In the predictable EDM climate in 2019, Ookay stands out as one of the few truly creative acts left in the genre, as he constantly works on reinventing his sound, with a lavish live set that has taken the world by storm. Known to the masses for his smash hit 'Thief', the American producer has gone on to create his own image and sound in the realm of dance music. Quite simply, Ookay is unlike anything else you've seen in the dance music circuit.
Bandwagon sat down with Ookay onboard It's The Ship 2019 to talk about performing on a cruise, live shows, the past decade, the future and more. Check out the complete interview below.
First off, thank you for taking the time to do this. How are you?
"I'm good! It's day two here on It's The Ship, I stayed up all night to watch the sunrise, but it was cloudy, so there wasn't much to look at, but it was so fun. I was able to just hang out with my friends and talk, got to eat some good food and walk around, explore pretty much the entire cruise, so it's been a great experience so far."
You’re playing It’s The Ship tonight. Describe the feeling of being able to travel the world, and play on a cruise, of all things.
"Yeah, that doesn't happen very often. It's always like this surreal moment, and it's a lot of adrenaline. It's kind of like when you run a mile and you're just like "Wow, okay. This is pretty exhilarating," and you get that little endorphin rush. It puts a smile on your face naturally. It never gets old for me. I really enjoy being able to play my music and my friends' and upcoming artists' tracks for so many people.
Getting to play all over the world is such an indescribable feeling, from playing festivals all over the world, to club shows, I do my DJ sets, and my live shows. Every little show has its moment. I try to find that moment and take it with me everywhere else in the world. To be here, on a cruise, in Singapore, and to have so many good friends and fans around, is amazing."
How do you prepare for a set on a cruise? Do you treat it any differently from a regular show?
"I try to change things up in my performances with every show. When you're traveling the world, and you're constantly performing, you have to constantly change things up to avoid making things boring. You want to test your limit, and push your improvisation skills.
It's interesting, because this is one of the few times where I've been at the festival the entire time. Usually, I'd go to the festival grounds awhile before my set to prepare and stuff, but I've been here the entire time, so I've been able to see how the crowd reacts to certain songs and genres, and I'll be taking that information with me to my set and use that as a tool to help make my set stand out."
You’ve started focusing more on the live show aspect of your performance, rather than a DJ set. Why do you prefer live shows over DJing?
"For me, a live show is one of those things that I use to showcase my album, and a lot of the songs I've written, and sang over. It showcases more of that. The DJ sets are more of the fun little edits I make to songs when I'm on the road and a lot of music that I find from up and coming artists. DJ sets are also the perfect way for me to test out new songs that I've been working on, and I can see if it works live, how the audience reacts to it and stuff like that.
The live show is very special to me. I've seen it grow from the first show I did in 2017, to where it is now, and to be able to look at the show completely differently now. It doesn't even look or feel like the same show, because it's improved so much over time. I'm dancing, I have backup dancers, I play more instruments, and I'm singing more. To be able to do that, it's very rewarding as an artist. As an artist, you're always trying to test your creative and artistic limit, and that's where I try to do that the most, because I've been DJing for eight or nine years. so I needed to try something different. So I decided to try the live show thing out, and it worked, so I'm glad that people like it!"
It’s been over a year since you released your debut album, Wow! Cool Album! Looking back, was there any pressure going into the studio to work on the album, and is there anything you would’ve done different on the record?
"I'd change the whole album! (Laughs) I remember when I first considered that I should do an album, I started crying. It was a big moment for me. To go from putting out songs independently to creating the means for myself to write an album with no label pressure or guidance was quite an undertaking. It's not very easy when you have no team direction, because I did everything myself.
My album was actually finished in the process of doing the live show, because I needed to fill that time with new original music. I didn't want to play other people's stuff during a live show. It's different with a DJ set, but during a live set, you're always going to want to play original music. So I was creating little tidbits here and there that later turned into full songs. It was a lot of pressure because it was the first one, and you always want to make a statement, Also, I was trying to make it unique and interesting. It needed to capture the essence of who I am as a person and an artist.
It was a four-to-five year journey to make the album. I feel like when you're working on your first album, you're trying to fit all of your life's experiences into it, so there's a lot you want to accomplish. When you're done with that, and you have a clearer idea on what you want to do for the next record, things get a lot easier. So yeah, there definitely was a lot of pressure for the first record, but it was also exciting at the same time."
This year has seen the rise of a lot of musicians and artists talking about mental health. What do you do to stay grounded?
