Seattle producer and DJ Chong the Nomad ruminates on making lockdown beats, handling the rush of a live set, and working on a blockbuster soundtrack.
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Even as the pandemic continues to put life on pause, the beat goes on—literally. In the confines of lockdown, bedroom musicians delved deeper into their crafts as they built sonic worlds much more vibrant than the one we know. Enter Alda Augustiano, the twentysomething Seattleite who crafts infectious club beats as Chong the Nomad. A buoyant hype-man and production wizard, she interweaves layers of immersive melodies and grooving basslines that surprise yet effortlessly move any crowd. Already something of a hometown hero prior to COVID, she is now finding commercial success after working on original music for Disney’s Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings and Amazon Original Series Modern Love.
Atwood Magazine sat down with her before her performance to talk about her return to live music, upcoming projects, and the saving grace of dance music.
A CONVERSATION CHONG THE NOMAD
Atwood Magazine: How are you feeling ahead of your set?
Alda Augustiano: I am terrified. It’s my second Treefort, [but] this is the first time I’m playing main stage. I love [the folks at Treefort]. I don’t think I’ve had a relationship with a festival before, but this place…oh my goodness. My first one, I did not have crazy expectations. I had an early set on the first or second day and I was like, ‘I don’t think anyone’s going to be there.’ There’s always that worry. Still, people showed up and threw it down. But [the festival] is so organized, and I don’t feel like I’m a chicken with my head cut off—I know where to go. And also like, I have a lot of fun. Last night I was like, ‘Oh, let’s just go to these two shows and it should be good.’ I ended up going to like, six or seven acts. It feels good to be able to do that and just enjoy it, and [Treefort] really lets you do that. I will sing my praises about this one.
How does it feel being back in the festival world right now?
AA: Worrisome. I still have to be safe. I just played a festival in Seattle where two headliners had to call out ‘cause of COVID and that made me very paranoid. We’re all vaccinated, we took every precaution, and still, someone caught it. So yeah. Still cautious. But on the flip side, it’s exhilarating. I’ve been telling people all through this week that my main source of inspiration is writing the next thing. I’m excited to cue and drop at the next event—like, what’s going to make booties drop all this next set? I love thinking of the silliest thing that I can play on a stage and executing it. When that was gone for a year and a half, it was hard for me to find inspiration because I’m a dance music artist at my core. My manager has a very tough time placing me. I play dance music and then I pull out a ukulele and harmonica, and then it goes wherever from there.
Are you or have you ever been a dancer?
AA: My youngest sister, she’s the dancer of the family. So if I were to say to you right now, ‘Yeah, I dance,’ she’d probably materialize her way into here and be like, ‘Shut the fuck up’ and then leave. But dancing is the funnest way for me to express myself with music, besides just showing off what I did in my bedroom. I tell people all the time that what you see on stage is usually like me in a nightclub, three to four drinks in—it’s just that [on stage] I’m sober and terrified. I let the anxiety out through dancing, and it helps a lot.
How do you handle your performance nerves?
AA: The second I step [onstage] I’m like, ‘This is my comfort zone. I’m back in my bedroom, except I have people to enjoy this with.’ It’s the freaking three hours right before my set that I’m gagging. Just dry heaving. I have my routine now—I have to breathe, I stretch now, I have my vocal warmups. I took vocal lessons over quarantine. Now I know how to control my voice when I’m on stage so I’m not just yelling my nerves away. I think the anxiety goes away the more prepared you are, so I over-prepared for this.
Do you still record most things in your bedroom?
AA: I have an office space now, which is nice. I have my laptop, speakers, interface, and I have a mini keyboard that I can use but don’t. I’m mostly just a beatmaker. I’m a beatmaker at heart. Thankfully in the music industry, everyone kind of has their own lane. When I go into sessions in LA, there’s an engineer, there’s a songwriter, so usually I don’t have to do all the organizing and connecting the mics and everything. I do record myself when I’m on my lonesome.
Are you completely self-taught?
AA: I went to school for music, and I took piano lessons. But [learning the program] FL Studio, that was all YouTube tutorials, from when I was 14 to now. Sometimes I think I should be better [by now], but also it’s like, ‘Look at your growth, calm down!’ And then it makes me hopeful for the future, you know? What am I going to be like two years from now? That’s so encouraging to think about.
You worked on the lead single from the Shang-Chi soundtrack, ''Lazy Susan.'' What was that experience like?
AA: That was all recorded at home over Zoom sessions. We sent so many ideas in and we just kept getting notes back. It was a very commercial product that they were making, so I understood. And then I got a text one day, like, ‘Hey, they liked this beat that we made. Do you want to hop on?’ And I was like, ‘Of course I do!’ And then I [went] on Zoom and sent them my drums and sounds, we constructed a whole new arrangement for the song. And then three months later, I find out that 21 Savage is going to be on it. I’m really glad it worked out.
What else do you have coming up in terms of new releases?
AA: I’m in album mode right now. I did shoot a music video for our song “Forward” from [Amazon Original Series] Modern Love and I got to be really queer in it, which is awesome because I’m terrified of any sort of vulnerability and showcasing it to the world. Jax Anderson directed that and we premiered our song together there and it was a whole beautiful moment. She is so up there, man! Every time I talk about her, I’m just like, ‘Ahh!’ Her knowledge of everything that has to do with the music industry is very Sagittarius energy.
What are you most excited about when you are sharing your music with others?
AA: On the nerdier side of things, I’m a production geek. I love sequencing, I love anything that has to do with drum programming. I just started inviting people back into my little office space to geek out and collab. I can pull out references that we can both be into, but being able to put our own creative spin to it is always fun. And then on the other side, I just want to DJ and make people dance. Dance music is the reason why I’m doing this. I owe it all to Detroit techno and Chicago house. That’s where it’s at. I’ve always loved music, but I didn’t become a music nerd until electronic dance music came into my life. So yeah. At the end of the day, I just want booties to quake. That’s all.
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? © Sophie Prettyman-Beauchamp