Q&A: San Holo Talks Upcoming Album, Evolving Sound, & His Favorite Moments as a DJ

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When you close your eyes and listen to a track by future bass pioneer San Holo, you'll know without a doubt that it's one of his own. He's set a precedent for creativity in the world of electronic music, never quite producing the same sound, while still delivering his signature dreamy trap breakdowns in each melody. From a bedroom producer to an international touring DJ, San Holo has remained consistent in his inventiveness and willingness to explore the boundaries of electronic music. Whether his music makes you dance, cry or just sends you into a state of bliss, it always ignites a certain fire from within that touches you to your core. Though he's been one of the most talked about names in EDM since his remix of Dr. Dre's "The Next Episode" catapulted him into the spotlight back in 2014, we can finally expect the release of a full-length album from San Holo.  

In anticipation of his debut album, San Holo has released two equally angelic songs, featuring hypnotizing electropop symphonies and his signature melodic drops. It only seems fitting that one of the new singles is entitled "Lift Me From the Ground," since it's atmospheric buildup culminates into the exhilarating sensation that you're flying as the drop hits. Alternatively, "Worthy" is a more ethereal, downtempo track that returns you back down to earth to a more grounded, yet equally as euphoric, state.

Luckily, I was able to catch up with San Holo at HARD Summer Music Festival to ask him about his new album, his favorite moments as a DJ, and the direction of his new sound. 

OTW: What was the inspiration behind your two new songs "Worthy" and "Lift You From the Ground?"

San Holo: The funny thing is that I wrote the entire album in LA on a street called Vestal Avenue in Echo Park. I got there one time when we were touring, and we booked an Airbnb because we couldn't afford hotels or anything else yet. That one Airbnb was so special. It was surrounded by trees and birds and silence, and it really inspired me and I was like I'm gonna write my album here. I spent from January to July writing the album, and I wanted it to be something different. I still feel like a lot of things kind of sound the same right now in electronic music so I was going for something new.

OTW: Do you think it's different from the sound you have already?

San Holo: It's a combination between the electronic sound I had as San Holo and a more organic kind of indie sound. I recorded a lot of real instruments, lots of real guitar, keyboards, and vocals, and I think the result is something I haven't personally heard before. I'm excited to share it with people because that's one of my favorite things to do, to share music that might expand someone's taste or perspective.

OTW: When you first started writing the album, did you know that creating a whole album your end goal?

San Holo: My plan was to just make as much music as I possibly could in a short amount of time. I wanted it to be very close to me and very in the moment, so I didn't want to spend two or three years on it. I wanted to write it and release it and that's what we're doing. It comes out this year. All the songs and all the sounds you hear are recorded in the last six months and all the feelings you hear on the record are feelings from the last six months, so it's all very recent and real to me.

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OTW: Six months isn't much time to make an album. How'd you do it?

San Holo: It's probably been one of the most intense six months of my life. I was drinking coffees at 11 pm to keep going. I've never really done that, but I'm really happy with the result. Like I said it feels very recent, and I'm glad because sometimes I release a song that's over a year old and I've already distanced myself from it. The album feels really close still, and I can't wait to tour it this fall.

OTW: Do you have a favorite song off the album?

San Holo: "Worthy" was the first song I wrote for the album. It really shows the new direction with the guitars, drops, 808s, and bass. It paints a nice picture of the new sound.

OTW: You founded Bitbird a few years ago. What made you want to start your own label?

San Holo: I think it was four or five years ago by now. I was already making San Holo kind of beats and melodic trap bass music, but back then it wasn't really popular yet. I sent it out to a couple labels. A lot of them didn't really appreciate it yet. They wanted to change the sound. They were like, "It's cool, but it might be a little bit too blah blah blah," and I was like, "You know what, I'm just gonna start my own label." I just felt like I had so many friends around me that were making amazing music and I wanted to support them. We first built this platform called Bitbird and it just grew to be a real record label. It's a team now and we really, genuinely believe in the artists that are on it.

OTW: What do you look for when adding new artists?

San Holo: All Bitbird artists are so groundbreaking in their own way. I'm so proud of what they're doing. They're not afraid to step outside the box, and that's what Bitbird always stands for. We want to support the people that go outside the box and push music forward. It can be electronic music, or it can be classical music. We've released trap music, piano pieces, indie songs, soundscapes. As long as it touches us then we are down to support it. I think we're more looking for a certain genuine emotion in music. You know when you hear something and it touches you? Of course it's very opinion based, but I feel like there's music that speaks to me on a different level and that's what Bitbird is all about: Music that really touches you on a deeper level.

My favorite artists are ones who only have to play for one minute and you know it's them. That's my favorite thing, because a lot of production doesn't have vocals. As a producer, you have to have your own voice in your instrumentation and in your sounds. That's what I think Birtbird is all about-having your own sound.

OTW: What music do you listen to?

San Holo: I don't really listen to electronic music. My biggest inspirations are bands like Explosions in the Sky and Bon Iver, and then classical pianists too. I get my inspiration mostly from that and then I combine that inspiration with my background touring the world as a DJ. That's kind of the sound right now for me. It's a mixture of the indie inspiration with that electronic trap shit.

OTW: Do you have one moment where you felt like you took a step back and felt like you "made it"?

San Holo: I wrote a lot of songs about that actually. I wrote a song called "One Thing," and it's about how you reach all these goals and at some point you realize wait, when was the last time I was really happy or proud I reached something? You realize you're still searching for this new thing all the time. You're looking for your next goal and when you reach that goal you want that next goal. That song was kind of a note to myself to enjoy the moment and appreciate the things you do and the things that you reach. That's one of the things I'm working on, to really appreciate the goals I reach more.

Finishing this album was the most special feeling. To me, being successful means being happy with the art you're making. These last couple of months have been about what do I want to do? What do I want to sound like? I'm proud of that, of finding my own sound again.

OTW: When you first started out, did you know you wanted to be a DJ?

San Holo: I started messing around producing original songs at first. A friend of mine suggested I do remixes, and I was like, "I hate remixes." Then I realized I can just make my own sound around it. That's what I did with my "Next Episode" remix. That just blew up and I was like wow I can actually do something with this. If I knew this was gonna be this big I probably wouldn't have gone with San Holo. [Laughs] I have peace with it now, but I was first scared that people wouldn't take me seriously with a name like that.

OTW: Do you have specific direction you're looking to go in with your music now?

San Holo: The album is a prime example of me taking a very clear, new direction while still being faithful to my old sound and emotion in music. It feels like something new and that's all I want to do. I hope people expect me to do something new every once in awhile.

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