An in-depth interview with the Tri Angle producer before he releases his hard-hitting new EP, 'Waterfall'.
Joshua Leary, better known under his artist name Evian Christ, has been in London for about 24 hours now, but only three of those hours were spent sleeping. “I feel a bit crazy,” he admits when we meet at a Shoreditch pub that he’s spent the majority of his day holed up in giving interviews, “The only thing running through my body is caffeine.”
Leary is a refreshingly open and honest musician to speak to, never self-censoring his answers and always receptive to the questions he’s being asked – although it’s hard to tell if he’d behave differently if he were better rested. The focus of our interview is his new, four-track EP, ‘Waterfall’, and the trance parties he’s been throwing to support it. ‘Waterfall’ is a loud, uncompromising, and deliberately abrasive record that feels hard enough to punch through walls and smash cinderblocks. In terms of sheer dynamics, it’s a huge step up from the ambient haze of his debut mixtape, ‘Kings And Them’, and its follow-up, the 20-minute beatless piece ‘Duga-3’. It’s only his third release since he first anonymously uploaded a handful of uncategorizable rap instrumentals to Youtube back in 2012. Since then, he’s gone from being a teacher-in-training from Ellesmere Port, an industrial town a little south of Liverpool, to an international touring musician and a producer on Kanye West’s ‘Yeezus’.
Before he releases ‘Waterfall’ on March 17th through regular home Tri Angle (and before his second trance party, featuring a live set from himself as well as special guests Travi$ Scott, MssingNo, SOPHIE, Mille & Andrea, and more), Leary gave Dummy an in-depth insight into where his head was at right now.
Have you moved to New York yet?
Evian Christ: “No, I’m still based up north for the time being. When I get two minutes of free time, I’m gonna try and get to New York semi-permanently. I keep banging on about it, but when everyone asks you to do shows in Europe it’s like, ‘Maybe next month…’ I’ve put it back from January to February to March to April, and now I’m here all summer. But I’m keen to get out there. I think it’ll be a good move for me.”
Why do you want to go there?
Evian Christ: “Professional and personal reasons. Personally, I have a lot of friends who I’ve met through music who live in New York. My girlfriend lives out there – and Robin, who runs Tri Angle. Professionally, I’m trying to do more work with rappers, and rappers don’t tend to be passing through my hometown too often – they seem to like New York a lot more.
“It’s not somewhere I want to live for the rest of my life. I wasn’t brought up in a city. I don’t feel like I fit in in a city. But I’ll give it a shot for a little while.”
Do you think you’ll like it?
Evian Christ: “I actually love New York. I hate cities, generally – I hate London, I passionately hate London – but New York feels small to me, I guess because it’s broken down into smaller neighbourhoods.”
So do you think that the mentality of the city will be good for your work? Not just in terms of convenience, but in the way that it affects your mindset?
Evian Christ: “I’m not really sure. I quite like making music in my hometown, in the sense that I’m very isolated. It’s gonna be interesting to see how this influences my processes of making music – how easily I’ll be able to find a studio, how far I’ll have to travel to get there, how often I’ll want to do that… there’s a whole bunch of things. It’s gonna change a lot.”
Are you still in a home studio?
Evian Christ: “I use my garage as a studio, basically. It works fine.”
Will you be getting a professional studio in New York?
Evian Christ: “It’s something I’m trying to figure out right now. A lot of people get studio spaces separate to where they’re staying, because in most residential places in New York, you can’t make too much noise. My plan is to move somewhere semi-industrial, where I can make a bunch of noise without bothering anyone.”
Do you find it comfortable working in studios that aren’t your own?
Evian Christ: “No. It’s horrible, it’s something I’m still getting used to – but to achieve the things I want to achieve, I have to get used to working in other people’s studios, with a bunch of people sat around watching your every move. But it’s just the way it goes – there are worse jobs to have.”
I haven’t really read much about your creative process before. How long ago did you start the ‘Waterfall’ EP?
