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If you don’t know who EKKSTACY is yet, you will—even though enigma is part of his new modus operandi. Following the release of his sophomore album, misery, the Vancouver-born indie rocker spent all of 2022 receiving tons of international attention: selling out his own headlining North American tour, getting profiled in outlets like Kerrang!, and receiving Best New Artist nods from Complex and the NME for his ‘80s postpunk sound.
On the agenda so far this year? New music, and sharing high-profile music festival bills with Green Day, blink-182, and Smashing Pumpkins.
The experience has been a whirlwind, to say the least. “It was a lot, at first,” EKKSTACY admits to the Straight. “I was overwhelmed, but I got used to it and shit. I started to enjoy it.”
Skim through the countless interviews he’s done and you can trace the emotional journey as he’s navigated the sudden onslaught of fame. In early sit-downs, EKKSTACY speaks freely about his difficult formative years and painful events that helped him find purpose in music. As time progresses, EKKSTACY is more prudent. He doesn’t want to talk about his past. He’s more intentional in response. And, while he’s always been self-assured, he seems more confident in both himself and his work.
Not that you could blame him for the shift: it’s a weird thing, talking about your art—some of which is achingly personal—while fielding nosy questions attempting to unpack who you are and what you’re trying to say when you’re still figuring it out yourself. Especially when you’re still only 20.
Before he was filling up rooms in L.A. and New York, EKKSTACY came up in downtown venues like Fortune Sound Club. He grew up in Langley and Cloverdale, and enjoyed skateboarding and music. He started playing guitar in Grade 6. Without access to a computer until the age of 13, his sources of musical discovery were limited to his immediate surroundings.
“During that time, I liked some stuff my old man was playing,” EKKSTACY says. “All old rap. I didn’t like much of it, but there was some shit that stuck with me. I’d find music from games. I used to play this game called RefleX that had metal in it and that’s probably why I like metal. I found a lot of indie from skate edits. I remember my grandparents bought me some skate [videos] on DVD. I had one from [the Almost Skateboarding Company] and one from Birdhouse [Tony Hawk’s skateboarding company].”
Soon, he was playing around with production and writing music over beats he found on YouTube. EKKSTACY’S breakthrough EP, NEGATIVE, dropped in 2021 and charts a relationship from its beginning to breakup, with the song titles, when read chronologically, revealing a poem. It received acclaim for its subtle but poignant emotional depth. The lead single, “i walk this earth all by myself,” has over two million hits on SoundCloud.
EKKSTACY isn’t a fan of the album now. “I felt like I was stuck after I was done with NEGATIVE,” he explains. “I hated NEGATIVE shortly after it was ‘released,’ I didn’t like performing NEGATIVE, I didn’t like listening to it—I still don’t, honestly. NEGATIVE is a side of myself I don’t really like: reserved, quiet, scared, cringe? I don’t know.”
The follow-up, misery, out last year, took a different approach from the outset. “misery is fun. misery is fast and heavy and hard, and I just stopped overthinking when I made it,” he continues. With longtime collaborator and producer MANGET$U in tow, as well as producer Suzy Shinn (Weezer, Fall Out Boy, Panic! at the Disco), EKKSTACY completed most of the project within two weeks in his garage in Port Moody. “We bought some pedals, some liquor, some guitars, and made an album. It all came to us very easily.”
misery dives much deeper into the pools of new wave than its predecessor, combining goth rock and punk with decidedly pop melodies recalling the invigorating “ghoul rock,” as songwriter Jon DeRosa described it, of the Misfits, one of EKKSTACY’S biggest inspirations. Album stand-out “i just want to hide my face,” which grapples with fame, cascades a buzzing riff into a gorgeously melancholic soundscape, while “eyeliner” is an affecting ballad layered with guitar and atmospheric “oohs.”
“I’ll always think the pop song structure is best,” he says. “Intro, verse, hook, verse, hook, outro. My next album has some different structures.”
Christian Death is another reference point for EKKSTACY, so much so that there’s even a misery track named for the ‘80s goth rockers from Los Angeles. It’s also the one most significant to him. “I like what I said in that song,” EKKSTACY states, simply.
Most of the lyrics on “christian death”—as well as many of the ones across misery, which are quite bleak, nihilistic, and morbid—read as straight-up suicide ideation. EKKSTACY insists he’s not trying to raise awareness around mental health and, rather, is just saying what he wants.
“Everyone feels like that at some point, and it’s not [meant] to be taken so literally, either,” he explained to Alternative Press in December. “Most people my age—when even the slightest thing goes wrong—they’re like, ‘Ah fuck, I wanna die.’ I’m not saying that’s what that song’s about, but a lot of people are desensitized to mostly everything at this point.”
Is it possible that, like Christian Death which gained a reputation for shock value, EKKSTACY is doing something similar? It’s hard to know. Maybe that’s the point. What is certain is that EKKSTACY pairs the duality of darkness and light remarkably well, in a way that elicits provocation and perhaps even comfort to those who have also struggled with mental health.
As for what kind of outlet music offers EKKSTACY, himself, now? He asserts that it’s something else altogether encompassing: “There’s no separation between me and the music anymore.”
It’s a statement that suggests an intriguing next phase from an artist who continues to evolve as he grows up, finding relief in the shade of the spotlight.
misery is available now.More