Being Here Now: Big Wild on Connection, Self-Discovery, and “The Efferusphere”

Big Wild © Gareth McConnell
Big Wild © Gareth McConnell
Electronic artist and one-man musical army Jackson Stell (aka Big Wild) sits down with Atwood Magazine to talk all about his latest album ‘The Efferusphere,’ and how our greatest journey does not require a map.
by Anthony Kozlowski & Kaylyn Wiggenhauser
Stream: “The Efferusphere” – Big Wild




Exploring an imagined place allowed me to create something more real.

We music journalists can live charmed lives. 

We get to chat with the artists we admire, listen to their work before anyone else, and see them perform free of charge. But even with these perks of the trade, we do not live in a world of sunshine and daisies all the time.

The Efferusphere – Big Wild

When I arrived at LA’s Shrine Auditorium to see Big Wild, the musical project of Portland multi-instrumentalist Jackson Stell, it was without luster in my eyes. I was led backstage into a glorious theater trimmed in gold and velvet, a radiant chandelier punctuating the grandeur of classic Hollywood. It all felt like a dull grey. What I struggled with was personal and it colored the afternoon’s course of events, the wonder of where I was and what I was there to do fading against a depressive backdrop.

Big Wild makes joyous music. Stell’s 2019 debut Superdream gave us the electropop thunderclap of “6’s to 9’s” plus a whole host of showstoppers for every young and yearning Spotify playlist. It’s difficult to drop into his dreamscapes without feeling both buoyant and enraptured. So, stepping into that venue and not feeling what I thought was “required” of me felt like a failure.

But “good vibes only” is not what life is about. Over the past couple of years, we’ve grappled with that reality on a global scale. Each of us learned to grow and cope in different ways, and Stell was no different. “There is a lot I was learning and discovering about myself,” he explains. For his latest album, he sought inspiration in the only place that could not be taken away from him, forced isolation be damned. “It’s a place that you don’t need to travel to, you don’t need to take a substance to get to,” he continues. “It’s here.”




He calls it the “efferusphere.”

Deriving from the Latin word “efferus,” meaning wild, it is the emotional atmosphere that surrounds and permeates us. This is not a place to which we escape when shrouds threaten to strangle us, when the pressures of life become too difficult to handle. It is an omnipresent state that through the modern act and information age static gets drowned out. Yet it only takes a pause to find again.

“You access it through a mindset,” elaborates Stell. “It gives you the ability to look at your emotions. You can even touch them. It kind of adds a physicality to it and a separateness. You can step back from them without letting them be all you are.”

How many times have we said things like “I am sad,” “I am angry,” “I am depressed” as if our identity is tied to our emotions? Sitting across from Stell, I noticed myself guilty of the same. I had given depression the wheel and missed the beauty of my surroundings and privilege of speaking to the artist who was about to take the stage. He gave voice to my predicament:

Big Wild © 2022



We tend to get caught up in exactly what we’re feeling all the time and become reactive. Entering the ‘efferusphere’ brings us back to a self-reflective place.

Through entering the efferusphere, Stell set about crafting his latest album. With each dive, he allowed the songs to take shape.

“The plan was to make an album,” he says. “But other than that, it was pretty open ended. And I like that.” Sonically, the suitably titled The Efferusphere departs from the electronic headwinds of Superdream to incorporate elements of alternative, indie, and psychedelic rock into a musically diverse excursion for traversing every corner of its hyperreality. “Feel Good” and “OMGarden” blister with unadulterated joy. “Red Sun” employs infectious funk riffs to tell a less joyful story of anxiety in a slipping relationship. And album closer “We Could Share” captures the tug-of-war between connection and artistic ambition with pleading guitars and crashing drums. The album rides the highs and lows that mark any human experience, not just the moments we want to remember, but those that bruise and scar as well.

“It was scary to look at myself in an honest way when writing this album,” admits Stell. “Some songs came easy, the fun or sexy ones. I’ve always felt comfortable expressing joy. But other songs left me feeling naked and ugly. A few lines still sink an uncomfortable pit in my stomach. But I listen back and think ‘that’s me, that’s genuine.”

We are more than the good times. We are more than the bad times. We multitudes if we stop to look every once in a while.

Big Wild © Jordon Anthony



As I watched Stell and his band bring The Efferusphere to luminous life on stage, I let those thoughts simmer.

