Music inspired by nature: Devin AbramsMusic inspired by nature: Devin Abrams

Words: Marie Knowles
Video: Tom Powell

December 7, 2018

Musician, producer, manager, and collaborator. Devin Abrams, aka Pacific Heights, has carved out a unique story across his two decades in the music industry.

As a founding member of live electronic band Shapeshifter, Devin left in 2014 to pursue his masters in music production and focus on solo projects. Since taking that “leap of faith” Devin has released two widely acclaimed albums as Pacific Heights, picked up multiple awards including Best Electronic Album at the 2016 New Zealand Music Awards, and most recently produced a breakthrough hit with Drax Project.

Devin recently collaborated with icebreaker on curating a playlist inspired by nature. We caught up with him to find out a little more about that project, his journey post-Shapeshifter, and how nature inspires his craft.

You pioneered a sound and built up one of the most acclaimed live drum & bass/electronica acts globally. What made you decide to leave?
Leaving Shapeshifter after 15 years was driven by a need for change. I felt like being based more in the studio and writing music and being at home with my family. Change is good. Change helps us grow and develop as human beings and as artists.

How important is it to follow your gut and take that leap of faith?
My Dad always taught me that the greatest risks often reap the greatest rewards. Throwing yourself in the deep end, you learn more about yourself than standing in the shallows with your head above the water.

How does nature inspire your craft?
A massive amount of credit to the Southern Alps in New Zealand – they generated the name, and the whole ethos of Pacific Heights. Nature plays a huge part in my creativity. Sitting here in my house in Wellington, surrounded by tuis [native birds] and native bush… the rich green and the colours that we have in New Zealand. We have access to that as artists, which very few people in the world have. I love representing that in my work.

You’ve just finished curating a playlist for icebreaker, inspired by nature. Tell us about that process.
I wanted to explore what icebreaker is and what it feels like – as a brand and as a piece of material from the earth. And to think about how nature was going to come into the music. It was about finding songs that had some kind of earthy tone to them – textures and sounds that might represent a fjord in Scandinavia or a mountain in the Southern Alps.

How did you go about selecting the tracks?
Selecting the tracks was a lengthy process. I started by digging into artists I already knew and then using the Spotify discovery method to lead on to different paths and different artists. Half the playlist is artists I already knew, and half is songs that already had a resonance with me and already had some symmetry with nature.

How personal is the playlist?
With this playlist there are definitely a few songs peppered through it that have had a massive impact on me as an artist and a human being. There are a couple of songs that have got me through incredibly tough times in my life. And there’s a couple of songs in the playlist that have profoundly inspired my direction as an artist and producer.

It’s a powerful collection – talk us through the nature of some of the tracks.
Ypsilon – Olafur Arnalds
This song evokes a sense of journey. The intro strings help visualize walking across a landscape, with percussive plucks that sound as if from deep beneath the ocean’s surface, floating up to push us along. The ending is uncertain, but as with life, it doesn’t make promises, but sets us up for the next journey.

Dreams Today – Efterklang
A song that sounds like it could be floating in a fjord (appropriate given these artists are from Scandinavia). Sun shining through a crack in the window into a new corner of a room. Beautiful and serene.

Blurred – Kiasmos
From deep in the north – Iceland to be precise – comes this beautiful piece of music. Cinematic, enduring and full of enchanting subtleties. It creates feelings of wonder and peacefulness with yet an urge for movement and exploration.

"Nature" curated by Devin Abrams. Listen to full playlist.