For an industry that revolves around creative output – the music business can oftentimes be a bit, well, uncreative. Stifling in its incessant need to put people into clearly designated categories of genre, style, and popularity, setting everyone up for competition and greed. And yet, sometimes, you come across an artist who refuses to yield to any of that, and who’s instead been lucky enough to build their career around the exact opposite: blending genres and defying labels. For Luke Wild, it’s not as rebellious as it sounds – it’s been his reality since he first got into music.
When I speak to him over Zoom, it’s immediately clear that this is someone who’s comfortable in his own skin – there’s no pretense when he tells me about himself. Wild hails from Atlanta, “but I grew up in Florida,” he adds. It’s an important caveat, because his family still lives there and at the time of our call, a hurricane is about to hit the state. “It’s all good, we grew up with hurricane drills and stuff like that,” he smiles, “but it’s funny being here.” Here meaning LA, his new home on the other side of the country.
“It’s pretty crazy,” he tells me of his journey to the city. “I was in school on the east coast in a small town called Cleveland, Tennessee. I was studying music, and I had a friend who was an assistant engineer at a big rap studio called Grand Hustle. It’s also T.I.’s studio in Atlanta. He was an assistant, and an engineer. Through him, I met a lot of rap producers. I got signed as a producer and dropped out of college, moved to Atlanta as well and started working with a big collection of rappers and artists,” he starts. “At the same time, I was kind of quietly doing my own music, but I was a little shy about it. Through recording for these artists, I started coming to LA where I met my manager, Danny Parra. He had asked me if I had any of my own music, and I started sending it to him. He’s the one who encouraged me to focus on songwriting for. I spent all of summer 2019 at his home studio, would sleep on his couch and when I woke up would just go straight there to record by myself.”
Having worked with so many people, it’s inevitable that Wild would’ve run into some of the very same artists that inspired him to pursue music in the first place. “I’m not even sure if he would remember this story, but when I was young, I had an older friend named Brent who lived across the street from my godbrother and he was so cool. He was older and he skateboarded and he’d teach me how to skateboard as well. And one day, he was cleaning out his car and he gave me this CD for this band. I snuck it in the CD player, and it was a rap – I was maybe 10? And I was immediately like, this is what I want to do. And now I’m actually friends with that band, so everything comes full circle, you know?”
It’s that first love for the local rap scene, combined with his mom showing him a wide range of music to appreciate, that has shaped him into the artist he is now. “Genre just wasn’t really a part of the conversation in Atlanta. It was a time where a lot of friends were getting signed off of one SoundCloud song, so it was really free and open, and that was really inspiring. Obviously my music has like a color in a specific palette, but I still feel like I have the ability to explore, and not think too much about genre, if that makes sense,” Wild shares.
He’s even brought a little bit of that collaborative culture from Atlanta with him to LA. “There’d be shows where the rap kids would feature on the indie kid songs, indie kids would do funk songs, punk kids would do a song with a female hyper pop artist – it was just like a hodgepodge. And kids were getting deals and doing tours and making careers out of it, so it was a really beautiful thing to see.” He continues, “I started throwing these shows in LA called Lightning Rounds, where we’d have this warehouse and throw shows and I’d invite my friends who all made music. Everyone would do different genres, rock artists and indie artists or pop artists, internet artists or rappers. Everyone would play four songs, and would just pack it out. It allowed me to meet the people that I work with a lot now on the business end, but it wasn’t intentional. I was just copying the model that I saw in Atlanta and doing the same thing. I just believe in that formula really strongly.”
In fact, he just organized a show like that a month or so ago, and will continue to do so alongside with his own gigs. However, he’s not really wanting to move into the space of production or management further when it comes to other artists. “I’ll always continue to produce and make records for people, but more on the quiet side,” he explains. “I enjoy helping other artists – like today I’ll go to the studio and work with a band. But I don’t have any interest in managing artist, though I would love to start a record label one day. But that’s like maybe 10 years down the line from now,” Wild laughs.
Currently, Luke is focused on showcasing his own artistry through multiple EPs. He’s working a lot with William van Zandt, with whom he shares a similar background. “He’s just such a brilliant producer and great friend – we decided to do this project together in December 2021 when everything was shutting down. In one day, we were like – these are going to be the rules of the project. We took inspiration from the Kanye West documentary, in which he’d say in an album ‘no acoustic guitar, no this, no that. We started pulling from that, and it was going to be this really like Y2K-era based record. And that’s still the color of the palette, mostly. But we really started being like, okay, let’s have a record with these tempos, these feelings, and kind of these colors, and, you know, live drums on everything, for instance. And we just made those decisions, and it made the process kind of really easy. So it was me, him and then my other good friend Gabe. And then we spent probably two months just assembling records, and then we will bring them to Danny, as I mentioned before, who manages me and kind of whittled down to the ones that we feel best fit in the project.”
It means that there’s always songs that don’t make the cut, but Wild assures me that he feels that’s a good problem to have. Not every song can be a single, but you can keep the few you believe would do well on their own too. Still, he doesn’t like keeping them shelved for too long either, then he might as well just throw them out. “The further away they go, the less personal they feel,” he adds.
The new EP Crush feels like a different type of record, purely because it was the first time Wild had the resources and time to invest in the collection of six songs. “Danny used to sneak me into the studio he worked at late at night, and I’d spend the night trying to brush up a demo I’d done. And now, two years in, with this relationship we’ve built – the process is just a lot faster. There’s people in the room who all trust each other, with the goal of creating the best song, the best sound that sounds lush and expensive.” It wasn’t always easy, though. “All these songs, it can make you feel like you’re in a forest staring at a tree, you know? But it ramped up really well. Usually I’d take like a year assembling demos, but now it was three months of intensive recording and it was a lot of fun. Which I was really happy to be having,” Wild smiles.
