If you stop by Center I, you’ll probably catch a glimpse of Christian Hall. He might be decked out in a head-to-toe Scooby-Doo onesie or rocking Seinfeld sweatpants and a Del Boca Vista backpack. It won’t matter much what time of day you stop by. He’s often at Center I long before and after school. But it will matter where you look, because he’ll almost certainly be in the studio.
All that work honing his craft is paying off for Hall, a third-year student at Western Albemarle High School and Center I.
Using the moniker “wsdm.” (Spotify link), Hall has released two albums in the past year. The nearly 50-minute stashboxx hit streaming services last November. In December, Hall followed up that full-length release with BRUNO&BRUNO 001, the 17-minute first half of a two-part mixtape.
Hall’s music mirrors his unbothered and individualistic sartorial choices. stashboxx veers from chill-out instrumentals like “sno_” and “klouds,” which recall the Quiet Storm R&B of the ‘70s, to harder-hitting tracks like “seesum.saysnun” and “11 words_,” which draw equally from from old school and contemporary hip-hop. Throughout, Hall mixes eclectic samples and live instrumentation to create an enveloping sonic world.
I sat down before school to talk with Hall about how he’s honed his craft, his influences, the role Center I has played in allowing him to pursue his music, and his advice for younger musicians.
How young were you when you put up your first release?
I was 11. I put out this little, tiny five- or six-track release with a bunch of beats I made and the spacey synth patches on GarageBand. Then I put them all together in iMovie with a picture of the Milky Way over it. I put it on YouTube. I don’t think that’s still up, but I sent it to all of my friends. After that, I went through a bunch of different names…. Now I go by “wsdm.” The first release under that name was last year — November 19, 2021. That was stashboxx. Then BRUNO&BRUNO 001 came out December 4, and I have a second volume coming out.
I know it’s difficult to describe sound and that genres are confining, but if you had to describe your music, how would you?
The goal is to be genre-less. I don’t want to be categorized. I want to sound like me. You can ask people who I’ve played drums or piano with. There’s a certain way I play the pocket that sounds like me. Obviously the genre that I fall into most times is rap, because that’s what I grew up with.
But the first producer I followed was Jon Bellion. It’s funny because he does pop music, but he produces rap. He does a lot of stuff that defies genre. He can play a lot of different instruments, and he has a good voice. From there, I look at people like the Alchemist. He just did a movie score. He did all of the music himself. No samples. He’s one of the most influential hip-hop producers because of how he does samples. But with this he took a lot of old synths and made the music. I just like when people get out of their comfort zones.
I grew up listening to soul and jazz and folk. But then when I saw people creating beats, I thought that they could make great samples. I want to — I don’t want to say “recycle” — but “reuse” sounds to make new things. The people who sample old music get inspired by old music to create new music that sounds like old music. Beyond the sample, the thing they create is new. Then that in turn can inspire people to create something else new or completely different. I envision sampling all of the music my dad showed me growing up.
I listen to albums the way most people watch TV shows. When people ask if I’ve seen something, I’m usually like “nope.” If I watch something, it’s usually Blaxploitation stuff and French stuff from the ‘70s.
I also want to work in other genres besides rap. Like right now I’m working on an album with about 14 full-length songs and four interludes. It’s the biggest project I’ve worked on, because I’m actually traveling to studios to record it. I’m working with actual jazz producers, composers, pianists, and saxophonists. I’m also working with two jazz quartets and two orchestras. The oldest song is from summer of 2020. I wrote it on piano. The goal is a cinematic, timeless sound. I want it to be the most classic thing that people have ever heard. My goal is for all of my music to be an experience.
Who are your biggest influences?
Producers: Knxwledge, Mndsgn, the Alchemist, Madlib, Kanye, Kenny Beats, and J. Dilla.
Rappers: Freddie Gibbs, Saba, Pink Siifu, Kendrick Lamar, Isaiah Rashad, Earl Sweatshirt, Kanye, and Tyler, the Creator.
When did you start making music? What made you start making music? What instruments do you play?
I first started playing when I was six. I played the drums — self taught. There was this guy at our church who played the drums… wrong. I didn’t play the drums, and I had no concept of rhythm or anything. But he said, “Let’s see you do it better.” Every day I went to church, I practiced for a month. Then one day I was able to play the drums. I never stopped, and I continued to get better at it. I’ve done session drumming a few times, and I hope to do that more. Piano, I taught myself when I was 10, and I’ve been playing for six years now. Initially, I pretended to play the piano. But there’s another guy at the church who taught me how to roll chords, even though my hands were tiny. I also watched YouTube videos and taught myself scales. But I still don’t practice them the right way. I play a little bit of bass, too. I just started last year.
What's your favorite piece of gear and why?
My Roland SP-404SX. This thing is my favorite. I barely use it, and I need to use it more. It’s a sampler from 2004. You can run things through it, and it can do different sounds. It has an SD card, so you can put a bunch of drum sounds into it. You can put any sound into it, really. It’s more for effects. It’s kind of like a guitar pedal combined with a sampler. So I’ll run my computer through it, and then back into the interface and into my computer. So I can manipulate any sound I have on my computer.
What's your thought process for combining samples with your own performances?
I try to take my knowledge of drums and different pockets. Basically anyone can make a drum beat on a computer. But I try to be really thoughtful to get the right sound — exactly where to place the drums, hi-hat, and other pieces. Then I take a sample, and I can cut out the low frequencies or any frequencies that are too harsh. I run most of my samples through a tape machine or a tape machine plugin to give it a little bit more of a mellow sound. Then I figure the key and scale of the sample,, and I come up with a new melody and counter-melodies. It’s not like I decide whether to use samples or play it myself. It’s just what happens in the moment.
What role has Center I played in helping you get to this point with your music?
Finding people. I’ve met other producers and made a lot of friends here — friends who’ve helped me find other styles I didn’t know I was good at. I’ve also met a lot of local artists, bigger artists, because of Center I. And I’ve heard new music. Mr. Glover told me to listen to this specific sub-genre of soul, and it’s influenced what I play and what I produce.
I like that after English class, I can just go to the studio or make beats. I also like watching other students, like Aden, make his music. Sometimes just watching him, we end up collaborating together in the moment.
What would you tell younger students who want to use Center I’s Media Communications pathway to develop as musical artists?
That it’s an amazing opportunity. You should definitely do it. But it’s a learning curve. You have to adapt to a studio environment and get used to being around new people. You have to get comfortable with being uncomfortable. You have to learn to work with other people and learn what they like and don’t like within music. It’s entering a form of the real world. You learn how not to get offended by people with different ideas. Center I is awesome.
Story: Josh Mound
Photo: Elliot Crotteau