[Exclusive Interview] Sitting Down at Sasquatch with What So Not

Chris Emerson, also known as Emoh Instead and for the past few years for taking the stage under the project named ‘What So Not’, recently performed his new live show at Sasquatch Festival at the Gorge in Washington state. From his green hair and matching green drumsticks against the flashing neon lights to his guitarist rocking out the show was an electric display of his unique sound and persona, infusing electronic music and punk rock. The artistic visuals timed with dynamic lighting pushed the overall experience for those watching to the next level. The crowd was ignited by his energetic playing of drums paired with a live guitar, which created a sound that bridged multiple genres throughout the set.

We were lucky enough to catch up with Emerson before his show to discuss the inspiration behind his recently released album and what it has been like to play this new live show. Read on to hear what he had to say about the state of DJing, his most memorable performances, and how he feels about peanut butter.

What do you think about the Gorge?

It is easily one of the most scenic and iconic venues in the whole country.

So thinking back to 17 year old drummer you to being in a duo with Flume to now dropping this massive album, have you had time to reflect on your creative journey and how you’ve changed?
I guess because I worked on this for so long that the album itself is sort of a reflection. So creating this was sort of me reflecting on my whole life and all the crazy things that have gone on. One day getting a call saying you have to go to America tomorrow if you want this tour to happen and blah blah blah. Not having a home for four years and traveling around like a gypsy. No sleep. No comforts. No anything.

How has that affected your music?
It’s what the music is. That kind of spawns the idea and the moments that I usually try to put into in. All the bad things and the good things and a mixture of the two. I feel like all the songs have this happy sad vibe to them which comes from all those different aspects being fused together.

Is that where the album title came from?
Yes, ‘Not All the Beautiful Things’ is meant to sort of be a tribute to the amazing things that we cross paths with everyday that we do not really pay attention to that I think are really important. You know we have these ideas of what we think we should be or where we think we should be by a certain time. We have these ideas of ‘I wanna get married or I wanna have a house’ without that really equating to where you are or equating to you as an individual. It’s a sociological idea imposed on you by other people, but maybe that’s not right. It’s like, why is that what you are focusing on and not everything else that’s here. I think so many beautiful things around us everyday have the potential to take us on our ideal trajectory. If we ignore them and go down the path we think we should do then we often end up quite unhappy.

Do you think the stereotypes in regards to expectations are the same in Australia and the US?
I mean America is its own beast, but I think that it exists everywhere in different forms. Whether it’s imposed by the traditional religious sense of a nation or if society and parents are stricter or easier going about things or if things are more acceptable or things are taboo. It’s different everywhere certainly.

How much has having a full album out affected your live sets?
Totally. Before it was only a DJ set, but now finally after many years it’s a live set. I have worked very hard building the visuals and the stage design, coming up with a concept for that. Working on how we run the lights and the video together and what everything looks like. How it all feels. It’s kind of like trying to express visually and textually on stage what the music sounds like. So I have been working on that for so long. Finally with this album out, with a full body of work, I was like I need to start doing this live. I haven’t played drums in ten years. Then in about four days we put a live show together and then toured it and suddenly we have a show in front of thousands of people. We didn’t tell anyone we were doing a live show. We just went and did it. Then people came in and their faces were like “Whoa there’s a guitarist here?! What is this?! This is not what I thought it was!” To see the reactions it gets when it has that warmth and that depth is really exciting for me. Now I am up there and I’m like this is fun! This is really fun and it’s kind of like playful. It just has a whole other dynamic. I love DJing, but I think what it has become in this current climate is not what it should be. I think that DJing should be cool, unknown records that get people excited. DJing shouldn’t be going and playing your Spotify catalog. I think a lot of it has become that. So I am really glad to being doing something live. Then, it gives me a lot more excitement when I go back to DJing. When I’m delivering the live show it’s all my own music, it’s curated and then performed to be in sync with the visuals and the lights. Then when I go DJ it can be a bit more free form. I don’t have to do the same, all my own my music, I can mix it up a bit more.

You dropped Flying to Europe Part 2 right after releasing your new album, four years after the first one, what was the inspiration behind this mix?
That came out like the day after the album came out. It was kind of like my own preparation for the live show. I reworked all my own songs and went back to the stems and sort of fused them with other people’s music, did a few edits and flips, grabbed a few acapellas and twisted them around and sort of bent them over the top of other chord progressions and other people’s songs and things. I kind of threw all that in together and that’s what that mix was. The Flying to Europe, the original mix, was just a mix I really loved doing. Then this one was really showing where the project is now. It has its own body of work in its entirety. I wanted to put that on show. Show in a unique way to for people to listen to if they were just to listen to the album itself.

You have a ton of collaborations on your album, including San Holo and even Toto. If you could plan a massive B2B set who would you want on stage with you?
I just did a session with this dude who I’ve been a bit of a fan for a while. His name is Oliver Tree. He is such an interesting character. I’d be pretty excited if we ended up doing a show together; what that would look like.

After Bonnaroo you are heading to Australia for a tour. You will also be having some new up and coming names perform at your shows in collaboration with Triple-J. What sparked this idea to bring on openers like that?
It was great because essentially we went through a bunch of young unsigned acts from Australia and were like who’s doing something interesting and what really works for this show? It’s really cool. I can’t wait to bring them all on and work with them. I know some of them already. People I have know for years and I’m like oh wait you’re in this thing that’s so tight.

You’ve been playing all over the world for quite some time now. Where has been your favorite place/country to play?
My favorite place I have kind of being going on for a minute now and I think I am going to stop telling people about it so I can keep it a nice secluded place. Everywhere to me is amazing. I love surfing and being outdoors. I love writing music. I can go to the mountains or go to a tropical area and have a great time. I can go to the city that’s horrible and bleak and love it. It just depends on what sort of moods you want to be taking on board.

Are there any shows in particular that have stood out?
Definitely playing Coachella last year. We were put up against Kendrick Lamar as he was dropping DAMN. Even with that we still had a tent spilling out the sides over capacity. That was a relief. We last minute got told we were headlining the stage. At first we were like “That’s really tight!” then we were like “Oh great that’s against Kendrick.” But then that was such a moment. It was also the first time I unveiled the stage show that we just had on this bus tour. Another show was Field Day in Australia on New Years Day. I hadn’t played New Years Day in Australia in probably 3 years. I had been traveling all around the world and it was so cool to come to my hometown. It was one of the craziest days I have seen there. The hype, the weather, everyone was just amped, it was really cool.

If you weren’t making music what job do you think you would have instead?
I would probably have a really boring life as an accountant. I was an accountant before I did music. I did that for five years. Then there was this pinnacle moment where I either went one way or the other and I was like “Fuck this life, I’m gonna take the risk.” And it was definitely worth it.

Are you a crunchy or a creamy peanut butter person?
I’m crunchy. Why not just leave it natural. Why?! You are gonna eat it and do the same thing to it. Get some texture in your life. You know what? It’s like people that put chocolate sauce on their ice cream and then they mix it all together. Or someone who get a whole roast dinner and then throws the pumpkin and the chicken and start stirring it up with a spoon. It’s like what are you doing?!

What So Not will be at Bonnaroo Festival in Manchester, Tennesee next. For more updates and tour dates follow him here.

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