Interview by: Martin Bauman
Hidden in the deep recesses of Southwestern Ontario lies one of today’s most talented beatmakers: Elaquent. The Guelph, ON producer has been steadily gaining a following throughout Europe and the United States – he just got back from touring Europe, with stops in Glasgow, Brighton, Berlin, and Paris – all the while remaining relatively unnoticed in Canada. It begs the question, why haven’t people caught on back home? In an effort to catch you up to speed, The Come Up Show sat down with Elaquent to discuss his early influences, issues with bootlegging, pursuing his dreams, and more. Read the interview below.
TCUS: You’ve mentioned your car as being your favourite place to listen to music. How come?
My car is my fav place in the world to listen to music. Especially for the first time.
— eQ (@Elaquent) April 2, 2013
Elaquent: I think it’s just… when you’re in your car and you’re driving, especially long distances, that’s where you’re sort of alone with your thoughts and that’s when you can really absorb whatever it is you’re listening to, whether it’s your own stuff that you’re working on, or whoever else. I find, whenever I buy a new album, whoever it is, I don’t get a chance to really sit down and listen to it until I’m going somewhere far, and I can just listen to it uninterrupted.
TCUS: How did you get into making music?
Elaquent: Originally, I had actually tried rapping. That’s the one thing most people don’t really know about your boy. But I wasn’t very good at it, and naturally, I’ve always been more of a behind the scenes kind of person anyway, so I kinda just naturally gravitated towards production.
TCUS: When you started trying to rap, I read that your mom had a word of advice for you. What was that scenario like?
Elaquent: [Smiles] Alright, I’mma clear this up right now. For one, no, my mom never said anything like that. I guess Bahwee got this genius idea when he was posting on my profile on the HW&W website; he embellished a couple facts, but where he does have a point is that I just genuinely was not very good at [rapping], I didn’t particularly like it very much, [and] I was always more attracted to beats anyway. There’s definitely more support now, that’s for sure.
TCUS: I’ll blame Bahwee for my fact-checking there.
Elaquent: [Laughs] Anything that’s questionable or whatever about my career in any form, I blame one hundred percent on him.
TCUS: Moving on to another family member of yours, how influential was your brother in bringing you into the hip-hop culture?
Elaquent: I’ll go so far as to say, he was probably the main reason why I got into it – at least as far as I did. Growing up, he was a serious, serious fan, and his cassette tape collection really started to go out of control for awhile. I always looked up to my brother – I mean, I still do to this day – and as a result, I saw all this hip-hop that he was always playing, and I naturally got into it from there. Who’s to say, I might have been exposed to something completely different otherwise.
TCUS: What kind of artists was he introducing you to back then?
Elaquent: It was a little bit of everything, really. Back in the day, you can talk all of the classic nineties [hip-hop artists], whether it was Wu-Tang, or Souls of Mischief, or EPMD, or whatever. I guess you can say I’ve always been a little bit one-track minded. I grew up listening to that stuff, and I didn’t really branch out and listen to very much of anything else. But I think that’s sort of shaped how I do what I do now.
TCUS: Speaking of influences, you’ve mentioned before that one of your major influences is J Dilla. What was it about his music that really spoke to you?
Elaquent: If you look at it from [more of] a techie standpoint, I found the thing that was really special about him was the simplicity. It’s all in the simplicity, the minor, subtle things. He always knew when to stop on a beat, rather than over-produce a record. The music was just so ahead of its time. You listen to some of the stuff he was doing in like ’95-’96, and it doesn’t really sound much like some of the other stuff where everything was dirtier and harder. He was one of the pioneers for that really soulful, jazzy sound, but he was a shapeshifter as well. You go through his whole discography, and every album sounds completely different from the one before it. There’s just a lot to respect there.
TCUS: Aside from Dilla, another influence of yours is Dibia$e. How did that begin?
