Category Archives: interview

Q&A: Open Mike Eagle talks hip-hop in Uganda, 4NMLHSPTL and the misery of the letter C

Like listening to his albums, conversations with Open Mike Eagle tend to be enlightening, thought-provoking and pretty damn hilarious. The L.A.-based emcee is due for a big year: After headlining our Friday bonanza at Hidden House as part of the Desert Viper tour with Has-Lo, he’ll head to Uganda for three weeks on a hip-hop education mission. Then he’ll drop his third full-length album, 4NMLHSPTL (“It’s the war on vowels,” he says), in June.

He discusses all this and then some in advance of Friday’s rap spectacular with Has-Lo and Random.

So tell me a bit about the Uganda trip. That’s coming up in a couple weeks.
Yeah, the plane tickets are bought and immunizations are gotten. The program isn’t fully funded, but it’s funded enough that we’ll get there and make something happen. (Donations for the trip are still being accepted here.)

How did you get involved with the trip?
There’s a non-profit I’ve been working with for a few years — that’s J.U.I.C.E. They saw a grant opportunity for an exchange and they knew about a Ugandan volunteer group.

Have you been outside the country?
I’ve been to Japan for rap. But that’s really the only time I’ve been off this continent.

You’re a former teacher, so it’s great that this sort of brings together that and music.
I’ve actually done some hip-hop education before, so it’s right up my alley.

What have you done before?
There was a program in L.A. called For Real Hop. I would write curriculum for hip-hop — did a lot of media education, breaking down songs. Those kids had grown up infused with rap. I was definitely trying to get them to understand what they were hearing every day.

What are you going to be teaching in Uganda?
It will be real basic in terms of how to construct rap music. I’m not able to do too much preparing because I’m not sure what they know. But we’ll break it down to basics, things like what cadence is and how to construct rhymes. Ras G will teach them how to produce beats. If I’m mistaken and they’re already super into it, we can get into some conceptual stuff and critical thinking. We really have to get there and see what we’re working with.

What can you tell us about the new album? I know it’s got a title.
Yeah, it’s called 4NMLHSPTL. It’s coming out on Fake Four on June 26.

What’s the concept behind the title?
It’s the place where rappers, or any artists, go when they try to know too much. It’s a place you end up at. I decided to call it the animal hospital — you go there when your head explodes.

You’re describing yourself?
I’m describing a whole lot of rappers I know. It can be literary types or creative people. … You can get into this really crazy mental place and end up in this place that’s difficult to describe. I find I always have to go through this before I can make something. Just this last year I got caught up in how to talk about this place.

How about the production on the album … is it handled by multiple guys like you’ve done in the past?
No. It’s all with one producer, Awkward. Me and Awkward had planned to do a record together. He’s one of the few producers who I’ve been able to build a good, strong working relationship with. I tend to make music kind of fast. Not all of it ends up being usable, but the way my process works is hyperproduction, and he’s been able to keep feeding me music so we can keep working. We’ve been able to get to a good place communication-wise.

With him being in UK, it had to be a bit of a challenge?
It was. I never really felt time difference until we were actually finishing things. Little changes … it would be a little thing, but it would be three in the morning his time. But for the most part, everything has gone really well and really easy.

It seems like you’re on an album-per-year pace. Is that a part of being hyperproductive or do you feel like it’s necessary part of today’s Internet age where everything feels so fleeting?
I think there was time when I felt that way, like I had to do that. But I don’t think so much right now. I might come out with an album next year, but at this time last year I was planning on coming out with this album.

I want to let this one breathe. I don’t want to cut off the development of it. I want to let it take its time and see what it can be without the pressure to do something immediately behind it.

Are you concerned that listeners’ attention spans are too short these days to sort of absorb everything from your albums?
I don’t think so. I used to think that would be issue. But I think I have begun to cultivate a kind of fandom that expects there to be layers and I expect that they’ll want to keep listening and keep finding new stuff. People with super-short attention spans are probably not going to like what I do anyway. It doesn’t translate very the well first time, so it doesn’t do me good to try to please them.

And letting it breathe is kind of about me, too — me wanting to take my time and just see what happens. I definitely feel like these first three records are an arc. Maybe next time I’ll feel like I want to do something different. But I don’t want to get so much into habit of a project a year that I miss a turn to explore some other avenues.

In the same regard, you’re a pretty accessible guy who’s on Twitter and Tumblr. Is that something you enjoy or also just a necessary product of being an independent musician?
I don’t know. I don’t always enjoy it. I have a pretty good understanding of what the level of acceptable realm of things to discuss and not to discuss is. That doesn’t cover all the thing I want to talk about all the time. I end up in places psychologically or emotionally where I can’t exist in that realm when I’m going through certain things. I’ve seen some people have rants on Twitter and go back and delete it. But I’ve never been comfortable sharing past a certain point of what tact level is. So I treat it like it’s part of the job, but I do have fun doing it and engaging people.

To me, there’s psychological space that I haven’t figured out how to deal with it. I post stuff and run away. I don’t read my Facebook timeline. Twitter, to me, is a little more informative and a little more entertaining, despite the nature of it. Facebook is kind of other people’s business I don’t want to know all the time.

I know you’ve spoken highly of Has-Lo. What drew you to his music and had you guys talked about arranging a tour like this?
He was the kind of person where, before I heard any of his music, I could tell by how people who knew me talked about him that he was making something interesting. … I heard his album and it just blew me away. It felt like it could have come out when I was the biggest hip-hop fan I’ve ever been, like in ‘96. But it didn’t feel dated, like someone trying to turn back the hands of time. It was just genuine, expressive and really dark in a way I hadn’t heard. It’s not over-the-top dark, just someone trying to work through something. It was refreshing for me to hear.

Then I met him in Philly when I was on tour last November and all our touring partners, like Zilla and Castro, hung out and it felt like a natural extension of people I hang out with here in L.A. It became apparent that we have a lot in common personality-wise.

You’ve been to Phoenix quite a bit in the past couple of years. Have you seen enough to develop any thoughts on our city?
I feel like I should have (laughs). I’ll tell you the truth: There’s some markets where you keep going and seeing the same people. With Phoenix, I feel like every other time I come, it’s a completely different group I’m in front of. Maybe it’s just working with different promoters. I haven’t figured out how to get that consistency …. it hasn’t happened mathematically like it should,

But it seems to be a combination of who I’m playing with and who I’m working with on the ground there and what else is going on that night. For the Southwest, Phoenix is a pretty big spot and there seems to be a lot of rap shows and a lot going on there.

You have a 3-year-old son. Does he have a general idea of what you do?
Yep. When his mommy asks what I do, he says, ‘Goes on tour, making the music.’

It sounds so easy.
It’s a pretty accurate assessment. At least it’s half of my job.

Does he listen to your music?
Yeah. He knows some words to some things. He’s pretty attentive listener. He’s big fan of guys I consider peers. He might like Serengeti more than he likes me. He likes Busdriver. He likes Billy Woods. He’s really into Shabazz Palaces. Also, he’s really into Yo Gabba Gabba.

Does he have a favorite song of yours?
The song me and Paul Barman have, ‘Exiled from the Getalong Gang.’ He knows most of the words to that.

