Joshua Leary, the 22-year-old UK producer known as Evian Christ, lives a six-hour car ride from London and has only visited the city twice, most recently to perform at a showcase for Tri Angle, the dark-electronics-focused label that signed him a month after his tracks were first posted on YouTube. On the phone for his first interview, Leary was charming and forthcoming—except about the origins of his alias, which he’s keeping under wraps. For some, Leary included, his quick rise to (relative) fame was surprising, but that only makes his frankness about the process of being a newly-exciting artist more appreciated, offering rare, fresh-eyed insight into this weird music world we’re all living in.
Where are you from? I’m from Ellesmere Port in Merseyside, a small town in the north of England. It’s traditionally quite working class and very industrial, though sort of stuck in the ’80s. There’s not a hell of a lot going on here. In terms of music, there’s nothing. A lot of my close friends don’t know anything about Evian Christ. They wouldn’t really understand, so it’s really like living two lives at the minute. I’m just in isolation, really. I’m training to be a teacher, and the workload is pretty huge, but I’ll have my certificate soon. I’ve never left and I never intend to.
How did you get started with music? I had a stepdad who was a trance music DJ, and my dad always made music to some degree. He had lots of old keyboards in his house, and when I’d go by when I was 12 or 13 I’d play. When I was 18 he gave me a Roland keyboard. I haven’t told my dad about Evian Christ yet. I’m afraid he’ll be a bit overexcited, so I’m letting that one play out for a little while.
Why did you choose to upload your music first to YouTube? I was making little bits of music and putting them on Soundcloud, but I found the format kind of dull and it was the same thing everybody else was doing. It seemed really contrived, so I said fuck it, I’ll put them on YouTube instead. I did nothing to promote them. I just kind of came up with these videos. The animation was more of a happy accident than anything: I downloaded this Tyga video and tried to load it into the software I was using, and basically the software fucked up and made it that flashing rectangle. I just pressed the button that said rotate, and that was it.
Then how did everything play out? I put the videos up and when I went to bed they had 20 hits or something from people trawling through the site. When I woke up the next morning one of my friends had sent me an email saying I was on Dummy. I’m not a huge follower of online music, and I hadn’t heard of Dummy, so I was like, Okay, that’s nice. Then I logged onto YouTube, and I had like 30 messages from labels and booking managers. It never occurred to me that that could happen. I didn’t know what to say to people. I didn’t know what to do. Half of the people offering services, I didn’t have a clear idea what they offered. When Tri Angle first got in touch with me on YouTube, I just sent a message back saying thanks and left it. Later, I thought I’d put Tri Angle into Google and see what I’d get, and I realized they’d released Clams Casino. I was like, Oh shit, I’d better email this guy back. I started talking to Robin, who runs the label, and he’s been a huge help. I’m really happy with how things have gone. I was never that aspirational with music, I was always the type to just make stuff for my friends, so it’s kind of strange how it all happened.
It sounds very surreal. Before the Tri Angle showcase me and Robin had to run over to somebody’s house, and I walked into the kitchen and there were a couple of girls and a couple of guys just sitting there and doing whatever. They kind of said, Who are You? And I said, Well, I’ve signed to Robin’s label, and I’ve come here for the night. I said, I’m called Josh, but my artist name is—and I got as far as saying Ev–, and they all gasped. That was really surreal, sort of taking it from the internet to something where people in real life know who you are.
Was being anonymous ever important to you? Because the tracks were coming from a source that nobody knew much about, it was quite easy to throw the ‘anonymous’ tag at it. It was just by the process of the tracks going up, and it was never something that I was consciously trying to push for. When I did the Tri Angle showcase in London, I was keen to put my name on it, because I think there’s a tendency to push those things too far. I’m aware that it worked for me, but it was never a contrived attempt.
Are you interested in working with vocalists? Your music seems naturally built for rapping. That’s something that I’m immediately interested in, and it’s something I’ve talked to with the label. A lot of the tracks I’ve released are very sparse because I’ve made them with a vocalist in mind. At the start there are always a cappellas—that’s why I was using the Tyga a cappella in the first place. So yes, long term, working with rappers is what I’d like to be doing.