Big Data: A techno take on technology
2.0, the new album from producer extraordinaire Big Data (Alan Wilkis), features guest appearances from Twin Shadow, Rivers Cuomo, White Sea, Kimbra, Jamie Lidell and many more. The electronic artist saw major success in 2014 with his hit single “Dangerous (feat. Joywave).” Wilkis was named one of Rolling Stone’s “10 Artists You Need to Know” and a USA Today “On the Verge” artist. Wilkis phoned from a Washington, D.C. tour stop.
Talk about your background. Did you go to art school?
I’ve been playing music since I was 5. I started on piano and I got into guitar at age 12. I’ve been playing ever since. Music has always been my thing. It’s in my DNA. I started getting into producing and recording in college at Harvard. I’ve always listened to so much different music. I’ve always loved electronic music especially. It’s thrown into the blender. There was a surprising amount of music on campus. I had a lot of music friends. I heard a lot of jazz. I played in a hip-hop group. There’s a vibrant community there and in Boston there’s tons of music there.
You released your first EP in 2013. How did Big Data first come together?
That’s the first time I ever put anything out. I put “Dangerous” out first that summer and the EP out in October. I was working on the EP starting in the summer of 2012. Once the songs were recorded and ready to roll, I started working on the interactive video and the “Dangerous” video. I was lining up remixers too. I spent the second half preparing.
You make electronic music but I don’t know that I’d call it electronic dance music.
I wouldn’t put it in that scene but there’s a lot of electronic stuff happening. Because I’m a guitar player and a band guy first, that comes out a lot in the music. I don’t think you’d walk away from music thinking it’s a Skrillex album.
Talk about the concept behind the new album.
Each song has some kind of technological starting point, whether it’s an article about something weird that just happened on the Internet or Edward Snowden. I would keep a list of stuff that was happening in technology. When I got together with the singer for each song, we would go through and see if any ideas jumped out. Once we picked a starting point we would think about how to boil it down to one word, the thing that ties it all together and makes it into a pop song.
Do you think technology has made our lives better?
It’s complicated. I think overall, I’m in favor of it. I don’t want to get rid of it. The good it does outweighs the bad. I’m just trying to shine a light on the fact that there is bad and we should be aware of that and be careful the next time you sign up for the next social media that surfaces and give away all your rights.
The video for “Dangerous” is edgy. Talk about what you were going for.
Originally, I had an idea to do a video that was a commercial for a running sneaker. It became evident that the sneaker made you do something evil. That was all I had. I met the two directors and the three of us turned it into more of a story. It’s taking a crack at advertising and consumerism and how we’re being sold stuff that the companies know is bad for us but they still sell. They use sex and violence and bright colors and smiles. It’s poison. I wanted to do that while using sex and violence to sell my own music. There’s some irony in there.
You’re satirizing show commercials that make it seem like shoes can enable you do incredible things.
Absolutely. I was trying to nail the cliché. They’ll help you exercise and you’ll be more whatever.
I love the bass riff in the song. Is it electronic or organic?
I’m playing that. It’s a baritone guitar but I did play it.
Did Joywave join you in the studio?
All the instrumental stuff I do alone. That’s all me. All the instruments and music writing I do alone. All the vocal parts I co-write with the singer. We’ll write the melody first and then we get into the conceptual stuff.
Talk about working with Rivers Cuomo. Did you write that song with him in mind?
I think that was the last song we made. I didn’t have a song about Edward Snowden yet. It felt like you had to have that.
Was he at all reluctant to be speaking as Edward Snowden?
It’s the reverse. We’re singing it from the perspective of the NSA people who are pissed off at Edward Snowden and trying to cover it up.
You enjoyed working with him?
Oh my God, it was the coolest experience of my life. It was a dream come true. I’ve idolized Weezer since I was a kid. I put him on my wish list as something that would never happen.
What is your live show like?
I knew I wanted the show to feel like a band. I didn’t want it to be a cheesy DJ thing. I like real musicians and I like when there’s showmanship. Step one was to put a rhythm section together. As we’ve been touring more and more, it has grown. We have a bassist, a drummer and a guitarist. I sing the male vocal parts and I have a singer who does the female parts. We sing together and do a lot of the harmonies together too.
Oh man. We just put the album out so I want to promote it and get it to as many people as possible, but I do have some ideas in the back of my head. I have some ideas but nothing concrete yet.
Upcoming 2015 Tour Dates
Buffalo, NY @ Showplace Buffalo
Atlanta, GA @ Sweetwater 420 Fest
Salt Lake City, UT @ Urban Lounge
Boise, ID @ Knitting Factory
Portland, OR @ Hawthorne Theatre
Seattle, WA @ The Crocodile
Victoria, BC @ Sugar Nightclub
Vancouver, BC @ Venue
San Francisco, CA @ Great American Music Hall
Reno, NV @ The Knitting Factory
Sacramento, CA @ Harlows
Los Angeles, CA @ Troubadour
Columbia, MD @ DC 101 Kerfuffle
Tampa, FL @ Big Guava Fest
Fort Worth, TX @ Untapped Fort Worth
Las Vegas, NV @ X107.5 OBC 2015
Charlotte, NC @ 106.5 The END Birthday Bash
Costa Mesa, CA @ The Pacific Amphitheatre