Jason Chung, known professionally as Nosaj Thing, was a kid of disparate musical influences whilst growing up in Los Angeles; from d’n’b to noise. But being from the West Coast and looking up to the likes of The Neptunes, Timbaland, and Dr. Dre, hip hop was integral in serving as a foundation for the beats he’d eventually produce during his now nearly a decade-long career. It only made sense that Chung soon found a ‘home’ at the birthplace of the LA beat scene (also the convergence point of LA hip hoppers; from MCs, DJs, to producers), Low End Theory. With that, everything fell into place as naturally as the electronically transmuted emotions – firmly reflective of the LA recluse archetype, as pointed out by LA rapper Busdriver – of the moody production the name Nosaj Thing is now synonymous with. While admittedly that name isn’t as high-profile as other Low End Theory alumni – see: Flying Lotus – since then, he’s worked with a slew of artistes such as Blonde Redhead’s Kazu Makino, Kid Cudi, and Chance The Rapper, who recently appeared on his latest album Fated, released via Innovative Leisure just last month. Ahead of his Singaporean gig just last Saturday, JUICE spoke to the taciturn Nosaj Thing about the making of the album, his bouts with anxiety, and the theft of his gear containing years’ worth of work.
The last record Home talked about the personal troubles you were experiencing. Would it be fair to characterise Fated as your learning to surrender some control emotionally?
Yeah, I’m fine. I’m doing good. I’m just trying… I’m still trying to figure everything out. But I’m okay emotionally.
With Drift, Home, and now Fated, there is coherence among all three not in just sound, but thematically as well. How do you imbue intent into instrumental music?
I don’t try to push intention or anything. I just try to make it come out naturally. I’m writing music like I’m writing in a diary everyday, you know what I mean? It’s more therapeutic to do it, you know? When it’s time to do it – you know, make an album – I’ll go over it like almost with a diary and tear off the pages that really resonate with me and make a book out of it.
Being someone who has openly expressed his anxiety, do you find satisfaction when you find that making music was not only therapeutic, but also something you would happily release?
Yeah. I mean, I have to. It’s very, very difficult to [do that], you know, and just having a lot of friends that do music [as well]. It’s a painstaking process, for sure. The hardest thing to do is letting go, but that’s the only way to progress. You have to release your music [and] that’s the only way you’re gonna ever learn from it. I’m just embracing it.
You worked with Katie Gately on ‘2K’, but her vocals aren’t as prominent as say Whoarei’s, her voice was used more as an embellishment for the track. Could you tell us more about the track?
I found her online, just on SoundCloud. I really liked her music – just that her stuff is very experimental – and it really spoke to me. So I reached out, I emailed her. I was looking for someone to work with and I really like female vocals. She happened to be in LA, she was studying sound design at USC. She came over, [that’s] the first day we met, we just made that idea and I was happy with it so I included that on the album. She would just come in and she’s very technical. She would just record the vocals and you know, manipulate and edit them herself. It was really nice because we didn’t have to speak much and we were speaking the same language (music production).
Looking at your work so far, there are minimal collaborations (in terms of your albums at least). Are you more careful about who sings or raps on your beats compared to other LA producers from the same scene?
I don’t know. I don’t really think about it too much. If I like someone’s energy and their music, that’s why I wanna work with them, you know? I’m just trying to do more of that these days. I feel like I learn the most when I collaborate.
This is something that we’ve noticed, but many of the songs on Fated are kept quite short. Is there a particular reason? Is it to treat the tracks like vignettes or is it possibly due to people’s short attention span?
I think it’s both, really. I think it’s both of those reasons; there are a lot of reasons why the songs are shorter. I just feel like they are meant to be that way. I didn’t really think about it so much like, “Oh, they’re gonna be shorter.” They’re just ‘little’… yeah, ‘little’, that’s what it is (laughs).
We read that you’ve been working with Daito Manabe for a live visual show. How has that been coming along? Because it sounds like it’s been in the works for quite some time.
Yeah, it’s been in the works for a long time, right? I’m really excited about it. We’re going to debut it in Nagano end of this month (May, at the time of this interview) and it’s gonna have a sense of (pauses)… virtual reality? And there’s gonna be a sense of like really intelligent lighting that will attract human movements, like our movements. So, everything’s been generated by what’s coming out by the music, everything’s generated live. That’s what I’m most excited about. It really is a live experience. [Daito Manabe] basically programmed all of these devices to animate on what’s being performed. I won’t even know once I see it. I’m actually heading there a week early to rehearse and get everything together. But he’s just sending little clips of the concept; we’re gonna flush it out once I get there.
We’re sorry to hear about your stolen gear but we’ve read that people have been responding quite well to the new stuff. Obviously it’s frustrating, but how do you feel about starting from scratch?
I’ve went through all the emotions already. It took some time to process and get over it, the only thing I can do now is move forward and be positive and make better music, that’s the best I can do. I finally accepted that, I’m gonna work hard and come back stronger.
Would there have been Nosaj Thing without Low End Theory? Or on a macrocosmic scale, would there have been a beat scene as it is now without it?
[It] definitely influenced me, you know? I feel like with Low End Theory, everyone was already doing their thing, and Low End Theory just brought everyone together and it created a hub. It just helped us resonate together that we culled together – it was just like a big family.
Busdriver has said that you were a “real LA recluse.” Does being more hermit-like than other DJ-producers inform your music in a meaningful way?
I guess so. I’m trying to get better to not be like that [actually]. But yeah, I’m dealing with it; I don’t wanna be that way. But um, I don’t know. I’ always trying to learn and improve myself. I’m just learning.
From making music in the bedroom to performing your album live – was it difficult to transition to a performing artiste as someone with an anxiety issue?
(Laughs) Kind of. I didn’t always have like, you know, anxiety. It just came and it hit me out of nowhere. But the more people I talked to, the more it seems like it’s pretty common. Yeah, it is a bit unnatural for a bedroom producer to just be on stage. I feel that it’s normal, but the best I like to do is just imagine myself in my room, by myself. It’s what I do really.
Compared to another Low End luminary, Flying Lotus, you’re lower profile. Nocando has been quoted saying you’re “the Isaiah Thomas to Flying Lotus’s Michael Jordan.” Do you ever feel obligated to go as big with such praise directed to you?
(Laughs) I don’t know, I’ve never heard that one before – I just feel like we’re in the same family together, that’s it.
Courtesy of RBMA and Feedback Asia, Nosaj Thing performed at Kyo, Singapore on Saturday 6 June ’15.