The Harvard Crimson: “What’s your trajectory in the next five years?”
Shock: “Right to the top, my boy, right to the top.”
Braden Shock Ellis '24 picked up the violin when he was four. Then he moved to the cello. Then the bass. Between the Juilliard Pre-College program, NYO, Curtis Summerfest, and Interlochen, he found a new love: producing.
“My dad produces for fun and used to do it a lot back in college and I was like ‘that’s so cool’ so I started doing it myself; so I taught myself,” he said in an interview with The Harvard Crimson. “I learned, outside of bass, how to play guitar, electric bass, drums, and a little bit of trombone when I need to, and piano most prominently.”
In high school, rather than the typical path, he took college classes and allowed his musical exploration to take over his academic free time.
“I had all this other time where kids are in school from seven to three … to explore my sound and develop,” he said. Collaboration with other artists, he found, became an integral part of the musical journey.
“One of my friends I used to play with in high school, Julian Miltenberger ’22. I was in a band with him. We had a really nice pianist named Micah Graves. The way that they meshed together, I wanted to be them so bad. They had so much groove, so much style, and I would just try to imitate that,” he added.
Arriving at Harvard, a world of artistic freedom and possibility opened up for Shock.
“In high school, I was always really busy with the classical stuff,” he said. “I have mad ADHD, so making beats was like my escape from everything else; I would always be making all this kind of random stuff, but since I got here more people have a demand for one kind of thing over the other.”
By responding to requests for “slimy” and “Young Thug-type” beats, Shock found a new niche. Indeed, his status as a musician on campus is well-known to both friends and peers alike. “Mostly, what people know me as is the producer or the guy who makes music… that’s kind of been becoming part of the brand that I've been developing, which is cool because I always get to share with people what I've been working on recently,” Shock said.
The moniquer “Shock” is also a testament to his transforming brand in college. Originally, he went by Brady Williams but changed the name to Shock Apollo upon a friend’s suggestion. As he said, “I dropped the ‘Apollo’ later. It stuck because the phrase became ‘Ayo Shock, gimme a beat.’”
Musically, partly thanks to his rigorous classical training aided by natural talent, Shock sees — or rather, hears — the world with a unique perspective.
“As someone with synesthesia and perfect pitch, any time I hear a note I immediately get to thinking something I can’t get away from,” he said. “If I'm at a party, I’m immediately starting to break down what the kick pattern of a song is, what key it's in, what I feel like they — the producer — could've done better. It’s instant.”
He integrates this dynamic relationship into his music, allowing him to create not only a complex product, but a fresh one.
“When I play certain notes, I see certain colors, so when I play chords or chord progressions I see this thing happening…. I try to make my beats kind of vivid in that sort of way,” he said. “ I try to make my beats feel kind of surreal, but very familiar at the same time. It's also what I try to do when I play bass: keep it interesting, but also something you've never heard before.”
When it’s time to make a track, Shock follows one of three paths. One option is to go to YouTube, search by least-viewed first, find a sample, and chop it up as necessary. More often than not, however, he starts with piano and crafts the other sounds around as necessary. Or, if low on inspiration, he searches through his libraries and finds a sound he likes.
Impressively, Shock works without professional machines or studios; all he needs is his mind and his computer. “My dad had this Akai MPC3000 that he got in 1994 or something — the week it came out — but I always thought it was a hassle to use,” the producer said. “Logic has this function called musical typing where you can use your keyboard to play beat pads, although it only uses one velocity … but I've gotten really good at that.”
In Logic, Shock is able to craft his sound and come into his own. To his surprise, people often tell him his tracks sound like Ye’s. He said, “‘I'm like ‘ok, that’s interesting’ because I don't listen to a whole lot of Kanye stuff nor do I really follow Kanye that much. I suppose that’s a good sign, I guess. I like to chop a lot of gospel and soul samples, so that might be why people get that idea.”
Rather than listen to other producers for inspiration — even his favorites Brock Berrigan and 40 Ali — Shock describes his sound as “self-inspired.” “Because I would just listen to my own stuff a whole lot, it would give me new ideas based off of my own sound,” he said. “I've been trying to branch out a little bit — learn something new — which is how you keep developing.”
In terms of genre, Shock doesn’t consider himself tied to one specific area. “I produce pop stuff, future funk, oldies-style 90s-style ballads,” he added. “So whatever you need, I know how to do,” he said. However, Shock’s journey does not stop here. In fact, this is just the beginning. While Shock is currently known as a producer, the goal is to be the headliner.
“I’d like to rap and stuff, too,” he said. “It’d be crazy if I could just hop up on stage and then play every instrument that’s up there, on some Prince-type stuff. I’m not trying to repeat what Lil Wayne did with that little guitar solo back in the day; I know what I'm doing on the instruments.”
The vision is there, and it’s a fresh one.
“I just think that's the type of artist you didn't see that much: someone who can rap, but also be able to play a lot of instruments — like a musician who’s also a rapper but a rapper who's also a really good musician. When was the last time you saw that? Hopefully I can combine those too and bring some good music,” he said.
The ride to the top can be lonely at times, but Shock has a team of supporters following him closely.
“The first person I'd probably shout out is my brother, who’s also a freshman here. When I would be making beats or just any kind of music … he’d always let me know when something sounded fucked up: ‘Nah that was boof bro you’ve gotta take that one back to the studio. Work on it again.’ Even if I thought it was fire, I could always trust his judgment, which has been invaluable,” he said.
The future is bright, but Shock’s vision is brighter. He said, “If anyone sees me out in the street say ‘ayo Shock what’s up?’ If you need beats, I got you. Watch out for me in five years.”
—Staff writer A.J. Veneziano can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @aj_veneziano.