What So Not has released his sophomore album, Anomaly, off the back of being inspired by travelling the world and exploring sounds globally just prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. For more than a decade, Chris Emerson, operating as What So Not, has honed his thrilling trademark blend of fresh electronica and tantalising innovation, touring the globe with his unforgettable live extravaganzas and gracing multiple high-profile festival stages including Coachella, Lollapalooza and Ultra Music Festival. With his 2018 debut album Not All The Beautiful Things amassing fifty-seven million streams worldwide, hitting number eight on the Billboard Top Dance/ Electronic albums chart the stage will no doubt be set alight for new album Anomaly which is out now. Anomaly is a cohesive journey of far-off adventures, self-discovery and scintillating electronic wizardry. Chris Emerson speaks to Hi Fi Way about the album.
Congratulations on the new album, is it a feeling of relief once you finally get it across the line and you consider it as being finished?
Oh God, it’s so emotional. I mean with these albums, you have to finish it six months before it’s actually out, you got to turn it in so they can print the vinyl. It has to be ingested into all the platforms. It’s a real process. Then to come back six months later and start talking about it is such a weird thing. The album’s out and I’ve already this like post release doubt where you’re like, oh, I guess I’ve just put out on my best work ever and now I’ve got to go and make even better work than I just did or I’m meaningless now, it’s whole cycle. I remember with the last album it was such an emotional roller coaster.
When you talk about emotional doubt is that where the second album blues potentially comes in to it?
Not all in that sense. I have no doubt about the quality of this album. It’s more talking about, I have finished this album and delivered six months ago and what do I do next? So, we’re just putting this album out here now, but then my head is in the future. We’re probably building three years ahead of where things are actually being released quite often. There’s a lot of foresight of planning that goes on. In terms of this album, I don’t think I’ve ever been more confident in my work. Whether I get any smash hits commercially or it’s just part of the project’s legacy and the work I’ve done over the years. I couldn’t be happier with where I got to it with it. I think COVID was kind of a big part of that in that it gave me the time and space to sit away from it, come back to it, refine it in a way that was never feasible before with the frantic and chaotic way life is when you are on tour.
When you say this is your best work was it hard letting?
With this one I’m actually so happy with it. I don’t have that. I think that was that I had the time to think it was done and then step away and come back and be like, oh, I should have done this better. I actually had the time to do that and make it better. So, I think that’s why I’m so satisfied with this work. Whereas often you’re like I should have changed the rhythm there. Or the drums didn’t hit quite hard enough or the melodies tone and the way I should have rounded that sound out. I don’t have that really for the most part at all with this album as I had the time to actually go and do all those things that you usually don’t.
Was that what got you through the Covid years?
Yeah, the first year was kind of a very special experience. My good friend Daniel Johns offered for me to come and live at his house with a couple of other people which turned in to a bit of an art commune and we were just having the time about lives, making music every day, having laughs and just creating without any commercial sensibility to it. We were just creating because that’s how we felt. We were saying what we wanted to say in the music we were creating and crafting the harmonics and the tonalities that fit our true emotions rather than being thrown here and there into session in LA trying to get a cut on a big record with blah blah, blah, or write something for the so and so. It was just a whole different energy, and it was so nice to experience that and have time to do that.
Then the latter part of COVID, I actually moved over to Western Australia which was as you know, totally open and I could go and do shows all over the place from there without too much worry. A really amazing producer over there ShockOne has this incredible studio that he built with quite exceptional sound which most studios do not have that. I got to use that every day when he went home to his family then from 4pm until probably three in the morning for about seven months straight. I was just in there honing in on everything, rethinking everything, tweaking everything. It was a really incredible experience for me as an artist.
How was the experience of working with Daniel Johns?
I’ve definitely had some pretty amazing creative experiences across my life. I think it was a combination of it being Dan, the circumstances and more than anything it was probably the time. We had the time to be different people with the time to take our foot off the accelerator and sit with something for a moment. That really was so special, and it was so amazing. Dan’s such a good friend of mine, to have that with Dan and the other people that were in the house. I don’t, think I’ll ever experience a time like this. I don’t think it’s really possible for that to happen again. I really do respect and appreciate it.
