Alex Crossan is Mura Masa. He is a music producer who grew up on the island of Guernsey, but his name pays homage to an ancient Japanese swordsmith, and his steel drum and kalimba instrumentals draw inspiration from Afrobeat.
As a teenager, Crossan composed music using software on his laptop, and eventually gained the strong following on SoundCloud that led him off his island and onto the forefront of the global DJ-ing world. Formerly an odd outsider on the electronic music scene, Crossan now leads the genre in a new direction. His songs have a lighthearted vibrancy similar to that of artists like Porter Robinson or Tiësto, but with eerie synth sounds and warped vocals that add a subtle plaintiveness to his tracks.
Currently, Crossan is on an international tour for his debut album, Mura Masa. Like the artist himself, the record is a hybrid of unexpected, contrasting elements. Featuring artists such as Charli XCX and A$AP Rocky, it shifts from fluttery, blasé dancehall to ambient instrumental tracks that are wordlessly mournful. Speaking to SF Weekly before his show at the Fox Theater on Wednesday, Sept. 27, Crossan discussed working with A$AP Rocky and Desiigner, how he writes his songs, and using music as an outlet for strong emotions.
Have there been parts of becoming so widely popular and having such a large reach that have been challenging, or hard for you to adjust to?
I wouldn’t say so — I still don’t consider myself that popular. There’s some people who know who I am and what I do, but there’s real levels to it. You could be recognized on the street on that kind of level, so maybe I’m lucky in that [I’m not there].
I just feel really privileged to be able to be able to do this for a living, so I don’t think popularity has changed that. I’m trying to have a slow ascent rather than today’s virality and overnight fame — I don’t really think that’s me or what I do — so it’s more of an upward climb.
You’re a very different type of musician from A$AP Rocky or Charli XCX. Do these different artistic perspectives make it hard to communicate when you’re making music together?
Sometimes. Rather than it being a musical thing — I think the music is the easiest part. Collaboration is so much fun, and if you understand where the person is coming from it becomes really easy.
I guess the only difference is that I come from a very remote part of the world, so I consider myself to be quite green and uncultured. I’m sort of a country boy. So being hit with someone like Rocky, who’s grown up in Harlem and had a very different life experience, is kind of an educating process. But it’s never something that gets in the way of the music.
So when you write a song, does the lyrical message usually come after the melody and instrumentals? How does songwriting begin for you?
I don’t know how to describe it really. It starts with a vibe — I’ll be feeling a certain way, and that’ll express itself sonically, rather than lyrically. I’m OK with words, but I’m too much of a perfectionist to want to write lyrics all the time. I find it really hard to settle on words, so it’s sometimes easier to say it with sounds and textures. So it happens more that sound comes first, and then obviously I collaborate a lot so often the lyrics come from another person’s story.
Do the artists you feature get complete creative freedom in their lyrics?
Yeah, certainly. With this album I think the process is just letting people do their own thing, and I didn’t want to tell people what to do. I just wanted to catch a little bit of people’s stories and their careers, and what they wanted to write about. Charli wrote about one-night stands, Desiigner was writing about how blessed he was to be where he is, and Rocky was writing about Ibiza and his current relationship.
You compose music on your laptop alone in your room, and then you perform at festivals with thousands of people. Does music make you feel more connected with others or in touch with yourself?
Music is the only way I’ve found to express myself fully, because I’m kind of an emotional shut-in. I don’t really know how to deal with strong emotions or emotional situations. Music has become the way that I feel the most comfortable expressing myself with. Mostly, I’m writing for myself as kind of self-therapy or whatever, but it does help me explain myself to other people, and it helps them understand me a bit more.
SFW: Any final comments?
Crossan: I think America right now has an extreme responsibility to stand up for itself and stand up for what it believes in. As an outsider looking at what’s happening in America, I think it’s very important to not be afraid to get political and to express themselves. So #TakeAKnee.
Mura Masa plays at 8 p.m. at the Fox Theater on Wednesday, Sept. 27. $27.50. foxtheateroakland.net