20 Questions: Sam Gellaitry

The prodigal Scottish DJ-producer answers questions on influences, production techniques, and more.
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Sam Gellaitry's most recent record—Escapism III—landed on April 7 via XL Recordings. The release was the third part of the trilogy, arriving after two well-received initial installments of a similar cinematic yet experimental sonic mold.

Gellaitry, now 20, started producing at the age of 12 Scotland where he has spent much of his youth. Having been influenced by a wide-range of musical genres, he "used his imagination" and "love of nature" to begin creating eclectic soundscapes—and it wasn't long before he finished school at the age of 16 to enroll in a local music course and invest more time in these endeavors.

Subsequently, L.A. label/collective Soulection signed him up for his debut EP in February 2015; and, since then, he's established himself as something of a prodigy: a splendid Boiler Room set and various other DJ performances have helped, for sure; but the delicate and graceful nature of his releases—all of which have since landed on XL—has captured the attention of the global music media and an ever-growing set of fans. His first two EPs on the label were streamed over four million times on Spotify alone. It's certainly been a busy few years for the rising Sterling-based artist.

Up now, he steps into our 20 Questions series, answering questions on just about anything.

Sam Gellaitry is performing at this month's Lightning In A Bottle Festival, which takes place May 24-29 in Bradley, CA. Gellaitry will be performing alongside Bob Moses, Bonobo, Stephan Bodzin, Ivy Lab, Fakear, tINI, Leon Vynehall, Guy J, Monolink, Julia Govor, and many more. You can grab tickets to LIB here.

1. Describe your surroundings right now?

I’m at home in Stirling where it’s an overcast day. It was an amazing day yesterday so I’m hoping it brightens up again soon. 

2. You grew up in central Scotland. Where are you based today?

I’m still based in Stirling. It’s a very friendly place with a great blend of rural and urban landscapes.

3. Where is your studio room and what's it like?

I'm currently in my room which looks out to my garden and is also where I produce all of my tracks when I am not on the move. There is quite a lot of clutter just now, although that never gets in the way of my creative process so it doesn't phase me much.

4. What’s your earliest memory of music? Do you come from a particularly musical family–or how did you get into it?

I guess my earliest memories are listening to the radio in my family car and also being immersed in soft play areas as a child. I remember the music in the soft play areas being very trancey and euphoric which I have incorporated into my tracks before such as "Odyssey" and "The Gateway." I also remember associating music with color for the first time at around the age of five: I recall hearing Junior Senior "Move Your Feet" and thinking it sounded like a deep red or brown color, then hearing OutKast "Ms. Jackson" and seeing a light blue color.

5. Are you still studying or do you play/produce music full time?

I DJ and produce full time and luckily never had to have any other job to support that. I left school at 16 and studied sound production at college for a year and then my Soundcloud got a lot of attention as soon as that summer hit.

6. What came first–DJing or production? 

I was producing way before I started DJing. I first started sampling music when I was 10 then I started to muck around with FL Studio two years after. I learned to DJ in preparation for my first ever show in XOYO for a Soulection night which also happened to be the first club night I ever went to.

"My music is pretty layered, melodic, and usually bright sounding; I try to make people listening feel joy."

7. How would you describe the music that you make? 

I find it very difficult to describe my music which always gets in the way when people ask what I do for a living. I describe it as electronic music because of its many sub-genres which I associate with but couldn't really attach it to just one of them. My music is pretty layered, melodic, and usually bright sounding; I try to make people listening feel joy.

8. On the production front, you seemed to arrive on the scene seemingly out of nowhere with four standout EPs. How many tracks would you say you produced before releasing your first record? 

I had been writing my own music for six years prior to the first EP coming out so I had made hundreds of tracks in the run-up to the releases. My computer is full of unreleased ideas and I'm sure a lot of them won't ever get heard mainly because I am obsessed with creating new tracks.

9. You first released on XL Recordings in 2015. How did your relationship with the label come about? 

XL contacted me directly—which was an honor because I had been aware of them for a long time. I remember seeing their logo on the back of my Prodigy and Basement Jaxx CDs when I was younger. They have an amazing legacy which I'm proud to be a part of.

10. You’ve just released the third chapter of your Escapism Series. What is the common thread in all this material? 

All the songs from the series have a similar foundation and structure. Each track is my take on the current state of hip hop and each Escapism EP follows on from the one before. I guess what I like about the EP's coming out as a series is that you can hear the changes in mood and where my mind was at: Escapism II is the tracks I made for the club in mind whereas Escapism III is much more influenced by nature and my surroundings.

"It’s very important to me that the music sounds good without there being drums present."

11. When writing music, what comes first, the drums or the melody?

The melody. It’s very important to me that the music sounds good without there being drums present. The majority of my tracks start without drums anyway so it’s a good way to start the process—with the same technique.

12. What is your studio setup like? 

I have a studio set up in my room which consists of my laptop, monitors, a few vintage racks, a microKORG, a Korg sv1, which I use for MIDI, and a bass and electric guitar. My main component is the laptop for FL Studio.

13. How do you approach production–are most tracks pre-conceived or do you spend a lot of time just jamming?

I've been working with the same software for so long now that it's pretty subconscious when it comes to creating new ideas. Most of the time I just let it happen and create chords or sounds which I add layers too. I rarely create a track where I have a clear idea of what the end result is going to sound like; it's mainly just experimentation.

14. Do you have any pre-gig rituals or superstitions?

No, not at all. I pray before every show but that's about it. Usually, I am pretty comfortable pre-performance which is something I'm very thankful for, although I remember messing up my first ever sound check for the XOYO show I mentioned and the nerves then were indescribable. 10 minutes before I performed that night I got such a buzz and huge rush of adrenaline that the show felt like it lasted for about five minutes, it was such a surreal feeling.

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15. What’s the best piece of advice you have been given in regards to your music?

I don’t actually get given a lot of advice. But the best advice I could give someone else would be to find your own way of doing everything.

16. Besides music, what is your favorite hobby and why? 

I've recently got really into photography. I like the contrast of capturing an idea rather than creating one. I also like to be outdoors so it’s an opportunity to do both. I invested in a little Fuji XT10 and I'm loving it so far. I started shooting with an old Canon AE1 film camera but the Fuji is perfect for my impatience because I can see the photo immediately, although I do prefer the feel and the grain which film gives off.

17. What was the last full-length album you listened to?

Thundercat’s Drunk.

18. If you had to listen to one record for the rest of your life what would it be?

Flying Lotus Cosmogramma. To me, it is the perfect album.

"The only problem I had with the age association is I didn’t want it to be the reason that people were impressed with my music."

19. Do you feel a pressure having found success in music at such an early age? 

The only problem I had with the age association is I didn’t want it to be the reason that people were impressed with my music.

20. What’s the first thing you’ll do after answering these questions?

I’m heading out to my friend’s studio to work on some music.