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EKKSTACY: The Big Come Up

With his self-titled sophomore album, the emo rapper turned indie alternative star is finally ready to introduce himself.

by Erica Campbell

Photos by Jason Nocito and Sharad Gadhia

We’ve been standing in New York City’s A-1 Record Shop for just a few short minutes when a vintage pressing of the Ramones’ Rocket To Russia stops Vancouver-born indie artist EKKSTACY in his tracks. He leans over the counter and gently pulls the record off its display shelf, noting aloud that he already has a copy of the album, but not one in this condition. He walks through the tight aisles of vinyl on a mission, pausing as he reaches the section labeled “punk” as his hands quickly sift through the names of artists written in Sharpie. He picks up the paper sleeves that pique his interest, flipping them over and examining their artwork and production notes. As he tells RANGE during our walk around the city’s storied East Village, record collecting has become a new obsession for the musician. His eyes light up as he moves from the punk section to a collection of classic rock, all while discussing a rare gospel album he’s been hunting for months. Much like his own sound, EKKSTACY’s crate-digging habits mirror a wide range of sonic influences—one that wouldn’t fit neatly into one specific section of the record store.

Most of the world’s first taste of EKKSTACY’s unique music stylings came by way of his distorted, spiraling, MGMT-meets-Steve Lacy track, “I Walk This Earth All By Myself.” The viral introduction came complete with a litany of existential lyrics on loneliness, all held up by buoyant, stirring arrangements that drove the song to 180M streams globally (and counting). The song was released as part of EKKSTACY’s 2021 debut EP, Negative, a collection of seven songs that all shared the same mixture of melancholy draped over a pulsating undercurrent; an astute sadness met with a propelling urge to move forward. His first LP, 2022’s Misery, dwelled in post-punk melodies and 80s goth rock, drawing comparisons to Misfits and Christian Death across its 11 tracks while still showing off his penchant for pop production. 

Now, the 21-year-old is set to release his second full-length, 13 songs he felt so tied to that he let the LP, which is set for release in January of 2024, lift his moniker for its name. Still, as he tells us while sitting at the back of Josie’s, a noisy, sticky East Village dive bar, he’s more interested in the future than even the recent past.

(Photo: Sharad Gadhia)

EKKSTACY seems right at home in New York, hugging a few friends who he’s surprised to see sitting at the bar when he walks in and scoping out the best seat in the room like a local. He’s been in town for just about a week, and yesterday he was busy shooting a music video for his gritty, echoing guitar single “Bella.” Despite his familiarity with the city, the rising star recently made the decision to move from his hometown of Vancouver to Los Angeles. But when it comes to the three cities, how do their music scenes compare? “Vancouver’s the greatest place in the world, just not for music,” he says. “There’s not much of a scene in Vancouver that I’m aware of. Apparently there is a good hardcore scene and punk scene, but I’m not really in that. I do like that music a lot though.” His voice trails off, as he seems to hit on the real issue he has with the scene he got his start in. “Things kind of just suck there because no one helps eachother out,” he adds. 

He found the support he was looking for in California, recording much of his latest album at Lake Arrowhead. “It’s a good album and I did a lot of it myself,” he says, explaining why he’s decided to make it self-titled. “Most of my favourite songs on this album, I made by myself.” EKKSTACY’s second LP marks a creative shift for him, one that sees him leaning deeper into his own production skills—as he points out, when the producer he typically works with was busy working with other artists, he simply decided to do it himself. That ability gave him more autonomy when it came to crafting his one-of-a-kind sound, one his friend and photographer Jason Nocito refers to as “Shoe-gazi,” because it combines shoegaze and punk, a la Fugazi. But he didn’t land on the sound overnight. 

EKKSTACY knew he wanted to be a musician “as soon as I made my first song,” he says, adding that looking back at that time is “so nostalgic.” “It makes me so sad to think about because it was so fun starting,” he continues. “I was just about to turn 17, I think. I used to use beats on YouTube, just search for beats to make emo rap music, and the beats were actually good.” Even then, playing around on the internet, being a full-time musician was his goal. “I never for a second thought I wasn’t going to at least have this much success,” he says. “I made myself. I was like, ‘You’ve got to do something cool.’” 

Even in those faithful early days, however, he wasn’t prepared for the success of “I Walk This Earth All By Myself.” “I didn’t even think it was good,” he says. “I called my friend and said, ‘Is this a good song?’ and he said ‘It’s the greatest song.’ But I didn’t think it was going to be that… it was just another song. That’s how it always goes. Whenever you think something’s really good, it doesn’t do that good. I think that when you like a song too much, it’s like you made it for yourself. There’s a lot of songs that I’ve made like that, I don’t think anyone gives a shit about, but I love them because they’re exactly what I would want to hear. That was the first indie song I ever made.”

(Photo: Sharad Gadhia)

After delving into emo rap and mirroring the sounds of SoundCloud artists, indie was a strange but natural next step for the artist. “I didn’t know anything about indie music,” he says. “ I was listening to The Drums everyday and Current Joys while I was working at Amazon on the graveyard shift. I would just listen to this song called ‘Face of God’ by The Drums and ‘New Flesh’ by Current Joys, just two songs for eight hours straight while trying to figure out what to do, and I wrote “I Walk This Earth” right after that.” The intuitive creative process behind his biggest hit happens to be the same one that made his most recent album possible. “Good songs make themselves,” he says. “You don’t really have any part in making a good song. Sometimes it just clicks and the universe gives you a good song. You’ve just gotta make a lot of music and eventually, you’ll make a good song. They just write themselves, it just happens, and I love that feeling.” Album single “Bella” was one of those naturally-born “good” songs. “I wrote the hook in five minutes,” he says. 

The album also features an assist from SoundCloud rapper Trippie Redd, harmonizing on the heart-open, steady strumming track “Problems,” and Australian rapper The Kid LAROI, adding his take on the bright and climbing “Alright.” “Kid LAROI is one of the biggest artists in the world, so when he wants to make a song, you make a song. He’s got a new song coming out called ‘Bleed.’ He sent it to me when we were both in LA, it’s so amazing,” EKKSTACY says.

(Photo: Sharad Gadhia)

Though his soon-to-be-released album found sonic inspiration from everywhere while he was on tour, a process that he says made it “weird,” his next LP will be “a real rock album.” “This album is a mixtape,” he says. “Next time, all the songs are going to be the same. That’s why I like vinyl, I’ve never made a cohesive album. Like this,” he says, picking up the Ramones album that’s sitting in the bag on our table. “This is the best album ever. I really do listen to rock music, I’m not influenced by SoundCloud anymore. I’m getting my face tattoos removed. I’m not just one of those kids that is just making music.” He mentions his friend Jason again, and that his suggestion to buy a record player “changed his life.” 

Back in the present moment, he’s excited to have his LP out next year. “It’s been on the back burner forever,” he says. “There are songs on this album that I had written when Misery wasn’t even out. I think this album is just going to be a blip in my career. I don’t think it’s going to change my life,” he says. We both pause, both our minds likely moving to his first accidental viral hit. “Then again, you never know.”

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