INTERVIEW: What So Not Talks “Not All The Beautiful Things”
What So Not’s debut album Not All The Beautiful Things is out now on Counter Records
It’s been nearly a year since we saw Australian DJ/producer What So Not rip through an iconic set in the desert of Indio, California. It was the final hours of Coachella 2017 — a pair of weekends immortalized with performances by Radiohead, Kendrick Lamar, Lady Gaga, The xx, Justice, Bon Iver, Lorde, and so many others. As we weaved through the wandering crowd and made our way to the Gobi tent, we were simply hopeful the set would include “Montreal,” our favorite track from the Divide & Conquer EP released in 2016. We should have known Emoh Instead, the man behind What So Not, had so much more in store for the evening. The exhilarating set, which debuted a new larger-than-life stage set up, would also include a few unreleased tracks that would later land on What So Not’s debut album Not All The Beautiful Things.
Released in March, Not All The Beautiful Things finds the prolific producer experimenting with his process and sound unlike ever before. The end result is one that undoubtedly justifies the 3+ years the Aussie artist spent creating this new record. From start to finish, the album pays delicate attention to the varying layers of emotion and expression that reverberate across all 12 tracks. While most of the songs ooze the trap and future bass grit we’ve come to know and love from What So Not, other tracks on the album experiment with rap, house, and a bit of dubstep. Throughout all, however, What So Not creates a cohesive and awe-inspiring narrative, and does so alongside an impressive group of collaborators that includes Skrillex, SLUMBERJACK, San Holo, Daniel Johns, Toto, and many more.
We recently connected with What So Not following the first few weeks of his Beautiful Things World Tour. So far, the tour has already completed 20+ dates across 4 continents and included sets at Lost Cities, Ultra Miami, Northern Lights, and all three dates of Lollapalooza South America. The tour is just starting it’s U.S. leg and will run through at least June, with sets at Sasquatch and Bonnaroo confirmed. See the full list of dates and be on the lookout for our review and photographs of What So Not’s set at Baltimore Soundstage on April 28.
The new album is called Not All The Beautiful Things. Why did you choose that name and how does it represent the album as a whole?
There are actually a few reasons I chose Not All The Beautiful Things as the title. I feel it fully embodies the entire narrative of the album and is representative of a lot of dramatic endings to personal relationships I’ve had in the past. I also think, as people, we are constantly thinking of a lot of grandiose ideas of what we want or think we need. Whether it’s a promotion at work, family needs, or anything else — we often are so determined to achieve goals that it drives our mindset fully. This often means that a lot of the simple pleasures in life are lost in the foreground, like enjoying a nice walk down the street or stopping by a local coffee shop. It’s a reminder to enjoy the little things.
We know you strive to constantly create new and fresh records that redefine the boundaries of electronic music. Did that mindset at all affect your approach to creating the new album?
With the new album, I was very focused on songwriting and toplining (writing lyrics over a pre-made track) — which was a really fun process. It’s a new skillset that I’ve been working on developing over the last few years, and with this project, I just dove right into it. I paid extra attention to the push and pull, rhythms and melodies, and the overall dichotomy that engulfs the album. It’s a new approach to my creative process, and it was very rewarding.
— WHAT SO NOT (@WhatSoNot) January 19, 2018
Not All The Beautiful Things was in production for a few years prior to its release in March. Were there any new challenges you faced while creating the album?
Creating an entire album for the first time is a huge hurdle itself. There are a lot of different elements that come into play and all affect each other. If you think about a band and what it takes for them to make an album, usually they have an entire team of people around them — whether it’s sound engineers or producers etc. It can be difficult to take on an album with so many different pieces yourself, especially because I had so many different things running through my head that I needed to get out and put together.
On my track “Be Ok Again,” that was the first time I wrote, co-directed, and played a part in a music video, which was a huge feat and something new I was trying. Or if you look at the individual singles released before the album, I took the time to choose colors I thought best represented each song and made the translucent streak that runs over the horse that color. Aside from that, it’s a huge challenge to be running around the globe and doing a lot while also trying to put an album together.
Speaking of your single “Be Ok Again,” that was also your first time singing on a track. How do you feel about that experience, and can we expect to hear you singing on more tracks in the future?
With “Be Ok Again,” I sang a very rough demo over the melody and later asked Daniel Johns for his thoughts after playing it for him. He thought it was raw and interesting, and encouraged me to keep my vocals on the track. Also, since some of the collaborators were in other countries, I sang a few of the harmonies on other tracks to complete the sound I wanted to achieve. It was a really fun experience, and I would definitely sing on a record again, but it will have to be a special song that I’m really feeling.
The rest of the album features a star-studded lineup of collaborators, but the one we were most surprised by was on the track “We Keep On Running” which features Toto. How did that collaboration come about?
A few years ago, I started playing “Africa” by Toto in my DJ sets. When Skrillex picked me up on the OWSLA label, we were playing a lot of shows back-to-back in the States, and he started dropping the track in his shows and would shout me out for reintroducing the song in a new way. We played the track a lot, which apparently resulted in the song re-entering the charts in the U.S. The guys of Toto thought that was hilarious, and it was Steve Lukather’s son, Trevor, that encouraged the collaboration.
Eventually, that led to me getting into the studio with Joe, Dave, and both Steves to piece the track together. Trevor, like his father, is also an amazing guitarist. He plays on the record and I’ve put together a semi-live show, so he is also currently playing guitar on my tour.
Is there a song on the album you feel the most connected to?
I have no favorites on the album, they’re all equally my children and special to me. I love each track, and while creating the album I must have run through 100+ demos. The songs that made it on the album just felt so right together.