We talk to Chicago-based producer Whethan about mishearing song lyrics, remixing anything he could find, and the importance of having a place to create.
Intro: Hello and welcome to What’d I Say, where Atlantic Records talks with artists about songs they made, songs they like and songs they’d liked to have made. It’s an inside look into the craft of songs from the artists themselves.
Today, we spoke with Big Beat Atlantic Records, Chicago-based producer, Whethan. He’s arguably one of the top breakout producers of the last year, with his latest single “Savage,” featuring Flux Pavilion and Max, garnering 25 million plus streams globally.
No overnight success is truly an overnight success. Whethan first made a name for himself as a SoundCloud producer remixing tracks for Louis The Child, Isaiah and Ty Dolla Sign. He slowly earned millions of plays and built a devoted audience. Recently, between supporting The Chainsmokers on tour, performances at Coachella and Lollapalooza, Whethan his only solidified his position as a forward-thinking producer in the electronic dance community. His recent collaboration, “Love Gang” with Charlie XCX, premiered via the Fader, and his single “Good Nights,” featuring emerging vocalist Mascolo is out now. Whethan recently finished a 46-state headlining run and while in New York City on tour, he sat down with us at the Atlantic Podcast Studios.
Tom Mullen: What was your first favorite song?
Ethan Snoreck: Um, I think my first favorite song that I got into personally and listened to it, probably more than any other song, was Kanye West, “Stronger.” I found it through YouTube. I actually probably found it on like a skateboard video first or something. Something random, like a snowboard video, or something. And then found the music video and just would watch it constantly, no matter what. I would play football at the time, and I would just watch the video and just get super pumped before football. And just like, that was my song. That was my favorite. I would just jam it nonstop.
Tom Mullen: Nice. Do you remember the first song you memorized?
Ethan Snoreck: Dang. I don’t know. I probably still haven’t memorized a song in my entire life. I don’t know. I literally will just find out [about] songs that I listened to now and listen to them and think that the lyrics were something else. We just found that song the other day, me and Tack, Phoenix “1901.” The hook. What are they saying? Anybody know? It sounds like they’re saying “falling” or something, but they’re actually saying “fold it.”
Tom Mullen: So, misheard lyrics.
Ethan Snoreck: Yeah and that’s the story of my life, is misheard lyrics. I always misinterpret. Because I just listened to the melodies and the production.
Tom Mullen: Lyrics were last for me.
Ethan Snoreck: Yeah.
Tom Mullen: I know I could probably play the guitar line, versus knowing all the words.
Ethan Snoreck: I’m the same way. So, I don’t know. I don’t think I’ve ever memorized a song.
Tom Mullen: So, misheard lyrics.
Ethan Snoreck: Yeah.
Tom Mullen: Do you remember the first song or album you remember buying with your own money?
Ethan Snoreck: The first song that, or the first album, that I really bought was actually on iTunes. I didn’t actually buy a CD or anything. And it was Daft Punk, “Discovery.” That was like the first, I just found it. I was probably like 11, 12 years old when I really got into music and wanted to listen to albums and songs, and that was the first thing that I bought with my own money. Like, I had an iTunes gift card and just bought it, and that was all I listened to for probably like a month or two straight.
Tom Mullen: Oh wow.
Ethan Snoreck: After that, I got addicted and just started buying tons of stuff, just all over the place. I don’t know, I would be onto the next thing every week.
Tom Mullen: Different genres?
Ethan Snoreck: Always.
Tom Mullen: Let’s see. You started producing music by messing around on Garageband on your iPad. And then, when did it feel like you weren’t just messing around? Was there a certain song of yours that you felt you [were] kind of like, “all right, I can do this”?
Ethan Snoreck: It was my first song on SoundCloud that had ever picked up any numbers at all. I was just putting out random remixes of just anything I could find when I first started. I had this remix of this missing no track. He was this London producer called XE3. And it just started to gain support on the Internet through all types of DJs. Zeds Dead played it out at Hard Summer. And that was like the first time that I’ve ever seen one of my songs, someone else like it enough to put it in their set and then play it for a huge crowd.
I’ve never even been to a festival before or anything, at that point. So I was just like, “Whoa, this is like real,” my music can sound good on like a system and people can dance to it. And it was just crazy and it was all just through SoundCloud. Just that song being in people’s playlists, and just like somehow getting into the hands of Zeds Dead. And then that was the first time that I was like, “Wow, I can do it.”
Tom Mullen: That’s rad. Who would be surprised to find out is a musical influence of yours?
Ethan Snoreck: I think currently, and ever since that I’ve listened to them, Tame Impala and Mac Demarco, those are like two of my biggest inspirations in music. But a lot of people probably wouldn’t think that because they’re so far away from the sounds that I actually make, and the music that I make. But that’s honestly what’s on repeat on my iTunes or Spotify, like all the time. Tame Impala, Mac Demarco. Those are the two dudes.
Tom Mullen: Cool.
Ethan Snoreck: They always get it done.
Tom Mullen: When you’re recording a song, who are you picturing listening to this? Who’s your audience?
