First emerging in the early noughties, Machinedrum (aka Travis Stewart) has established himself as one of the most innovative artists working in electronic music today. Arriving in Newcastle on for a special audio-visual live performance promoted by Northern Electric Festival and Portions For Foxes in support of last year’s Human Energy album, Stewart agreed to explain the inspirations and collaborative processes behind his latest release.
Embracing R&B and hip-hop inspired rhythms, Human Energy marked a shift away from the darker, drum and bass informed sound of his previous album Vapor City. Asked about this, Stewart explains “I guess after writing so much moody music for so many years I didn’t feel like it reflected where my head is at. When I wrote Vapor City I was feeling quite insecure about my music, career and life as a whole. Human Energy reflects a new found confidence and positivity that has come to me via multiple changes in my life. Signing to Ninja Tune, the success of Vapor City and the tours I’ve done around that album gave me a renewed sense of purpose. I’ve also recently married the love of my life, relocated to Los Angeles and have been treating my mind and body with much more respect.”
Human Energy also found Stewart working with a host of guest vocalists, including future-R&B luminary Dawn Richard on Do It 4 U. As strong as these collaborations are, there’s still those listeners out there who get suspicious when an album’s track list is regularly punctuated with the word ‘featuring’. Stewart however is as blasé about such concerns as you’d hope. “After you release music for as long as I have, you stop worrying about backlash and losing fans. Every single album I put out I end up pissing off certain fans while gaining new ones. At the end of the day I need to love what I am doing 100%, so that’s the most important thing.”
To take himself further outside of his comfort zone while producing the album, Stewart also did away with the sampling that has often provided for pivotal moments in his work. As he describes it, “using samples in the past was more of a necessity since I didn’t have much studio equipment or a good keyboard to write melodies on. Now that I have a decent fully weighted MIDI controller at my disposal I’ve reconnected with my piano upbringing. I’m also tired of using the same samples that everyone else uses, it’s much more challenging and fulfilling to write something that comes from a pure place of inspiration rather than letting the samples guide your inspiration.”
Most surprising of all – but most crucially for Stewart – might be his embrace of New Age imagery and thinking. “Just like everything in my life I never fully adhere to any one ideology, practice, music genre or way of thinking in general. I always find certain aspects of things that I appreciate and speak to me in all walks of life. Meditation is the most relatable form of New Age practice in my life that has affected my music and outlook on life in general. Disconnecting from my thoughts, body and the things that keep me connected to what we normally consider important in everyday life has allowed me to grow as a creative person.”