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In this episode, we ask how one man can go from designing websites for local bands to heading up Google Fonts Knowledge. Smashing’s Vitaly Friedman talks to Elliot Jay Stocks to find out.
- Google Fonts Knowledge
- Smashing Conf San Francisco 2022
- Elliot’s personal website
- Elliot on Twitter
- Performance Game Changer: Browser Back/Forward Cache written by Barry Pollard
- Magical SVG Techniques written by Cosima Mielke
- How Even Small UX Changes Can Result In An Increase In Conversion written by Denis Studennikov
- How To Use Google CrUX To Analyze And Compare The Performance Of JS Frameworks written by Dan Shappir
- Top Tasks: To Focus On What Matters You Must De-Focus On What Doesn’t written by Gerry McGovern
Vitaly Friedman: He loves typography from the bottom of his heart. And in recent years, he’s led creative direction for several products and services, including the print magazines 8 Faces and Lagom. He worked as a creative director of Adobe Typekit now called Adobe Fonts, and these days he’s running things at Google Fonts Knowledge.
Vitaly: Outside of the realm of design, he also does electronic music as other form, and has also released music on several independent labels. Well, we know that he’s an expert in typography and electronic music, but did you know that he’s an avid fan of underground Icelandic techno music from the late ’90s and usually dreams about pixels, font sizes, and REM units.
Vitaly: My Smashing friends, please welcome Elliot Jay Stocks. Elliot, hello and how are you doing today?
Elliot Jay Stocks: I am OB电竞 , thank you.
Vitaly: Oh, well you look OB电竞 as well if I may so. You haven’t changed a bit.
Elliot: That’s very kind of you to say. I was going to already say that I feel OB电竞 even before I was directed to do so.
Vitaly: Oh, I don’t know who directed you to do that at all. Don’t you reveal the secrets that we have here.
Vitaly: Elliot, when we actually look back now, I don’t know, we saw each other when like the last time, was it like 15 years ago?
Elliot: I was going to say, “That’s crazy. No way,” but actually, I mean maybe, yeah.
Vitaly: 15? No, not 15.
Elliot: When we saw each other, oh, sorry. I thought you meant when we first met. When we first met, maybe it was 15 years ago.
Vitaly: Yes. And when did we see each other last time?
Elliot: Oh, wow. It’s been a long time since I’ve seen anybody.
Vitaly: Yeah. Well you do see a lot of electronic music though.
Elliot: Yes. That’s true.
Vitaly: So that counts for something.
Elliot: Oh, boy. I think it was in, I don’t know, Jonathan Snook was there. Where were we? It was you, me and Jonathan Snook. I don’t know. Was it during a talk, maybe?
Vitaly: I have a feeling it was maybe, probably a room with people and the stage and you probably were speaking. Right?
Vitaly: That’s probably… But before we actually dive into the specifics, I know that many of our listeners will have heard about your work and your blog post and also your music and all the wonderful things that you’re doing. But I’m always interested in people, like really coming back to the roots, there must be something that started all of this, right?
Vitaly: And so I really want to hear a little bit about your backstory. So how does a boy with curly hair born in the suburbs of London gets his life through kind of thoroughly defined by web topography and design and electronic music. How does that happen? Tell us.
Elliot: Well, thank you for the question. I think a lot of it is all just accidents, happy accidents, and just trying stuff out and seeing where that goes and not being too worried about the future plans, I suppose. I suppose I think that’s kind of probably the thing that’s defined my career path as it were.
Elliot: So when I was a kid, I did a lot of drawing. I remember like my dad teaching me things about perspective and stuff when I was young and I used to do things like a lot of illustrations for the school, they’d have like a play on and I’d do the little pamphlet illustration for the program of the play and all sorts of things like that.
Elliot: So I was always kind of doing drawing for fun and then asked by people to do with the school, to do like other stuff around that. It was always kind of art based. And I didn’t really dabble with design properly until I suppose I graduated from high school. And before I went to uni, I took a year out and I worked in a music shop in Virgin Megastores, when they still existed.
Elliot: And I was doing a little bit of music at the time with some other people who worked there and we released a CD, which sounds very quaint now doesn’t it?
Vitaly: Yeah. Oh a little bit. How old were you then?
Elliot: Well, so I would’ve been 18, I guess.
Vitaly: Yeah. Okay. So, that’s what cool people do then in nowadays.
