Grammy Nominees 2017: Flume Breaks Down Producing the Skin Album and "Never Be Like You"

Harley Edward Streten (Flume) talks about putting pressure on himself, great monitors and how best to work with vocalists.
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2017 Grammy Nominations
Categories: Best Dance Recording and Best Dance/Electronic Album
Song: “Never Be Like You (feat. Kai)"
Album: Skin
Artist: Flume (Harley Edward Streten)

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After his 2012 debut eponymous album Flume went double-Platinum in his native Australia, Harley Edward Streten (aka Flume) was able to build himself a studio in Sydney (Flume was recorded in his bedroom), including his dream speakers, the
$22,000-a-pair Barefoot Sound MiniMain12s that he'd seen when he met Skrillex.

“Having equipment doesn't make your music better,” Streten said. “The place where the music comes from is in your head. You know it's all about the head space. But in saying that, the mixed outs definitely sound a lot better now, because when I hear the music, it's actually how it sounds. Whereas before I had to have way more bass than I thought I should, because the speaker setup was wrong. So it's definitely helped to make this stuff sound more professional, but when it comes to the ideas, melodies and all of that—all the important stuff—that's all in the head.”

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However, a nice new studio didn't stop him from feeling some anxiety about making the follow-up album, Skin.

“I was going through phases,” Streten said. “Sometimes I'd be feeling really creative, and sometimes I wouldn't. I put a lot of pressure on myself personally to either make something as good or better than what I've already made. I set a bit of a benchmark, and to be happy I really had to work hard and make sure I was proud of what I was putting out. That's why the second record took a little while, because I really wanted it to feel special."

“There were definitely times where I wasn't feeling creative, and just stressing about the whole thing,” he continued, “and other times I was feeling super in-tune with everything. But now I just feel great about music, and I'm really excited about it and I'm excited about collaborating especially. I'm really keen to work with other producers, because I think the first record was a lot of just me. The second record was a lot of collaborations with vocalists. Now what I'm curious about is collaborating with producers.”

“Currently I'm feeling really creative. Leading up to Skin, I didn't really know how the record was going to do, but now that it's doing well, I feel quite free to do whatever I want—to experiment and be creative. Currently I'm in a really good head-space for writing. I've got quite a lot of new stuff I'm working on that I'm really excited to get out.”

Flume’s extra effort to make his second album, Skin, feel special, paid off with millions of happy listeners enjoying huge hits like "Say It (feat. Tove Lo)" and the Grammy-nominated "Never Be Like You (feat. Kai),” which both killed it not only on streaming services but also on mainstream radio. Those and other vocal collaborations with the likes of Beck, Little Dragon and Vic Mensa found a sweet spot for Flume's tastefully spare electronic slow jams that propelled Skin into Grammy-nominated territory.

“With the Little Dragon one [‘Take a Chance’], that was awesome because I was a massive fan of [singer] Yukimi Nagano.” Streten said. “I met up with the band and I played them some ideas, and that's where that one started. That was in Sydney. The Beck one [‘Tiny Cities’] was great because I actually got to go to his house. I caught an Uber to his place and hung out in his studio and basically showed him what I was up to. He kind of sung over a whole bunch of different ideas, and I would trump up the vocals and play with them—that's where that song originated. With the Vince staples one [‘Smoke & Retribution’], we were sending some stuff back and forth online and then we met up in LA. But yeah, it was different for each song.”

Streten told us that the story behind his Grammy-nominated track with Kai, “Never Be Like You,” fits his ideal scenario for collaborating with a vocalist.

"I prefer to get into the studio with a person," he said. "Specifically melody is what I'm into. I really like to work with them closely on that. With Kai, I sent her some ideas online and she sent me some ideas back that were just ‘oohs’ and ‘aahs.’ There were just 20 minutes of her basically improvising and riffing. Then I carved out just a few seconds of key moments that I thought were really beautiful—a potential verse hook, a potential chorus hook, a potential bridge. Then we got in the studio together and fleshed out the idea and elaborated on the melody and the lyrics. That’s really the ideal way for me to work. I just love getting huge loads of ideas and then carving and sculpting them and then getting in the studio with the person."

Flume live photo credit (top of page): Charles Reagan Hackelman