With his laid back mannerisms and surfer-esque flow, it is almost impossible to believe that Jackson Stell- also known as Big Wild by electronica fans the world over- has ever lived anywhere other than Southern California. Quite the contrary actually, Stell got his start here in Massachusetts where he himself was a Northeastern husky! Given his NEU alumni status, I felt almost obligated to try and snag an interview with him. That and the fact that his new age brand of electronic music is distinctively melodic and ethereal, which is rare among EDM music. And the fact that his hair is awesome. Like really awesome.
I was lucky to spot him hanging out in the crowd during one of the openers at his show, where he was cool enough to agree to do a phone interview pretty much on the spot.* And the rest is history.**
*Chill Ass Dude
**By history I mean transcribed below. Give it a read!
Green: Jackson Stell
Intro question for you; when did you first start making music, and how did your decision to be a music industry major play into that?
I got into music when I started to produce hip hop and instrumentals when I was in middle school which I also did all throughout high school. It was mostly because I wanted to emulate a lot of my favorite music at the time -which was rap. Then I started to sell stuff online to local artists and was making a little bit of a business out of it. I was really enjoying it too and learning a lot about music as I was going. When I got into college I decided to go in a more electronic direction which led me to come up with the project idea for the Big Wild. I was just like trying to make a more adventurous and unique electronic sound than what I had previously been doing which was more just straight hip hop. I wanted to do music industry study in college because I wanted to be able to navigate my way around the music scene… that being said, in the long run it probably wasn’t that beneficial. I still don’t really do that much business stuff and my heart was always just in making the music.
After college you moved out to California -how does it compare industry wise to being on the east coast?
You know, it’s hard for me to say because when I was on the east coast I wasn’t really involved in the music industry. I had a couple of internships working at music studios that made music for commercials but I wasn’t doing nearly anything that I am doing now. That being said, I feel like the scene on the west coast and in California is very healthy. I’d say it’s probably the hub -of electronic music at least. Networking in LA has been extremely easy because there are so many people who are doing what I’m doing, so I feel like in terms of electronic music especially, the west coast has the best resources. That’s why it’s such a great hub for me right now. It just kind of brings a lot of really like-minded people together.
Sounds like you made a good call moving out there!
I mean yeah! It was a bit of a stretch at the time because I didn’t have a job lined up and I was just kind of going out on a whim and hoping this thing would work. But so far a bunch of things have seemed to click so it’s going good!
Idk if you remember, but I was at your show in Boston at the Great Scott! It was an especially cool show because a lot of your friends from home were there and they were all chanting J. Beatz [Stell’s original D.J. name]. I was wondering when you decided to move away from J. Beatz and rebrand as Big Wild?
Well that was kind of something that after highschool I just dropped. J. Beatz was definitely not a long term name just for the sake of originality. I mean it’s not very original… my name is Jackson, J, and I make beats … Beatz…
Wait. Jackson starts with a J?
Yeah believe it or not… and then it got to a point where my style was changing too and I wanted to come up with a new name to reflect that. It was also inspired by my first trip out to California- about three years ago now- and just experiencing the whole landscape. I had a lot of different experiences there that I hadn’t had before. I was inspired go in a different direction and coming up with Big Wild just happened from there!
Do you have a specific landscape in mind?
I think the most impactful landscape was when I went to Big Sur. It was amazing. We went down highway 1 to get there and then hiked to the hotsprings, spent the night there, and then hiked back. It was nothing like anything I had ever experienced before… So yeah. I stood on top of a rock with my hands on my hips and declared that my name would be the Big Wild. With like an eagle perched on my shoulder. It was a very epic moment. It was wonderful.
Kind of on the Big Wild note; your hair right now is both big, and wild. Is that a statement of some sort? Everyone wants to know.
I mean I’ve never had long hair before and I kind of just wanted to try it out. It was shortly after I moved to LA from San Francisco, which was a big change. A lot of things were changing in my life. I was just going with the flow (haha) and I wanted to try something new so I kept growing it out. There was a very long period of time where I like had a really awkward length… it was too short to be long hair but too long to be styled so I just looked like an idiot. I had this bowl-cut kind of thing going on. It has since gotten a little better so I think ultimately I’m going to stick with it.
