Teaming up with fellow Dork faves like spill tab and Rachel Chinouriri, producer Mac Wetha is flexing his musical chops with a new project of his own.
Words: Martyn Young.
Photos: Elif Gonen.
Mac Wetha is the star around which an underground alt-pop universe has orbited for a good few years now. First, as the sonic alchemist behind NiNE8 Collective and then moving into his solo work, the London producer has made quite the name for himself as a super smart and progressive collaborator. As he prepares to release his second collaborative solo project ‘Mac Wetha and Friends 2’, though, Mac is revelling in moving from being the guy in the corner making everything sound good to being THE guy with all the ideas and sounds and a desire to bring his beats to life in his own singular way.
In 2023, life is very good for Mac Wetha. Commuting back and forth from his home in London to Portugal, where his girlfriend is recuperating from knee surgery, Mac is living his best life. “It’s a good thing I’ve got going here,” he laughs. “It’s been constant work in the studio every day and coming here and chilling for a weekend, then coming back.”
He’s certainly earned the right to enjoy some time to chill after almost ten years of working with some of the most exciting pop visionaries. Constantly busy and constantly creating, Mac has always been the driving force behind other people’s music. When Dork spoke to some of NiNE8 a few years ago, rapper Bone Slim said, “working with Mac Wetha is great because you can just come in and say, ‘I was listening to something’, and he can literally put something together, and it will be the NiNE8 version of that sound.”
With Covid providing an inflexion point in everyone’s lives, it prompted Mac Wetha to wonder what it would be like if he wasn’t just the person bringing everything together for others, able to realise people’s visions with seemingly magical ease, but rather he was the one forging his own path and making his own music informed by all the creative people he’s encountered over the years. “I’ve never really thought much about what I’m doing in a detached way,” he begins in a typically understated style. “I’ve always wanted to make as much stuff as possible, and I’ve been lucky enough to meet people I’ve really gotten along with and have become my best friends. That’s where it started for me musically, and it’s just blossomed from there.
“There’s this duality where there’s the producer brain and the artist brain”Mac Wetha
“There was a point when I was playing in Biig Piig’s live band, and I was just starting to think about doing solo stuff, and I was in three different bands and producing for people and mixing for people and DJing. It was so much, but it was great. When Covid happened, one of my bands finished, and I wasn’t playing with Jess [Biig Piig] anymore because there were no shows, so there was a bit of a vacuum. That’s where I was like, this is the time to start trying to sing on my beats, and that took over. I don’t like to say it’s the main thing because I make time for everything, but that became my main thing.”
There’s been a huge development in both Mac’s creative skills and his confidence as an artist as he began to think of himself as a solo artist. “It’s creating music from a very different place,” he explains. “There’s this duality in my brain where there’s the producer brain and the artist brain. I’m so used to being the guy who can see what’s going on with someone and understand what they’re going for and make something cool, and now I’ve got to do that myself.”
The environment he was working in felt familiar but alien at the same time. “It’s hard to bounce off yourself,” he admits. “When I started collaborating with my friend Jim Reed and Dan Holloway and a bunch of other people was when I was able to find a nice balance between having my production sound in a song but also having someone to bounce off and do the job that I was doing before for other people.”
It makes perfect sense that to really succeed as a solo artist Mac had to channel the same sense of community and collaboration that harked back to his days in his bedroom on his mum’s fold-out wooden garden chair, making beats and sounds with Lava La Rue and Biig Piig. “Throughout the two years I’ve been doing this solo stuff, I’ve really learned a lot,” he says. “It’s like I started from scratch. Something I noticed was I was really good at being the guy in the chair on the laptop when making music with people. That’s what I’d been doing for years. I’ve been watching the artists I’ve worked with and looking at them like these mystical creatures who are channelling inspiration and doing their thing. I’ve always appreciated it, but when I’m in the seat, I’m doing my thing, and the focus is on making it. Having to set a loop up on a laptop now that I’m in the writing seat, I’m like, damn! This shit is so hard!”
Swiftly, Mac did what he always has done and adapted and thrived and making music as a solo artist began to flow in a natural way. “The way I make music,” he begins, worrying he might sound too pretentious, “it’s true that the way I make music, and I think a lot of other people do, is that it just comes to you.”
These musical visions and flashes of inspiration have manifested in some more distinctly personal passion projects for Mac. See, for example, the thrilling pop-punk rush of last year’s ‘Cloud Paint’ EP, which referenced his background in rock bands and his lifelong love of skateboarding, and the warped off-kilter alt-pop of his debut solo EP in 2021 ‘Make It Thru’, to the sonic tapestry of beats and rhythms found on his first collaborative solo project 2019’s ‘Mac Wetha & Friends’. Now emboldened by having his own team around him and the confidence that he can actually do this on his own, he’s making a huge leap forward with his next solo project, which finds him teaming up with all sorts of pop legends and long-time collaborators on ‘Mac Wetha & Friends 2’.
This time, what’s different is his voice is front and centre. This is very much a collection of his songs and feelings rather than just his beats and sounds. “There’s a lot of nostalgia. A lot of memory and place and time,” he explains of some of the project’s themes. “I’ve been sitting down and writing and thinking about exactly what I want to express, and I’ve been writing big lists of things I want to touch on. I’m hoping to express myself in a more deep way rather than just making something that sounds cool.”
Perhaps the truest indication of Mac Wetha’s coming of age as a solo artist is his desire to reject what he’s done before and keep pushing himself forward. “The first project was all over the place, but not in a bad way,” he reflects. “I’m really proud of all that stuff. I enjoyed making it, and I love the project, but I don’t want to go back to that style. A lot of the time, making music feels like testing the waters, and once you release something, that’s when you can understand how you truly feel about it. I feel great about it, but I’m ready to move on to a different style again. You focus intently on making it and spill your guts, and once it’s out, you can see it in a detached way. ‘Yeah, this is sick. I appreciate that I did this, and I had to do it, but now what’s next?’ That’s been my whole life musically, and that’s how it will be for the rest of my life as well.”
What’s next is his most refined and developed collection of songs yet, as he combines his sonic mastery with a blissed-out naivety that makes songs like the recent gorgeous single ‘Fairytale’ featuring Rachel Chinouriri so endearing and emotionally resonant. The challenge for any producer is how do you make stuff that goes beyond sounding cool and inventive to evoke deep feelings and have a lasting legacy? With a sharp songwriting focus and a deeply humane quality, Mac’s new music is reaching another level.
“The theme of my entire musical life has been learning from people through collaborating or hanging out. That’s continued on this project, working with people like Rachel and spill tab, and being in the room with them and seeing where their mind goes when you’re writing a song and how they perceive the song,” he enthuses. “You have your box of how you make stuff, and they have theirs, and when you’re together, it breaks the box you put yourself in. Some of their writing is more pop-leaning, I suppose, and that brings that side out of me. Everyone has got these go-to melodies in their head and cadences that become part of their style. It’s sick to hear how they do that. You take that in, and I’m trying to show that in my performance in the songs.”
2023 promises to be a breakout year for Mac Wetha. “I’m going to try and play as many shows as possible, whether that be by DJing or with the band,” he says excitedly. “I’m also working on my next solo stuff. All I’ll say is it rides nicely out of Mac Wetha and Friends. I’m making a new sound for myself.” ■
Taken from the April 2023 edition of Dork. Mac Wetha’s mixtape ‘Mac Wetha & Friends 2’ is out soon.