Vitaly: They just sing on CDs.
Elliot: That’s right. Well maybe, and the managers of the store allowed us to put the CD on sale in the store. And so it fell to me to design the cover and I’d started dabbling with… I don’t know what it was.
Elliot: It was like some sort of version of Photoshop, like a free version of Photoshop or something like that. And I was doing kind of stuff with terrible Photoshop filters and things like that. And-
Vitaly: So that’s where it’s all started. I can see that, now.
Elliot: Yeah. It was all this kind of thing. And I did the POS and the website for it. And it was the first website I’d kind of done. Well, yeah, it was my first experience. And the web was relatively new at this time. And I used an editor called Homestead, which was like a sort of WYSIWYG editor. And that whole thing was just kind of my first experience of design, I suppose.
Elliot: Web design and print design. And that kind of, I guess, ignited that interest in that. And then for a few years at university, I did a lot of stuff on the side for music, for bands’ websites and stuff like that.
Elliot: And then when I graduated from university, I got a job working for the record label, EMI working on a bunch of music sites. So, that was kind of how that all came about, really. I was working a lot of web stuff. It was all very music related and it sort of just happened, I guess, a little bit by accident and gradually over the years, I kind of… I don’t think I’m a web designer anymore.
Elliot: I kind of realized recently that’s in the past that I’ve sort of gone on to do other things. But everything kind of came from there and there’s been a really strong, I suppose, musical current throughout the whole thing and lots of side projects.
Elliot: And this is also what I’m going to be talking about at Smashing Conf as well, in fact. This whole thing and how it’s all interrelated and how a lot of side projects have led to, as I said, these kind of happy accidents, doing stuff that’s really fun just by sort of trying it out and not having too much of a plan.
Vitaly: No, it’s interesting because every time I think about my childhood and how things used to be when I was growing up, I always think about these important people who kind of defined my career, my view on things. I don’t know, but I always, I mean especially over the last couple of weeks now, I’ve been for some reason thinking about the blog post by Mark Bolton and the blog that you were writing.
Vitaly: And this was a very exciting time for me. I mean, you have no idea just how I just really felt that this is it, this is really changing my life. I kind of had this feeling in my head when I was kind of working through this and in my heart as well. So maybe just kind of throwing this question at you, maybe you could talk about people who really defined your way of thinking about design?
Vitaly: Like what really made the most significant impact. Was it maybe a talk somewhere? Maybe it’s an article that you read, a book? I don’t know, just a random coincidence where you just met somebody and they said something? What was that really kind of defined your work in many ways?
Elliot: Yeah, oh, wow. I remember those years as well. That felt really fun and everything on the web was new and we were all sort of just figuring it out and it was kind of the wild west of the web design days. I loved it.
Elliot: But yeah, I guess from my own perspective, I’ve definitely been, in the early days, I was really influenced by a lot of those people doing some really cutting edge Flash websites. So this is probably around 2001, 2002, 2003, I guess, to advanced PreyStation, tokyoplastic, My Pet Skeleton.
Vitaly: Oh, those were the times.
Elliot: Yeah. The real heady days of Flash-based web design. And they were very influential on me, not just for the web, but they just, like you said, something you felt in your heart, it’s just this exciting, “Wow, this is this just amazing stuff going on. It’s not just the web, but about design in general and creativity in general.” And that really, really was just a very exciting time, and that kind of influenced me a lot in those early years.
Elliot: I think that whole kind of grungy style and that very kind of David Carson influence thing. I don’t think I realized until later that it was a lot of David Carson influence on that lot. You know, people like JUXT Interactive who I loved at the time and kind of looking back now, it’s a very David Carson kind of thing. But that was very influential on me.
Elliot: And then I got into, when I was working in the music industry and I was working at EMI, we started to move away from Flash and web standards was becoming a thing. And obviously like Zeldman’s writing and Eric Meyer and Dave Shay was doing the CSS Zen Garden. And then that again was like this really exciting, like, “Oh, wow, what is this whole new way of exploring the web and building on the web and designing on the web and working within these new constraints?”
Elliot: And I think aesthetically, I went away from that kind of outlandish grungy stuff. Well, I mean, eventually I did, to more kind of like clean and eventually my focus on typography and things like that. And I think it was probably, I mean, Erik Spiekermann obviously is a hugely influential person anyway. And his kind of… I think sort of knowing Erik and getting to know him through projects like 8 Faces and things like that, his influence on the real minutiae of typographic design, the real specific geeky details, that kind of led me down that path into less focused on, I guess, some of the big, “How do you design something from scratch?” But more into like, how do we really tweak and refine this very small part of a design to be the best it can possibly be?
