Over the years he's been a producer for the likes of Busdriver and Nocando. He's been a bandleader for the dream-pop outfit Blank Blue. He's collaborated with Mia Doi Todd and Dntel. He's even been covered by Devendra Banhart.
And now, at long last, Nobody, a.k.a. Elvin Estela, is a singer and songwriter.
His new record One For All Without Hesitation, out next week in physical form, marks Estela's debut on the microphone. Not only that, he's got some help from what may be the most loved/hated audio effect in music, Auto-Tune.
It makes for a heady mix -- the combination of a tool so often used in mainstream rap and R&B, and Nobody's trademark forays into psychedelic pop via beat music.
The stew gets richer still when you learn what inspired Estela to find his voice. While DJing at Low End Theory, he fell in love with a woman who wasn't his wife, only to lose both as a result of the affair. The album aptly vacillates between the light and the dark.
Estela was kind enough to speak candidly about all of this to West Coast Sound. And thanks to his label, Alpha Pup Records, we're able to offer a free download of his entire new record.
DOWNLOAD: Nobody, One For All Without Hesitation [full album ZIP]
West Coast Sound: Tell me about the decision to sing with Auto-Tune. Were you influenced by vintage funk at all?
Elvin Estela: The decision was based purely on the fact that I wanted to sing these songs myself, and considering I'm not a singer, this was really the only way I could do it. When I first heard [Kanye West's] 808s & Heartbreak, I immediately thought, "Damn, it would be rad to do songs my own way using that program." Then I heard Bon Iver's "Woods," which uses Auto-Tune in a really beautiful way.
I don't hate the sound like some folks do. There are some really fucking awful songs made with the program, buy they'd be awful even if a real voice sang them. I wasn't really influenced by funk - to me, I'm just singing normal pop songs.
WCS: Were you at all worried about alienating your fan base?
Estela: No. I think the music on this record is totally in line with what I have done in the past. I have always arranged my beats in a pop format, where there is some sort of hook and bridge, but this time I'm just singing on them.
And I just wasn't thinking about what people would think of the record when I made it - it was purely cathartic, to get me through some tough times. I never really understood music as therapy until making this album. Words and melodies just came out of me so fast. I made the album in 17 days.
Stream the titular song, "One For All Without Hesitation":
WCS: When you started making these tracks, did you know you would be singing over them yourself?
Estela: Save for the bonus tracks, no. Most of the music on this album is from 2006 to 2009 - beats that others have passed on, or didn't get around to using. Every producer can relate. We all have stacks of beats on the to-do list that just sit until the collaboration comes through.
The only new pieces are "Comin' Down," which I made using reversed samples of my old project Nobody & Mystic Chords of Memory, and the three bonus tracks where I wrote the music to vocal ideas I had already.
WCS: Is it mostly sample-based, or is there a lot of live instrumentation on here? Any help from friends?
Estela: It's about 50-50. All of my drums are sampled, but there's lots of guitar, synth and keyboard as well. The only sample on "90 Degrees" is the drums - everything else I played live. My good friend Brian Martinez plays bass and Andres Renteria [a member of Flying Lotus' "∞" band] plays a stealth high hat on "Face to the Sun." Nocando does the rap on "Innocent in a Sense."
WCS: From what I understand, this record was inspired by Low End Theory, but not in the way that most would expect. What happened?
Estela: Well, let's just say I met someone at the club that I fell for immensely. We became really good friends, and I just kept my feelings to myself because I was married. Last summer we spent a lot of time together, but by September we'd told each other how we felt and it kind of blew up from there. Unfortunately, she's no longer in my life, but that time was pretty magical, and worth all the craziness. I had a rush of inspiration.
Stream "Sleep For Daze":
WCS: How long had you been married? What was it about this woman that consumed you so?
Estela: We had been together for 15 years, but it just seems like it was time for our relationship to change. I am much better to her as a friend than a husband. Relationships change and if you don't recognize it, you can get to a pretty bad place both as individuals and as friends.
As for the woman, she was beautiful, really sweet and genuinely into the music, which in turn got me back into the music as well. I never thought we could be together because of my situation, and I never imagined that she felt the same, so when it all went down I was so excited, but so devastated because I was hurting my partner of 15 years. I got into a lot of conflicts with people around me because the situation was so intense.
WCS: Do you consider the entire thing a mistake? Are you at peace with it?
Estela: Mistakes were made, but no. I know in my heart that this was supposed to happen - greater good came out of it. My band Blank Blue broke up because of it, but now we're back together finishing our album and we sound better than ever. I moved out to Highland Park from Long Beach and have made more music in the last 6 months than I have in 2 years. Plus, the album that I made about the experience is still fresh to me and I love it. I'm at peace with what happened, but it's still going to be a while before all the dust settles.
WCS: Does releasing the album figure into your own healing process?
Estela: Yes, 100 percent. Making these songs was the only outlet I had for all these emotions. Now that the record's out, I can let it go.
WCS: What does the title of the album mean to you?
Estela: One For All Without Hesitation is a tagger crew that was around when I was a kid. The cool kids were all part of that crew and they were up everywhere. For some reason they popped into my head when I was writing the first song.
I started to think about what those words could mean, and to me it's that I did this album for all the people who affected me at the time. "Without Hesitation" comes from the way I worked on the album, I let every idea develop without thinking of it too much - I just did it.