Ekkstacy (2023), photo by Jamie Waters

The chain of events that have propelled Ekkstacy to this very moment are dramatic. We meet on the set of his debut NME Cover shoot in a north London studio, and the 21-year-old is perched on a long sofa against the wall, fresh from smashing through his poses in typically speedy style. He wants to discuss the substance-induced psychosis that transformed his life five years ago.

“Try to imagine pure terror for four or five hours,” says the alternative rock artist, calmly painting a picture of the day he was hospitalised after falling from the second storey of his Vancouver home, landing in a concrete stairwell. “Everything is trying to kill you, and at the same time, it felt like I had been in that state of mind forever. I was trying to kill myself because I was too scared, and I wanted it to end. After that, I was fucked for like a year and a half.”

Militarie Gun (2023)
Ekkstacy on The Cover of NME. Credit: Jamie Waters for NME

Ekkstacy (born Khyree Zienty, and known as Stacy) soon began finding comfort in creativity. The Canadian singer-songwriter got hooked on SoundCloud rap scene pioneers like XXXTentacion and Lil Peep, and initially tried mimicking their music. Then he shifted further into the indie rock lane and landed on the kind of distorted, angst-ridden sound behind tracks like ‘I’m So Happy’, ‘Then I Met Her’, and his most successful single ‘I Walk This Earth All By Myself‘ (which has over 160 million Spotify streams).

It’s testament to Zienty’s talent that he salvaged something positive from that episode. But the rise of this independent artist from moody bedroom rapper to compelling lo-fi indie up-and-comer in the mould of Surf Curse or Yot Club is clearly linked to his ability to communicate the experiences of anxiety, depression and isolation that plagued that period in his life. These themes remain a key feature of his upcoming self-titled second album, out January 19.

“When I box myself into one sound, I just explode”

“I’m a generally happy person, but after that I was wicked,” he says today. “People talk about anxiety, but after that, I couldn’t do anything – I had it awful. My anxiety is not as bad as it was, but it’s still bad sometimes. I think me drinking as much as I do makes it worse.”

For that, Zienty points to his touring schedule, which throughout 2023 has been hectic. When NME meets him in London in early December, he’s midway through a stream of UK and Europe dates, and he’s already toured extensively across North America and Australia since the release of his debut album ‘Misery’ in September 2022. Unsurprisingly, that transitory lifestyle has consequences.

“I drink, like, every day,” he says. “When I started touring, I was so scared and anxious and freaked out about doing shows – because I hated doing shows and I hate flying – that I would just drink so that I wouldn’t freak out,” he says. “It was fucked for a little bit at the beginning of the year… I was starting to fuck shit up and people were getting angry at me. But then I reeled it in a bit, and I feel like I’m at a decent spot. But I can’t really say no, even when I want to.”

Ekkstacy (2023), photo by Jamie Waters
Credit: Jamie Waters for NME

On the flipside, that extensive period of touring has allowed him to grow hugely as a performer, finding joy in live shows and connecting with crowds everywhere from The Great Escape to SXSW Sydney, London’s Eventim Apollo to Lollapalooza. “I used to not have fun,” he says. “‘Misery’ was me stuck in a garage in Canada, super bummed. But my environment has changed a lot. I was on the road having fun when I made the [new] album.”

That sense of joy can be felt across his considerably lighter second record. The fuzzy, punk rock energy of tracks like ‘Luv Of My Life’ and ‘Get Me Out’ is softened out by sunnier, chorus-drenched soundscapes that drag you to the crashing coast of California (think Wavves and Best Coast). There’s notes of ‘80s legends like Pixies and The Cure, too, in the subtle transitions between spaced-out acoustic melancholy and the grinding guitar on tracks like ‘The Headless Horseman Has Lost His Way’.

There are still some dark lyrics, however, sparked by the 21-year-old’s continuing mental health struggles. On album closer ‘I Can’t Find Anyone, he sings “I can’t find a reason to leave this house / I have none / I can’t find anyone“; while on ‘Luv Of My Life’, lines like “If you go, I’m gonna kill myself / Just kidding, I don’t care” display his morbid sense of humour. Do his family and friends ever worry, hearing lyrics like that?

