By Tiffany Lam and Jeffrey Yau. From bedroom disco slow trot to x-rated Galaxy hops shimmer, young producer Shagabond has been making serious waves this summer, gaining respect for his creativity and style from a number of artists at home and abroad. We sat down with Nick, mastermind behind Shagabond, after his Tattoo show with UK duo Bondax here in Toronto and chatted music, influences, Bondax, university and more.
Q: What prompted you to make originals first as opposed to bootlegs initially?
A: When I first started music I was super influenced by ethereal R&B stuff like The Weeknd, Zodiac, D’Angelo, people like that – that’s kind of what I want to do. I wanna do behind the scenes action instead of being like a forefront artist, but over time I found it was difficult to find people that I respected and wanted to have on my tracks so I decided just to make songs instead of making just background beats and over time it was just an evolution. I found a type of sound that I liked and it kind of just took off from there. A lot of DJs try and get into the scene through the remix game but I don’t see myself as just somebody who wants to jump into the game doing remixes… I just wanna make something that I personally wanna listen to, something that I think is good enough to be put out in public.
Q: Tell me about your involvement in the Exhume Music Collective.
A: For sure. One day I got an email from a local guy (Toronto) called Adam Bosley – I’m from Waterloo. Basically he said that he was starting this label/collective, Exhume Music, and he wanted to manage me and he wanted me to do be on it. At the time I didn’t have a steady SoundCloud following or anything going on so I was interested. We ended up meeting at a local Chapters and we had a good conversation – I could tell he was the kind of person I wanted to surround myself with just because he told me a bit about his background in music and that he liked artists like Mount Kimbie and not just artists that were pushing SoundCloud music but like “real stuff” that I genuinely like to listen to all the time. I was like, “this is the guy. He’s going to push me and I’m going to push him”, and that was it.
Q: So you mention “real stuff”, can you share a little about your influences?
A: A couple years back I was really into what The Weeknd was doing early on with the mixtapes (House of Balloons, Thursday, Echoes of Silence), that ethereal kind of style. Over time I started looking more and more into instrumental styles of production and came across (and everybody always says this in every interview) Brainfeeder. Brainfeeder puts you on an almost whole new way of thinking of like what music is, and what music can be. I started listening to a lot of Flying Lotus, Bonobo, Lapalux, etc. as soon I was getting into the SoundCloud realm of things. Then obviously Bondax, Darius… Even in Toronto there’s so many good producers like Hamlet, NIGHTIZM, The 25th Hour, Birthday Boy – that whole crew. There’s huge talent in Toronto and I’m blessed to be a part of the scene right now.
Q: On that note, do you think you embrace that part of the Canadian/Toronto scene culture? Exhume is listed as based in Toronto but it also says it incorporates music from all over the world.
A: Sure I hope so! To be honest, it amazes me every time I play a show, like I’m just here to play music. I’ll overhear people in the hallway like “oh yo Shagabond’s set is up next” and in my mind I’m just like “how do you know about me?!” It just feels weird that people know an alias of me without knowing anything about me, who I am, or an alias of me. They just know what I’m presenting to them on SoundCloud so it’s kind of phenomenal to have people backing you so I hope I’m making some sort of impact.
Q: How did the whole Bondax thing come about? You mentioned earlier something about sending them a demo…?
A: Yeah! Okay, so this is around the time I had first switched from using Logic Pro as my main DAW to Ableton Live and I had a summer where I was just making music everyday all the time and I finally found out ways to do things the way I wanted to make them sound; it was like a huge transitional phase. I made this song called Coral Soup (it was like a one night thing). It was just the weirdest thing; I was in my room drinking a Pear Martini and I was feeling pretty nice, and I had machine open and my keyboard and I loaded up my drums, and so that was it. I sent it to Soulection, Bondax, basically everyone and two weeks later they (Bondax) responded and they were like “we love this track!” So they put it on their compilation album – which I was floored to be on – and then in October (2014), we played here and I was in this room with them while Pomo was playing upstairs and we were having this serious, deep conversation. I asked them (Bondax) why they picked my song since they probably got thousands of emails… and they told me this story about how they were in a cab together in London and their friends were asking them if they got a lot of emails about music. Bondax was like “yeah, but basically all of it is shit, just kids playing around doing nothing” and so what happened was that my song just happened to be the first email so they were just like “check this out, I bet it is rubbish” so they played it… and loved it! They contacted me a few hours after but yeah, it was just the craziest coincidence and since then it’s just changed my life… That one moment that they decided to check out my SoundCloud page.
Q: You mentioned too that you first found out through social media?
