We caught up NY-based young-gun new age virtuoso producer Evan Shornstein aka Photay to get a glimpse into his world and the sweet spot where his world meets his musical aspirations and talent. The Woodstock transplant’s distinct sound from first listen is hard to generically pinpoint as it blends the obscure with the accessible, and constantly pushes the boundaries of what we expect from music with cleverly injected silence in the midst of melodic bliss, rhythmic manipulations that test your body’s pivotal movements, and juggling textures from his own field recordings that sound so familiar and yet have no definite origin.
In anticipation of his forthcoming self titled debut expected to drop September 9th via Astro Nautico, Photay released his latest single “No Sass” which is instrumental an experimental melodious bliss of a track and quite different from the previous “Recontruct” featuring the comforting vocal of Seafloor who is multi-faceted keyboardist for Brooklyn’s Body Language and one-half of Vacationer. Both records bring excitement to the sonic palate with a clear mastery and potential in his production and . The album will surely be more of the same as Photay goes through the formative motions his sound and really understanding his strengths, in the meantime never letting up on the listener and keeping them interested—the true sign of promise in an artist.
Check out the knowledge Photay had to drop on us below.
Give me some background on yourself…where did you grow up? what was your upbringing like?
I grew up in Woodstock, NY on a quiet back road in the middle of the woods. My parents made a conscious decision to raise me without television. In retrospect I’m quite grateful as I spent a lot of time actively creating. Before music became the main focus I spent a lot of my free time outside making films and taking photos.
Do you find it easier to concentrate when you are a bit more isolated (in woodstock) from the chaos or in the midst of it (in nyc)?
It’s tough! There are certainly pros and cons to each. I find a healthy balance between the two really keeps me inspired and productive. The fresh air upstate is rejuvenating and the 30 different shows happening in the city every night is exciting.
Aphex twins come up a lot when you are asked who influenced you…Who else in the scene currently maybe some more up and coming artist that you are influenced by?
As far as recent artists, I’ve been super inspired by the sounds of Bibio, Jai Paul & Jonti. In the past week, a lot of Jesse Lanza & Jam City.
What do you think of Jai Paul? It’s quite interesting that he still hasn’t really come out to the world, what do you think of that mysterious approach to marketing yourself or rather the lack thereof?
I really like his sound. So far, I don’t know anyone who doesn’t. The tunes have a really nice balance between pop and experimental. Hah yeah he has one of the most confusing presences in the music world, if any at all! You can only assume he has something BIG up his sleeve. In the meantime, I dig the whole quality over quantity thing though. Aside from the whole “album leak” thing, the 2 singles he’s legitimately released are damn good. BTSTU is still one of my favorites.
As far as songwriting, writer’s block is something that definitely exists, have you experienced it? Why do you think writer’s block comes about?
Yeah …. I’ve experienced it & it’s tragic. There’s nothing better than starting a new track that you’re really excited about and inspired by. You walk out of your bedroom or your studio and you feel as though you can do anything or go anywhere! However that comes in waves and there are certainly dry periods. Horrific. For me I feel it when things are stagnant or mundane. I’m usually inspired when I get some space from the studio and travel to a new place or experience something new. Brazil & Japan are big on my list!
I read somewhere that you actually took ballet and dance? How does having dance in your system come into play with your music?
Yup! I was in a modern dance company up until 9th grade in high school. I suppose it’s caused me to gravitate toward making music with a strong pulse. Stuff you can dance too! Dancing is one of the best releases. I’m actually about to score my friend’s senior dance recital this coming fall. Should be interesting!
Were you always inclined toward music? Where did you develop your musical appetite?
I’ve always been really fascinated by sound. When I was a really small person my parents bought me these CDs of natural sound: trains, oceans, etc. I would listen for hours and sometimes sleep to them. Throughout high school I become involved in various bands writing music and playing shows regularly.
What was the first record you vividly remember listening to?
Mickey Hart’s “Planet Drum”. Haha some of it’s really goofy but it features a lot of cool drumming and instruments from around the globe. That & the B52s were some of my earliest musical memories.
You play drums correct? Talk about drums and why you were drawn to them…
I’ve been playing drums for about 11 years now but I gained early experience by banging on everything in sight all throughout child hood. Drumming is really physical and hypnotic. I had a ton of energy when I was younger and I think I was able to release a lot of it through drumming.
Let’s talk crafting your music…what DAW(Digital Audio Workstation) do you work in? Name some instruments/plugins that are crucial to what you do?
Currently I use Ableton in conjunction with reason. I usually gravitate toward this simple synth within ableton called Analog. It’s really minimal and straightforward. I’m able to create a sound I have in my head pretty quickly. I have a field recorder which I use to capture a lot of natural sound. In more recent times I’ve dubbed some sounds to tape and fed them back into ableton. I’m currently saving up for a physical analog synth.
How does your work flow usually take place? This changes obviously but describe a couple different progressions in the making of your beats.
It’s pretty impulsive. I usually get hit with an idea and work like a mad man to turn it into sound before I loose the spark of inspiration. I tend to dive into an idea head 1st & throw down as many ideas as possible. Perhaps later that day/ week, I’ll come back with fresh ears and develop the tune more.
Other times, I’ll be up at 4am making little skits or melodic ideas. Sometimes I’ll just make a loop that I riff off of for a while. I like working late at night because I feel little or no pressure. No responsibilities or obligations.
Mix/master yourself or dish off to someone else?
I’ve always mixed my own work. I mixed and attempted minimal mastering on my 1st self-release. My forthcoming EP was mastered by 2 nice fellas who go by cpu/god. Really love what they did! It felt great to hand my work to someone with fresh ears who hasn’t heard the tunes 9 billion times.
I know you’ve mentioned in an interview I read that you take a lot field samples, like you did in Africa, Can you talk about the importance of sampling to your process, whether it’s field recordings or from other music?
I’m a huge fan of recording naturally occurring sound. They’re really dense right off the bat, creating many possibilities for manipulation. Sampling allows you to work with so many different contrasting sonic qualities. Specifically older record where the studio techniques were different and possibly not quite developed. For instance, I love the way old dub & roots reggae sounds. The recordings have so much character.
Were you always drawn to worldy sounds? Or was it kind of adapted from your travels on the first record?
I was turned onto a lot of non-western music at a young age as my parents kept it playing in the house. However, my close friend Jordan, who originally taught me to DJ, exposed me to the bulk of non –western music I know today. Last summer we saw a Bulgarian group together in central park called Fanfare Ciocarlia. They are a huge brass band that play at supernatural speed. Very exciting.
What aspects of making music are most fulfilling to you? sitting in your room discovering new sounds, being inspired by field recordings, performing, etc
Above all I love performing. Even though I’m still in the process of figuring out a proper way to perform Photay, I still love playing the tunes out. It’s really exhilarating to play your music loud and see people dance or respond to it. It’s also really invigorating to finish music and release it to the world. There are a lot of producers I look up to who have responded positively to my music and that alone has made this whole thing more of a reality.
How would you advise any aspiring musicians in distinguishing their sound in the vast ocean of music today?
There are a lot of really innovative producers in today’s electronic scene and beyond. I think there are people who have clearly defined a new sound like James Blake, Flying Lotus or Mount Kimbie. I pull a lot influence from these people but I don’t want to imitate them or sound identical. I think it’s important to pull influence from all around but crucial to mark your own sound.