Changing topics here, we’ve played some pretty intense Scrabble matches. Do you play Words With Friends as well?
I keep trying. I had it on my phone for a while, but the board was weird. I felt like I was scoring 1,000 points every time. When I play on Facebook, it’s not so bad. But I can barely play all my Scrabble games right now. I’ve probably got a shit-ton of Words With Friends games people are deleting.

Do you have least favorite letter in Scrabble? I can’t stand “C.”
I don’t like C’s. K’s I can deal with. The reason I hate C’s is because there’s no two-letter words. If someone ends word with a C, that whole area is fucked. I don’t like U’s and I don’t like I’s. But, yeah, C’s are terrible.

So you won’t be writing a song incorporating all the two-letter Scrabble words?
I tend not to write like that (laughs). A band like They Might Be Giants … they have songs that are just plain writing exercises. I can’t even think to do that.

Paul Barman is probably a guy that could do it, the way he plays with words.
He’s the first guy that made me realize I can’t do that. I wouldn’t even know how to start. It’s pushing the art form for sure. I’m a little stupider than that.

Something I’ve been meaning to ask you about is how you sing a hook on “The Processional” that came from Busta Rhymes’ “Abandon Ship” from The Coming:
That’s one of my favorite albums of all-time. For my money still and the more I learn about him, Busta Rhymes is one of the most talented rappers of all-time — just his rap ability and skill is ridiculous. … There’s like six or seven songs (on The Coming) that are just so incredible.

So it’s kind of like a personal homage?
Yeah. I mean, there’s weird rules in rap about things which you can and can’t do. The moment I realized that a lot of things people would say in rap would borrow from older rap songs I hadn’t heard simultaneously weirded me out and opened my head. They’re reinterpreting lyrics. It’s a whole sampling culture. The new album has four or five instances of pieces of other songs as hooks or bridges. There’s They Might Be Giants, Ben Folds Five, Sly Stone.

You’ve talked before about They Might Be Giants being one of your favorites. When were you first turned on to them?
I was 9 the first time I heard one of their songs. It was “Birdhouse In Your Soul” … I just saw the video from when I was super-duper young. As far as I was concerned it was perfect music. Just the songwriting … and I’m a huge melody fiend. There’s these huge, sweeping chord progressions in that song. … I got that album a year after that and was in love with them ever since.

Are people surprised to hear you like that band?
I love rap a lot, too. But it’s becoming hard to love the genre that I’m in just because I’m just hypercritical of everything. So listening to some jazz or rock just gives me distance to appreciate something and not be picking it apart.

Help Open Mike Eagle and Ras G teach hip-hop to Ugandan youth
Zilla Rocca: Full Spectrum 2 (feat. Has-Lo and Open Mike Eagle)
110 Percent: Open Mike Eagle talks Bulls, Bears and an intense hatred of LeBron
Open Mike Eagle: The Processional, live on Knocksteady
Open Mike Eagle: Nightmares
Awkward: Advice (feat. Open Mike Eagle)

Q&A with Jeremy Yocum, co-founder of Wooden Blue Records


As promised, I sat down Monday night for an interview with Jeremy Yocum, co-founder (along with Joel Leibow) of Wooden Blue Records, a short-lived but well-respected punk label based out of Tempe in the early 1990s that put out the very first recordings of Jimmy Eat World (among others).

A sold-out benefit show featuring JEW, Aquanaut Drinks Coffee, Haskel and Halema’uma’u takes place Friday at Crescent Ballroom, with all proceeds benefiting Phoenix Children’s Hospital.

I’ve known Jeremy and Joel since around the late ’90s but never had the occasion to sit and chat about their time with the label. It was an insightful 40 minutes that helped fill a glaring hole in my local music knowledge, though I’m sure we only scratched the surface. Nevertheless, he talks about the early days of JEW, operating a record label as a college freshman and why paying taxes is important.

So tell me how the show came together and how it came to be a benefit for Phoenix Children’s Hospital?
I became friends with Eddie Hennessy, who is Edie Haskel from Haskel, on Facebook just recently. And we started talking … He was talking about wanting to get together to do a show just for a one-off. So we hem-hawed back and forth about well, “Let’s do a Wooden Blue reunion type of deal.”

And then we started talking to Jim (Adkins, of Jimmy Eat World). And I didn’t know the logistics of Jimmy Eat World, you know — how does this work now? We had talked about a benefit of some sort. We didn’t really know who, but kids are good. But there’s no direct connection.

I’ve known you for years and have never talked to you about any of this. How did the label come to be? You and Joel were already friends?
Oh, yeah. Joel and I were friends since junior high school. It must have been right after we graduated high school (Mesa Mountain View). So, like, summer of ’93. Joel was interested in putting out a Jimmy Eat World record. I had met Aquanaut Drinks Coffee and was interested in putting out that. So we sort of joined forces blindly, neither one of us having a clue what we were doing … still. And those were our first two releases — the Jimmy Eat World 7-inch and Aquanaut 7-inch.

So you’re a freshman in college?
Yep. Like 18, just out of high school. Not knowing a god damn thing.

And you had known Jim?
Jim and I were in a second/third combination class together. And our moms were our den leaders for cub scouts. We grew up together. We lived one street over from one another. So Jim and I had been friends forever.

So they’re like a band about town … playing in someone’s garage or playing parties?
They played some parties. They played at some Name Brand Exchange or something. Just total high school stuff … nothing huge by any means. And back then, too, I’m thinking about it — is it for the better or worse that we did it when we did? If we were to do it now, it’s so much easier now, to an extent, with the Internet and Myspace a few years ago and that kind of stuff. Back then it was all snail mail and Maximum RocknRoll and cheesy zines where we mail a 7-inch in and hope to god for a review and hope to god that it would be positive (laughs).

The differences then and now … there’s blogs now and it’s instantaneous
Yeah, back then it was hurry up and wait. We had the P.O. box. I lived down here, but then I went to Flag. Joel still lived in Mesa, but we wanted a Tempe address so we got a P.O. box on Mill Avenue.

You wanted a Tempe address because it looked better than a Mesa address?
Yeah, yeah. But I think we were also just jaded because we wanted to get out of Mesa.

OK, so you’re doing this, you put out the Jimmy Eat World 7-inch … how much money are you into this at that point. Are you beyond your means as an 18-year-old?
No. Only because when I was in junior in high school I got burned, so I had insurance money. Joel was sort of the initial brains, I was the funds. And Joel had some connections musically, too. He was booking shows. He was really into the punk scene and I was just a fan. He was way more involved on that level.

What kind of shows was he booking?
Punk shows — at warehouses. There were no all-ages venues. So it’s like, “Oh, here’s Eagle Transportation warehouse.“ That’s around for six months and now Argo, that’s around for another four. It was a cool little scene. It brought the Valley together for sure. There were a lot of West side people. All of Haskel went to Central High. A friend, Matt Martinez that did booking with Joel, lived at 40th Avenue and Thomas. There were people all over the place.

Do you feel like you were in on ground floor of something cool? Did you have any idea that it could …
No. We were just doing it for fun. Sure, did we hope for success? I guess. But we wouldn’t know how to handle it. The Arizona Department of Revenue is what took us down. That’s why we stopped.

