Melbourne teen prodigy Japanese Wallpaper, the artistic alias for Gab Strum, recently closed out a string of US dates at SXSW before stopping off for a couple of performances in New York City.
Gab Strum began recording as Japanese Wallpaper at age 15, and it did not take long for him to rise into the Australian limelight. Performances at Falls Festivals, Splendour in the Grass, and Laneway festivals; public praise from Lorde and Gotye; a Hollywood movie soundtrack spot; the young producer’s success didn’t slow down as the release of ‘Breathe In (ft. Wafia)’ dominated the local radios.
Now, aged 19, Japanese Wallpaper has one EP and a single to his name, but has picked up significant support across the globe. His Soundcloud account achieving over 500k plays on his debut EP, his Spotify profile averaging 206k listeners a month, and a Facebook page now surpassing 40k fans. Japanese Wallpaper is also working on his debut album, which looks to be slated for release through Zero Through Nine.
Ahead of his performance at Baby’s All Right, Brooklyn, Vaunter sat down with Japanese Wallpaper to discuss his rise to fame, what he has learned along the way, and what advice he has for other people aiming to be musicians. This is what he had to say:
First, thanks for spending the time to talk ahead of your show at Baby’s All Right, Brooklyn. How was SXSW for you?
It wasn’t easy, but then again, it never really is. I had some fun playing though.
How does it compare from going from performing a headline show, like tonight at Baby’s All Right, to being a part of a talent showcase?
Oh man, it’s so weird. It’s a huge adjustment, but we got used to it by the end. It took us a couple of days, but we managed to get there eventually.
What lies in store next for you?
I’m going to be hanging out in New York for a bit, until Friday, then I’ll be flying home. I need to finish off things on the album and then we’re heading on tour with a rapper called Allday back in Australia. He’s a good friend of mine, but he’s off to play stadiums and arenas which is super cool. I was like, of course, I’ll join you, so It should be really fun.
We read that you have been working on your debut album over the past few months, how has that process been?
I have been working by myself a lot on this, but then I have been recording with my live band. Most of the album is done now, so it’s about finding a producer and get them to put the final touches on it all together.
Like your debut EP, have you been working with Dustin Tebutt?
This has been entirely me. I’m singing on everything, which should be fun. It has been pretty scary to just be by myself, but I feel a lot more confident now than I did even a year ago. I’ve just got used to singing a lot at my live shows, I suppose.
You described yourself as “normal shy”, but Japanese Wallpaper feels more of collaborative project than a moniker for you. How do you usually process what tracks you want featured with someone or primarily your voice?
Not really. The whole thing was working with my friends and people who I admired. It wasn’t a calculated process of me deciding who would sing, I was just too shy to put myself out there in anymore capacity than I already was.
For me, I was just always looking to find a way to get my songs completed without me having to do the vocals. In my head, I knew it would just come out awful so I did my best to avoid it.
Initially, things went really well back home and you kind of get used to that. Then, you get pushed into this other world and you can’t really hide from that [singing] anymore. As a result, the last few years has just been me adjusting to the changes and I feel that the new music reflects that journey.
After coming onto the scene at such a young age, you were just 17 when you won the Triple-J competition, what challenges do you feel you have had to overcome?
I mean there was a lot of growing up to do very quickly. That was the main thing. I think the nature of this world is that most people in this are older than me. Between hanging out with your band mates, management, and other bands that you tour with, everyone is older than you. That shift takes some time to get used to.
Other than that, I don’t really know. I just don’t think I think about that stuff, as it’s just me. I feel like that might be a better question to ask someone else a little older.
Globally, downtempo electronic is on the rise, with Tycho and Nosaj Thing all seeing success, but how did that also play a part for you whilst growing up in Australia?
Australia has a very diverse music scene. From where I’m from in Melbourne, I have two favorite bands. One sounds a very Radiohead, group, whilst the other is a pop-punk, emo, band. I don’t think my pop-punk phase is ever going to end.
But, on a larger scale, people like Flume, Nick Murphy (fka Chet Faker), RUFUS, which is particularly Sydney centric rather than Melbourne, is definitely a growing scene; Australia seems to be doing it well too.
You mentioned Flume, Nick Murphy, etc., do they influence your sound? It’s hard to imagine you listening to a pop-punk track and jumping straight into recording…
I don’t know to be honest. Me and Faker (Nick Murphy) kind of came out around the same time, so we’ve always been a part of that scene and have mutual friends after we’ve both toured around. I think what we’ve found is that we all end up both our influences from one another.
For us both, a band who are sadly not around anymore but were super influential is a group called Isles. They were so good and I feel like they were influential. It all comes as part of a process though. I toured with them, then I was support Chet (Nick Murphy), and he was supporting Flume. It’s not incestuous, but every ends up listening to each other’s work. It is pretty sick.
What advice would you give to anybody out there looking to be a producer?
I think the biggest thing that I came to realize and still think about is that if you’re new to something, you can put in all the hours and all of the work but if you’re torn between what you make and what you like, it’s super frustrating.
The amount of times I’ve sat there and put on a Washed Out record and doubted myself as I felt I had so much work to do. I got myself down a lot about where I was at in comparison to where my idols were at, but you have to remember that there will always be a discrepancy. You just have to keep persisting in what you’re doing, putting in the hours, and you’ll get there.
If I had one bit of advice for my 15 year old self, it would be to open up Ableton every day whether it’s just to make a beat, or a hook, or anything.
Talking of production, what’s your go-to software?
I made the entire first record on Garageband. Now, I use Ableton for the live shows so my production ended up migrating over to that as well.
It doesn’t matter what program it is, you just need to open it up. You have to view production the same way that you would view any other instrument or even learning a second language.
Stay up to date with Japanese Wallpaper by visiting his website.