Evian Christ: “I guess in the spring of last year, going into the summer, when I revisited them – I revisited a lot of tracks, maybe 10 or 15, and tried to upscale them for release.”
How long do you normally work on a track for?
Evian Christ: “Attention to detail is not one of my strengths, which is fine, because it means that I can just fire through stuff really quickly without sorting out the fine details. The way that I normally work is that, on any given day, I’ll sit down and just come up with a lot of different sketches – loops that last for 15 seconds maybe, with four or five different elements. And once I’ve done one, I’ll switch it off and make another. I’m just constantly creating new stuff; I’ll make a shit tonne of those little ideas, revisit them in about a month’s time, and pick maybe 10 out of all of them, and then I’ll refine them and turn them into three minute songs and arrangements, and try and mix them so that it sounds vaguely releasable, quality-wise.”
Are you at the point where you have a good workflow for production?
Evian Christ: “My workflow is… unique. It’s not very well thought out. I work on very old software, from the turn of the millennium. I use Cubase, the version that was originally released in 2001, and I’m not entirely competent at using it.”
That’s what I mean – a lot of really talented, amazing musicians admit that they’re not that great technically. That’s not a problem at all.
Evian Christ: “If you know too many technical skills, you can let those things come between you and your music, and your music can come across as very clean and producer-y. You can hear a lot of music like that from people who’ve grown up looking up tutorial videos on Youtube – like a million different ways to do sidechain compression, or how to mix a snare drum, or whatever. I always had too short an attention span to give a fuck. I was just like, ‘I have this software which is a vehicle to making music. I don’t know how to use it, but I’m gonna instantly try and figure out some things that I can do.’ I think that’s the best way to come up with creative processes that are exclusive to you, and that’ll always come through in your music and make it sound different to what everyone else is doing.
“But sometimes I’ll go into the studio with these Ableton whizzkids who can do everything super fast and super efficiently, and I’m like… ‘Man… I’m wasting so much time here.’ But all of those things seep into your music in a really positive way. But yeah, my workflow’s slightly weird, whenever I’m in studios with people, everyone’s a bit, like…” [pulls confused expression]
But it works.
Evian Christ: “Yeah, it’s like a cruise control for how to make your own sound – you just have a completely individualised process for making music.
“I’m quite reactive and inspired by stuff, musically – nothing abstract, I’m not the kind of guy who’ll go to an art gallery and see a beautiful painting and want to make music that’s inspired by that – but I’ll definitely go to a show, and think, ‘This is loud, this is beautiful, there are weird time signatures used here.’ And I’ll go home and be like, ‘Cool, I want to do my take on that.’ I’ll be inspired by something that someone else is doing musically, and I’ll make 20 sketches based on my interpretation of that. Sometimes it works, and sometimes it doesn’t, but if you’re always trying to make a shit tonne of ideas, then some of it’s gonna be good. If you revisit it in a month or two’s time and it sounds fresh to you, then you can decide whether it’s worthwhile or not.”
You mentioned loudness just then…
Evian Christ: “That was definitely one of the influences on this EP. I think electronic live shows are hard to watch – it’s not like going to watch a band, it’s watching someone press buttons on a piece of equipment or a laptop. So one way that my interest is maintained in electronic shows is if it’s loud, and if it’s physical. It’s more of an experience for me. Seeing some shows along those lines made me want a bit of that for myself. To be able to go play shows and really knock people to the back of the wall.”
"One way that my interest is maintained in electronic shows is if it’s loud, and if it’s physical. It’s more of an experience for me to be able to go play shows and really knock people to the back of the wall.” - Evian Christ
What was it that spurred that on?
Evian Christ: “A couple of big shows. One of the first shows I ever did was with The Haxan Cloak in Manchester – it was so fucking loud. So loud. There are really good photos from the night of people stood with their hands on their ears at the back of the room. So loud. And he just had this strobe all the way through, this naked strobe, with no smoke to obscure it. It was horrible, it was sickening… And then I had to go on and play some beats. It was a bit limp, really, after what I’d just seen. And I wanted a bit of that.
