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Curing Insomnia with Chandler Jewels

Lake Macquarie’s Chandler Jewels has worked with Dro Kenji, Manu Crooks, BLESSED and more as a producer, but his debut mixtape Insomnia showcases his many other talents. We caught up with Chandler to chat about Insomnia, the importance of community, embracing mortality and more.

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“It’s where everything started”

20-year-old African/Australian producer Chandler Jewels is telling us about growing up in Lake Macquarie, a regional city in New South Wales’ Hunter region (and home to Australia’s largest coastal saltwater lake, for those playing at home). He’s just released his debut mixtape, Insomnia, and it’s a project that showcases his many talents, having already made a name for himself as a producer. Chandler produced, wrote, performed and mixed the songs on Insomnia, giving him the space to open up about the sacrifices he’s made and the successes that he’s enjoyed throughout his musical journey so far. Starting out as an EDM fanatic before discovering the world of hip-hop, all these moments have led him to where he is today.

Insomnia is Chandler’s first project, and it’s a journey through his mind. From the opening moments of ‘Self-Luv (Intro)’, kaleidoscopic soundscapes spring forth, featuring synths that are as sparkling as they are sinister and drums that are both hypnotic and insistent. Chandler’s flows are confident at times, like on the thumping ‘Homemade’, while he shows vulnerability during the project’s introspective moments, including on the heartfelt ‘End Now’. Drawing from his EDM beginnings, which he liberally mixes with a healthy dose of hip-hop influences, Insomnia sets the record straight. Chandler’s not just a producer: he’s an artist, through and through.

His love of music–throughout our conversation, he refers to it as an “obsession”–stems from his experiences growing up in the Lake, as it’s known colloquially. Chandler dedicates a track on Insomnia to the area, with the aptly named ‘The Lake’ featuring lyrics like “When I hit the block I’ve got the chains out/Never thought I’d make it from the Lake, wow”. As a 10-year-old growing up in Lake Macquarie, he explains, he and his friends were listening to EDM and house music. Reflecting on the past, he says that hearing Skrillex’s seminal Scary Monsters and Nice Sprites EP inspired him to start making music. “Since a kid, it’s occurred to me, ‘oh, this is what I’m gonna do for the rest of my life,’” he reminisces. He’s also a big fan of Flume: his artist name is a combination of his first name and a reference to ‘Jewels’, a track from Flume’s 2019 project Hi, This Is Flume. Despite a pivot to hip-hop, Chandler’s never forgotten his EDM roots–which shine through on Insomnia.

When we speak, Insomnia has been out for a few days, and he’s used this time to reflect on his achievement. “A lot of people congratulate me on this album,” he explains. “They hear the project, they hear how it sounds, how it’s mixed, how it’s produced, how it’s written. But the only reason it’s at that level is because I’ve had to sacrifice and suffer and go through the amount of tireless hours, hard work and dedication and pure love and passion for the music. That’s what it’s all really about. It’s the love for music and the pros and cons that come with that.”

Rattling off influences on the project’s sound, which weaves together elements of trap, R&B, electronica and psychedelia, Chandler is effusive. He says his flow the energetic ‘We Them Kids’ and ‘Enough’ take inspiration from Jamaican-American MC BEAM, who is his all-time favourite artist, while he says his pivot to hip-hop in 2019 was inspired in large part by Travis Scott. Talking about Insomnia, Chandler explains that “I think from a first from a first listen, a first impression, you can almost instantly tell that there’s a lot of Travis inspiration there with the mixing and how the project sounds and feels.”

The project’s name holds special significance for Chandler–and it’s a name that’s years in the making. He reveals, “I always knew I was going to call my first project Insomnia, for such a long time, for years. And the reason is that getting involved with music at such a young age, it’s an obsession. And, as a kid, as you’re developing and growing up, I feel like, with me, it was just so much music, and so much love for it that I’d spend nights, sleepless nights when I was 10 years old, where I wouldn’t go to bed. I’d wake up for school and the next morning I’d go straight on my laptop, music. I’d even go to class, bring my laptop with me and just make beats in the back. I was kind of a rebellious student, just doing my own thing.”

