It’s easy to become a one-trick pony in the music industry, especially in the electronic dance music scene. However, Danny Chien, better known as Wax Motif, proves on his debut album, House of Wax, that he’s a jack of all trades working in a variety of layers from hip-hop to melodic house. Though known as one of the key artists in producing bass-heavy G-House sounds, this L.A.-based DJ-producer has musical influences rooted in R&B, UK garage, and of course, house music. Chinese by heritage and Australian by nationality, Chien cites his parents' grit and entrepreneurial spirit as one of the key reasons he’s been successful as his own boss.
Ahead of his first-ever performance at Ultra Music Festival, EDITION caught up with Wax Motif to discuss House of Wax, remaining true to his artistry, and Diddy (yes, he makes an appearance on the album).
So first off, tell me about the amazing artwork of this album. What influenced it? How did your heritage come into play here?
So, the original designs are kind of based on a logo we use for my radio show and a concert series I do. We have a few artists we always work with. One of them is Chadwick Mark, who did this particular one. He was actually the guy that did the original logo. So, I think taking that and running with it wasn't really hard for him. It turned out amazing. Then, heritage-wise, we always had him work on a logo to kind of convey a little bit of heritage with the house symbol. I guess the most obvious kind of reference was the Chinese or Asian pagoda roofing styles. So, he tried to incorporate that into the logo and the overall design and the little half-moon kind of thing that we have behind it. It just felt really natural.
I love the cover art. Reflecting on your youth, how has your upbringing influenced who you are as an artist?
My parents were pretty independent people. They've always run their own businesses or been entrepreneurs and always worked really hard. I think the two big things I took away from them growing up was just work ethic and not being afraid to make it on your own – which is probably the trait I love the most. It's helped me navigate the world on my own without really needing to rely on a boss or a regular job.
Nice. Yeah, that makes sense, especially as a touring DJ-producer. You have to have an entrepreneurial spirit.
Yeah, it's like zero job stability in what we do. There isn't even healthcare, union, or any kind of system like that. So, yeah, everything we do as DJs or musicians, in a broader sense, is very much self-sufficient. So, you have to have a certain level of risk tolerance to be able to go through the bad moments and know that you'll come out ok.
Absolutely. Getting into House of Wax, it has this festival season vibe to it. I can hear and see it being performed live. So, what would you say was a key highlight of producing this album?
So, most people that have been following me until now are really familiar with my club music, over the years that I've been producing for artists on the side, like R&B singers, pop singers, or rappers. So, a big part of this album for me was to not come in and just do 13 or 14 club bangers. I think the point of the album is for that artist to be able just to cast a wider net, and maybe I wouldn't say experiment, but maybe let out some of the stuff that they have been experimenting with that they thought was really good. So, I think that's what it was – having an outlet for music that doesn't necessarily fit into the scope of 1 AM on a dance floor, because that's what I'm most known for, and balancing it out with those kinds of tracks. But the other side of the album is what I really wanted to show, which was just a wider skill set, more diversity, and just music more occasions, rather than just the one setting.
You can hear your exploration of different genres throughout the album. First, you have the hip-hop element. Then, there are some melodic, more downtempo rhythms with certain songs. So, to your point, you've been out for a while. I think I caught your set at Electric Zoo years ago. So, why do you feel now was the right time to come out with your debut album?
So, it’s kind of like you said. I have been putting in that work in the format most people expect, which is just a club single. It started feeling a little bit repetitive for me. It started feeling a bit rinse and repeat. The cycle of just making a single for one particular purpose, and then going back to square one and doing it all over again, was getting to the point where it just didn't seem like it was the right thing; not only for progressing my career forward, but also just personally, which I think is the most important part for me a certain point in my life, where I just almost want to do more. That was cool, but I just feel like I'm ready to break that mold and actually grow in another area.
So, with that in mind, what would you say helps you keep true to your artistry as a producer and DJ while also maintaining relevance in the scene?
That's a really tough one. It's so easy to get detached if you were in another space for too long. For me, especially for the club records, I have to play them in my sets. So, until now, I was really adamant about that. With this album, obviously, not everything is going to fit into one particular set. So, in order to maintain my particular style, it was really just to focus on songs I personally liked, and that I was putting out these songs for my own satisfaction and not necessarily to fit or achieve a certain result. The club music sometimes can feel a little like that, where you’re setting out to make something to achieve something – like three or four songs that maybe there's an R&B song, then there’s a UK garage song. For me, those songs just resonate with me, and I wanted to put them out. So really, that's how maintaining my style is just to make sure it meets my personal like level of approval. I feel like I'm pretty critical of myself.
Yeah, artists tend to be hypercritical of themselves. So, what would you say helps you to get out of your head?
That is so difficult. I actually had this conversation yesterday with someone where you can love someone else's song so much that when you go to make something in the studio, you make something kind of similar, and then you end up loving that a lot, but it's not really because you love that because it's this crazy original idea you've heard. You just love it because you love the other thing. I don't think you can ever get out of your head. Even last night, I was texting my manager, and I was like, ‘We didn't put enough big songs on the album.’ So, I don't have a decent answer for that. I think stepping away helps, like going for walks. You come back and feel a lot better.
That makes sense. And so, tapping back into the album, you have to tell me this: How hard was it to clear that sample of Diddy?
Okay, so that actually wasn't super hard because I think I was lucky. I happen to have a friend who's friends with him. So, shout out to DJ Ruckus. I hit him up, and he heard the track and was like, “I love this. Let me go play it for him.” Within two days, we got a response. He was like, “He really digs it.” He got Bad Boy Records to do all the paperwork, and that was it. Ruckus is really well known in that circle. It just worked out really, really perfectly.
Cool. Yeah, I was expecting this elaborate backstory.
Yeah, I met Diddy before, but I haven't met him since this record. So, it would be cool to get a chance to hang out with him again. I wish I had a crazy story. It was pretty straightforward. Maybe that's a blessing.
That’s awesome. We’re so close to Miami Music Week! I heard this is your Ultra Music Festival debut. How do you feel?
I'm so hyped. Ultra is one of those festivals where even before I moved here, we would come every year to go to Miami. We never had the money to go to Ultra or anything. We would just come here to try and hustle to get gigs or agents or managers or anything. I feel like I finally achieved something. I was coming out every year like you don't understand. From 22 to 27, we were coming out every year just to grind just to make it.
Ultra is massive. So, I am so excited for you, and I can't wait to see what comes from it! In ten years, in what ways are you hoping your debut album will make people feel?
I'm not sure about what I want them to feel. I just want them to be able to listen back to it, and it doesn’t feel dated. I'm sure some of the songs will, but I want them to listen back to some of the stuff with full vocals and for it to feel like it didn't age too much.
People are so big on first albums and anniversaries of albums. So, yeah, I think having some kind of timeless track on the album with people are like, “I know exactly where I was when I first heard that song,” you know?
Yeah, totally. I remember that feeling down with some of the stuff I grew up listening to.
So, what legacy are you ultimately hoping to leave behind?
I just want to know that my time had an effect on the scene. I just want at the end of the day to know that maybe I helped shape the new sound in some way, or I helped shape young kids coming up who end up becoming the new thing.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Photography by: John Chiaravalle