Flume Talks Touring 'Skin' and Stepping into the American Spotlight
We Sat Down With Flume, One Of EDMs Biggest Names, To Discuss His New Record And Life On The Road
We Sat Down With Flume, One Of EDMs Biggest Names, To Discuss His New Record And Life On The Road
Text: Emma Blanchard
EDM powerhouse Harley Streten, more popularly known as Flume, kick-started a life altering journey this past May with the release of his sophomore album, Skin. Flume’s first steps into the industry started with rudimentary music equipment in his childhood bedroom in Australia, but over time he has transformed into one of the most beloved, chart-topping artists in electronic dance music. Taking America by storm, his leading single “Never Be Like You” featuring Canadian vocalist Kai has resided at the top of charts everywhere while simultaneously acquiring upwards of 196 million (and counting) plays on Spotify alone.
Headlining a world tour and performing at some of the world’s biggest festivals, at only 24 years old, Flume has made quite a remarkable impression on the music industry. The secret behind his success? Constant evolution and change. Incorporating a larger spectrum of sounds, vocals, and musical genres into his new record, Flume has proven to be a successful product of the digital age. He hasn't taken a single breather since the massive wave of success came flooding in, and doesn’t plan on slowing down anytime soon.
Flume, outfitted in scuffed up Adidas Ultra Boosts and a tie dye baseball cap, sat down with us in New York to discuss life on the road, his journey from Soundcloud to mainstream radio, and more.
How’s the Skin tour going so far?
HS So far so good, we’ve done a little over a month now on the road and it’s been great. The shows have been awesome. Really, really, great shows. It’s the first tour of America since the record has come out. It feels exciting.
You changed the style of your music on this album. Have you found that your old fans kept with you?
HS Definitely a lot of new fans for this record. But at the same time when I am at the shows I don’t feel like the old songs fall flat; people know them, too. I think the first record hit an entirely different market; it was online and it kind of happened organically. Blogs posted about it, it snowballed online and became a thing. We didn’t have any money or marketing behind it or anything like that. It just grew and grew. It never hit major radio stations; it never charted in the states, nothing like that. This second record has tapped into the major radio stations, Billboard Hot 100, all that. So it kind of feels like its all happening again like it did the first time, but in a different way and in a different world.
Skin incorporates a spectrum of sounds and vocals. Can you speak to why you decided to do that instead of sticking to the same tone you used prior?
HS I feel like I need to continuously keep evolving and moving. Part of me was like, Oh, I could just write another record kind of the same and use the same tricks and all that, but I couldn’t do that. I felt like I needed to evolve. I think what happened with this record was that I got excited because I had access to a lot of people that I didn’t have access to before. Before, no one really wanted to work with me because I was doing my thing in my bedroom at my parent’s house. But after that came out, some of my huge inspirations like Little Dragon, for example—I am a massive fan and have been for a long time. I got to work with Yukimi from Little Dragon. I was really into Vince Staples’ record and we were in LA and that happened. I got excited. There are a lot more vocals on the record because there were a lot more doors that were open.
I know you mentioned elsewhere that looking ahead to your next album, you’re already a bit bored of this style. Are you already thinking of evolving into a whole new kind of EDM for the next record?
HS Totally! Something different every time; it’s going to be different. It’s got to be. I don’t even know if I’m going to do another album, like maybe I will, maybe I won't. I’m not thinking about the next record really yet. I kind of want to do a bunch of stuff with Jonathan Zawada, the guy who did the album art. I’d like to do some crazy art installations and design some weird synthesizers and work with other people and make some fun stuff for a bit. Maybe tap into virtual reality stuff or maybe write another record…We'll see.
How was it collaborating with someone of a completely different genre like Vic Mensa and Vince Staples?
HS I’ve never been a rap guy, I don’t really know that much about rap music, to be honest. I like it, but I think what really happened was just my music seems to work so well with rap music. For me, I actually come from an electronic dance music background: house music, electro house, trance music even. When I was coming out of school, basically, I discovered Brain Fever, Flying Lotus, J Dilla and all that. That was when I got excited about hip-hop and when the Flume project started. It's really fun working with rappers because it’s different. I like to kind of work around the vocals and the rhythms. The rhythms are really fun because I like to often work with a rapper, do a track, then completely get rid of the track that I was working on and start from scratch. Then I'll write a song that fits like a glove around the way the vocal sits. It’s a different way of working.
Who do you think your dream collaborator would be?
HS I think it would be fun to do something—I am a massive fan—with Damon Albarn from Gorillaz. That would be something that I would love.
