Words by SassyBlack
Photos by Aniyoke
Seattle-based, 22-year-old Alda Agustiano goes by the ambiguous title Chong the Nomad. She’s a talented up-and-coming electronic-dance or self-proclaimed “bedroom groove” producer who has been making music since the age of 14. She has released a few singles in the past, as well as her first EP, Love Memo, available on all streaming services. I caught up with her to discuss her influences, her tools, and the secret to staying in the game.
SassyBlack: Where did you get your name from? It’s different and enticing.
Chong the Nomad: Yeah, it’s a pretty nerdy story. I grew up loving the animated series Avatar: The Last Airbender, and the music from that series actually inspired me to write music. There was a very minor character, who was this sort of musician, and his name was Chong. He was nomadic; a hippy. I used Chong the Nomad as a form name for a while, and then I just rolled with it. I kinda like how gender-neutral it is.
List three sounds that are essential to your production.
I would say a sawtooth wave synth is probably what I use the most as far as a lead synth. I always use that for more buzzier bass noise. Also very round 808s creatively; in really weird ways. I love chopping up vocal samples really small so I have control of where the pitches go. That’s not something new, but it’s something that you can get creative with especially if you don’t have a vocalist on hand or studio time. Especially for my more disco, bass funk songs, chopping up vocal samples really small to the point where they are unrecognizable and playing around with those clips to make something new.
What advantages do you feel you have as a millennial artist (if any) living in a world where the Internet plays such a big part in art. Do you think you have an advantage? Why or why not?
Same amount of advantages as disadvantages. In this industry, you are a tiny piece of sand on a beach and it’s overwhelming. I think making music, working on a track and finishing it, is the most rewarding experience. And sharing that is just as rewarding, too. It gets to a point where you want attention for it and getting that sort of attention is hard. But I feel like in this very competitive state we’re in, especially as a woman of color, you’d do anything to stand out. If you do something that works, then someone notices it, it’s worth it. You are just so small. And there is so much more music, too.
Is there anything you would like to share or mention?
I am working on a few singles that I am releasing. I just released one called “in conclusion.” I hope by the spring, I will have my first EP out. I’m looking into working with as many artists as possible and making more music and doing more shows. Pretty much that is what the next year is looking like for me; it’s all exciting! If you told me like a year ago that I’d be doing half of what I’m doing, I’d stare at your in disbelief, so it’s all been a blessing.
“You just grow so much more individually as an artist and you can really finesse your sound if you just stop comparing yourself to everyone.”
I also read that you went to my alma mater, Cornish College of the Arts, for chamber music. How did you get into music? Was it something that you always wanted to do?
I picked up producing at a fairly early age, around 14 I think. I think the accessibility of it was the best part. I had a lot of ideas for music but songwriting wasn’t really my thing. All my friends were playing around with Fruity Loops Studio, and I picked it up pretty quickly. Since then, I was just learning and teaching myself things, finding a passion for producing. I found a sound library one day with pretty good string noises, so I started making my own cheesy trailer type tracks. My parents heard them, and I decided to study chamber music for a while. From late high school on to Cornish, it was just balancing these two mediums that I loved a lot.
You were speaking about accessibility as the reason why you were able to produce; because you were able to use Fruity Loops Studio. How do you feel technology has allowed you to progress as a producer?
It’s probably one of the biggest factors as to why me and thousands of others can pick this up so quickly. The coolest thing about it is that you can have the most expensive products, or have complete mastery of the digital audio workstation of your choice—or not—but in the end, you’re making music. You’re developing your own sound, and I feel like that’s something really important to not to get out of touch with. You can write all of these techniques, know all of these super techy things about the aspects of producing music, but in the end, as an artist, I feel like it’s really important that the musicality always shines through.
And you have been doing this for some time now; you are like…eight years in the game!
[Laughs] I wouldn’t say eight years in the game, more like seven years of just banging my head on the desk and screaming, and then finally one year of, “Oh, I could probably actually do this for a living.”
I think that is a big part of it, though. I think a lot of the legends and artists that a lot of folks look up to spend a lot of time banging their heads on the wall, and that’s a large part of the industry that’s rarely discussed. So I feel like you are definitely on the right track.
It’s both a good thing and a bad thing. I think one of the biggest struggles I have always had is comparing myself to others, but the second I let that go, I just grow so much more as an artist. Like, you just grow so much more individually as an artist and you can really finesse your sound if you just stop comparing yourself to everyone.
Who are some of your biggest influences? Whether it’s production, or chamber music, or composition on film scorers?
I think my two biggest inspirations right now are Daft Punk and Pharrell Williams. All of them have such mastery of combining organic instrumentals and knowing how to introduce those acoustic flavors but bringing it into a more electronic context—and have those two mesh together so well and naturally. Especially Pharrell, his production is always . . . not poppy, but I feel like I’m using the word accessible too much [laughs]. But a lot people listen to his music. He has such a distinct sound. Those are two of the more well known artists, but I have a lot of SoundCloud producers I look up to right now. Also J Dilla is a huge inspiration for me in terms of just….everything—with sampling and how to really listen to what you’re making and how you can develop your own sound using different textures and things that people have never heard before.
If you didn’t have access to SoundCloud or other similar platforms to share your music, how would you go about promoting your music?
I think social media plays such a huge part nowadays, but I feel like if you were to take that aspect away from me, I would be making connections, doing shows, participating in competitions. Participating in a beat-matching competition actually helped me get my start. Sharing music with people out there no matter what stage you’re at. It’s not as powerful as social media, but that’s basically social media without the media. Just be social. If you have the right music, the right people will hear it.
If you couldn’t use a DAW or a controller to make beats, how would you create?
I’ve been really into sampling lately. I record in a way where I just record over a lot of stuff that I do in my workstation as much as possible. And I think that a lot of what I do is possible without it. I feel like the shortcuts available on a computer aren’t that hard to do in real life.
It might be costlier, but where there’s a will there’s a way. I’m a multi-instrumentalist, too. I play piano, guitar, ukulele, harmonica, and trombone. So, if I have to play drums, I will play drums! If I have to get a crew with me to record in a studio, by any means necessary. If I wanna make weird sounds, then I’ll do more field recordings. I just feel like there are always different ways you can make music. You don’t necessarily need technology. It’ll sound different, and I think that’s a good thing.
This was originally published in Tom Tom’s Spring issue. Read the full version here.