On October 1, artist, producer, and songwriter Tim Wu, also known as Elephante, released “Dopamine,” an addictive, high-energy dance track. Two years in the making, the long-awaited project was finally released, taking listeners on the journey of chasing what makes them happy. A couple of days before the release, Elephante sat down with EnVi over Zoom to share his journey as an artist, his struggles during the pandemic, and his upcoming projects.
Meant To Be a Musician
Born in Michigan and a son of Taiwanese immigrants, Elephante grew up classically trained in piano. From a very young age, his connection with music was undeniable. As a baby, his mother played Fantasia for him when she needed him to calm down. “I always liked it, but I don’t know, I recently watched [it] and it was, like, a very weird subconscious kind of experience,” he said. “I felt like I was tripping even though I was totally sober, so I think something during that time probably inbred itself in my brain,” he said. “As long as I can remember I’ve always played music, made music, and written music so it’s always been a part of me.”
Elephante always had strong ties with music, whether he was aware of it or not. In his own words, it was clear that taking his journey as an artist was what he was supposed to be doing. “I don’t know any other [options], nothing else moves me like music does.”
Realizing that music was something that he wanted to pursue didn’t come easily. As an Asian-American, even though he was surrounded by music his whole life, things still held him back.
Grounded by stereotypes and the lack of role models with a similar background, Elephante opened up about how it felt initially. “I’ve grown up and [music] it’s always been the most magical and important thing to me. For most of my life, growing up Asian-American [and] being a musician is not a thing, is not even in my parents’ discouragements, is not even in the realm of possibility. You don’t even think of yourself like that,” he said. “That’s not Asian, that’s not what Asians do. You know? You go to college and you become a doctor or a lawyer or whatever,” he said.
The context in which he grew up had a significant impact on his development as a person and on an artist. Still, it didn’t stop him from eventually giving the music a try. “That was so ingrained in me and even though looking back, it’s so obvious that music was the thing I was most passionate about, the thing I cared the most about, it took a really long time and I exhausted every other possible avenue,” he said. “I was like, I’m not gonna be happy doing anything but music so you have to give this a shot, or else you are never going to forgive yourself.”
This aspect is palpable in his music. His strong mindset and confidence as a capable musician have proven that he can succeed in this industry. He does not let third-parties define him and knows who he is as an individual and this is seen throughout his music.
As an artist, he looks for a way to break through all of the stereotypes surrounding Asian-Americans. Speaking from his personal experience, “the number of times people have been surprised, they see me and ‘oh, you are Asian,’ and I’m like ‘yeah,’ I think that just represent like finally accepting who you are and not letting the world or society tell you what you can or can’t be,” he said.
Addressing The Elephante In The Room
Taking a complete turn towards music wasn’t exactly easy for him. Being surrounded by societal expectations, Elephante enrolled at Harvard and eventually graduated with a B.A. in Economics and a minor in music. Even then, he never stood too far apart from music, playing on open mic nights and diving into electronic music.
After graduating, he found a job as a consultant in Los Angeles only to realize that that was not the path for him. “It was terrifying, it’s like I’m throwing away a very comfortable, safe life for something that I have no idea if it’s gonna work or not,” he said. But as scary as it was, he took a chance and ran with it. “It was really scary but at the same time it never really felt like a decision, it wasn’t even really a choice, It’s just like, if I keep doing this, I know I’m gonna be unhappy, and gave music a try and well, who knows what’s gonna happen.”
He shared his musical journey and spoke about it being incredibly personal because he grew along the way. “I think it’s a personal decision for everyone but if I can help I am here to tell you that you can make it happen, it might not work out exactly the way you thought it would.” Even for himself, life is constantly being reshaped and rewritten. Some people are meant to do certain things, and new journeys can start when you least expect them.
“If you told a 15-year-old me that I’d be a DJ and producer I’d be like ‘What’s that?’ But you know, I wanted to be in a rock band growing up but you change as a person, you do new things, you kind of adapt to the times and you figure out a way of making what you love and doing it with your life,” he said.
Becoming The Role Model
While taking steps towards music, Elephante talked about how not having a role model made things scarier. Adventuring into music was something that he hadn’t seen done by someone with a similar background as him before. But that bump on the road only took him on a path of learning to be honest with himself and acknowledge that addressing his reality was not going to be easy. “It can be scary, but it isn’t something you should immediately run away from, it’s much more fulfilling, powerful of you if you embrace the things about you that make you who you are, and instead of making it something you are ashamed of just lean totally into it and become the thing that you know is right,” he said.
It’s still awkward for him to acknowledge that his journey can help those living through similar situations, even if it’s not directly related to music. However, he understands the importance of being a role model. “It’s so strange for me to think about that in that way because, for me, it’s been such a personal journey,” he said. “Everyone has to go through it themselves, and if I can sort of show a path that it can be done then that’s great, but that is also a lot of pressure.”
His lyrics are honest and are a clear interpretation of his emotions and internal thoughts. He openly talked about his experience with social media during the pandemic. “I think culturally, today, everyone is so obsessed with putting up your best face and showing how awesome your life is and everything is going great,” Elephante said. “That’s all you see on social media, and when you are struggling, that can be really harmful.”
Staying close to family and talking with his friends was his way to stay centered during hard times, and pouring all of that into his music became a necessity for him. He needed to stop pretending that everything was perfect. “Everyone is going through their own struggles and being able to talk about it and not be ashamed of it, knowing that you are not alone, makes all the difference,” he told EnVi. “For me, it was really important on this album to not try to pretend that everything was all great.”
“It can get a little dark at times, that’s what I’m going through. I’m not trying to say things or make songs that I think people want to hear, I just want to be as authentic and real as I possibly can be.”
“Dopamine” and Future Projects
“Dopamine” was in the making long before the pandemic started. Elephante had already played snippets of the song on tour in 2019, but the final product was yet to be released. “Dopamine” sends you to the place of pleasure you find yourself when following what you love. “‘Dopamine’ is about chasing that thing that makes you tick. For me, it’s performing and being on stage. It’s about a feeling that you can’t get anywhere else. It can be whatever it is, for whoever you want it to be,” Elephante said.
“This song has been a long time coming. I started it over two years ago and I was playing early versions of it on tour in 2019. I thought it was something really special, I started playing it at the beginning of the tour and by the end of the tour fans knew the lyrics,” he said.
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Even as a passionate musician, it’s normal to have low moments and miss inspiration or energy to push through something. “With the pandemic, I felt so uninspired to work on anything. [The song] did not connect to me the way that it had been, it was one of those things where you know spend the last two years tinkering with it and trying to make it better, making sure that it felt like it was exactly what I wanted and sometimes it takes a really long time to where it feels right and finally now it’s like okay, I’m ready. This is the song that I want it to be,” he said.
On October 22, Elephante is set to release his sophomore album, Heavy Glow, through 88rising. The day after, he performs on the EDC Las Vegas main stage. He will also be joining the 88rising festival, “Head In The Clouds,” in November.
Check out our previous Artist Spotlight on Bradley Kim here!
Thumbnail courtesy of Alex Lopes