In the days leading up to Okeechobee Music Festival, Dancebreak put together a list of artists that we were most excited to see, which included Jackson Stell, also known as Big Wild. Big Wild performed Thursday night at Aquachobee Beach, the night before the majority of campers arrived at the campgrounds. In spite of this, Big Wild still drew a large and enthusiastic crowd and put on a performance that got patrons ready for an unforgettable weekend. When he took the stage, he addressed the crowd with a tone that was giddy with excitement. As he jumped between instruments during his performance, it became clear that Big Wild is someone who is appreciative of the opportunity to share his talents with the world. After his show, we had the opportunity to sit down with Jackson and discuss his upcoming spring tour, his inspiration, his background, and what we can expect from Big Wild in the future.
Dancebreak commentary is in italics, while commentary from Big Wild is in normal text.
Welcome back to Florida. Thanks for taking the time to chat with me. It seems like you’re in a really exciting point in your career. To start, the name Big Wild, where did that come from?
It kind of originated during my first trip to California. It was maybe three years ago now. I went to Big Sur and camped there for a couple of nights and I was just really surprised by the landscape and the natural beauty of the whole area and it kind of, for whatever reason, gave me insight as to where I wanted to take my electronic sound from there. Because up to that point, I had kind of been shooting in the dark with what I wanted my sound to be. I decided from there that I wanted to be adventurous and blend electronic and acoustic elements. That name just came about naturally.
You said that you’re originally from Lancaster, MA, right? And you’ve since moved out to Venice Beach. When did that happen?
Well I lived in San Francisco for five months. I moved out there in April 2014, and after that I moved to LA. I’ve been there ever since.
Was that primarily because you wanted to focus on music?
Well I got kicked out of my apartment, because they were jacking up the rent. There was a lot of drama. But also because of the music scene, and my girlfriend was going to UCLA, so there were all these things telling me to move there.
You’ve previously supported Gramatik, Odesza, GRiZ, and others on tour. This month you’re embarking on your own headlining tour, two of the shows are already sold out. Congratulations on that. What’s different about your headlining Spring Tour? How does your preparation for headlining shows differ from supporting acts?
It’s tough for me to say, because I’ve never really headlined. Actually I’ve headlined one show so far. It was just a random charity show I did in Austin. But I think what’s going to be really cool now is I feel like I have more freedom to carry out my full vision of what I see myself doing on stage and performing. I’m going to be using more new music that I’ve been producing lately and this is kind of going to be an exposé for all of that. I’m going to be able to control the visuals and everything. It’s awesome to fully use your vision. Whereas when you’re support or direct support for an opener, you kind of have to fit in the mold of whoever is the headliner. Because it’s their show. But now I have that privilege of being the headliner. That’s the best part of it.
It sounds pretty exciting. Are there any specific locations that you’re excited to play at, or are you going into this kind of blind?
I’m definitely going into it blind. I’m really excited to do the San Francisco show. It was the first one to sell out and it’s at a venue called The Independent, which I really like. I’m really excited to perform there because I have a really solid fan base there. Whenever I play in San Francisco, they really vibe with my music. That being said, I’m really excited to perform pretty much everywhere. I’m just excited to tour the country and play my music.
Before you started producing music, were you ever a patron at The Independent?
I did play there once. I opened up for this group called Digitalism and then I also saw a show there, Slow Magic, which was really fun.
I asked you a little bit about your preparation, what kind of equipment do you typically use for live shows? What instruments are you normally playing?
I have my drum pad, my piano, a Cajón, which is kind of a wooden box, percussion instrument. Then I have a MIDI interface where I trigger things off my computer. I have a mic for whistling. And that’s pretty much it. It’s kind of like a small one-man band.
What kind of software are you using?
I use Ableton. And I use Kontakt to trigger my drum sounds off the drum pad.
What about in the studio? I previously read that you started out making hip-hop beats using FL Studio. Are you still using that?
I used that for a while. I switched over to Ableton about three years ago. That’s what I’ve been using ever since.
Has that affected your creative process at all?
I think a little bit. I think for me, warping samples and sampling in general is a little easier in Ableton. So it’s gotten me a little more into that world compared to when I was using FL Studio. Overall, it hasn’t changed my perception of music. My work flow is a little different, but not crazy different. I think at the end of the day a lot of it is very similar.
