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Creativity requires a disciplined mind and the ability to live with ambiguity. This is so important in the world of music and always will be. Thankfully, I have been able to find artists that showcase their open mind and expressiveness through their art right in the DMV. Today, I introduce to you, a very talented electronic producer named Alec Smith, who also goes by his stage name, Sharrol Kelby. Alec has performed at Soundcheck and Flash in DC (several times), and he has also performed in Baltimore, Philadelphia, and New York. (On July 2nd you can see Alec playing at Yonderville in West Virginia and also Big Dub on July 28th in Artemas, Pennsylvania.) Alec produces a variety of bass music including halftime, dubstep, drum and bass, downtempo, and trap. “It really just depends on what I'm feeling whenever I open Ableton. I grew up listening to a ton of jazz and classic rock (amongst other genres) and have played those styles on primarily the piano as well. I loved the improvisation and unexpectedness of jazz that kept you on the edge of your seat. My love for jazz later led me into a major old school hip-hop kick in high school and into college. I loved the sampling, the swingy beats that made your head nod, and the overall complete flip of the rules of music. It’s like, here's some awesome jazz, we're going to cut it up, make our own beat the way WE want to hear it, and replace singing with spitting poetry in such an interesting and for lack of a better term, cool, way.” Alec explained.
How did you first get into music? When did you start?
“My father was a progressive rock and jazz fusion drummer who played in several bands and organized a music festival with major touring jazz fusion musicians such as Dennis Chambers and Mike Stern when I was a toddler, so music has been engraved in me. My brother and uncle are also musicians (drummers).”
Alec seems to have inspiration everywhere in his life because his spark didn’t stop there. As he grew older, he found himself slowly getting more and more into electronic music. “I was sitting in a hookah bar in Morgantown, West Virginia one day and heard Pretty Lights for the first time. Pretty Lights captured everything I loved about music and spun it in such a unique way, in combination with the electronic and dubstep elements that I've dabbled with in the past but never really got super into. That was my gateway into electronic music, and I never looked back. Regarding producing, Pretty Lights’ music reminds me that you can take your tastes and encapsulate them in a way that's authentic but also digestible to general audiences. So naturally, that has become my goal as a producer and why I enjoy producing in so many genres.” He conveyed.
We live in a time where producers go so in depth on their music that they’ve figure out certain keys that make you feel a specific feeling or find sounds that are subtle but so essential, (etc.), which is why finding out what your individual process is when making music in so important, and so is learning from others and sharing ideas. Alec said that his music process has changed over the years and continued to explain, “As an instrumentalist I was someone who wrote music based on an idea I formed in my head (generally, a melody). I would try to put that idea down and then build the song around it. The jazz pianist in me also made me sometimes go a little too crazy with the melodies to where they would be a little hard to follow. Later, I did a mentorship with iLL.Gates through his Producer Dojo program which completely changed my workflow and allowed me to reach my full creative potential while drastically speeding up the songwriting process. Now I experiment and mess around with a sound(s) until I get something that works and then build the idea around that. If you are a producer and reading this -- DO NOT FORCE IDEAS! Happy accidents and experimentation are the name of the game and it makes producing WAY more fun.”
Who are you inspired by in the music industry? Who would you most like to collaborate with?
“This answer changes constantly, but the first thing that comes to mind is anyone who I have met through or have been on this musical journey with. It's pretty incredible seeing your friends progress over the years and giving/receiving genuine support, no matter if someone is more or less popular than you. Outside of that, if I had to pick a few artists right now, it would be Deadmau5, Kursa, Mad Zach, and Of the Trees. Kursa most often inspires me on a musical level but on a larger scale, Deadmau5 for sure. Besides his music and shows, he's sponsored by McLaren! GOALS. But really, I appreciate the dedication to his craft and that he makes music he genuinely enjoys, regardless of how famous he is.”
Do you have any good stories about any shows or festivals you’ve performed at?