Elliot: And I think almost like Erik is kind of at the opposite end to the David Carson side of design. But I think in sort of recent years, I’ve gone a bit more in that direction. And as you get older, I think your interest change. And for a long time, I was very, I don’t know, I guess really distrustful of people who were kind of involved in design, but didn’t want to do the whole thing.
Elliot: And I was really distrustful of people who were kind of like directors, but they weren’t necessarily at the coalface doing the design work. Whereas now I’ve sort of come round to being okay with just focusing on one part of it and letting other people kind of get concerned with design systems, and developing things.
Elliot: And I don’t know, web design is such a different beast these days anyway, I think.
Vitaly: Yeah, I don’t know. Is it just me, Elliot? But I feel like every time somebody brings up a notion of web designs, isn’t it like a term from 2000 somehow? Or 2010 or something, web design? Like we’re just UX designs. We are UX engineers. We are… I don’t know. There are so many old kind of different roles. What role do you see yourself now? Who are you today? Like if you had to define your role, like something that really, I don’t know, a term that really defines and captures your essence, what would that be?
Vitaly: I don’t know, if it’s a good answer, question to answer.
Elliot: It’s a great question to answer. And one, I’m constantly asking myself. Yeah, I don’t know. At the moment I am sort of describing, well, I’m not really actively describing myself, but I suppose the work that I’ve done recently and I’m doing at the moment is more of, I guess I’m sort of a … Oh boy, I don’t know. I guess it’s like a typographic consultant, I suppose, in that I’m doing a lot of work that is very… I mean, all design is and should be typography focused in many ways, but it is very focused on typography with… I’m doing very little in terms of like hands-on design these days, but it’s more kind of helping steer something from a typographic perspective, and advising people on that.
Elliot: And the work that I’ve been doing with Google is all about sort of education around typography in general.
Elliot: But prior to this, I was doing a lot of creative director roles. So I sort of stopped being a designer in the more traditional sense and was more just a creative director. Sort of from my time when I was a Typekit. And then the roles that I then had after that, they were all kind of creative director roles.
Elliot: But and again, fairly recently when the pandemic kind of hit and I lost the job that I was currently working in at the time as creative director for an agency in London called Maido, Everyone kind of, that sort of had to disband, and I found myself doing some… Sort of going back to, well 2020 was a really weird year and everyone had to kind of go and do these different, sort of take on different kind of work to make ends meet and everything.
Elliot: And then after that, I think I realized that I didn’t really want to go back into that design leadership thing for a while. I think I’d got a little bit jaded by just sort of… It’s not that I wanted to be at the coalface, designing everything and building everything again, but I also wanted to do something that was a little bit more, I guess, kind of insular and kind of self-contained. And not involving big teams and stuff like that.
Elliot: And yeah, that’s kind of led me even further away from web design in a way, which has been nice. For a while, I was having this real existential crisis of trying to answer that question of who am I, what am I doing? And I think-
Vitaly: But I think we have pretty good understanding now, do we?
Elliot: Yeah. I think now I’m comfortable with where I am at for now. Ask me tomorrow, I’ll change my mind.
Vitaly: Okay. I will definitely ask tomorrow as well. But now actually and it interesting looking back with, because you had all the different roles and you worked with all the different people and we just briefly talked about some influential people and who changed your view on things. And in my life it was you. You don’t even remember, I’m sure. I think you don’t even remember.
Elliot: That’s very kind of you.
Vitaly: I remember us. Yeah, I will explain in a moment why. Because when we were working on some project, who knows what project that was over the last, I don’t know, 11, 12 years now, 15, maybe. I remember you saying one thing. I think it was a navigation design that we changed in Smashing of 2013, ’14 something.
Vitaly: And you said, “Well, if something is different, you need to make it look very different. It can’t be just close enough or a little bit different. It has to be bold and decisive and different enough, so people can notice that this is a decision and not a mistake.”
Vitaly: Right. And I remember this, we were there. I mean, this has stuck with me for quite some time and actually many things that you’re mentioning about paying attention to details and being very careful and all those things, they kind of define my kind of way of working as well.
