“I went back to square one”: ShockOne on his new sound

It’s been a few years since we heard from Karl ‘ShockOne’ Thomas. The producer from Perth via London released his last LP Universus back in 2013, an epic bass-heavy tour of the cosmos that was several years in the making.

The follow-up is slightly smaller in scope than all-known-space: a four-track EP called In This Light which he’ll be releasing next Friday 6 May, preceded by February’s single City Lock featuring the Ragga Twins (you can listen to that below and preorder the EP over here).

The former heavy metal drummer is still into bass and grooves (and dubstep), and is currently halfway through a tour, recuperating in New Zealand after a gig in Auckland before returning to Australia for another handful of shows. We got him on the line for a chat about the struggle to follow up Universus and what’s coming next.

How’s the tour been going so far?

Really good. They’ve all been good shows. The highlight has to be last Saturday, we did a show at Belvoir in Perth. There was like 4,000 people in a big natural amphitheatre, it’s always pretty awesome to play there. The shows over in New Zealand are a little bit smaller, but really good vibes.

Is playing in WA like playing a hometown crowd for you still?

Yeah. Having grown up there, there’s definitely that emotional connection to the crowd. It’s always gonna be my biggest city in the country as far as crowd sizes and stuff go. Also it’s, I think, still the strongest dance music scene in the country in my opinion. It’s just really healthy at the moment, you always get bigger crowds regardless.

So tell me about the EP. You spent a pretty long time working on Universus, was part of your thinking in doing an EP that it would be quicker to finish?

That was definitely part of it. Also, for me, when I have an idea for an album, when I did Universus I had a very clear concept of what I wanted to do with it, what I wanted it to sound like. I felt like exploring a bunch of different sounds and stuff at the moment.

To me an EP’s a good way to express that, where you don’t necessarily have the kind of coherence that I like to do in a full-length album. Also I think you can’t leave it too long, it was already quite a while since I’d done Universus so I wanted to get something out there again. It still took me a little while to get four tracks that I was happy to put out into the world, but I’m really happy with the way the EP sounded. It’s been getting a really good response as well.

What were some of the things that you wanted to experiment with? Was there something that you felt didn’t fit with Universus just because of the theme of the album?

Not necessarily fitting, just a matter of growing as an artist. When Universus was finished there was a real sense of getting it out of my system and having a bit of a clean slate. I wanted to keep experimenting with different tempos and just doing new stuff really. I kind of went back to square one. Rather than reusing the same sounds that I used on Universus, the same drum sounds, the same patches, I built from the ground up again and that takes a bit of time.

I think I was incapable of repeating myself, every time I’d go to write something and I didn’t feel like I was pushing it somewhere new I just would end up getting bored with the song. It takes a little while to reinvent yourself I guess. That’s the thing that I was trying to do with this EP, if I think about it, in retrospect. It’s a bit of a reinvention for me personally anyway. I don’t know if people will hear that or not. I think I’m continuing to do that now, but I get bored easily. I like to do lots of different stuff.

Do you feel like that reinvention was as successful as you wanted it to be? In the past you’ve said that you’re your own worst critic.

I think that’s why I took a little while to do this EP. There’s a bunch of music I wrote that I could have put out, but I might not have felt that way. The four tracks on there I’m actually quite happy with them. I’m proud of the way they’re sounding. How the public responds to them is up to them, all you can do is put your best foot forward and let it out into the world and then it’s not really up to you anymore. But I’m enjoying playing those songs out, people seem to be enjoying them, people respond well to them. I’m not the type of person to listen to my own music really but when you hear it on the radio and you can go ‘that sounds OK’ I’m happy with that.

You worked on this in your new studio, right? I heard you got your family to help you build it.

My dad and my uncle and my cousin did the majority of the labour. Got designed by a guy named John Sayers who’s based somewhere in New South Wales, he designed a pretty rad studio for me and my dad owns a PA company, so I was lucky enough to have access to a warehouse that I could build it in. I’m really happy with how it came out, it actually came out a million times better than I could have imagined to be honest. I’m enjoying working in that space.

If it’s a place you’re spending hours and hours in you want it be perfect.

I’m in there 10 hours a day minimum. That was exactly my thought when I was designing it and stuff. I’m spending most of my life in this room, it needs to be a place that I want to be in. We achieved that. I’m really happy with it.

Your sister Reija guests on some of your tracks as well, it’s interesting that your family is a big part of your music.

I was given a drumkit when I was four, my dad’s a guitarist, my mum’s a bass player. They played in bands together my entire life, their entire lives. My sister actually plays bass guitar as well and she sings, it’s kind of inevitable that I was going to end up making music and that she was going to do the same. I’ve never had anything but support. When you’re coming up through the years and you might not be able to make a living, no one told me to get a real job, they just told me to go for it. I feel lucky to have that support from them. Emotional encouragement, that’s the biggest thing.

I noticed Phetsta’s on the In This Light EP again as well, you’ve worked with him a lot. Is he basically family now?

Yeah, we’ve been best mates for so many years now. We hadn’t written a song together in so long that we just wanted to hang out. Writing a song together was a matter of hanging out in the studio. He’s basically a brother to me as well.

The track that you worked on with him, This Is Good Dubstep, was the idea behind that that you wanted to rehabilitate dubstep?

Not really. That title’s actually an in-joke between us from Facebook. People that know Phetsta know that he’s renowned for being a jerk on the internet, doing stupid shit. He’ll just comment that on everything I do, even if the track’s nothing to do with dubstep. The fact that we wrote a dubstep tune together – I’m playing a lot of really cool dubstep in my set, I always have been. I’m playing all this music, I want to make music that I want to play in my sets. It’s as simple as that. That tune’s a club banger, it’s not a radio song. It’s just a DJ banger.

What’s next for you? Do you want to do another big album like Universus?

I’m not really sure, to be honest. I’m trying to work that out. There’s a tonne of music that I’m writing. Quite a large amount of music at the same time to be honest, it’s just working out how to package it. I do have a couple of ideas. I don’t like the term concept album but that’s how I approach albums it seems, some kind of linking factor. I do have a couple of ideas that I thought could work as an album, that would give me a framework to work within rather than just writing songs and bundling them together and saying it’s an album. I’m not really sure yet. The next few months of songwriting will probably define that. After this tour I’ll be back in the studio hardcore for a few months and see what comes out.

Do you have anything special planned for the end of the tour?

Anyone who went to the Belvoir show will know because they saw it, I’ve got a lot of custom-linked visuals and stuff. Reija, she’s living in New Zealand but for the last four shows in Australia she’ll be on tour with us. She’s singing live and there’s a few extra semi-live surprises but I don’t want to let the cat out there. You’ll have to come to shows to see them. It’s more than just a regular old DJ set that’s for sure.

ShockOne ‘City Lock’ tour dates

Friday 29 April – Oxford Art Factory, Sydney

Saturday 30 April – Cambridge Hotel, Newcastle

Sunday 01 May – Biscuit Factory, Brisbane