A: Yeah! They actually posted my track on their Facebook the next day and I didn’t even know. I have this SoundCloud friend called Rmyssn – he messaged me on Facebook and was like “did you just see this? They posted it on their Facebook page!” I was coming home from school when I saw and I almost passed out in my kitchen… I was freaking out and my mom thought I had a heart attack. People started checking it out and listening and I became a junkie just non-stop checking my Facebook and SoundCloud pages to see if people were listening to stuff. That was the spark and since then it’s given me the chance to upload stuff and people will actually listen to it without waiting months and months at a time for it to pick-up.
Q: That’s crazy insane. Tell me about Galaxy Hop and what that means to you.
A: This is also a funny story. We were watching our The Superbowl and there was this commercial for ‘New Galaxy Hops Beer’ and I was like “woooaaah that sounds sick I’m totally taking this”, if the beer company sues me one day I’ll drop it and change it to like cosmic hop maybe!
Q: Your Twitter handle used to be ThePurpleKid. What was the story behind that?
A: I was going through a really awkward phase in my life… yeah let’s just say that southern hip hop was a massive influence so I was listening to a lot of that at the time. If you guys know Southern hip hop at all, it’s about drinking lean and purple sprite and I was just like “okay yo so I’m dat purple kid holla at me yo” and it was just kind of a thing that stuck. But yeah I finally changed it back to @Shagabond so go ahead and follow me already if you haven’t!
Q: Besides all the Bondax stuff, what’s been your favourite memory so far?
A: I played a show at Montreal at this club called Apartment 200 with this guy Da-P – he’s actually the only Canadian Soulection artist and coincidentally he’s actually in town tonight – and so I was sitting there about to play… This is 2am, club is packed everybody is dancing and I just had this moment where I almost started to cry where I was like “fuck I always wanted to do this I can’t believe this is actually happening.” It’s pretty difficult to understand everything happening because it wasn’t long ago that I was just sitting in my room wondering why I hadn’t blown up yet or pondering thoughts about how I had to do this. But I mean it’s all luck; you can have all the talent in the world but never blow up… it’s all a coincidence that everything works out.
Q: Who would you say is your favourite artist/producer at the moment?
A: Tennyson – they blew me away live. The Code is by far the best for aesthetics and polished sound – I was actually watching their vinyl debut video today and I was trying to come up with a quote that matched what I was seeing and it was something like, “at the pinnacle of complexity is the relevance of simplicity.” You realize just how important it is to be clean, polished. Nobody has that! Everybody on SoundCloud is just trying to be as complicated as they can and show off, but it’s the people who are simple and have the vision of where they wanna go that can make it happen.
Q: A lot of the times becoming an artist is about branding. Do you have one thing that you think is “your brand” right now?
A: For people who know a little about music, the eighth notes I guess – almost every track I do has an eighth note synth in the background. Every synth patch is self-designed, I don’t use any presets so I guess that’s another trademark because nobody is going to sound like you if you make them yourself.
Q: Your sound’s been described as mature but you’re only 18. How long ago did you start producing and how did you get into it?
A: Basically I was in grade 8/9 and my brother came out of nowhere with his friend and they were like “we’re gonna be producers!” So my mom bought him a mini-keyboard. It didn’t really work out for him and I was in a band at this time so I started messing with the keyboard and Garage Band as a tool for live expression. I found out I could make full songs with loops and all that, and at the time I was into alternative rock. And then I just started to get into deep house and dance music when I was in Grad 9 (14). The EDM wave was just starting up, Avicii had just come out and all those guys and I thought to myself “oh man it’d be so cool if I could just do that” and yeah, I just started trying to make EDM music which to be honest I’m not a big fan of it as it’s gotten kinda mediocre. At the time though, I was super into it and I was just getting more and more into electronic music and the path just leads to another path, and another, and then you’re just deep into sub-genres before you find something you really love and wanna be a part of.
Q: What are you most excited for this coming year?
A: EP release! I’m aiming for the fall, but you can never be sure. I’ll have this entire summer to work with so that’ll be good. There are some sick collabs in the making but I really can’t tell you who is going to be on the tape. I’m collaborating with an artist that I’ve been friends with for a long time and he’s doing all the artwork for it, so that’ll be sweet.
Q: You’re starting university! How’s that going to work with your schedule?
A: I’m skeptical but since I was a kid, it’s always been implanted into my mind, but I mean, I’m here now and I’m in… But getting into university was one of the most stressful things. I’ll probably have to go easy on the course load so I can focus on the music. It’ll definitely be interesting because I don’t think a lot of people are accustomed to the scene or any of the music that I do so it’ll be weird to find people that are like-minded. I’ll be studying cognitive science at U of T.