How so?
We weren’t paying taxes. … We told them we were selling everything wholesale because we were selling stuff to Stinkweeds and to Eastside. Come to find out, well, even if you’re selling wholesale you have to send in sales tax forms that say “zero” every month and we hadn’t been doing any of that stuff because we were just doing it DIY, whatever. We were just kids … we weren’t making any money, so what difference does it make? I would guess, in retrospect, had we been filing taxes we probably would have made money from the government.

So when did that happen, when you guys shuttered?
It was either ’95 or ’96. It was a very short-lived deal — two or three years.

So tell me about the Jimmy Eat world 7-inch, which is four songs. You press how many?
I think we pressed 1,000. It could have been 500 and then 500. That would probably make more sense because we had no idea if it was gonna sell or what.

And did it initially?
Yeah, it took off pretty well. We’re thinking, “Well, if this is all you have to do this is easy.” I remember getting the Maximum RocknRoll review and being like, “Yes, this is it.”

Did you keep a lot of that stuff — the reviews, flyers, etc.?
I didn’t. But I reaccumulated a lot of that when I did that Wooden Blue Myspace page. Funny thing is Jim must not have held on to a lot of that stuff, too, because I have very little Jimmy Eat World stuff. I have a lot of Temper Tantrum stuff.

Do you have a lot of the music?
I have it all. I don’t know if I have all of the hard copies, but I have it all digitally.

Have you ever thought about re-releasing anything?
I thought about re-releasing some of the Jimmy Eat World stuff only because I think that’s the only stuff that — not that it doesn’t matter to me — but would matter to mainstream. But that’s kind of a touchy subject.

Plus, then again, I don’t know legality of it. Rick (Burch, bassist) is not in that Jimmy Eat World. Mitch Porter is. Not that Mitch would have a problem with it. But then say we make money on it, how do we cut him into it and then it becomes about contracts where it was never anything like that.

In some cases, does it seem better to let these things exist where they did?
Yeah, I think so. And I think, too, now with the Internet and the piracy of music, anyone that truly wants it … it’s not the audiophile that wants the actual item. They just want the songs. It’s not diluted by being digital by any means because the recording kind of blew to begin with.

I had heard you might be selling some of the music at the show?
We’re gonna sell the compilation because the compilation came out under what we called Oak Family Shuttle Records because Wooden Blue got shut down. So we had Oak Family Shuttle presents Wooden Blue presents Back From the Dead Motherfucker. That was released after everything was dead. So by time it was finally released, everything was dead and we didn’t really release it properly. So we still sat on a bunch of them.

How many do you have?
I have no idea. Five-hundred were pressed. I bet only 300 were sold. Whether or not we still have the 200 — Jim might have some, Joel has some, I had some. Some of them have probably been stored poorly and are warped.

So the comp is mostly what you’ll sell?
The comp and T-shirts for the show (with the logo made for the show). And that’s what’s really funny, too. We’re having a backdrop of that made, too. Having shirts … it looks pretty flashy and slick, which totally what Wooden Blue records was not.

And here’s a funny story. For a long time I was just sitting on those comps, so I put some on eBay. I sold one to this girl. And then she immediately sends me a complaint when she gets it. She says, “Obviously, this is not the real thing because the cover is just a white sleeve with a sticker on it of the cover and the credits on the back.” So I wrote her back, “Actually, you’re wrong because I pressed it and that’s exactly what it was because we didn’t know what we were doing and we didn’t have access to a screenprint.”

Does doing all this … do you get nostalgic about it? Does it make you wanna do it again?
No. I mean, I’m nostalgic about it. It was fun, it was neat. There was definitely a place for it. It was awesome. It was a fun bunch of kids. Nobody cared about … you know, if they were gonna go on tour, well, they’re gonna tour in a van and sleep on a floor and they were stoked about it. It was just a fun time. Because nobody knew better.

Now we know where Jimmy Eat World is, but could you have ever have thought they would be where they are now?
No. No. I remember … it was my sophomore year in college, so Jim’s freshman year. We lived together in this apartment. And I got a phone call from this guy, and he’s like, “Hey, is Jim around?” I said, “No, he’s in class” or whatever. “Can I take a message?” “Yeah, this is Craig Aaronson from Capitol Records.” I was like, holy shit. “No, he’s not around but they’re playing a show at the Nile a week from Friday or whatever.” I left it at that. I must have given Jim … well, I don’t know if I gave Jim the message or not. I don’t remember (laughs).

Anyway, I remember sitting at the merch booth at that show selling Wooden Blue shit. And this guy walks up and says, “Hey, are you Jeremy? I’m Craig Aaronson.” Holy crap. I think that was kind of the start of it. And he had heard of them because Capitol had interest in Christie Front Drive. And then Christie Front Drive had no interest in Capitol but said, “Hey, we did a split with this band Jimmy Eat World. You might wanna check them out.”

That’s like the golden days of record labels. It’s crazy to think a guy would come from L.A. to the Nile.
Yeah, to some bullshit show. I have no idea what show. It probably was not a Jimmy Eat World show. They were probably opening for somebody.

Obviously, everyone is pretty aware of Jimmy Eat World. Is there a band you worked with that you wish more people would have heard?
Aquanaut Drinks Coffee. Hands down. When we initially started, Joel wanted to do the Jimmy Eat World thing and I was like, “Aquanaut. I gotta do the Aquanaut.” Because I was a huge Dead Milkmen fan. Still am. Not that they’re like Dead Milkmen, but they’re quirky and off the beaten path like they were. Obscure but fun sort of band. They were great.

Do you know if Jimmy Eat World will play anything off that first CD at the show?
From what I can gather they’re playing in that time frame-ish. There’s talk of maybe a song from that disc. But I didn’t push it too much because I wanna be surprised like everyone else. But I’m definitely hoping. And I know that Charlie (Levy, of Stateside Presents/Crescent Ballroom) kind of said to them and I had said to Zach (Lind, Jimmy Eat World drummer), “Don’t play the hits.” If you want to, fine. But this is your chance to play whatever the fuck you want. Because this is not a Jimmy Eat World show in the sense that everyone is there to hear “The Middle.” These are old-school fans, so play what you wanna play.

You’ve really seen the local music scene evolve … for the better, do you think?
For the better in the sense that there’s a lot more of it, a lot more venues. A lot more true venues. At the same time, I’m so out of touch. I have no idea — I hate to sound old — what the kids are playing now. The last new band locally that was young that I heard was Asleep in the Sea and Peachcake.

And Asleep in the Sea is no more.
They were awesome. They were like a reincarnation of Aquanaut Drinks Coffee.

So that was a band you could see being on Wooden Blue?
Well, on my Wooden Blue. On Joel’s maybe not (laughs).

Did you guys have different ideas of what the label should be?
I think our different ideas … we just had different musical tastes where we both appreciated the other bands. The prime example was the Jimmy Eat World/Aquanaut thing. He liked Aquanaut and I thought Jimmy Eat World was great, but it was jut our own deals. Back then, I feel like there weren’t that many bands. It was kind of like all the bands we knew and became friends with, we put out their records. Whether or not we thought it would sell or not … forget a business plan, we were just putting our friends’ records.

