When EDM first started gaining popularity in the U.S., many alternative musicians started dabbling in this new form of energized, loud music, including Sonny Moore of From First To Last (Skrillex) and eventually Craig Owens of Chiodos (badXchannels). Now more than ever, EDM artists are bridging the gap between alternative and electronic music.
Crossovers between rock artists and EDM artists are emerging more frequently to create a sound that’s far from what EDM began as. From Grimes and Bring Me The Horizon to blink-182 and Steve Aoki, these collabs are making their way into the mainstream and pushing past any limitations in the rock or EDM worlds.
Owens sat down with Sullivan King, an up-and-coming multi-instrumentalist/producer, to discuss his upcoming debut album, EDM’s evolution and it’s inevitable fusion with heavy metal and rock n’ roll.
CRAIG OWENS: You just finished Lost Lands. How was it?
SULLIVAN KING: It was fucking insane. It was so crazy. I’ve played every single one. The first year was the first festival I ever played, and [I] was super nervous that it was going to go terribly, and it went so far beyond my expectations. I went back the second year, and that sucked. So I went this year [I was] like, “OK, everything’s gonna go wrong, and it’s probably going to be a terrible festival to be at.” Then it was the absolute best performance I’ve had. It couldn’t have gone better. The crowd was huge. The reaction was huge. [I] played a little bit of everything off the album, and it was so sick.
Did you grow up playing in bands? How was your musical journey growing up?
I started playing guitar when I was like 11, and I actually started homeschooling around that time. My mom was saying, “You gotta do something other than be at home.” It was either going to be a sport or something, and I just got into music. [I said], “I want to play guitar.” [I] picked it up instantly, and I fell in love with it. Then I just went from there. I didn’t really do a lot of band stuff. When I turned 18, I just went straight into production. Bass music started to get attention in the U.S. So I went straight into that instead of trying to go down the band route, and it worked out.
What got you into EDM?
I was dating a girl when I was 17 or 18-ish. She was like, “You need to listen to this guy Rusko” and shit like that. It was super sick. I was a big Call Of Duty kid as everybody was in 2008 or 2009. I’d go watch YouTube montages and videos. There was always like an Avicii song in the background or something. As far as bass music, that didn’t really come until a little bit later. I went to a festival when I was 18, Hard Day Of The Dead, which is in L.A. It was Kill The Noise and Nero and all those guys, and it was like, “That was it.”
What drew you to it? Artists who you’re mentioning are primarily pretty heavy artists, and you can hear that in your music, too. Is that what drew you to it? That energy live?
Definitely that’s what sold it for me. That live energy of just being like, “This isn’t what you get at a rock show or a metal show or punk or whatever.” It was a different vibe. Another thing which is a little bit more selfish of an answer, but [it was] the fact that you could go on to produce a record yourself instead of having to wait to write a record.
Growing up, I had friends that were drummers or guitar players, and it was always like creatively, we ran into roadblocks. [It] was always cool and fun, and it was great to bounce ideas off each other. I didn’t really care for that process as much at the time. So because dance music was way more like, “Here’s your idea. You know how to execute it, get it done, put it on SoundCloud,” and that’s the end of it. That’s where things were at the time that I thought was far more interesting.
That makes sense to me. What was your influence sound design-wise when you tried to start to blend two of your favorite things together?
I think there wasn’t really a lot of influence in that. The background that I had being an adrenaline punk even listening to bands like Chiodos and stuff. The fact is, it was just the same as taking two elements and just going, “All right, cool. How do these things work together?” You guys had a lot of classical influences with the post-hardcore, pop-punk thing. I think that goes for any kind of genre. It’s just like, “How could you possibly put something on top of whatever as a layer or wherever and see how it goes?’ For me, that’s where I started with doing some of the metal and dubstep things. A lot of people were trying to make metal songs with dubstep. You had those bands like I See Stars, and they would do drops in the middle of their songs. For me, it was the opposite where it was, “How do we put a guitar layer and maybe some cool metal drum fills in between spots?” But still keeping to the electronic structure.
