What So Not (AKA Emoh Instead) paused his globe-trotting tour schedule to answer some of our questions about his diverse, layered, cohesive, rollercoaster debut Not All The Beautiful Things – which is, funnily enough, full of beautiful things.
Where do we find you at the moment – how is the build-up to release kicking along?
I’m in Singapore right now, for the first time. Very interesting country. Tiny land mass, very forward-thinking, almost zero crime, and a harmonious mix of culture to [an] extent I haven’t seen before. The build-up has been intense – lots to do! I’m jumping around the world right now doing listening parties, shows, radio, TV, and on top of that, building and fine-tuning all the creative aspects outside the music: stage design, show visuals and music videos.
I guess the obvious question is, what has taken so long to finally release your debut long play?
I was on the road for almost six years. I didn’t want to be touring for that long; it was brutal, physically and mentally. Lots of time alone in transit, trying to stay creative and give each city everything you’ve got (on no sleep and with no comforts of home or stability).
I took my first real break at the start of 2017. It was only when I stopped and started reflecting on everything that it all came together, and the album kind of presented itself to me.
You haven’t included any of your previous singles or anything off the Divide & Conquer EP on the record. Given it is your debut album, was there the temptation to include those songs?
I made a hundred or so demos for this album, but only selected the ones that fit into the narrative I was sculpting. There were some reworks of past songs I speculated placing on the album, but in the end it felt stronger creating something totally new and unique to anything before.
If You Only Knew, with the criminally underrated San Holo (and of course Daniel Johns) is a stand-out, with its slow and constant build to that euphoric drop. How did that track come about?
San and myself actually made this the first day we ever met (I think during his first tour of America). He had this little vocal sample (from a session with Anna Lunoe) which we re-pitched to sketch out a top line melody. The production felt really interesting, but very synthetic. I saw a guitar hanging on the wall, and San mentioned he used to play. I encouraged him to pick it up and we fleshed out this medieval-feeling, plucked progression. I later took this all to Daniel Johns and explained a fable I had in mind (based around the production’s medieval feel). We wrote lyrics around this story and worked through melodic variations. I love that about this song… the melodic choices for the vocal are so striking (huge credit to Daniel for this!). The synth modulation fused with the vocal takes the chorus to a pretty interesting place, in my opinion.
There are in fact a number of tracks with the legendary Johns. Were you a Silverchair/ Dissociatives fan growing up? How did the collaboration happen?
I was actually tracking and modulating that big arpeggiated progression from the album intro Warlord with [past collaborator] Slumberjack as Daniel stopped by to say hello. He was intrigued, and went on about how if he didn’t leave soon he’d be here for another 10 hours tracking vocals with us. (He did leave soon after, but contacted me through a mutual friend a few days later, and we ended up working on a ton of music.) Definitely used to jam out a few Silverchair tunes in my high school rock band, so a very cool turn of events.
Goh is an absolute monster, and features Skrillex and Kristy Lee (whose stocks just continue to skyrocket). With KLP – and a number of other collaborations on the record – you’re working with artists that you have already previously worked with at various stages. Is this a comfort thing? ‘If it ain’t broke don’t fix it?’
In the back of my mind for every song is, “Could I handle a three-month bus tour with this person?”
Haha… I release music with artists that I admire and share creative vision with, but most of all, respect as people.
Your position with What So Not is now ‘Creative Director’. How important was it for you have control over the entire project, and what kind of difference has that made from previous projects?
This plays heavily into your second question. I spent a lot of time refining my knowledge and abilities before tackling an album. These skills weren’t just producing, but songwriting, film scoring and directing, as well as understanding and being heavily involved in all aspects of the show: lighting, visuals and stage design. It’s meant that I can give clear direction, have reasonable expectations of what we can achieve creatively, and should I need to, get very hands on to get things over the line. Most importantly it means there is a cohesive narrative across all creative aspects of the project.
You’re a true festival veteran now; what is it about festival touring that you love?
I love doing events: all kinds of sizes. Coming back to Australia, I did a few cheeky club sets to [less than] 200 people and the vibe was indescribable. A few times now I’ve had 40,000 or so at my stage. At that level, you can get kind of lost… but that’s why I’ve put so much energy into the stage production, visuals, and lighting. It keeps a giant show intimate, like you’re bringing everyone into your world. As well as that, 40,000 people singing the lyrics to something you wrote alone in a hotel room is unfathomably gratifying!
Given you are travelling the world so frequently, do you get a chance to listen to much new music (particularly anything we may not be familiar with) yourself?
I spent most of the last year-and-a-half ignoring current music. I studied classic albums that had prolific impacts on culture, and stood the test of time: The Fugees, Moby, Pink Floyd, The Prodigy, Gorillaz, Led Zeppelin, The Chemical Brothers, etcetera. Going into my album process, I wanted try to understand what makes a ‘classic’ album. I also researched into the breaking down of some of the greatest film scores, and incorporated such techniques into my own work.
Not All The Beautiful Things is out March 9 via Sweat It Out/Warner.
Keep up with the latest Australian release dates for music.