Sometimes, discomfort can be a positive thing. That’s how Nosaj Thing interpreted the circumstances when he lost over two years worth of material after being robbed while on tour for his new album ‘Fated’. It’s an example of the enterprising outlook that has given him the opportunity to work with huge names like Kendrick Lamar, Kid Cudi, and Chance the Rapper. Having just released his third album, Jason Chung is already collaborating on a 360º visual experience to accompany it and he seems to truly believe there’s no time to waste when you’re forced to be constantly adapting, experimenting and exploring.
What’s it been like playing Fated for people?
I just finished a little North American and Canadian tour and it’s been going really well. It’s really new to me because I had to build an entire new live set and this time around I’m using more hardware, more equipment so I’m just getting started but it’s been feeling good– It’s still kind of new to me.
In terms of the album, what is the story behind it? what were you doing when you made it?
I lived in two different locations while I recorded it and I really felt like my environment made a big impact on recording. I usually overthink a lot of my projects and it becomes really difficult to finish. You know when you work on something too much, it’s like you need perspective?
Sure, it’s like the longer you work on something, the harder it is to finish it off.
Exactly. I felt like I did that with the last two records so this time around, I was just trying to take a different approach and keep it really simple and strip it down. It was like an exploration. Everything I do, I try to experiment and push my sound. Not even push my sound, just learn new things.
Are you happy with how it turned out?
Yeah, I am. I feel like I learned a lot from it, you know? Just about whatever I was dealing with at the time. It’s cool to release a record like that which is pretty short with short songs as well, because why does everything have to be a specific format? Especially these days, you know what I mean? Each song is like a little clip of a feeling or a page of a diary or something. When I write, it’s very therapeutic, it’s a lot like a meditation. I have whole book of sketches and that was kind of like me pulling out a few pages and putting them together.
It’s interesting that you should say that, I’d heard that you’d written over 100 songs for the album and a lot of the process of getting it out was narrowing it down to the 15 which are on Fated. how do you go about doing that when each song is really personal?
I don’t know, it’s crazy. I don’t really think about it too much. I just go based on feel and read different projects and even listen to it for less than a minute and just know that’s going to be part of a specific project. I’m always working on different things at once and I try to explore all different types of tempos and I always try to change my approach as well. I’m just always experimenting.
Does a lot of it come down to what songs go well together or create a sense of narrative?
Yeah, I guess everyone knows their own work the best. Say if you’re working on a project and you’re working on something else, you’ll break down the logic and think of another one like “this will go with this” and it’s something else from last year and it will just spark something, so I put it together.
A few weeks ago you had a hard drive with over two years of material stored on it stolen from you, that’s really horrible, what happened there?
Yeah, it was after a show. Our tour van got broken into. Unfortunately I lost of all of my work. I was working on projects on the road as well so I had a couple of back-up drives in there. I ended up losing everything. I lost all my recording sessions since the end of 2012, my live sets, my DJ sets, pretty much everything I need to tour and make a living. It was really tough to deal with that but I got so much support and love from everyone, I pretty much had to brush it off and start fresh and I’ve just been working on new material.
You haven’t tried to recreate or recover the tracks that you had on the hard drive?
Yeah so when those were stolen, I had one hard-drive at home as a backup, but interestingly enough the hard-drive wouldn’t show up so I took it to a data recovery place and they told me there’s no way to recover it and they did the deepest most intensive scan. I got nothing back so maybe that’s a sign.
Yeah but at the same time, since I don’t have all the tools and the sounds that I used to use, it’s basically forcing me to come up with a whole new palette of sounds so maybe that’s a good thing. Sometimes being uncomfortable is a good thing because it will just open up the mind.
On Fated, you’ve introduced some really strong feature tracks. Is that something you did intentionally?
Yeah, it’s weird. Every time I do work on a lot of projects, I’ll always sing or hear a melody in my head with vocals but I’m not much of a vocalist myself. With all of my albums, I do sing but you can’t even notice it- they’re just like little samples of my voice. I haven’t really tried writing lyrics, but I really do enjoy working with different artists because I learn the most from it [and] it changes the way I think. Since I started doing that, I just want to do it more and more and eventually produce someone else’s record.
