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Nosaj Thing: "I Thought I Was Going To Die"

Nosaj Thing survives an early Saturn Return to bring Australia his brand new beats and 3D visuals
July 1, 2014, 9:20pm

Rappers hitting up producers for beats ain't nothing new. But the trend of young, left-field producers bringing moodiness and delicate darkness to the work of the majors - having their once niche work enter the mainstream - is totally a thing now. It started with Clams Casino and Lil B  and has reached its apex in Yeezus, which saw Kanye enlist the screwed sounds of UNO NYC's Arca and the industrial noise of Evian Christ. Chance The Rapper, Kendrick Lamar and Future have all recently reached out for collaborations with laidback Los Angeles blunted beat producer Jason Chung, aka Nosaj Thing (for everyone playing at home, Nosaj is Jason, backwards). Nosaj has been toted as being part of "a new generation of producers as indebted to Dre as they are to Warp," and indeed he recently found himself on a bill alongside Schoolboy Q. For Nosaj, who started out in production as a 13 year old piecing together hip-hop-inspired instrumentals at his parents' house, it's a fact he finds surreal.

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It all really began to happen for this guy with one LP, 2009's melody and beat driven Drift on Alpha Pup Records. On the strength of this debut Nosaj was propelled from obscurity to the forefront of Flying Lotus' LA glitch-hop scene. The album's 2013 follow up Home saw Nosaj flex his music muscles in a different direction, focusing less on melodies and more on ethereal, layered offerings with a human touch via beautiful vocals from Blonde Redhead's Kazu Makino and Toro Y Moi. Despite all this, if Nosaj is "bein' honest", things weren't going too great for the Pasadena prodigy a year and a half ago while working on Home. He fills THUMP in on that period, which saw the planets wreaking havoc on his home life. Read on to see how he's bounced back like a pro and put together a third album that's to be expected before next year. Australian audiences will be the first to hear the new tracks at shows during his upcoming Aus/NZ tour which sees him play six dates with D. Tiberio, as well as music festival CIRCO on June 28.

Hey Jason! What's doing?
Hey! Just at home, in LA, in my studio working on my new record. I really need to finish it before I leave for Australia.

Is your label on your back about it?
It's a self-imposed deadline actually! I'm just super behind on it – I told myself I'd have the new record finished in January, and what are we at now…June? It gets tricky when you're trying to narrow it down from nearly one hundred songs you've come up with, to just twelve.  I would really like to put it out before next year, though – I don't want there to be a silence between albums, like last time. There was four years between my first album and my second one – there was a few years of touring solely based on Drift, then all of a sudden I was like 'woah, I gotta get something else out!'. I feel much more comfortable with this third album now, I'm exploring some totally new sounds. If you come to the shows in Australia you'll get to hear the new material.

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You were due to visit us in Australia last year, what happened?
Yeah I was due to come around October last year, but then we had to cancel, as I got double-booked! It kind of worked out though, because this time I'll be in Australia for about two and a half weeks, and I'm doing more dates than we originally scheduled back in October. I'm looking forward to really getting right into Australia, seeing what the place is all about.

It sounds like growing up in the musical melting pot that is LA, you were exposed to loads of different music styles – from hip hop, to punk music, to forward-looking electronic music. Did you have a lot of freedom and independence as a kid to explore all those scenes, and get involved in them, or did you have to be sneaky about it?
I had to be sneaky! When I was 13 I told my parents I was going to a sleepover, but I actually went to a rave (laughs). I started getting really into that late 90s drum 'n' bass, then after that all kinds of electronic music. At that time, around the early 2000s, that was also when Napster was like a big phenomenon. That shit was cool because you were able to go through other people's libraries, so if there was a band or artist you really liked, you could go through their digital collection and find out what else they were listening to. People sorted their digital music super methodically on Napster, like a record collection, under artist, under genre. So you could just learn so much about what you needed to know. Prior to my rave days, I was really into G-Funk and old school funk - back in the third grade my bus driver used to have the radio on Power 106 every morning on the way to school – so the whole bus was listening to Dre, and Snoop. I try and add that warmth and swing of G-funk into my productions; electronic music can get really cold sometimes.

