Few moments are more sacred than the reprieve Saturday night provides from the daily grind of school and work. Its importance is meant to be emphasized, and thus, a feature dedicated to “doing the night right” was born. Saturday Night Sessions are set around energizing mixes meant to get the party started. New or old, each episode has one cornerstone thing in similarity: they serve as the perfect backdrop for the weekend pregame.
It’s 2021 and Tim Wu is sitting in a coffee shop in a bright yellow outfit, drink in hand, reflecting. He pauses, looking for the right words, and shares, “throughout my career and my life, I kind of just do things and figure it out later.” This has held true when he left his corporate consulting job to go be a DJ and music producer under his project Elephante. The statement is also holding true today as he faces the reception to a body of musical work that is unlike anything he has ever put out before.
The Michigan born and Los Angeles based artist has come out on the other side of a very tumultuous period of his life personally, professionally, and creatively. Like many who have faced personal and emotional adversity, Wu has experienced a lot of growth in a short period of time. He is reconciling the challenges he has faced over the last two years and how he wants to move forward with his life, and part of this reconciliation process has been through creating music. Fortunately, this growth and his journey has not gone undocumented. It has, in fact, yielded his most personal piece of art to date in the form of his newest studio album, Heavy Glow, which is out now as part of his creative partnership with 88rising. The album is what Wu refers to as a ‘time capsule’ of this period of his life. With the music being the embodiment of his emotional journey, listeners will find that there is a glaring lack of heavy hitting drops and a noticeable presence of instrumentals and vocal-forward pieces. Guitar, piano, and his singing are the backbone of Heavy Glow with the production taking a complementary role as opposed to being the centerpiece.
Three singles from the album were put out before the 10-track collection’s full release, including “High Water,” which is a song that tells the story of Wu’s previous addiction – a topic the artist had previously refrained from publicly discussing. “High Water” is one example of how Wu used different tracks on the album to dive deeply into different topics that have impacted him.
The impetus for writing such a personal body of work was not Wu’s sudden desire to use his music as an emotional outlet, exposing his darkest moments to fans and listeners. This album was created after a multi-month stretch of Wu sitting in front of his computer, unable to produce any new music or find inspiration to create. He shares, “There is no other choice for me really. This is the only thing I could make. It’s not like I’m deciding to do it. The music is what it is, and it is what came out…I stopped writing songs I thought people wanted to hear, and I started writing what I had to say, and for better or worse, that is where I am at.”
New additions to the album of note are “Break” featuring Tiina and “Down This Road.” “Break” is a brilliant blend of electric guitar with a playful upbeat production. The introduction leads to an intense electronic drop that commands the listeners’ full attention, encapsulating their conscious with the drop’s overwhelming force. Tiina’s vocals provide a light and airy juxtaposition to the forceful release until her singing eventually strengthens to command the same attention as the production itself.
“Down This Road” is the biggest departure from Wu’s progressive and electronic roots. The single is melodic with electronic undertones, but the guitar and his vocals are the centerpiece of a song that is heart-felt and emotive to its core. It is the perfect display of Wu’s ‘next chapter’ in music and his evolved sound.
When discussing his creative evolution, Wu shares, “You know I think it was important for me to establish my new sonic vision. Who did I want to be as an artist and what did I want my music to sound like?” He continues, “The analogy I always think about is when I was younger- I was learning music. I was playing guitar and piano. It’s like drawing in pencil. When I discovered electronic music, it was like drawing in paint, and it was like all of these colors that can go crazy with paint. I think my new music is unifying those two. It’s all of the textures and sounds and energy of the electronic music I made and bringing it back home a little bit to my roots.”
Other topics explored throughout Heavy Glow include the loss of someone who was ‘like a brother,’ mental health, and opening up about Wu’s Asian heritage. He discusses how being Asian was something he had to confront at the beginning of the pandemic because it was a topic he shied away from personally and professionally- noting it was something he really did not like discussing in interviews.
He shares, “Part of that was wanting to fit in and a certain self-loathing that I had around being Asian growing up. I think with the pandemic and with COVID-19 and a lot of the Anti-Asian sentiment- it was a moment for me to understand that this wasn’t something that I could keep on ignoring. It’s a part of you.” He continues, “I have reflected a lot on it, and I understand that this isn’t something I should be ashamed of or afraid to talk about. This is a part of who I am. Growing up there weren’t any Asian creatives- there was no one who looked like me who was doing the things I wanted to do. So I think I internalized that and was like, well that isn’t a thing I can do…It took me 23 years of my life to be like, ‘nah fuck that- I don’t care that it hasn’t been done. I want to try and make that happen.’”
88rising is giving artists of Asian heritage a home. The company is ensuring that people like Wu do have examples and artists to look up to for Asian creativity and musical success, which is another reason why his partnership with them is so impactful. He even chose the name Heavy Glow for the album due to his associating the world glow with the saying ‘Asian Glow.’ These themes are woven throughout the fabric of the album whether it is through naming conventions, lyrics, or his production style.
