Anomaly is out now!
Image: TRIPPYY KID
Australian producer What So Not has delivered his sophomore album Anomaly. We caught up with the musician to chat about the release, experiencing live music in a different way, the beauty of collaboration and so much more!
Across the body of work, What So Not, the musical project of Chris Emerson, leans into new sonic territory, intricately weaving together threads of electronica, hip hop, house and experimental fare. Documenting his personal experiences over the past few years, the album serves as a journal of self-discovery brought to life by introspective and relatable lyricism.
Pinpoint production and energised soundscapes unfurl throughout the 11 tracks, once again proving Emerson's ability to craft an engaging body of work that pushes beyond his precious releases. The musician enlists an illustrious list of collaborators on Anomaly, teaming up with Oliver Tree & Killer Mike, DMA'S, Phi11a, Zoid Land & Tek Genesis, Louis The Child, Captain Cuts & JRM, EVAN GIIA, Body Ocean & Lucy Lucy, MØ, Enschway and Herizen.
Before we delve deep into your new album Anomaly, next year marks ten years since you've been releasing music under What So Not. How do you think that your artistry and approach to creating has evolved over the past decade, especially when it came to working on Anomaly?
Oh my God. Over 10 years it's changed so dramatically [laughs]. I mean, at the start none of us knew what we were doing. We were like just kids playing around with like very, very fresh soft synths and plugins and sample packs. Like we were doing everything wrong and that's kind of how the whole scene and sound started. I think over time [I've] had all kinds of different walks of life and I mean touring for almost like seven years straight there without even living anywhere changed my life dramatically. Adjusting to that, becoming quite minimal with what I needed to be happy and getting super creative across those periods. And then, you know, think about COVID and all the downtime that we had to sort of hone in on our skills, or pick a different path. I got into like extreme sports and surfing very serious waves as well. And that's been like really insane for my psyche and my creative process too. I mean more recently, one of my favourite things that happened in the last couple of years was I got to actually sit in the studio every single day for about seven months during COVID, and I had not had an opportunity like that my entire life. I think that really changed the game for me, and that is what has Anomaly sounding like it does.
Yeah, that's so wonderful, and there is a kind of new sonic exploration for you on the record, particularly tracks like On Air. Was that something that you like specifically wanted to do for this album? Push up against the boundaries of your established sound?
Yeah, definitely. I think I just had the time to work on it properly, you know? Like this career is manic when it's going and I finally got the opportunity to be like,' oh, I wanna know how to do this one particular sound. Oh, I'll go and Google it'. Like, I didn't have time to Google something and sit there for 20 minutes and work it out. That's how manic everything was, it was seriously mad. I spent 2019 putting it all together. I sort of came up with the palette when I was traveling around Europe. I actually sang on Alive. That was probably the first song I made for the whole thing, and then Anomaly was the next one. And those two sort of were the first two and then I was like, 'oh wow, this is the new zone for me. This is quite exciting'. It's taking elements from like neuro-drum and ass, but then in a very What So Not halftime, very beautiful and euphoric sort of energy in it as well. I really liked the palette and I was like, 'I think this is where I'm gonna go'. I spent that year kind of just living, going to festivals as an attendee. And if I played one, I would camp there for two or three days and go in the crowd and go see what other acts were playing and doing, and I found so much more inspiration. I think being a participant rather than just jumping in, performing and jumping out, and of course that was how life had to be when it was so frantic and busy, it was great to do that in 2019. Then, you know, across 2021, mainly just hone in on the sonics of it in an actual studio.
I love that because I've kind of always wondered like how much does the live show influence what you’re creating and how you want the record to sound. So it's interesting to hear your experiences as an attendee influenced this one.
I think you can fall so many traps. Like I know people that take Vegas residencies, and their sound just changes to very straight down the line kind of music because that's the only stuff that works there. You have to be quite careful. Even the difference between performing a lot in America and performing a lot in Europe, it's gonna influence the tones and textures and the rhythms that you choose, you know? It's so drastic how much it can have an impact. And you do have to be mindful of, am I being authentic to my creative self or am I being too influenced by what is in my close circumference?
That's so interesting, how different territories can influence the sound you're creating. That's very interesting.
I remember the first time I played overseas, I had this light bulb moment because I bombed. I got over to Hong Kong and I knew Australia back then so well. This was like early, maybe 2012 or 13 or something. I knew Australia so well, I knew what worked, what didn't, what's the pop culture references, everything. And I went over to Hong Kong, dropped my first track and it bombed. And I was like, 'holy shit, what is going wrong? What? This doesn't make any sense'. And you know, I understand it a lot more now after being a little more worldly, but it was something like, 'oh what is that..?' Club Cheval, If you're familiar with that group, that French group, I dropped one of their tracks and it just cleared the floor. And I was like, 'this is the coolest fricking track of the moment. How can this clear the floor?' You know, stuff like that happens and you learn a lot from it and you realise, everybody grows up with different surroundings and references. So you need to be very aware of that if you're going to tour the world and perform to the world.
