Whethan: Creating From A Place Of Pure Magic

The DJ/producer phenom chats about meeting Skrillex for the first time, his debut album “Fantasy”, and being an any-strainer.
Whethan: Creating From A Place Of Pure Magic
Courtesy of Atlantic Records

Temperatures in Los Angeles are in rapid decline when Ethan Snorek—better known as Whethan—and I connect by phone. The colder temps have no impact on the electronic music DJ, who’s coming off the hot release of his debut album, “Fantasy,” and with plans to ride that heat wave into 2021, fans can expect new music to drop at the top of the year. Over the course of our conversation, Ethan discusses breaking into the music industry as a teen, his creative inspirations, and his love for all kinds of cannabis.

When you were twelve, what “clicked” for you when you first started making beats?

Ethan Snorek: Right around the time I was getting into hip hop I was also listening to Daft Punk and Skrillex. All of the sounds kind meshed together, and I tried to get my hands on anything I could mess around with musically. I think beats are just what shined.

And was beat making immediately your life’s purpose, or was it initially more of a hobby?

Ethan Snorek: It was definitely a hobby at first, something I just really enjoyed—and still enjoy—doing. Looking back, I realize I also saw it as a sort of escape. No matter where I was, I could power up my laptop and escape into my headphones and be in my own world creating whatever I wanted. I was having so much fun doing it and just felt this urge. As a kid, I always felt pretty creative, getting into anything I could “get out” with my mind. Really any kind of expression. Beats were the thing I just couldn’t put down.

Was there a defining first “win” that cemented your conviction to pursue music as a career?

Ethan Snorek: It was a mixture of two different moments. The first was when I was still living in Chicago with my parents. I had a room/studio in the basement where I was pretty isolated. Most of my time was spent messing around on my laptop and I hadn’t really ventured out to many concerts or music festivals. One day, I saw a video on Twitter that a girl had posted at Hard Summer—a huge music festival—of a remix I’d put out on SoundCloud. These DJs Zeds Dead were playing my remix on the mainstage, and it kind of just blew my mind. I didn’t have good speakers in my room at the time and I didn’t really know what a big sound system would even sound like, so it was crazy to see a video with a huge crowd going nuts and flames shooting up while my remix was playing. I thought, “Maybe I can do this.” It was the moment where I realized [a music career] was entirely possible. It made it all real.

Not too long after that, the second moment happened during my first trip to Los Angeles. I randomly ended up at one of Skrillex’s studio/houses, and he had put my same remix on one of his playlists. We ended up meeting at this party, which was a surreal experience, because Skrillex was one of the first people who inspired me to make my own music. Meeting him and having him be the chillest dude, while also telling me “I love what you’re doing” put me in a place where I was like, “Wow, I can do this.” It was crazy. I was still in high school and this was during the weekend. Literally the next Monday or Tuesday I was back in class. I remember looking around at the other kids in study hall and I knew I had to go make music.

One moment you’re meeting one of your creative inspirations, the next you’re doing homework. Those are two very different worlds.

Ethan Snorek: It was weird to balance it at first. Really only during my junior and senior years. I did well in school so I was never flunking out or anything, but it reaffirmed for me the path I should be pursuing. I’d done some small touring, but then got picked up to open for The Chain Smokers on one of their big arena tours. I missed a lot of my senior year and it was a weird balance because everything was moving so quickly. There were expectations to go to college, but that was never my plan. 

I always felt I would gravitate towards Los Angeles. There was always this connection to California and the west coast. When I was younger, I skateboarded a lot, and I think skateboarding was a big thing that got me into music. A lot of the skate videos and content I would watch also had great music attached to them, so aside from my parents, that’s how I first was exposed to music.

My parents had me at a super young age, when they were 20—so they’re like 40 right now— and they’re very modern music listeners. My mom listened to a lot of alternative and my dad was heavy into hip hop, so I’m an accumulation of both of those heads.

You’re quoted as saying “Imagination is fundamental to your music.” Was this born out of your early experimentation or something you realized later on?

Ethan Snorek: I love creating and trying to find that place of pure magic, that place where the magic flows. I really try to make stuff that captures the emotion of the moment and infuse it into whatever piece of art I’m working on. That was always the vibe since I was a kid, creating from that magic place and not just going through the motions.

So essentially being true to whatever moment you’re in and bringing that energy into your music.

Ethan Snorek: And without making it sound like everything else.

Does cannabis play a role in that creation process?

Ethan Snorek: I’m a huge fan of cannabis. Smoking a little bit hits me with a whole new wave of crazy ideas. I’m definitely more of an Indica smoker and I’m always in the studio smoking up on that heavy spliff life. I like to be on the more super-chilled side, but at the end of the day, I’m down with all strains. I’m an any-strainer.

Touring is what first got me into weed. Just being on the road and going to shows. But when weed entered the studio, that took things to another level. Me and Oliver Tree are always smoking up at the house.

Oliver mentioned weed is like his coffee.

Ethan Snorek: It’s so true. We’re on a very similar wavelength in that sense. He might be able to outsmoke me, but barely. I’d put up a fight. That would actually be a funny video.

Speaking of videos, Oliver is very hands on with regard to each part of the music creation process. The songwriting, recording, shooting the video, everything. Would you say you’re the same way?

Ethan Snorek: I try to be as hands on as possible. When it comes to the music that I put out under my name, I’m very hands on with it. When it comes to production, a lot of the vocals and artists I work with for features—I can’t say I’m in the room every time they’ve recorded those songs. Some of them have demos that were written over just a guitar or they’re rough ideas that they’ll send over to me and I’ll go crazy with them. But for the production on my stuff, I’m always the most hands on with it.

For every video I’ve put out under my project, I was a part of writing the idea and putting all the pieces together. I was a little less hands on at the beginning of my career because I was still trying to figure out my vision, which is still an evolving process. Speaking to Oliver specifically, it’s amazing to work with an artist like that because they know what they want.

And it sounds like you too, as a producer, know what you want.

Ethan Snorek: Even when we’re working on the same song, we’ll have two completely different ideas in our heads of where the song is going or what we want to do. Then we meet somewhere in the middle, or sway a bit in one direction. That’s always the fun of the collaboration process.

Those collaborations must also not feel like work, like you’re just creating with your friend or by yourself as a kid. It’s the creation process in its purest form.

Ethan Snorek: It is. And that’s what I was saying is “the magic place.” You can get there from being in such a chill, relaxed flow state. It doesn’t feel like work, you’re just doing what you know how to do.

I always tend to lean towards creating something for the sake of creating, rather than creating something with an “end goal” in mind. I like to approach every song in its own individual way. I hate doing the same thing twice, so I’m always trying to expand what I can do and what I can bring to the table.

How do you balance maintaining your creative integrity with the business realities of the music industry?

Ethan Snorek: In today’s age, you really have no idea what song could go number one. Everything sounds so different. For me as a producer, I get to work on other artists’ projects and I get to let out some of my other emotions and other feelings with their stuff. If they’re going for a chart-topping thing, I might have to put that hat on in that room. But when I’m working on the Whethan project, while I have [the chart-topping] hat on a little bit, it’s more me creating for myself and my soul and wanting to make something that genuinely makes me happy. I also want to make something that I can play out at my shows, which I think plays a big role in my creative process. I want to make songs that get people to dance and get people jumping and singing along.

For your new album “Fantasy,” is there anything you were trying to put out through the music beyond getting people dancing and having a good time?

Ethan Snorek: I don’t think there was anything deeper outside of wanting to make a record that you could simply put on and enjoy. Ultimately for this album, I went back to my roots listening to some of my favorite electronic crossovers: Empire of The Sun, Grouplove, and artists of that nature. I was also really inspired by guitars. I feel like most of the music I’d put out never really had guitars in it and was more club or synth driven. This album definitely still has a ton of synth, but I kind of stripped it back and added a bit more guitar, trying to fuse it all together. I’m really a nerd about the sonics—the ways that music hits—and I definitely wanted this record to hit a little differently. I love keeping people on their toes.

Getting on a spaceship is kind of the vibe for this album, with all the visual aesthetics, the spacesuit – it’s an otherworldly experience.

Follow @whethan and check out his debut album “Fantasy” now available everywhere

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