We recently had the pleasure of sitting down for an interview with one of electro's finest: James Egbert. Over the years, his accolades have grown to include conquering the Insomniac Discovery Project and being featured in an official recap video, remixing big industry names like Sam Smith and Porter Robinson, as well as recently releasing a full-length album that hit high on the iTunes dance charts; all with unwavering devotion to staying true to his sound. We caught up with James to talk about his life leading up to his music career, what it's like to celebrate a hard-earned album release, and speculations about what the next big sounds in EDM might be. Take a few moments to get an exclusive look inside the mind of the man himself.
Tell us about your college experience.
I ended up hopping around a lot. I started out at a junior college in Dallas, TX, and then I moved to Huntington Beach, CA when I was maybe a year and a half through. Then, after a semester I realized I was discouraged because my credits weren’t going as far. I had to take over some courses that I had already done.
Even after that, I kind of changed life plans and moved out to Denver, CO and started going to CU Denver, where even less credits transferred. At that point I got my first record deal and just stopped going altogether. I got through probably 4 years of school but technically had less than 2 years of credits. After the record deal it just didn’t make sense anymore. I was already in the field that I was trying to get into.
Would you say music was always something you wanted to do as a career?
Yeah, in high school I was kind of exploring the options of going into plastic surgery, and there was a stark difference in terms of my creative passion behind that. I just kind of woke up one day and realized that there was no way that I was going to be able to go through 7 years of school doing that and still be happy. Music was definitely the thing that was there for me all throughout high school as a very important part of my life. Once I got to that crucial decision-making moment, I realized I would be much happier with music.
Can you talk about when you got to the point where you had to make that final decision? How did you eventually come to terms with it and move forward?
It was definitely a very interesting decision because on one hand you have plastic surgery, which is a kind of more tried-and-true formula; you go to school for this many years--and this might just be completely inaccurate--but at the end of all that hard work you’re usually rewarded with a job somewhere. It’s a much more secure sort of plan for life. So I knew that the decision of going into music was going to be really difficult. There’s obviously the term “starving artist” for a reason.
My parents were very supportive of what I was doing, but they definitely expressed their concerns. It’s been really cool over the past few years to see how they’ve seen the music thing really come to life and they’ve seen the successes. They reminded me recently how I just kept telling them, “No I don’t want a plan B,” even though they were frustrated with that idea. They just kind of said “Ok, he’s getting to that point where he’s a grown adult. He’s going to know best for himself so we’ll let him do whatever he wants, and he can either enjoy the benefits or suffer the consequences, whichever way it goes.”
So now that you’ve reached a sort of success and you’re actually doing things out in the industry, how do they respond?
It’s really cool, I’ve had the opportunity to take them along to a couple of shows. One of my favorite memories was at this show in Idaho, a festival called Massv, that was probably roughly 2,000 people. I saw my mom and dad in the back and my dad was just fist pumping with the rest of the crowd. That was one of the coolest things! I inherited my passion for music from both of them and it’s been really cool to see just how proud they are of what I’m doing. Now, being able to look back and realize that they expressed their concerns, I see that they only did it out of love. Now here, on the other side, they also share in the joy of the moment of being able to do this.
I’m glad we got touch a little on your personal life, but let’s shift over to the music. You just released your album “The Void” and that charted on iTunes. How is that going?
Yeah! I think it hit 14 on the iTunes Dance charts. That was really cool. I think the most fulfilling aspect about that was just how we really did everything on our own. We didn’t have the support of a major label, and all those sort of things, so that was really just fueled by the fans. To see it up there with a lot of musicians, artists, and releases that were coming out on major labels with major budgets and stuff like that; it was really exciting to see it go that high and stick around there for as long as it did.
What was release day like? Did you guys have a party where you all kind of crowded around the laptop looking at the charts, or something?
Nik [James' manager] and I were emailing back a forth, I’m sure, screen caps of this and that. I feel like for me now, I try to treat them like any normal day just to keep my anxiety down. That could be a bad thing. I do remember specifically my wife came home with a bottle of champagne. She knew I was working on the album for so long and it was a really important day to me, and that was really special. She came home with that the day after the album released, and by then it was charting really well. It was just a celebratory moment to sort of take a step away from everything and look at it all. So it was cool!
[Nik recalled James’ brother sending him a picture drinking a beer at 10:00am for a release day]
No that was for my “In The Beginning” album! So, my brother and I have been very close for a very long time. At the time, I had my studio set up at his house, which was about 20 minutes away from where I’m at now. So I was going over there every day. Whenever my wife would leave for work in the morning--she works kind of a 9-to-5 job--I would just go over to my brother’s and like studio it up. That’s where I was living before I was married, so it was just easier to keep all my stuff over there.
I showed up the day that “In The Beginning” came out and he had tequila shots ready at like, literally, 8:30 in the morning. I think I had kind of celebrated a little bit the night before, and when I showed up I just remember that I was a little unhappy about it [laughing]. But that was definitely a very good memory.
