Because of increased record industry input, the future of SoundCloud as a music discovery platform is cloudy. Before, an artist like Flume provided the blueprint for how the service can turn a producer with a recognizable sound into a rising star. With the release of his self-titled album in 2012, Flume went from an artist with significant buzz in his home country of Australia to rocking venues across the globe.
Over the last four years, the Sydney-based producer has worked with your pick of the critically-acclaimed litter, remixing everyone from Arcade Fire to Disclosure to Lorde to Sam Smith. As his intoxicating sound—adaptable to pop songwriting but capable of jarring weirdness, too—became the flavor that numerous copycat bedroom producers sought, Flume toured on the strength off his solo material and What So Not, his more festival-ready EDM project with fellow Australian Emoh Instead. (What So Not mantle has since become a solo project after Flume officially left in 2015 due to creative differences.)
With a clear head and an open schedule, Flume sat down to craft his second album, Skin. On an overcast day in Manhattan, Complex caught up with Flume to discuss the last four years of his career, how he got Allan Kingdom and Raekwon on the same track, and why he's okay with you hating his Skin.
I remember getting the promo of your self-titled project and being really into it; then, maybe six months later, everybody in the States starting flocking to it. Do you remember when people began taking notice of your music?
It was a snowball thing. I was doing music on SoundCloud [that] was getting some traction on some blogs. I was doing remixes and they were getting traction. And I was like, "Fuck, let's do a record," so I started working on a record and it just kept growing. [That's when] we started venturing outside of Australia to the States.
Was there a particular track that pushed you over the edge in terms of recognition?
"Sleepless" was the first thing that came out and really gained a lot of traction online. Really, I don't know if there was one particular song in the U.S. because I didn't get much radio play. I got radio play on KCRW, and that's about it. It was an online thing and I was doing big—not huge—but considering I wasn't getting played at all, the shows were solid. We just hit CMJ and SXSW and came over for little tours. It just grew and grew.
Did you notice at those festivals—
There was a lot of hype. It exploded in Australia first and then the rest of the world was coming on board and it was quite a process. And now, I do the same size shows in Australia as I do in America—that's really cool. It's also because the first record felt organic. We spent barely anything on marketing. This record, it's like the radio stations are starting to listen. "Oh, he's getting a lot of plays, maybe we should play his stuff." It's stepping into a new territory.
Is that something that you've always wanted? Have you chased that bigger fame?
It's just me doing my thing and if people dig it, it's just worked out. Of course, I want the project to grow. I could do another tour, make a record that's very similar, do similar venues. Or I could make a different record, do different venues, and grow. It's exciting to take it to new places, but it's never been my intent to be the biggest thing in the world. That's not what my drive is. I want to make what I want to make, and make a living off it. If they want to pay me more money for the shows, then fuck yeah, let's do it. That's a bonus, just a bonus.
Second album syndrome. I'm living proof; it's very real.
You'd been working with What So Not for a bit and then left to do your own thing. Was that a situation where you were trying to figure out how to start this project and didn't have the time because of touring and production obligations? Or was it creative differences?
It was both. It was difficult to give the project the time that it needed. What So Not was the original project. Flume was just a side thing.
I remember hearing about your solo work first.
I met Sonny [Skrillex] through my Flume material and I was like, "I've got this other stuff," and he was like, "Fuck, this is dope. I want to sign it." So it grew like that. But I didn't have the time. I was so stressed about getting Flume stuff done, and then Chris [Emoh Instead] would say, "We have to finish this thing." And I'd have to turn down this gig to do the EP. I was stretching myself too thin. So he's doing his own thing.
It's been a year or so since you were officially removed from that project. How long had you been working on Skin?
It's definitely not been quick. It was actually quite difficult. I struggled with the pressure of having the successful record after the first record. Second album syndrome. I'm living proof; it's very real.
It was like a psychological battle to be creative. I used to never feel pressure to be creative, it's always just been a fun thing. And then suddenly it's my job, and people are asking, "Where's the record?" And I'm saying, "Fuck, it has to be ripe." So it was a very up-and-down type of thing. I'd be writing lots of stuff, then I'd get this writer's block, then I'd get creative again. But I'm so glad it's done, because now I don't care as much. I feel like I've made a bit of a mark now, like, "Cool, I've survived the album." So for the third, I feel a bit more free, liberated, big weight off my shoulders.
On the first album, you had a collaboration with Ghostface and Autre Ne Veut. Not too many people try to connect those dots, and on Skin you have intriguing collabs like the Allan Kingdown and Raekwon record ("You Know"), where Raekwon's setting people on fire in the song. What's your approach to collaborations? Are you thinking about aligning those artists specifically, or do they come about more randomly?
I think it's a bit of both. On that particular track, it came about. I got together with Allan and he did that vocal and it was tight, but I felt like the track could use a rapper. I put feelers out and Raekwon said, "I'm for it." And it was like, "Holy fuck, Raekwon's up for this?" And so then he went in and did that. It was done remote.
Who were you able to get in the studio?
Most of the time, it was in the studio.
So you got Beck in the studio?
How did it go?
I went over to his house in L.A. It was mental.
Did he know what you'd been doing?
He knew the music but I don't think he was a crazy fan. I think he'd been tipped by someone to get me in, and when I found out I was going to Beck's house and I caught an Uber over and realized that I had these stupid pink board shorts on. I got to his house, walked in, and was thinking, "What am I wearing?" I was in fucking board shorts with my backpack and I'm at Beck's house. What am I doing?
Did he open the door in a polyester suit or something?
[Laughs.] He was super casual. He seemed normal. He didn't seem like someone who was famous as he is. It was chill, I played him a bunch of songs, like, "Hey this is what I'm working on." We went back and forth, sang a bunch of stuff. We laid down the main idea and then we separated to work on our own.
Do you go into these projects with a strong sense of who you want to work with?
With Little Dragon, we actually got into the studio in Sydney with the band as well. Yukimi's vocal—I've always wanted to get that on a track. She's got such a unique tone. That was like a tick off the bucket list thing. [Working] with AlunaGeorge again, that was really cool. I was a big fan of the first record—crazy, crazy melodies. She's got a really interesting take on pop.
Would you explain the title a bit?
To me, skin is alien and kind of weird; it weirds me out. It's strange, but it's also really intimate and personal; it's living, organic. That's how I want the music to sound, I want it to feel alien and strange, but also like it's got a heartbeat, like it's got a soul, like it's not made by a robot. Or, I want it to sound like it's made by a robot, but somehow it's got this human quality.
Skin is more of the feeling of the project rather than a specific theme.
For me, what ties it together—and it fucking jumps all over the place—it's not a consistent heartbeat. It's quite difficult to listen to, I think. I don't think people are going to put it on [at a] dinner party necessarily. That's what I wanted to do. I wanted to have things like "Wall Fuck" in there. That's just sound design. I went from "Say It" with Tove Lo to "Wall Fuck." That was fun for me. It's fun to write a sweet pop track, and then put "Wall Fuck" next to it; that's gonna freak kids out. I think a lot of people are going to hate it. And that's fine. That's awesome. I like to try to push it in that regard. I know it's not the craziest music—at all. But I feel like for a lot of the kids who are listening, it is going to be crazy.