Then he stopped. The music dropped away and he addressed the crowd. “I want to try something,” he said. “Let’s all take a deep breath together.” In for four. Hold for four. Out for four. “Now,” he continued. “Notice how you feel right now.”

I took stock. Not much had changed since I strolled listlessly toward the green room hours ago, but I saw something I didn’t before. All around me were people sharing a collective experience of joy, of connection, of unified catharsis. If only for two hours.

A woman in front of me turned and locked her eyes with mine, her brow furrowing with concern. “Something’s bothering you,” she said. It wasn’t a question. She put a hand on my shoulder and I felt a warmth from this brief gesture of kindness. “Whatever it is, it’s not all you are. You’re more than it.”

For that moment, I felt it. We dropped into the spectacular now of the efferusphere – me, her, and a thousand other people dancing and swaying as one. And Big Wild played on.

***

Much more came of our interview with Jackson Stell of Big Wild, from finding the efferusphere to connecting with fans and touring post-COVID. Check out Atwood Magazine’s full conversation below!

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:: stream/purchase The Efferusphere here ::
Stream: “The Efferusphere” – Big Wild



A CONVERSATION WITH BIG WILD

Atwood Magazine: The new album is called Efferusphere. Is that a word you came up with yourself?

Jackson Stell: It is a combination of two words. It is “sphere” from atmosphere, and then “efferus” which is a Latin word for wild – the wild sphere. It’s the emotional atmosphere that surrounds us all. And it’s a place that you don’t need to travel to, you don’t need to take a substance to get to. It’s here. You access it through a mindset. It gives you the ability to look at your emotions. You can even touch them. It kind of adds a physicality to it and a separateness. You can step back from them without letting them be all you are. We tend to get caught up in what we’re feeling all the time and become reactive. Entering the “efferusphere” brings us to a self-reflective place.

How would somebody get there if it's already here so to speak?

Jackson Stell: Being present. It really lends itself to meditation, to be able to not always be reactive to everything and take a step back and understand what’s actually happening. What are you feeling? What’s behind that feeling? A lot of the songs on the album were me diving deeper like that and understanding more about myself in the process.



Jackson Stell: Good question. I think each song touches on different things. I learned a lot about where I could be better in the relationships I have with my partner and my friends, my family. I learned a lot about my relationship with music and my career and my ambitions. I used to think that what I want to do in music versus with the people I love in my life were always on these polar opposite sides, and there was no way to bring it together. And the last song the album “We Could Share” is about how these don’t need to be opposing sides of a coin. They can work together and be something even better. I made a lot of the album writing lyrics and melodies with my partner who I’ve been with for 11 years now. She was an example of what I want to do with music and how my music and relationships with the people I love don’t need to be battling each other.

Each song became its own journey. But I feel overall the album is about being honest with myself and having a clear idea of who I am and whatnot and being okay with that.

Big Wild © Jordon Anthony



So, each song is a different lesson or a different dive into the art?

Jackson Stell: Yeah, that’s what it ultimately ended up being. There is a lot I was learning and discovering about myself. When you listen to the album back-to-back, it’s pretty diverse. There are a lot of different styles, but that’s because it reflects different parts of me. In that way, it paints a more whole picture of me. I didn’t want every song to be a love song for instance, or something really specific. Anything could be anything.

So, there wasn't any kind of agenda?

Jackson Stell: Yeah, but I at the same time, I ended up approaching the album with a lot more intention. The plan was to make an album. But other than that, it was pretty open ended. And I like that.

I also saw You've created a call center for ''The Efferusphere.'' Can you tell us a little bit about that? How did that idea come together?

Jackson Stell: I gotta give credit where it’s due. That was an idea from management. They were trying to up with different ways to interact with people, because it’s kind of a heady concept. And we want to find ways to introduce people to it, to interact with it, and connect with it beyond just the songs. So the call center was kind of a fun way to make it just feel more real and tangible. Whenever I talk about the “efferusphere,” I don’t paint it as this mystical thing. I want people to think it’s a real, accessible thing around us. You can connect to it anytime. The call center was one way to do that, bring it to life a little more. People can leave their two cents and connect with me. It’s pretty cool.

Each song became its own journey. But I feel overall the album is about being honest with myself and having a clear idea of who I am and whatnot and being okay with that.



That's really interesting considering the that we experience art is oftentimes a parasocial relationship. As a listener, the artist doesn't really know us, but we feel like we have a relationship with them through their art. I've noticed that during the pandemic through now that a lot of artists started to bring down those walls. Have you experienced that yourself?