On the thematic side of the album, there is this kind of sense of self-discovery, at least in my opinion. And it also feels quite adventurous. Could you unpack and give some insight into the themes and concepts explored across the album?
Well, I have been writing and completing a 3D animated film for the last three years. And this album is actually the score for the film. But because of the complexities of the 3D animated space at the moment [laughs] and all the NFT stuff blowing up, and people sort of jumping all around to different places, it hasn't quite come together as I would've liked to, which was before the album or with the, so it's something to sort of look forward to. To have this story presented in more detail, once the album is out, and I've been building a show that incorporates all those elements, there's sort of little taste of it if you see the DMA'S clip, the EVAN GIIA clip, we've really grown and the technology has sort of greatly excelled in the last couple of years and made it so much more possible. Even simple things like lip syncing. So having vocal performers come perform their record was so complicated a year ago. And now it's quite simple. There's a plugin that you can get on your phone that does it. And it syncs quite well with the platforms that it runs on, like cinema 4D and others.
You mentioned some artists a bit earlier, but you do have such an incredible list of collaborators on this album. Like Oliver Tree, DMAs, MØ, what drew you to make this collaborative record and the particular pairings of these artists on the songs?
So a lot of my travels are like I'll crash with friends and hang out and sleep on the couch and just work in their studio. And that often breeds collaboration. I really do believe there's times when you just wanna go and knuckle down and play with some synths, and create something all on your very own. There's some times where it's like so much more fun to create music with others. I generally lean towards the latter, I love making music with people because I feel like I learn and I embrace new ideas and new ways of thinking. And even in the most horrible sessions that I've had, I've always taken something great away from that. That I've probably kept in my head forever. I think it's how you evolve as an artist. So I mean, the byproduct of that is like, you end up with a lot of really cool and interesting songs with a lot of really cool and interesting people.
You also mentioned the live show. What does Anomaly look like in a live setting? As you have shows running throughout the year.
I do. I'm doing sort of like a showcasing of the new album and we're working on a much grander project, that will still be for Anomaly. The only drawback is with Covid and the volatility in the market and all of such, it's quite a challenging time to take on something very ambitious. And I have a very ambitious idea of how I want to present this show. So I'm excited. I think after COVID I was just so thrilled with DJing again and I think everybody has been, just the idea of going to an event and just smashing some records you found that week and not overthinking the set, and feeling what the energy of the room is calling for. So that's how I'm gonna be presenting everything probably for the rest of this year, while we work on this really grandiose project behind the scenes.
If you had to pick three songs of the album to play to someone who had never heard your music to make them an instant diehard fan, which three would you choose?
I'd probably try and gauge them a bit to see what they're in to because, you know I could play them something that I know is really interesting, but it just might not be their world. I'd say the title track Anomaly is definitely one. That is what this album is all about. Something like Bad Piano, I think represents the more reserved and lush and delicate side of the album. And ooh, what else would I pick from there? I mean, I think The Change is a bit of an all round banger. I think a lot of people can enjoy that one, but maybe something like Halifax. That one shows the extremity of the album too, but maybe I have that covered with Anomaly. I don't know. I think those two, that I first mentioned, and then I try and gauge them to pick the third.
Is there a particular line, lyric, musical motif, production line from the album that you find will get stuck in your head more often than not, or maybe one that you're most proud of?
I really do love it all. I think like, a lot of the time creating, it was such a special moment with the people I made it with, or a moment I was having, you know, of myself capturing whatever had happened and turning it into a song. I don't really have a specific one, it just has like a mode or a feeling that I think carries throughout rather than any sort of like single lyric or riff, I would say.
You've also got this competition going for fans who pre save the album, that you'll fly anywhere in in the world and play at their house party, which is pretty epic. Obviously you've toured the world heaps, so is there anywhere you haven't gone that you would love to just go and play this house party for this fan?
I haven't been to Africa for my project yet. And probably the Middle East. Those are probably two of the places it'd be cool to go to because I haven't been there yet.
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Biggest musical influences?
I feel like they come and go as well. Usually I'm inspired by certain people of the moment and then I'll discover something else. I'll tell you what, there's some younger guys and girls who are doing some really cool stuff that have got me very excited about music. So two Dutch guys, Buunshin and IMANU, incredible, incredible music in the drummer based space, but they're branching out of that as well. And just leveling everyone [Laughs] who's done those genres for years, I believe. And then a girl in Melbourne, Daine and then, Tek Genesis from Sydney/Wollongong, all very exciting people that have got me inspired at the moment.
