INTERVIEW | HUMAN LIFE
Matt Wasley, aka Human Life, is leading the way in innovative dance music. During his early years, Matt grew his talents as a musician, performing live gigs throughout New England with his high school bands. As time progressed, he was introduced to the dance music scene. There his talents as an artist began to blossom, and the rest is history. Releasing tracks on well renowned labels such as Defected and Hot Creations, Wasley has cemented himself as a rising star within the scene, quickly earning respect with his releases such as ‘In It Together’ and ‘Falling’.
We recently got the opportunity to hop on the phone with Wasley, where he shared insight on his rise to fame and his life as an artist. Be sure to check out Human Life at Bang Bang on June 5th. Tickets can be found here.
How did growing up in Boston shape you as an artist? What lead you to dance music?
Boston is traditionally a fairly musical town, but more focused around rock music I would say. So, I got into playing music and when I was 12 years old, I joined my first band. I was in bands all through high school. For example when I was 14, I was in a band with 18 and 19 year olds. We would have gigs all over New England and we’d be playing, like, a 1am set on a Sunday night. I don’t know how I convinced my parents to let me do this, but I was going to these gigs and showing up to school the next day at 6:45am. It was really fun obviously! It gave me the music bug and let me see what the possibilities were.
Then I went to college at a school called Northeastern in Boston, and there I met a friend named Ali Ajami. who was the resident DJ at what, at the time, was the biggest electronic club in Boston: Avalon. And now there is Avalon LA, obviously, which most people are familiar with. At this time, there was only Avalon Boston – that was their club. And so, I went down to go see my buddy play, and it was kind of my first experience seeing electronic music live, a DJ playing in a big club like that, and I was just immediately hooked. I remember thinking “Wow, this is amazing”. Definitely a different feel to the rock scene I was used to.
Based on that feeling I started doing some Tech-House productions with him and another friend in Boston named Chris Micali. At that time I started out mostly doing vocals for the tracks, or playing some live instruments and just kind of barely beginning to scratch the surface in what was involved in making this type of music. I certainly didn’t know how to produce a track on my own, but it put me on the path and gave me the drive to want to learn and get involved in electronic music.
When did the ‘Human Life’ project begin, and what lead to its formation?
After I graduated college, my parents told me I had to get a job, so I got really wrapped up in that and didn’t end up doing much music for a few years; I was just focused on working. After a while though I was really feeling the need to make some music for fun. So I started messing around with two friends of mine, and we really had no expectations of anything coming out of it, but the first thing we came up with was a song called, ‘In It Together’. When we played that track for people they seemed to be really into it, which was unexpected because we thought it wasn’t too similar to what was happening at that time. And so, basically I would say, the fact that there was some interest in what we were doing just for fun really gave the expectation that this is could be worth focusing some time on.
You gained a lot of exposure following the late Frankie Knuckle’s remix of, ‘In it Together’, released on Defected. Pete Tong stated on-air that, “they don’t make ‘em like this anymore”. How did you and Frankie come in touch, and what did the release mean for your career at the time?
That song, ‘In It Together’, I originally released it myself on my own label, and did everything I could to get some exposure behind it. And then while I was on tour in London I met the guys who A&R Defected Records, and they said, “You know, we really love this song ‘In It Together’, is that on a major label or something?” And I said, “No I just put it out myself!” To my surprise they said they would really love to put it out on Defected and do some remixes. I thought, “Wow, that’s sounds great.” And little did I know they would come back and say Frankie knuckles wants to do it. It was the best news of my entire career… It was just unbelievable that he was interested. One of the coolest things regarding that, is Frankie did an interview for Red Bull Music Academy, that I watched of course, and he actually mentioned Human Life in there, and he talked about the whole concept of that project at that time, Directors Cut, where he said that he didn’t want to do big anthems, he wanted to help the careers of small artists who are just getting started. And I thought, what a cool way for him to be thinking about music like this so late in his career. Overall, having him rework my music was of course unbelievable. It’s something that will never be matched and I am infinitely thankful of that.
It’s quite an honor!
What lead you to relocate to Los Angeles?
I think that for people who don’t grow up here, it’s always the weather that initially draws you in. For me, I had some friends from my high school who were working in TV and movies and I would come out here and visit them. And I was like, “Man, I don’t want to leave, why would I want to go back to a snowstorm right now? Everyone is having fun; it’s summertime all year.” So that is what made me want to move out here, but music was always a huge part of it as well. I always said to myself, “I don’t want to move here just to make it in music”, because if you have that idea you are probably going to have a hard time. It’s more that it was a more convenient place, easier than Boston, to pursue music. I think it’s because there are a lot of like-minded artists for you to work with and associate with, whereas with some other places maybe, not everyone wants you to dream as big as here. In LA its perhaps more acceptable to have your little side-hustle or thing to accomplish.
What year did you make the move?
Around six years ago
And you and Anabel Englund met around three years ago?
