Growing up in Morehead, KY, is not an international experience. It has a population of 6,917, according to US census data in 2013, and it sits about a two-hour drive from the state capital of Louisville. To a city mouse, it might be a rural retreat, but to a young Caleb Cornett, it was the place where imagination took flight.
“Making music was always a bit of an escape for me. I could just tune out from everything around me and create,” he says. “I think the need to create manifested from physical artwork as a kid: sketching, painting, etc.”
Those creative reveries eventually manifested themselves musically, leading Cornett through an evolution of sonic invention. He played in bands through grade school but caught national momentum with his solo electronic project Amtrac. Since releasing his first single as Amtrac in 2010, he’s released a multigenre LP; he’s officially remixed Ellie Goulding, Duke Dumont and Axwell ^ Ingrosso; he’s opened for Kaskade’s Atmosphere Arena tour; and he’s played major festivals across Miami, Mexico, Fiji and beyond.
Today, he’s finished work on a follow-up album, to be released sometime in 2016, and he’s currently on a North American headlining tour in support of his latest release, the Lost in Motion EP. On paper, he’s a worldwide success, but talk to the Kentucky gentleman—who still prefers a house with a garden in Louisville over the dance mecca of L.A.—and you’ll find him relatively unmoved by the so-called glamorous life.
“I never thought of [music] as a career. It was just my hobby,” he says. “I once read somewhere that [Berlin producer] Siriusmo worked construction full-time, and music is more of a hobby for him. Whether that’s true or not, I’m not sure, but that’s a prime example of what I’m getting at.”
Lost in Motion is four tracks of personal exploration. In some ways, it’s inspired by all his travels, accomplishments, and observations in 2015, but it might be more accurate to say they are a reaction to that. It’s a musical digestion of the many directions his life has sent him, the manifestation of his need to bring those influences closer to his source rather than let himself be drawn out.
“I feel like it’s quite easy nowadays to lose sight of what motivated you in the beginning,” Cornett says. “That comes with age and progression. We’re always changing, some for the better and for worse. In the end, it comes down to being happy with what you’re doing, regardless of your profession.”
That sentiment rings loudest on the song “Long Nights,” a brooding, 6.5-minute track featuring Cornett’s own vocals ripped from an unreleased song called “Wearing Out,” which he originally penned two years ago.
That’s about somebody leaving their hometown but feeling like they always owed it something,” he says. “It’s about traveling and moving forward and getting lost while you do that. It sounds so fucking cheesy, but that’s kind of the vibe.”
Lost in Motion starts at its cheeriest with the ironically titled lead single, “Darkest Sound.” It progresses from there into deeper styles, finishing with the moody, driving, seven-minute “Solid Thinking.” Though it’s certainly atmospheric, Lost in Motion is never boring or ambient. It’s experimental, but it keeps one foot in the club at all times, much like Amtrac himself.
“I’m excited to put some [darker] stuff like that out finally,” he says, “[and] get more out of the commercial stuff. Not that I ever was super commercial, but I’d rather play shows with Jonas Rathsman, Bicep, and [artists] like that more than, like, Alesso or something.”
That didn’t stop him from remixing Alesso when the pop-ridden house producer came calling in 2014, and it won’t stop Amtrac from trying new things in the future. That flexibility and openness is part of what keeps him grounded.
“I’m pretty easy to work,” he says. “Treat everybody with respect, and that will get you way farther than you could imagine.”
But it’s just as important to respect yourself.
“You can’t worry about numbers,” he says. “How many followers you have, how many likes— all that is really irrelevant. You can’t let that steer you away from music or, vice versa, let it influence you to make music you think will get you numbers. Be sure you’re making music because you want to create something, not because you want to copy something.”
Mix a little humility with a lot of dedication and a strong sense of self: That’s the Amtrac recipe. It’s simple, but it’s all you need to travel the world and know deep down you can still find your way home. Follow those steps and you too can cross oceans without getting lost.
Lost in Motion from Amtrac is available now on Super Music Group.
Kat Bein is a citizen of the world who lives on the internet. Follow her on Twitter.