The first voice listeners hear on the project is not his own, but instead his mum’s. Throughout our conversation, the topic of family comes up multiple times, and it’s clear that Chandler holds his mum in high regard. The project is both aspirational and honest, and he credits his mum for helping him process the emotions and experiences that he’s poured into Insomnia. “I feel like within the sadness that I was kind of going through and talking about on the project, my mum was there a lot for me through that. You can hear her voice kind of coming in and out of the project throughout the whole project. She really led me and held my hand all the way through. She let me know that it’s gonna suck, but it’s life. And that’s how it is–it gets tough. You gotta do what you gotta do to prosper in the world.”

One of the emotional cores of the project is the Factor V Leiden (Interlude), which refers to the blood clotting condition of the same name. A slower, psychedelic moment, the track serves as a vessel for Chandler’s emotions after receiving a diagnosis confirming he had the condition and reflects how he’s processed that since. “I wrote that interlude because I’ve been diagnosed with a blood clot condition,” he reveals. “On the track, I’m talking about smoking and vaping and how I’m afraid of letting go of doing that stuff because it heightens my creativity. But at the same time, I’m fearful of what’s going to happen to me.” He adds, “There are a lot of moments in the project where you can hear me trying to find my place within the industry, within my own life with my family, my friends, my siblings.”

Chandler’s clearly finding his place in the industry. In addition to the release of Insomnia, Chandler also recently contributed to the menacing production of ‘STEP BACK’’, a track by Internet Money rapper Dro Kenji and singer Mike Dimes. He recounts how he ended up on the track, and it turns out that it stems from a relationship that he formed on SoundCloud years ago, during his EDM days. He recounts, “There was one guy that I was pretty close with over SoundCloud. We’d share demos with each other. And we were just doing a lot of EDM ideas. And that was around when I was like 15, 16. We were young kids just doing EDM.

“Fast forward a few years later, and that kid’s name is Dynox. He’s doing production for Drake Trippie Redd, and he’s on Internet Money Records as a producer. And because we’ve known each other for such a long time, it’s always been that kind of relationship, sending ideas to each other and loops with each other. He was working a lot with Dro Kenji. And he was asking, ‘Have you got any loops?’ and sending over ideas. One thing led to another, and the placement came about.” He elaborates, “Through that, I ended up getting close with Census, Dro Kenji’s producer. We’re always talking to each other and sending ideas through. Hopefully, that leads to another [placement] in the near future.”

Given how thoughtful Chandler’s been throughout our conversation, it felt fitting to ask him about where he sees the future of Australian hip-hop going next. In addition to working with Dro Kenji and UK MC Example, he’s also worked with local legends Manu Crooks and BLESSED. Chandler produced the duo’s 2020 collaboration ‘Top’, a late-night-ready track that sees the pair charging into the evening hours at breakneck speed. He describes the experience of working with Manu, revealing, “He’s one of those guys you can watch, take in what he’s doing and really learn from just by being in his presence. He’s a genuine guy. A lot of the OGs are genuine guys, man. There’s real brotherly love when we’re in the studio, so shout out to those guys.”

Chandler is optimistic about the future of Australian music, highlighting the likes of Saxhl, Tommy Gunn, Baby Prince, Mason Dane and Harry Hilfiger as artists that alongside himself are “trying to perfect our work to the absolute fullest”. In order for the scene to thrive, however, he says that everyone needs to continue to show support. “There are too many underrated artists in Australia,” he says, “and I think over these next few years, I think it’s really important that we can all just really support each other and lift each other up.”

It’s not hard to get swept up in his excitement, especially as he outlines what might happen over the next five years. Artists from all across Australia are watching the success of their peers and getting inspired, and while Australia has long experienced tall poppy syndrome, talking to artists like Chandler leads one to believe that the new wave of hip-hop artists in Australia are more united than ever. Chandler ends our chat by laying out his game plan, and while it’s ambitious, a confident and cohesive project like Insomnia shows that he’s ready to execute. He asserts that “I’m really trying to make my mark, make some moves, make a wave for the Australian scene. Give people something they haven’t experienced in Australian culture.” Watch this space.

Follow Chandler Jewels here for more and stream the new EP INSOMNIA below.

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