Exclusive interview with Ookay


OneEDM had the chance to experience one of Ookay’s live sets during Saturday at Shaky Beats as well as the after party hosted by Ookay featuring Bonnie X Clyde. Before Abe’s set that night, Ookay got personal during an interview. The DJ discussed the recent passing of Avicii, mental illness in the industry, as well as his first album “Wow! Cool Album!”

OneEDM: You came out with your first album “Wow! Cool Album!” on May 4. What went into that, how long did it take, and what were your expectations versus the outcome?

Ookay: The outcome was way more positive than expected, it was amazing, I love the way it came together. It was one of those things where I did not know specifically how to start and end it. A lot of these songs are an accumulation of music that I made throughout the years.

Some songs are three to four years old and others are fresh like two or three months old. It was a good combination of the new and old, refreshing old ideas and bringing them back to life. It is kind of like this is how it started and this is how it ends. I am really happy with even just the fan love.

Literally yesterday it hit 2.8 million streams on Spotify.

Can we get personal and sulky?

Yeah, let’s do it!

With the recent passing of Avicii, what are your feelings about mental health in the EDM community or even in the industry?

In entertainment in general, there is just so much pressure on us at all times. I think we do not talk about it enough. It is important to stay in reality, but it is hard. There is so much that is offered to us, whether it is alcohol, drugs or cheap nights. It is always there, part of the lifestyle.

You go to so many places, you meet so many people so quickly, you forget what is real and what is not. You forget who is actually there, you start to feel a disconnect with your individuality. You feel like just an artist like no one knows who I am but they all know me. It is a very interesting formula.

Have you found that balance yet?

Well, I think a lot of DJs now are starting to travel with a bigger team, with more people. Not always is it for the musical part but for mental health. We need a friend, we need someone to suffer with us. It is one of those things like, “okay, it’s someone I could relate to while I am on the road. I love who I work with, it’s nice to have friends, people I call friends on the road with me.” Like, “oh, you’re hurting right now, me too!” Those things are important, especially when no one else can relate to you.

You go to a club and you are exhausted and have not slept for two days. Those people in that city got a whole days rest and they are ready to party, so it is weird having to blend in with that energy. You have to be the energetic spirit in the room when so many people are excited to see you. It is like almost a persona you have to put up, but in reality, we love to work and play music, and we are glad we can feed into the whole experience. I feel like what happened with Avicii, he got lost in that. There is no textbook guide on how to do it correctly.

You just have the right people surrounding you, don’t you?

I do not blame him for the route he took that lead to destructive health. It is an easy path to fall down. I have fallen down the rabbit hole. But, I think we all have, it is right there in your face. I hope people just learn from it because it is spilled milk. The best thing we can do is learn to avoid it. Luckily, he left something amazing behind. He will live forever, which is something that is great.

In life and in music, what would you say are your biggest struggles and how have they shaped you into the artist you are today?

My biggest struggle was partying too much. It really is a thing, and it is hard to get through it sober. Since I made the change, it has been nice. I wake up on time, I stay hydrated, I go to the gym. It is those small lifestyle changes that make the entire experience easier to work with. I think it is great to be out there and learn the hard way.

It takes a lot of falling down to know what it feels like to get up. I think how can I become the best artist, stay healthy and do this forever. Those are the things I am learning right now. Especially playing live shows, it is more than just getting some songs together, you are performing. You cannot miss a beat, so those are some things I am learning on the road.

When you are not making music, what are some of your favorite artists to listen to?

I need a good music break, to be honest. I listen to a lot of jazz as well as blues. A lot of low-fi, too. I like to hear stuff that I do not have the time to hear at festivals. Music I would like to go see out of my own pocket, music I would pay for. I love jazz, there is an amazing jazz bar right by my house back in Los Angeles. I pay a $15 cover fee every time I go to support local and upcoming musicians.

It is important to support even local acts. We were all local at once. Sometimes I play concert roulette and just see what is in town that night. Especially in LA, there is always something going on. So, jazz, funk, a lot of 70s and 80s. I do not listen to anything poppy, no hip-hop. I am the last person to know new music.

On EDC 2015 Father’s Day, you brought your dad out to play bass. Is that how you got into music?

My dad is definitely the key player in me being here. First of all, it was nice to do something for Father’s Day that meant a lot to me and I think meant a lot to people. We are obviously talking about it now two or three years later. So, I felt like it was the right thing to do. It was not something I was doing for a promotion or press or anything. It was because I wanted to do that. We talk about it all the time, we have been wanting to sit in the studio. I just finished the album, so now we can do that.

Do you set your own visuals for each performance or are they preset?

Well, I travel with a VJ, and he actually queues everything. The same way I mix music, he is mixing visuals and effects. So, every second I do something on stage he is following me. He has been with me for about six to seven months now. There is also a visual team Gestalt Theory that he is on, which is a collection of VJs. Yeah, it is a thing! It is like a crew or gang. They also do Marshmello and Slushii.

What goes into your live set as opposed to your DJ set?

The thing is, I was starting to make music that was hard to mix. I was making music that was hard to mix in the set, and I was like, “I cannot play any of this.” I had to find a way to do something different, reinvent myself. There was a point that I could not play the music I was making and I did not know what to do.

I was put under pressure, I was not supposed to do a live set until like a year after. Then, I got the “hey we booked your first live set.” It is cool because now I am very comfortable with the live set and am able to flip back from the live show to DJ’ing in a second which works. Now we are experimenting, which is fun. There is no pressure. I am in my element.

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Kristina Calamusa

Nurse by day, Director of Operations, East of Oneedm 24/7/365.

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