Jackson Stell: I think if anything was learned from isolation and the pandemic, it was how powerful connection is. We kind of took that for granted before and had to learn new ways of finding it again. You had to get a little creative during the pandemic without shows. And shows are coming back, sure, but I think there’s still so many lessons to come from that.

I’m always trying to come up with different ways to lessen the gap between me and the people who enjoy my music. Whatever I can do to foster a connection with people like always responding to messages and trying my best to come up with things like the call center to connect the concept with people can help.

And I think other artists are doing that too. There’s a lot to be said for that, and for making a genuine connection rather than this one-way street. Because they know who I am, but I have no idea who they are, right?

Do you think that mindset has permanently changed?

Jackson Stell: I think with me, for sure. It’s always been a priority of mine to try and stay connected as hard as it can be, but I think the pandemic put that idea more in the forefront for the music industry in general. We need to connect more and doing live shows really reminds me of how important in person connection is. The internet can never fully replace being in the same room together.



And we're catching you now at the end of your first tour in over two years. How long have you been on the road right now?

Jackson Stell: I believe this is week five. Week six, if you count rehearsals, which were a lot. Honestly, I think it is almost the hardest part. Long days, we get there at 10. We leave maybe between 9 and 10.

But you know, honestly, it’s not necessarily a bad thing to catch the end of the tour. We’re in a groove now. We know the music really well and we’re like performing the best.

What has it been like being back on the road after all this time?

Jackson Stell: It’s been, it’s been a bit odd, but it’s been also really good. You might have heard this from other touring artists, but it’s a pretty hard time to tour in terms of saturation. There are so many shows happening. There’s a limited supply of everything.

But on a positive note, being in front of crowds, again has been excellent. And it’s been really cool to play the new music. The album only came out like a week before the tour started, but there’s still some people in the crowd who know every word of the new songs better than I do. I’ll think, “Do you want to come up here and help me out?” It’s been really fun to see them connecting to the album in real time.

Big Wild © Jordon Anthony



Which part of it would you say is your favorite of writing, recording, and performing?

Jackson Stell: It’s tough. I really do love every part of it. If I were to pick though it’s really writing and making music. I think it’s where it’s my love for music started and it’s what keeps me going. I do feel like it really completes the whole vision of everything once I start playing it live, but they are completely different. Playing live and writing songs are such different skills, and that’s something I’ve had to learn. When I was younger, I used to think it was just being a musician, playing songs, playing instruments, whatever. But it’s really a completely different skillset.

I wanted to touch on something you brought up just a little bit ago. It is hard to tour right now. I was reading Stereogum earlier today, and they called live shows the ''oversaturated back-to-normal marketplace.'' Bands are losing, like 10s of 1000s of dollars, just putting on a tour. Have you had any challenges like that mounting this one?

Jackson Stell: Thankfully, I’m not losing money on this tour. As far as I’m concerned, that’s a success. You do hear a lot of that and even larger artists canceling shows because it just doesn’t make sense to put them on. And that’s a shame. I think we’re all crashing back into it… it’s probably going to take another year or two to get somewhat back to a more normal and sustainable touring climate. Because if it was this way all the time, no one would be doing it.

But I feel fortunate and like my position, honestly. As hard as it is, I don’t I really don’t have much to complain about.



Do you have anything on your rider that fans might find interesting?

Jackson Stell: Probably Kombucha, and I’ll explain. We sometimes we use them as as mixers for a “Buchka.” You get Pamplemousse La Croix, Lemon Ginger Healthaid Kombucha, and then a nice vodka and you mix it together and put a wedge of lime or lemon in there with some ice. It’s actually really frickin good.

What's up after tour for Big Wild?

Jackson Stell: I have a couple of one-off festivals and then honestly, it’s going to be a little bit of a break. This summer was one of the most stressful periods in my life finishing this album and then going into Red Rocks and following that with rehearsals, making the live show, and then starting tour. It’s kind of my fault because I put too much stuff off last minute with the album, but it was non-stop for almost like three months. Honestly this tour has probably been the chillest part of the last like six months surprisingly.

I live in Oregon, so when we’re done, we want to do a bit of exploring. Just like go off the grid maybe for a little bit. After that I’m kind of looking forward to starting to write music again and then hopefully start touring in the spring.

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:: stream/purchase The Efferusphere here ::



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