Big Wild Bottles His Challenges And Curiosities Into Debut Album

Apr 7, 2019

Jackson Stell began his music career making hip-hop beats. As a producer, he had gone by J Beatz. Then some years ago, he felt stuck and had a change of heart. He decided to make a different type of music and he decided he would try his hand at singing on his tracks. Now, this beatsmith-turned-vocalist is known as Big Wild and says singing and writing lyrics enabled him to make music that feels true to himself.

Superdream, the debut album of Big Wild, is a collection of funky, electronic dance jams that features his own voice for the first time. Stell says his singing still comes as a surprise to his own his family members.

"They are still trying to wrap their heads around the fact that I am singing, because growing up I never sang," Stell explains. "I, for the most part, have been a really quiet person, but especially with music, I was all about production."

Stell was inspired to change his musical course and stage moniker to Big Wild about five years ago when the artist visited California. "It was kind of at a moment in my life where I was making a big change and I just wanted to embody that spirit of adventurousness of being curious," he says.

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This switch paid off. His collaboration with Tove Styrke, "Aftergold" became a hit. In 2017, Stell released his first EP, Invincible, gaining millions of plays. The musician carried that adventurous spirit into Superdream, a collection of songs deeply rooted in his life. Stell wrote the song "Maker" after receiving a thyroid cancer diagnosis five years ago, going through multiple surgeries and gaining a whole new perspective on what music he wanted to make.

"It was important for me to write about struggles and challenges I've had, but offer or put a positive focus on it," Stell says.

Superdream is out now via Counter Records.

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LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:

Several years ago, Jackson Stell had a change of heart - a big change of heart. The hip-hop producer decided to focus on writing and singing.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "CITY OF SOUND")

BIG WILD: (Singing) Don't turn away. Follow me. Empty your lungs as we shout to the stars.

My family, for the most, part all lives in Massachusetts and New England area. So they came out to the show that I did in Boston. And they're still, like, trying to wrap their heads around the fact that I'm singing because, growing up, I never sang. I mean, I've always, for the most part, been a pretty quiet person. But especially with music, it was like, I was just all about production.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Stell had gone by J Beatz. Now he's Big Wild.

BIG WILD: I guess the inspiration behind it was when I first traveled to California when I was - I want to say about five years ago. I went to Big Sur. And it was kind of at a moment in my life where I was making a big change. And I just want to embody that spirit of adventurousness, of being curious. And the name Big Wild just seemed to fit. And it stuck with me ever since.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Singles by Big Wild have been streamed in the millions on Spotify. Live shows are packed. And he's out now with an album - "Superdream." Jackson Stell says that being Big Wild is helping him be truer to himself.

BIG WILD: Because I was getting into singing, it was a really good opportunity to start to really share who I am, which can be difficult when you're just producing. And I wanted the songs to be based on things I actually knew about that I could really relate to rather than try and talk about something superficially.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "PURPLE SAND (MY HOME)")

BIG WILD: (Singing) There's a sound ringing in my head, golden faces dancing in the sand.

As an example of a song that's rooted in my life, "Purple Sand" is a really good representation. The name itself comes from this beach at Big Sur called Pfeiffer Beach, which - there was just, like, lavender sand. And it was really pretty. The sun was just this brilliant, like, yellow gold. And there's this sea mist, like, spray in the air. And it felt so right that it felt like home.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "PURPLE SAND (MY HOME)")

BIG WILD: (Singing) This is the place I want to go because you are my home. Oh, because you are my home.

It kind of has a double meaning because it's a love song, too. It's a love for two things. It's a love for the West Coast and California and how I just, like, really fell head over heels for the natural beauty and wanting to make this big move in my life. But at the same time, I was also making that move because she was my girlfriend at the time and now my fiance.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "PURPLE SAND (MY HOME)")

BIG WILD: (Singing) So far from the ones I know, so close to the one I love.

So far from the ones I know - that's my family. So close to the one I love was my girlfriend-now-fiancee.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "PURPLE SAND (MY HOME)")

BIG WILD: (Singing) So close to the one I love. This is the place I want to go because you are my home.

As I was going over these songs and kind of telling my story, I was coming across some things that were just naturally, like - I don't want to necessarily say sad but, like, just things I struggle with. Just a few examples - like, "Maker" is about this period in my life about five years ago now, I guess, when I was diagnosed with thyroid cancer. And I had a few surgeries. And it just kind of threw - I had a little bit of, like, an existential - not crisis but just was thinking a lot about my own death and what not.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "MAKER")

BIG WILD: (Singing) Another world that waits for me, another life. I can wait for that. I can wait for that until we meet again.

And as I was upheaving a lot of these things that I - I realized I didn't just want to make a sad song and just leave it at that. For me, personally, I think it was important for me to write about - yeah - struggles and challenges I've had but offer or put a, like, positive focus on it.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "6S TO 9S")

BIG WILD: (Vocalizing, singing) I want you to hold me. Come and lay with me. Set aside your problems with me, baby.

And then, as I was realizing this, I wanted to reflect that in the live show and just - this - really, more importantly than anything, like, when people listen to the album and when they see the show, it's just to feel good and feel empowered in any way. That ended up turning into, like, my goal.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "6S TO 9S")

BIG WILD: (Singing) You turn my sixes to nines.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Jackson Stell - his debut album as Big Wild is called "Superdream."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "6S TO 9S")

BIG WILD: (Singing) ...Feeling tonight. I know I weaken when I... Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.