Fresh off his recent release on Vancouver staple Pacific Rhythm, Toronto-based artist Emissive (real name Evan Vincent) has been doing bits in his hometown and beyond. His ‘Wave Science’ EP is a house masterpiece. By virtue of the reel-to-reel used in its production, we hear warm and saturated analogue drums underlying soulful synth stabs and funked basslines, ultimately creating a uniquely hazy cosmic funk feeling throughout the record. In addition to his solo work under the alias Emissive, he is also one half of the house music duo Active Surplus alongside his friend Ian Syrett. It’s safe to say, we’re huge fans of his work here at BB HQ.
Aside from his production work, is also an incredible DJ – hosting a monthly show on n10.as radio as well as performing live sets in and around his beloved hometown of Toronto. A listen through his recorded sets paints a picture of a mature musician, clearly influenced by the early Black American pioneers of house music – we thoroughly recommend you checking those sets out for yourselves too ; ) We had a great time catching up with – here’s what we chatted about….
Yo Evan how’s things? What have you been up to in life recently?
Yo! things are good. Very happy to be getting some serious sunshine in the city and finding more time for writing music and digging for records. Currently my friend Ian and I have been brainstorming new project ideas that we can share with other artists in our scene. I’ve also been playing Xenogears on my PS2 in my free time.
Tell us about the mix you did for us. What’s the story behind it?
A lot of the music that I’m into and the stuff that gets me inspired to produce comes from a long history of weirdo black folks looking to transcend their current circumstances, explore new forms and continue the legacy of our forebears. I am always looking for ways to tap into that with my art but for this mix and also for the release on Pacific Rhythm I was really looking to explore that part of myself and my tastes.
It’s a little all over the place but I think you’ll get what I’m saying when you have a listen.
How did you get started in music?
Both my parents are music nuts and my dad is a very talented guitarist, I think having that around me from a young age definitely helped. I started fucking around with music software on my cousin’s laptop when I was 13 or 14 and that definitely opened my eyes to the possibilities of making music with technology. His music taste is also wild and he put me onto a lot of electronic stuff I otherwise wouldn’t have found until way later. I’ve played a bunch of instruments throughout my life: violin, steel pans, bass guitar, but producing in Ableton is where I can most effectively build on my ideas.
What’s your production set-up and workflow like?
I work with a hybrid setup from a home studio. It consists of a bunch of synths and drum machines running through a 16 channel mixer with direct outs into Ableton. I do most of my tracking in several takes but I also enjoy trying to nail a song in one go. It really depends on the vibe of the track. I tend to enjoy getting into the DAW and getting really granular with edits and stuff. I know some people hate that, but I don’t mind.
I’ve been exploring recording parts through a Tascam 4 track and I am looking forward to where that will take me.
You’re based in Toronto. What’s the scene there like? What are the good events to go to? How has the local scene influenced your productions?
Toronto is where I grew up and I always have felt at home here. It’s not an easy place to be an artist for cultural and economic reasons but the scene is passionate and dedicated. Lots of people are producing and DJing so there is no shortage of inspiration. I think the best parties are usually the DIY events that tend to move around from venue to venue. I find those events are the ones where people really show up for the music and the crowd tends to be pretty open minded. My DJing and production style are absolutely influenced by my environment. Toronto is super ethnically diverse and there are so many different cultures to explore. This is definitely why I’m never afraid to play whatever the fuck genre I want in my sets because I know people in our scenes are already being exposed to so many styles on a daily basis. Homogeneity is not really celebrated here the way it might be in other music communities.
Could you talk to us about your DJ and Live sets? What’s the setup? Any particular pieces of gear you tend to focus on?
With the live sets I have had the luxury of always starting from scratch with my ideas each time. I tend to build a foundation that I’m happy with and then leave a bit of room for improvisation to keep things interesting for myself. I’ve been lovingly using the Digitakt and the Korg ESX-1 (Thanks Ian!) in my live sets for a few years. I kind of treat it like DJing with two samplers and a mixer. Add a few fx pedals and some other synths thrown in to spice things up and I’m good to go.
With DJing, give me the classic setup of 2 CDJs, 2 Technics 1200s and a mixer with some FX or nice filters and I’ve got enough to keep me stimulated for a lifetime.
What do you do when you’re not doing music? What are your other main interests besides music?
Toronto is a really pricey place to live so I’ve got a day job to keep the money coming in. As much as I would love to have more time to be writing music, with my work situation I find it helps me to be creative without having to worry so much about following trends or catering to specific audiences in order to allow me to survive off my music. I’m currently reading The Death of the Artist by William Deresiewicz and it has gotten me thinking about the myths that we tell ourselves about artists and the ways we glamourize the struggle and “starving for your art.” I currently just look to strike a healthy balance and I am comfortable acknowledging the many pitfalls of being a recording artist/performer in this day and age. I know the music industry goes through phases and I know my career will change over time so I try and take it day by day and keep an open mind about the future. Outside of music I’m into 90s JRPGs, cycling, cinema and street photography.
We love your release on Pacific Rhythm here at BB HQ. How did that release come about?
DJ D.Dee and I have been working together and sharing tracks for a few years now since we got started with the Active Surplus stuff. I had a few tunes I had worked on during the pandemic and I shared them with the Pacific Rhythm crew to see if it was connecting with them. They were really excited with the sounds and were eager to help put it out.
I don’t necessarily think there’s much of a story with the release as far as how the songs are connected, it’s more just a vibe, you know? I tend to have several week long bursts of creativity where I am creating things with a similar energy. Ian lent me his Nagra IV reel-to-reel and I was trying out some mixdowns with that which I find help add a cohesive quality to the songs.
