The polymath sat down with Popdust on the eve of his new release
In 2019, Jackson Stell, otherwise known as Big Wild, experienced one of his biggest years ever.
But now that quarantine has consumed the world Stell can't help but feel some momentum was lost. He's never spent this long at home. "I miss the exhilaration of being in front of a lot of people," Stell told me from his home in Portland, Oregon. "But I'm trying to take this time to focus on things overlooked before, and think about where I wanna go with Big Wild."
Stell promised me that the band's latest single "Touch," which released unexpectedly today, is actually not a commentary on quarantine. A drastic shift away from the dance music of Big Wild's past, "Touch" is an infectious indie-pop song at its core. It was written long before the current pandemic and instead was meant as a loving tribute to his partner, whom he missed very much while on the road; Stell notes that "Touch" is not a love song. His codependency was torturous and all-consuming. "It's not a happy ending," Stell said. "It's just commiserating, and trying to dive deeper into that feeling and unlock it. I know a lot of people resonate with that feeling, though. It's part of the human condition in general."
Are you doing okay? How have you been keeping sane in quarantine?
"Well, I was really lucky in that I was able to do a full year of touring after the release of Superdream, so I'm just trying to focus on building this body of work. I'm trying to use this as a time to collect my thoughts after a few years of just on and off touring, and am just trying to make the most of it by focusing on this new project."
How has your creative process been different while in quarantine? I imagine it's easy to become obsessive over the little things since you got an endless amount of time to work.
Superdream was really about getting my toes wet as a singer/songwriter, so I do feel like now I have more of a foundation with that now. This album is kinda meant to be an evolution, and a means to push things further and make [Big Wild] more of a...actually that's about as far as I've gotten. I'm just trying to push myself more."
Big Wild - 'Touch' (Lyric Video) www.youtube.com
It sounds like this "evolution" happened pretty naturally.
"I'm just trying to have a really clear view of the sound and aesthetic of the whole album. I want it to be this really concise experience and feeling. I want people to hear it and have this feeling, and keep that feeling throughout the whole project."
Yeah, "Touch" is very tight and is definitely a bottled up feeling, and drastically different from any other Big Wild song. But over the years, it has sounded like you've always teetered towards Indie-pop. What's changed now? Why have you decided to fully embrace this new sound?
"It wasn't necessarily intentional, but I'm somebody who always likes to learn. I've always been curious, and am always trying to learn and try new things and dive deeper into expressing myself. Naturally, this has just created an 'evolution' over the span of my career. It's just knowing myself and knowing that I'm always just gonna be curious. 'How can I keep learning?' 'How can I further express myself?' [questions like that] are really what got me into vocals. It just felt like a tipping point.
Tell me more about expressing yourself through music. You have multiple creative outlets–you've mentioned in previous interviews how you love to surf–but what makes music the most therapeutic outlet for you?
"I really think sometimes it's a lot easier to say things in a song, and I really appreciate that about music. When something feels great in music, it really just hits such an innate and instinctual part of my brain that nothing else can hit it on an emotional level like that. That's just kept my attention."
Since music initiates such an emotional response from you, it must be hard not to let the current political and social climate seep into your work. Do you feel your recording process for this album has creatively changed since quarantine began?
"My creative process has changed a little bit. In music, a lot of us get inspiration from interacting with fans, or seeing a live act, or having a conversation with someone on the road. So now, I feel like a lot of us are gonna have to be a little bit more resourceful about how to come up with sounds that will connect with people.
So what are you finding inspiration from now in quarantine?
"I've really been trying to go back to the fundamentals. Sometimes when you get so many different suggestions and ideas things can get overlooked, so I find myself able to take a step back, look at what I have, and dive deeper into that.
It's true, the outside world can be so distracting. So since all that's on pause now y,ou must feel like you can really take time to get into the nitty gritty of your work.
"Exactly. I feel like I'm going a little further down the worm hole."
It sounds like mentally you're trying to just keep busy, I'm wondering if you've been able to find a silver lining in all this?
"For me, it's about coming out of this with a stronger sense of where I want to go next. But on a collective level...at this point, honestly, I'm not sure yet. It's not fair to say before this everything was perfect, but this has exposed a lot of issues in the world and magnified them a lot. Honestly, yeah, I'm not sure–but I believe that there is one."
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