I feel like I've done them all [laughs]. I've done them all then some. I mean there's a few, but people ask me this question, It's like, well you don't really know what someone's like. You might have a dream collaboration, you meet them and they're a piece of shit, and then you're like, well I don't want to work with you now. Or like this song is tainted. And so is all my thoughts and memories of this whole thing. So it's not always about the big act it's it's like you stumble across people and you're so grateful that you did because you have such an amazing experience, in whatever you create and it doesn't have to be a big name.
An album that has had the most impact on you?
Some of The Chemical Brothers ones have really inspired me, but interestingly, a bunch of the Kendrick [Lamar] albums I'd say probably because of the rhythms and the beats and the tone of the drums are always quite impressive mixed with his deliveries, his different voices and the rhythms and these deliveries. It's quite complex. It all sounds kind of simple, but then you really break it down. You're like, 'wow, so much went into this'. It's like jazz music, but done as rap and hiphop, it's very detailed. And I think those are quite impressive often.
If you could create the soundtrack for any film, which one would it be?
So I went and saw Dune. I went and saw it in theatres and I haven't seen a movie in the theatres in a long time and it really shook me. It rattled me and I said to someone as soon as I got out I was like, 'I need to be better'. And I love seeing things like that. And I would love, not that it was inferior in any way, It was actually exceptional, the score for that, but I would love to try and add my ideas and sound design to what they were building in that piece. I thought it was really, really amazing.
What are you thinking on stage whilst performing
I am psychologically analysing every single person in the crowd, and trying to get them all to join in unison to enjoy themselves. And I'm watching how different circles and groups are reacting to the different rhythms, tones and songs. And then seeing which way I should take the set.That's whats usually going on in my head.
Hannah Montana or Miley Cyrus?
Miley's a badass, let's go with Miley. Because I think Hannah was her Disney pseudonym, right? I really respect when people have some sort of notoriety as a child and they break away from that and become their own person. I think she did that very well.
First concert you went to?
I'd say the the first one I went to was Big Day Out 2007. I saw Justice. And I think two mint DJs. Ajax and The Presets, and it changed my life forever.
Best concert you have been to?
It's gotta be the ones that you played that are like really groundbreaking for you. Probably playing Coachella. That first time, I've done it like three times now, but the first time I played it in 2015, just changed my life you know? It was amazing.
Would you rather be a Spice Girl or a Backstreet Boy?
I think Spice Girls have more notoriety. I think they had a bit more favour going on. Backstreet boys, they kind stayed in their lane, you know?
What would your Spice nickname be?
You did ask me this one last time and I didn't really have a great answer, and I still probably don't and that really annoys me cause I'm good at coming up with ideas and names. But for some reason, the Spice Girl name, me as a Spice Girl, doesn't fit into my caliber too much of what I would choose for myself. Like I'd probably be something sort of involving the ocean and just being a recluse [laughs] which is what I tend to do [laughs]. Recluse Spice. Geez, but hey, it'll get me some interesting things.
Most memorable show you’ve ever performed?
Guilty music pleasure?
I used to think hard style was disgusting and now I think it's one of the most insanely well made genres ever. I went to the Thunderdome 20 year reunion, who were like some of the pioneers of the scene, and I was like, 'oh, I get it now'. And the Hakken and all of that. And I was like, damn, I'm kind of with this. This is so renegade and rogue. It's the best.
An artist you think has had the most influence on the music industry.
I wonder, I think someone like Skrillex comes to mind, at least in the last 20 years. I think he made dance music the most popular thing in the world. Out of nowhere, went from a pop punk band and then suddenly was creating most complex Nero Dubstep. And try and change the landscape of everything. Yeah, I'd probably say him.
What advice would your current self give your future self, for a year from now?
I don't know why I'd give my future self advice. Cause my future self knows more than me now. So I think I wouldn't say shit. I'd ask them, how's it going? Should I change anything?
The moment you knew you wanted to be a musician?
I think when I quit my day job, that was the hardest thing I ever had to do in my life. My whole life was just people telling me, or just not even considering the arts or music was a real thing that was worth pursuing. It was, go to uni, get a job, get a mortgage on a house. That's life. That's what you do. And for some reason I was like, 'no, fuck that. I'm throwing in the towel. I'm earning 400 a week from DJing and these couple little shitty bar gigs I got. I'm throwing in the towel. I'm just gonna sit there in my room, make music until I make this work'.
Well I'm glad you did!
Yeah, me too! [laughs].
Anomaly is out now!
Watch our interview with What So Not earlier this year at THIS THAT!