The bottom line was it was friends putting out friends’ records and not having a clue and just because it was fun and cool and it gave everybody something. I feel like very few people pressed stuff on their own. So what they have pressed is what we did.

Does it seem like forever ago?
It does and it doesn’t. Yeah, it seems like long time ago. But a lot of it is fresh in my mind, too. It was just awesome … it was definitely fun and cool. And I think it did have a definite place at its time. I don’t wanna sound pompous or anything like that, but I feel like people wanted to be on Wooden Blue — the local punk rock bands.

Do you feel like you helped shape some sort of scene?
Yeah, I’d like to think so. I think the scene would have happened with or without Wooden Blue. I think Wooden Blue just helped bring everybody together — a united front. And that was what was really cool. We had East Valley kids, West Valley kids, Central kids. We had people from all over Valley.

Q&A with Michael Benjamin Lerner of Telekinesis


It didn’t take long for 12 Desperate Straight Lines, the second full-length album from Telekinesis, to burrow its way into my brain. Michael Benjamin Lerner specializes in a style that blends upbeat, infectious pop with all the worry and woe of desperate heartbreak – a juxtaposition that challenges the idea of what we think sad music should sound like.

With his album set for release on Tuesday on Merge, Lerner graciously took some time to answer a few questions.

Remember: Lerner brings his band to Tempe’s Sail Inn with The Love Language for a 21-and-over show on Feb. 26. Phoenix’s J. Miller is also scheduled to perform.

So Much Silence: Lead singers as drummers are pretty rare. Do the Phil Collins jokes ever get old?

Michael Benjamin Lerner: Never, ever ever! I am in full support of Phil Collins. He’s amazing. Regardless of whether you listen to his music or not, he’s amazing. He’s a really killer drummer, and he’s also a really killer frontman. He’s also really cheesy, hence the origin of the jokes, I think. But, I love the comparisons. I’m not ashamed of them in any way shape or form!

SMS: But seriously, that takes some coordination. When did you realize that double-duty was a task you could handle in a live setting?

MBL: It certainly does take some coordination, but that’s not the biggest hurdle, believe it or not. The biggest hurdle is figuring out how to breathe and how to pace yourself. Drumming (especially full on rock drumming) can be a physically demanding task, and add in singing to that, it becomes really difficult! It’s always a challenge. I’ve been a drummer for 11 years now, and it’s the only instrument I feel truly comfortable playing, especially in a live setting. I think that’s why it happened. There just wasn’t any other way. I couldn’t/can’t play guitar well enough to pull it off onstage, but drums is just something I felt most comfortable with, oddly enough.

SMS: At shows, a lot of people tend to pay a lot of attention to the singer. Do you set up the drum kit closer to the front of the stage? And if so, does it change the sound dynamic from a more traditional setup?

MBL: Yes, the drums go at the front and center. So, we are all in a line at the front of stage. It’s a little strange at first. I think people that aren’t familiar with our live show already but have listened to the records before are certainly taken aback at first. I mean, drums are loud! And I hit hard. So, it’s just a loud cacophonous experience, especially at a smaller club. But, we’re a rock band, and that’s how rock bands are sometimes. It certainly pisses off sound engineers in venues across the country though. Ha! Too many cables and microphones to move around, I guess!

SMS: You tour with a band but play a majority of the instrumentation yourself when recording. Have you or would you consider bringing a band into the studio?

MBL: Absolutely! The band I have currently, it would be a crime if they weren’t on the next record in at least some capacity! Jason Narducy (Robert Pollard band, Bob Mould band) is an amazing songwriter, as well as bass player. And Cody Votolato (Jaguar Love, The Blood Brothers) is a ripping guitar player, and a killer songwriter as well. So, I think if we all got into the studio together, something really special would happen. I also have this grandiose vision of writing a record as a band, and playing it live in a room, and that being the record. We’ll see if that ever works out though.

SMS: I love both albums and the new one really proves that not all songs about heartache have to be such sad-bastard affairs. Is there something cathartic or hopeful for you in writing such infectious music for what are pretty downcast lyrics?

MBL: Yeah! Sometimes it is cathartic. I’m a super heart-on-my-sleeve kind of fellow. Sometimes even the weather can affect a song. Like, I’m sure it was actually super sunny when I wrote You Turn Clear In The Sun. Even though the lyrics on that one are super dark and sad, the melodies and music are happy.

SMS: From the sound of it, you went through a pretty rough patch that included a breakup and a bout of vertigo. Was there an album(s) that helped you get through that time?

MBL: I don’t remember! I can’t think of one album in particular, probably because I was so focused on feeling better and on making my own record. I was writing a whole heck of a lot, and not listening to a ton of stuff for the months that I wrote 12 Desperate Straight Lines.

SMS: I read that you used a set of Oblique Strategies cards during recording. Did you find that they helped you? If so, was there a certain card/phrase that struck you the most?

MBL: Yes! Big time. It just keeps things moving in the studio. It’s like a handbook! “What wouldn’t you do?” was a good one. The “erase the tape and start over” one is really terrifying.

SMS: Chris Walla (Death Cab for Cutie) joined you again in the studio. What do you enjoy most about working with him?

MBL: His fearlessness and willingness to try new things is super inspiring. We just had fun in the studio, plain and simple. I think a lot of musicians forget sometimes that making music is really fun. Chris and I definitely didn’t forget about that on this one. We really really enjoyed ourselves immensely, and it was a wonderful experience.

SMS: You recorded the new album to analog tape. What is the benefit of that for you?

MBL: It just forces takes and performances. You can’t go back and fix anything, or create playlists, like you can on a computer. And you have to decide things in the moment, which I love. Plus, it just sounds amazing. And it also smells really good, and is fun to watch.

SMS: Finally, what’s the deal with using ALL CAPS on Twitter?

MBL: Twitter to me is like a newspaper headline. Thus, the all caps. I’m not shouting, I promise!

Q&A: Scott Hutchison of Frightened Rabbit (re-post)

With Frightened Rabbit playing the Clubhouse in Tempe on Sunday night, I wanted to re-post this interview that originally ran in April, when the band’s Arizona date was canceled because of the volcanic ash that grounded European travel. Without further ado …

(Note: When an opportunity to interview Frightened Rabbit singer Scott Hutchison arose in advance of the band’s April 19 show in Tempe, I knew my friend Casey, the man behind the great blog Crumbler, was the man for the job. His impassioned response to Pitchfork’s review of the band’s new album is worth your time, as is his outstanding interview here.)

Scott Hutchison answers the phone in Amsterdam, which he is visiting on this day for the first time. He has come to play a show with Frightened Rabbit, the band he started as a solo act in 2003 and has since developed into one of the most compelling acts in indie rock. Amsterdam has lived up to his expectations: “Booze is a cunt,” he tweets a few minutes before I call him. “Brain no worky.” But by the time he picks up the phone he seems to have shaken the cobwebs: He is cheery and thoughtful, gamely answering questions about his band’s excellent new record, The Winter of Mixed Drinks, and the somewhat bizarre critical response it has drawn. Frightened Rabbit comes to the Clubhouse on Monday, and it’s a show well worth seeking out. Arizona was an early adopter of Frightened Rabbit; according to Hutchinson, it’s the first place that ever requested an encore.

