Meet Evian Christ, The 24-Year-Old Producer From Kanye West’s ‘Yeezus’
Kanye West’s album credits always seem to generate quite a grand response. It’s almost like a spectacle of sorts, considering that these extensive liners usually feature a who’s who of producers and songwriters that range from production veterans to bubbling upstarts. Yeezus is the most recent that fits this bill, and young producer Evian Christ was one of the few upstarts involved in the creation of Kanye West’s latest entry in his impressive canon. At only 24, the UK native, born Joshua Leary, is responsible for producing the track “I’m In It” off Yeezy’s LP. It's also worth mentioning that this is Leary’s first major production credit—a hell of an achievement with such a high-profile release.
Speaking on the process behind crafting the record, as well as his journey in linking with Mr. West, Evian Christ chops it up with XXL one time.—Ralph Bristout (@RalphieBlackmon)
You’re just 24 years old. How did you get into producing?
My dad was always, like, really into music, and he had...in the '80s he used to play keyboards and shit. Like, he wasn’t really a producer, but he was just really into wiring keyboards and all that kind of shit, he was super musical. So as technology progressed and I kind of reached an age, maybe like 15, 16, where I could make sense of what he was doing, it kind of just was a natural thing for me to be interested [in]. And I’ve always been really into music, too, and really interested in how it’s made. For as long as I can remember, it’s been something that’s interested me, even if it’s something I didn’t know how to do, you know?
Was it music as a whole, or was it a specific genre?
Well the first thing I ever got was an MPC, trying to make rap beats. I was probably like 19. And I had this MPC and I had this shitty computer software. I was really into Dilla and stuff like that, and I was just trying to chop up soul samples—that style of production. Then I kind of faded out, got interested in other things, like, “Maybe this ain’t for me”...then picked it back up again, like, a year and a half ago now. Just over a year and a half ago I picked it back up. I was training to be a teacher...I had two weeks off for Christmas, from university. So I was just like, “Fuck, I’m just gonna make some music for two weeks, just for something to do.” So I made like eight tracks and ended up putting it on a mixtape, and that was the thing that Kanye heard, and that’s like what prompted him to hit me up.
The mixtape is an eight track instrumental-type thing called Kings and Them, which I put out in January 2012. But yeah, I guess they were listening to that. They were listening to that in Hawaii, while they were working on Cruel Summer, I think...unbeknownst to me. If you haven’t heard it, it’s just really dark, minimal rap beats really, with chopped and screwed imprints. And I guess when Kanye decided that the record was gonna be really electronic-y, dark, industrial…I guess from having heard that, they just hit me up. So it’s cool.
How did Kanye reach out to you? Did he call? Email?
The label I released the tape on is called TriAngle, and they just emailed the dude. The dude who runs TriAngle [is] called Robin, and they were kinda cryptic, not giving too much away, and they were like, “Hey, it’s G.O.O.D. Music. Is there any way we could get in touch with Evian Christ, we’ve got some stuff we wanna talk about. We don’t want to talk about everything now, let’s have a meeting, let’s talk about it.” It was gradually revealed to us that they were trying to hook up with some producers for the Kanye record, so they just hit us up like that—an email and then a meeting.
[Photo by Landon Speers]
How much time did it take for them to hit you up after you dropped the tape?
The tape dropped in January of last year, then they hit me up like January of this year. They hit me up like six months ago. And they just said, “We’ve got Kanye in the studio in two days, it’d be really good if we could play some shit to him.” So I was like, “Fuck, okay, I’ve got two days to make beats like Kanye." So I didn’t go to bed for two days and worked solidly and ended up with, like, 8 or 9 tracks and then sent them over. The second track I made was “I’m In It,” which was the track I produced that made the record. So like, I maybe made that an hour after they hit me up. Which is really wild, cause I’ve sent so much shit over since then that didn’t make the record, but yeah, it’s kind of wild. And then I just sent them those beats and they were like, “cool,” and then about a week later, I was just about to go to bed, I was about to close my emails down, and then an email flashed up out of nowhere. It was Kanye’s engineer, he was like, “Yo, Kanye wants you to come by as soon as possible, can you fly here in the morning?” And I was like, “Fuck...okay." [Laughs] So seven or eight hours later I was in Paris with those guys. So yeah...shit happened super fast.