Given that your father worked in music and musicians for 30+ years, do you think that inspired you early on to pursue music?
HS He actually did film production and ran his own ads and short films and stuff like that. Sometimes he would work with a client and the client wouldn’t like the music that they could find in the libraries of music used for these ads. So he’d be like, "Hey, Harley, can you make something for this ad? I wont tell them you made it. I'll tell them it's library music and I will give you the library fee.” So actually I did quite a few TV ads with my music and he would kind of just pay me a couple hundred bucks, which was huge for me back then. So that was really fun but he’s always been really supportive and he’s always helped me out with a new computer or keyboards and things. He’d always say I'd have to pay him back but he’d always help me out like that.
How long does it take to produce a hit like “Never Be Like You,” which is obviously a huge song right now?
HS Well, it's always different. For that particular track, we actually did it in New York. Kai and myself emailed back and forth online and I sent her some ideas I was working on. They weren’t the "Never Be Like You" ideas, they were just random bits. She sent me some “oo” and “ah” vocals back. Quite a lot actually, she sent me like twenty minutes of vocals which was awesome. I got all the vocals into the project, chopped them up, found the bits I really thought were powerful and thought maybe we could use this part as a chorus and this as a verse. Then we got to meet up in New York and we got into the studio. There are a lot of different versions of that song, as well. Many different structures. I’ve got one really heavy version that I am thinking about starting to play out at concerts, but it isn’t out so we'll see.
Do you play the same set each show or do you mix it up?
HS We’ve got a bunch of different sets. There is definitely limitations when it's all your own music. There is a set list that is super strong and that’s in order. I often mix it up, but sometimes I’m just like “oh, set list 1 is so amazing.” But yeah it’s been really fun for me because for so long I was kind of playing the same stuff. But now that the records out, I can play all this new music. It’s been a lot of fun mixing and matching and just having fresh music to play for the world.
And tour life for you has been good?
HS It’s more comfortable than it’s ever been. The team has grown exponentially. We went from four of us to twenty something now. I don’t even know how many. Since this record has come out there have been quite a lot of changes and there have definitely been some growing pains. But we are finally in a place where it’s working like a well-oiled machine.
Coming from Australia, how has it been adjusting to being in these new epicenters of music and entertainment?
HS That’s an interesting question. I think coming from Australia, you're right; it is a totally different culture. But it’s also not at the same time. Australia is so influenced by America. It’s kind of in-between the UK and the States. I used to get culture shock coming here, but not anymore. It's kind of cool being in Australia because we have so much TV, media, and movies from America and also from the UK. I’ve grown to really love it here in the states. I’m actually going to move to LA next year. It feels like everyone in music is moving there right now. But it’s always super exciting coming to New York. After this, we are going to go shopping actually.
Do you have any stories about the craziest thing that has happened at a show or with a fan?
HS I’ve had notes on my doorstep before. That was at my house, which was really kind of disturbing. I was like “how the fuck...” it was a love letter, as well, so it was kind of weird. Who knows, maybe there will be some funny stories tonight; We are going to go out. Usually, that means there will be something funny.
Live EDM performances are a bit mysterious in the sense that you are a silhouette with a lot of smoke and lights. Do you find people recognize you out on the street?
HS Personally, I would prefer if people identified with the music as the first thing they think of when they think of Flume. But I definitely feel like as of lately it's kind of turning to me being in the limelight a little more. Which at the same time isn’t a bad thing, it’s just a little different. I think that I just like doing music and making art. With rappers and pop stars, it's definitely selling a face, an image, and a personality as well. Look at Zayn right here. [Points to a cover story of Zayn Malik] He’s sexy! That’s his thing. His face is on the cover and his album cover is probably his face as well. For me, I would prefer to not have my face on the album cover. I don’t mind being in the public, but it’s just not really my personality and it's not really why I’m into this. I like making art and that’s it. I don’t really want to be a celebrity, seriously. I like my privacy.
You mentioned your album art, who does it for you?
HS His name is Jonathan Zawada, who happens to be Australian as well which was just coincidental. I was a big fan of what he does for quite some time. He combines a lot of real world imagery and video with hyper-synthetic 3D model stuff. He has this ability to jell the two together in a beautiful way. I have been a massive fan of what he does for quite some time now, so I was really happy when he was up for working on the project with me. He did the album art, and the whole aesthetic basically for Skin. He’s also done all the live visuals for the show.
See Flume live on his Skin world tour, Tickets here.