ShockOne, aka Karl Thomas, is Australia’s no.1 Drum & Bass DJ. His debut album, Universus, released end of April this year, shot straight to the top spot in the Australian charts. A household name back in Australia, Karl started out as a band member in the teenage rock band that became Pendulum. DT talks to him about carving his own path, his three year in-the-making debut album and plans beyond Oz.
You’re one of a growing list of Australian bass music acts. How did you first start out?
I’ve been playing drums since I was about 4 years old, my whole family’s musical – I was playing in bands through my teenage years, rock bands, metal bands. Me and the guys from Pendulum / Knife party were in a band together for about 5 years, it was during that time that we all discovered drum and bass – just going to rave parties in our late teens. It all went from there, Rob Swire had been producing stuff – not necessarily drum and bass but he introduced me to sequencing when I was 17. When Pendulum blew up, the band had to break up so I was kind of left deciding what I wanted to do so I thought I’d take a crack at the production thing myself.
Was it a conscious decision then, not be involved in Pendulum?
It was always Rob & Gareth’s thing. It just wasn’t meant to be I don’t think. Everyone does have their own path and I think with me and Rob we’re both people that had our own vision, so to an extent it was a case of too many cooks in the kitchen. With Pendulum it was definitely Rob that had final word, but I have to have final word on my stuff as well. But it’s not as black and white as that – he showed me an awful lot in the early days.
You’ve all, in your own way, evolved from teenage rockers into D&B producers – how did that come about for you?
I was messing about with other styles and stuff but to be honest, that was just the music that was playing when I was going to warehouse parties in Perth. Obviously I fell in love with the sound because it’s got a very similar dynamic to rock music and metal – so I just wanted to make that from the get go. In many ways I’ve experimented more with sounds now, later in my career, than I did at the beginning.
When you first started out – a lot of your stuff was quite a bit more liquid than what’s come out of your album – for instance your remix of Brookes Brothers’ ‘I Refuse’…
It was never a conscious thing to go a certain way, whenever I work on a track i just go with the vibe I get, I’ve never considered myself that can write to one particular style, I’ve always just experimented. Sure my current sound ticks certain boxes, but when it comes down to it, production wise when it comes out, it comes out.
Drum and bass still has two distinct camps for many people – liquid and jump up – whereas areas like house have got wider and wider…
I see that. I definitely think that’s more apparent in the UK. In other parts of the world it’s a lot greyer. In the UK there’s this concept of jump up and when people refer to some of my stuff as jump up I find that odd because for me Jump up is for your really pounding, aggressive stuff like Hazard or Clipz. To be honest, I hate labels and names, I just want to create good songs regardless of what speed they were or what genre box you put them in. At the end of the day genres only exist to sell records – to compartmentalise things .
How did your debut album, Universus, come together?
I’ve been working on it for three years. I don’t send anything to anyone – I work away by myself. When I did ‘Crucify Me’ that was really the beginning of the album process. I discussed it with the label (Viper Recordings) and I didn’t know how long it would take – though at the time I didn’t thing it’d be that long, but I did know that I wanted it to live up to my vision. When I started the album I wasn’t the producer I needed to be to write the album I wanted to write – so it took a while.
It took you three years to write –
The first half of it I wrote in Perth, then the following year I moved to London – I wouldn’t recommend that to anyone planning to write an album – that elongated it a bit, and I’m a slow worker at the best of times. I really didn’t feel rushed at all. Thankfully Viper were patient enough to give me that kind of room: Futurebound of Viper recordings just told me “You do what you need to do” – and gave me free reign.