On a temperate spring evening in early April we caught up with Andrew Owsley, better known as Wick-it The Instigator, the multi-instrumentalist known for his bass heavy, hip-hop style mashups and remixes, before he headlined Terminal West in Atlanta, Georgia. With the goal of coercing Wick-it into revealing his inner most secrets concerning his upcoming studio album, we were pleasantly surprised to take part in a conversation that crossed over into a lengthy autobiography starting with his early days shredding guitar in heavy rock bands to picking up turntables by accident and almost giving up his musical career altogether while working a nine to five.
We entered the venue to be met by Wick-it‘s manager. In a brief conversation with the management, we discovered that Andrew was the only electronic artist on their talent roster which typically boasts pop icons such as indie rockers Kings of Leon. This was a striking discovery that proved what we had assumed all along, that despite being an icon in the underground bass scene, the talent contained in Wick-it‘s fingertips that makes the crossfader and vinyl dance in rhythmic bliss has an across the spectrum appeal and can be appreciated by anyone, including those that have no inclination of the incredibly high standards of electronic music advocates. With this revelation in mind, we took to the club’s green room and sat down next to two young ladies, one of which had been denied entry to a previous show due to the venue selling out and was personally invited out by Andrew in appreciation of her dedication and support.
Wick-it revealed himself from a faintly lit corner of the room carrying a pre-show refreshment in one hand, and extending a large labor-hardened handshake in the other. “Hey, I’m Andrew,” he said with a grin that we’ve come to associate with southern hospitality. With introductions out of the way, Wick-it quickly took us back to the unlikely beginnings of a hard rock and hip hop kid who fortuitously stumbled upon an interminable relationship with the DJ mixer.
“My parents were all Beatles and Rolling Stones, so I was raised on all that and learned how to play all of those songs on guitar,” describes Wick-it as it pertains to his early life in rock and roll. “Back then, I played in a bunch of different kinds of bands, from rock to even punk rock or hardcore…so, I’ve always recorded music at my house. I actually became a DJ by accident. I bought turn tables just to have in my house. If I wanted to throw some scratching on something they would be there…no different than having a drum machine or bass guitar or sax, it’s like I wanted to start collecting instruments. So, I bought turn tables to have them and I kind of became obsessed with them and that became the forefront of what I wanted to do, but it was all sort of an accident. It wasn’t premeditated.”
Wick-it‘s infatuation with turn tables grew into a complete redrafting of his destiny when he witnessed several masters exhibit the endless possibilities contained behind the decks. “It was the documentary called “Scratch,” which is amazing. It has Qbert, Mix Master Mike, DJ Shadow, Z-Trip and that whole school of dudes. None of that had made it to me. I had never seen that, just DJ’s straight up scratching and I was like, ‘Woah, there’s the whole other world of music out there that I don’t know about. Once I got into learning how to scratch it was almost like [playing] video games. My buddies would come over and we would just scratch for hours. I never thought I wanted to go play in front of people, it still wasn’t like, ‘I want to be a DJ.’ [Then], I went to see Z-Trip and [he] was doing live on the fly mashups and he was like rocking the party and getting on the mic like ‘Everybody makes some noise, throw your hands up!’ and that was when I was like, ‘Ok, I want this thing to go from this thing that I do by myself in my basement to I want to go put together a set and I want to do mashups and I want to tell people to throw their hands in the air…I want to be that guy.”
Even with his hands on the vinyl, Wick-it still had a long way to go before he could comfortably make the transition from hip-hop head to dance floor domination. “It was late 2009 when DJ Kid’s Meal, another DJ in Nashville, and I were playing a house party, trading back and forth and we were straight up hip-hop DJ’s, and he dropped Rusko‘s “Pro Nails” remix, and I was just like what the hell is that? I was pretty green to all electronic music. I was one of those dudes that was like ‘it’s all techno music’ so it never really appealed to me and I didn’t get it. I was just ignorant to it and I never really gave it a chance. But yeah, it was the dubstep that was slow so it sounded like dirty south hip-hop tempo, ya know like Ludacris, Three 6 Mafia style beats. I had loved hip-hop and when I heard it, I got it. I knew what I was hearing, but when I first started hearing electronic music, I didn’t understand what it was that I was hearing or how one would go about reproducing those sounds. So, that began a little journey into figuring out how in the hell this was being made.”