Below Hutchinson talks about moving beyond break-up songs, creating his rap persona and being misunderstood by Pitchfork.

Crumbler: So you guys are heading to Coachella next week. Do you like playing festival shows, or do you prefer the clubs?
Scott Hutchison: Well, each presents itself with a different kind of challenge and atmosphere. The big shows that you play in the afternoon, a lot of the audience might not have heard your music before. That in a way is a bit more fun. When you play in the clubs, you have an audience from the start. But when you play at an afternoon festival, that feels like more of an achievement — to win a crowd over in the space of 40 minutes. I love them both, though. They have their pros and cons.

I saw you in a particularly sweaty club in Arizona a couple years called the Rhythm Room. Midnight Organ Fight had just come out, but everyone in the pit knew all the words (see video at left), and you guys came out to play an encore. I remember you saying that you don’t usually play encores — is that still the case? 
The reason back then was that no one had ever called us back before.  Now we do plan for it. I do remember that show — it was a surprise that people wanted to hear more.

Continue reading Q&A: Scott Hutchison of Frightened Rabbit (re-post)

Q&A with Zilla Rocca

After about three dropped calls in a failed attempt to record using Google Voice, I scrapped that plan and typed as fast as possible to keep up with everything Zilla Rocca had to talk about – from the pitfalls of the scene in his hometown Philadelphia to his love of noir fiction to 5 O’Clock Shadowboxers, his long-distance collaborative project with Douglas Martin. Between some random ellipses and shorthand I can’t remember, the gist of our conversation is spelled out below.

If you haven’t figured it out by now from this week’s posts, Zilla Rocca and Curly Castro are playing Hidden House Friday night (that’s tonight) with Random. Cover is a mere $5, so fork over your weekly allowance for taking the trash out and come have a good time. From Zilla’s description, their show is not to be missed.


Ever been to Phoenix?
No, never been. Only been to Vegas and LA out there.

For people who have never been here, I’m always curious: What’s Phoenix look like in your head?
Like a hybrid of Raising Arizona and then The Tao of Steve. It’s either a crazy bugged-out Mad Max desolate area or kinda cool spaced-out interesting place where people drive motorcycles and play a lot of outdoor Frisbee.

What’s the Philly scene like?
The hip-hop scene is comatose. It’s a nightmare. It’s strange. … Philly used to be really vibrant and full of cool stuff around the beginning of 2000. The neo-soul thing – we were the place to be.

Even after that, in 2002-2003, there were live hip-hop bands, spoken-word dudes, slam poets, that was really bubbling, too. They were performing at really cool places. Problem was, all these venues started closing and promoters started moving on. I got in the scene around ’05 and even from ’05 to now, it’s just a ghost town. There’s nothing exciting. Everyone is playing to their base and their corner and their little neighborhood and circle of friends. There’s no reason to leave your house to watch anybody, nobody is transcending or doing anything different. … It’s a mess. There’s really nothing. Even guys known nationally, they’re not here, they’re not playing here.

Philly is where people go to get comfortable. It’s very nice and very comfortable. … No one wants to be into stuff. There’s a lot of posturing and a lot of conditional love. It’s really bizarre. I don’t really concern myself with the Philly scene anymore. … It’s strange. I’ve just seen it devolve in the last three years. Now, the only thing I do in the city is non-traditional stuff – art galleries, art festival or play with a band. I don’t do rap shows. I’m done with that stuff. You’re playing for the same people. You’re playing for other rappers.

It’s not an inspiring or welcoming, bubbling scene. But then people want to own it; people want to be king of Philly, but nobody cares outside of Philly. I’m surrounding myself this year with really cool and interesting people that have nothing to do with hip-hop – a drum-and-bass dude and graphic-design guy and comic-book geeks. If I’m gonna stay, I need to maximize my surroundings. There’s no musicians, no rappers that inspire me in Philly, but not a lot of rappers that inspire me in general.

What is inspiring you?
I’m reading a ton of comic books and more crime-based noir – Raymond Chandler, pulp-heavy books, Ed Brubaker. There’s different stories about people in disastrous situations and how they deal with it. I like that stuff.

How did you meet Random?
He came up to me three years ago at this place Medusa Lounge. I hanging out there one night and he came up and was really cool, really personable. I got his CD. It was decent. I remember randomly see that album cover in random places, just out and about, and I thought, “There’s that guy.” Then he moved, I think, three years ago. I did one session with him a year and a half ago. He’s really personable, really cool guy. He found his niche with Capcom video-game dudes and really just killed it.

He was in the scene for years and years, so for him to exploit the opening in the marketplace, that’s fantastic. He’s just a great guy. It’s good when you see people like him make it. I think this is first show I’m playing with him at the same time. I’ve always missed it. Everyone always loves his set. It’s the first time I’ve ever played with him.

How did the Shadowboxers project come together
I was writing column for Jeff (Weiss) and would do it every month or so. Douglas (Martin) was hearing my stuff and was a commenter because he really enjoyed it. He got at me and said, “I made a track and I hear your voice on it.” I had it for like a month. I told him, “I’m just kinda stifled, you got anything else?” He was like, “I just made something.” It was High Noon. Whoa, oh my God. That song just pulled out this whole other side of me. … It was tapping into something I forgot about for years.

Douglas sent me a few more tracks and they have these interesting titles for songs – it was like a puzzle. It was like what is Weak Stomach, and Eric Lindros? … And it kind of developed into this thing. His stuff is really challenging. Some songs I would do in two days and some I had for three months. He pulled out this whole other thing in me I didn’t know I had. It was so organic and dope.

<a href="">Eric Lindros by 5 O&#8217;Clock Shadowboxers</a>

It’s an Internet story of success, I guess you could say. It just became this thing and everyone I played it for liked it. It wasn’t divisive or weird or scary. And I’m like, “I’m onto something here with this.” So let’s put out the record and get a publicist, shoot some videos and do some promo. It’s really refreshing. I’ve done so many albums and groups and projects and EPs under various names and this works, this is what I like. I’m comfortable with this. I don’t hear anyone making beats like this. I can’t mail it in when I do stuff with Douglas. It pushes me. I like that. I don’t like making same songs or writing same rhymes or making same albums.

He cracked that door open. He didn’t even know. I didn’t even know. This feels normal, feels comfortable. Like putting on old jacket again.

You’re meeting Douglas for the first time this weekend in LA, right?
I’ve never spoken to him on the phone. Everything is e-mail, or texts every once in awhile, Twitter. I’ve seen him progress and do other stuff that’s interesting. He’s a really dope rock writer. I’m like, “It’s time to make some more beats.”

You have a new Shadowboxers album in the works?
Kinda like piece by piece. We have two songs in the can now. I gotta wait on him for whenever he feels compelled. I’m an artist of many whims and transitions. He used to do singer/songwriter lo-fi folk at first and then, probably around ’07-’08 started doing Shadowboxers beats like crazy. … I try to be cool with it and give him his space. I’m sure we’ll hang out and talk about this stuff.

So you guys are just exchanging the music via e-mail?
Yeah and Douglas doesn’t give any notes. He trusts me to do what I want. He just gives me a starting point and it’s up to me to figure out what it’s about. None of it is on a whim. Not with his music. It’s very moody. I know it kinda sounds lame, but I have to be in certain places to write to what he does. His music kinda tapped into that.

