When electronic dance music ascended into the mainstream in the early 2010s, Wave Racer carved out his own identity. Tracks like 2013’s “Rock U Tonite” and “Stoopid” showed he had the production chops, pioneering the future bass sound, yet could do it all organically. That early success led to joining organic-to-electronic heavyweights like Disclosure and Chromeo on tour, appearing at major festivals like Ultra, and being asked to remix Flume and Foster The People.
Through this momentum, the producer born Tom Purcell left his mark – and found his audience – with 2015’s Flash Drive EP. The release peaked at No. 15 on the U.S. Billboard Electronic Album Charts and No. 6 on the U.S. iTunes Electronic Album Charts. But, a couple years after this distinction, it seemed that Wave Racer all but disappeared.
His comeback – or more like returning to a career he took a hiatus from – started this past year. The Australian producer caught listeners’ attention with a series of singles, starting in 2019 and going into 2020 with “This N That” and “Higher.” He followed that more recently with “Left Behind” and “What are We Waiting For?” and then make a live appearance at Porter Robinson’s Secret Sky festival, where he sang live for the first time.
Following a move to Melbourne, it was a feeling of isolation and increased expectations that caused Purcell to want to take a break, prioritize his mental health, and seek out more authentic connections. In the process, he spent more time writing, focusing on developing more honest pop songs that placed guitars and vocals higher in the mix.
Now planning to release an album later in 2021, Wave Racer is getting his career back on track while evolving his sound. We had a chance to discuss his latest releases and plans for this upcoming year.
You developed a unique electronic dance music production style that has now shifted towards a more indie electronic/experimental pop direction. How did this shift occur?
I have actually always tried to angle my productions towards experimental and pop-styled sonic characteristics. However, in recent years, I have become much more interested in the fundamentals of relatability and meaning through lyric and sound. In the past, I think I was more concerned with the discovery of new sonic experiences or finding ways to generate a type of intense and unpredictable energy through sound design, which are perfectly valid endeavors. However, I was doing so at the expense of a deeper humanistic element that I wasn’t in tune with at the time.
Nowadays, I’m much more interested in a layered experience that values concept and purpose while not disposing of the wonderful technical joys of modern audio manipulation and sonic exploration. I’ve discovered that there’s room in my music for traditional popular songwriting approaches without having to sacrifice any of my existing habits. I love playing guitar, I love vocal melodies and harmonies, I love live-sounding drums and percussion, I love unpredictable distortion effects, I love noise and grit, and tactility, I love the feeling of being in a room with someone reciting poetry and seeing how people respond to all of those things. But, I’m only just now getting around to putting those feelings I love into my music.
You had taken a break before releasing new music starting in 2019. What made you decide to take a break from recording and touring?
After a few years of pretty heavy touring and not much time to focus on myself or explore new musical territory, I needed some time to stop and address some facets of my life that I wasn’t really satisfied with. I had not developed the ability to incorporate hectic touring schedules into my life in a productive way. For example, friendships and relationships became incredibly difficult to maintain, finding time to comfortably experiment with new musical concepts was becoming increasingly rare, and as a result, my avenues for inspiration and expression started to become irreparably diminished.
In general, my life was feeling very one-dimensional and stagnant. I was losing touch with a lot of very important parts of being an artist, and also just being human. So, I had to stop and allow myself some time to find those things again, and hopefully learn to keep hold of them moving forward. Initially I really only wanted a few months of time off for all of this, but it ended up becoming a few years out of necessity. But, I have no regrets at all. Taking that time off was probably the best decision I’ve made. And, I used that time to become a better artist and a healthier person.
You now have two new songs out, the poppier “Left Behind” and the glitchier yet chill “What are We Waiting for.” What was your vision for these tracks?
Both of those singles are a taste of what to expect on the album, but they are very different songs fundamentally. “Left Behind” is about picking up the pieces of a broken soul after the breakdown of a relationship, and figuring out how to repair a fractured identity as a result of that experience. It came early on in the process of writing music with my voice in mind, and was partly a result of me falling in love with my guitar again as well. It’s probably the most open and honest I’ve been in a song before, but there is plenty more of that kind of thing on the rest of the album as well.