Vitaly: But I didn’t spend a lot of time working with different agents in all the different roles. Basically I have for last, what 12 years, I’ve been in the same, more or less the same position. But looking at you now, because you’ve been working with all the different teams and all the different people, is there something that you would recommend to yourself when you’re working with them?
Vitaly: Maybe do some… A little bit more of that. Do a little bit less of this in your career, as you kind of keep the ball and keep rolling. Is there something that you wish you would have done differently?
Elliot: Mm yeah. Well, first of all, thank you for saying that’s, that’s really awesome to know that that was influential and helpful. And yeah, I don’t quite remember that, but that is awesome. And that must have been when we were doing the Smashing redesign, which was-
Vitaly: Yeah, I think so.
Elliot: Yeah. A while ago now.
Vitaly: Like six, seven, eight years ago now.
Elliot: Yeah. Wow. Yeah. In terms of the sort of career advice, things I wish I’d known when I was younger, stuff like that, I think learning to trust your gut is super important. And there were definitely times when I look back on projects that I said yes to that maybe I’d already got that gut feeling that they might not be great and perhaps I shouldn’t have taken them on. And I did anyway.
Elliot: And I think listening to your gut, if you’ve got a feeling that says, “I shouldn’t be doing this,” for whatever reason, then there’s probably a valid reason for why you’re feeling that way. I’ve got a print that Erik did that I bought from his print shop P98A and it says, “Don’t work with assholes, don’t work for assholes.” Or maybe the other way round. But the meaning is the same.
Elliot: And that again is like I think sometimes you can tell quite early on how someone is going to be, and it’s useful to not persevere with projects that are perhaps run by or with assholes. So I wish that I had had that framed on my wall earlier on in my career. It’s on my wall now, but it perhaps should have been a mantra that was adopted sooner.
Elliot: But I think one of the things that I’m very grateful for is, that I’ve been in the position where I’ve been able to pursue things that I really care about. And although passion is this thing that’s kind of, this term that everyone says, it’s bandied about the whole time.
Elliot: I think it’s really important. And I’ve always thought it’s important, to really care about what you’re doing. And the reality is that we are at work for most of the day, most of the hours that we are awake in the day. And so we should be spending those hours doing something we love.
Elliot: Now, that’s all well and good. You know, that’s not necessarily helpful advice to give to somebody who may be stuck in a job that they absolutely need to stay in to pay the bills.
Elliot: But I think it’s not necessarily about just going, “Right. I’m going to quit my job and going pursue my dreams.” It’s about sort of finding meaning in what you’re doing. And if there isn’t a direct way to do that in your day job, then I think side projects have always been a great outlet for that.
Elliot: And for me personally, being able to, I guess, seek creative fulfillment through side projects has led me to pursue those passions almost, as I said before, by accident. It’s the side projects and just sort of going for them and not worrying too much about the consequences that have, later on, led to the really good work.
Elliot: So even if you can’t leave your current job now that you might hate because you want to pursue your passions, I think finding a way to work your passions into it somehow, or to express yourself through a side project will help you eventually get involved with projects that you do really care about. And I’ve certainly been fortunate enough that that’s been the case.
Elliot: And some of the jobs I’ve had have been direct results of the work that I’ve done on side projects. And then those jobs in themselves have led to further things. And there’s always been kind of that snowball effect. And so I mean, it’s hard to, I think when you’re younger and you’re starting out, it’s hard to necessarily… There’s on the one hand, that you can be sort of like full of this youthful naivety and kind of go, “Yeah, let’s go for it and do whatever,” but that can also lead to some not great situations.
Elliot: But definitely looking back, being slightly older and having done this for a while now, I can definitely say that the times where things really worked or where I was really happy were because I sort of just followed what I was interested in, rather than what was the kind of sensible perceived route that I should take.
Vitaly: Yeah. I think it’s, for me personally, it’s really a matter of being strategic and there are so many things I wish I had known earlier and not solely related to design or UX or web or topography or anything. But it’s just, sometimes you might even think about just very routine, basic life stuff. Right?
Vitaly: I mean, you know me, but I’ve been exploring the world of cutting cucumbers and watermelons for, I don’t know how many months and years now, and I still haven’t found the right way. And I’m always disappointed with my outcome. The same goes for coffee and for so many other things, which could be just small things that would be really, really enjoyable. Right?