To celebrate the release of Heavy Glow, Wu has crafted an exclusive hour long Saturday Night Session mix that takes listeners on a journey. The beginning of the mix is more subdued, and the energy builds leaving the listener ready to go and filled with ‘positive vibes’ at its conclusion.
Featured Image: Nicole Lemberg
Read the full interview with Elephante below
I know you have already released three songs off of your upcoming album. “High Water” was very personal and talked about your past addiction. What are some other big life moments that you tackle in the album?
I think it’s just broadly about going through a pandemic and all of the mental health challenges I was going through. Like a lot of people, I was quite depressed at the beginning of this, and a lot of it was coming to terms with it in a way. I wasn’t always able to really talk about it before. A lot of feelings in songs were there before, but being on tour all of the time, it’s constantly like, ‘oh no, onto the next thing.’ The pandemic was the time when everything just kind of settled and you just had to look at yourself in the mirror. I lost someone very close and important to me- someone I considered a brother- and we had a bad falling out. There is a big sense of loss dealing with that and all of the social upheaval. If the pandemic was a meteor, there was an asteroid right after it. It was just a lot to go through, and figuring out a way to cope- making music is like my therapy. It helped me get through it.
In one of the past releases you talked about how you wanted to go back to your younger years in terms of your musical inspiration: playing guitar, singing, and songwriting every single day. Was that not your approach to music before?
I think that was part of it, but I fell in love with producing, making dance songs, and exploring that electronic world. I was making that fun stuff to play at shows, and the songs were kind of second tier to that. I had a couple of months where I would sit in front of the computer all day, and I couldn’t bring myself to do anything. The way I got myself out of the funk was literally just learning a song on the piano or learning it on guitar and doing a cover. Then I was like, ‘oh this is fun again,’ and re-going through that discovery process of ‘I like it just for its own sake- not because I’m just making a song to play out at a show.’ This is where a lot of my energy had been. Writing songs, singing, and playing guitar was the one thing that got me out of bed. One of the songs on the album is a cover of Maggie Rogers “Light On” which is the song I would sing to myself to stop from like, crying. It was my hope song that I would just sing to myself every day, and I was like, ‘I wonder if I can make my own version of this,’ so that is the closer on the album.
You decided to do a fresh creative process approach because you were having a creative block. When did that moment happen, and has it been smooth since? Are you feeling like the door to doing electronic production could still be open?
I think it’s both. I think it’s still fundamentally dance/electronic music, but it has a much more personal kind of soul to it. I stopped writing songs I thought people wanted to hear, and I started writing what I had to say, and for better or worse, that is where I am at. The analogy I always think about is when I was younger- I was learning music. I was playing guitar and piano. It’s like drawing in pencil. When I discovered electronic music, it was like drawing in paint, and it was like all of these colors that can go crazy with paint. I think my new music is unifying those two. It’s all of the textures and sounds and energy of the electronic music I made and bringing it back home a little bit to my roots.
Does it feel different putting out music that is really just you? Versus the more electronic music before? Or does it all feel the same?
I think it’s probably a little scarier because I’m writing about very personal dark shit. There is no one really to hide behind, and it just is what it is. There is no other choice for me really. This Is the only thing I could make. It’s not like I’m deciding to do it. The music is what it is, and it is what came out.
How has the reception been so far to the more personal releases?
It’s been really heartwarming, and I’ve had a lot of people reach out and be like, thank you for doing this. It’s really meaningful that the messages and the stories are resonating with people. It’s kind of a scary feeling putting yourself out there like that. Throughout the career of my life, I kind of just do things and figure it out later.
I know this is your sophomore album in creative partnership with 88rising. Tell me what that means and what working with them is like.
It’s been awesome. They have an amazing collection of creative people that they have put me in touch with. For example, the director for my “High Water” music video. I have never really dove into music videos before, and the first serious one I do with them, I’m like fucking underwater and hanging on cranes and shit. That is not something I would have ever dreamed of doing before. Working with 88, they have opened that door for me to just make cool art. They also opened the door to me working with Tiffany Lachner who shot my album artwork. It is so sick, and it looks like art. Just doing really cool shit like that- music videos and working with a vocal producer for the very first time in addition to a mixer- it’s like being able to just create content that I never would have been able to do on my own.
I know you did used to do a lot of that on your own, which is not necessarily normal, so can you talk about that and how your album has largely been a solo effort for you while still tapping into 88rising’s creative resources?
Yeah I’ve always been kind of a psycho and done everything on my own. I’ve mixed and mastered my own music, and I’ve worked with vocalists, but I haven’t worked with people from start to finish of a song. It’s like on me to do everything, and now I’ve been working with people who are just really good at what they do. I’d say I’m like okay at mixing and mastering- that isn’t my specialty or my strength. I think I’m much more of a writer and a producer, so to be able to hand stuff off to people and be like, ‘hey you know how to do this better than I do,’ and to hear what it sounds like, it is so gratifying that I don’t have to do everything on my own. I’ve proven to myself that I can. I’ve always recorded my own vocals in my own studio, and it’s like okay. Working with Matt, my vocal producer- he just takes it to another level. I can’t believe that is me. Working with other talented people who believe in the project, it’s just like the coolest thing ever.
