Following the release of his “Elements” EP on POLAAR, we sent Only Now a few questions to unveil the mystery behind him.
Can you please give us a bit of context about who you are: Where were you born? Where did you grow up? Can you describe the kind of musical environment you grew up in?
I was born 1981 in San Leandro, California, a town that borders Oakland. Single child of two immigrants from New Delhi who had been in the country since the mid 70s. I grew up in the hilly suburbs bordering Berkeley, Oakland, and eventually as a young adult my family moved to Oakland. I grew up in an amazing environment within the 90’s of the Bay Area. Home to so many legendary scenes, and in the East Bay, as a young man, it was all about Metal, Punk, raving, and industrial music. Thrash, punk, death metal, and noise all thrived specifically in the east Bay scenes of Berkeley like the legendary 924 Gilman Venue where everybody from Neurosis to Green Day got their start, and the metal bands like Metallica, Exodus were very active in SF had laid a long legacy there. That was as very young man from like grade school to junior high.
On the electronic side, there was an absolutely thriving scene with folks who people still talk about now like Spacetime Continuum, Dj Solar, Psychic TV was hanging about a lot at that time, filling in all sides of the ambient, house, tribal scenes. This was pretty amazing from 1996 – early 2000’s. Simultaneously the darker arts never left a hold, with a thriving noise and industrial scene in which I spent lots of my formative years playing and learning about things from figures within those scenes.
When did you start using a computer to make music? Did you learn any instrument before? Do you have a formal musical education?
I first learned piano as a very young kid from like 5 or 6 till sometime around age 12 where I refused to do it anymore and wanted to learn drums. It was Suzuki, so all memorization and no notes. I then immersed myself in drumming till high school playing in a variety of punky/metally/noisey/jazzy projects. None of them went anywhere minus a fun punk band that I drummed with and some jazz adventures I had.
First electronic purchase was 6th grade the good old Alesis SR 16 drum machine. Then about 8th grade I believe I got the Novation Bass station 1 Keyboard version. By that time I was pretty much into most of the same music I’m into today minus dancehall – from Skinny Puppy to Merzbow, weird punk bands, Wax Trax records, techno, ambient, etc. Around 7th/8th grade I started experimenting with trackers and music recording software,as well, and by early high school was utilizing programs like Cool Edit, Hyperprism, to do ambient, collage, etc. The road never looked back at that point.
You write music under several aliases, could you make us discover the different facets of your work?
Under my real name Kush Arora is the vast catalog of Indo-Caribbean dancehall, shades of dub and dread bass, African dance, and remixes that people have gotten me to do over the years. Only Now is the project which distinctly involves no vocals, is 100% all about my vision and non-collaborative in general, to explore the sounds that you hear in these records. New synthesis methods, live performance, tuned metal, blending my influences from my childhood to a real idea. I kinda kept quiet for a good decade almost in the dark arts or industrial/experimental space. Why? I didn’t have anything truly original to contribute to it. Why just output for the fuck of it unless you have something new to explore and contribute to the pile of music this world has. With dancehall, I felt like I was pushing boundaries before many things came to be normalized over the years with some of my early records that were experimental for the genre. But that wasn’t enough and I finally had a clear vision of a space that very few people were engaging in to carve out my own voice with.
Last but not least is my alias China White. It’s balearic, doped up take on my dancehall originals, along with a Gyptian remix I did. I’m a huge sucker for that classic Balearic sound and thought it would be really cool to get that slow, lofty, high as fuck feeling to these great dancehall artists i was working with and really flip stuff on it’s head. Really fun to work on and I plan on having that move forward.
Under the name of Only Now you perform as live shows, with visuals. Can you tell us more about that ? what gears do you use on stage ? do you make your visuals yourself ? why making a live show instead of dj sets ?
The live show is an evolving thing. Why a live show – it’s really what I want to push and have the world see, it’s much more primal and constantly changing. I’d happily dj as Only Now too, but I want it to be a power experience, uncompromising and unique. The show – it’s based off an Ableton framework of 8 channels. 2 of those channels are super densely layered samples of midi patterns I am constantly programming, mostly drums and percussion and custom sounds. The other 6 are audio stems from all the Only Now material or other experiments.