There’s definitely a distinctive style and theme to the album
At first when he sent me stuff, I wanted it to be separate from other stuff I was working on – more free-flowing, free-creating and I didn’t know what the hell it was. I would just write all this stuff down. That’s why I like guys like Raekwon and Camp Lo. Just sayin’ stuff that sounds really cool. I’ve always been attracted to rappers like that. So I was gonna make this a free-form thing. After I did it, Jeff said we needed dialog to tie the album together. All pieces of dialog and themes are from the movie Blast of Silence, a 1961 pulp noir movie. I became infatuated and was reading up on noir and Chandler and Dashiell Hammett. I’m into look of pulp art. It’s really gritty – thes eedy underbelly of the ’40s and ’50s. I thought, “Jesus, I could just do this all the time and make it this one thing and not try to be everything or industry.” I’m not trying to compete with Mickey Factz or Wale; I don’t really want to. We started calling it “noir-hop” on press releases. Noir is everything: suspense, sex, danger, crime, loneliness, alcoholism. The language in it is so good. It’s slang. And that’s hip-hop. Hip-hop is slang. I started shooting photos all dressed up like detective or hitman. I’m trying to make it this very specific thing. And when I’m on stage, it’s that.

I don’t have discipline all the time to be in character, but when I go on stage and write, that’s when I become this thing, this character or this noir detective. I went to the library today and got this Chandler book. I just engulf myself in it and digest it and give it what it needs to be. Guys that rap about drugs, those guys lived it. They know the emotions and how it feels. So I’ve been leading like a purposeful pulp life … it’s kinda like research. I just like doing this in general. Now it became my life. Before it was just a way to write a rap record.

Give me an idea of what the live show is like
Just to tie it all in, what we’re doing is very specific. Had to really sell the imagery behind it and have some of voiceovers in between songs or before first song. … We’re just trying to give people an overall picture and feeling instead of me just rapping over an album. I want people to be weirded out at first or maybe they think it’s ridiculous or a gimmick, but maybe by end, they’re like, “Oh, this is cool.” It’s more exciting to have to get dressed up and I have to go to drycleaners. It’s more fun, like going on date with girl for first time. You gotta make sure you look right. This is new – no one’s done this. So how do we do this and people kinda understand what it is when we’re finished? We want them to be disoriented at first.

Are you worried that the imagery might distract from the music?
That’s fine. Most rap shows are terrible. I don’t have a band. I have nothing else for people to put eyes on. If they never heard your stuff, they’re going to give you the first song and tune you out. If images are cool and beats are cool, then they’ll give me shot. People have no choice but to watch.

Q&A with Scott Hutchison of Frightened Rabbit

(Note: When an opportunity to interview Frightened Rabbit singer Scott Hutchison arose in advance of the band’s April 19 show in Tempe, I knew my friend Casey, the man behind the great blog Crumbler, was the man for the job. His impassioned response to Pitchfork’s review of the band’s new album is worth your time, as is his outstanding interview here.)

Scott Hutchison answers the phone in Amsterdam, which he is visiting on this day for the first time. He has come to play a show with Frightened Rabbit, the band he started as a solo act in 2003 and has since developed into one of the most compelling acts in indie rock. Amsterdam has lived up to his expectations: “Booze is a cunt,” he tweets a few minutes before I call him. “Brain no worky.” But by the time he picks up the phone he seems to have shaken the cobwebs: He is cheery and thoughtful, gamely answering questions about his band’s excellent new record, The Winter of Mixed Drinks, and the somewhat bizarre critical response it has drawn. Frightened Rabbit comes to the Clubhouse on Monday, and it’s a show well worth seeking out. Arizona was an early adopter of Frightened Rabbit; according to Hutchinson, it’s the first place that ever requested an encore.

Below Hutchinson talks about moving beyond break-up songs, creating his rap persona and being misunderstood by Pitchfork.

Crumbler: So you guys are heading to Coachella next week. Do you like playing festival shows, or do you prefer the clubs?
Scott Hutchison: Well, each presents itself with a different kind of challenge and atmosphere. The big shows that you play in the afternoon, a lot of the audience might not have heard your music before. That in a way is a bit more fun. When you play in the clubs, you have an audience from the start. But when you play at an afternoon festival, that feels like more of an achievement — to win a crowd over in the space of 40 minutes. I love them both, though. They have their pros and cons.

I saw you in a particularly sweaty club in Arizona a couple years called the Rhythm Room. Midnight Organ Fight had just come out, but everyone in the pit knew all the words (see video at left), and you guys came out to play an encore. I remember you saying that you don’t usually play encores — is that still the case? 
The reason back then was that no one had ever called us back before.  Now we do plan for it. I do remember that show — it was a surprise that people wanted to hear more.

Continue reading Q&A with Scott Hutchison of Frightened Rabbit

Q&A with Lymbyc Systym


On the heels of their November release of their second full-length album, Shutter Release (Mush Records), Michael and Jared Bell of Lymbyc Systym are going out on a West Coast tour that starts Thursday (Jan. 7) and includes a Jan. 13 stop at Sail Inn in Tempe.

I spoke with the brothers Bell, who got their start in Phoenix, via telephone during the holidays, a conference call for which Jared bypassed the usual publicity/management route and set up himself. They discussed being a musician in Phoenix, how they replicate their sound in a live setting and more.

SMS: Are you guys still in Austin and Brooklyn?
Michael: I lived in Austin up until two and half months ago.

SMS: Why did you move? Were the logistics too hard?
Michael: It was more about New York being the best city ever. Jared and I can rehearse now, which is amazing. It’s been a long time since we’ve been able to do that without someone having to fly somewhere else. So now we have all of our gear here. New York is a great city. I was craving more of the big-city environment. For myself, too, just as far as pursuing drum-type stuff … New York, L.A. or Chicago are the top places to be as far as working on your art.

Jared: Being two people makes it a lot easier. If we had a third band member, it would have been impossible to make an album. With just two of us, it wasn’t so bad. Really, I’d say the only challenge is that we couldn’t physically play music in the same room. But the way we write an album … we both have a hand in everything. I do a majority of the melodic stuff and Mike does a majority of the rhythm stuff. But we don’t really write by getting together and jamming. We write more by sharing ideas and going back and forth. Being in separate cities wasn’t too much of a complication for that. We’d just call each other, but it’s awesome now. It’s really easy to take it for granted, just to play in the same room. But on the whole, I would say there weren’t that many challenges as it might seem.

SMS: You guys grew up in Phoenix. Did you feel like you had to move to grow artistically?

Continue reading Q&A with Lymbyc Systym

Q&A with Ryan Ferguson (No Knife)

As previously mentioned, I was able to chat with singer/guitarist Ryan Ferguson of No Knife, which is supporting three dates (Los Angeles, San Diego and Tempe) on Jimmy Eat World’s Clarity x 10 tour.

A story I wrote on No Knife advancing Saturday’s show can be found here. But there was plenty from my interview with Ferguson that was left out. So I figured I’d present it here, save for our geek talk about spring training and fantasy baseball. (Ferguson plays in an adult baseball league with former Rocket from the Crypt bassist Pete Reichert.)

