Fight for Your Own: Evian Christ's Unlikely Influence on Pop
With one of his two self-curated 'Trance Parties' coming to Manchester this month, Ellesmere Port's Evian Christ talks dealing with the limelight and buddying up with Kanye
Joshua Leary, also known as acclaimed electronic producer Evian Christ, has had a whirlwind year and a half in the music industry. After making a few tracks – heavily inspired by both American trap and a more esoteric form of ambient music – over the Christmas holidays in 2011 while studying to become a teacher in Ellesmere Port, Merseyside, and uploading them to YouTube, he caused a flurry of attention from labels, eventually settling on working with rising London/New York-based independent label Tri-Angle. This spawned a pressing of those tracks on to vinyl in the form of the well-received February 2012 LP Kings and Them. The record was so well-received, in fact, that it caught the attention of mega-star rapper Kanye West, prompting him to enlist the young producer's skills on his latest effort, Yeezus, around January last year.
By Leary's own admission, this immediate attention given to his output has been almost overwhelming. “I was kinda thrown into the deep end when Kings and Them came out, because it received way more attention than I was expecting, or was ready for,” he says, “and then all of a sudden it becomes your full time job.” He admits that this has had a marked effect on his current production practices. “Now when I'm making music I'm acutely aware of the amount of people who will hear it, judge it. I have to think about how this music is going to work in a live setting, who do I want to mix it, to master it, what do I want from the artwork... It's all really basic stuff,” he concedes, “but I was kinda blissfully unaware first time round, whereas now it's kinda suffocatingly important for me to make sure I'm 100% happy with everything I release.
“It's kinda like the difference between singing into a mirror in your bedroom and then suddenly having to do it in front of people,” he continues, explaining the chasm of difference between writing his first EP, and writing music now, in the public sphere. “Doing anything in public is a really fine line between hugely humbling and really daunting, I think.”
“The public are less stupid than major labels think they are” – Joshua Leary
This situation was somewhat exacerbated by working with West, one of the most prominent and outspoken musicians of the current era, on the track I'm In It. Yeezus was praised for its cavalier attitude towards the expectations placed on a major-label album, something Leary believes is a good thing: “I think hopefully what he did was give everyone a different perspective on what a worldwide number one album can sound like. Pop music desperately needs that.
“It seems like 99% of pop records are put together on the premise of something else having already been successful,” he says. “So right now everyone will be fighting for a Pharrell-produced single or a Justin Timberlake feature, and the public are less stupid than major labels think they are, they have a short attention span and constantly want something different, something new. I think labels are so slow when it comes to being receptive to that. Like, they stumble on a Mike Will Made It-type figure then milk it to death, on every single record regardless of whether or not it's appropriate. I love Mike Will but I hate that process.”
However, this situation isn't necessarily all doom and gloom, nor inescapable, he says. “Hopefully, Kanye working with me, Arca and Brodinski and people like that will serve as the first piece of evidence in a while that you don't need to go through this revolving door of major-label-verified producers and songwriters, and pop records can be made, in part at least, by up-and-coming independent artists and still sell.”
Leary says his first major experience of working as a producer for a rapper was an entirely positive one: “I had really good fun working with him – he's one of my favourite artists ever, and also a great guy, so I couldn't ask for more, really.” He also reveals that there's more to come from the pairing in the future: “I just signed with him as a producer, too, so I'm part of that whole set-up going forwards, which is great.”
The 24-year-old seems to have a found a permanent home with his initial choice of record label, the emphatically forward-thinking and critically lauded Tri-Angle, which, in the early days of its existence, got firmly placed in the witch house camp with releases by artists such as oOoOO and Manchester's own Holy Other. Since then, however, the label has expanded its role to well beyond the purview of witch house as a genre, with recent acclaimed releases from Yorkshire's The Haxan Cloak and the Wirral's Forest Swords. “It's strange because if you took two people at either end of the spectrum of the label's output, like Holy Other or The Haxan Cloak, it might seem hard to draw the lines between why both of those guys are on the same label, but like, as a whole it all seems to make complete sense despite the variety,” Leary says. “That's something I really like about the label personally. We all get on really well too – the British guys on the label are among my best friends in music.”
Leary's close kinship with his labelmates has led him to curate a series of 'Trance Parties', featuring Holy Other and Vessel, both on Tri-Angle, as well as esoteric beat artist Arca, and the noise and musique-concrète artist Wanda Group. The series' title is a tongue-in-cheek reference to the trance-inducing nature of the assembled artists' work, but also, as Leary points out, a reference to the Dipset Trance Party mixtapes. There is also an element of reappropriation at work, he states, in “taking away from the meaning of trance as a genre and back to what it actually means,” but says that the original impetus behind setting up these gigs was far less ideological. “Basically, I'm a complete control freak about my shows, and the other people I'm playing with, and the venue et cetera are really important to me when I'm considering whether to perform or not, so putting on my own shows with a promoter to help back it was a really obvious way for me to be happy about everything.”
With seemingly non-stop international touring, production opportunities and a whole host of other distractions, it'd be easy to wonder if Leary has had the time to actually write more music – but he confesses that although it's been “way too long” since he released something of his own, he's sitting on a large amount of work. “I made 70 plus tracks this year I think,” he says. “My own release has been messed around so many times by various artists holding my tracks for their own projects, which is partly my fault for letting them do that, but I'm really keen to make a dent in that world, as a producer for other people. I've let my own output slip a little, but the idea is that I'm hopefully going to drop a song in November then come out with an EP early on next year.” Given the buzz around Evian Christ right now, all we can do is wait with bated breath.