Ethan Snoreck: I think my audience just kind of loves weird sounding synths and drums and really catchy hooks and kind of like, hard to explain. I’ve kind of grown from when I first started. So, the first stuff that I was putting out was a lot more on the electronic, like EDM side of things. And it was a lot more centered around the drop or the hook or something, that didn’t probably didn’t usually have lyrics either. It was just like, synths. But now, I’ve kind of grown into more loving songs, and songs that have kind of a meaning and can tell a story. As well as mixing that with the weird sounds, and synths and drums that can also go well live and make people want to dance. And also not have to dance, and can just process it and just kind of enjoy it for what it is.
Tom Mullen: That’s cool. What’s the most recent song you discovered and had to share with your friends?
Ethan Snoreck: Most recent song that I found, that I actually still am jamming right now, was from this girl, Clairo, I just found her on SoundCloud. But she has this song called “Pretty Girl” that is starting to gain a lot of attention. There’s a YouTube video, she’s in the music video, and it’s starting to get millions of views. And I just discovered it and was just like, “Whoa, what song is this?” Everyone on the bus was just jamming it in the back. Everyone’s like, “Whoa, like what song is that?”
Tom Mullen: Cool.
Ethan Snoreck: Everyone’s starting to remember me playing it and I don’t know, I just love that song. It’s one of the songs I’ve discovered recently.
Tom Mullen: Cool. Do you remember the first time you heard one of your songs in public?
Ethan Snoreck: It’s funny. I used to play hockey and we used to like, jam a lot of music in the locker room. And my brother played sports too, so we would always, you know, we’d pick them him up from practice and stuff like that. And that’s kind of like a side thing. I don’t even know how that relates to me playing hockey. But we were in locker rooms. I remember playing a team-
Tom Mullen: Are you from the northeast or from the north?
Ethan Snoreck: I’m from like an hour outside of Chicago, like south of Chicago. So just like, suburbs outside.
Tom Mullen: But you’re close to the border.
Ethan Snoreck: Close enough. The game was over. We had just played this team. And usually after the game’s over everyone just kind of plays music in the locker room and just, you know, depending on the vibe obviously, but we’re walking out and the other team was playing one of my songs. And I think it was the one XE3, they were playing XE3-
Tom Mullen: What?
Ethan Snoreck: -and it was just so weird to me to like play a team and then walk out, and I think we won, too. So they like definitely got beat and were probably mad. But they ended up playing my song and I was walking by. They could have known, or they might not have known, that I was on the team or that they knew me or anything. But it was just random and super weird and I was just-
Tom Mullen: Did you knock on the door and be like, “Hey, you guys, I know you got your ass kicked. But that’s my song.”
Ethan Snoreck: “Thanks, guys.” But there was another time that I was like, we were picking up my brother from soccer practice or something, and there was just a car in the parking lot that was just playing the song. And I was just like, whoa, that’s super weird. I was with my mom, and I was just like, whoa.
Tom Mullen: That’s really cool. What do you hear in other songs that connect with you?
Ethan Snoreck: I’m a big fan of sounds that I’ve never heard used in really creative ways. Very weird sounding synths that almost don’t sound right, you know, if you were to just listen to it. But in the right context, with a nice drum beat or a good pattern, it like makes you feel just kind of happy. Or, Tame Impala uses a lot of really crazy synths on the album “Currents” that just, every time I listen to him, just puts you in that vibe. You know where you’re at, you can just jam it.
Tom Mullen: Did you see their website recently?
Ethan Snoreck: I did.
Tom Mullen: How rad is that?
Ethan Snoreck: The collector’s edition?
Tom Mullen: But it’s like, the way he started playing one thing-
Ethan Snoreck: Yeah, that studio is so cool, that’s like a dream.
Tom Mullen: I know, the view?
Ethan Snoreck: I mean, yeah. I would love to work in a studio like that. That’s probably, that’s the goal right there. Tame Impala is doing it right.
Tom Mullen: That was my, that was my last question. I mean, it’s a classic question, but I think further than, “I want to be successful in these things.” But is there that dream you have when you’re waking up and you visualize something, do you know what that is?
Ethan Snoreck: I think so. It changes all the time of, you know, as I grow up and learn what I like and what I want, things change. And you know, I get a little bit smarter every day of what I really want for the future, and how I see myself. But the future really, for me, it seems like I just would love to have a really nice studio where I can just create, you know, all day, every day. Whenever I feel the urge to create. Even more than music, too, even like a photo studio or something like in the house too, just to always be constantly creating. That’s kind of like, that’s my goal for the future. It’s just always, always be creating.
Tom Mullen: Cool.
Ethan Snoreck: And a vibe like that, with a nice view and just everything at your disposal. That’s amazing.
Tom Mullen: Yeah. That Tame Impala thing is so rad. It’s like, “Oh, I want to play drums over this, and then the synth.”
Ethan Snoreck: You just watch it all happen, too. It’s really cool to see that.
Tom Mullen: All right, thank you.
Ethan Snoreck: Well, thank you very much.
Outro: Thanks to Whethan for coming on What’d I Say. Find more about him at Whethan.com, W-H-E-T-H-A-N dot com. Our theme music is by Max Frost. Be sure and catch up on all of the Atlantic Records podcasts at AtlanticPodcasts.com. Thank you for listening.