He's got the fame, the fortune and the girl. And, as of tomorrow, Ekali (real name Nathan Shaw) can add a debut solo album to his steadily lengthening list of accomplishments.
Out January 24th through Big Beat Records, the 12 tracks comprising A World Away represent a turning point in the career of a producer who amassed a cult following after a memorable HARD Summer Green Tent performance in 2016. Known for a trap-heavy production style evident in singles "Blame" with ZHU and "RUIN" with 1788-L (both released on Skrillex's OWSLA imprint), he has instead transitioned toward more organic and dreamy bass in his definitive effort.
Songs like "Braids" and "Cage," produced with Mossy, for example, lean heavily purely on synths, with the latter even tastefully venturing into progressive house. "Faithless" incorporates an acoustic guitar riff into its last 30 seconds. "Flow Through Me" is a gentle display of future bass, and "Drown" featuring Aura is delicate and vocal centric.
"The album leans more heavily toward the melodic side. Most of the records aren’t songs people will play out at festivals," Shaw told EDM.com over the phone. "Instead, they're very personal to me. They're meant more for the listener than for a performing DJ."
At the same time, Shaw seamlessly integrates his new sound with his bass-heavy roots, showing off his versatility in "Hard To Say Goodbye" with Illenium and "Power" with Nitti Gritti. A feature lineup of up-and-coming vocalists - including Elohim, Reo Cragon, Kiiara and Wafia - is also a highlight. The project as a whole is thoughtful and introspective, emphasizing both lyrics and intricate, modern production.
A World Away's story picks up where Shaw's 2018 EP, Crystal Eyes, left off. While the six-track release was perhaps best described as a "breakup EP," this new album instead creatively expands on positive, mood-lifting changes in Shaw's life. These include a move to Los Angeles and a recent engagement to house DJ Sam Blacky.
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The resulting album, then, is not only a career milestone, but also a triumphant display of strength for Shaw. The 28-year-old has been open on social media about his struggles with mental health, experiencing epileptic and dissociative symptoms since he was 14. Having dreamed of releasing an album since starting high school, Shaw can now look back and say he made it to the finish line.
"One of my biggest symptoms is self-doubt. I've struggled my whole life with it," he said. "To go back and see these songs, and be able to listen to the album front to back, is such a moment of triumph. It feels like a major accomplishment."
It's fair to say Shaw's fans have been anticipating an album release almost as much as he has. With its release imminent, Shaw is making sure to include them in the celebration. Since announcing the tracklist and release date earlier this month, he's been posting artwork and song samples to Twitter along with notes on the creative process behind each song. "Flow Through Me," he tweeted, is about letting go of things beyond immediate control, while "To A Friend (Interlude)" was inspired by a friend who passed away.
Shaw's transparency is what makes him easy for listeners to connect with. He interacts frequently with his followers and makes himself available after events. He recounted one special experience in particular with someone he met in the crowd at a Rezz show.
"We started talking about his best friend who had passed away. We talked for like an hour," Shaw remembered. "Then, he showed up at my show in Eugene, Oregon. I recognized him immediately. It's really cool that music can create bonds for people like that."
Soon to be back on tour with a 20-date headlining run kicking off in Seattle February 6th, Shaw is looking forward to providing fans with an immersive set geared toward the album. He's focused on quality visual content and upping the production level, explaining that he wants to create something more for people in the audience than just another DJ set.
"I would like to leave its meaning kind of ambiguous. Everyone feels different things," Shaw said. "I hope people take something positive away from it, and maybe it’ll help them get through something hard."