I feel like there is going to be a twitter account devoted to it soon… people were talking it up at your show.
I’ve actually been told that I need to start my own line of shampoo and conditioner like online. Yeah when people talk about me it usually goes music, then hair, then hair.
What is your favorite part about performing live, and do you have a favorite show that you have played at?
Hmm my favorite part is pretty general, but it’s really just getting people to dance hard as shit. Getting people to move and being able to tell that they are really into a song is one of the best feelings -for me at least- when I’m on stage. That being said, one of my favorite shows was at the Euphoria music festival in Austin. I haven’t really ever had a big crowd like that go as crazy as they did, and it was just really fun because I was feeding off their energy and they were feeding off of mine. It was also a really cool setting like on a river in the woods and the visuals were crazy. There were just a lot of really cool things all coming together.
How do you figure out your specific set-list/mix for each individual show?
I usually have a set list already in mind… though I do change things up as I go along. Maybe I’ll change the mixing or add in a new song or sometimes I throw new songs that I’m working on into the mix. I do tend to change it up city by city but for the most part I definitely want to have a consistent set because I want to have a consistent vibe to my show. And so far it’s been really striking with a lot of crowds and getting people moving- I’ve definitely been having a lot of fun.
You opened for Odesza and Griz on tour, and now you are touring as the Big Wild- do you have any good stories or good takeaways from being on tour?
Ahh man. At this point I’ve been able to play for a lot of different crowds so I’ve gotten a really good sense of how different crowds are. Like even if people aren’t dancing super hard, sometimes they are actually more into it. I’ve really learned how different types of people express themselves and how they respond to my music. I have also learned how to really get the most out of people, and get them to feel something when they are in the audience. I’ve learned a lot about people and the whole back and forth between the performer and the crowd… that dynamic. The more shows I do I learn something new every time. Touring with Odesza and Griz was really good experience for that.
Dope takeaway! Any good stories?
I actually just remembered this time when I was on the Odesza tour, and we were driving through the middle of Iowa in the middle of winter- so there was snow everywhere and it was really cold. We were all asleep in our bunks when our bus driver drove under a bridge that was actually too short for the bus. All the sudden we hear the loudest noise- like something is ripping- we all get out of bed and realize that the whole roof of the bus was ripped off. You could literally stick your hand outside and it was freezing and we were like fuck what do we do… yeah it was bad! We made it through and now in hindsight it was a funny story but at the time it sucked (haha) but yeah we are still alive. We made it to the show the next day so no regrets.
Stylistically, how do you think your sound will change in the future?
It’s hard to say man! It’s kind of whatever I’m feeling at the time. For me, making music isn’t a super strategic thing so it’s tough for me to say. If it was two years ago and I was guessing what my music would sound like now I probably wouldn’t be able to guess… I would probably be totally off. So it’s super hard for me to tell… and I like it that way! But I do see myself continuing with the harmonic and melodic structure that I have been going for. That is one consistent thing that I have been trying to do… to not have my music be overly trap or super heavy. If I’m going to make something heavy I want it to also have a very melodic and musical aspect to it, which is something I am always trying to do with the whole Big Wild project in general. Yeah I really try and bring together a lot of different elements into my music so that people can enjoy it in a lot of different ways. Cool.
Could you identify what the most difficult part is for you when you are producing a song?
Pretty much with every song I make I hit a creative block. It’s something that’s pretty hard to get over. Maybe I can’t make the drums hit hard enough or I will be trying to make a really dope melody for the drop but everything I come up with sucks. It’s just this block that I hit every song and it can be very frustrating. But! When I finally work through it and figure it out it’s one of the best feelings. Its like you realize all of that work really paid off.
For all of the Huskies out there… do you still have any of your Northeastern merch?
I’m pretty sure I’ve got a sweatshirt lying around somewhere. Yeah I definitely have either a t-shirt or a sweatshirt… I’m pretty sure it’s a sweatshirt though.
Uhh you clearly don’t wear it very much if you don’t even know what it is…
No I don’t hahahaha. Wamp wamp wamp.