“What other ones? I went to see Wolf Eyes in New York recently, and that really hammered home that live shows can be wicked. I mean, I’m not trying to be Wolf Eyes or The Haxan Cloak – I’m a kid who grew up listening to rap music – but I’m trying to let that stuff filter into what I’m doing.”
And with the trance parties, that’s the ideal setting for it really. You were at Corsica Studios for the first one, which has a pretty loud system…
Evian Christ: “I loved that show. The right venue – a venue like that – with the right sound, is the way that electronic music should be experienced.
“These parties mark a point in time where I’m enjoying performing again. At the start, I wasn’t really enjoying it. I wasn’t feeling like I was moving people. There was a lot of standing and staring, a lot of listening, and I couldn’t work out what the purpose of it all was. So I pulled back for a long time and tried to work it out. Good venues, with good sound, and the right people around me – people who have similar ideas as me, musically, or people who I just respect generally – that’s how I want to perform live. It might mean turning down a lot of opportunities, but it’s a really good chance for me to put myself and my live show out there as I feel it should be consumed by people.”
Were you getting frustrated with some of the bookings you were getting?
Evian Christ: “Yeah. Playing festivals last year was kind of a low point for me. I don’t want to sound ungrateful for the opportunity, because it’s not a bad job – to be paid to fly to these shows all around the world is not a bad job at all, and I know a lot of people who aren’t allowed to do this, so I don’t want to seem like I’m complaining about it. But I put a lot into my performances, personally, and I take it really hard if I’m playing this random festival with 600 stages and I’m on at 1pm in the afternoon in between two indie bands and it doesn’t go too well. When it was every week, it was really making me not feel passionate about music at all. So these trance parties are a good way for me to make sure that things are happening in the context that I want them to be happening and that I can enjoy myself again and transmit that to people.”
It’s called the trance party, and I know you've said that it’s a Dipset reference, but “trance” also plays into that idea of physicality.
Evian Christ: “The mixtapes it references are partly what I’m going for, especially with Salt Carousel – Salt Carousel wouldn’t exist without those trance party mixtapes; it’s those trance synths with 808s – rap beats – in the background.
“That stuff, when you play it out – people go nuts for it. You’ve seen araabMUZIK I’m sure? People love that. And that’s kind of what I’m wanting to get more towards – a weird take on that brutal electronic rap music. I’m shooting to do that in my own way. So there’s an indirect reference to trance music because those mixtapes are the vibe I’m going for.”
"I put a lot into my performances, personally, and I take it really hard if I’m playing this random festival with 600 stages and I’m on at 1pm in the afternoon in between two indie bands and it doesn’t go too well. When it was every week, it was really making me not feel passionate about music at all." - Evian Christ
You say “brutal electronic rap music”. Earlier, you were talking about having rappers on your music – how do you see the two fitting together?
Evian Christ: “I think it’s an awesome fit – but it’s a hard sell. But I’m not sure it should be. ‘Yeezus’ is obviously the easy example to point to, but if you listen to Chief Keef’s mixtapes, or that song Sh!t by Future, if you know it…”
Yeah, that’s like a backhander of a song.
Evian Christ: “Exactly – it’s a backhand slap to the face, that’s exactly what it’s like. And it works, it makes sense in the context of rap music, that super hard, minimalistic electronic sound. I feel that I can find a way to make it work, if someone’s willing to give me that opportunity. But I’m a gamble for rappers, for sure, because most of these guys sign big deals, they’ve got to make money, and I’m not the money maker. So it’s a hard sell, but I’m trying. I’m banging people’s doors down, I’m making sure they hear my music.”
Sorry to rewind back to the trance party, but the people on the lineup to the next party are very different to the first.