“Yes, my first show EVER I opened for Shades (EPROM & Alix Perez) at Soundcheck. EPROM is, was, and always will be a massive inspiration for me. Hurricane is the first song I ever played on my first pair of monitors. I use a custom Ableton Live setup very similar to EPROM's, in fact I modeled many of the functions based on EPROMs setup. Why this is important is because I don't just go up there and plug my USB into the CDJs, I have to add a little bit of equipment. This includes my laptop that had never been connected to Soundcheck's mixer (or a similar one) before. So, I go in there (I'm playing at doors), and EPROM and Alix are sound checking. It was cool as fuck. They were playing insane edits and bumping in Soundcheck with just me and like 3 other people in there so it sounded amazing, but I was sweating about how much time I would have to set up once it got closer to doors. Eventually, they get done and there's about 5 minutes until the crowd is let in. I go up to the DJ booth to set up, plug in my stuff, and of course, no sound is coming out of the mixer because of the setup on my laptop. I'm freaking out, I turn around and EPROM is right behind me. I'm like, "hey, I'm not getting any sound, do you mind checking this out?" He goes and fixes the issue (just a simple input issue of course) and I'm good to go, thanks dude. I start my set right as my friends get down to watch me, but I'm really locked in and don't look up for a few minutes. Then at one point, I look at the dance floor as I play "Anamorphic" by Joker and I see EPROM on the dance floor, jamming to my set. Talk about an emotional rollercoaster but definitely something I will never forget!”
What is it about music that makes you passionate?
“I am fascinated by it, especially electronic music. I love the blank canvas, the raw emotion (from the artists and listeners), the dedication and passion from other artists, the non-musical art it clashes with and inspires (and is inspired by), the ability to bring people together, the culture it brings and creates, and the ability to tell a story through sound that resonates with people so deeply."
"I'm also really into cars and I always draw a comparison between the combinations of art (songwriting & design) with engineering (mechanical/physical/technological & sound design/mixing/mastering). When you combine those two elements, passion can create amazing results for people to enjoy.”
What is one message you would like to give to your audience? Do you have any advice for beginners?
“I don't have too much to say other than I appreciate anyone who listens or shares my music, it truly means so much. I also love hearing about when someone connects to a song that I've written, so don't be afraid to let me know! For beginners, just do it because you love it and not for any other reason. If you love it, be open minded and accept new, creative ideas.”
What are your goals for the next few years?
“I want to keep improving and nailing down my sound to the point where I would feel comfortable writing an album that tells a story from front to back. Improving my music is a series of short-term goals with an album being a bit more long-term. I'm also looking to continue to expand my bookings to more new cities and states that I haven't yet played in.”
Is there anything you would change about the industry?
“I wish some of these bigger artists (specifically in bass music) would book different artists for their shows and not the same ten they always do that all play the same exact genres as them and I also wish organizers would put on more well-deserving artists versus someone who gets gigs just because they're in the right circle. Electronic music has historically been forward-thinking (for the most part) and booking the same music and artists all the time does nothing for the advancement of the music or culture, on a local and national level.”
This is why I do what I do as a journalist. I love to put the spotlight on those who deserve it. I completely agree with Alec on the fact that there are too many talented producers out there that are worthy of the stage, yet the same artists seem to get booked each time. This is why marketing your music is so important. Your career quite literally depends on it! Another important aspect of your music is uniqueness. “Musically, I don't like sticking to a genre whether I'm producing or DJing and I would argue that my styles are fairly unique. No two songs are in the same genre on each of my three EPs and my sets/mixes are all cohesively all over the place. Hell, I even want to make some progressive house and techno at some point once I have some time to learn more about writing in those arrangements, because why not. Keeping an open mind is what got me here in the first place so in my opinion, it's important to keep that same mindset. When it comes to live sets, I use a completely custom Ableton Live setup that I created to execute my performances. This allows me to have more creative freedom over my sets without many sacrifices, other than being able to plug in a USB and start mixing right off the bat. My wife, Ellie, is also a full-time graphic designer, videographer, and photographer that VJs my sets with all-original content. She's also designed the branding for Sharrol Kelby and has created the majority of album art, so we are constantly working together.” Alec conveyed.
Alec is releasing a new two track collab EP with one of his best artist friends, Bemah, later this year. Alec continued, “This EP has arguably the biggest banger I've ever been a part of creating and we are both extremely excited to finally release it. If you have caught either of us live anytime within the past eight months, you've probably heard it.” Overall, Alec has put out some amazing, high quality and unique music that you all have to listen to. Check out the links below.