Then I have 2 controllers. The Evolution UC 33 E, a classic which has the volumes, 3 sends per channel which I have fairly standard effects on, and a number of mutes for my midi and master effects, tempo. Then the Novation Launch control xl controls 8 more faders of hi/low cuts, and custom max msp /spring reverb/ and multi effects for the 3 knobs per channels it has. Last but not least it he launchpad which I use to trigger scenes but it’s actually the least important.
Hardware wise – Nord Drum 3 which I’m playing some drums, huge tones, drones, and melodies on. I occasionally use the Electron Machine drum but there was too much going on so took that away. You’ll see me utilizing the Keith McMillan Pro 2 synthesizer randomly, and also the Eventide Space reverb.
I make my visuals myself but want to collaborate. It’s mostly cut ups of found industrial and manufacturing footage, treated with iMovie and Arena/Resolume.
Elements is a very dark and powerful EP but you nearly always balance it with a glimpse of light and elegance in the production. How is it related to your perception of the world?
To be clear – I don’t see much hope for this world, and basically expect us all to die in a horrible way at some point soon, ready for it and won’t blink an eye when it fucking happens. Just because the world can be a terrible place doesn’t mean the music can’t have a bit of light and prettiness to it at times if that’s how you see it. That would be trying too hard, just purposefully keeping something dark to be part of the cool kids club – which is what plenty of people do and I often see right through it. I do what’s natural and if that mood brings out something pretty, so be it. There is a lot of beauty in my life despite the outside, so I try and keep some balance of reality and be grateful for whatever good there is. Only Now is literally about that – and it won’t be edited for the sake of some “tastemaker” editor at a magazine, blogger or local promoter who can’t take a sense of humor. I joke around a lot.
When listening to Elements and your dj sets, we can sense a lot of contemporary musical influences but also loads of rock/indie influences. How do you think these styles are influencing your music ?
I have as mentioned above have roots in those scenes. In general, say like last night, if I had the option of seeing a genre dj night, or a live band, I’m more leaning to the live band many times. I saw bay area death metal legends Vastum play last night, but could have gone and seen some local techno stuff too. It’s the mood, but I try and think of what I can learn from the other music scenes, and I think there is a lot to be learned from these other scenes to make my productions a more lively thing.
It’s pretty clear you are connected to a certain musical creative pulse. What are your other interests and how do they influence you when producing music?
I pretty much spend all my time on music, to be real. All the other shit falls by the way side and pretty much anybody who knows my level of involvement in “other stuff”. I love politics, am a conspiracy theory nut but don’t subscribe to all of them, and am very interested in most subcultural movements on some level. I recently have spent lots of time reading comics like Scalped and The Black Monday Murders, hanging out with my chihuahua, and trying to be closer to my family, but all of that comes and goes. Music always stays.
You produce an emotionally rich music. Is it something natural to you or did you have to design a creative process where you can fully express yourself? Could you please describe it to us?
It’s been a long journey. I’m a very sensitive person, and it comes out pretty naturally, but with a good amount of trial and error. I delete lots of shit that just sounds too overtly gothy/emo, or simplistic. There is gobs of material that is emotional actually floating around, but it doesn’t fit the narrative or vision I’m trying to present.
My process is very ritualistic. Most days while the rest of San Francisco is drinking beers, going on cute dates, enjoying sporting events, I’m locked away and I love it. It’s not unique for any musician to work this way, so I won’t say that I’m doing something really special. It’s just hard when you live in such a fun an active city to just FOCUS. So for me, focus and just shutting out other people is the most important process. My wife is an artist as well so it works good for both of us. In the studio it’s all about meditation, brewing over the stuff, trying different things until it just hits me. Often i’ll work all sat till about 10 or 11, go out and get all twisted, come back home around 2 or 3 and hear what I did as if I literally was in the club and see if I can relate. Delete, go back, get blazed, go back, delete more…lay out….come back a week later.
Then I’ll take the parts and try it at a live show or DJ gig, see what is working, and further edit. Elements was built like this from the live stems being reduced, so it’s very important to me.
Do you have any idea of what you want to explore next under your “Only Now” moniker?
Really wild live shows. I can’t wait to share with people and come to France! There will be tons of music, lots of ambience, and an EP on Infinite Machine dropping June 30th called “Timeslave” which explores new sides to Only Now.
“Elements” is now available in digital and vinyl in our shop.