“What Are We Waiting For?” is an instrumental piece that stemmed from a creative exercise in which I forced myself to restrict my access to sound sources and focused on process over resources. The core of this track came from a single, short, electronically generated sound source that I copied, shaped, and manipulated using the digital tools at my disposal to create a full piece of music. It’s a shuffling, digitally textured piece that feels like it’s at the limits of what a computer can express emotionally. For me, it was a validation of process over resources, which was a helpful mindset to discover for the rest of the album as well.
You recently participated in Porter Robinson’s Secret Sky festival, where you sang live. What was this experience like?
I was very nervous! But also thrilled to dive into the deep end and try my hand at live vocals. It’s a whole new skill set that I had to prepare for and navigate for the first time. Definitely out of my comfort zone and different to what I’m used to doing live. But, I had a great time doing it, and I think it went great.
Luckily, I had the experience of performing in a studio environment many times prior to this, as I’d done loads of vocal recording for my album. Vocal performance has been a part of my recording process for a few years now, but this was the first time doing it live in a concert setting. A very rewarding experience – I can’t wait to do more. A huge thanks to Porter Robinson for having me, too – I loved every moment of it. Such a great event to be a part of – I feel very lucky. Also having the opportunity to play with a band is always so much fun. I’ve got plans to bring it to the stage as soon as possible!
Your debut album is scheduled for later in 2021. What should listeners expect?
Making an album is an opportunity to create a more comprehensive collection of works that covers more creative ground and a broader sonic palette. I’ve wanted to make an album for a long, long time. There are 11 songs on this album, each with its own purpose, and I was actively discovering what I was capable of doing during the process of writing and recording these songs. It’s definitely a step into a new space for me, without a doubt. But, it’s an exciting new place that feels necessary and powerful. It also feels mandatory, in a way. Like I didn’t have a choice but to go down that path, in the interest of honesty. My hope is that listeners will hear that what I’ve recorded is genuine. There’s some really energetic, optimistic moments, and some really melancholy moments, and some really frustrated and existential moments, as well. I’m fully prepared for some people who are fans of the older electronic stuff I was making six years ago to not be on board for this album, but that’s totally fine! I also think that a lot of people will definitely appreciate it, too. At the very least, it’s something I’m very proud of. And I’m proud of myself for making it happen.
How will this release differ from 2015’s Flash Drive EP?
It’s very, very different. Flash Drive came out six years ago, and I was six years younger when I made it. I think that’s pretty clearly reflected in the production and subject matter in both releases. I was working at the peak of my abilities back in 2015 when I made those four songs, but I’m a much better producer and songwriter now. I’ve had six years to learn and grow in all kinds of ways. The album is a manifestation of what I’ve spent that time learning and discovering. A big part of that is the confidence I’ve found – in my voice, in my lyrics, in my compositions, and in the maturity of my productions. Sonically, the two are night and day – in hindsight, my EP is quite brash, whereas this album feels warm and comforting to me. Also, obviously the album is a lot longer and tells a larger story. It’s a more complete vision that has been eager to present itself for a long time, whereas Flash Drive was just dipping my toes in the water of music making.
You’ve also remixed a few artists in the past. Should we expect any new remixes from you any time soon?
I’ve not necessarily avoided doing remixes recently. However, my original music has definitely taken priority for the past few years. I wanted to take the time to learn how to create songs from the ground up more readily and easily, without leaning too much into simply reinterpreting existing ideas from other artists. And, I feel I’ve definitely achieved a great deal of progress in that regard.
That being said, doing remixes can be extremely fun and rewarding as well, so I won’t be ruling them out or avoiding them in the future. I’d love to go back into that headspace soon, actually! I do enjoy remixes when the song I’m working with is begging to be stretched and pulled in different directions. It’s hard to explain, but some songs are just asking to be pulled apart and transformed. I’ll be eagerly waiting for that song to come along.
Aside from your album, what plans do you have for the remainder of 2021?
To be fair, the release of my album is probably the most significant undertaking of my entire career so far, so it’s definitely my top priority for the remainder of the year. I do also have plans to perform some live shows here in Australia, so hopefully COVID doesn’t get in the way of those plans. Getting the live show together and learning how to play the album live is my next big priority, so that’s what I’m excited about at the moment. I’m also really getting into expanding my studio setup and learning new instruments and production techniques, acquiring new gear and setting myself up for future music making and writing more songs.