"It's something I struggle with, still. It's not something that has defeated me, and I know how to combat that, and I'm stronger than that. A lot of artists are now coming to that realization. I think going into the new year, a lot of artists are having that last moment of clarity where they know that they can overcome their issues and push forward.
I think it's more of an internal battle. We always assume what other people are thinking or feeling, but we never actually sit down and talk to them. Sometimes we get stuff on social media, or reviews or negative comments that don't sit well with us. It eats us up more than any compliment ever could. It's something that people are learning to process correctly now, and it's still uphill battle. There's a fine line between your personal life and your professional life, and I think artists are beginning to figure out how to balance that out now.
It's a big challenge for a lot of people, myself included. I struggled with that for a lot of years. I think once you take a moment and step back to ask yourself why you do this, that's when you kind of get clarity. If you're chasing fame, you're probably never going to be content. The traveling and exhaustion plays a part in the whole scheme of things, sure, but the biggest issue, I think, boils down to why you're doing what you're doing. I do think this is something that everyone can overcome if they process it correctly and they have the right people around them to talk to."
You’re a part of The Binches with KAYZO, Dotcom and Yultron. Are there any plans in the works for The Binches next year?
"Ah yes, those sweet boys! It's hard working things out with everyone because we're all working on our own stuff. I think we've only had like three or four shows together. It's really illusive. That wasn't intentional, by any means. We're just so busy. It mostly happens out of convenience, when we're all in the same area at the same time. We actually haven't flown out to do a show as The Binches yet, nor have we discussed about doing that, or even when the next show's going to be. We hang out all the time, but musically we're focusing on our own things.
I'm in the midst of my tour, I know Yultron and Kayzo are both touring as well. Dotcom's always busy with his own stuff. Early next year, most of us have time off, so who knows. I'm always on the optimistic side of doing that again. I love those guys to death, so any chance I get to hang with them and play shows, I'm always down. I know they are too, it's just a matter of timing."
Despite having vast catalogs of music, a lot of musicians, especially when it comes to dance music, have that one song that put the artist on the map. Most of the time, you'll have a lot of fans who just want to hear that one song. With you, that track was 'Thief'. Have you ever found yourself getting sick of the song?
"Honestly speaking, no. I try to be as grateful and humble about everything that I have in my life now, and 'Thief' was one of the songs that made that happen for me. It's brought me to so many places, and gotten me a larger audience, and it's still happening now, years after it was released. I haven't gotten sick of it because I get to play so many different versions of it. With the live sets, I get to sing it all and play the instruments live and add in a few little tweaks here and there that just kind of breathe new life into the track every night.
I can definitely understand why a lot of musicians would feel that way, though. But thankfully, I still love the song as much as I did when it first came out. 'Thief' is a great starting point, not just for me as a musician, but for a lot of fans who haven't heard my music. It draws people in and they'll likely find themselves checking out my other tracks."
What do you have in store for 2020?
"Even before next year, I have two songs coming out by the end of this year. So I have one track with Nitti Gritti and I have another track with Lax. Those two tracks are coming out really soon, we're just confirming the release dates, so those are pretty much settled.
I think I want to collaborate more with other artists, pick their brains and learn as much as I can. I'll also be going into my second album, so that's going to be daunting and exciting at the same time. I'll probably take some time off in the middle of the year to focus on that, because I'll most probably be touring throughout summer."
As we look forward to 2020, it’s important that we look back at 2019 and the past decade, and appreciate the things that have happened. In retrospect, what’re some of your favourite moments of the decade and this year respectively?
"Wow, so much has happened in the past decade. Graduating high school was definitely a big thing for me. That happened in 2010. From that moment to how I got to where I am right now, it's hard to choose. My first international show was in Kiev, Ukraine. I remember the first time I flew on a plane for a domestic show, from California to Atlanta.
This year, I looked through all my old photos and it brought back a lot of memories in the decade that I had forgotten about, and I got to reflect on everything that has happened in the past couple of years. I think the biggest thing for me, will always be how music can create so many opportunities and such a life for myself. I studied to do graphic arts, so if I weren't doing music, I'd probably be doing that right now. Life happens fast and I'm just grateful for every moment that I've had so far.
This year has been an eye-opening year for me. So much has happened. Oh my god, I just remembered that I played the Sahara Tent at Coachella. That completely slipped my mind, but it for sure has been of the defining moments of my career. I don't know what's next, but we're going to keep pushing our limits and see how far we can go. The possibilities are endless."