How proud are you of his new album FutureNever?
To me that is purely Dan being Dan believing in Dan, doing what Dan does best. Some of the works on there, just the opening track for me just kills me. It’s incredible. I was so grateful, one of the works that we created while we’re all living in the house is actually on that album, Stand ‘Em Up. I’m so happy for him and to see where he is at right now. Speaking to him again recently after everything’s been going on and to just say how healthy minded he is, how big it’s looking is really awesome.
For your album were the ideas clear in your own mind before recording them?
I feel like it was this backpack-ish trip that I did through Europe, where I found the sound that I wanted to take this album into. I was over there, I just done the Laneway tour closing one of the main stages with my full band. Then one really sad thing that happened out of that was The Prodigy wanted to come to my show and hang out and it didn’t end up happening due to scheduling issues and whatever. Then I got the news about Keith Flint when I got over to Europe and I was just devastated because they were like heroes of mine. I’d only just missed a chance to catch up with them. It sent me into a bit of a spiral and a friend of mine had all his own circumstances as well, it was a combo of a lot of that. Listening to Underworld and the Chemical Brothers gave me this reinvigoration in living, capturing and seizing the moment of everything that’s going on. I laid down Alive and the song Anomaly right after that experience.
Is that a bit of a tough one to compare Anomaly to your debut album or do you kind of view them as being two sort of separate entities?
I’m so proud of the first album. I will say it was when I was dealing with a lot of sadness and this one, I think has so much more life to it. I think this one is going to lift people and give people that confidence and that energy of themselves to just go and grab life and make the most of it. I’m very excited about Anomaly.
Do you write with the live experience in mind?
Yeah, definitely. I few tracks on there maybe better to just to listen to. For the most part though, there’s a lot more percussion focus on this one, which we will be driving on the dance floor and at a festival. There’s definitely some big hitters. It has a lot more energy and I wanted to bring that to after all that time in COVID, I don’t want to sit around on the couch and just cruise to music at the moment. I want to go and get out there and live.
How did you find the artists you wanted to collaborate with? Did the ones you chose seem obvious at the time?
I think a lot of people that I work with are just my friends, I just cross paths with people and get along with then jump in the studio one day then some magic happens. That’s how a lot of it came about. EVAN GIIA, I think someone on her side approached me and asked. She had never actually worked with anyone apart from her partner and she really liked my music wanted and to get together. We got together, we jammed on something, Messin’ Me Up was the first thing we ever worked from memory. She’s incredible. She did this giant operatic delivery, which we put later on the track, and it was so cool to work with her and Killer Mike. It was amazing to have MØ on this record as well.
So what was it like working with Oliver Tree? Nice cameo at Spin Off in Adelaide as well!
That show was amazing because those kids were going insane down there. Loved it! When I first worked with Oliver, he was just sort of starting that project. I he only just dropped the first EP. From the online persona, I didn’t know what to expect. We got in the studio, I played him. now ‘Mr. Regular’, just the beat. He’d never heard it before and he jumped on mind and he freestyled that entire rap verse. Then those verses and choruses immediately were like just off the cuff. I was like, holy shit, this guy is absolutely insane. I can’t believe how much he’s got up in there that he can just whip out like that. Definitely one of the most impressive artists I’ve ever come across. That was four or five years ago I think we did this. To see how he’s orchestrated all his music videos, it’s al him, it’s all his ideas and he just brings this world to life that half the time I couldn’t even imagine.
One of the impressive achievements for yourself is playing shows across three continents in five days. How did you pull up after that?
I got to the last show, when I got on stage just playing for about thirty minutes and I heard that voice in my head you need to sleep. I was like, I know I’ve got one more hour to go to bed. Apart from that, I used to do that all the time. It was a little bit exhausting, but it was nothing out of the ordinary from the old days.
Interview By Rob Lyon