Seattle producer and songwriter, Alda Agustiano (aka Chong the Nomad), creates some of the most unique musical soundscapes on planet earth. She is one of those rare artists who, upon playing one of her songs, you know exactly who it is if you’ve been previously introduced. Agustiano, who has produced work for Singapore Airlines and other prominent businesses, is poised to release her next record, the 2020 EP, A Long Walk. The record is the follow-up to her successful 2018 debut, Love Memo. To both celebrate and preview that release, American Songwriter Magazine is proud to premiere the latest single from Agustiano, which features the famed Emerald City songwriter, Ben Gibbard, of Death Cab for Cutie. The track, “Provider,” came together after the two shared a stage last year. We caught up with Agustiano to talk about her new EP, working with Gibbard and much more.
What’s the biggest production lesson you learned between your 2018 debut Love Memo and 2020’s A Long Walk EP?
Oh wow, this is an excellent question. There are so many answers. The most obvious development on this EP is that I sing on every single track. I never considered myself a singer and whenever I used my voice in a song, I would avoid writing longer verses or choruses. The new songs on the EP all have more “traditional” song structures compared to the skeletal beats I was making back in 2018. Honestly, though, I would say that my biggest production lesson was personifying my mix and being more open to having other people help out with it along the way. Finding balance between knowing what I want, making it happen and being open to suggestions. Good critique or feedback is gold to me nowadays.
Do you take long walks often – or, what’s the reason for the EP’s title?
I used to, a lot! Nowadays they’re briefer, though. The EP is based on the turbulent emotions I had throughout my early 20s. I often took 2-3-hourlong strolls around Seattle’s Capitol Hill neighborhood or Downtown Seattle to help settle my thoughts. I’m about to turn 25 and looking back at my first ‘steps’ into adulthood, I’m quite happy with the journey I’ve taken.
How did the creative relationship with Death Cab’s Ben Gibbard begin and then grow to collaboration for this EP?
We met when I opened for Death Cab for Cutie and Odesza in May 2019. That gig was a huge, huge deal for me. Apparently, the band found my music from a tweet and about two months before the concert, asked me to remix their song, “When We Drive.” I sent in my remix and the day of the concert came around. Then I ran into Ben backstage and we chatted. He brought up my remix and my other music; it was hard not to freak out a bit. After that night he sent me a message on Instagram and mentioned he would love to collaborate sometime. It’s funny, I drove my manager a little crazy because I forgot to mention that particular conversation to him until a month after he sent that DM. Whoops.
What was it like to work with him and feature the Gibbard on the new single, “Provider”?
Spectacular! I’ve had the idea for “Provider” for, like, two years sitting on the Garageband app on my phone. I decided that for this new project, it would be a perfect fit for a small duet with Ben. I’d honestly say it was the trickiest song on the EP to produce. I had to push myself harder than ever vocally and on the production-side of things. I sent a small demo to Ben with a part I wrote specifically for him. Thankfully I had the remix to work with first so I had somewhat of an idea about how to write for him. He was down and within the next two weeks I had his parts. I used his vocals as inspiration to finish the song.
Looking back, I felt real vulnerable writing those lyrics. I made a realization a couple of years ago that I have to manifest my own happiness. All of the things I’ve been subconsciously taught to find to feel “complete” – a relationship, religion, a thriving social life – at the end of the day, it’s my own responsibility to keep myself in check and move forward optimistically in life. “Provider” is the closing track on the EP and it felt perfect to have someone that I’ve looked up to musically for so long sing those lyrics with me.
The new EP was mixed by the famed, Tyler Dopps. Did he add anything specific to it?
I was having a lot of trouble mixing my own vocals for this EP. Up until that point, I kept my own singing to a minimum and whenever I did a remix, the vocal stems would be sent to me all clean and easy to work with. I was super inexperienced. And stubborn! I knew what I wanted the EP to sound like; I wanted to do it myself. That pride would lead to me bouncing different versions of each song to the point where it drove me a little insane. I was really determined to mix my own music but bringing Tyler into the project was one of the best decisions made for A Long Walk.
As one of the most prominent producers from the area, I could tell he knew immediately what I was going for in the mix. He didn’t mess with the timbre of all the weird sounds I was cramming into each song; he only made them brighter and more focused. My voice went from murky and lo-fi sounding to upfront, prominent and bold. I rarely had any notes after each mix sent in, and if I had any, he would adjust accordingly. Add in my go-to mastering engineer, Adam Straney, and every song on the EP got to where it needed to be. I’m very thankful for that last stretch of mixing and mastering. Really, it made all the difference!
You’ve talked about wanting to make people dance with your music. What do you love about this aim?
I was always fascinated by EDM as a teenager I thought it was the coolest thing: to be able to have people captivated and groove with you and the music you made using nothing but software. My first real concert was Wolfgang Gartner at Showbox SODO in Seattle. It’s a little corny, but there really isn’t anything like the feeling of letting go for the night, becoming best friends with the strangers around you and getting the workout of your life all along to some great music. I want to contribute to that.
What are you most excited about the EP’s release on August 21st?
As nervous as I am, I’m so stoked that people get to hear more of my songwriting. Big shout-out to [the Grammy-nominated] Hollis Wong-Wear for helping me out on that. That’s definitely a side of me I’m still getting to know. I’m glad I’m using my voice more in my music. I feel more connected with my work. It feels right. I always thought I’d become this house-electro-EDM DJ. I’ve never even considered singing live in my sets when I first started out. I never wanted to “song write” in the first place – just make beats. I didn’t think I had it in me. But I can be whoever I want to be in this music world. I felt unstoppable once I realized that.
Photo Credit: Tyler Hill