Ekkstacy (2023), photo by Jamie Waters
Credit: Jamie Waters for NME

“They’re over it dude, I’ve been doing the same shit for four years!” he laughs, dismissively. “I started making music at a point where so many people talked like that that nobody’s really gonna take it seriously unless you’re actually dead. I was going through the most wicked shit when I first started making music, so I’m pretty sure that’s always how it was gonna sound.”

Throughout our conversation, even when discussing trickier subjects like psychosis and addiction, Zienty’s tone is quiet and relaxed. There are animated moments, when he’s recalling packed-out recent shows or discussing his love of surfing, which has taken hold since he started living in LA – “I’m a surfer now, that’s when I feel good” – but generally, he seems fairly low on energy, which isn’t a huge surprise. It’s been a busy year.

“I feel crazy right now, do I sound crazy?” he asks. “I don’t feel whole… my brain is there, and my body is there. Like there’s a split.”

Ekkstacy (2023), photo by Jamie Waters
Credit: Jamie Waters for NME

Now, Zienty is on the cusp of a well-earned break. He’s spending the next six weeks in LA with his producer and longtime collaborator Mangetsu, retreating from the live circuit to relax and make music. They’ve even booked a trip off-grid to the Western Canadian mountains, near Vancouver. While the young vocalist is self-effacing throughout our chat, he repeatedly heaps praise on the only former member of his collective CONTRAGANG that he still collaborates with. “Mangetsu’s my dog – we both started off kinda trash, but we got good at what we do together.”

The creative process behind ‘Ekkstacy’ revolved largely around those two finding pockets of time to get together and create during his touring schedule. They’d visit music shops to pick up guitars and pedals, and spend hours in the studio together. When making music, Zienty tends to work with speed – a strategy mirrored in his efficient photo shoot today – and he gets frustrated when things aren’t clicking.

“Knowing what you want to do is more than half the battle”

“I’m not one for forcing it, I never have been,” he says. “If I wanna make a sad indie song and I can’t, I’m fucking doing something else, or I’m just not making music. Because if you’re blowing it and you’re super bummed, then you’ve probably already lost. To make a good song, I have to be in a good mood.”

At this moment, even the idea of a frustrating studio session like this seems to get him physically agitated. The perfectionism that haunts his creative process is coming through. Zienty never appears satisfied with himself, refusing to massage his own ego and downplaying the complexity of his new project, describing it as “just a bunch of songs” that reflect different moments during two years of real upheaval. Creatively, he’s already set on the future, looking forward to his LA retreat and pondering the idea of creating “four or five really cohesive EPs” in the hope “that one of them sticks”. Does he ever stop?

Ekkstacy (2023), photo by Jamie Waters
Credit: Jamie Waters for NME

“I get bored so fast,” he says. “When I box myself into one sound and try and make an album, I just explode and get fucking angry, because I can’t do it. I don’t know how bands make these albums that are 12, 13, 14 tracks long, and they all sound the same, the same tones, the same structures… that would drive me fucking insane.”

For now, then, chaos reigns. That’s the mantra behind ‘Ekkstacy’, an album generated from a time when its creator was rarely in one place for more than a couple of days. But despite this lack of structure, there’s an undeniable sense of cohesion across this record; from the tuneful pop-punk melancholy of ‘Shutting Me Out’ to the raging, anthemic climax of ‘The Headless Horseman Has Lost His Way’, Ekkstacy’s voice feels consistent and authentic. Perhaps he learned more from the process of creating it than he realises.

“Knowing what you want to do is more than half of the battle,” he says. “That’s why [‘Ekkstacy’] was such a beast at times. As soon as I’d finished this album, I’d figured out so much shit, and I’d been to so many new places. I appreciate that now.”

‘Ekkstacy’ is out January 19th, 2024

Listen to Ekkstacy’s exclusive playlist to accompany The Cover below on Spotify and here on Apple Music

Writer: Fred Garratt-Stanley
Photography: Jamie Walters

For help and advice on mental health:

The post Ekkstacy survived dark times to become an indie star appeared first on NME.


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