How Gonjasufi Burned His Career to the Ground, Then Rebuilt His 'Callus'
Published Aug 26, 2016Exclaim!: Where are you right now?
Gonjasufi: I'm on Mars, brother.
In music industry terms, Gonjasufi (a.k.a. Sumach Ecks) might as well be on a different planet — at least, that's how he felt after a conflict with his European PR company, Elastic, that left him allegedly swindled, broke and blacklisted from most of the continent.
"I just felt completely abandoned by the whole industry; nobody had my back out there," Gonjasufi tells Exclaim! about the four-year-old incident and its aftermath. "I went against Elastic and I verbalized it on social media — I literally wrote 'Fuck Elastic' — and then they dropped me and all this crazy shit happened. I couldn't get any shows. In the last couple of years I've been in and out of the pawn shop with my gear. I've actually been in the pawn shop and ran into some of my fans, who are like, 'What the fuck are you doing here, man?'"
Left out in space, career-wise, Ecks also worked in more terrestrial spaces that could resemble a desert planet: namely, the terrain around his Southern California home. His scorched-earth new album, Callus, out now on Warp, is dominated by themes of pain and suffering — an honest attempt to translate all his feelings of abandonment and bewilderment into a single record.
"I got back to the States and I was broke," says Ecks. "I started drinking again, I got back into dope and shit."
A former yoga teacher, the husband and father — who's decidedly more spiritual than most musicians — turned to "shitty equipment and broken-ass mics" to express himself, adding sonic parallels to the emotions expressed on Callus.
While Ecks struggled with this career downturn, to an outside observer, Gonjasufi was on a high: in 2013, he appeared on Jay Z's album Magna Carta… Holy Grail, alongside heavy hitters including Beyoncé, Justin Timberlake, Pharrell, Rick Ross and Frank Ocean.
"When that shit came out, I was fuckin' broke, bro," Ecks says now. "I'm still broke, but I'm rich because of what I don't have. That's how I like to look at it. I have my family, so I'm just trying to not commit internet suicide, and retain my love for the artistry, and not let the industry rape my passion for the music.
"That's what this record is a result of. It's like this callus of me — having to put on this smiley face when I'm really just pissed off at the whole fuckin' industry. I gave so much of my soul to the world: to journalists and tours and all the shit that at a point I just felt like, 'I have to protect my soul and keep my family sacred,' so I grew this scar-tissue around my heart chakra, just to protect that shit."
From start to finish, Callus is a gritty slug of candour, told through reams of distortion and reverb. He comes off as completely transparent throughout, which according to Ecks, is exactly the point.
"Here's the thing: I found that if I tried to force the recordings and neglect my family, then my family suffers and the music suffers. But if I put my family first — like, I coached baseball for my son, which is my yoga now — and make sure they're all going to swimming practice and ballet and my wife's happy, then my music just flows through me."
Callus is about as Gonjasufi as an album could be, an angered croak at the music industry, society and his own place in the universe. From the inner musings to the rough and ready production style, this truly is warts and all.
"It's honest. There are a lot of mistakes in it. If I'm seeking perfection, then I've failed here, but that's not what this record's about. I'm seeking the real shit, so it's perfect."
Listen to "The Kill / Prints Of Sin" below.