(Both of 1999’s Fire in the City of Automatons.)

Did you guys envision doing anything beyond this?
“I guess it’s still too early to say either way. But we were gonna do one secret show here in San Diego in April for all the people that were unable to get tickets to any of these Jimmy shows or the Casbah anniversary show last month. Tickets for these (Jimmy Eat World) shows went so fast, there were so many people that unfortunately weren’t able to snake a ticket. … I can’t say for sure, but we are, as of now, technically scheduled to do one more show.”

How often have you been practicing?
“We started back in July or maybe August for that Casbah show. But it’s not consistent, not every week since July. It’s just kind of whenever people’s schedules allowed. We rehearsed maybe seven or eight times before that first show to make sure we were solid and felt comfortable playing those parts again. Of course, (singer/guitarist) Mitch (Wilson) and I, specifically guitar-wise, had completely forgotten everything.”

Had you messed with any No Knife songs since you guys took hiatus?
“No, although in my little pop-song records, I’m still the same songwriter, so I’ll still use some of the same chords and same chord progressions. Although, No Knife tunes higher than any other band I’ve played in. We all tune up to F. So it sounds a little sharper. Some people have described it as ‘candy coated’ sometimes or whatever they wanna say because there’s a weird little unique sharpness to the songs. I sometimes play the same chords and it’ll remind me of the songs … but, no, I haven’t messed with any of that stuff.”

You guys toured with Jimmy Eat World when Clarity came out. What do you remember from that tour? Was it a long tour?
“I don’t remember … we did so many little tours together and they all kind of rolled into each other. I don’t think it was some three-month-long tour. I think we did maybe six weeks with them and took a break then maybe three or four more weeks. I don’t really remember. I just remember there was a solid and automatic chemistry with all those guys immediately. When Static Prevails had come out, I was into the band because they recorded out here in San Diego with Mark (Trombino). I swear to God, and I told all my friends this … even playing together in these little tiny basement shows … we would play shows in people’s garages before or after the actual club show and even just playing these tiny shows in front of 25 people, there was something about Jimmy Eat World that I just knew. They had it. There was something about these guys … I just knew they were gonna go places. Therefore, I was just so stoked to be a part of it from the early days. Those guys have not changed one bit.

“We had so much fun. In the Clarity year, I brought my friend Eric out with us. At the time, he got this brand-new digital video camera. We documented about … I think we have 32 hours worth of tape. I don’t have a mini DV recorder or playback machine and he took his camera with him and he’s living in Argentina. I know he has half the tapes in storage and I was able to snake like 15 or 20 of them. None of it has ever been edited, none of it has ever been seen by the Jimmy guys. I’m sure they’ve totally forgotten about everything. We had so much fun on those tours. … They haven’t changed at all and their audience has only grown and grown and grown. It’s cool to see bands finally get the success they deserve, like true success.”

Continue reading Q&A with Ryan Ferguson (No Knife)

Q&A with Steve Wynn of the Baseball Project

I had the good fortune last week to talk with Steve Wynn (Dream Syndicate, Steve Wynn and the Miracle 3) about his newest group: The Baseball Project (see previous post).

We talked music and baseball – what could be better? – and about the origins of the group, which includes Scott McCaughey (Young Fresh Fellows, the Minus 5), Peter Buck (R.E.M.) and Linda Pitmon. The Baseball Project’s debut, Vol. 1: Frozen Ropes and Dying Quails, is better than thumbing through The Baseball Encyclopedia – it’s full of sharp wit, colorful storytelling and wonderfully crafted songs that strike a perfect balance of criticism and romanticism of the game.

So Much Silence: How’d the project come together?
Wynn: “The thing is Scott and I had both been thinking about doing a record about baseball for years. I’ve been talking with him for about five years. Linda, my wife and drummer in the band, she kept telling me to shut up and stop talking about it or someone would steal the idea. We got together at the R.E.M. party (pre-Hall of Fame induction) about a year ago and realized we both had the idea. It kick-started both of us to get going. Having a partner made it a lot more fun. We started e-mailing mp3 files of songs we were working on … and I was thinking, ‘Man, that’s pretty good.’ It was a friendly competition of writing something we care about and that made it happen in no time.”

SMS: You and Scott split songwriting duties, right?
Wynn: “We were intending on collaborating, but we wrote everything on our own, except for (bonus track) Blood Diamond. We have full intention of doing this for years, writing 50 volumes until we’re 110 years old. And we’re excited about writing songs with other musician baseball fans. We’re finding out about a lot of people we had no idea who were baseball geeks like we were.”

SMS: Like who?
Wynn: “Ira Kaplan from Yo La Tengo, Craig Finn from Hold Steady, Joe Pernice from Pernice Brothers, Steve Malkmus, Ben Gibbard from Death Cab for Cutie.”

SMS: Have you talked to them?
Wynn: “Before we made the record, we were going to involve input from a lot of other people. We did talk to Ira and Joe Pernice and Craig Finn and Barbara Manning. Some were busy … and we got so much momentum on our own we didn’t feel like waiting around. It went pretty fast. There is no shortage of stuff to write about.”

SMS: Was there a lot of research involved in writing?
Wynn: “The basic structure of the songs were from our own memories. But we had to fact-check a little bit. Harvey Haddix took a lot of research. I wanted to list all the people who have thrown perfect games, but I admit I don’t remember them all.”

SMS: How do you approach a project like this without letting the songs become sort of cheesy rah-rah anthems?
Wynn: “That’s easy. We don’t write that way. We’re not that kind of people. Scott and I have always written kind of dark, ironic – not sinister – but between-the-cracks kind of songs. We’re more drawn to write about people like Curt Flood or Ed Delahanty or Jack McDowell’s bender. We’re not geared toward writing rah-rah songs. We didn’t have a mission statement to write about more of the freaks, but that’s what we gravitate toward. There’s not a lot of happy stuff on there … not a Centerfield in the bunch. That’s a great song but not what we were doing.”

SMS: A lot of the songs are really great history lessons. Do you hope younger fans learn about the game from the album?
Wynn: “In fact, it’s funny because when This Week in Baseball ran the Harvey Haddix montage, I was watching and wondering, ‘Man, I wonder if some 12-year-old kid is watching this right now and wanting to look this up.’ And that’s what baseball is all about. I’ve got a nephew and when he was 10 we would talk about baseball and he would talk with complete authority. That’s the great thing about the game – it’s a mental scratching post to get out all these numbers in your head.”

SMS: Do you feel like you have to be a baseball fan to enjoy the album?
Wynn: “Not at all. And that was the point. It’s obvious we’re big fans and have been for a long time. All the songs are universal. Like the Curt Flood song. It’s a song about sticking your neck out on the line and blazing a trail for other people and them profiting from something you pioneered. Or the Jackie Robinson song … the pain of being the first to do something and having to shut your mouth. … These are all subjects that can fit to anything. The reality is once you explain the basic concept of a song it works for many different subjects.”

SMS: What about baseball lends itself to songwriting?
Wynn: “More than any other sport, it’s a game of individuals. You can’t say about any other team sports that you can excel even if your teammates suck. When you’re at bat, your teammates might not be able to hit, but you can still hit it out of the park. Being a game of individuals, a lot of the them are flamboyant, loud-mouth, cocky precocious players. And it makes for great individual players.

