[interview] Big Wild Dishes on Originality, Progression, and Being a One-man-band
If you attended the inaugural Okeechobee Music and Arts Festival last month, odds are you entered the portal early enough to catch Big Wild’s Thursday evening set. In that case, you were serenaded by a slew of melodic, tribal, futuristic goodness, loosening you up for the weekend ahead.
Jackson Stella aka Big Wild sat cooped up in the media tent, having just concluded an interview, when I approached him for our interview. Despite his probable exhaustion from a high-energy set the previous night, he was calm, cool, and collected. We were able to converse with him regarding his recent successes and come-ups within the scene, the challenges and rewards of being a one-man-band, and what it means to be original.
Sensible Reason: This is Connor from Sensible Reason, and we’re catching up with Jackson Stell aka Big Wild. The last time we spoke was around Hulaween time when you were finishing up the tour with GRiZ and Louie Lastic. What is a milestone that you’ve reached since that tour concluded, or while the tour was going on?
Jackson Stell: Well the Odesza tour afterwards was really awesome. But also Snowglobe was amazing, I haven’t really had a big gig like Snowglobe until today (Okeechobee) and it was awesome. It was a NYE event and it was one of the biggest crowds I’ve ever played in front of and it was kind of nice to see that when I play at festivals I’m slowly getting bigger crowds, more people know who I am, and it’s nice to see that slow building process.
SR: You’ve definitely been coming in hot. I remember seeing the set at Hulaween this year at the end of October, and that was a crazy crowd. I have a picture during your set and I remember thinking it’s one of the biggest crowds I’ve ever seen that early in the day at Suwannee. It was very impressive. And it was hot out there too!
JS: It was so cool, that was a lot of fun.
SR: So you did the tour with GRiZ, then with Odesza, aside from those, can you tell us about your new tours or new tunes?
JS: Well I have my headlining tour, with the first show being on 4/20 of course. That goes until May 22nd, we’re going all across the US. I’m working on a lot of original music right now that I’m going to be releasing throughout the year which I’m really excited about. I’m working with more vocals. I don’t want it to be more of an electronic beat necessarily, I want to start incorporating voices because I think that ties into my sound and I think that they make for a more rounded song. So I’ve been doing a lot of production lately. I’m definitely going to be doing a lot of festivals this summer, but I have no idea what’s going to happen in the fall and winter.
SR: Amongst your music that already has multiple live elements within it, you just had to add one more.
JS: I feel like every time I go out to perform again I’m like “oh, lets try this!”. I’m all about trying new shit.
SR: Aside from the obvious difficulties of being a one-man-band and multi-instrumentalist, what’s been a challenge for you in terms of having, well, only yourself?
JS: You know, it can be really tough sometimes because you can just hit a creative wall with songs sometimes. I’ll just have all these great ideas when I’m producing for hours, and then I’ll just hit a wall where I don’t know where to go. A song will need something more but I won’t know what it is. It’s an abstract idea that I know is there, but I don’t quite know how to get there, and that’s when it would be really nice to have like a duo where I could Ping-Pong stuff off them and they could help me. Just getting feedback.
SR: Just clone yourself. That would solve your problems. Do you have an instrument that you favor playing more than others?
JS: I think drums are just my favorite. I play the Cajon and I play my drumpad. Just the physical act of hitting to a rhythm just naturally feels like I’m connecting with the music more than anything else. I feel like when I play piano and when I do more melodic things I definitely connect with the music but it’s more on a cerebral level, where as when you’re drumming, it feels more instinctual. I know that’s not the way with everybody but for me that’s how it is. Rhythm comes more naturally that way.
SR: I can understand that. It amps people up to see live drumming on stage especially with live electronic artists such as yourself and groups like Odesza. It’s very animalistic.
JS: That’s the thing, I feel like it’s easier to convey your energy when you’re drumming on stage to a crowd, as opposed to playing the piano or something up there.
SR: Well, I’ve been overplaying your mash-up of Venice Venture (Big Wild) x “Throw Some D’s” (Rich Boy) far too many times on SoundCloud over the last weeks. You’ve been doing so much work with mash-ups and remixes lately, and I love your original tracks, but I think I might favor your tweaked work more…
SR: But last night’s set (Okeechobee) was amazing. You dropped an incredible new original last night. Has that track been in the works for a long time?
JS: That’s one of the new songs I’m going to be releasing. I think I played two or three original songs I haven’t released yet and a new remix I haven’t put out. There’s a lot of stuff that’s kind of been taking a lot of time to release, because it’s not as simple as posting a song on SoundCloud anymore, there’s a lot more involved in it. I’m working with more labels, and it’s just a longer process, but I’m really excited to put that new stuff out there. I’ve been sitting on it for a while and I want people to hear it, and I’m going to be showcasing a lot of it on the new tour.
SR: How do you feel about the difference between sets you perform at festivals versus shows you play at venues, in terms of the crowds? Do you feel you get more love at one than the other?
JS: It’s tough to say, I’ve definitely done a couple of festivals where the crowds are really small, and it’s almost dependent upon when you’re playing. I’ve had a couple sets where I was playing at like 2 in the afternoon and it’s 95 degrees out, the sun is blazing, there’s no shade and people won’t wanna come out and dance in that. I’ve had sets like that but I’ve also had sets like last night and a few others where I had a great time and the crowd knew about me. That festival (Okeechobee) has music that is kind of similar to me, and there was definitely a connection there, and I think those kinds of shows are the ones I get the biggest reaction out of and the crowds go wild.
SR: There was a lot of energy in that crowd [last night], and it was packed out.
JS: That’s the thing, I couldn’t even see that far back, because when the lights are on the crowd, I can really only see that area, so like fifty feet and beyond I can’t see anything.
