Exclusive Interview with Flume
Harley Streten aka Flume has had his plate full lately with a new album in the works, the massive success of his What So Not side project with Emoh, and becoming the poster-child for the Australian electronic music wave. His single “Holdin’ On” was certified double platinum last year, while What So Not's singles “Jaguar” and “Tell Me,” have reached 2,000,000 and 3,000,000 plays on soundcloud, respectively.
You just released the vinyl edition of your eponymous album. Did you start mixing on vinyl?
No, not at all. I bought CDJ 1000s with CDs and stuff before the USB thing. I used to play at house parties when I was like 16 so I did all the 16 and 18 year old parties and stuff, but I never really started doing the vinyl thing until a bit later when I got a record player. I used to go to the thrift shop and go to the one-dollar, two-dollar bargain bins and just get heaps of shit and then just sample it.
Have you messed around with controllers at all?
Yeah, well when I play out I use controllers and stuff. I don’t DJ as Flume, I DJ as What So Not. But for production I don’t really use controllers much, I just use a MIDI keyboard.
What do you think the future of that is? Do you think you're moving more toward controllerism or do you think you’ll stay with CDJs for mixing?
Well I mean they’re not even really CDJs anymore, I mean they’re called CDJs but no one uses CDs anymore, they’re just USBs. You’re always going to have an interface like that. The CDJs are a lot more fun, they’re a lot more ready to go. It’s more disconnected with Ableton if you’re doing DJ stuff but if you’re doing live stuff, then I’ve got it sectioned out into all different parts like stems and vocals are separate from the synths which are separate from the drums and I can affect all of them individually and take them out or put them in. But Djing for me is super fun.
Can you take me first through the inspiration behind “Tell Me” with RL Grime and then through the technical details?
I was actually pretty removed for a lot of it. What happened was Chris and Henry basically got in the studio and Chris had an idea that he started, and Henry got onto that and they just got in the studio for a few days. Then I got this project and the drop was there pretty much, but it didn’t have much melody or anything. I was in Bali at the time when I got it, and I was like “fuck, this is really cool,” so I just wrote a bunch of melodies and did a bit of seaming and sent that back so it had the melodic section and the heavy drop section, which is what we like to do with What So Not. We like being heavy but we like to include a bit of melody as well. So they wrote the drop and I wrote the other stuff.
It seems like electronic music itself is moving toward a lot more complex and interesting melodies, it’s more musical. Who are a couple of Australian artists in that musical vein that people should check out that haven’t really blown up yet?
Depends what you call “blown up” but maybe someone like Wave Racer or Kilter - he’s really got that Australian sound and vibe to it, it’s a bit Cashmere Cat-y. Touch Sensitive is another one to check out
Producers often talk about getting into a flow when they create music. What do you do to get yourself in that creative headspace?
Well actually I write a lot of music, and then I went on tour last year for the whole year, it was chaos and I kind of got back and everyone was like “Ok now you’ve got time to write music” so I had a few months off: January, February, March this year and it’s weird because I’ve never had a chance to have music as my job, it’s always been a hobby. So I kind of was put into the studio Monday - Friday and it was like “ok make music now” and it’s never been that way. It was always when I was feeling it I’d go and make music. So it was quite strange and I kind of forgot how to even write music or what I was into because I had stopped listening to heaps of music. I just kind of forced myself to find music for two or three hours everyday and eventually I got back into the flow. Like right now I’m feeling super creative, I just go through phases. Every few days I’ll start a new idea and it’s good.
What are you working on for the coming months?
I just finished this remix, I can’t tell you who it’s for, I’m going to keep that a secret, but I just did a new What So Not track the other day. We’re going to do an EP, so I started that one, all bits and pieces. I’ve got some new album music as well with Flume.
You have a title for the EP yet?
No, I’ve only got around one and a half tracks done, I think we’re going to do four. Some of it’s going to be with friends, so collabs and things. I’ve already started with a bunch but I’m going to keep it a secret, keep it a surprise.