Vitaly: And so, for example, one thing that I really wish I would know a bit more about is just how to do basic simple accounting. How to estimate better, how to deliver on time, how to get a bit more disciplined and things. Because these are all the things that I had to learn over time.
Vitaly: But, oh, my. I’ve been overestimating, underestimating, going wild and just literally guess working all the way. Do you have sort of a structure, system? How do you work? Are you one of those people who are very like, Paul Maduro and 45 minutes and then this. The alarm goes on and off I go making a break. Or how do you work?
Elliot: Yeah, no, I’m definitely not one of those people. I really struggle, to be honest, I have.
Vitaly: Oh, by the way, not to say that we have anything against these people. They’re very kind, they very productive. Don’t mean to be kind of disapproving in any way, just looking about different ways of how we all work today.
Elliot: Yeah. I have, so somewhat, I guess, it’s a little bit of a contradiction, but I try and set up a relatively focused schedule because I’m very easily distracted. So someone might look at my calendar or my approach to productivity and perhaps think that I’m quite well organized. And I think it’s, I’m not. This is why I’m using these things to try and and focus myself.
Elliot: So a few years ago, Jessica Hische posted a thing about her calendar, that she’d blocked out part parts of the day to kind of be productive. And it was really interesting. And I think I wrote a blog post, where I sort of had my own take on it. Although, I’ve since kind of changed that.
Elliot: But still the idea is basically blocking out time on your calendar to say, “This is productivity time. This is client work time. This is freelance project time, or this is family time, whatever.” That sort of helps. That part of that structure’s been forced on me in a good way by having a family.
Elliot: So I have two young kids now and I always stop at five o’clock to go and have dinner with them. And I usually pick up some work stuff later on in the evening, even if it’s just kind of messages and stuff like that. But I have a pretty rigid stop time, which is, which is really nice because it means that I get some time with my family.
Elliot: And it also just forces a bit of a structure on my day. Plus I have things like school pickups and clubs that the kids do. And lunch and very specific things that aren’t that movable these days, which is good, which is really good.
Elliot: But I’ve also recently, I think to try and combat the fact that I’m quite easily distracted and just go down different rabbit holes, I’ve started moving to a paper based to-do list. So I still use things which I love as an app for that. And I use Notion for all kinds of general to-dos. But for my every single day, I write down on a little card, all of my tasks.
Elliot: So I was influenced by Jeff Sheldon and his project, I think it’s called Analog, where he did a nice kickstart with these beautifully designed a little cards. And he had a little system going for the priorities in his card and a nice little case for it, and all this kind of thing. I wanted to sort of take that, but make a much more low-fi version.
Elliot: So I made this system called Today And Soon, although I’ve since kind of changed it to just be focused on Today’s, which is basically I made a little template, a Moo card template that you can just download for free and get it printed. And it’s a series of tick boxes and there’s something about writing it down.
Elliot: You know, I’ve got my where you can’t see this. I can show you, but you won’t be able to hear this. And this is written down. And it’s some basic stuff that I want to do every day. You know, I want to Duolingo every day, and I’ve got to call this person today and I’ve got to finish this particular bit of work and all this kind of stuff.
Elliot: But just having it written down and like literally sat there next to my iMac, like balancing against my monitor there. And I get to do a big check mark with a big Sharpie every time I finish something, big or small, has really helped recently. Really helped with just keeping me focused. And I have stuff on there that’s like a big work task or it’s buy new flea medication for the dog or something.
Elliot: But the sense of being productive by checking those things off the list is really nice. And so that coupled with a fairly rigid calendar and time kind of blocked off, has really helped my productivity. And I think that’s kind of, I suppose that’s kind of how I work.
Elliot: But it’s still, my work day-to-day is a lot of like flitting between different things. It’s like some time in Figma working on some illustrations for Google Fonts Knowledge. And it’s time in Google Docs writing or editing, and it’s time in Notion doing some planning and it’s time on social media stuff, doing bits for my music project.
Elliot: And it’s a little bit, and time in chat talking to colleagues and planning stuff and meetings and whatnot. And it’s quite varied. And I think that variation can easily lead to distraction, but also I do quite like having things varied. I’ve realized over time that I’m not very good at just staying and doing one thing. I can’t sort of sit down there at nine o’clock and design all day and then finish at five.
Elliot: Like that’s never really been me and I’ve certainly failed when I’ve tried to do that.
