This past beautiful Saturday afternoon I had the pleasure of sitting down with Justin Elwin of HWLS to discuss their recent release Gamma, future projects, and the beginning of his tour with Flume. HWLS started off as a collaboration project between Justin and Ta-ku. They released an acclaimed self-titled EP in 2014, along with dropping mixes on BBC Radio 1’s Diplo & Friends and Triple J’s Nina Las Vegas. The guys have also made waves with their remixes of Tokimonsta and Hermitude, which have collectively garnered more than a million plays on Soundcloud. Check out the interview below.
For those who don’t know, can you tell us a little bit about yourself and how you first got into music?
I’m from Perth, Western Australia and I started off making music 15 years ago when I was young and I’ve been doing it ever since. HWLS is an incarnation of mine and Reggie’s (aka Ta-ku) friendship and this is kind of our outlet for doing bass music and exploring different aspects of the club scene that we like. I’ve been DJ’ing for years so I’m always interested in what’s going on in the scene.
So you started off as a DJ first?
No I was a producer first and also a drummer but got into shortly DJing after that. I used to play guitar when I was really young and it was weird because I started off left handed but as I got older it felt more natural to play with my right hand but shortly after I stopped and picked up playing drums. Later on I started making beats on programs like Acid Pro and Fruity Loops.
Can you explain to us how you and Taku work together on HWLS?
It has always been a studio project between Reggie and I where we work pretty independently of each other. This project has really evolved around the internet because even though Taku and I both live in the same city we’re both very busy which makes it difficult to meet up and get studio time in.
How long has HWLS been around for and how have you seen the project develop over this time?
We’ve been doing HWLS for around 2 years now. The biggest thing is the whole boom in EDM, which we try to not attach ourselves to too much. We want to make sure that the music we make represents us as best as it can in that sphere and that we have something that we can relate to people with but is not necessarily the most commercial thing out there. This tour with Flume has also helped us in that it’s a great introduction for the project to people in the U.S. It’s also great to be playing all these arena shows with such awesome crowds.
Can you explain the collaborative process between you and Taku?
It mainly involves gathering sounds and making demos that we send back and forth. The process behind HWLS is still the same way that we work with everything in that we just make what feels right so we end up making heaps of different things. Some of it ends up being for the Taku project or on other projects for people but if we make something that feels like it should be on the HWLS project then we save it for that. Taku and I inspire each other a lot so it really is a yin and yang style relationship.
Going on tour can be a huge cultural shock. What has been the biggest surprise to you so far while on tour?
Honestly right now it’s the weather because it’s freezing back home but really nice everywhere else that we go. I recently went with Reggie for his tour just to hang out and you can just tell that the weather brought a certain vibe to the people because everyone was out enjoying themselves. Besides that, I generally have not found anything to be shocking because I enjoy experiencing other cultures. It’s great to be out getting inspired by different things and getting to work on music in these new places.
Two months back you were featured on the adidas “Songs From Scratch” series with Ty Dolla $ign. Can you describe to us your experiences taking part in that?
Adidas contacted us to see if we were interested in making some music for the series so we started working on some tracks for it. Ty Dolla $ign got involved through Reggie because Ty has been a fan of Reggie’s work for a few years now so that relationship just grew between them organically. We heard he was going to be in town so we hit him up to come out to the studio, showed him some tracks , recorded his vocals and came up with what became the HWLS edition of “Songs From Scratch”.
So do you enjoy collaborative work or do you prefer to work on your own?
I love to work with other people and that’s half the reason that Reggie and I even started this project. We enjoy working with friends of ours and people that inspire us because having people to work with is good for keeping things going. It’s good because there is always an abundance of fresh ideas when working with others but what is most important to us about collaborating is the friendships that come out of it. Reggie and I are very relationship driven since the creative process flows smoother when we are working with someone that we know on a personal level. It’s doesn’t feel like what I’m doing is work when I am creating with my friends and I never want it to feel like work.
My personal favorite off the HWLS EP was 003. Can you tell us what your favorite track off the EP is and why?
It’d have to be 004 because it came together really quickly and Noah is just a really lovely guy. When I heard it for the first time while I was arranging it it just felt good and I feel like people could really relate to it and experience how it made me feel. That’s pretty much it.
Tell us the story behind your latest release Gamma with Shock One?
Kyle (ShockOne) from back home has been a close friend of mine for 10 years now and we’ve always wanted to work on something together but he works in the drum n bass/dubstep world while we’re in this hip hop/beats world so up until now we’ve been both doing our own things. It was cool to finally work together because we were doing something that was experimental for him and something that was different for me and Gamma was where we found our common ground. It was fun to make which was the point of the song since we want people to just enjoy the music and have fun rather than think about it too much.
Any news on upcoming releases for HWLS?
