How Australian DJ What So Not Tapped Toto, Skrillex & More For His Debut Album

What So Not
Luke Eblen 

What So Not

Early last year, Australian beatsmith What So Not, born Chris “Emoh” Emerson, flew to Central America for his first vacation in six years. But while staying in a cabin in the Nicaraguan jungle, where his friends from Neon Gold Records were hosting a camping ground for musicians, he ended up piecing together his debut album -- and most collaborative effort yet.

Not All the Beautiful Things, named for the everyday "incredible things we don't pay attention to," features 15 different acts from Toto to Michael Christmas on an eclectic array of hip-hop, dance and rock-tinged melodies. “Everything came from real stories,” he says of the release, out today (March 9), and details each track here.

1. “Warlord” (feat. SLUMBERJACK)

“It was my first time going back [to Australia] in a while, and I was sitting on my balcony in the rain. I captured that moment in the song -- I even recorded some cockatoos. Then, Red Bull [Records] brought me out to New Zealand for a few weeks, and the drift car races were in town. This specific rotary engine makes this insane sound. We sampled the cars and I showed that to the SLUMBERJACK guys."

2. “Be Ok Again” (feat. Daniel Johns)

“[Daniel Johns] is so brilliant; he can play guitar, he can sing, play piano. But he really loves to get into a character role. I would write fables or short stories about every single song. He’d just dive into that role and that character and we had a lot of fun, jousting about how weird we can get the character to be, how peculiar we can make the melody.”

3. “Beautiful” (feat. Winona Oak)

“I met Winona on the Nicaragua camp, and we kept riffing off ideas about 'beautiful pain.' Because I hadn't made a house song in so long, I went around to Chris Lake’s house. ‘Acrobat’ was one of my favorite songs ever, years back. He was showing me how to do a few things I had forgotten.”

4. “Stuck In Orbit” (feat. BUOY)

“I was at home in Australia, listening to the local community radio station, and heard this voice. I Shazam’d it, went onto her SoundCloud, and emailed her, ‘Do you want to work on some music together?’ It turned out it was BUOY. I found out that she lives half an hour away from where my parents are in [Sydney], so we met up and jammed."

5. What So Not & James Earl - “Demons” (feat. Rome Fortune & Tommy Swisher)

“This was a totally different genre than my [usual] body of work. Tommy and Rome come in on the vocals, which is the only signifying thing that makes it a rap song. It flows quite well from one [style] to the other, because of the textures and tones he used. The voice that comes in is exciting and refreshing, rather than jarring and confronting.”

6. What So Not & Skrillex - “Goh” (feat. KLP)

“‘Goh’ is an old demo that [Skrillex and I] never got together and finished until now. It linked on radio at some point, but never officially came out. Any time we put out songs, [fans were] like, ‘Okay, but where’s "Goh"?’ My [nickname] is Emoh, so I added the ‘H’ to the title, so there’s a little bit of me in it.”

7. What So Not & Toto - “We Keep On Running”

“I used to play Toto’s 'Africa' in my shows, and apparently from playing it at all these festivals, [the song] had come back into the charts on iTunes. The Toto guys thought it was quite funny. It was Steve Lukather’s son Trevor who suggested to his dad that we do the session. [Toto] sent me a three-page, all-capitals email when I first sent the final demo -- they were amped."

8. What So Not & San Holo - “If You Only Knew” (feat. Daniel Johns)

“[San] had a vocal ad-lib of Anna Lunoe that he pitched up. I wanted to add something real or live to it, and he was like, ‘well, I used to play guitar.’ At that point, he had never played guitar on a dance music record before. He grabbed the acoustic guitar and started plucking away. Now, San actually tours with his guitar, and has guitar as part of his whole live show.”

9. “Monsters” (feat. Michael Christmas & tobi lou)

“I met Michael Christmas on my bus tour [in 2016]. That whole tour, the only beats we made were rap beats. ‘Monsters’ was one of the ideas that I left Michael with when we parted ways. It didn't need any revision -- he just killed it.”

10. What So Not & Dyro - “Bottom End”

“I sampled this Thom Yorke record, and that’s the flute sound at the start. [Dyro and I] had to get Thom Yorke to sign off on this song to use it in the album. It was like, a 95 percent probability that it would be a ‘no.’ But to my surprise, it came across his desk, and he cleared it -- I don’t know, maybe even liked it. I was so grateful."

11. What So Not - “Same Mistakes” (feat. Daniel Johns)

“I had been up since 4:00 a.m. surfing in Newport Beach, but Daniel called me up that he’s randomly in L.A., and I can’t turn him down. [Daniel]’s doing non-stop takes and I’m scribbling down every interesting ad-lib. It was kind of like using his voice as the instrument. Even stamping his feet on the ground -- I turned that into a percussion piece.”

12. “Us” (feat. Daniels)

“I was in Nicaragua, and [Daniels and I] were sitting in the studio at 2 a.m., and we pulled up this chord progression we had barely started a few days before. Every single vocal you hear on that record was tracked that night -- we were up until eight in the morning. The message really holds true to the rest of the album. It’s such a great finale.”

A version of this article originally appeared in the March 3 issue of Billboard.