Do you remember your tweens? Such innocent times. Pizza parties, Saturday morning cartoons, going to raves… okay, well, maybe not the last one. That one might just be reserved for Jason Chung, aka Nosaj Thing, the most in-demand producer you’ve never heard of. Ahead of his appearance at CIRCO Festival on June 28, Nosaj Thing got on the line with DAVID JAMES YOUNG.
“I started DJing when I was twelve,” he says on the line from his home studio, with the kind of nonchalance that one would normally reserve for telling someone what you had for lunch. “I had an older friend who got me into it – he had this whole set-up and we’d use it to spin whatever new singles were coming in at the time. A lot of Bad Boy Records stuff, actually. My love of hip hop then moved into house and jungle music; and I went to my first rave when I was 13. It’s all stuff that came to me at a really early age; and that I’ve been in love with ever since.”
Once Chung had gotten down the basics in production, he began putting the feelers out in 2006 with his debut EP, entitled Views/Octopus. From there, he’s gone on to release two studio albums and has worked with a slew of notable acts. Despite many people first discovering his work as Nosaj Thing via these collaborations, Chung confesses that he’s still somewhat nervous about directly approaching those he wants to work with.
“I’m not really that good at approaching people and being, like, ‘Hey! We should work together!,’” he says, laughing to himself about the awkwardness of it all. “All of the collaborations I’ve done were just ones that happened pretty naturally. I’m always open to the idea. As a producer, the most important thing I can do is learn. I do my best to try and make it work with whoever it might be. It’s something I’d like to do more. I really enjoy being in the studio more than touring, to be honest with you. I think I want to shift more towards being a behind-the-scenes sort of person, just working on production and working with different artists.”
Perhaps the best-known artist Nosaj has worked with is rap superstar Kendrick Lamar – although it was some time before his breakthrough when he and Chung worked together. The two collaborated on a standalone single, Cloud 10, which was released as a part of the Windows Phone ME series. When asked about their collaboration, Chung cannot sing his praises high enough.
“I was amazed by Kendrick,” he says. “When I worked with him, it was before his album came out. He was only a couple of mixtapes deep at that point. We were in the studio, and I had about 20 beats for us to play around with. For some reason, he just picked the first beat that he heard – he said ‘I don’t need to hear any of the other ones.’ He’d start with the hook, recording it a few times and getting the layer going. When he was rapping, it was kind of like Jay-Z’s style – no pad, no paper. He’d go away for maybe ten, fifteen minutes; then come right back in and put a verse down. He did that three times, and then we were done. It spun me out – all I could think was ‘What is happening right now?’”
In addition to his collaborative works, Chung has also been enlisted to remix over a dozen artists. His work in this department features artists as varied as Drake, Radiohead, The xx, Phillip Glass and even Charlotte Gainsbourg. It’s something that Chung doesn’t take lightly – to him, his remixes are just as important as his original compositions. It’s essential that they maintain his identity, even if it is somewhat vicarious.
“I try my best to make my remixes as different from the original as entirely possible,” he explains. “I do that by not using any of the stems from the original. All I use is the a capella vocal take, and I try to add it into the mix of something fresh. Unless it’s another instrumental track that I’m remixing – then I take the song’s main motif and attempt to develop something abstract from there. I always try and experiment as much as I can with them – the goal is to get something new out of it. To me, that’s the only way to really progress.”
With his second studio album, Home, out in the world, Chung will return to Australia at the end of the month for a run of club dates and an appearance at the CIRCO music festival in Claremont. It marks his first time appearing in Western Australia, and the California native is practically chomping at the bit to check out what the rest of the country has to offer.
“The last time I was there was about three years ago,” he says. “It was really brief – I just did Melbourne and Sydney. It was really good – I had absolutely no idea that I had listeners over that way. I’m really looking forward to getting back there and doing it properly. I really want to feel out the vibe of the place – I think it’s going to be a lot of fun.”