Evian Christ: “With the first one, I wanted to put something together that was really cohesive – if you’re a fan of me, you’re probably also a fan of Arca and Holy Other. With this, I kind of wanted to fuck with people a bit. I wanted to take the opportunity to put on a guy from Demdike Stare and a rapper who’s signed to T.I.’s label and see what happens. It’s gonna be weird – it might not work, it might not make sense. It might be a bunch of kids coming to see Travi$ who might not get the rest, or it might be guys who’ve come to see Powell and Millie & Andrea, but I have faith in people to be open-minded and go for all types of music so long as it’s good.”
One of the interesting things about your working on ‘Yeezus’ seems to be the fact that you’ve met all these people like Arca and Travi$ and are putting them on.
Evian Christ: “It mainly comes from the fact that I have so much respect for everyone that worked on that record. And now that I know them, I can try and bring them in on those projects, and give it a new context.”
Because it’s been a while since you put anything out, did you feel any pressure to make this feel pretty different?
Evian Christ: “I actually never feel any pressure from that – as a by-product of never wanting to make the same thing twice, I think I’ll just keep making different records. I’m not really about finding a niche for myself and perfecting it; I know that’s what a lot of producers do, a lot of producers will wilfully pack themselves into a box and just be experts in that one thing, but I don’t have the attention span to be that guy.
“My first record was like an ambient rap record, and then I put out the mix with Dummy which was 20 minutes with no drums, and then the next record was banging and loud. I think I’ll always just flitter between different inspirations and change what I’m doing. The thread that will always run through it is that it’ll always be associated with electronic rap music, but I just want to explore as many different approaches to that as I can. So I have no idea of what the next thing will sound like, but it won’t sound like any of the things I’ve put out so far.”
That’s an important thing, though – you haven’t actually put out that much, all things considered, but there’s still this internet that reports on everything you do, so I didn’t know if there was any of that pressure or expectation from that.
Evian Christ: “I’m fine with expectation, because it gives me something to subvert. I want people to try and categorize me and figure out what I’m about, because it gives me the opportunity to do the opposite.”
"I’m fine with expectation, because it gives me something to subvert." - Evian Christ
You’ve talked about wanting to do an album before…
Evian Christ: “Yeah, absolutely. I’ve already started – I’ve got so many songs! But for me it’s just figuring out what I want to say on an album. Electronic albums are an incredibly difficult medium; I have to be aware of that. And because I am aware of that, I have no excuse to just rush something out.”
Do you have any conceptual intentions for what you want to do with it.
Evian Christ: “Ish. I have a lot of tracks that already exist that I want to use. My favourite albums, just from a composition standpoint, are the ones that have singles that have an immediacy, things that you can hear on the radio that are three minutes long that are easy to listen to. And between that, there are songs that make less sense, and send you off in other directions. The last track on my EP is called Waterfall – that’s the best existing reference point for a lot of the new stuff I’m making; a lot of dancehall.
“I went to Jamaica recently. They play dancehall constantly in Jamaica. I was at the hotel, and they had this really shitty sound system that would distort really heavily when they turned it up. So just walking around, you’d hear these dancehall songs with distortion. That’s currently a big influence.”
I love that, because it’s not something you could ever replicate. You have no reference point, you only have the memory of it.
Evian Christ: “Absolutely. So you just find ways to be inspired by it without trying to recreate it. So that’s an angle I’m working with at the beginning.”
Last question here: who has been the most unlikely fan of your music?
Evian Christ: “Besides Kanye? [laughs] My whole project’s weird, because I feel like I’m at both ends of the spectrum. I had a period of time in New York where I had a meeting with DJ Khaled, and then a couple of days later I played this performance with Matthew Barnett, Pharmakon, Julianna Barwick, and Peter Sotos. Peter Sotos seemed pretty into it. So to be able to appeal to both DJ Khaled and Peter Sotos is pretty weird, and that’s something I’m trying to keep stretching. At either end of the spectrum, I have people able to understand and appreciate the exact same song.”
Tri Angle release 'Waterfall' on March 17th 2014. A release party, Trance Party II, takes place at Oval Space, London, on March 21st 2014 - more information and tickets here.