It also must be nice to be able to spend your time doing the parts of the music that you feel most connected to and best at.
Totally, you know the art is the goal at the end of the day. I had a lot of ego early on like, ‘this is all me- I did all of this.’ And now it’s like, yeah I did a part of this, but If I can work with so many people and make it better in the end, then let’s do it.
Can we talk a little bit about how you envision bringing the album to life in a live setting?
It’s something I’m honestly still figuring out. There are a lot of live elements in the songs themselves like where I’m singing on them, and there is a natural vocal element. I think it is going to be venue by venue. I’ve been playing guitar at a lot of the shows, and when I can do it, and when the infrastructure makes sense- I love doing that. That is sort of the phase I am in now. Now the album is done, it’s about figuring out how to translate that experience live. I kind of throw myself out there when the time comes, and I’ll figure it out and make it as cool as possible.
I know there are collaborators on a few songs but that mainly this project is really just all you. Was that purposeful or did you fall into that?
I think a little bit of both. I think a lot of the album was made and reflected my isolation. I was in a place early on where I didn’t really want to talk to anyone, and these were the ways that I would cope with it myself. It was like, well I can’t get together with my buddies to do a session, and I think it fits what I was going through. When you are on your own and feel like you are alone, how do you really cope with that? You know I think it was important for me to establish my new sonic vision. Who did I want to be as an artist and what did I want my music to sound like? I think I was in such a place of uncertainty that I needed to go on that musical journey on my own before I could compromise with other people.
I understand that part of your experience that went into the album or shaping the songs on the album is your experience as an Asian American. Can you talk about that?
Yeah, I think throughout most of my life, it was something I didn’t really want to confront.
You use the word confront, talk about that word choice.
For example, I didn’t like talking about being Asian in interviews. I didn’t like bringing it up. It’s not that I rejected it. It was more that I didn’t want to talk about it. It was more like, it is what it is, and I’m an American. I don’t want to talk about where my parents are from. I’m an American. Part of that was wanting to fit in and a certain self-loathing that I had around being Asian growing up. I think with the pandemic and with COVID and a lot of the Anti-Asian sentiment- it was a moment for me to understand that this wasn’t something that I could keep on ignoring. It’s a part of you, and talking with my friends who had either witnessed or been impacted by that sentiment, it was like no this is a real thing. As an example, early on in COVID I was on a flight and I had a mask on, and I sat down and the guy next to me freaked out and was like, ‘why are you wearing a mask?’ I was like, ‘there is this thing called COVID have you heard of it?’ This was before you had to wear masks on planes, but everyone around me was wearing a mask. He looked at me specifically and was like, ‘are you sick?’ We were surrounded by people and he tried to get the flight attendant to remove me, and it was like ‘dude, calm down.’ Look that is a pretty small thing on the scale of things, but I was like oh, whether or not I want to ignore this- it is a part of who I am. I have reflected a lot on it, and I understand that this isn’t something I should be ashamed of or afraid to talk about. This is a part of who I am. Growing up there weren’t any Asian creatives- there was no one who looked like me who was doing the things I wanted to do. So I think I internalized that and was like, well that isn’t a thing I can do. And I saw no successful Asian musicians, so again, must not be a thing I can do. It took me 23 years of my life to be like, nah fuck that- I don’t care that it hasn’t been done. I want to try and make that happen. I think it’s just been a process of accepting that and identifying the self-loathing that I had instead of trying to hide from everyone and not talk about it compared to leaning in and being like, ‘this is who I am.’ So that is the theme behind Heavy Glow.
Well that was my next question- why Heavy Glow?
It first came to me because it is a line from a Red Hot Chili Peppers song. I was thinking about it, and ‘glow’ to me is very Asian, right? When Asians drink they get very red, and everyone makes fun of them. That was a big thing for me growing up where I was always so embarrassed about it, and now it’s more like- ‘dude this is a part of you.’ You carry it around with you and instead of being ashamed of it or trying to hide it, just embrace it and know that it is a part of you. Know that it is emanating from you, but it doesn’t have to be something that you are ashamed of- it can be part of your power and part of what you are proud of.
What kind of a Saturday night is your Saturday Night Session going to get the listeners ready for?
I think it’s going to take a journey from sitting by yourself and trying to get yourself hyped up. You are a little hesitant about whether you are going to go out. There is that moment where your buddy texts you and is like, ‘let’s do this.’ And you’re still a little hesitant and need to ramp up from there, and it’s going to finish on a ‘we are doing this.’ It’s going to be good vibes.