In Session: Ma Sha

today13/11/2023 3

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How does it feel to have your first solo EP out on Nervous Horizon?

It feels insane, because it’s been in the works for quite a long time. I started working on the announcement single ‘KV December’ in December 2021. So yeah, it feels crazy that these tracks are out in the world on one of my favourite labels. It feels exciting, but at the same time super stressful that people are finally going to hear them.

Given that you run a label yourself, what was the decision behind putting out your first solo project on NH rather than on Kindergarten?

I really wanted someone else who I truly trust, and who inspires me, to do the curatorial work on this record. I come from a curatorial background, which started at school and then continued with my label. I didn’t think I could truly be objective with myself, especially for my debut release, and NH is definitely one of the most influential labels for me – particularly in terms of the sort of sounds that I’m obsessed with – so I thought that it would be the perfect place, with the perfect people to curate my first release.

What was Nervous Horizon’s Tommy Wallwork and TSVI’s role in the record? What did they help you with?

Their role was to navigate through my crazy sonic exploration. I’m not new in terms of music production, because of my work as part of Sha Ru. I’d obviously been exploring solo production before ‘Elastik’, but this was the first time that I was just working on Ma Sha stuff — so it was great to have somebody from outside to tap in and be like “this is cool.” I sent them various tracks and demos, and they pointed out which tracks worked well together. I really trust the sonic universe of Nervous Horizon, and I felt that these tracks would fit very nicely within it, and then Ehua found the last piece to finish off the puzzle of the release.

I didn’t know what to expect when I received it, but she absolutely killed it. The narrative of the track is so interesting: it’s constantly growing and never really drops. I feel like it’s added a perfect angle to the release as a whole. It goes to quite different terratories: there is a more serious, almost dubstep-like edge, there’s more, colourful, Kindegarten-influenced bits and then there’s slower stuff. Ehua added a whole new vibe to the record, which I absolutely love. So yeah, I’m super grateful… number one fan!

You mentioned that you decided to press pause on Sha Ru and solely work on solo productions.

With my other projects, I’m always speaking and communicating with a lot of people. With the label I’m obviously speaking to the artists and others, and then with Sha Ru it’s always me and Ru who work on music together. I also do digital workshops where, again, I’m always with people. It’s an essential part of my workflow to constantly communicate things, and this time, I decided to take the opposite approach — I was like “okay, I’m actually gonna just communicate with myself and see what comes out of it.” I decided to completely isolate and close myself off in this house in Ridgewood Queens, and just work on tracks 24/7. That’s why the sounds were exploring different territories, but, at the same time, felt quite connected due to my methods and influences.

There’s this exercise that I really like, which comes from my breakdance years as a teenager, where you’re made to go on the ‘floor and keep dancing for at least a minute. When you’re dancing without stopping, you actually develop some movements that you have subconsciously, but you wouldn’t really go for it immediately. You need to be pushed in order to go to this far away spot. I decided to apply the same kind of technique to solo music production where I just kept exploring being in the room. The first thing that happened was that time started going crazy, all of a sudden I wasn’t speaking to anyone, I wasn’t going out much and I started putting a lot of attention to what was around me: my plants, my lights etc. They played an essential role and I kind of developed a relationship with them during that point, which is also very nice.I tried to mirror all this stuff in the music, which is a nice practice for inspiration. This was basically it was for over a year and a half, where I was working on music by myself until I had some tracks that I felt like “okay, I’m ready to send them out.”

As you say, you’ve been making solo music for quite a while. What made you want to dedicate yourself to, what eventually became, ‘Elastik’?

I’ve been exploring my own production for a bit, I’ve been playing around on Ableton and Logic, even before meeting Ru, but I’ve been doing music in a much more focussed way with Kindergarten and Sha Ru. I had a lot of ideas in my head that wouldn’t necessarily evolve with the Sha Ru project that we were working on at the time, so I had it in my mind that I have another energy source that I want to express. In a similar way to an artist who does sculptures, then suddenly sees these amazing paintings and feels inspired to start painting themselves.

But it didn’t feel like it like it would feed with my flow. It felt good to produce on my own, but I was like: “okay, I actually have enough ideas and movements inside of my head to dedicate much more time to this and do it.” I would never do it unless I go all the way in, because there are so many projects going on at the same time — so I decided to take a big portion of my time, and dedicate it to this. I took the same approach when I started DJing too, I just closed myself off in my basement with the records, or whenever we do stuff for Sha Ru we just go to the rehearsal studio and close ourselves off for a few weeks working on a new life set. I always have to going all the way if I need to build something new or restructure existing things.

How do you separate your solo production and your work in Sha Ru?

Well in a physical sense we live half the year in New York and half the year in Europe, so we’re always on the go. It’s quite difficult to switch with mentally because we literally share the speakers and it’ll be like “It’s my time, I’m gonna work with my solo stuff.” or “We’re gonna work on this track now. We need to finish it for Sha Ru.”

You do need to separate it, but I would say that, since that as the project involves a second person, it’s much easier for me to separate things because there is a clear input and energy coming from Ru so it’s quite easy to switch off from my solo ideas and work with our ideas. Sha Ru has been going on for quite a while, our EP came out three years ago, so we kind of have a workflow in place which makes it easy for me to switch between the two.

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Is there ever a time when you’re making your solo stuff and you think “this actually sounds like a Sha Ru track” or vice versa?

I mean that kind of relates to how we work: we both put down ideas and develop them individually, and then we switch over to work on it together. So, if I think about it, I won’t ever really make a Ma Sha track. It’s more like, I’m working on a track and I think this could be a really cool starting point. We would then start working with it for Sha Ru.

So far, it’s kind of right from the very beginning and even if I choose a sample, it’s right away like “okay, that sounds very much like this, Ma Sha energy, so I’m gonna keep going.” Otherwise I just invite Rue and we’ll get working on the bassline together or something. How’s it been with your life performances? You’ve done quite a lot of gigs in the past year.

It’s been super nice. I feel like we’ve found a really cool way to perform. When we do a hybrid set or live performances it just feels very enjoyable and not stressful at all. It just feels very natural when we do it at the moment because it’s the perfect combination between live band aspects with electronic music and DJing, and it’s great where it is now and how people react to it. We basically DJ while I jump on the microphone and perform our tracks over the life performance. Ru performs through the MIDI guitar so we really look like a band. It has been very exciting and we’ve been developing this more and more over the year. We’re announcing new records soon, so yeah, exciting stuff.

I can hear a bit of vocal textures and samples in ‘Elastik’, especially in ‘Psyspi’, but there isn’t any explicit singing or spoken word. Do you want to keep that separate to your solo work?

Yeah, I think so. It’s interesting because at the beginning of my solo exploration it felt very natural to keep using vocals because I’m so used to it. I’ve done it in much more of a Kindergarten style where there’s a lot of pitch alteration and time stretching, and it’s not necessarily my voice the whole time. As of that period of time, the voice was essential to this tracks, but now I’m doing different stuff. I definitely feel that my vocals are going to be separate because this spoken word, dark dubstep, bass and breaks is very much the essential sound of Sha Ru, so that’s going to stay for now. Ma Sha is veering towards the Kindergarten type of sound, where it’s more playful and colourful stuff. Then again, this isn’t something that I’m setting up frames for and we’ll see how it evolves. As of now it just feels natural and this is how it is.

Written by: Tim Hopkins

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