DJ/producer Tim Wu (aka Elephante) first started making music at a young age. Classical piano lessons and self-taught guitar laid the groundwork for a lifelong love of performing, but he took a detour along the way.
After graduating from Harvard, Wu landed a lucrative consulting job at McKinsey & Company management consulting firm. But the Ann Arbor, Michigan-born, Los Angeles-based DJ continued to make music after work hours and eventually quit his day job to devote all of his time to it.
After remixing the likes of Lorde, Calvin Harris, Katy Perry and Galantis, Wu released his debut EP (even though at nine songs it’s more like an LP), “I Am The Elephante,” last September. Seven tracks of remixes followed in December.
Before Wu headed out on his 29-date “I Am The Elephante” tour, he spoke with PACIFIC about his journey so far.
PACIFIC: How are you? Enjoying this rain?
ELEPHANTE: Good. Thanks. And this is my first winter in SoCal when it actually rained. I guess I’ll take one for the team (laughs). Really, though, why would anyone not live here? When you live in the Midwest, it’s just engrained in you that the weather is going to suck for six months of the year. But when you realize it doesn’t have to be like that, your eyes finally open.
Is your family still in Michigan?
Yes. But my parents have finally come out here for the last few Christmases. I think that I’ve convinced them that it’s nicer out here, so I don’t have to go back and embrace the sh---y Michigan winter.
Before you put out “I Am The Elephante,” you were known for your remixes. Is it weird, exciting, difficult, or maybe all of the above, to now have your original work remixed by others?
It’s definitely a little weird. But it’s also super exciting. For me, a big part of the EP was to stake my ground artistically. The remixes I’ve done were fun. But that was about getting my name out there and developing my craft. Writing songs and putting out original music is always the thing that I wanted to do. Now that it’s happened, it almost feels surreal. I’ve pretty much blacked out all of the days and years that I spent working on it. Here’s this thing that now exists and I don’t even know how I made it. And there are people remixing it. When I was first remixing, songs were just things that existed in the musical universe. Now, I’ve contributed to that somehow and people are reaching into that space and putting their own spin on it. It’s completely surreal.
When: 9 p.m. Feb. 25
Where: Omnia, 454 Sixth Ave., Downtown
So much is made of you leaving a high-end job to pursue DJing. How has your creativity changed now that it’s not a cathartic and reactionary process, but the thing you’re supposed to be doing?
When I was working, it was a catharsis and was a way of blowing off steam. But I also always felt like it was my true life. Making music is the thing I love doing and I would do even if I didn’t have a career. And I think that’s what dawned on me. I always had the pipedream of being a musician. But it has also always just been a part of who I am and what I’ve done my whole life. Quitting was more about giving myself a shot to see if it would work. I would’ve never forgiven myself if I never gave it a shot. Now, there’s just a hunger. I want to get better and better at what I do. Ultimately, that’s the joy. That’s what fulfills me. I just want to make music that makes people feel the same way music made me feel growing up.
What else has changed now that you’re making music for a living?
Well, I’ve learned a lot from this process. And I think now I have a lot less to prove. And ultimately, that’s a good thing. The EP was the first time a lot of people heard what I had to say. And I threw the entire kitchen sink in there. It was kind of like, “I’m good motherf----r and you’re going to hear all of the things I’m good at.” But now that I’ve gotten all the technical things out of the way, I feel like I can just concentrate on making songs. And sometimes, less is what’s best for a song. And now it’s also less about showing people what I can do, and more about making and building songs around an idea or feeling. And that can only help my music.
What’s next for you?
Well, I’ve found that the business and marketing aspects of this are so very separate from the creative for me. I’m sure other artists disagree, but as soon as I start thinking about how I’m going to release something, or what it’s for, or how it fits in the plan, that’s when the music doesn’t really work anymore. That’s when it doesn’t feel natural or organic. “Plans” is a good example of that. I thought that we had everything done, had all the singles picked out, and I made that song just for me. And that’s turning out to be the biggest song on the EP. Right now, I’m just trying to do the best thing for each song - not when I’m going to release it or if it matches what people think is my brand. For me, it’s just more important to do my best by each song. Then when I have enough of those together, we can figure out how and when to release them.
Scott McDonald is a writer, on-air personality and consultant with 15 years of experience in the San Diego music scene. He has interviewed hundreds of artists, from the legendary to the underground, for print and television. Follow McDonald and his melodic musings on Twitter @eight24_ or Instagram @scotteight24. Send your music musts to firstname.lastname@example.org.