Eli Wills is a prolific multidisciplinary musician currently based in Seattle.
As a DJ alone, Eli has many personas; from his Mad Hatter-esque disco bingo parties, to his aptly onomatopoeic bass music frog alias, Frubbles, only to name a few.
Beyond the playful partying however, Eli is a talented songwriter, producing lush electro-acoustic soundscapes to accompany his compositions. To top it all off, he can be found professionally providing live sound in multiple Seattle venues.
Over the years, Eli has become a dear friend of the Portal, and it's a pleasure to share a slice of his story.
When I first met you, you were performing with your band Rosi, and prepping for a move to New York. Although that was years ago, in getting to know you better, I've learned that your travels are an important inspiration. Can you talk about how traveling has affected your art and music?
During my travels I experienced things that could only happen in those places, good and bad but mainly good, unique to their place and time. My music is how I represent and share my experience, therefore traveling has shifted how I create and what I am influenced by. I learned to DJ vinyl when I was in New York from the infamous Rob Swift. He taught us to respect the original art of DJing but to also integrate the new technologies if they improve the experience. I took some pretty transformative electronic music classes in college which introduced me to the possibilities of computer music. I visited Europe and lived in Berlin for a while which showed me how expansive club culture can be. Up until that point I had only been to raves and festivals in America and thought “the club” was kind of what you saw on TV. The diversity of experience, the people and incredible artists that I discovered in Europe got me pretty hooked on the whole clubbing thing for a bit. I came back to NYC and became a constant attendee at Nowadays and also happened to live with someone who was a part of a pretty incredible collective called Sublimate that would throw techno warehouse raves. All that to say, before traveling I was pretty intent on being an indie rocker and then during that time of travel in my early twenties I became pretty enamored with the idea/challenge of combining the electronic and acoustic sonic worlds.
In reference to all of your musical projects, from your solo productions, to your many DJ aliases, and your professional gigs; how do all of these personas fit under your personal artistic vision?
There's so much magic in multiplicity and it needs to be celebrated! I've experienced a narrative in the arts world that “it’s better” to be one thing because that’s more marketable. But the biggest truth I’ve found is the most marketable thing is your own unique self and if that means you are doing the most, then get it! As long as you’re having fun and doing it for you, not someone else. Honestly, I kind of wish I could stick to a more defined lane but I really love a lot of different things and luckily have the freedom to explore them. Maybe if I become more successful in one of the interests I would focus more on that thing but everything seems to be leveling up at the same rate and I enjoy all my personas all for different reasons. I am finding that the more I explore the more unique my own music becomes and I think that’s pretty neat.
Among your colleagues in the Seattle music scene there is a notable representation of folks who you've known for several years, and who've grown alongside you into some pretty significant roles, particularly at the Crocodile Lounge, although not exclusively. Can you speak to the development of this community, and the part that the collective is playing in the scene?
Yea, although my travels were very influential, coming back home to the West-coast, specifically Northern Washington has been the most transformative thing for me. When I left, I knew a couple musicians and artists in Washington, two of which had plans to build a festival; “BAMF!” (Bellingham Arts and Music Festival). Before I had fully decided to move back to Washington I was invited to play the festival and was dropped into the wackiest, most boosted little village of bohemians. These folks have all become dear friends of mine. They basically know how to throw the best parties which a lot of us are now doing professionally in different capacities. It’s such a comfortable weirdness that this collective of individuals is able to cultivate that I haven’t been able to find anywhere else. They also know/play out the best music, which is helpful.
Rounding out your more party-minded selections as a DJ, your solo music expresses more introspective, deep thinking backed by rich soundscapes that combine live instruments with electronics. What inspires your songwriting and production in this regard?
My dad’s an incredible musician and person in general and ensured I had a very musical childhood. I was also raised in the Christian church and played in the band which was my first introduction to being on stage, playing music with and for people and the sense of God that can be cultivated by a group of people singing/worshiping together. I was deeply inspired by these early experiences and as I began to phase out of the church I still wanted to have those visceral, connective experiences. I figured the parts of the worship music that brought on these feelings for me were singing in harmony and the lush synth soundscapes that would be built during the “prayer moments''. During this time I also got pretty obsessed with bands like Bon Iver, Alt-J, Sigor Ros and Glass Animals who all combine electronics and the indie rock thing in really inspiring ways. So my early musical indie band experiences combined with my more recent exploration of more beat driven electronic music with a sprinkle of the calm and appreciation of slowness I have found via meditation and mindfulness practice inspires the sounds that I create!
Amidst all of these musical projects, what is your current focus, and what is on the horizon?
The horizon is vast and my focus is doing the absolute best I can to provide an epic experience for whatever opportunity may come my way. I am currently writing this on a plane on my way to Juneau, Alaska where I will be playing two solo live sets and doing a DJ set after the second one! I also have other DJ gigs booked around the country in the next few months and am really excited about some new songs I’m writing. I recently got some friends together and recorded a song in a studio for the first time since college and it sounds really good! So releasing, honing the craft, playing shows, and hopefully some BOOGIE BINGO BABY!!!!!!!!!
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