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Are you happy being based in LA – you must have seen a fair bit of the world now touring, is there a place you've been that you've thought, 'maybe one day I'll move here'?
My family's here in LA, so it's nice being close to them. Um, I wouldn't mind living in Tokyo! London, maybe - I don't like getting around in London, but I do like a lot of the music scene there, I wouldn't mind being based there for a little bit. I like how things are a bit more connected in other cities – here in LA, my closest friend is an hour's driving away. The city's so sprawled out. Although it's super laid back because of that too. Because of the traffic, everyone's always running late in LA, so things are chill.

Your recent remix for Little Dragon is a winner - was it their decision to bring Future onto the remix, or yours?
Originally the remix was going to be without Future, then we were talking with Little Dragon's manager at Coachella, and they said they wanted to have another guest on it, and they were like "The rapper Future's expressed interest, do you want to meet up with him in the studio?" and I was like "yeah okay, I'll see how that goes". So Future came into my studio, and it as great! We just laid down the track in a couple of hours.

You played a gig with Schoolboy Q recently, too. As a self confessed hip hop nerd who started out recreating Neptunes beats in your bedroom, is it intimidating to be working with actual rappers?
Yeah it's so surreal that happened. Even the Future thing. Like, how does this make sense? Gangsta rap and nerd beats? Music's so confused these days, its really weird. But these collaborations, and tours, it all happens so naturally. I'm not really the type to reach out, and be like "yo man let's hook up on a track", I'm no good at that. But I'm open to whatever comes my way. Things happen through the Internet, people reach out after hearing my stuff. Ultimately I just want to be in the studio all the time, I'm happiest in the studio, and collaborations mean I can.

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At CIRCO Festival where you're playing in Australia, video projection mapping artists will transform the venue with dynamic, surreal, 3D visuals. I believe you've also been working with your own video projection artist on your live show?
I'm in the process of developing a really intense visual show that will be ready by the end of the year, so my touring will come accompanied by more of a Nosaj Thing complete vision. You know the music video 'Eclipse/Blue', that I did with Japanese digital artist Daito Manabe? I'm working with him on trying to bring that clip alive, make it into a whole live show, I want the audience to feel like they're in some kind of cosmic space, like a planetarium.

That sounds incredible. It's really great when artists are mindful of the best way in which audiences can experience their music; and set them up for the best live experience possible. I feel like experimental artists, like Oneohtrix Point Never, really excel at that. They are aware their music isn't necessarily going to prompt that instinctive reaction to dance, so they help you with an augmented dance experience. Yeah, Oneohtrix nails it. I don't wanna do just a screen with visuals, it could be more like an installation; we're experimenting with different 3D mediums. My goal is to create an immersive environment for the music and take over the space of the venue where the show will be in. It's getting expensive (laughs), hopefully we'll work it out.

Oneohtrix is pretty adamant on going beyond gimmicky visuals, too, like you said, for that full multi-media experience. He's said that his video artist Nate Boyce "is just as much a part of OPN as [he] is". Speaking of multi-media, how is your creative project Timetable going?
Really great. We're about to release a record by this guy, Whoarei, I'm really excited about it. Timetable's more of a platform for whoever wants to be involved, not just music, but whatever we want, it could be a video, a poster, clothing, it's for creating new things. We're going to do something soon kind of like Interview Magazine, everyone on the label will take control of a few pages and do whatever they want with them. It's all still pretty new right now, but we're hoping to get more momentum going, however it takes a lot of time, especially when I'm touring. Timetable's an ongoing experiment.

You're 28 right? That's how old I am. Apparently soon we're going to experience our first Saturn Return, where Saturn (which takes approximately 28 years to rotate around the Sun) comes back to the position it was in at your birth and triggers a "first life crisis". It's a serious reality check that's going to have us questioning who we are, what we want to do with our lives, and a time when we really mature into an adult…
[Interrupts] Woah! it's so crazy you should mention the Saturn Return, I know ALL about that. I've fully been through a version of that crisis, kind of slightly early. About a year and a half ago I was going through the worst time ever, I thought I was going to die. I'd say no to every single opportunity; I cancelled gigs, tours and press stuff, I walked out of interviews. I was just going crazy. I had a serious anxiety problem too. A lot of personal things – relationships, family – were just going wrong, and it just hit me really hard. Working on the second record, Home, was my therapy for that time. It's a super personal record for me. But I'm okay now, finally things are levelling out, and I feel like I have a hold on things again, you know.

Catch Nosaj Thing on his long anticipated debut tour of Australia, including CIRCO