To be honest, I was kind of nervous to share Love Perception with my vocals on it because I’ve never really done that before and It’s pretty vulnerable. I kind of forced myself to share it because I know that kind of thing adds an element of humanness that you can’t really get any other way. Plus my girlfriend loves that track so I wanted to make sure it didn’t just sit on my hard drive.
Could you tell us about your joint project Active Surplus? How does it differ from your solo work as Emissive?
When I’m writing music with Ian it’s different for a few reasons. We tend to record that material mostly at his home studio so the workflow difference has an impact for sure. The technical songwriting steps and the habits we have together are different to some of the techniques I might employ when I am on my own. When I’m producing on my own I tend to kind of hypnotize myself in a weird way where there are fewer opportunities for me to stop and be objective about the process. It’s more impulsive.
Making music with other people helps to really solidify the sensation of collectively creating something that is in many ways separate from yourself. We can look at each other and be way more effective about making edits or cutting parts out because we both are looking to create the best possible outcome. We don’t get too precious with things that aren’t working. That’s not to say that it’s not still a personal experience but together we are perhaps critical of the work in a different way.
Working with Ian also involves more of a navigation and combination or our individual tastes which I find really fun and fascinating because we pretty much always come up with something that either of us would not have been able to by ourselves. We’ve been jamming together for so long that we now have a pretty easy time quickly coming up with results we enjoy. Stay tuned for lots more music coming from Studio Fragrance for sure!
Are you a self-taught producer? How did you learn? What about DJing – was that self-taught as well? Any tips for beginners/intermediate level producers/DJs?
I don’t think anyone is truly “self-taught” when it comes to music. We are surrounded by teachers. The music is there to teach you, my friends have taught me so many valuable techniques, the universe is constantly teaching me things. Yes, certainly I took the initiative to pursue the knowledge and I have learned a lot through the process of trial and error and experimentation but I have learned just as much from forums, youtube tutorials, lurking in the DJ booth etc.
I also studied audio engineering in college which definitely helped me tremendously when it came to understanding the technologies involved in the art form (signal flow, routing, gain staging etc). I personally don’t think it is necessary to study audio engineering if you want to be a bedroom producer/DJ or anything like that, especially now where there are so many resources online to learn that kind of thing. I feel like my schooling helped me more with how to work in a real studio with session musicians etc, which I would love the opportunity to do more of in the future.
With that said, the opportunities I had to rub shoulders with other budding producers and share tips and influences after class was absolutely critical to my development as a producer.
With regards to advice, I would recommend new producers to get their hands on some books or maybe sign up for an online course on DJing or producing (don’t break the bank though!). I think it’s important to try and learn in digestible chunks and to know that it takes years for all the information to really solidify. Having a book or a course with structure is really helpful because if you’re trying to learn everything in kind of a random order you can accidentally skip some of the fundamentals and it can make the whole process more frustrating. I have gained tremendous benefit from the Mr. Bill and Underbelly tutorials on Youtube, the Ableton book: “Making Music – 74 Creative Strategies for Electronic Music Producers”, “How to DJ Right”, and “Music Theory for Computer Musicians”
Remember that if you want to be a DJ, sometimes (especially when you’re starting out) you’re gonna find yourself at a bar or some day party with a really fucked up DJ booth setup and a mixer you’ve never used before etc.. You gotta know the tools at a fundamental level because then you can troubleshoot things and you’re prepared for when shit inevitably goes sideways!
What’s your music taste like? Is it mainly electronic stuff or do you listen to a wide variety? If it’s the latter, could you tell us some of the more interesting/underrated genres you like?
By virtue of DJing I am often consuming a lot of electronic music but outside of that I really love Hip Hop and Rap stuff from all eras. That’s the shit that saved me in high school and really helped me to develop into the person I am today. Also I was raised on a lot of stuff from the 80s like a lot of classic digital dancehall and Depeche Mode etc. My mom used to take me to buy CDs at Sonic Boom or whatever and I would grab anything I thought looked cool: The Cure, Bad Brains, DJ Shadow. I’ve always been that way, there is so much amazing music out there I could never just pick one style. Ian and I are often perusing weirdo tape blogs for samples and shit like that so we like to keep our horizons wide. I’ve been super impressed with the ambient renaissance we experienced last year where even the most hardcore techno acts were dipping their toes into more contemplative home listening excursions.
Who are your favourite artists? How have they influenced your own sound? Any underrated artists at the moment?
I wouldn’t be here without Actress, MF Doom, Delroy Edwards, Jamal Moss/Hieroglyphic Being, Jeff Mills, Pharrell Williams, Erykah Badu, Galcher, Funkineven, Omar S or Kyle Hall
Those are the kind of acts that are signposts for me, no matter how much my tastes change over time, there are those timeless artists that keep me inspired and dedicated to the craft.
Big shout outs to JWords, Young Teesh, Pursuit Grooves, Biblioteka Records, Patrick Perez, Zones, nyc.taka and the DOO posse out of Montreal
What’s next for Emissive?
This month I’ll be streaming some live mixes for the NIGHT SHIFT and ONAIRE shows and in the next few months I’m planning to invite some fun guests on to my Vitamix slot on n10.as.
I’m looking to spend the summer really exploring some new sonic directions and I hope that proves to be fruitful. Fingers crossed I’ll be able to get some parties going and play some music live in the not too distant future.
I also have a few remixes for some amazing Toronto artists in the can and a handful of other releases that I can’t speak on quite yet so stay tuned ;)
Thanks so much for the chat mate, It’s been a pleasure! We’re eagerly looking forward to your forthcoming releases : )
Interview by Michael D.