What were you doing before you started producing? What’s your background? Did you play traditional instruments growing up?
I played piano for about two years, then I played trumpet for six years. But it really wasn’t until I started to produce music, when I was in 8th grade, when I really started to get in to music. Before, I enjoyed it, but I wasn’t really all about it. It wasn’t until I started to song-write and produce where I was like “this is what I want to do.”
You seem to occupy this really cool place in music where there’s a fusion of modern electronics and technology with traditional instruments. It seems like these days the definition of a musician is a lot more fluid as a result of that. Would you say it’s an accurate assessment to call you an instrumentalist, a producer, and a DJ?
I think at the end of the day, the most accurate thing to call me would be a songwriter, because, while I am producing, I’m making music in a program, I’m writing the melodies and writing the drumlines. I’m basically crafting a song. For me, that’s my greatest skill. That’s what first got me into music. Then once I started to play more live, that’s when I was like “ok let’s start to work on my instrument performance ability.” That’s when I started to go back and re-learn all these instruments again. I would say that the labels you gave me are fair, but like you said, there’s a lot of gray area in terms of what qualifies as being a DJ and what qualifies as being a producer. I think a songwriter and a musician is the most barebones definition of what I am. Then you can kind of expand it to more modern names like DJ and producer.
Similar to how you have sub-genres of music?
How do these different skillsets affect your music persona? It sounded like you started out doing songwriting and then moved more into live shows. Did that retroactively effect how you were crafting music?
Definitely. You definitely get a different perception of how people listen and understand your music when you play it out live. Especially—you have to do a lot of different scenarios. You have to be able to play at festivals, small gigs, big gigs, and tours, to really understand how people understand your music. When I’m behind the computer, making music, sharing it on the internet, I can never really get that perspective. Ever since I started to tour a lot more, I’ve really been able to basically understand how people—when I make something, I have a better idea of how people are going to understand it and how they’re going to hear it, as opposed to before, I feel like I was just kind of guessing.
I previously read that you used to focus on music that just sounded good, but now you want to make music that inspires people. Is there a track of yours that you find particularly inspiring?
I think that’s been one of my goals for almost every song I’ve made under the name “Big Wild.” I produced a lot of beats before that, but I think just by trying to make something different that people can still relate to, it’s kind of a key to making someone inspired. It’s easy to bite a trend or get involved with what’s current and I think that’s fine, but I think it’s really important to do it with your own style. That’s kind of what I wanted to inspire with other people—to have your own perspective, have your own individual style, and to bring them another world and show people.
What other non-music related people, places, or ideas influence your music?
I’m really big into—I used to hike all the time growing up and I reflect on those times when I was hiking in the mountains a lot. There are these very peaceful memories that I have. For the songs that are more serene that I make, that are less dancey, that’s where I try to go to. I base it off of feeling, usually I reference how certain moments in the past made me feel and represent that in the song I’m making and channel that. I do that all the time. It usually comes down to times when I was outside and important conversations that I have with people that made me feel a certain way, like really big events in my life. If you can distill that moment to a specific feeling and then if you can capture that feeling in a song, everybody that you play that to can feel something off of that. That’s what I’m trying to do.
I can relate to that. There have certainly been songs of yours that kind of felt outdoorsy to me. I know that’s a weird label to use for music, but the whole persona of it would bring up memories of going out hiking and exploring nature. I’d say you’ve been successful in that regard. That’s all I had for questions for you. Is there anything else you would like to add?
I’m working on a lot of original music right now. I plan on releasing it all throughout the year. There’s a lot of big things to come. I think people are really going to like it because I’m taking a slightly different approach than what I’ve done in the past. I’m working with more vocalists. I’m trying to create a really good mold of my production, with a vocalist, like a more well-rounded song I would say. I’ve been working a lot on that recently, because I haven’t put out too much recently. I’ve spent more time working in the studio, working on music. I would like people to know that I’m working on a lot of music to be released throughout the year.
So you’re bringing in external people to do vocals?
Ya, it’s kind of like expanding this project of Big Wild beyond just me. I don’t want it to just be about me. I just want to make great music. I think I’m finding the right people to make that happen.
When you look around and see the artists that are really successful, it’s usually the ones that have cultivated a certain culture around what they’re doing, as opposed to just making it about themselves.
Right, and that’s what I’m trying to build right now
Thanks so much for your time. Good luck with the rest of your tour.