EKKSTACY has released his new NEGATIVE EP via Steve Stoute’s UnitedMasters. Ahead of the release, the young artist connected with Alternative Press for an interview about the new release as well as his broader goals for the future.
At least, I ask him about the future. EKKSTACY’s responses reflect his introspective nature, even as they betray a hint of the self-assuredness that drives a 19-year-old self-taught artist to put out music and rack up nearly a million monthly listens on Spotify.
And as to his vision?
“I don’t really have a plan,” he explains. “I don’t like to look into the future. It scares me. I just try to stay good day to day.”
If he’s not quite ready to issue big proclamations about the future, NEGATIVE at least gives a glimpse into the artist’s present. The EP tells the story of EKKSTACY’s first love, chronicling the relationship from start to finish. The project actually tells the story backwards, starting with its painful ending and concluding with the hopeful beginning.
EKKSTACY tells me of the project, “The whole idea was my last relationship song for song. But it was the names of the songs more than the lyrics.”
When I ask what he means by that description, he reveals something I missed in listening to the record.
“If you read the names of every song, it turns into a poem. It just flows like a paragraph or something.”
It’s this kind of attention to detail that shines through on the EP. Even if EKKSTACY isn’t one for grand visions or big statements, the record has an intuitive sense of craft that makes it feel like something greater than a simple collection of songs.
It’s especially impressive considering he taught himself to produce music, and did so in a matter of a few weeks.
“I just fucking sat in room for hours every day on Garage Band,” EKKSTACY says. “When I first got my shit with my recording studio, I got these stupid ass $150 speakers, a shitty mike and a shitty computer. I’d just be in my room for like eight hours a day, just fucking learning everything I could possibly learn. It took me like two weeks and I knew how to make music.”
As remarkable as that all is, what jumps out to me about EKKSTACY’s music is the emotional depth. He has a unique way of documenting pain, capturing the visceral experience of loneliness and despair. The 19-year-old Vancouver-born artist has a rare capacity to translate raw emotions into music, as if using sound to share faint glimpses into his darkest feelings.
In many ways, that approach fits with the artist’s difficult background. In high school, EKKSTACY struggled with his mental health and found himself friendless. His pain led him to the brink, and he jumped out of a window in the midst of a drug-induced psychotic episode. Struggling with PTSD, EKKSTACY committed to psychotherapy and also turned to music as a means of channeling his feelings.
“All of that stuff is basically all of my music,” he says. “That’s where it all comes from. All my music is the bad stuff. I’ve never made a happy song before.”
“I’m not trying to do anything for anyone else,” he continues. “I’m just doing it for myself. It’s like therapy.”
While the emotional depths of the project really seal the deal for me, I was initially drawn in by the sounds. Musically, EKKSTACY creates a unique punk soundscape. It’s a sound that feels perfectly lost between the past and the present, offering a retro lens on the world even as it feels contemporary.
When I ask him about his goals, it becomes clear that EKKSTACY’s sound is natural, not a put-on to capture some golden age of music.
“I want it to sound old, I want it to sound punk,” he explains. “But I don’t want it to be pure punk, I want it to have punk elements. I want it to sound like it’s from England. I don’t know, I just like the retro shit and the rock shit, obviously. But I try to keep Auto-Tune away from it. I just want it to sound natural.”
Despite the organic nature of his music, EKKSTACY is one of a number of artists who is helping to make a case for the blossoming punk revival. His sound returns to the roots of a genre that once felt left behind. But unlike many other artists, his sound doesn’t stem from a deep passion for pop punk or an obsession with the classics of 1977.
Rather, his music harkens back to the darker side of punk, following in a lineage linked back to England in the 1980s. “i walk this earth all by myself” is a spiritual successor to Joy Division’s “Love Will Tear Us Apart,” as if trying to transform absolute bleakness into a tolerable form to make sense of it all.
During our conversation, EKKSTACY admits to me, “I don’t really listen to anything that sounds like what I do. I’m not saying that because I think I’m original, I just don’t know of anything that sounds like me.”
It’s clear he really means what he says. Nervously, he asks, “Do you know anyone? Am I a clone and I don’t know it?”
I tell him that I appreciate his approach. While there are other recent bands that take cues from Joy Division and their ilk, EKKSTACY is unique. The artist moves fluidly across genres along with his whims, producing something it is relatively uncategorizable.
The EP also features two ballads, while other songs capture the granular textures of lofi and even a hint or two of garage rock. “it only gets worse, i promise” captures the approach perfectly. The sounds like rock ‘n’ roll under a warm California sun, seen from the bottom of a darkened black pool.
Ultimately, it’s a bleak record, but one sure to resonate with anyone who has felt like an outsider or struggled with the pain of a broken heart. More than that, it hints at EKKSTACY’s ambition. Despite his casual assertion that no grand plan is driving the train, it’s still clear he wants to accomplish something big. That ambition is something that was baked into his project from the very beginning.
“I always wanted to do something that was cool, something that mattered, something big,” he says. “I wanted to make music since I was a kid, but I was kind of worried I didn’t have anything to say. It took me a while to take the chance. I was terrified, because people do not like me around town already. I was an outcast. I didn’t want them to have another thing they can make fun of me for. So it took a while for me to try music, but once I was in a dark enough place, music just came.”