“Plus, the pace of the game allows you to talk to a buddy about the history and stories. It’s a real talking game. If you’re watching English football during World Cup, you better shut up. Baseball’s not that way. It’s about telling stories and having more obscure, more arcane reference points than next guy.”

SMS: There’s some pretty rich characters in the game.
Wynn: “Oh, yeah. There’s so many it’s incredible. We each knew people we wanted to write about. For example, we both wanted to write about Curt Flood. But Scott let me write my song. I took the reins on that one.”

SMS: Did you guys keep track of how many players you mentioned in the album?
Wynn: “A lot more were mentioned before we toned it down. On The Closer we had about 20 different relief pitchers named. Linda was our geek-meter … she kept us in check and would say, ‘You guys are going into the list-making arcane.’

SMS: Would another sport even have the same appeal, the same tradition if someone wrote an album about it?
Wynn: “I don’t think it would. Obviously, you can write about anything. If Sufjan Stevens can write a whole record about Illinois … That’s why I’m amazed at how few really good songs have been written about baseball. It’s such an American tradition and so ripe for Americana picking. I’m glad we got to it first. I can name baseball songs I really like on one hand. Dock Ellis (Barbara Manning), Catfish by Bob Dylan, Bill Lee by Warren Zevon. Those are great baseball songs.

“Now there’s probably 50 guys out there saying, ‘I was meaning to do that!’ I’m glad that person isn’t me.”


SMS: I want to hit you with a lightning round of sorts about topics baseball fans like to argue about.

SMS: Designated hitter.
Wynn: “Anti. Even though I’ve become more of an AL fan, I grew up in Los Angeles watching the Dodgers. I like strategy. I love the double switch. I love having to decide whether to let the pitcher hit.”

SMS: Interleague play.
Wynn: “Not that into it. It’s a lot of fun to have the White Sox play the Cubs or the Yankees play the Mets. But I liked it more when teams in the World Series hadn’t seen each other. I’m an old crusty traditionalist.”

SMS: Wild card.
Wynn: “Well, the only good thing there is you get more baseball. The postseason lasts longer. I kind of like that.”

SMS: All-Star Game determining home field for World Series.
Wynn: “Yeah, I don’t like that one very much either. I really love the All-Star Game, but I feel it should be more of an exhibition for fans than something that should determine postseason play.”

SMS: Should Pete Rose be in the Hall of Fame?
Wynn: “He should be in the Hall of Fame. For sure. Absolutely. I think Shoeless Joe Jackson should be. Rose blew it repeatedly where he could have been forgiven and that’s his thing. Same thing with Barry Bonds.

“But I went to the Hall of Fame last year and there’s so little in there about Rose. That’s wrong. He’s one of best hitters in the history of baseball.”

Interview with Blueprint

I had a chance at last year’s Paid Dues Festival to chat with Blueprint, a solo emcee from Columbus, Ohio, and the man who teams with RJD2 to form Soul Position. (So I’m posting it only eight months later!)

Blueprint’s last solo record, 1988, was released on Rhymesayers in 2005. He says he’ll be shopping around his next release, titled Adventures in Counter Culture (at least that was the name of it in August). In the meantime, he’s offering a free mix called The Best of Blueprint, a collection of singles he’s put out through the years solo and with Soul Position.

  • Blueprint | Lo-Fi Funk

[ZIP]: Blueprint | The Best of Blueprint

Q: Any guests on the new record?
A: “None. Zero. I’m going for self, man.”

Q: What about production?
A: “I’m doing everything. Every single note. There’s no samples on it, so I wrote the whole album musically. Then I’m going back and adding live musicians to replay the melodies. I sample them out, chop them up and put ’em back in and make it sound more hip-hop. There’s no samples. It’s all original music. It’s got way stronger songwriting than what I’ve usually done. That’s my goal. To be the best songwriter.”

Q: Are you going to work with RJ again?
A: “The way we do albums is Soul Position, RJ solo, Blueprint solo. So it’s my turn. So as soon as I get mine out the way we’ll come back. … By time I finish my record, I’ll start writing the next Soul Position.”

Q: RJ took a lot of heat for his new record (The Third Hand). What are your thoughts?
A: “I think RJ is an amazing artist because he’s got balls a lot of artists don’t have. A lot of artists are afraid. They put out the same record every time. I think that’s what’s wrong with underground hip-hop and music in general. All of us, all of us – I’m not picking on anybody – are content with making an underground rap record. And that’s good enough. At some point we need to understand that underground records only appeal to underground rap fans.

“I feel like RJ was one of the first dudes in the genre who was like, you know what, obviously, my catalog shows that I know more than that. And he did something that was so far outside the box, that some people who were looking for an underground rap record might not fuck with it. But I think what he gained, the perception or being viewed as an artist, is worth more than doing another cliché rap record, or underground instrumental record in his case.

“Nobody wants to do another Endtroducing. Endtroducing’s been done. He could never go back to it. He could never do it. Shadow can’t. RJ can’t. … Underground hip-hop, it’s on the backs of the artists who want to push it forward. There’s always someone who does a record that sounds just like the last record.

“Why are we not making music that encompasses our influences as opposed to rejecting it … for the sake of underground hip-hop, which is like, ‘Keep it grimy, keep it real.’ Man, fuck that.”

Q: It’s like a safe zone.
A: “Right, it’s fucking safe. I see it now and I’m not gonna be safe anymore. My next record is going to be unsafe. It’s gonna be really out there. Not because I want to be different but because I am an eclectic person. It’s about time me and all of our peers embrace our eclecticism – is that a word? – we embrace that shit and say … instead of feeling ashamed to like Talking Heads … why are we not making music that encompasses our influences as opposed to rejecting it … for the sake of underground hip-hop, which is like, ‘Keep it grimy, keep it real.’ Man, fuck that. Write a great song. And everything else will take care of itself.”

Q: Would you like to collaborate with some of these guys (on Paid Dues tour)?
A: “The Legends. Grouch, he’s one of my favorites. Hearing the Legends every night I got a bigger appreciation for their catalog and how they rhyme and how dope they are.”

Q: Indie hip-hop always seems to be on the fringe of some of those major festivals. How cool is it to have your own traveling tour, just hip-hop?
A: “It’s cool, but you have pluses and minuses. … The good thing about a hip-hop group at Lollapalooza is there’s Arcade Fire and Panic at the Disco fans who are open-minded. They may not know underground hip-hop is Blueprint or Brother Ali. But if they hear us in that setting they get it.

“The difference with this, the negative, there’ s not people who like another genre. Let’s get all the Legends, all Rhymesayers fans in one building. We reinforce what we already have. We’re not gaining new ground. I think it’s a plus, but that’s the biggest negative.

“My last two tours have not been with hip-hop groups. I toured with Islands. I met new fans by just touring with them.”

Q: Do you listen to a lot of indie rock?
A: “I’d say the last indie-rock record I bought and liked was Peter Bjorn and John. It’s a much better album than I thought it would be. I thought it would just be the single. But the album sounds almost better than single. It’s got a lot more edge to it.”