The writing has not come easy. This article has been pieced together and pulled apart in the aftermath of the long weekend, hungover afternoons and burnt-out midnights, missing deadline, all that shit. What So Not is partly responsible.
Chris Emerson, aka. WSN aka Emoh, let loose his giant stage production for the third time ever in his home city of Sydney for Listen Out, before throwing down a B2B with mates until 4am in World Bar’s back room at And Then. At one point up there, I shared a pear with his brother Faf (real name) like Lady & The Tramp sipping on spaghetti together. Good tunes, too.
Then Emerson flew to Brisbane to back up Listen Out again and who knows what other ridiculous antics. He took us for a ride in his world, in the WSN monster truck chariot (figurative, but he does actually have one), and I’m better off for it, at least after a few days recovery.
Why does he do what he does? What gets him out of bed and into the world? Does it matter?
“That’s the main thing on your mind,” says Emerson. “Creating something that actually matters. Not just something that will get you a few ten million plays and a tour. It’s not meant to be about that. It’s meant to provide a vessel for people to escape, to gain courage, to give them happiness, to make them think about things in a way they hadn’t before.”
Emerson is a far deeper man than his ridiculous good looks. I asked some friends if they had any questions to pass on to him, but most responses went something like, “OMFGAWD HE’S SO HOT.”
It’s valid. But his tunes are still standout. He’s an approachable character. He can throw down at Coachella or the back room of Worldy. He smiles with fans and keeps up the party in spite of his need for sleep.
Underneath it all, despite the whirlwind exhaustion of Chris’ schedule, it seems good to be home. There’s a fair bit underneath the whirlwind of his new release too, titled Better, featuring LPX, letting loose his delicious signature ethereal distorted singing robotic synth orchestras to dig out something deeper.
“I woke up one day and was like, ‘How the fuck did I let myself get into this position right now?’ I won’t go into details, but broadly, I think it’s something everyone has; in work, a relationship, we all find ourselves at a point of realisation that we’ve let something go for too long that’s unhealthy for us. Really taking a stand against whatever pressures and powers are putting us in that position and then fighting out way out of it. That’s really what the song Better is about. Lizzie [LPX] and I were discussing our experiences and found common ground on that sentiment.”
Since releasing the single, Chris has kept up his approachable manner online, responding to many people’s reactions personally.
“When you do something like put a song out that you’ve put countless hours into, it’s great to appreciate the people that are also interested in it. I try do that in those moments when I’m putting out something I really believe in, give time to the people who are also engaging with it.”
Music is the centrepiece of the project, but after seeing Chris in all his onstage glory, the fashion, the lights and visuals, the giant peacock-horse-monster-truck set-up, you realise the music isn’t all he’s put countless hours into.
“I was in a Hollywood props store in LA and there were these crazy interesting things in this multi-level building,” says Chris. “I found these lil’ pieces – a lil’ toy horse and this big arching tail – and I came up with this idea of a PEACOCK-HORSE-MONSTER-TRUCK!
“I have a photo of all these models on the together table that I sent to the whole team, like, I know what we’re doing for Coachella, this is it! Of course, we then had some professionals 3D-render the concept and build it all. To see that photo now and see how it came to life, it’s really blown me away.”
Presenting this as the next evolution of his stage production comes with a return to the public world, and few hours sleep.
“I’ve been doing a lot in an isolated space. I’ve shut myself off from the world these last eight months, an isolated space, and really knuckled down in the studio, really working, every two weeks having a session with a friend to keep the buzz and excitement going.”
After no breaks in six years, Emerson went backpacking in Central America, getting on waves and jetskis in the Goldy with WSL mates, enjoying a life without regime.
“And of course,” says Emerson, “in that period, writing countless amounts of music. It was really amazing. Then one of my first shows back was closing Coachella, which was wild. It was a scary thing to come back to.”
He lets loose a laugh here, as if realising how absurd life can get, swinging from self-exile to centre stage in front of thousands. Yet Emerson seems to absorb it all with a humble smile and the confidence of a man dedicated to his craft, a craft honed across oceans and continents, cultures and countries.
“I find some amazing things when I travel and talk to the locals. They have the ears to the ground in their communities. Apart from that, I don’t go looking for music anymore. I rely on people I trust to send me things that will intrigue or interest or challenge or surprise me. My listening has reverted to quite classic albums.
“When I started working on this next body of work, I started to ignore everything in the current landscape and really look at what albums in the last decades had profound impact on culture and creating change and movements in different societies, and what caused that, what was the political and economic landscape at the time, and really analysing beyond the sonics, the lyrics, at why this album resonated with people in such a way.
“I like diving into different parts of the world, different cultures. That always excites me and really inspires me creatively. I love being in a different spot every few weeks. The familiarity of being near the ocean is a big thing for me but that can be anywhere in the world. I’ve enjoyed being home though, even these few days. I miss heaps of lil’ things, catching up with family and friends, getting in the ocean here.”
We’ve enjoyed having you home, What So Not. Thanks for bringing the magic – catch it all at Spilt Milk at the end of November!
14 Oct, The Grass Is Greener, Cairns
25 Nov, Spilt Milk Festival, Canberra