SR: Yeah I definitely got a picture or two from where you are doing your thing on stage and killing it, but you definitely look a little blinded. I also took some phenomenal hair action shots.
JS: My hair is just getting crazy, I gotta figure out what I’m going to do because every time I look down at my computer then I look up, it’s just everywhere.
SR: So you definitely incorporate multiple genres and influences from genres into your work, what are a couple of staple influences around which you emulated your sound?
JS: I first learned my song writing, production and song structure from hip-hop. Producers like Dr. Dre, The Neptunes, Timbaland, they really shaped my idea of how to make a groove. Timbaland especially because he is a little more experimental and that was kind of my first inspiration to do something different, and that set the precedent for what I want from this project. I want something that people can still relate to and dance to, but it’s unique, it’s my own, and it’s something that people might not necessarily have heard before. It was built off of hip-hop, and from there, I try and listen to as much different music as I can, and plenty of stuff outside of electronic music, I think that really helps get influences. It’s easy if you listen to the same kind of music over and over because you’re set on what it sounds like.
SR: It can get very repetitive, artists need to know how to break out of that shell.
JS: It’s really important to diversify.
SR: What about with more modern-day electronic music, do you have your eye on anyone or a group that you think is changing the game or standing out? Or maybe someone you’d like to possibly collaborate with?
JS: So there’s this group from South Africa, and they’re pretty much a hybrid electronica group, if you listen to them you’ll quickly understand it’s like nothing you’ve ever heard of before. They actually released this project in 2013, and they go by the name of John Wizards, and I’ve just been playing it nonstop. There are so many layers to it and the sounds they use are so different from what I’m used to, and it’s groups like that where I really get inspiration from. People who are more on the fringe, it’s really important to always be listening for something that might be really cool in a different way. I try and pick out parts of a song that are from groups that I think are really cool, and I’ve been listening to that group nonstop lately.
SR: A lot of people get stuck in the music that is relevant for whatever genre in electronic music and what’s keeping artists popular, but your music delves into so many different dimensions whenever you listen to it. Whenever I first heard of you I was just streaming mindlessly on SoundCloud when a song of yours played, and I couldn’t help myself but to look into your music further. It’s game-changing, and it’s you certainly put in a lot more work than a lot of people can take credit for.
JS: It’s funny that you bring that up, because I do put a lot of time into my work. Each song I release, especially the ones, I’ve never put so much time into music. It’s almost like when you’re writing an essay and you have all these different drafts, that’s what I do with my music, slowly taking out the things that don’t work and really making it cohesive.
SR: Since you do all of the instrumentation yourself, how do you feel about artists sampling? You sample here and there obviously but most everything of yours is original.
JS: My thoughts have kinda changed recently. I feel like right now, remixing isn’t quite as popular as it used to be like 2 years ago, where remixing was a huge staple of SoundCloud, and SoundCloud was where I got a lot of my inspiration from. I feel like ever since they started to crack down on the whole thing, it’s put an idea out in the scene that maybe we should be focusing on more original music. But sampling, I’m cool with it. I do sample a little bit myself, I try not to do it too much. I usually sample something if it has like a really distinct vibe or emotion with it that I can’t really emulate myself, it’s usually a sound that you can hear in the background that creates the overall vibe of the song. The layered sounds are the samples, and I always try to make sure that if I’m sampling something it’s not just straight copying somebody. I want to manipulate it in some way that makes a difference, some way that I never would of thought of it before. I think that’s really important; if you’re going to put your stamp, your name on something, you’ve got to make it your own.
SR: I know I keep bringing it up but… it’s really cool to see you do stuff with older tracks like the “Throw Some D’s” mashup. People forget about those tracks and then you take it to an entirely new level with a new sound. It’s great that you can take that older vibe and give it that trippy melodic sound.
JS: I just made that beat, and I just had that A Capella on my computer and I threw it all in just on a whim, I wasn’t thinking about it but it just worked! I love the original track too.
SR: Whenever you want to listen to music when you’re getting inspired to make music, aside from influences within your actual music, what do you like to listen to just to think?
JS: Everything that I’ve been listening to lately is pretty dance-oriented. Sometimes I just kind of zone out and let my SoundCloud stream go, and just listen to whatever. For me, with music, it’s all about constantly finding new sounds. That’s not how it is for a lot of people, but music makes me really curious to hear what else is out there. So usually when I listen to music I have a purpose behind it.
SR: I feel like when you start making music, you start internalizing everything you hear and you can’t help but think about some way to expand a sound.
JS: Definitely, the more you make music the more you think about music. The more you hear it, the more you decipher it. It’s hard for me to listen to music passively and I can’t listen to music casually as much anymore. For example I can never fall asleep to music anymore, I’m always thinking about it, and I’ll be so tired but my ears won’t let me not think about it, so I have to sleep in quiet.
SR: You’ve been growing a huge fan base and expanding your music and sound recently, which is something that you don’t see with every artist or group especially with EDM artists. Some people can definitely be stagnant with their work, so it’s great to see yo changing the game and gaining recognition for it.
JS: I think that with electronic music a lot of producers are set on creating a brand almost, where it’s like “this is my sound, and whenever you hear it you’re going to know it’s me”, which is all good and well, but I think it’s important to also see yourself as an artist too and you have to think of the the people who listen to your music, your fans, the audience. They want to also hear something different too; not like crazy different but they want to be a part of your evolution, they want to see your vision fully played out. and to restrict yourself from that is when you become stagnant. It’s really important to see what else is out there, there are so many different styles of music that so many different types of people are into. If you just stick to one style, you’re limiting yourself, at the end of the day I think it’s close-minded to cut yourself off to different types of production.