside this innovative performer.
Jackson Stell, (Big Wild) will be releasing his debut album ‘Superdream’ on the 1st of February 2019 via Counter Records and he is also planning a massive tour to go alongside it.
We sat down with Big Wild and spoke about his upcoming debut album, Superdream, why the electronic music scene should embrace individuality, and how he has taught himself to appreciate life after recovering from cancer.
Hi There Big Wild! Thank you so much for taking the time to chat with us during your busy schedule! What are you up to at the moment?
Hey! Since the album is finished, I had time to take a short trip to Costa Rica and now that I’m back I’m working on the new live show.
Your music gives off a sense of euphoric upliftment but to the unrefined listener who’s not familiar with your music, how would you describe your sound?
In the most general sense, it’s electronic music, but I take influences from all sorts of styles and sounds and mix them with my own personal style. That’s vague but you just have to listen to the music haha.
Your music has a certain feel-good quality to it that lures people in. Is this an intentional creative decision?
It’s definitely intentional but only because I’m drawn to that feeling so much myself. Euphoria is such a natural desire and I find myself wanting to reproduce that feeling with my music in my own. I also like adding a positive twist to my music because it feels more constructive than a song that’s purely negative. While there’s nothing wrong with music that focuses solely on the negative, it’s not always for me. I like to offer a “solution” so to speak, or a feeling that whatever you’re going through you can overcome it.
You recently released 2 tracks from your upcoming album, ‘Superdream’ (1 Feb 2019). What can you tell us about ‘Joypunks’?
“Joypunks” was one of the first songs I finished for the album and was one of those songs that convinced me I could really make this project happen. The song was inspired by older Daft Punk (hence the “punk” in “Joypunks”) but with my own interpretation of that classic, rich-harmony house sound. I love playing this one out live, it’s one of the highlights of the show.
Proving that you’re a multi-talented artist, you perform some incredible falsettos on your other new groovy single, ‘Maker’. Any interesting story behind the creation of ‘Maker’?
“Maker” is a special song for me. It describes that feeling of appreciating life that can only come after a near death experience. It was directly influenced by my diagnosis of thyroid cancer in 2013 and the subsequent surgeries and recovery period. It felt like my death was moved from the recesses of my mind and into the forefront. This song is dealing with that feeling- my celebrating and appreciating life. The lyrics describe the feeling of transporting to another place but realizing it’s not your time yet and enjoying what you have.
Seeing as ‘Superdream’ is your first full length album, did you encounter any unique difficulties tackling this project?
The biggest challenge was learning to sing and making that a focus for the project. I knew I wanted to really dive into singing and combining my voice with my production, but I wanted to do it right. I began taking vocal lessons regularly, practicing regularly (still do), and truly making my voice a big part of ‘Superdream’. Overall, it was a huge learning process in terms of my songwriting, vocal recording, learning my own voice, etc.
Take us through your songwriting process. Are there any particular steps you take when putting music together?
About halfway through the creation of the album, I began a new approach with starting songs. I would start an idea and if it wasn’t clicking within 15 minutes I would stop and start a new idea. I keep doing this until I feel I’m really grooving with something. Also, because production is something I often overthink, I wanted to approach lyrics and vocals in the opposite way. My approach is it has to be instinctual and whatever comes out record it and write it down. That type of material oftentimes is coming from a deeper and more subconscious part of the brain and lead me to find a lot of my favourite ideas on the album.
Gary Numan is quoted as saying: “I have always been far more interested in sound than technique, and how sounds work together, how they can be layered. I think electronic music, (in its infancy anyway) allowed us to create music in a way that hadn’t really been possible before. It created a new kind of musician.” What are your thoughts on this statement?
I agree 100%. Were it not for the availability of music software and making music as a solo pursuit, I never would have become a musician. The ability to create completely unique sounds and control all the elements of a song to create an entire piece of music was amazing for me. This process is much different from making music on traditional instruments and it’s a form of self-expression that wasn’t really possible before. It captured my imagination where other instruments didn’t.
Studio work and music creation or performing and interacting with a live audience, which do you prefer?
I love both for different reasons and wouldn’t want one without the other. It’s like a dichotomy. Playing music live, meeting people, engaging with the world balances out a lot of the solitary and hermit-like habits I have with creating music in my studio haha. One allows me to get out of my shell and the other allows me to feel comfortable enough to express myself. At this point, I would go crazy if someone took one of these options away.
You’ve been lucky enough to perform on some of the biggest stages across the globe. From EDC, Coachella, Lollapolooza, Red Rocks, etc. Out of them all, what has been your most memorable performance so far?
I have been very fortunate, but my favourite has been co-headlining Red Rocks. It was the first show of that size that I was really able to make my own with production, backup singers, surprises, etc. Plus, Red Rocks is a beautiful venue and the weather was perfect. That night was a definite highlight of my career.
When performing, what do you always keep nearby?
Water, always water.
A Big Wild live show is like no other in the electronic music scene. You use multiple instruments, sing your own vocals, engage with the crowd, etc. What do you feel is the key to having a memorable live show?
People naturally remember things that are unique. Something that looks, sounds, and most importantly feels different AND good is something that sticks with people both in their minds and hearts. At the core of everything, I’m trying to capture that feeling.
You’ve been working with ODESZA’s Foreign Family Collective for a while now. What has that experience been like? What makes this influential imprint so different from others?
My time with Foreign Family was great. They separate themselves from other labels by being really grassroots and supporting music and projects they really love. It’s all genuine. I’m also really enjoying working with Counter Records for ‘Superdream’. Both imprints have a true love for the music their labels represent that isn’t all that common in the music industry.
You have a busy schedule ahead of you! With shows planned with ODESZA, Louis the Child, and your own massive ‘Superdream’ tour. How do you stay motivated?
If anything, having a busy schedule is the motivation itself. My big focus right now is the ‘Superdream’ tour and making this show special. It’s going to be a huge step forward for me in terms of the overall show concept, my live vocals, and production. That keeps me extremely motivated.
If you could change one thing about the electronic music industry, what would it be?
Chasing trends. It’s a part of human instinct to copy something successful (successful in this instance meaning lots of plays, views, etc.) but it’s even more prevalent in electronic music because of creating on computers. The electronic music industry needs more individuality. Electronic music as a whole would be so much more rich and colourful if artists were comfortable making music that is a better representation of themselves.
Which three albums have influenced you the most creatively?
The Beatles – ‘Abbey Road’
Tame Impala – ‘Currents’
Gorillaz – ‘Demon Days’
And what 3 songs do you currently have on heavy rotation?
“Things” by Louis Cole
“Okay Okay” by Pino D’Angio
“Tints” by Anderson .Paak
If you could ask your fans one question, what would it be?
What is the main role that music serves in your life?
Apart from the release of ‘Superdream’ and the 2019 tour that goes along with it, what does the future hold for Big Wild?
Lots of unannounced shows/festivals for 2019 and making ‘Superdream’ come to life. There are a lot of things to release besides the album.
Thank you so much for taking the time to chat to us. It’s been an absolute pleasure! Before you leave, what are Big Wild’s famous last words…
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