Interview with Nosaj Thing

(Photo by shin2chilism)

As we discussed Monday, Mighty has quite the treat lined up for us Saturday night with LA's rising electronic star, Nosaj Thing. We had a chance to catch up with the 24-year-old beat maker earlier this week, where we discussed his hip hop fundamentals, LA's infamous DIY venue The Smell, his beta stage visually synced show and much more.

Nosaj Thing plays Mighty Saturday (2/6) with Daedelus and Jogger. Tickets are $12.

Your 2009 full length debut Drift was one of the year's most unique and compelling records, clearly drawing inspiration from an endless range of genres. At its core, however, I really see Drift as a hip hop record. Was hip hop part of your earliest musical foundation, or was it an influence that came later in life?

I guess it all started when I was in 3rd grade. My parents enrolled me in an after school program at the YMCA, and the bus driver that picked us up always had on the local hip hop stations -- Power 106, or it would be 92.3 The Beat. I would hear that everyday, and when I would get home I would want to listen to it more. I had this clock radio that had recording capability, and I would just record the shows that I liked and from then on just listen to it.

One thing that separates you from many artist in the hip hop and electronic world is your ability to do something truly memorable live -- you use your midi controller as an instrument, improvising a unique set each night. While it is something we are starting to see a bit more of, it is still a relatively new and exciting direction in music. What was your early inspiration for this type of approach?

What inspired me to do live shows was actually going to this venue The Smell, in downtown LA. I started going there when I was in high school and saw a lot of DIY acts – lots of noise and punk artist, just doing their thing. I remember seeing this one artist that would do a whole set with a variety of pedals. I thought it was really cool that he could express himself like that, and do such a cool show with just one man.

Computer and music technology was also just booming with all the midi controllers and stuff at this time, and growing up this was just more affordable. So I started experimenting and getting into it -- I just started doing it.

I understand that some of your early shows actually took place at The Smell. That is really interesting to me -- while a lot of amazing artist got there start at the venue, it has never struck me as a super electronic or hip hop friendly place. How did the crowd react to your early performances there?

Every time I would go there it was just a random lineup – I’d play between a noise artist and a folk artist. [laughs]

But I think my sound was a bit different then. Of course the backbone was hip hop, but it would be more melodic, and some of the songs also had some noise elements as well. I think people kind of got that.

These days you are affiliated with Low End Theory, a weekly party that LA Weekly described as The Smell's "beat-oriented little brother." Do you see any room for this traditionally hip hop oriented event to put together these type of eclectic bills?

Definitely, and I know it has been done before. They have had a few bands there -- School of Seven Bells and Health played, and a few other bands. But yeah, I would like to see more of that.

From start to finish, Drift is a distinctly solo affair. Have you thought at all about bringing in collaborators the next time around?
I have done some production work for a couple of LA based MCs, like Bus Driver and Nocando, and definitely want to get a few vocalist for the next record.

It is actually kind of funny. When I first started working with production software, my dream was pretty much do hip hop beats, like Timbaland or Neptunes -- that’s what I grew up with. But the more I got into music, the more I started thinking --“how am I even going to get this music to these [MCs]?” So I just kind of went my own way, and started creating more songs. And that made me feel better than making something for someone else.

Is there anything that you are working on right now that we can look forward to hearing in the near future?

Well I am working on a record – it is probably going to come out early next year. I also have a remix EP on the way -- so far it is Daedelus, this dubstep group from UK called 16Bit, Lorn, and hopefully some others. And I am working on a remix for Fever Ray -- the song is called Keep the Streets Empty.

Sounds like you are keeping busy! There has also been a bit of buzz surrounding a synced visual show that you have been working on lately. Can you tell us a little bit about how that came about, and if we can expect to see it in SF anytime soon?

I got really inspired to do a visual show after I saw Cornelius play. At the time, my girlfriend had just graduated from the Art Center College of Design and was taking an internship to Seattle. We live in a two bedroom apartment, so to save on cost we needed someone to take over this room we had for a bit. Her classmate Adam moved in, and it turned out we were into a lot of the same music. So I just told him that I thought it would be cool if I could do something like this [visual show], and it turned out he was really into the concept as well -- he was even exploring basing his thesis on the idea. So along with my girlfriend Julia, we just started throwing out ideas together -- just brainstorming and experimenting and trying things out.

Julia and Adam actually both come with me when we do the live visual show. We are all controlling these visuals with three separate midi controllers, routed through this special software. I would say it is in the beta phase though. We probably have done it three times, and every time we did it we just learned so much from it. I think we only did it successfully once, which was the last time we did it. But yea definitely want to tour it, but it is just logistical issues -- you know?