Elephante is an American Producer and DJ, based in California. He is perhaps best known for his song ‘I Want You’, featuring Rumors, but he is also renowned for his incredible remixes of huge songs such as his remix of ‘Smoke Filled Room’. In 2013, Elephante released his first EP, and he has been blowing up ever since.
After seeing Elephante’s incredible set at the Billboard Hot 100, we got a chance to chat with him about his start, his collaborations, how he comes up with his sets, and so much more.
— The Knockturnal (@_TheKnockturnal) August 20, 2016
I saw that you went to Harvard University –
And you majored in Economics, and minored in Music.
Why didn’t you major in music?
[Laughs] You know, econ for my parents, music for me. The music program there is great, but it’s not super-performance focused, so I took all the music classes that I was really excited about. There was a lot of historical study, and that type of stuff, and that wasn’t quite where my interests were. And, I don’t know, it seemed like I should get something to keep my parents happy.
How did you go from such an academic area to performing at the Billboard Hot 100?
I’ve been playing music my whole life; I grew up playing piano, I played guitar, and sang, and was in bands in college and high school. I actually graduated, and worked in a corporate job for a year and a half, and the whole time I was there I was just really unhappy, and all I wanted to do was make music. I was getting out of there as early as I could to go work on music at night, and weekends, so it was just one of those things where I couldn’t live with myself if I didn’t give it a shot. It was pretty – naïve is maybe the wrong word – but I didn’t really know what I was doing, and I’ve been very lucky to kind of land on my feet.
The name that you created for yourself is related to the discomfort you felt at your corporate job. Could you explain what exactly Elephante means?
Yeah, so Elephante is a reference to the ‘elephant in the room’ – elephant in the room being when I was at the corporate job. It was a good job, and the people there were great, but everyday there was this elephant, that all I wanted to do was make music. I’d think about music during the day; I’d install music software on my computer, and was doing it at work, and it wasn’t going to last. So Elephante is about embracing the elephant in the room, and quitting, doing music full-time, and becoming Elephante.
You started off doing acoustic music –
What made you switch to electronic music?
It’s funny, it was partially because for my job I would travel a lot, I couldn’t bring my guitar with me, I couldn’t sing in the hotel room without getting kicked out. So I just started messing around for fun, and I think it was actually a Skrillex song, I think it was either ‘Scary Monsters’, or one of his earlier ones, and it made my head explode. It was like: “What is this noise? What is this thing that he made? How is this possible?” I just started messing around for fun, just like, feed the bug, or whatever, and from there it kind of took off. I’d always like electronic elements, like Miike Snow or Passion Pit – guys like that, so it was really fun to go from playing a guitar and singing, to being able to create any sound that’s ever existed. One thing just led to another, and here I am.
How do you decide which songs to mix or revamp?
The two main things are: I have to love the song, and I have to feel like I can do something different, and add to it in some way. It’s really all over the place, a lot of it’s like: “Oh, this will be fun, I think”. The really good ones, you hear, and then you instantly know what you do with it. And also it’s the practical; when I was starting, I wasn’t getting acapellas from any labels or anything, so part of it was like, alright, what song can I do something with, and remix, without a) the acapellas on the internet, and b) I’m not going to get sued by a label. There was a little bit of that wildness at the beginning, but now I’m lucky enough for people to send me awesome music.
Who has been your favorite artist to work with so far?
On a remix?
Uh, um, it’s hard, because I’ve been lucky enough to remix so many great artists. Remixing Galantis’ ‘Help’ was really special, because they are one of those guys that I looked up to a ton, and to remix their song, and they loved it – I actually got to hear them play it at Ultra, that was my first Ultra – and it was very cool to see them play it for thousands and thousands of people, so that was cool. But it’s always very humbling and exciting when it’s an artist that you really respect, and you really love their music, and then you do something, and then they like it. That’s still always a trip.
Is there anyone that you really want to work with in the future?
I mean there’s so many talented artists out there right now. Every week almost, there is some new song that just blows me away. The one guy right now is Frank Ocean. He’s not even releasing his own music. Right now I just want him to release his album, and then after that we can talk about collabs, but he’s the guy; ‘Challenge Orange’ is one of my favorite albums of all time, and all of his mix-tape stuff. He’s like the White Whale.
How do you want you music to impact your audience?
There’s sort of two things, right: I come from a song writing background, so the emotional aspect of it is very important to me – I want people to feel something, and all of my songs are melodic, and I try to take people somewhere. And then, at the same time, it is dance music, so I want it to have some energy, and I want people to be able to party, or jump, or work, or do any of those things, but also, like, cry at the end. That’s the dream.
Are there any songs that you have coming out that you are particularly excited about?
I actually just finished my first EP, it’s coming out September 14th, called ‘I Am The Elephante’, we just announced it. There are nine songs on it. I’m really, really excited about it. It’s got some of the progressive house stuff that I came up doing. There’s also some new sounds on it; some future bass, some more hip-hoppy stuff, so I’m really excited to hear what people think. It’s a little scary, putting out nine songs at once, but I’m very excited for that.
Are there any lessons that you’ve learned in the entertainment industry that have really stuck with you?
Yeah: it’s music first, second, and third. There are things outside of music that are out of your control, and it can be frustrating. Of course you want to meet people, and network, but at the end of the day, I came up knowing no one in the industry, and I spent days, and months, and weeks, and years, locked in my room making the best music I can. At the end of the day, if you make something really great, people find a way to hear it. If you don’t have that then none of the other stuff really matters.
How did those people find you?
Honestly, it was crazy – it just started on the Internet. I was uploading remixes to SoundCloud, and I was emailing bloggers. I made a list of like, 100 blogs that I thought they might like my music, and they posted similar stuff, and I stalked down emails of every single one, and they I’d just be like: “Hey, what’s up? My name’s Elephante. This is my song, I hope you like it”. And you know, it took a while; it took a couple of years. Every time someone posted me, it’s like; you try to build a relationship with them, and then you just grow from there. The Internets a really beautiful place. I still don’t really know how it happened.
Did you have a specific song that burst you out? Or was it just constant reaching out?
I think the first one that really launched it all was my remix for Katy Perry, ‘Dark Horse’, and my remix for Lorde, ‘Team’ – those were the first two that were on Hype Machine, and got millions of plays on SoundCloud, and those were the ones that really, I think, a) established by sound, and b) those are artists that people want to listen to, so those were really big in getting my name out there.
How do you decide what songs to put in your set?
I had a lot of the pop-remix stuff, but then today, for example, I was like, “ah, fuck it, I’m going to play some trap, let’s see what happens”. And people really loved it, and then I was like: “Oh, the like the bass stuff”, and then I played some more trap, and they really liked it, and I was like: “okay”. In general, you sort of know what you’re playing, and you try to read the crowd, and see, and have other stuff ready.
Your transitions were so on point, and your set went longer than you were expecting.
Yeah, I had no idea what I was doing. I was playing, and I was like, I don’t know what I’m going to play next honestly. There’s certain things I know I’m going to play one after the other, but then I know I can also play something else. You’re just kind of on the fly there, and I’ve played enough shows where I think I know what’s going to work.
Special thanks for Live Nation for the invite!