Vitaly: Yeah. So I think it’s interesting because for me, sometimes I feel like we are maybe twins from different universes or something like that, I don’t even know. Because I mean, I have moved my calendar quite a bit and I actually, I think my partner in late December, just planning ahead for the next year. We were sitting down, we just really thinking about what was the year like, and what’s the next year it’s going to be like? And of course it’s a very common thing, and some people would say, “Well, everybody’s doing that or whatever,” but it was really critical because I really had to kind of question everything.
Vitaly: That’s really been on my agenda for the last couple of months now. I just, it’s impossible for me to read a book. I’m questioning every single sentence in the book, now. It’s just really, really hard and it really changed because then I totally revamped my calendar.
Vitaly: And so I block out Fridays altogether, and there are dedicated times for meetings. And that’s it. And this kind of structure thing again, is probably something that gives you sort of, I don’t know, comfortable framework to work within?
Vitaly: Right. So you just know that, okay, you’re going to do this and you have limitations in terms of the amount of time you will spend on this, because this is going to be a cutoff at five o’clock or six o’clock.
Vitaly: So I can totally see how kind of how it all comes together, how it’s all working for you as well.
Vitaly: Are there any things that you just let go? This was actually quite important for me as well, because I’ve been working with a couple of projects and we had to think about not the design strategy, but the deleting strategy or archiving strategy-
Elliot: Oh yeah. Interesting.
Vitaly: … for very old and outdated content. So what are some things that you just recently let go or just stopped doing and that helped you as well?
Elliot: Yeah, that’s a really good question because I think it is so important to say no. And I remember doing talks a few years ago when I was kind of talking about freelance life and stuff like that, and talking a lot about being confident in saying no to clients and turning away work that you didn’t agree with and stuff like that. In terms recently, I guess it’s been sort of juggling stuff.
Elliot: I’ve, for a long time, had the opportunity to do maybe like a little bit of freelance work on the side and stuff like that. And I’ve recently with Google Fonts Knowledge and stuff, just settled into doing kind of one fixed kind of solid thing all day. Just working on Google Fonts Knowledge pretty much. And that’s been really nice to do.
Elliot: That said, I mean, I still have my music projects and a lot of admin around running the label and stuff like that. So that still happens in the evenings and things like that. And as I said, there’s bit of like social media posts and stuff like that. So my mind is still bouncing around these different things, but I’ve definitely turned down a lot of freelance projects that have come my way, just because it’s… I know that it’d be so easy to fill the hours doing that stuff.
Elliot: And I’m personally not very good at sitting there and just relaxing. Like I have this often detrimental need to be creating or making something. And I don’t really, I’m not great at playing video games and stuff because I feel like, “Oh, I should be making some music or taking a thing on or doing more work or whatever.”
Elliot: Like I said, having kids has definitely helped in that my time with them is my time with them. And that’s really nice because nothing really eats into that, apart from the very occasional meeting or something like that. But on the whole, it’s dedicated.
Elliot: But yeah, I think there’s nothing recently apart from just saying no to some other freelance projects coming in. But I should do more sitting down and relaxing and just being okay with not doing much.
Vitaly: I think everybody’s saying that. And then nobody really does. I think personally I find it so difficult to just sit and do nothing. It’s just so, I mean, maybe I’m just impatient and I always have these questions raising up. These question marks coming up in my head. It’s sometimes it’s just difficult to fall asleep because I think, “Oh, I have this idea for that thing and I should be following this and I should be writing it down and I should not be writing this down, but then maybe I want to write it down.” Kind of this ongoing story.
Elliot: Yeah, yeah.
Vitaly: But I mean, you’re adventurous, you’re just exploring and it’s just… I know that we’ll be kind of wrapping up shortly, but I do want to just find out how do you end up becoming or getting, kind of embarking on this journey from music on a new level? Because I know that for a while you have not been on that journey, you’ve been doing a lot of design and maybe I’m wrong. Please, correct me if I’m wrong.
Vitaly: But it’s only recently that we had this conversation, a few potentially on DJing at Smashing Conferences as well. And that’s something I wouldn’t imagine, like I say, 10 years ago when I saw you speaking on stage.
Vitaly: So you really fell deeply in love with electronic music again and now having your own label and all. And can you tell us just briefly that story? It’s like, why and how, and just how it happened and also where it goes?
