Interview: Nosaj Thing

When IDM goes home these days, it goes to Los Angeles where Low End Theory anchors its underground, and the likes of Flying Lotus and Daedelus are attempting more avant experiments. In the midst of all that, you can’t miss Nosaj Thing, the brainchild of Jason Chung. Sonically inclined and unabashedly geeky, Nosaj (Jason spelt backwards) has been steadily designing a palette of glitchy beats, textual intricacies and buzzing synths that’s equally informed by dub and hip hop. It sounded awesome on his Views/Octopus EP, his debut LP Drift, and just about any other night at Low End Theory, as much as it did at his live showing at Heineken’s Secret Gallery. No better time to question him on computer software, meditation and being this far away from his bedroom…

Text Min Chen
Images Alpha Pup Records

Hey Jason. You’re hot off Coachella!
Yeah, it was great! I didn’t even expect that! I’ve been wanting to go since I was in high school and to be able to play Coachella this year was just amazing.

And we hear you’re now caught up in the studio…
Yeah, I’m recording right now. I think I’m about 80% done with the record and I’m trying to finish that up as soon as possible.

Any sneak peeks?
Well, I don’t think it’s as dark and melancholic as the last record. I’ve been exploring different types of rhythms and tempos, whereas with Drift, it was pretty cohesive. And I have some guest vocalists this time around and I’m really excited about it.

As are we! What got you making beats in the first place?
When I was 12 or 13 years old, I had friends with older brothers who were all into DJ-ing, and I was always interested. I used to record radio shows at home in third grade on my parents’ stereo, where I would hear DJ-ing and trick mixing and scratching, but I didn’t know or couldn’t see it in person since we didn’t have YouTube back then.  First time I saw it, I just fell in love with it and just wanted to do it. Whatever it took, I just did it, like borrowing turntables from six to eight different people ‘cos I couldn’t afford it. And it was an interesting time in the late ’90s and early ’00s, where music production technology was getting more accessible and I just downloaded software on my dad’s computer. Since then, I’ve been doing that every day, just making beats and stuff…

And you must have found kindred spirits within Low End Theory.
Definitely! That’s like my family! That started in late-2005 and early-2006, and I had been playing for free for more than two years and I just didn’t know that anyone else that was into the same thing I was into. And when the Low End Theory resident line-up came out, I was like, this is it – this is the answer! When I got there, there were so many guys and girls like me and it’s just such a healthy hub for music right now in LA.

Sounds like a great place to be.
Yeah, it’s just a good community of artists, where there’s no beef between anyone. If there’s any competition, it’s healthy competition and everyone just helps each other out, so it’s good.

Going back to your music, how do you usually get started on a track?
I’m very interested in sound in general and I usually start out with sound design, creating textures and sounds that express the mood I’m in, and build the song from there. But rarely do I finish a song in one sitting. It’s kind of therapeutic for me, like writing a diary. I don’t even think when I’m making music, which is the best part about it. All thoughts are gone and it’s kind of like meditation.

Was that how Drift came together?
It came together quite fast because I self-released Views/Octopus in 2006 and since the album came out in 2009, I had a lot of material to work with. I’m not gonna say it was easy but it came together quicker for me. But this next record has been more challenging, because we’ve toured a lot since that record and I didn’t have that much time in studio and it’s all sort of coming back to me now.

Speaking of tours, your live show comes accompanied by an amazing visual show. How important is that imagery to your music?
We’ve been working on the visual show for two years now. Julia created it with Adam and myself, and it’s kind of like a collaboration. I think the visuals are what I’ve wanted to do for a long time, and especially with electronic music where it could get pretty boring watching one guy on the laptop. This is our way of performing what we have in our heads.

Do you reckon all the touring has influenced your sound in any way?
Definitely, just being able to travel the world and tour and get feedback and different vibes from different types of people… it’s really been quite a blessing and it’s influenced me quite a bit.

How has it felt going from your bedroom to the stage?
Um, honestly, I see the crowd but I don’t perform any differently. I just zone out and play like I’m by myself. Of course, there’s a different feeling with a big crowd, but I don’t change anything really.

So, is it music for the bedroom or music for the dancefloor?
I think a bit of both. I personally feel it should be… the best experience would be to experience it by yourself, either on headphones or if you’re driving by yourself. Mine’s a personal kind of music.

There’s such a thing as