LessThan3: You have Chicago roots, and you’ve worked with the likes of Kid Sister and Flosstradamus who are also out of the city. What’s “in the water there,” so to speak?
Willy: I will always consider the original Chicago crew to be some of my best friends in the music game. Kid Sister gave me one of my first big opportunities when she took me on as her DJ back in the day. We toured around the world and it broadened my horizons, as well as showed me how hard you really had to work to be successful in this game. She’s such a huge talent and I’ll be forever grateful to her. Flosstradamus are some of my closest homies, and what they’ve managed to achieve is really just insane at this point. People don’t always know or remember, but they went through a pretty quiet point of their career a few years back too, and the way they were able to emerge from that a hundred times stronger and more focused has been a huge inspiration for me. From them I learned that you really can, and should, do whatever you want in this industry; there are no rules and no limits other than what you put on yourself. I think in general Chicago is just about hard work. We don’t have the glitz and flash of New York or LA, and when you strip away some of the bright lights it makes it easier to see where you really are and who’s around you. From there you just find a like-minded crew and you put your head down and do the work. No shortcuts.
LessThan3: Diplo and A-Trak are two key figures of the past decade whose rise you’ve been keenly aware of on multiple levels. Working with both Mad Decent and Fool’s Gold then as compared to now, what are the differences, and how has that directly impacted your career?
I’ve known them both for a long time and have a lot of respect for those camps. I released a song through Fool’s Gold
a couple years ago, and while I’ve never released anything on Mad Decent
I did do some production for Major Lazer’s Free The Universe
album as well as a remix for them later on. Diplo has always been a big supporter of my music even from the early days, and it means a lot. When I was DJing for Kid Sister we toured in a bus with A-Trak for six weeks, and I got to know him then and had a great time on that trip. You can tell both he and Diplo have a strong vision for what they’re doing and the sounds their labels are pushing. I actually just finished a remix for A-Trak’s new single with Jamie Lidell
; I think that should be out in a few weeks. I’m always going to be a big fan of both those guys; they’ve paved the road I’m walking on and they’re out ahead laying the track for what’s next as we speak.
LessThan3: Weak Shit is your newest production, and as someone who spends as much time touring as you do in the studio, what in the track do you feel is influenced by what you’re seeing from crowds in the clubs?
I wanted to come back with Weak Shit
because it’s kind of a response to a lot of trends I see going on right now in the dance world. I’m not into talking down about anyone else’s music, so I don’t mean it as an attack on any specific sound or style. I just don’t see as many people taking risks or pushing boundaries right now. Weak Shit
is for sure a club banger made with the live show in mind, and it’s been getting a bunch of festival play from the few friends I gave it to. I think for anyone who’s been following my career so far it also connects the dots about where I was and where I’m going. People are going to be surprised at some of the songs that come next.
LessThan3: What tracks do you look at as being the most key to your development and why?
Willy: On the production side, this new music is miles beyond anything I’ve done in the past. That’s just a result of me getting better and better on the technical side of producing and really trying to focus in on “my” sound. I even considered making a new alias because I think this new body of work really stands out from anything I’ve done in the past. On the other side of the coin, my progression in music is a reflection of my progression as a growing and changing person. Kanye’s got a great quote about how as he gets older he tries more and more to return to the purity of how he saw the world as a child, and that definitely rings true for me. With this new music I’m trying to get to the point faster and more clearly, trying to find the heart of each idea. Trying to say more while using less. I love everything I’ve done in the past, but to me most of the old stuff sounds like a more primitive version of where I’m at now.
LessThan3: You’ve excelled at making well-received sounds in a number of genres. Where do you see yourself in this current EDM sea?
Willy: As long as it makes me dance around like an idiot in my empty studio that’s pretty much the only critique I’m paying attention to right now. I try not to worry about who I fit in with too much. The only way to stand out is to not fit in.
LessThan3: From metal to birds to ICP to rap, dance, whatever, you always seem to have the most intriguing production influences. What are you listening to right now that’s having the most significant creative impact on your work these days?
LessThan3: Recently I’ve been trying to incorporate a lot more field recordings into what I’m doing. The natural world definitely plays a part in that, and odd sounds that come from real-life objects instead of synths are really interesting to me. I started my career in production just chopping up old samples, so going back to working with raw audio feels familiar and awesome now that I know what I’m doing. I come at production from a pretty punk aesthetic. I don’t always know what I’m doing or how to “correctly” use what’s in front of me, but not knowing all the rules can help my songs end up wildly different from anyone else. I mostly listen to rap or singer-songwriter kind of stuff when I’m not working. I keep current with what’s going on in the dance world but I can get overloaded if I’m listening to that in my leisure time too. As far as what’s having the most direct influence, it’s probably my friends and peers out there pushing the boundaries of production and songwriting. Almost every day I hear something new from someone I know that’s so good it makes me mad I didn’t do it first. I love that feeling–it just kicks me in the ass to work harder and keep pushing myself so hopefully I can give someone else the same reaction!
LessThan3: What are your goals for the future?
Willy: I’m just getting started. I was pretty quiet in 2015 because I decided I wanted to step up my game and worked for a long time until I thought I had evolved enough to come back into the public eye. I’m sitting on a crazy, crazy amount of music right now. Some has been shared with a few close DJ friends and some hasn’t been heard at all, but in 2016 I hope everyone’s going to hear it. I’m working with more vocalists and caring less and less about what genre a song might fit into or who might play it. I think that genres have broken down a lot over the last couple years, and people don’t care so much about their favorite artists only making one sound or style anymore. I love that because that’s how my brain has always worked–music is connected by feeling, energy, and emotion rather than tempo or style. That mentality is definitely reflected in the tunes I make. I’m trying to make songs that I would have loved at age 15, and that kids right now would love too. Youth motivates me–dance music is youth music right now which means in a lot of ways it’s the rebel music of our era. I take pride in being a part of that. As far as future goals, we’re going to see how far I can take this in 2016. Coming for everybody’s head! (laughs)
LessThan3: You must have a good travel story about a gig where things didn’t quite go according to plan, but you made the best of a strange situation. Care to share?
Willy: This just happened recently. I played an awesome festival in Texas, and later that night I heard about an afterparty at a local club. I went over to DJ just for fun, and when I got there the club was packed wall to wall, but there was just Spotify playing random music over the PA. I went up to the booth and saw why: there was literally no DJ equipment in the booth. No decks, no mixer, literally nothing except an old soundboard where someone had plugged in their phone. The crowd didn’t know what was going on, and they were getting kind of mad. I wanted to just leave, but I felt bad for everyone who was there to have a good time, so I managed to jury rig a weird setup where I was kind of DJing off my laptop directly into the sound board. No crossfader, no EQ, almost no control at all! It barely worked. But the crowd went off and I ended up having a blast. It was a great reminder for me that if the music is good enough it doesn’t really need any help.