Just a little more than a week after the release of "Caan Dun," the lead single off his forthcoming Masquerave EP, the elusive Noise Cans appears in a space of tranquility. The project serves as his debut EP off Dim Mak Records, Steve Aoki's record label, which boasts a roster of acts like Bloc Party and The Kills. And yet, even with a busy schedule, the Bermudan producer/DJ comes off calm, cool and collected. It's a mindset that can be attributed to one key practice incorporated in the life of the masked man.
"I try to meditate first thing in the morning and before I go to bed at night. I think that the morning sets my day," he told iHeartRadio during a visit to New York City's Engine Room studios.
It's just the beginning of our chat with the alluring act, before venturing into talk of his Louise Chantál-assisted single, how he incorporates his culture into branding and why his own parents haven't learned of his identity as the DJ. Take a look below at our exclusive Q&A with Noise Cans!
"Caan Dun" just dropped and it's really special that so much of your upbringing is incorporated into your artistry. I don't think that happens as often as it should. Is that something you decided to do from day one?
Yeah. To be honest, this was something that I've had in me for a while in terms of wanting to mix culturally music from the islands with electronic, or just with pop, or whatever sound. Growing up, it had [to be like] it's reggae, it's soca, it's calypso, it's like island sounds. I came to a point where I was like, "Man, I get reggae and I love it. I get soca and I love it, but I'm also listening to various other genres of music. It'll be really dope if I can mix the two." I sat on it for a while because I wasn't sure of how to really, really do it. I think once I started to release [music], or once I started to put my plan into action, it just came naturally because that's my core.
I think I always wanted for this record, or for the EP, to stay within that space. Even with a lot of the mixes that I did, I still like to keep it as, "This is who I am." I feel like I'm not really a follower. I want to just set the tone for myself because I feel like with the way older music is now, you get a lot of time for people to try to follow a sound because they think that that's hot. I don't know if they're from the label or whatever they are but for me, I wanted it to stay true to who I was because it's coming from me. It's coming from my heart.
Even with your Gombey mask, that is part of a tradition. It's not just a part of a shtick. It's part of your culture.
You know what's funny? The mask actually came after. I was starting to make music and put things together and I was actually looking for anything. If the markets out there, you have to give it another thing for somebody to really look at. One of my favorite reggae artists by the name of Alkaline once said he had his eyeballs tattooed. I don't know if they were contacts or whatever it was but in the culture, it was something that people talked about. In an interview he's like, "If I just put the music up, you probably wouldn't care. The fact that I'm giving you something to look at differently, it's putting me automatically in your mouth." I think for me, it was wanting to have something like that [but] not so over-the-top. I don't even have tattoos at all. It's [about] wanting something that allows people to look at [you] like, "Oh, what's that?" Either, "That's cool", or either, "I hate it." It's a topic of conversation. I needed to tie [it] back to something that was relatable to me and the music and the culture because I wasn't in an actual Gombey but I was raised around it. I still see it today.
If somebody is brand-new to the topic of Gombey, what should they know about?
It funny. Unless you travel to the Caribbean a lot, most people don't know that much about it. I would say [specifically traveling] in Bermuda. It's not in all of the Caribbean. I think the Bahamas has a few troops as well but not to get all political and stuff but back in slavery days, they would allow the Gombeys to dance once a year. They would mask themselves to celebrate, so they wouldn't have to be beaten or whipped once it was over.
Now, it's a celebration. They come out and dance throughout the streets mostly on big holidays and they can come whenever as well. For me, growing up and seeing that was kind of like, "Oh damn, this is cool." It's festive and your friends come out and you dance. It might start with just the troop and by the end of the night, you have 3,400 people following them through the streets. It's like our carnival in a sense without calling it carnival. It's something that's celebrated. People send Facebook alerts like, "The Gombeys are here and they're going to do this." You come out and you follow.
With your Gombey mask, you've been able to maintain your identity. I read something about how some of your close friends and parents don't even know about you.
Yeah. I don't want them to know. Like anything, if you're going to rob a bank, you don't want to tell people that you're going to do it. You have to keep it close to your chest.
Moving onto "Caan Dun," there's a bit of a back story regarding the title and how it's also slang for "not stopping."
It's Jamaican slang for "can't stop, won't stop" type of thing. Actually, one of my favorite dancehall [artists] Shabba Ranks had a '80s hit called "Caan Dun." I didn't want to put a reggae or Caribbean artist on the vocal because I just felt like the beat already lent itself to that. I wanted somebody that understood the culture. Chantál being of Guyanese decent, and being from London, and having this kind of angelic voice. I was like, "Yes." She came in and I remember that she was a little nervous because she was like, "I don't know. I haven't really done this style of record." I was like, "No, you've got it." She came in and nailed it and then she was singing and I was like, "Oh my God. That's it. That's it." It's a special record.
Where did you come across Louise Chantál? Did you find her online or had you heard some of her music beforehand?
I was visiting another producer friend of mine in the studio and she was writing and I heard her singing. I was like, "Who is that?" I had never heard of her and we exchanged info and went back and forth. I was like, "Hey, I'm working on this project I really want to get you on it. I think it will be special." At the time, I didn't even think that it would be the single. When you're recording or when you're creating, you're just creating, you're not really thinking about it. Once we had the body of work laid out and even where the music is now in terms of that sound, it was almost like I had to lead with that in a way. Not that we were following [trends], but I feel the Caribbean elements are on the radio, or just "in" mainstream culture.
Do you have a technique or strategy in regards to pairing a vocalist with your music?
It depends. I would say, honestly, it starts with me. I think what I'm doing is a lot different from ... I mean, it's a majority of reggae artists that I want their albums, all Caribbean artists. I think the core starts from a Caribbean base but then mixing in all of the other elements to give it a bit of a difference from just a reggae record, or just a soca record. Once it's done, then I start to think, "Well, who do I think could fit best or would fit best or would be a little bit different?" I get that and then we come back in, and then we add the final bells and whistles once the artist lays theirs. The artist's voice is an instrument as well. It's almost like I don't like to overproduce in the beginning. I like to leave enough room for them to be able to do what they do. Then, we come back in and touch it up and give it the elements that it needs.
It's the lead from your forthcoming Masquerave EP due later this year. Have you completed work in it?
Yeah, I would say we're 95% done. I don't know what the next single is going to be. I'm actually flying to L.A. next week to meet with the labels, so we can discuss. This single just came out, so I don't think it's at all over. I hope it's not. It's funny. I was telling someone earlier that it's almost like giving birth in a sense. You've been creating this thing for so long. Then all this builds up. It's released and it's like, "It's out." I get texts from friends and people saying "Yo, their records are crazy. It's going to be big for you, and it's going to be big and better." I'm kind of like, "Oh, okay. I guess it's not over if people are still liking it and vibing to it."
Any other plans for 2017? What do you have on your year-end to-do list?
We're going to be touring. I think that's next. Honestly, just more music, more videos. I'm really trying to do content with each single, each release that we have. I think 2017 should be the year that people really get to know and fall in love or hate Noise Cans. I think we're off to a good start, especially with the start of the single. There's so much good music to come that I think for what I want next, I think I might save it but it's a really big record. We have a bunch of good s**t coming.
"Caan Dun" is currently available for download on iTunes.
Photo: Rachel Kaplan for iHeartRadio