Elliot: Yeah, sure. I mean, so I have actually been doing music for many, many years, in a very non-serious way. So I sort of started releasing some of my own music when I was in that year off that I mentioned before university. So I was like 18, and I released self-released a couple of EPs after that, but I was never really serious about it.
Elliot: And it wasn’t until, I think it was like 2015, something like that, 2014, 2015, where there were a couple of catalysts. One is that I’d kind of always liked some electronic music, but I was more into kind of rock and metal and stuff like that. And it wasn’t until then that I discovered some techno that for me, I thought, “Wow, this is really interesting music. This is people doing something that I haven’t really heard.”
Elliot: And although it was kind of dance music, it’s not just about dancing. There’s just way more to it than that. And it was really interesting to me. There were a few different artists doing some cool stuff around this time, Monique and Shifted and KiloWatt and Manny D and some people that I just come across. And I found their music genuinely really interesting as a listener.
Elliot: But it spurred me on to kind of say, “Oh, maybe I could do some stuff like this.” And then at exactly the same time I bought some hardware synths from… You can see them, they’re in the background there, these Volcas from, from Korg. And they’re really cheap. They’re analog synths, but they a really, really cheap, really dirty, and they’re just really fun to play with.
Elliot: And as soon as I was playing with them and like tweaking, turning knobs and moving sliders and just playing with the hardware and all those kind of happy accidents, again, that come with playing around with stuff like that. And coupled with the influence of these new artists, I thought, “Wow, this is really interesting. Maybe I could make this kind of thing.”
Elliot: And it just sort of, I suppose, made me start taking it a little bit more seriously. And there was one other catalyst. So in 2015, we had our first daughter and sort of from then, my time to be productive musically, but in general has definitely been very limited.
Elliot: And ironically that’s the time when I spent the most kind of going, “Right, I have to do this thing, I have to be serious about music now.” But I really do think that having that limited time to do this in, whereas before where the world is your oyster, you can spend all the time in the world, having a tiny window in which to be productive has actually helped me focus.
Elliot: Again, that was sort of happened to me rather than anything that… I didn’t kind of like plan for that level of productivity, but that really did help.
Elliot: And so I released my first EP as other form in 2017 and since, and even then I did it and then I kind of went quiet for a bit, but around 2019, things started to pick up again. Started to be making a lot more music, put something else out on a different label. And then I played a gig in Berlin at the end of 2019 and was like, “Hey, this is the start of playing live in like some clubs around the world and stuff.”
Elliot: And then of course, we all know how 2020 went, but during that time, during the pandemic and everything, I really kind of doubled down on getting music out and growing the label and releasing other people’s music not just my own stuff. And it’s been just a whole other adventure, as you say. Just kind of working out that side of things and I love it.
Elliot: It’s very different to design. I don’t think there are many parallels, really. There are certain organizational things that have helped. I mean, I kind of run my design life and my music life on Notion, for instance. But in terms of like their creativity and the kind of label admin stuff, I think it’s very different to my kind of day jobby stuff, and also takes up quite a lot of time. But it’s all fun.
Elliot: As soon as it stops being fun, I’m going to stop doing it.
Vitaly: Yeah. Well, I think that it’s incredible to see this energy in your eyes when I can see it now.
Elliot: Thank you.
Vitaly: And it’s wonderful to see you really kind of shining through, and maybe who knows maybe in a couple of months or so, we’ll see you all over the world. And I know that you will be in some parts of the world, that will be San Francisco.
Elliot: That’s right.
Vitaly: For the OB电竞 conference. So that might be the time when we should be expecting your live performance, as well. What is a snippet of it, right?
Elliot: Maybe, maybe.
Vitaly: Well, maybe we’ll see about that. Well, if you, dear listener would like to hear more from Elliott. You can find him on Twitter where he’s well, what a big surprise, Elliot @elliotjaystocks, and also on his website, which is also a big surprise, elliotjaystocks.com. So you can always follow along and see what Elliot has to say, and also what he’s working on.
Vitaly: Well, thank you so much today for joining us, Elliot. Do you have any parting words of wisdom with the wonderful peoples listening to us today?
Elliot: No, I don’t have any parting words of wisdom. I hope you didn’t come here expecting wisdom.
Vitaly: Well, that counts for something, right? Well, thank you so much, Elliot and I’m very much looking forward to seeing you in San Francisco.
Elliot: You too. Thank you for having me, Vitaly.