Besides being a standout artist on Pretty Lights' label, Pretty Lights Music, the Colorado resident has his own label and retail brand known as ELM & OAK. The firm, which he runs with his business partner, has four employees and a store that's open seven days a week. Spinner chatted with him about the label, his music, marijuana and more just before a recent show at New York's Webster Hall, where he followed an especially uproarious performance by Cleveland's own Machine Gun Kelly. Needless to say, Paper Diamond's set featured far less teenage nudity.
Can you give us a little perspective on your tour life?
Well, I do drink and smoke weed, so that's pretty much a daily for me. Well not drinking, but definitely smoking weed consistently. It's one of the reasons I live in Colorado, and the music that I make. I take music-making very seriously and I love what I do, and I'm grateful for every day that I get to do this. I've been touring since I was 19. The Paper Diamond project is a little new to me but my life as a musician is the only thing that I know. It's what's made me into a humble, receptive person that's interested in change and I think it has to do a lot to do with where I am. I embrace change, I embrace technology.
People ask me how I feel about electronic music getting big as it is today, and I expected it, honestly. When I dropped out of college to follow my dreams and make music full time, I thought that electronic music would be huge in America. I'm excited for what's to come.
What's your daily routine like?
When I'm at home, I hit the lab all day. I have an art gallery, design firm and retail store that I own that's open seven days a week. So I work on music, go there, go to the gym every day and eat really healthy when I'm home. I used to live in the South where everything was fried, but in Colorado everything is organic. I'm grateful to be in a place where there is music every single day. People consider New York and Los Angeles and London these hubs for electronic music, but honestly Colorado is a hub for upcoming electronic music. You can see it with the acts that are coming out of there, like Pretty Lights and Bassnectar. And these are just my homies. I'm proud to represent Colorado.
And I take care of my puppy, Otis. He's a chow. The ladies love cool Otis.
When it comes to your own label, ELM & Oak, do you work on anything other than music? Or is the design and other work handled by other artists?
No, I'm a designer too. I'm obsessed with typography and design and the way messages are delivered. Everything is intertwined. Like if you play drums, you should probably learn bass, piano, guitar and scratching, like I did. Once you know all those things, you can be a true, well-rounded person. This day and age, the way that people get music, you have to have great visuals and take it to the next level visually. I'm lucky to have a great team of designers that are friends of mine that I've reached out to who share the same vision as me.
I've been thinking about Paper Diamond for years. I always wanted that image that isn't so directly related to me, where I can have a little bit of freedom to be more artistic. It's like I planned this all and released it, and then my first show is opening for Bassnectar.
What has the last year been like? What else stands out?
Playing at Red Rocks, putting out 'Levitate,' getting to tour with Pretty Lights, flying for 14 nights in a row, going on tour with Skrillex -- just being around all these people who are so inspirational and bringing people happiness and getting to change their lives. And not going about it like, "I just want to be a f---ing rock star." Yeah, I want to party and I want to hang out and meet people and enjoy cool things, but I love making music. I love being able to give my music out for free and still being able to live my life.
Talk a bit about what it's like to work with Pretty Lights (aka Derek Vincent Smith). What's the sense of community like between you and the other guys on his label?
Michael Menert I consider to be one of my best friends. SuperVision is a good friend of mine. Derek [Vincent Smith, Pretty Lights] is so busy right now that we don't hang as much as we did when I first was signed. But I'm a self-driven person, and I believe in Pretty Lights Music like I believe in ELM & OAK. I think Derek has changed the music industry by giving out the content for free, and I think he sort of changed the course of music history.
But like when I come to New York, I have to check out the Supreme store, I got to see what these other people are doing. But if you go to Boulder, there's amazing music and food, but ELM & OAK is the s--- to check out. We're bringing art back to Boulder. My homie runs the site ThisSongIsSick.com, and it's different in Boulder -- there's no "little fish, big fish" mentality. It's more like, "Let's all come up together." For example, I taught the guy from Big Gigantic how to make music on a computer.
How long does the average remix take you?
Sometimes it's an hour, sometimes it's a week, sometimes it's two years.
Are there any releases or remixes you're most excited about right now?
I just finished a Bassnectar remix that he sent me the parts to, so I have the drums, the bass, the vocals. I don't know if he's going to put it out, because he just asked me if I wanted to make a remix, and who says no to making a Bassnectar remix. But I've been playing it, and people are losing their minds over the tracks.
But for me, all of my remixes are something special to me. When it came to the Kanye remix, how often does Pitchfork give an album a 10? I knew people were going to freak out about this everywhere. So I was like, "I have to get on this, and I have to be the first one." And everyone picked these really heavy songs, but when I heard 'Power,' I knew it was the one for me. When I heard that song, I heard the remix -- I have really selective hearing. I wasn't even hearing the song, I was hearing my own version.
It's the same thing with the 'Wildfire' remix. I love Little Dragon, and I love Yukimi [Nagano, the frontwoman of Little Dragon]. If I could work with anyone in music ... I just love the whole band. I've changed my flights to see them, I saw them at Outside Lands, at North Coast, etc. And I got to meet her, there's just something about her and their stage presence. It's inspiring to me to see how a band can flourish in a time of DJ's. Right now the new rockstar's guitar is a laptop. You want to be a rockstar? Get a laptop.
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