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We talk 'Soft Touches', upright pianos & creative challenges with Animal Feelings

17 December 2018 | 4:15 pm | Caitlin Medcalf

Characterised by his penchant for working in unison with his instruments, ANIMAL FEELINGS musical knowledge extends far beyond just this one project. He's dipped his toes into various genres and sonic explorations over the years, but none that feel as personal as this.

As Animal Feelings, Oli Chang has just dropped his third EP titled Soft Touches, and if there are better words to describe the way this EP makes you feel, please let me know, because he's definitely hit the nail on the head here.

Spanning five tracks, the EP truly is a celebration of both collaboration and really knowing the instruments that you're working with. He's teamed up with frequent collaborator Thief for two of the tracks: the title track pairing Thief's soft falsetto with the light touches of one of Oli's upright Yamaha pianos that occupy his New York & Sydney studios, and 'Falling', an emotional, harmonic pairing of the warped instrumental and Thief's recognisable vocal.

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On 'Moment', IRO takes the vocal reigns, adding immense emotional depth to Oli's work. It's one that draws you in so far that when that first moment of silence hits once the song ends, it's almost punishing.

Nomi Ruiz takes her airy vocals to new heights on 'Divine Love' and Adam Masterson lives up to the track's title on 'Angel'.

What all of these songs have in common is Oli's penchant for creating music that he is so absolutely involved in, you can feel his pain and the projection of that onto both the vocal aspect of the tracks, and more importantly, the production. It must be incredibly difficult to create emotive electronic music, but it's something that with each release, Oli's proved that to be his strength.

We took a moment to chat with Oli about the EP, the challenges he faced whilst creating it and his processes behind selecting what sounds to use.

You’re no stranger to electronic music, having been involved in a variety of projects over the years. Reflecting on your career, what have you learnt from your previous projects that has helped you shape the Animal Feelings project?

I get pretty obsessed with what ages well. It’s like the art of fermentation. Like if you make a batch of wine or Kim Chi you experiment with different flavors and techniques and sometime you get lucky. With Animal Feelings I made the mistake of trying to make wine and Kim Chi at the same time when I should’ve chosen just one or the other. I’ve now decided to make Animal Feelings only atmospheric music with a modern classical influence. That’s not too say I won’t incorporate pop elements but there’ll be no more flippant disco from Animal Feelings - only moody music.

Congrats on the release of your new EP, ‘Soft Touches’! When creating this EP, was there anything in particular that you’ve done differently than with your previous releases?

Yes I wanted to make this EP a study of how to combine the sound of the Roland Juno 106 synthesizer with real piano and pop song writing. I wanted each track to be slow and have some kind of sexually psychedelic quality. In the past I’ve been way more diverse style wise in my releases but I wanted this one to be part of the same family of sounds.

What kind of challenges did you face when creating this EP?

Like any creative person the hardest part of making something is too finish it. Finishing is so boring but with out being to finish something you end up with nothing. This sounds obvious but it happens to the best of us. You think something is going to be a certain way and then you realize it’s just a puzzle that is going to change shape and form until it’s completed. 

Collaboration seems to be an integral aspect of Animal Feelings. You’ve got some incredible collaborators featuring on this record including long time collaborator Thief, and works from IRO, Nomi Ruiz and Adam Masterson too. What is it about collaboration that you enjoy most? Does creating collaboratively change your process much compared to working solo?

Collaborating is like multiplying your life experience by tens of thousands of hours. By myself I only have my life time of experimentation. When you collaborate you suddenly have access to entire lifetimes of experimentation, failures and successes. I’m more open to collaborating with other minds than I have been than ever before. Not only with other singers and musicians but also producers, film makers, influencers, designers and entrepreneurs. The music industry is like wild west now more that it’s ever been so to be successful you need know how to build teams of like minded and talented people.

‘Soft Touches’ feels like one of your most personal releases to date. Was there a lot going on for you at the time of creating this? Would you say creating this EP was an outlet for you?

Absolutely. I had been with a life partner who I still consider a close family member. Breaking up with someone after 15 years is so painful. Navigating long-term relationships is hard for everyone. People live in their versions of reality and I guess this EP was both an escape from my reality and also a way for me to try to figure out what I was doing with my personal life.

Production wise, you’ve explored quite a range of sounds, opening with the soft, delicate textures of the EP’s title track. Is that your upright Yamaha piano on that track?

Yes I have 2 Yamaha uprights one in Sydney and one in Brooklyn and both have found their way onto this record. They’re both so beautiful in their own way. I’m about to start building a studio in Bali now which will house a gorgeous grand piano. I’m pretty excited about that.

I know you’re a bit of a synth enthusiast - and you can definitely tell on the EP, there’s a real variety of tones and textures in there. Do you find you tend to use a whole bunch of instruments or only a select few when you’re writing and recording? Do you find you always come back to certain sounds?

I like using very few instruments. We live in an age where we’re spoilt for choice and soft synths allow for an endless array of sounds. It can become daunting and prevent the completion of pieces of music. Non-completion is the most evil enemy of being a creator. That evil part of my brain must be destroyed at all costs. When it threatens to stop me from finishing something I do my best to softly destroy it.

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