I think you can hear that in your music. It’s pretty predominant.
It’s definitely evolved. When I first started doing it, it was like, “I’m going to make a nine-minute Metallica song that’s got seven different drops and a hard-style drop.” That just didn’t work and made no fucking sense at all. Then it was really pulling back and just going, “All right, cool. The intro’s going to be this cool guitar riff with drums.”
Yeah, I totally get that. You mentioned I See Stars. I know you toured with them, and I’m pretty sure my dude brothel was the other half of that. So drop some names right now. What other people are you close with? What other [people] have you collabed with? Who do you want to collab with?
There’s a lot of people I would love to have vocal-wise. Everyone from Caleb Shomo of Beartooth and Atreyu. I’ve actually been talking with Aaron Pauley [Of Mice & Men] about that. We’ve been going back and forth on a couple [of] ideas and getting some stuff going. I just heard the new record, and it’s fucking sick. He’s diving into that world a lot. Like you said, I See Stars. I was talking with Art Cruz, who’s the drummer of Lamb Of God.
The cool thing about what I think my music does is it really does dredge a lot of different subgenres of the rock and metal world. There are the super-heavy guys that are like, “I’d love to do something and make something super sick.” Then there are the people that are more the pop-punk, post-hardcore team that is really into it as well. It’s sort of the big bridge for a lot of the kids in the dance world. It’s really inspiring to a lot of people.
Going off what you said, it’s like a natural progression, and the bridge is there. It is in all music, though. Electronic music has been relevant in rock music for a while. You have Nine Inch Nails, [with a] new industrial influence there. There really is this awesome bridge, and it’s cool to see someone take it with a new approach the way that you do. You have a new album coming out. So tell me about it. What were some of your goals when you were making that record?
The goal for the record was really kind of what we’ve been talking about. It’s a big synopsis of everything. How do I showcase everything that I want to do and that I can write at once? I feel like in EDM especially, it’s really hard to do more than one sound because people do gravitate. [On the record], there’s going [to be] melodic songs. It’s melodic stuff. It’s heavy. There’s breakdowns, there’s solos [and] there’s midtempo songs. There are super-experimental sounds and a lot of singing and a lot of screaming.
You love what you do, and this is our life. We always want to continue to push the boundaries of what we’re capable of.
I think in the pop or the punk world or [in] the old Warped Tour heydays, you know a lot of people. There was a lot more side projects going on and a lot more collaboration spread. But because you’re a solo artist, people expect whatever you do to always be part of that solo project. Whereas I thought, you could be in a band, and you could be like, “Hey, the guitarist is going to go do some other project for a little bit. He’s going to go dabble in it.” You could go do that a little bit more, whereas here it’s not nearly as welcome. I think that’s something you did that was definitely inspiring. You’ve got everything from Isles & Glaciers to Chiodos to badXchannels. That stuff is what I look up to. You get to go experiment and do a lot of things as an artist and as a musician. How do we do that but do it on one record so that people aren’t expecting it every single time?
A record should be a journey and an experience. It shouldn’t be 12 bangers.
I think that’s what people definitely expect. I mean, we haven’t even announced that there are 15 songs and that there’s going [to be] all different stuff. People are going to get that I’m more of a singer and a songwriter and a guitar player and DJ and a producer and everything instead of just, “That’s his sound.”
Did you feel a lot of pressure to make it [Show Some Teeth] your masterpiece or [feel] that this defines you?
I don’t feel like it was that. I’m going to continue to write and do whatever. This record was like, “Here’s all this music that I’ve made. It all sounds different. Here you go.” I didn’t want to go into a record making it a masterpiece because I don’t think that doing that would ever have gotten it. If you go in and say this has to be my best record, it’s never going to be your best record. If you go in thinking I have to top this, it just doesn’t happen. There’s so many artists I want to work with that I know I would make such incredible music with. This was a lead into what direction I’m going to start going in.
That’s awesome. What other collabs do you have on the record?