We have an EP that should be coming out pretty soon. The EP will be title “EP 2” to stay consistent with the names that we have put out so far and I feel that people will begin to realize where we are headed with this once they see the next EP. We’re done with all of the tracks we are just waiting for a couple of the features to finish up their parts and we’ll be ready to come out with an exact release date. We’re hoping to put it out within the next month.
Can you tell us about the concept of naming your songs and project with simple titles?
The first EP was instrumental based so we thought that there was no real point in putting a name to it since we wanted people to just listen to it and take it for what it is. We don’t want people interpreting the music differently because of some name that we attached to it because that is not what we are trying to do. We live in a world where people think too much about everything rather than taking things for what they’re worth and we want to emphasize the importance of the latter. That plays a huge role in the branding of this project along with the whole black and white aspect of it which symbolizes how the world is for a lot of people. As I see the project grow maybe we’ll see a little more color coming to it but it all depends on where the project goes.
What do you think about the massive amount of new music coming out these days?
I love listening to new music and seeing what’s out there so I think it’s great. The internet age is amazing with all these different tools at our disposal. Soundcloud is my main source for new music so I enjoy digging through all the different tracks that are coming out every day. I came from a record digging background so I find Soundcloud to be great since I get to essentially dig through all the music on there and can expect to always find some good stuff.
What kind of music do you personally enjoy listening to?
Well when I’m on the road I like to listen to a lot of older music like Bill Evans and all that old jazz stuff that can help me relax while I’m traveling. Most recently I’ve been listening to producers like pomrad, Sam Gellaitry, that sort of stuff. I’m also into a lot of hip hop so stuff like Schoolboy Q and Vince Staples.
Where do you draw your inspiration from mainly for your music?
Relationships. It’s not necessarily the people that I listen to it’s more how we feel and the people that I’m around. I don’t necessarily listen to someone and go “Oh I need to make something like that”. The main thing for me is that music is a release mechanism for me because it’s more therapeutic than anything else since it helps me get whatever is in my head out and onto the computer and turning that into some sort of soundscape. Also, my brother has always been a huge inspiration for me because he was always showing me the coolest stuff from a young age. He’s a bit older than me so when I was younger he would be introducing me to all this music that wasn’t complete sh*t and also is the one who put me onto using Ableton to begin making music of my own. I think it’s really important to surround yourself with people who can have a positive influence on you and open your mind up to different perspectives and my brother has always been that for me.
Outside of the music world what type of art are you into?
If anything it would be food. I love cooking and Italian food is probably my favorite type of food to create. I haven’t been to Italy but I can make some pretty good pastas from scratch. I would love to go over there some day and learn more about how they cook. Outside of cooking I really enjoy eating Japanese food since there is such a wide spectrum of foods that you can eat. I love the food truck scene out here especially the taco trucks, those are the spots to get the best Mexican food.
What is your opinion on the current trends in electronic music?
I think that there are people out there who are just playing the game and then there are people out there who are pushing the game along with a mix of everything in between. There’s still so many genre-specific things these days but whats interesting about electronic music is that it encapsulates an entire spectrum of things. I think that’s why a lot of people are drawn to it because it is so open to different types of sounds and you can pretty much make whatever the hell that you want. Being a producer you’re a one man band essentially so there aren’t any limits to what you can do.
How do you go about your sets? Are you doing a live performance or are you DJing?
I DJ which I find to be one of the funny things about this day and age with the rise of live electronic sets. I come from a turntablist background so that makes my world moving forward easier and a lot more fun. DJing as an art has been getting lost more recently with the whole digital age and people pass it off as this simple thing but I find that it is really up to the person at the decks to either make their sets interesting and creative or just stand there with their hands in the air the entire time. People always ask me if I’m going to do a live set and I just tell them that I feel like I’m doing more of a live set when I’m DJing as opposed to playing a bunch of pre-recorded tracks and and hitting a drum pad a couple times. If I ever do end up creating a live set I wouldn’t use a computer and it would come down to having a lot of sample based hardware, synths, and stuff like that.
Who are some of your favorite DJs out there that you feel portray the art form properly?
Growing up I was really into A-trak and Craze because those guys are always doing something crazy and have been through all the different phases of the DJ world. From over here I like Low End Theory’s D-Styles and Gaslamp Killer. I appreciate those guys because they are pushing the boundaries of sound while also keeping the art form alive. Zeke Beats is also a really talented DJ I’ve been friends with him for ages and that guy works so hard at his craft. When we were growing up we would have cut sessions on the weekend and we show some new move to Zeke and he’d come back next weekend having mastered that move and then some. He just kept getting better and better and what’s crazy is that he applies himself the same way to his productions and it really shows in his music. I’m so happy to see everything that he has been doing now and that he is finally getting the recognition that he has been working for.
Buy tickets for the Flume/HWLS tour here.