Any plans to collab with anyone on the Block Party tour?
I mean sure, when it happens it happens, it’s not really a planned thing, I mean if we’re on tour with these guys it’s bound to happen.
Do you know where you’re going with your music? Do you have any set plans for the future?
Nothing too stringent, but I do know that I love live strings, so I’ve been incorporating a lot of that into the newer beats. Instead of straight electronic everything’s like electronic but with the element of stings. I’m going to get like orchestras to record and compose stuff and record that. Now that I’ve got a bit of money I can actually do cool shit like that for the next record.
What’s your dream project or collaboration?
I’m not too sure. Maybe like working with Flying Lotus would be rad, I’ve always been a big fan of his, like huge fan.
What do you dream about?
I don’t really dream. I sleep like a lot, I just go to sleep and it’s like really hard to wake me up. I don’t dream, I wish I did! It sounds fun. I want to fucking dream, like go to sleep and have all these new stories and things happen. I just go to sleep and it’s like out, nothing happens. It sucks.
What track or artist do you think has been unfairly slept on this year?
To be honest, all the people that I’ve been like vibing on right now are really actually starting to make waves in the industry, so yeah I don’t know, I feel like it’s a good time, especially in Australia the crew is just dying to take off internationally. I’ll be at a festival and be like “Oh shit, Wave Racer’s on this as well” like holy crap I didn’t know that. It’s nice, because it’s quite isolated, we’re so far away and now it’s just like America’s eating it up which is rad.
If someone had the choice between downloading your album and going to one of your concerts, which would you prefer they choose?
I’d say get the album.
Can you tell me about one of your favorite t-shirts and the story behind it?
I have a favorite pair of jeans. I got when I was traveling with my family in Italy. We went to this store and found these jeans that I liked and it was funny because we were in Italy and I bought an Australian brand so it kind of defeated the purpose. I held onto them for years. I think I got laid in them for the first time ever in those jeans back at home.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve been given?
I live my life by “Less is more” - my music, everything.
Do you think you’re working more towards a minimalism in your music?
I wouldn’t say minimalism really; it’s more like I try to break it down to the bare bones of what’s really important in the song. I just like pick the right sounds and stick with them rather than picking a sound and it’s not quite there so you’re wary with it and it kind of gets eh….. Even at home with my house I don’t have shit that doesn’t do anything. I don’t have ornaments and things.
How would you describe your music to someone who’s never heard it before?
It’s very electronic, a bit strange but still familiar, and unexpected. You never really know what’s going to happen. Like some days I’ll write an orchestral score other days I’ll write a full-on banger. It’s unpredictable.
Hence the two projects. What So Not has been a lot of your production lately and it’s gotten really successful. Do you think that’s going to be eating into your time as Flume? Which do you see being more prominent in the future?
Oh it definitely eats a shitload of my time. It’s really tricky doing two projects. It eats away at time doing both but at the same time it’s nice because like last year Flume was really dominating, and it’s still going strong but I’m not like touring crazy anymore. I kind of had a plan for last year and the year before, I wanted to push Flume and make it big blah, blah, blah and then this year I really wanted to make What So Not a thing and make it something where you can just come and play shows in America and solidify that project as a legitimate awesome thing. Basically this year’s all about making What So Not awesome, and then you know maybe next year will be about Flume again, and kind of alternate between the two. If we can make them both work then fuck it.
You said you wanted to start incorporating live music, would you ever consider touring with a live band?
Yeah, I’ve definitely considered it. I mean it’s a pain in the ass with a band, but at the same time I think it would be a lot of fun. I guess I’m going to see how the next album turns out and take it from there. If I use lots of strings and all shit like that then maybe it would make sense to tour with a band. So yeah, we’ll have to wait and see.
- Jesse Wheaton and Julia Crescitelli