To him, it feels a bit like fulfilling his childhood wish. “As a kid, I’d be laying in bed listening to my iPod being like – all I want to do is make a record with my best friends. And even though it’s not in the context of a band, I’m working with two producers and songwriters. I felt their commitment and that took some pressure off of me, so I could focus on writing the best lyrics for instance.” Wild goes on to share that it’s a lot easier to write emotionally intelligent songs when you’re surrounded by my friends who allow you to be vulnerable, and whose judgment you trust. “There’d be times where I’d say – I’d like to express this, and he just goes – why don’t you just say that? It’s how we got the song “Why You Got To Treat Me Like That”. It literally came up in conversation while we were running, and that’s how that lyric arrived.”
Another song on the record features Alix Page, a young singer-songwriter who Wild had met while touring. “I remember meeting her and thinking she’s going to be one of the biggest songwriters in the next five years. Like, I think she’s going to be out of this world huge. I was nervous to ask her to do a song with me, but it happened very organically. We’d both gotten off tour and were pretty sad about that, so it worked out really well. It was super collaborative and fun, and not a lot of expectations.”
When you hear “Half the Story,” it makes perfect sense that Wild and Page would sing together, but separately – there’s very little rhyme or reason to the collaboration. Again, it comes down to Wild’s disregard for genres or artistic labels. “It’s funny, because I don’t post about what I do a lot, but I’ve worked on a lot of different types of music. And I just really wanted a record that had a female vocal, acoustic guitars, and violin, and some pretty production. We’d been trying to make a song like that for years, and failed. This one just happened to be the one that worked. It’s funny when people hit me up and say it’s surprising I do this kind of record – it makes me really happy.”
Part of the appeal of cross-genre collaborations is the fact that it lends credibility to exploring these different sounds. On Crush, the title track features spill tab., and is a drum ‘n bass song – a complete departure from what Wild’s previously done. “It doesn’t feel like I have to explain to anyone like, oh this is sonically very different. It’s still 100% me. When it comes to writing with different feelings and textures, I think my favorite artists do it so well because it still has their motifs and emotions. So that’s what I always have in mind as well when I work on projects with my homies.”
To Wild, it’s more important that his EPs show growth and tell a cohesive story – there’s a narrative, his narrative. “My first EP was like this yearning, not knowing if I’m going to make it. My second EP was called shoebox, which was made during the pandemic. I was in my room, and my mom was on the phone with me and said that – oh you live in a shoebox? This project is sort of breaking out of that, creatively.”
It doesn’t necessarily mean he’s gearing up for an album right now either. In fact, Wild tells me he’d rather wait to bring out a debut album until his career is a bit further along. “I think after this I’m going to do a string of singles, and I’m trying to find a good cover to do as well. Next year, I have so many more records that I’m working on,” he pauses. “You know, I was having this conversation with a friend yesterday. I’ve sort of accepted that the projection of my career is slow and steady, so I’d rather be patient and wait for the perfect time to put out a full length record that I can execute to perfection.”
He’s aware of just how hard it is to get your music seen and heard in a time where over 60,000 songs are uploaded onto Spotify every single day. “You know, I knew so many good artists, and I was around so many good artists [in Atlanta], and like, the fact that anybody listens and, or even like, anybody has come up to me and said, hey, I like this song, or like, this music, like, I’m chilling. You know, like, 13 year old me is like, we did it, man. And I’m just high-fiving them and I’m like, let’s keep going my boy,” he chuckles.
There’s certainly a renewed appetite for alternative and rock-leaning music, but still Wild insists that he’s still dealing with those insecurities. “You’ve got to remind yourself that I do take my own stuff seriously, and I’m also around a good community of friends who do great things and make sure to keep me in check. I look to them as inspiration as well, so I’m not just internally running in circles thinking about my own project 24/7 and if it’s good enough.” Not all of his friends are directly in the music industry, but they’re all creative and enjoy listening to music. “I don’t even like the suit talk,” Wild adds with a laugh.
However, the feedback that he does pay a lot of attention to and cares for, is the one that he gets at live concerts. He smiles indulgently. “I’m sure you’ve maybe picked up on it, but I have a bit of a gripe with the indie music culture, especially in LA where it’s very recording based. In some ways that’s amazing and I think it’s beautiful. But what I liked about the rap world, is that we’d make a song and then go play it at a show on the same day. If the song was crazy, we’d put it out right away. I take that same attitude. When I was on tour with Sir Chloe, I was playing new records that I was deciding on whether or not to put on the record,” Wild explains. “The first song on the project, Water Pressure, ended up on the record because of that – kids were jumping around and marching and asking about it. I’m a smaller artist, so I was teaching them the lyrics, but by the second hook they’re all singing along – that’s what I want.”
He’s hopeful that people will respond that way to the entire EP, of course. “Growing up I was really bad at expressing myself with words. I could talk myself in circles and had a lot of emotions,” Wild starts. “When I started doing music and listening to my favorite artists, I thought – oh, they’re saying what I feel but don’t really have the words to project. So with this EP – each song is like a different stage in the idea of falling in love – like a crush. It deals with the anger, the good and the self-loathing. I hope when people listen to this, they can be emotive as well through the music – whether that’s like in the car, being angry or crying or yelling from the top of your lungs. I put my whole heart into it, and I just hope that people can feel that it’s true, that it’s emotive and have fun with it.”
After listening to Crush in full, we have faith in the fact they will.
Luke Wild is performing at Moroccan Lounge on November 1st in LA, opening for Little Image.