Interview: Big Wild talks Foreign Family, secret talents, and upcoming EP

By Tiffany Lam, Managing Editor. 

When we first heard that Foreign Family’s Big Wild was coming to play a show at the Danforth Music Hall in Toronto, alongside Gramatik, we knew we needed to be there. Over the past year, this artist has made a name for himself with his single “Aftergold” and remix of Sylvan Esso’s “Hey Mami” – both standing at over 2 million plays on SoundCloud. If it hasn’t happened yet, Big Wild is guaranteed to win you over with his funky bass-heavy sound and phenomenal live whistling skills on numerous tracks. We have no doubt he’ll be blowing up all across North America come 2016. Read on below where we chat with Jackson Stell (aka Big Wild) about touring, beat boxing, whistling, his upcoming EP, being a part of the Foreign Family Collective and more.

Welcome to Toronto! Can you start off by introducing yourself and Big Wild a little bit for me? 
My name’s Jackson but I go by Big Wild. I started this project about 2 and a half years ago. I made hip hop instrumentals for a very long time and I kind of started getting into the electronic stuff and making more experimental stuff. I wanted elements of the project to be adventurous with my sound and not just stick with the trends.

Where are you from? Anything surrounding you or growing up significantly influence where you are musically today? 
I’m from Massachusetts but now I live in LA. I played trumpet up until the 8th grade, so that was kind of my first musical instrument and introduction. But I always wanted to do more and be involved with more elements rather than one trumpet. So that’s when I started producing in middle school and from there, it kind of just took off. I’ve just really enjoyed making hip hop instruments and that was also a great starting point to learn song structure and songwriting.

Is there a story behind the name Big Wild? 
There’s kind of a base story to it. It was my first trip to California, my girlfriend is from the Bay Area and when I went out there – I think it was about 2 years ago – I was just really inspired by the landscape and how everything seemed so vast and big whereas Massachusetts is more hills and not as much landscape diversity. It made me want to almost make music that reflected that kind of retro-space.

Now let’s talk about your involvement with Odesza’s Foreign Family Collective. How did that come about? 
They found my music a while ago and had initially asked me to join them on two shows, in San Francisco and LA, where I was. I did those, then they asked me to do an official “Say My Name” remix, and then to go on tour with them as their opener in February-March.

Was that your first tour?
Yes it was my first tour! It was really good and lot of fun. They were kind of coming up with that Foreign Family Collective idea at the time and putting out songs, so they asked me if I was interested in being a part of that. It was a very natural progression. We’re still very much in touch with music and share each other’s opinions and stuff.

And your first single, “Aftergold” is definitely a personal favourite on repeat. Was that released on your own or through the Foreign Family Collective?
Yeah, they released it. They’re basically involved with the publishing and business side of things too.

And you’ve been on your with Gramatik for a little while, how has it been so far?
We’ve had a total of about 8 shows and this is the last one. It’s been really good, crowds are really fun. This is my third tour. My second tour was with Kodak To Graph and Obeson, who’s actually from Toronto. It’s cool cause now more people in the crowds actually know who I am; the first two no one really knew who I was. It’s becoming more apparent. It’s really cool.

Gramatik’s sound is quite funky and aggressive and maybe more rap/hip hop than your stuff. How is it opening for crowds who might primarily be there for his style of music?
Gramatik definitely comes from a hip-hop funk sampling background and his live show definitely reflects that. His live show is super funky and really fun. Yes I would agree my music is a little bit of a different blend, but I do play some of my funkier tracks in this set on this tour. I can kind of get people energized in a different way by how I play a lot of instruments on stage. I think that engages people a lot more, so while I might not always be playing the most danceable funky stuff, people are still vibing. It can also be a nice lighter break from about 2 hours of heavy Gramatik.

Yeah and the live instruments are a lot more visually appealing than you know, just a DJ behind a booth. So my next question is a little out there: What’s something you would change about the music industry that you would change if you could? 
Sometimes I wish like there was less gatekeepers to certain resources on tour, like releasing a song, and that there was more streamlining, that you didn’t have to go through a bunch of people to get one thing done. There are a lot of middle men and the more you get involved in it, the more you realize it can be very complicated. I wish it was just simple.

What has been the greatest pleasure thus far as Big Wild?
I really like getting messages on social media or people coming up to me in person, either people telling me they’ve had a really good time or fans finding out they’ve been inspired or helped them get through a tough time. That’s such a gratifying thing.

If you weren’t in music today, what do you think you’d be doing today? 
I actually think about this all the time. I’d probably want to build something, maybe get into carpentry or something. It seems like it would be very satisfying to visibly see your work being finished and have people use it, like a really nice piece of furniture or house.

Any future collaborations coming up, or people you would love to collaborate with one day? 
Me and Branx on tour have been talking about something. I have a bunch of vocalists I’m working with for my EP. I’m not going to disclose all of them but one of them is this singer from LA, Calvin Markus – he’s part of this group called Dead Times and it’s really cool. And also, I don’t know if you’ve ever heard of iDA HAWK but she’s done a couple songs with GRiZ and she’s a really great singer. She’s going to be on my EP too.

So when’s this EP coming out?
I’m hoping I can finish it by mid-December and put it out in early-mid spring.

Who would you say is your favourite artist/producer at the moment? 
Outside of the electronic producer realm, I’ve been really into Tame Impala recently. Their production is really good and the vocals and melodies are really nice and rich.

So often times, building your artist identity and making your mark musically requires some sort of signature and style. Do you have one thing that you think is “your brand” or a signature trademark right now? Maybe a common component you’ve noticed in your sound? 
I don’t have something that’s in every song or something consistent enough to be a brand, but I’d say whistling has been kind of a trademark. But honestly, I’ve been trying to figure out things like that. I don’t want to get too committed to one thing because I do like doing a lot of things, but I do want to make more of a cohesive image. I’m working on it.

And lastly, list 5 things you could never live without. 
Grapefruit
My laptop (my office)
My cajon drum
Good food
Support from everybody

What’s an interesting fact people would be surprised to know about you? 
I don’t know if this is that cool, but I can beatbox pretty well.

That’s awesome! Do you think you’re ever going to incorporate that in your music?
I might. I’m thinking of doing a thing where I loop my beatboxing and then talk over and introduce myself.

Portrait and live photos by Tiffany Lam. Taken 09-19-2015 @ The Danforth Music Hall (Toronto).

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