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Freshman Declan James | Facebook

Since freshman Declan Williamson turned 15, he has been signed to three inde­pendent music labels — nav­i­gating the music world by himself without man­agement, legal, or any kind of rep­re­sen­tation.

Every­thing about Williamson — with his mod­ernist haircut and min­i­malist, Asian-influ­enced wardrobe — sug­gests he is an elec­tronic dance music artist but not the first-pumping, “everybody put your hands in the air,” Coachella-esque artist. He’s more subtle, more nuanced, and a bit darker than con­ven­tional, main­stream EDM artists.

He has the low-key per­son­ality of a rock ’n’ roll bassist and could easily be mis­taken for a pop-punk musician, but his forward-looking, internet-obsessed edge sets him apart from the pack. He said he draws his style from a number of influ­ences — Asian trance, metal bands, pro­gressive rock groups such as Yes!, and new wave acts like the Cocteau Twins. His music is melodic, hyp­notic, exper­i­mental, and sur­pris­ingly catchy.

“As soon I started lis­tening to EDM, I would watch these guys perform on the internet, and I knew I wanted to be a part of that envi­ronment,” Williamson said.

Williamson, who goes by the stage name “Declan James,”  is artic­ulate and sen­sible when describing his music, pos­sessing a self-awareness and wisdom about his own work.

That “beyond-his-years” intu­ition has served him well. It is baf­fling how anyone of any age could manage them­selves on their own, without any rep­re­sen­tation. But for Williamson, it’s appar­ently not too dif­ficult. He’s signed deals and nego­tiated with Sir­iusXM and Spotify. He spent part of his summer touring clubs in Asia, making stops in Sin­gapore, Tokyo, and Bangkok, to name a few spots.

He got involved with EDM around the age of 12, after having a “mind-shat­tering” expe­rience hearing the dubstep artist Skrillex for the first time. For­merly a metal-head, Williamson said the exposure to darker ele­ments of EDM offered a more natural tran­sition into the elec­tronic music arena.

“My mom would always blast EDM in the car, and I absolutely detested it up until I was about 12 years old,” he said. “I was in seventh grade, sitting in English class and someone played ‘Scary Mon­sters and Nice Sprites’ by Skrillex. That com­pletely just changed everything…I was addicted to EDM after that.”

“There is this weird energy at EDM shows that’s not like any­thing else, other than maybe metal con­certs,” Williamson said. “When you go to these dance music con­certs, it’s all about the crowd and going for the expe­rience.”

Williamson began DJing around the age of 13. Real­izing he needed to produce his own music in order to truly express himself, he said he decided to take a class with trance music pro­ducer Jason Ross, the man respon­sible for a number of house and trance hits.

“I was the youngest person there,” Williamson said. “I actually lied about my age to get into the class.”

The course, in addition to refining his tech­nical skills, gave him access to a number of other tal­ented musi­cians, who acted as a support group for him as he developed his sound.

“Very quickly, after that course, within about a year or two, I was signed with my first label,” Williamson said.

Having played piano since he was 3 and guitar since he was 6, Williamson has always been drawn to music. Both of his parents are musi­cians, and he feels as if he has inherited some of their talents. His mother is a clas­si­cally trained violist. His father played in a series of metal bands as a teen and young adult. Their influence and vast musical tastes gave him a pool of inspi­ration from which to draw, he said.

“As a parent, you want nothing more than to see your child succeed at doing some­thing they are pas­sionate about,” his mother Mehgan Williamson said. “Declan is extremely young to have accom­plished so much in the EDM world. It does make his dad and I a little nervous some­times with him being suc­cessful at such a young age, but Declan is a great young man and has proven over the years to be very respon­sible and mature for his age.”

He has col­lab­o­rated with other artists such as Lycii, one of Williamson’s con­tem­po­raries, whom he met through Sound­cloud. Reaching out to the artist online and devel­oping a kinship from their mutual Utah back­grounds, they decided to record music together. Lycii, who was signed to the London-based, inde­pendent label Enhanced Music, brought Declan onto the label with him.

Lycii, whose real name is Dakota Bradford, described his music as “appalling and euphoric.” He worked with Declan on the song “Dimen­sions” — the track that led to Williamson getting signed. It’s one of their most popular singles to date respec­tively, with more than 285,000 plays across all plat­forms, second only to Williamson’s single, “Orion,” which has 500,000 plays.

“Working with Declan, whenever we work together, there are two things I notice,” Lycii said. “It’s always organic. We made ‘Dimen­sions’ in about three or four hours. It was spon­ta­neous, but it came together in such a natural way. Second, is that where I struggle in the process, he excels — and vice versa. We work so well together we’ve actually spoken about becoming a duo.”

After releasing a few EPs and well-received songs like “Lady” and “Sap­phire” with Enhanced music, Williamson just signed with Mon­stercat, a larger inde­pendent label out of Toronto respon­sible for acts such as Marsh­mello, NERVO, and Krewella. According to Williamson, it’s one of the most rec­og­nizable labels in the genre. Moving forward, aside from touring, his ultimate goal with music is to score films, some­thing he already has expe­rience with

Despite his budding music career, Williamson decided to attend Hillsdale College this fall.

“I’ve always leaned somewhat towards the right polit­i­cally, but I’ve never nec­es­sarily con­sidered myself a tra­di­tional Repub­lican,” he said. “I’ve always been inde­pendent in thought, and I saw how uni­ver­sities as a whole are moving so far left. I wanted to go some­where where I could still speak out and stand up for what I thought.”

After stum­bling upon Hillsdale through an email and deciding to interview with the school “for the sake of the expe­rience,” Williamson said he quickly knew he wanted to attend the college. Williamson said he has had a pos­itive expe­rience at Hillsdale thus far and even per­formed at Womb­stock his first weekend on campus.

“Ulti­mately, I want to make pretty things,” Williamson said. “The duality — bal­ancing more clas­sical ele­ments that are shrouded by syn­thetic sounds — the con­trast — that’s what I am inter­ested in.”

Williamson is scheduled to release a new single with artist Note­taker in the next few weeks. It will be available on SirusXM and Spotify.

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Kayla Stetzel
Kayla Stetzel has been reporting for the Collegian since 2013. She is resident of Ft. Wayne Indiana. She is a Marketing Management major with a focus in Law. When’s she’s not writing or studying case files, she’s keeping up to date with music industry news or volunteering with animals. She plans on attending law school with the intent of becoming an entertainment attorney. email: kstetzel@hillsdale.edu | twitter: @KaylaStetzel