How do you go about selecting those features? Do you approach artists you’d like to work with or do they approach you?
I don’t know. So far it’s just kind of happened naturally, just being introduced by someone else like “hey you should work with so-and-so” but maybe when I get back from tour, I’d like to put a list together and see what I could make out of that.
Who would be on your list?
Oh man, I didn’t even think of that yet. Homie from Tame Impala would be cool, Victoria from Beach House would be cool. Maybe like a few more rappers would be cool as well.
Moving into the future, were you wanting to move away from hip-hop influenced beat-making and work with other genres?
No, I’m always down to work with hip-hop artists, but I’m willing to change that up and make it weird, you know?
You’ve said you’re not much of a ‘club’ person. Where do you imagine people might listen to your music?
Oh man, the ideal show for me would be to perform in a totally immersed environment. Almost like a planetarium, so something like that. When you go to a show or a club or whatever, you’re so distracted by so many things and that could be good too because they’re different types of settings, but a focused and immersed environment would be great. That would be ideal with visuals. I just want to create a 360 degree experience.
How do you transfer that idea into the way you perform your live set?
I haven’t been able to do [do a full visual display] in Australia yet unfortunately, but hopefully soon. I just work with artists that catch my eye. On a visual level I’ll know right away that this will work. I’m actually working on one right now that I’m really excited about. I’m about to leave for Tokyo on Thursday and I’m going to be working with this guy called Daito Manabe. He did the music video for ‘Eclipse Blue’ off the last album and we’re going to be working on this crazy virtual reality show based on light. I haven’t even seen it yet but he sent me a few test clips and it’s really crazy because I’m kind of a techy dude, but this I don’t even understand. I’m very excited about it. We’re going to be debuting it at the end of this month.
Does he listen to a piece of your music and interpret it by himself or is it more of a dialogue between the two of you?
He has a team and basically its going to be generative. He’s fitting all the information that I’m sending through my software and it’s going to be live generative animation and video, so what it will be is a virtual reality experience, we’re going to make sure that it’s properly filmed and show it to the world once it goes down.
So the installation will be responding live to your set?
Yeah, he’s a genius. I met with him almost two years ago now and he’s just like “show me your set and show me how you program your live set”. He plugs the ethernet cable into my laptop, then breaks it down and writes this custom program from scratch and it took him 14 hours to do it but he did it in one sitting with two other people. Then he was just like “Okay, we’re done”and now he’s going to implement it. Basically, he did all that programming so that he could get the information that he needed then he’ll be able to route it to different systems. So now, almost two years later, we’re going to flesh it out and make it real. The festival [we’re debuting it at] is in Nagano. They had the Olympics there years ago. It’s in the mountains and I just can’t even imagine how amazing it’s going to be.
So what’s happening over at Timetable at the moment?
I’m really excited about it. Starting anything is kind of tough but I didn’t want to start a label and do everything myself and just get overwhelmed, you know what I mean? So it took me a while to build a team and an infrastructure. Fast-forwarding to the music, we’ve got this guy Whoarei who’s going to be putting out a full length piece and I have a track with him on my album (‘Don’t Mind Me’). He also did the beat for ‘U’ on Kendrick Lamar’s latest album and he has a whole full length that he’s just about to turn in. There’s another guy named Gerry Read from the UK whose been doing more house music production. I was just talking to him now and he sent me bunch of music. Yeah, it’s like a family and we just want to put out dope shit, new stuff, and it doesn’t even have to be music. There’s all these ideas in the works right now and we’re not going to just limit it to music, it might be something totally random, a different type of medium, just like how we’re always experimenting with the music. I’m just excited, third quarter of this year we’ll see some stuff finally coming out of it.
What sort of other avenues are you wanting to branch out into?
I want to make short films. I also want to do a small interview show, just interviewing people, I just want to do an interview show. But whoever I’m interviewing, I want them to direct it.
What else have you been up to since Fated came out?
I’ve basically just been catching up and writing new music ever since I got wiped out so I’m just catching up. Just writing new music and just getting weird about it.
Stream or buy Nosaj Thing’s album ‘Fated’ here.