Elephante is having the time of his life bringing heart and soul to his infectious brand of pop-savvy, electronic dance music. Born Tim Wu in Ann Arbor, Michigan, the 27-year-old producer, DJ and purveyor of progressive house independently released his debut EP, I Am the Elephante, last year. The nine-track set sequences together unblemished melodies and industrial-based harmonies layered under ethereal vocal performances.
The passionate, bleached-blonde EDM and trap star made a name for himself around 2014 remixing and cranking out alternate versions of popular songs like Ed Sheeran’s “Shape of You,” Katy Perry’s “Dark Horse,” Lorde’s “Team,” Calvin Harris’ “Summer,” Clean Bandit’s “Rather Be” and Afrojack’s “Ten Feet Tall.” Elephante’s popularity simultaneously flourished online, netting well over 100 million digital streams: 40 million of them from SoundCloud alone.
A classically trained pianist and guitarist who earned an economics degree from Harvard University, Elephante previously settled for a well-paying corporate consulting gig. Unfulfilled by his office’s stuffy environment, Elephante, who now calls Los Angeles home, sacrificed his cushy job and reinvented himself into a sought-after live act who effortlessly lands rousing audiences on their feet, domestically and abroad.
Pursuing music full-time is a decision Elephante doesn’t regret one bit. He is currently headlining Corona Electric Beach, a summer-themed electronic music series held at dance clubs and outdoor venues across America. Four days before Corona Electric Beach is set to take over Opera Nightclub in Atlanta, I had the pleasure of connecting with an enthusiastic Elephante regarding the upcoming appearance.
The crowd-pleasing dance music curator and multi-instrumentalist dug deeper into the elements that comprise his brand of electronic-based sounds, the hardships he encountered transitioning from corporate America to music, remixing songs versus producing original material, and albums and artists he enjoys.
Christopher A. Daniel: You're set to headline Corona Electric Beach this year. Your shows, based on clips shared online, seem very high energy. What's typically your approach to performing in front of an audience like Electric Beach or festivals and clubs versus being in the studio?
Elephante: Performing is all about the crowd. I’m giving everything I got, but you gotta put them first, and create an experience that they’ll remember forever. It’s not about you up there; you’re focusing on how to give them the best time.
In the studio, that’s me time. Of course, once the music is done and released, it’s for everyone, but I’ve found that if you try to make music to fit a specific niche or because you think it’ll be popular, it’s always a little flat. So I just try to make stuff that I’m really excited by, and just hope that passion comes through and moves other people.
CD: You were a Harvard grad and a well-paid consultant in Corporate America before you ultimately decided to pursue your music full-time. Before that, you were a classically trained musician. How did you manage to find your voice in EDM? What hardships did you encounter once you made your decision to leave your corporate gig? Are there any parallels you draw between your last career and your music career?
E: A lot of experimenting and making bad music. For me, I had the music background, so it was more just about figuring out the sounds I liked and how to make them, but even that took years before I started making stuff that wasn’t terrible.
Leaving my job was scary because, well, no money, but nothing in my music career has been as difficult as trying to be a person that I wasn’t. Through all the stress and people telling me I was making a huge mistake, that was all background noise because I was doing what I loved.
CD: Your debut EP, I Am the Elephante, has a lot of soul to it. The songs are very melodic, but still preserve the essence of dance/electronic music. I know sometimes producers and DJs put more emphasis on having distorted sonics, polyrhythmic beats or making things ultra-loud. What are the essential ingredients to your style of EDM?
E: I think it comes from my background playing piano and guitar and writing acoustic John Mayer wannabe songs. Melodies and emotion are huge parts of my music. The song itself always comes first, and the “EDM sounds” have to contribute to that. I try to make music that you can sing in the shower or play acoustic versions of, but also music that has the energy and movement of dance music.
CD: You've remixed for Lorde (which boosted your confidence enough to take music seriously), Katy Perry, Ed Sheeran, Afrojack, Clean Bandit, and Calvin Harris. How different is that process of remixing or producing for another artist, let alone being a producer of your own material?
E: You want to put your own spin on a remix, but the main goal is to honor the original. So it’s a little more structured, since you have the vocal or piano riff or whatever to base your remix off of. On your originals anything is fair game, and you can do whatever you want. They’re both fun in their own ways, but for me the original stuff is more gratifying.
CD: If we were to scroll through your playlist on Spotify, Apple Music, Tidal, or Pandora, what would we find? What are you listening or jamming out to as of lately?
E: My music tastes are kind of all over the place. I really like the new Calvin Harris album (Funk Wav Bounces Vol. 1), and I LOVE the 2 Chainz album (Pretty Girls Like Trap Music). A bunch of random indie artists, X Ambassadors, Foster the People, French Montana. I’ll always go back to the Flume and Porter Robinson albums.
CD: The obligatory question…what are your top five favorite albums of all-time?
E: Eminem’s The Marshall Mathers LP, the Jimi Hendrix Experience’s Axis: Bold as Love, The Killers’ Hot Fuss, John Mayer’s Continuum, and the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ Californication.
CD: Any final thoughts, remarks, or general feedback?
E: Super stoked for the show! Corona Electric Beach Fort Worth was crazy, so can’t wait to see what Atlanta’s got!