Photo Credit – Ben Zank
Evan Shornstein aka Photay is a 24 year old producer from Woodstock, New York. He embraces all musical genres to create an ambient celestial sound that cohesively combines elements of all his influences from Aphex Twin to West African polyrhythmic beats. Photay creates memorable melodies layered with unique samples and unconventional rhythms; however, the music remains accessible to a wide range of listeners. His new album explores existential plights that we all face such as humanity’s inability to experience everything in a lifetime.
Your trip to Guinea, West Africa, inspired a lot of your music especially your use of polyrhythmic percussion. You even used a balafon in one of your recent singles are there any more Guinea inspired sounds we can look forward to in your new album?
Yes! I went back and used some recordings from that same trip to Guinea. The track “Eco Friend” features recordings from my drum classes in Conakry. All the poly rhythms in this track are certainly influenced from my time studying African percussion. Forever in love with their unique orientation of their rhythm and pulse!
How did growing up in Woodstock affect your music and your new album?
I was exposed to a ton of music growing up in Woodstock. Aside from it’s reputation for classic rock and folk, I was immersed in music from around the world at a young age. Growing up, my parents played a lot of Gregorian chants, African percussion, Celtic folk and Mongolian throat singing in our house. I had a lot of support from open minded friends and teachers. One of my dear teachers noticed my early interest in turntablism and pushed my parents to buy me 2 turntables and a mixer for my 11th birthday.
I spent a lot of time between Woodstock and Brooklyn while writing my LP. My senses always feel enriched when immersed in nature. All the silence, all the smells … the stillness of the air and the dense forest help me internalize my experiences on a deeper level. Meanwhile, the city provides some great contrast to this!
Photo Credit – Jordan Matthews
Although your music is primarily electronic, you use a lot of nature sounds and themes. Why is nature such a key element of your music?
Expanding on my thoughts above, nature has always kept me grounded. The ongoing nature theme in my music is partly a self meditation, a self reminder of nature’s value and our own impermanence. I find it really helpful in the midst of busy schedules and long periods in the city. It brings me back to earth (literally). I also generally have a great appreciation for natural sound and imagery. Nature provides a nice balance when working with electronics.
There is no denying that your self-titled ep showcased your unique musical voice and talent. What musical elements are you keeping from your initial EP, and how are you growing as an artist in this highly anticipated new album?
I’m still striving to maintain a sound suitable for multiples environments; clubs, headphones, morning, night, etc. On the new LP, I’m working with some familiar synths, natural sounds, and continued emphasis on melody. However, I feel that I’ve learned a lot over the past 2 years while touring and digesting music. I focused on combining new ideas with old ones. I’m singing more too!
Your new album is entitled ‘onism’ coined by John Koeing that describes the frustration of being tethered to only our body at only one period of time. Why did you choose that title and do you think there is a way to deal with this existential dilemma?
I named the LP “Onism” as it perfectly sums up a lot of my states of mind while making the record. A frustration of being in one place and a longing to travel & experience as much as possible. In recent times, I’ve started to feel a bit free from this tension. I think this feeling can be eased by directly by staying present. I also think putting your cellphone away when possible has TREMEDOUS positive impact.
You are about to embark on a tour starting with our show at Baby’s. Do you have any pre-show traditions you will be carrying out on this tour?
Correct! No real traditions in the past but in the future I plan to seek out some silence if possible and give myself a moment to acknowledge the frequencies, aromas and hidden feelings in the air before each show.
Interview by Giovanni Roca