After receiving the first jolt of sub bass to his spine, Wick-it‘s next challenge was to ascertain the most effective way to integrate his love for hip-hop with the massive sounds of dubstep. He quickly grew a reputation for his unique approach to mashing hip-hop acapellas and alternative rock classics with original bass lines and heavy break beat patterns. “I remember when I first started making my mashups, people were impressed that they were in key, ya know? I thought that was strange because nobody ever compliments a guitar player for their guitar being in tune or I love how the drummer was on beat with the song.”
To push himself further within his career, Wick-it has set out to write an album with the goal of showcasing his original material. “When I make a remix I kinda already know what I want it to sound like and when I sit down and make an original I have no clue where it’s headed. I might start off writing some drums or like a piano lick or a bass line, but there’s no finished product in my head. What I want this album to be is for there to be a couple of just like straight banger floor killers and then I want there to be some more experimental stuff on there too. One thing I’ve never really done with originals is, I’ve never really made an original that sounds like some of my remixes. Stuff like the ‘Walk The Line’ remix, stuff that’s always a crowd pleaser. So, I’m trying to balance. The more fun I’m having the more productive I am. Whenever I’m producing a song standing up in the studio, that’s when I feel like it’s going to be a good song because I’m getting hyped and I just toss the chair to the side. I’m like ‘Fuck, I can’t wait to finish this.”
While discussing the production of his upcoming album, we could see the anxiety in his eyes. This was not rooted in a feeling of inadequacy, but from his mind constantly working an internal puzzle that had a shape but was still missing intricate pieces. There was still a mystery behind his artistic expression that he had not yet revealed. He was still climbing a steep mountain with the vague outline of a foggy apex within sight and no clear path of how to get himself there. “Ya know, once I turned thirty and I didn’t really have a career, I just had a job, and I [was] still trying to be ‘Wick-it the Instigator’ it started to feel kinda silly. The trick is to keep going when it fucking sucks, ya know what I mean? When you feel like the cards are stacked against you, that’s when you gotta keep going. Those moments will keep coming forever, but after you’ve been through a couple of those moments, if you have any doubt or you’re in a rut, you can be like, ‘No, I’ve been here before and plowed right out of it. I’m gonna do it again.”
To guide himself up the mountain, Wick-it has reworked his studio to get him one step closer to getting the sound in his head out into the woofers. “I’ve given my studio a complete overhaul. The small amount of shit I had in my studio was stupid. It was long overdue for me to go out and get a bunch of new stuff. New gear, new software, new synths, new everything and this just happened a month ago, so now I have an overwhelming plethora of things to tinker with for the new album.”
This situation sounded familiar. Over the years we’ve seen many novice producers, to which Wick-it is not one of these, spend months becoming mediocre at a multitude of software synths instead of spending that time mastering one. Wick-it then clarified that he was moving on only after spending adequate time with his other instruments. “It’s more like instead of having one synth and one VST be your go to, It’s like have thirty synths and thirty VSTs and learn those because they all sound different. I’d rather have too much than not enough. Right now it’s me learning all of these new softwares and synths but that’s cool because even the stuff that I’ve already started working on, to me, sounds different. I can tell that it’s not me. At some point if you don’t have enough variety of tools in your studio, you’re going to start recycling shit and so I think I hit that point. It’s like if you give someone a blue and a red crayon, there’s only so much that they can do, and I wanted to go out and get those other colors ya know?”
As we started to run out of time, the show’s opener took the stage and the thumping of a kick drum came blasting through the walls. This gave us the opportunity to segue into a conversation that he had started on Facebook concerning opening acts being able to sufficiently convey their message at an “opener” volume. “It’s not that it shouldn’t be done, it’s that it’s being done too much. I’ve seen these openers on stage and they might have guitars and are just crushing shit but it’s just so quiet everybody’s just talking and texting. You can hear everyone wrestling around and I’m like ‘give ’em a chance.’ I understand that we want to pad it a little bit but ya know let them do their thing. A lot of times they are super excited to get to open for this headliner and it ends up being one of the most blue balled nights of their life. Ya know? Just give them a chance, let them do their thing. Don’t be scared, and if you are scared that the opener is gonna crush you…than that’s your fault (laughs).”
We had a great time hanging out with Andrew. It was an insightful and rewarding experience that only further built anticipation for his upcoming album. We also wanted to give a special thanks to Vector Management for setting up the meeting and inviting us to stay for the show. You can catch Wick-it the Instigator live in a city near you by checking his dates here, and stay locked to Your EDM for more news surrounding the album release.