Elaquent: I think it was around 2007 or ’08, something like that – we’re talking MySpace – and he was making all these beats. The one thing he was big on was swinging his drums, and he was doing a lot of those Nintendo 8-Bit samples, and hearing that always brings out the inner geek in me. I’ve been a fan ever since, and I’ve had the pleasure of meeting him on a couple of occasions. [He’s a] super, super humble guy. I feel like back in ’07, he definitely had a big influence on the way that I was trying to progress with my sound. I draw a lot of influences from different places, but he’s one guy that I was listening to a lot for a span of a few years – I mean, I still bump him a lot now – but I’m a big fan of his approach to making music.
TCUS: How did you and Onra connect?
Elaquent: The first time, I think it was just randomly… again, on MySpace. At the time, I didn’t know who he was, but I remembered the name. And I’d keep hearing about him online everywhere, and I thought “oh, wow! That’s the guy from MySpace, I remember him.” I met him a couple times when he came out to Toronto for shows, and he’s a really nice guy. He kinda went out of his way to plug me, or give me a good pat on the back, so to speak, which I appreciated. But ultimately, he’s a big Indiana Pacers fan, and he likes to get a little bit defensive about his team on Twitter. And anytime the Lakers are in trouble, that’s when he likes to make his presence known.
TCUS: Are you a Lakers fan?
Elaquent: Big Lakers fan. I mean, my team was always the Seattle SuperSonics until they went under, and I refused to be an OKC fan. The Lakers are just that other team that I always followed.
TCUS: Back to your production, what significance has Frank Sinatra had on your career?
Elaquent: Basically, when I was just coming up, learning how to make beats, I found myself sampling a lot of Frank Sinatra and also a lot of Sarah Vaughan. I think I was digging and I came across a few good records by both of them, but rather than keep it moving, I was just sampling more and more of their songs. I lost track of them a long time ago, but I think that shaped my earlier sound, if you ever heard some of my older stuff back in like 2007, 2008 or something like that.
TCUS: What can you tell me about Gill Breathing?
Elaquent: That’s family, man. It’s myself, ES, Solar-C, and Mathematik. When I say that that’s the fam, I mean that in a literal sense. ES is my older brother, and Math and Solar are both cousins of mine. It was kind of interesting how everyone came together, because I didn’t know Math or Solar until much later in my life, but it’s dope that we’re all already on that same wavelength.
TCUS: What was your time like at Brock University?
Elaquent: Interesting. I’m not gonna front, I had a lot of fun in university, but I guess it’s kinda one of those things [that] if I would have known then what I know now, I’m sure the experience would have been a little bit different. But by and large, it was a fun time, man. St. Catharines is a fun place to party.
TCUS: How important was your degree to have as a backup to your music career?
Elaquent: I guess that’s one of the things I definitely don’t regret. I’ve always been very much of a worst-case scenario type of thinker. I’m always trying to come up with a backup plan, so I feel safe knowing that I can always fall back on that. Or if for whatever reason, I just get tired or bored of the music stuff, [it’s good to know] that I do still have options beyond it.
TCUS: Early in 2012, you were working at the time and you lost your job. What was that situation like, and how did you decide to go forward with music from there?
Elaquent: It was an interesting situation. There was definitely a degree of fear with it. For the record, I still work a part-time job, but that was probably the first time since I started really doing something with music where I entertained the idea [of doing music full-time], like “you know what? Why am I settling for just this job, when I can actually try to see where I can go with [music]? Am I just doing it to do it, or am I actually trying to really do it?” It’s all been baby steps, but I feel like I’m really close to getting where I want to be.
TCUS: Despite the attention you’ve received in the United States and in Europe, you’ve admitted to feeling slept on in Canada. Why do you think that is?
Elaquent: I don’t know. I think you can say the same thing about anybody. I talk to artists all the time from anywhere and everywhere that you can think of, and they basically tell me the same thing. Even people from some of these communities. I know a bunch of people in LA, for instance, who tell me about how “man, I go out to Europe, and I get way more love there.” I guess people are certainly more open-minded to [music] from people in places outside of their own. So it didn’t really surprise me or anything like that. I feel like Toronto and other parts of Canada are starting to catch on to what I do. It’s a weird thing, but I’m used to it.