There’s not a lot of collabs, there’s really only three right now. There’s [one with] Swarm. He’s a huge metalhead, and we made this really cool midtempo, sort of dark industrial track. It’s all super-original stuff, and I think that played out. [We] tried out new ideas and different things over the last nine months.
You know, when someone listens to your music, you hear a lot of the electronic sounds, so talk about your process for writing the melodies for the electronic side of things. Did it start off organically? Did it start off with a guitar track?
Most of my songs, especially on the record, started with a piano or started with an acoustic guitar or started with some kind of guitar melody or a lyric or whatever and then evolved from that into what it is. A lot of the songs started from voice memos and singing some sort of shitty melody, like a couple [of] lines. That’s something that definitely I think needs to happen more in EDM. I think you’re going to start seeing a lot more people do it because it’s definitely setting a new trend for where everything is going, especially with dubstep and bass music.
So how much of your set is you shredding versus you DJing in every single song? Tell me what your setup is like.
It’s pretty simple. I’m moving over to doing a lot more live performance in it. 75% of the set has been DJed, but it’s mixed in with a lot of vocals and a lot of screaming, singing, stuff like that. Then the rest would be guitar solos or breakdowns and things like that. You know, when you actually break down a set and do something interesting in the crowd, and you get them to sing. Doing things like that open up that element. Something I really want to start bringing in more is doing acoustic performances in the set and breaking things down.
You know, the crossover appeal, it works and doesn’t limit your music. Even when you’re creating.
Exactly. It’s all about performance. There is so much more that goes into making a great set and making a great performance and keeping the kids engaged and keeping it together.
10/03 – San Francisco, CA @ DNA Lounge
10/04 – Morrison, CO @ Red Rocks
10/05 – Savannah, GA @ Elan
10/11 – Winnipeg, MB @ Pyramid Cabaret
10/12 – Montreal, QC @ Le National
10/13 – Calgary, AB @ Commonwealth
10/25 – Buffalo, NY @ DOOM ‘N BOOM
10/26 – Salt Lake City, UT @ Get Freaky
11/02 – Wuhan, China @ Vision & Colour Festival
11/07 – Flagstaff, AZ @ The Green Room
11/08 – Phoenix, AZ @ The Pressroom
11/09 – Worcester, MA @ Heavy Fest
11/15 – Charlotte, NC @ The Underground
11/16 – Raleigh, NC @- Lincoln Theatre
11/22 – Sudbury, ON @ The Grand
11/23 – Hamilton, ON @ Club 77
11/27 – Boise, ID @ Knitting Factory
11/29 – Portland, OR @ Roseland Theater
11/30 – Seattle, WA @ Showbox SoDo
12/05 – Albuquerque, NM @ El Rey
12/06 – Cleveland, OH @ Beachland Ballroom
12/07 – Pittsburgh, PA @ Roxian Theatre
12/11 – Jacksonville, FL @ Myth Nightclub
12/12 – Gainesville, FL @ Simons
12/13 – Tampa, FL @ The Ritz Ybor
12/14 – Orlando, FL @ Gilt
12/19 – Omaha, NE @ Slowdown
12/20 – Minneapolis, MN @ Skyway Theatre
12/21 – Grand Rapids, MI @ Elevation
12/27 – Sydney, Australia @ Chinese Laundry
12/31 – Perth, Australia @ Origin Fields
01/01 – Brisbane, Australia @ Eatons Hill Festival
01/02 – New Zealand @ Bay Dreams
01/09 – Indianapolis, IN @ The Mousetrap
01/11 – Denver, CO @ Ogden Theater
01/16 – Virginia Beach, VA @ Peabody’s Nightclub
01/17 – Washington, DC @ 9:30 Club
01/18 – Brooklyn, NY @ Kings Hall
01/24 – San Diego, CA @ Music Box
01/25 – Los Angeles, CA @ The Fonda Theatre
01/29 – San Antonio, TX @ BLVD
01/30 – Austin, TX @ Vulcan Gas Company
01/31 – Dallas, TX @ Stereo Live
02/01 – Houston, TX @ Stereo Live