What was the experience like?
It happened so fast, I didn’t have time to soak it in. If they had said, “Come out next week," I would have had time to be like, “Okay, what am I gonna say?” But I just flew straight out there. It was kinda chilled out. All those guys are really cool, all the G.O.O.D. Music guys that were there were super chilled out, like Travis, and who else was there...I don’t even remember, but everyone was really cool. Kanye was super welcoming and just...it was just a nice vibe, so it was fine. I was expecting to be nervous, but it was cool. I mean, in that moment, it’s just a bunch of musicians, producers, rappers, like-minded people in a room, doing music shit. So it’s cool.
This is your first production credit right?
Yeah, it’s crazy right? [Laughs] For that to be the first thing... Eveything seems to happen really fast to me all the time. I don’t really know why, but you just gotta roll with it I guess.
How did you feel about the final product?
I mean I love it, I think it’s awesome. The track itself...production-wise, I think it’s a good fit on the album—like, the album’s the bigger picture, you know? So I think it slots really nicely in there. I think Assassin killed it—the Jamaican dude? I like what he did with it. When I listened to it for the first time and heard some of the lines in it, I was just like, “Whoooooaa, okay” [Laughs]...mind you, on another note, it’s semi-controversial. People are like, “This is disgusting.” To me, Kanye’s definitely in the right, for how long he’s been doing it, so if he wants to do a sex song...and if you’re gonna do a sex song, you might as well go all the way, right? Make no apologies; you might as well talk about fisting and whatever the fuck you wanna talk about. I’m happy with it.
Since you dropped the tape and got a placement on Yeezus, what kind of plans do you have coming up?
I dropped the tape in January, and I was halfway through finishing my training to be a school teacher, so I had six months of that left. So I had to kind of—even though that mixtape got, on an underground level, kind of got a following, you know? So things were definitely happening for me already. But I wasn’t gonna drop out of, teaching at that point. So I had to kind of grind [it] out and just balance making music and playing shows and shit for six months, with doing school. So I got a couple of months of making music before they hit me up. I was working towards doing another instrumental mixtape, but as soon as they hit me up I was like, “Okay cool, I’m gonna get some opportunities to produce for rappers and singers now. “ So, really all I’ve been doing since January is just making beats, I’m sitting on like 20 beats. I send all of them, and they’d work on some and they’d pass on some, like usual I guess. But, I mean, now this is how I’m hoping I’ll get to roll out some of these tracks on other people’s records, you know? We’ll see.
You’ve mentioned that you were training to become a teacher. What grades did you plan on teaching?
It was like, five-to-eight-year-olds basically. So it’s like, just as they come to school, teaching them to read and write and shit.
Do you still plan on going back to teaching?
I mean, not immediately. I’m qualified now, so I could always go back to it. Right now I’m kind of like...there’s no way I could do both, you know? Teaching is too important a job and too many people rely on you for you to be compromising by doing some [other] stuff at the same time. For me, it was either teaching or music, and the way things have gone, especially with 'Ye hitting me up, it was like... I’ve kind of got it good with the music thing.
So is Evian Christ your real name or your producer name?
That’s just the producer name, my real name is Joshua Leary.
How did you come up with it?
I actually get asked this a lot, [and] I never really know what to say. I don’t even really know [laughs]. Actually, it was a track title initially. Like, I made a track...and I didn’t have a producer name at the time, and I saw that it would be pretty cool as a producer name, and I just went with it, you know.
Yeah, it is a cool name. [Laughs]
Yeah, it’s pretty provocative right?