For What So Not, life was but a beautiful chaos before the world shut down in March 2020.
For years, the Aussie had been touring his project for months at a time, playing hundreds of shows a year while attempting to write and release music on the road. But then, as countries shut their borders and people began to isolate, the renowned music producer—“High You Are” and “Gemini” fame—found himself quite literally locked down to one singular location.
"It was a very big change, but it wasn’t an unwelcome change," What So Not told EDM.com in an exclusive interview. "I was kind of deep down longing for that time."
He certainly made the most of it. Unlike those of us that baked bread and binge-watched Tiger King, What So Not spent his time on his craft, tinkering with sounds and becoming a self-described “kid on Christmas break.” His favorite synth, What So Not decided, is the M-20: "You can use it as a bass synth but it's really about screechy filter resonant distortion. And saturating it, reverbing it, it just sounds so wild."
Now, as the world emerges from its slumber towards a semblance of normality, it’s time for him to reap the rewards of this labor of love—in the public eye. And, he revealed, he's on the verge of the “greatest work” he’s ever created.
What So Not took a break from his studio sorcery to chat with EDM.com about his latest track, “Messin’ Me Up” (with EVAN GIIA), his time spent going back to the music making basics, and the more personal lessons he learned while the world was on pause.
EDM.com: Let's dive in with "Messin' Me Up." Where did that song emerge from emotionally?
What So Not: It was just before Covid hit and it felt like a boiling point for me of the world. Property prices were extreme. Things were being overvalued. Everyone was at each others' throats. There was all those catastrophic fires. The track was really encapsulating the emotion and the visual aspect of all those things happening at once: in the music video, in the essence of the song and the sonics, the tonality of the voice, everything.
I think something important I was trying to say was, 'Hey, a lot of us have had to look inwards. A lot of us had to be kind of selfish.' It was very tricky and there was a lot of uncertainty. I know for myself and the people around me, we had some very big and harsh realizations about what truly matters, who truly matters, what is important. Coming out of it I’m taking that with me as an ethos of, 'What do I want to be and why? And how do I want to represent myself artistically? What actually matters to me in my life? Who are the people that are important to me?' I hope and I think there are a lot of people coming out of this with those same conclusions.
EDM.com: What do you personally want to be coming out of this?
What So Not: I had a year just sitting in the studio studying sounds and becoming a student of my craft again. And I was finishing works, which was something that was very hard to do when you’re moving so much. You don’t really know what’s happening with the sounds, with the sonics and with the transience and with the phasing and all of these things. It gave me time to just sit with music and really understand it so much more.
EDM.com: Were there any artists or genres you found yourself studying in particular?
What So Not: I definitely went further into rave culture, drum & bass, and more classic, roar energy kinds of music. I was living in this art commune for about the first nine months of Covid with a bunch of other artists who were showing me very classic pieces of film and music and albums and bands from before my generation. It was fantastic to see a different spectrum of possibility. You see the ethos of what exists to create the things that we think are the new thing.
EDM.com: How did all of this impact your music moving forward?
What So Not: I think I found a new zone. I feel like my abilities caught up to my ideas, and that gave me so much more room to move. I could push things in certain ways that I could never do before because I didn’t have the technical ability. And I think finally, for the first time, this next round that I’m creating, I’m there.
EDM.com: What's the oldest idea of yours that you revisited during this time?
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What So Not: There's tracks from 2015. Sometimes I'd create an idea and be like, 'I know this is great. But I don’t yet have the skills to make this what it deserves to be and I hope that one day I work that out.' So that’s what I was doing. I was looking at songs and I was sitting there, you know, with the point of view of three or four or five or six years after their initiation. 'Well, now that I know this and this and this, what should I do with this?'
EDM.com: I feel like you probably finally know all the rules.
What So Not: And that's also something you have to be careful of. The more you learn and understand, the less free you are, to a degree. Touch Sensitive, he's an insane classical synth wizard. When I was still very untechnical, he used to say he envied me not knowing certain things. He was like, 'I could do anything right now but I don't know which to choose. Whereas you seem to just do the thing you want to do in the moment.'
I think that’s a fine line to try and keep. I have to be careful not to forget the freeform and the recklessness and the chaos that you do when you’re not really sure. 90% of our behaviors are our habits, so if you have no habits, you’re 90% freer. That can lead to so many more things.
EDM.com: Are you ever nostalgic for the type of artist you were two years ago?
What So Not: No. I like me more now. And I think I usually like me more now.
I do look back at my work sometimes and surprise myself. Maybe the whole idea is garbage, but there will be this one synth and method I used to create this little moment. I’m like, fuck, that was, I would never knowingly go there. I had to just be freestyling with chaos to get here and cause something magic.
I think most songs come from how you feel in a certain moment and going back to them, you can almost relive that version of yourself and bring forth the exact kinds of ideas that you would have made. But it’s about developing forwards so that the possibilities become greater, and just being careful not to lose access to the naiveté and the childlike version of your creative self.
EDM.com: You make it sound so easy!
What So Not: You have to map out for yourself how you get there. I even used to call songs, like, say I was in a certain city. I would call the song something I was feeling and then the city name, and it would always bring me back to how I felt in the exact moment when I was there. I would never get writer's block because I was always able to go back to the exact place and continue the story.
EDM.com: Any last thoughts you want to share with our readers?
What So Not: I’m just really happy at the moment. I’m really grateful for everybody that is around me and that is around what I do, and everybody that listens to what I do and participates in what I do.
Sometimes you put a song out and you talk about it and it goes or it doesn’t. Or it exists and it goes later. It’s crazy like that. I think about 'High You Are.' That song’s my biggest song and it was so random. It happened years later. That doesn’t happen without everybody embracing things. You could just not like it and not buy a ticket, or you could expect me to do every single thing I do for free, like totally for free, and just do it out of the goodness of my heart. And I probably would still do that if I could find a way to survive.
I am grateful that people invest in me as a person and an artist. They’re like, 'I like what you do. Here. Let me give you some of what I’ve got.' I think that’s amazing.