From the hallowed halls of Harvard to the spinning decks of EDC Las Vegas, take a walk with Elephante today and learn why he'll never be that proverbial mastodon in the corner of any room. Rather, he's right where he wants to be: in front of adoring fans spinning songs and sharing his music with the world.
His most recent collaboration, "The In Between" featuring Anjulie, just dropped and AXS caught up with him to talk about his music and how things could have taken a very different path for this Harvard graduate. Why didn't it? Because he didn't want to blindly follow convention, and instead followed his heart and dreams.
There's something for everyone to learn here.
Q. You're a Harvard-educated DJ who just had a huge set at Beyond Wonderland and whose next stop is EDC Las Vegas. What was it like going to Harvard, exploring music (with your minor) and growing as a producer and artist?
Elephante: Harvard was an interesting experience because there’s obviously a lot of opportunities there, but not a ton when it came to making music, so I really had to carve out my own path. I managed the campus studio, but I was going into Boston to intern at another studio, and playing open mics in the city and spending all my free time on music. Being a musician professionally was still a pipe dream, and it's not like there was any career advice or guidance on how to make it happen, so I was just doing all that sh*t because I loved it.
In a way, not having a set path actually helped because I had to just figure it all out myself and go on my own musical journey. But at the end of the day, everyone expected that you just graduate and go get a job.
Q. Indeed, you got that job with one of the most well-known consultancy companies in Los Angeles. What made you realize this was not the path you wanted to follow?
E. There wasn’t really one moment, it was death by a thousand cuts. I always knew deep down that I wanted to make music. But growing up as a young Asian boy, the idea that you could be a musician just wasn’t a thing. Not even in the realm of possibility. So my time [working a corporate job] was just a process of getting over my fear and knowing that I’d never forgive myself if I didn’t give music a shot.
Q. Your minor at Harvard was in music. Were you also exploring EDM while in school?
E. The music classes I took were all pretty academic - some theory and history and whatnot, but nothing super practical. I did take a jazz guitar performance class which was pretty sweet, just [because] it was an excuse to play more guitar.
I didn’t start DJing until after I graduated - I never touched a turntable in college. I was trying to do the band thing. I was a singer-songwriter growing up (I wanted to be John Mayer) - I got into EDM late.
I liked a lot of indie electronic stuff like Miike Snow and Passion Pit, but my head exploded when I heard Scary Monsters by Skrillex. Like, how does one even make all those noises, and how does it still feel musical?! The music I started writing was just guitar and singing, so EDM opened up a universe of literally any sound that has ever existed or never existed before, so I was like a kid in a candy store trying to learn it all.
Q. Now that your head has exploded with the likes of Skrillex, Miike Snow and Passion Pit, where does your own sound fit into the spectrum of EDM and how has your background as a singer/songwriter helped to shape what you are currently doing?
E. I make melodic, emotional dance music with an edge. To me, EDM isn't a genre, it's a vocabulary of sounds, it's a style of sounds that lets people express themselves. To me, the song is the most important part - you should be able to play it on a piano or guitar and strip away all the sounds, and it should still feel good - the electronic part just elevates that.
Q. A great example of this is your collaboration with Brandyn Burnette on your mix of "Plans." Take us through this song and how it all came about.
E. "Plans" is a super special song to me. Brandyn is an unbelievably gifted artist and it was magic making that song. We got in the studio and I wasn’t expecting anything (we had only met on twitter), and he played me this demo he had written, and I was like holy sh*t!
We recorded it in my apartment and basically did the whole thing in one take, and it’s funny because my EP was done except for that song. I was like, f*ck it, I’m producing this one for me, assuming that [it] was going be a deep album cut, and it ended up being one of the biggest songs on the EP. [It's] one of the few songs where it all just fell together and I knew exactly what I wanted to do with it.
Q. You just finished playing Beyond Wonderland and you're heading to EDC Las Vegas next month (May 18-20). How do you go about preparing a set for BW or let's say, EDC? What do you take into consideration, how do you make adjustments and how fluid are you during the live set itself? What can we expect from you at this year's EDC?
E. Honestly, the prep is usually done on the car ride to the show [laughs]. I just try to keep in mind the kind of crowd I’m expecting, and of course what new music I’m excited to play. I usually have a game plan for my sets, but you always gotta be ready to change it based on what you’re feeling from the crowd. Beyond Wonderland was one of the craziest shows I’ve ever played, and I’m sure EDC will be even more insane.
I’m gonna be debuting a ton of new music and have some surprises for everyone!
Certainly, this is one Elephante that everyone will like in the room with them at EDC Las Vegas. Make sure to check out his set on Day 3 at the circuitGROUNDS stage starting at 7 p.m. In the meanwhile, take a listen to his new single, "The In Between" featuring Anjulie: