Ghastly Talks OWSLA, Metal Influences, and Not Getting Comfortable

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The producer Ghastly, who has released singles through OWSLA, Mad Decent, and Dim Mak, got his start in a metal band, and he showed those roots several times during his rumbling, forceful set at Elements Festival on Saturday in Red Hook, Brooklyn. An hour later, as Gramatik boomed from the Earth Stage, Ghastly told Billboard Dance about a life-changing encounter with hardstyle and his collaborations with Mija and Jauz

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How did you first discover electronic music?

Music grabbed me at a very young age. I think I was 12 when I discovered music that wasn't popular — Megadeath and shit like that. It wasn't shit that you heard commonly. I always had an affinity for abstract sounds.

As far as creating music with the intention of making people dance, I think that came after my metal band. I had to quit it because things just weren't going kosher. Everyone has to work the same amount and want the same goal just as much as each other in a band. If anyone slacks off, the pillar falls over. That was happening way too consistently. I kept on putting money into it and putting my heart into it, dragging people like, "yo, come on, we can get to the next level." We were doing really good for a little bit, but it all came crashing down right around the time everyone got comfortable. When you get comfortable as an artist, you stop growing. And as a person too — no matter what you are or what you do, as soon as you get comfortable, you stop growing. That's not gonna get anyone anywhere any time soon.

I digress: after the metal band, I wanted to still do music. It was in my heart; I couldn't not [do it]. I started discovering electronic music around 2008, hearing DJs play shit that wasn't "Baby Got Back" or "YMCA." I'm like, what the fuck? Hardstyle was the first thing I heard, and it really opened my mind: you can go anywhere with music. I opened up a program called Reason, and I started there. One day I discovered Ableton when I was living in L.A. I packed up everything from the goat farm [Ghastly grew up in Arizona on a goat farm], put everything in a van, moved out to the beach, completely started from scratch. I knew if I was going to make the music happen, I had to be where it was happening. I slowly started to hone my skills, and I was working tons of day jobs. I got fired from every day job — every day job I've ever had, I got fired. If I didn't get fired, I quit before they could fire me. 

Slowly but surely, I started finding my sound — and meeting people that were just as passionate about this sound as I am, which was really hard to find. In the beginning, I was the friend who wanted to be a DJ. "Oh, yeah, he's trying to be an EDM guy." Yeah, that's what I'm out here for — don't fucking bash on it. Do your thing, I'll do my thing. 

I was working for this artist known as Static Revenger, and I was helping him write sounds. One day he reaches out like, I want to introduce you to my friend Sullivan King, who went to Icon Collective [a school for music production]. I personally never attended Icon Collective as a student, but because of that friendship that I made, for the first time in my entire career of trying to be a DJ, I was surrounded by people who wanted the exact same thing. It changed everything. That was around the time I wrote "Crank It" with Mija. Things started happening all over the place. I'm so thankful — not just to be a part of it, but to be a part of it with all of my friends. 

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How did you make your way to OWSLA?

That took a very short amount of time, and then a really long amount of time. My very first song I ever wrote as Ghastly went out on an OWSLA compilation. I was like, I fucking did it! First shot out of the dark, I'm good to go. I was riding that, starting celebrating, partying all the time, with no real means to prove it. You make a big noise, and it trickles out. It started trickling out, so I'm like, shit, I've got to write a banger-ass EP. So I write one for OWSLA that was not from me anymore. They're like, it's cool, but that's not what we liked about your first song, which was very funky kind of house music — it would be considered bass house if it was released these days. Everything was gone all of a sudden. 

I moved back to the goat farm, and had to start over. I saved up money, I said, "this time, I'm gonna go out there, I'm not gonna party all the time, and I'm not gonna hang out with these stupid actors and models who 'know people.'" I came out, got a day job, started writing music, and did nothing else. 

I used to watch Mija DJ at warehouse raves back in Arizona. She wasn't called Mija yet. They would blow my mind. We met here and there, and when she started wanting to really be serious, I was like, "let's work together." Then she did that set with Skrillex [a back to back set at Bonnaroo in 2014], so he was keen on signing her. Mija and I wrote "Crank It," and I wasn't even done with it — halfway done — and she takes the file and sends it to Sonny. He's like, "this is tight, let me sign it." That was my reigniting back in to OWSLA. They're like, "there you are! Where have you been?"

OWSLA is magnetized to good people, and good people are magnetized to OWSLA. I finally found myself calling them fam. 

How do you feel like your sound has changed since that first OWSLA track?

More than anything else, the mix-downs are cleaner. Before, I didn't even know what I was doing. My shit has more aggressive energies now. I have a style apparently. I don't hear it, I just do it, but everyone always tells me they can tell when it's my song. 

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How did "Ghosts N Sharks" come together with Jauz?

We were hanging out at Camp Bisco, and he was like, "we should make a song that sounds like [deadmau5's] 'Ghosts N Stuff,' but we'll call it 'Ghosts N Sharks.'" I'm like, "that's already a great idea!: More than anything else, it was a tip of the hat to Deadmau5. It wasn't supposed to be a bash in any way. We put a lot of love into that song. 

Is it an easy creative process with you and Jauz?

Perfect work-flow. I'll be straight-up: Jauz is a very hands-on person. I'll be working on something, he'll be like, "let me see that," and just take it. I'll be like, "alright man, if you have an idea, let it out." It's cool, because he does good shit. Sometimes I'll get real — "no, I have to get this idea out."

When you were making that initial move from metal to electronic, did you see the sounds as similar?

There's a huge connection between those two worlds. Dubstep is half-time — boom, cha, boom, cha — with metal it's just, dum-da-da-da-da, dum-da-da-da-da: it's just filling up the gaps between each hit, creating this really aggressive energy. It's the same shit, bro. The exact same thing, just different instruments. 

You mixed several metal-leaning songs into your set.

I have to pay homage to where I came from. Tonight I played Papa Roach. It's good forever. We all know that song. I have to pay homage to what got me inspired and creative enough to let me get where I am. That's crucial. I would hate to just be a product of DJing, instead of a DJ in my own right.