EKKSTACY once couldn’t help but hide. With his previous album, 2021’s NEGATIVE, his voice was muffled and secondary. In the photos surrounding the release, usually rendered in black and white, locks of hair fell in front of his eyes. He even calls his debut more similar to a compilation, rather than a proper album. But now, the 20-year-old artist — who’s currently sitting backstage at Reeperbahn Festival in Hamburg, Germany repping a Title Fight tee and short blond hair — is coming into his own.

“Most of the songs I made that were on NEGATIVE, I could not really give a fuck about, to be honest. But now I’m stoked. Now, I’m proud of this stuff. If you had [talked to] me last year, I’d probably be telling you how my music sucks and how I’m gonna be quitting soon,” he says with a laugh. That’s coming from an artist who creates heart-on-sleeve, ’80s-flecked indie rock built for the SoundCloud era, whose single “i walk this earth all by myselfracked up over 2 million streams on the platform.

Read more: Why Wednesday Addams will always be a cult-favorite goth icon

Beyond any doubt, his latest album, misery, is a show of progression for the breakout rock star. Across its 10 tracks, EKKSTACY makes stylistic choices that portray a clear maturation, both in the influences that he pulls from (The Drums, Misfits, Christian Death) and the amount of confidence he displays on record. Even though EKKSTACY suggests that he “just got lucky,” you can tell it’s more than that. It’s his enthusiasm for his craft and all the music that he wasn’t alive to witness.

While NEGATIVE felt markedly raw and dark, misery leans even further into the realms of post-punk and goth rock. The tracks are draped in an ashen melancholy that speak on dread, death and love, channeling the graveyard stomp of Joy Division and Bauhaus. But while EKKSTACY embraces the darkness, his new music casts a contagious spell. There’s an unquestionable pop sense that enlivens the tracks, with EKKSTACY projecting his voice more than ever in hooks that’ll make you lose yourself in the music. Death looms, but there’s always time to dance.

“That’s what Misfits did for punk,” he points out. “They were making punk, but in the most pop way you could do it because of the melodies.”

EKKSTACY also reveled in familiarity by tapping producer MANGET$U, a longtime collaborator who he worked with on NEGATIVE. For two weeks, the pair toiled away in his Vancouver garage recording everything themselves on a makeshift setup, which mostly consisted of countless pedals, three guitars and a broken computer. “Everything sucked, but that’s because I like making [music] on trashy setups. I could go get a bunch of crazy shit, but I don’t want to. Takes away from it, I think,” he says.

Discovering the tone that colors “christian death,” a song titled after the ’80s goth-rock band of the same name, marked the turning point. Over a distorted guitar line that sounds like it’s careening toward a wall, EKKSTACY wails about how he wants to end it all. A day or two into the recording process, MANGET$U was messing around with the pedal knobs until he landed on a particular combination. As soon as EKKSTACY heard the tone, which is a blend of two different pedals, he “lost [his] shit.” It’s a cut that gave them structure and a template to follow. The duo then went to work making a “whole album based around that one feeling.” 

The process of making misery, he admits, made him fall in love with music again. Prior to creating the record, the recording artist didn’t like the songs he was creating and started to feel dejected, despite only beginning his career a few years ago. “I’m an extremist,” he says. “When something’s not good, it’s terrible, and when something’s good, it’s amazing. So I probably thought things were worse than they were, but I’m stoked [now].”

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[Photo by Jordan Knight]

It’s that duality that makes his music so captivating. EKKSTACY balances blunt, revelatory lyrics overtop an uptempo edge. The subject matter ranges anywhere from cursed romance (“i wish you were pretty on the inside”) and contemplating his own fame (“i just want to hide my face”) to sadness and self-destruction (“​i want to sleep for 1000 years”). It all coalesces into a swirl of agony, propulsion and melodicism that flourishes live. He even admits that “christian death” is an extreme song “because the hook is so fucked up.”

“Everyone feels like that at some point, and it’s not [meant] to be taken so literally, either,” he muses. “Most people my age — when even the slightest thing goes wrong — they’re like, ‘Ah fuck, I wanna die.’ I’m not saying that’s what that song’s about, but a lot of people are desensitized to mostly everything at this point.”

He’s spot on. In a world inundated by doom-scrolling, insufferable politics and general ennui, it’s easy to give into apathy and tune out statements that would’ve turned heads a decade ago. EKKSTACY, though, refuses to release anything but songs that are completely unfiltered.

“I don’t get stoked off other people saying that the song’s good, and I really don’t care when people say my songs suck. [The music’s] the one thing I’m not insecure about anymore,” he says.

Going forward, EKKSTACY is by no means letting go of the chaos. “The next album is gonna be a shit show, which I’m excited for,” he says. The indie star is getting pulled into a sound check at the German festival, but before he logs off, he reveals dreams of collaborating with artists like Surf Curse and Joji (“I’m definitely a little bit in love with him,” he gushes, laughing). Plus, he plans on dipping even further into his goth influences for the next record, which could mean anything from getting heavier on synth to performing a séance onstage. It’s the mark of an artist who’s come out of his shell, stepping boldly toward his future.

EKKSTACY

EKKSTACY linked up with photographer Jordan Knight to take some exclusive shots around Los Angeles. Check them out below.