Yeah, I had just moved into a really cool six-bedroom house with a bunch of other artists and there was a very creative vibe going on, lots of really cool people walked through the door, it was an amazing experience living there. I’m not even sure who came up with this, but it was called the Disco Mansion. It was even geotagged with that name on Facebook and sometimes people would be over and tag that they were here and then a whole crew would suddenly show up thinking we were having a party. One such instance we had a little get together and Anabel found her way there. Even back then she had a sort of special quality to her personality and she stood out. She was standing alone in my living room so I introduced myself and we started talking, and it turns out that she was only 18 years old! She somehow made her way to our party, and she didn’t know anybody who lived there! She came with a friend that she said she hasn’t talked to since… Which was kind of… Funny. I’d say it shows that it was perhaps meant to happen. We didn’t talk about music at all that day, but afterwards we became Facebook friends. A few weeks later she posted a YouTube clip of herself playing on the piano and singing, which I think is still up, and I thought, “this girl has got a very powerful voice, very unique”. So, I hit her up and said we should make some music together and she responded “I was hoping you were going to ask me that!”. So I invited her over to the studio and it became the beginning of us starting to work together. When we started, it was a very organic relationship. We didn’t have anything in mind… we didn’t rush it. In fact, it took a long time to finish off the tracks we started. And, I’m happy about that, because we kind of just did what seemed right. At that same time, every session I would give her a bunch of tracks to listen to as “homework”, which is how she was introduced to underground house music.
Your latest single with Anabel, ‘El Diablo’, features a duet – something not heard often within house music. I think it’s great! You’ve stated that you are very patient with your productions, as you believe that the passing of time helps drive innovation. What was your journey like in creating ‘El Diablo’?
Yeah, that one was a particularly long journey! And I should say, I do believe in not rushing music, but I also believe that the faster you get it done, the more productive it’s going to be, which is obviously better. It’s just that it came at a time where I was used to working with a studio collaborator, which I wasn’t anymore, and I was really doing everything myself. So it was more of just the fact that I would come up with one particular part and think, “Oh, this sounds good”, and then bring it to Anabel and we’d work on it and I’d be like, “Alright, I really want to think about what’s next because I need it to be as good as it possibly can.” And it also turned into, for that particular song, kind of doing everything live, pretty much everything on there is a live analog synth, where I would play the part live, and if it wasn’t good enough, I’d do it over again. And, you know, just doing one synth part might be a weeks worth of work, coming back to it a couple times, and just really not rushing it. It came together slowly but then all of the sudden I realized I didn’t think it needed anything else, it was finished! And it also took a while to come out, because, as you probably noticed, there were a lot of remixes and stuff. So, every time more things got added the timeline was extended. I always tell newer producer friends, “Don’t get frustrated, the more good stuff involved in the release, the longer it takes on the label side. I’ve found that to be very true – at least in my career.
Your last live performance together was during Coachella 2014. When can we expect another live performance?
Yeah, we are definitely working on it. Obviously, she has got so much going on that there are a lot of aspects to work around, but we’re trying! We hopefully have a couple really far-off international dates, some like Asia things. That may be the first thing we do together, but obviously I would love to do something in LA and London as well, so we’ll keep you posted on that.
How did you go about finding your current recording studio in Venice, California? What do you look for in a studio?
For the past maybe two years, I had my own little studio space in North Hollywood. It was nice, but it was a studio complex where there can be a band next to you, or any type of person. And there is a certain level of patience that you lose after a while, when a band starts cranking up their Marshall stacks while you’re trying to record vocals. So I was looking for a better option. It’s kind of a long story, but a friend of mine used to work at a company that had this building in Venice, and we were lucky enough in that when they decided to move out we had first dibs. So, it’s the kind of opportunity that never comes onto the market, and I was really, really happy to be able to get involved. What I was excited about is that there is just an amazing vibe within the space itself. A lot of artists have worked in there. Harvey works out of there, and the guy from Foster the People wrote his two albums in the same room that I’m working in. So, just having a very positive vibe helps a lot. Also, where you’re located, like my old studio, I liked it, but it was not in a great neighborhood. So, if you wanted to get some food, or something like that, it wasn’t very convenient. Where as now, I’m two blocks from the beach, a couple blocks from Abbot Kinney, you can take a break and walk around to get some inspiration, it really makes a difference! Especially when you are doing a long session.
You tweeted last month about skipping on Coachella in favor of a studio session with the Adana Twins. What is your relationship like with the duo?
We got connected a year ago through Exploited records, who were one of the partners for ‘El Diablo’, and we’ve been friends since then. At first we mostly connected over email and Facebook. When they were finally set to come on tour in the US, we were both excited to meet for the first time, and we hung out at their gig here in LA, and they said, “Hey, why don’t we come to the studio and work on something new”. We had already worked on a collaboration for Exploited, our track Bleeding. But that was more back and forth over email. So this was our first time being in the studio together. And, I have to say; it was a really fun time. I told them, “Your guys’ method, the way you work together, it’s really nice!” Because they push each other through the moments where maybe one gets tired, the other has an idea. And me being there I have a third set of ideas so we worked really quickly. I haven’t made too many tracks start to finish in two days and that was pretty much what we were able to do. So, I’m really excited about what we came up with, actually!
You’ve recently shared your studio with up-and-comers Matt Ossentjuk and Alexandar Nio. How did you all link up and what can we expect in the future?
Yes, I originally met Matt and Alex through Anabel. In fact, when Anabel and I first started making music together she would always say, “You really remind me of my friend Matt Ossentjuk, you guys should make music together!” It’s funny, because when I first met them, they were just getting started and wanting to make music and now very rapidly they have moved from that to doing some really great stuff. So it has been nice to, over the last couple of years, give them some feedback, and now graduate to working together on some ideas that I am really excited about! We have a couple things that are 70% done, and as soon as those are done, they will definitely be coming out, because they are some really great tunes. In fact, you can catch Matt supporting my set at Bang Bang on June 5th. We’ve got a few surprises in store so, who knows, you just might hear some of our new collabs if you come down!