In regards to the album, what are some highlights from the response that you’ve received?
The response has been kind of bi-polar. On one hand, it’s been terrific and just tremendous, but it hasn’t reached as far as I was kind of hoping. So, there’s this kind of dichotomy with it, but that’s been generally very good for me, artistically speaking. It has really reinforced the reasons that I’m making music. Whether I’m impacting 1,000 people in an incredibly positive way, or 100,000 people in a very mediocre way, I’d always go for the positive impact on people.
The album has gotten me a lot of respect with other producers. I recently had a number of my producer friends just hit me up out of the blue with compliments about the album or requests to remix it and stuff like that. It’s been really inspiring to see that. While there’s hundreds of thousands that it might have reached if it had been through a major label or something, it was still very well received by the people it was received by. For an artist, you couldn’t really hope or pray for a better result.
It’s been good fuel on both ends, even in the bi-polar sense; to try to get my music out to more people but also continue what I’m doing and not be discouraged by any sort of comparison to other artists, any sort of numbers, or anything like that. It’s been really inspiring to know that it’s just been reaching people in the right way, in the correct way, the way that any artist would want their music to reach people. It’s been a really good and fulfilling release in that respect.
I think it’s pretty evident, but sticking to your sound seems really important to you. That’s always high on your priority list?
Absolutely. I think that is priority number one. Being unique to who I am and understanding that I am a unique individual and I can’t really fit the same shoes as any other person. While I might gain inspiration from other artists, I’m not that person. Sticking to who I am and continuing to develop myself as an artist, as I develop who I am as a person, is a very important thing for me.
In regard to the current state of EDM, how do you feel that your music plays a role? How do you perceive it evolving, and do you take that into consideration when you make your music?
It’s definitely something that I consider, and probably something that I shy away from in order to pursue my own kind of originality. That’s a good thing and bad thing at times, but one of the things I’ve been really excited about is my new podcast that I just started. It has really just kind of forced me to go out and find more music.
What’s the name of the podcast?
Fuzion Radio! Named after our label, Fuzion Music. It’s been one of those things where I’ve been forced to go and dig deep and find new stuff, and it’s been really cool to discover what’s current, and what I feel is good. It’s been really inspiring to see that there are some artists who I have found that have less than 500 or less than 300 followers on any of their social media, but then I’m like, “This song is amazing!” Just to put things through that perspective again is a humbling thing in my own musical process.
Other people are making really amazing music, and they’re just making it for the sake of the music, you know? They’re not reaping the benefits of the scene, so to speak. I do feel like I approach the musical creation process from a very artistic standpoint, and it’s very easy for me to over-analyze the business side of things; but it is something that’s healthy to keep in mind. I am excited because I feel like electro is coming back around, so I can kind of stride forward in confidence.
To be a champion for the new sound?
Exactly. That’s what I’m trying to figure out. I’m really interested in what’s going to be going on next because I haven’t necessarily felt any sort of personal attachment to the sounds of the past few years. By that, I mean I just haven’t really felt any sort of movement in my soul regarding those sounds. There have been a few songs but just the global sound, as a whole, hasn’t been all that inspiring to me. I think that trying to figure out the next new sound that I can really identify myself with will be a big deal.
So, moving on, if you had to pick one dream vocalist to be featured on one of your tracks, who would it be?
Honestly, and I don’t mean this as a diss to any of the other vocalists I’ve worked with, but Taylr Renee. She’s just got just a very special and very unique voice. I think I’ve been very selective with all the vocalists that I’ve worked with, to the point where I could say the same about all of them. I could say that everyone I’ve worked with has had a very unique soul that has made them stand out among the rest of the crowd. I constantly remind myself of how I’m living the dream in terms of vocalists that I’ve worked with.
Even in terms of the remix content that I’ve done. Just being able to remix Sam Smith while he was kind of coming up, that was such a huge opportunity. There are not many other chances that a musician would get that are as good as that. Sam Smith is definitely, I would say, the best male vocalist of this era. He’s just like on top. All it took was one studio session with Taylr Renee though, and I was blown away. I worked with her on my track “Stardust” will Schoolboy, and I worked with her again on “Tear The Facade” from my latest album. She’s just amazing.
You got a big break with Insomniac’s Discovery Project. Do you still think that’s a relevant way for other people to get their foot in the door?
Honestly, I’ve been so personally involved with my own art that I have kind of withdrawn a bit from paying attention to what’s going on in the whole scene. So I don’t even know. It did help me a lot. It was one of those things where, for me, there was a sudden stamp of approval, and the stamp of approval from Insomniac is a pretty big stamp, I’d say. So I’m definitely really proud to see artists like Gladiator or Paris & Simo, who came out of that very first little alumni crowd and have gone on to do amazing things. I have the utmost respect for all of those guys. I know a lot of the other artists are still killing it too. So it was definitely a launching platform for them and their careers, and it was an incredibly positive thing for mine too.
Follow James Egbert to stay up to date with new releases, and check out his remix of Porter Robinson below!
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