TCUS: Most of your labelmates at HW&W are based out of LA. Do you ever see yourself moving out there to join the crew?
Elaquent: Yeah, the thought has crossed my mind a handful of times. Right now, I’m not really in a position to make a move, but it might be something that I do one day. I couldn’t really see myself going out there permanently; I sort of like the fact that a lot of my identity as an artist is that I’m Canadian, and I’m from the land of the funny-looking money, and all the maple syrup jokes that people make fun of me for. I kinda like that. I’ve only actually been to Cali a handful of times, but every time I go out there, the desire and the temptation to stay there is greater. We’ll see. We’ll definitely see.
TCUS: What kind of a hip-hop scene is there in Guelph?
Elaquent: Not really much of a scene. There’s definitely a few guys doing it, as far as the rap scene, but there isn’t much of a big movement or anything. But at the same time, I’m probably the wrong person to ask, as weird as that sounds. I don’t really trick too much on what’s going on in the city, and trying to rally people together to get something working. I’m out here just doing what I want to do.
I’ve kind of fallen off a little bit, as far as my knowledge of what’s going on in the scene. Last I’ve heard, there’s a few people trying to do it, but as far as the specific type of thing that I do, I haven’t really found anybody else who does quite what I do. They might be out there, I’m sure they’re out there, so hopefully there becomes a little more solidarity and brotherhood.
TCUS: Last year, you were at the centre of a bit of a firestorm surrounding bootlegging of your music on blogs. What was your take on the situation?
Elaquent: Man, you did your research. It was weird, because my last album Parallel had just come out, and I found on this website literally the day after it came out that they were giving it away for free. I’d had issues with the site a couple times before and asked them to take down some of my stuff, and I had come back from a show, late at night, and I was at my computer typing responses. Sometimes when you get trolled online, you play into their hands and keep responding when you should let it go. I understand the whole debate; I just feel like now that Bandcamp and iTunes and all these other sites that allow for free streaming, there’s no reason why you feel that you would need to bootleg.
I’m not gonna lie to anybody and say that I’ve never illegally downloaded an album – I’ve done it a few times, I get it – but I mean, back when people were bootlegging stuff off Napster, you didn’t have that ability to preview an entire album before you bought it. It made sense then, and I get that people still do it, but [I don’t see the need for it now]. I was reading the comments, and people were getting really heated and saying a lot of things to me, like “man, I’d love for you to say that to my face, bro.” I think people sort of felt offended or that I was attacking them. So be it. I just feel like if you call yourself a legitimate fan of somebody, [buying their music] is one of the few ways that you can still show it and prove it.
TCUS: Last question, what’s the significance of this quote to you: “The best way to make your dreams come true is to wake up.”
Elaquent: That’s poetic. That’s mad poetic. That’s sort of how I’ve been trying to live my life for the last while. I’m trying to grow out of the habit of waiting for things to happen, and [instead] actively pursuing and going to do it. Going back to the whole [topic of] trying to do [music] full-time, or trying to [reach] some of your goals that you’ve always wanted to do, like, me going out to Europe, in any capacity, was something I always wanted to do, and I kinda just decided to do it one day. I’m not gonna wait for so-and-so to call me and say, “hey, we’re gonna bring you out here.” You’ve gotta pound the floor and send e-mails, make some phone calls. You have to go get it for yourself. That’s really the only way that you can get to where you want to be.
TCUS: Is there anything else you wanted to add?
Elaquent: I just want to say thanks to anybody and everybody who has supported me in any capacity, whether it be buying my records or seeing me at a show, or clicking play on Soundcloud, it’s all appreciated. I’ve got a new album coming out likely in the next month or so on HW&W; I’m gonna be back out on the road, going to more places. You can find me @Elaquent on Twitter, @Elaquent on Instagram, or any social network at /Elaquent.
UPDATE: We just released the video for our 6 year anniversary weekend check it out right now and please share!