Archive for January, 2009

Part 1: Opio and Tajai Interview (Souls of Mischief)

Opio of Souls of Mischief

Opio of Souls of Mischief

Tajai of Souls of Mischief

Tajai of Souls of Mischief

Since the early 1990s, Oakland, California based Hip-Hop collective Hieroglyphics has taken on many shapes and sounds, from the lyrically complex and dense solo stylings of Del tha Funkee Homosapien to the rapid-fire and diverse delivery of Hieroglyphics to the smooth and masterful underground sound of Souls of Mischief. Spanning nearly two decades, Hiero and Souls of Mischief have brought new sounds and ideas to the industry while also providing a backbone of creativity that has helped influence the entire Bay Area music scene.

In November I had the opportunity to sit down with Tajai and Opio of Hiero and SOM, two members responsible for an incredible amount of solo and collaborative work for the HieroImperium. In part 1, we discussed their musical backgrounds, the formation of Hiero and the difficulty of staying relevant in a music industry that places an emphasis on the “next big thing.”

ACtual: Starting off early, what were both of your initial musical influences and inspirations, and when did you decide that rapping is what you wanted to do?

Opio: I used to be hella into Reggae, really. Yellowman is one of my favorites, obviously Bob Marley, Peter Tosh, they had the swagger that got me on rap. My parents were really into music, so through them I heard Earth, Wind and Fire, Parliament-Funkadelic, stuff like that. When I first really started to hear rap, I heard “Rapper’s Delight,” stuff like that, Grandmaster Flash. They used to play Rock and Roll stations out here, mixing, like college radio. Really the first time I heard “Rapper’s Delight,” I was just hooked to the way he was spittin’, it was cool, and it just evolved from there. All the older cats in my neighborhood were listening to them, breakdancing, graffiti and all of that was a part of it too. At the same time cats were breaking, graffiti artists, so it was that whole Hip-Hop culture, it wasn’t only just the rapping, I was breakdancing, all of that.

Tajai: Funk, I would say Funk was my biggest influence. Parliament, Bootsy, George Clinton, and then Too Short is probably the main reason I rap just because all the other rappers, I saw other people doing it, but I didn’t think that people from here could do it. As a kid, it was just my perception of it was something that other people did until I saw Too Short rapping and then I was like, “He’s from here and he raps.” That’s when I really started seriously rapping.

AC: You two as well as the Souls of Mischief crew met early on. Talk about how all of you met, came together and the creation of both Souls and Hieroglyphics.

T: We grew up in the same area, so I’ve known Casual and A-Plus since like Kindergarten, 1st grade. Del was at the same school as us, we just sort of all had a mutual interest in Hip-Hop, so once Del got on in ’91 he sort of brought us into the industry, but we had been rapping together for a long time before that. Casual went to junior high with Op.

O: The first time I went into the studio ever, me and Casual rented a studio in the 8th grade. Our man Terai came with us, he was in the 7th grade. I wasn’t even rapping then, I was a DJ, so I was DJing, scratching during that time. This is in the 7th/8th grade, me and Casual went to junior high and he already knew them. I would listen to their music when I was in junior high but I hadn’t really started to kick it with Tajai and A-Plus, but he would have tapes and be like, “listen to my partners.” I’d see them up the block and be like, “there goes Tajai right there.” We really started hanging out in high school, but the whole time we lived right around the same area. We all lived around the same block as each other but we weren’t really in communication until high school, and that’s when we really became a lot more serious about the rapping.

AC: You were released on Jive Records in 1993. Talk about the process of creating that album and what working for a major label was like. You were what, 17, 18 when that album came out?

O: Yea. That album to me was something, that, I would listen to songs that they had done when I was in junior high and me and Casual went into the studio, we were kinda serious about the whole rap thing. Tajai and A-Plus were working with Sir Jinks and they had a professional sound that inspired us to get on our business a little more. This is early on, so we had been working on our craft until we came out. We were probably 13, 14 really serious going to the studio.

That album, even though we recorded it in 2 weeks, it was something that was formulating for a lot of years. I really think it was highly influenced also by the whole crew aspect, not just the fact that we were Souls of Mischief, because we’re competitive by nature within Souls of Mischief, but then there was also Del and Casual, Pep Love, we had these other fierce MCs. Even during the time before ’93 til Infinity came out, everybody heard the demos, so we had something to live up to. People would hear the demos and be like, “the album will be wack, whatever,” and they heard other cats around us that were really shining, so it was a long time coming to me, that album getting done, even though it seemed like it popped out of nowhere, we had been working for some years.

AC: When Hiero formed, what was your original vision for the group and how did you go about making Third Eye Vision?

T: We’ve been together as a crew since before Del’s first record. Our vision then was let’s just all be the best we can be, get signed and be super stars. That’s different than how things progressed just dealing with major label politics, and the fact that, for someone to walk into Hip-Hop today, they have no idea that even when we came out it was still like a sub-culture. So being a super-star and blowing up meant selling a couple of thousand records, maybe going gold, but not platinum. The only people going platinum were guys like Vanilla Ice, MC Hammer.

So once we got off the majors, it was like let’s not stop making music just because we don’t have a label, let’s keep making music and then Domino was like, “Shoot, we might as well put this record out instead of trying to shop it, and from there we started Hiero Imperium and we’ve been rolling since then because it’s been, I’m not going to say easier logistically, but easier in regard to being able to be agile and creative. And now, almost 10, 11 years later, we’re really reaping the rewards of having laid that groundwork of being independent so long. Third Eye was something we recorded out of the need to make music, and then from there it built up to this independent label.

AC: With HieroImperium, you guys have been putting out albums and podcasts for a while now. What do you find to be the hardest part of being in this industry for as long as you guys have?

T: We’re not new, that’s the problem. To people who have never heard of us, which is not that many people, it’s like, “Wow these guys are fantastic!” But to people who have, it’s like, we come with something we feel is our best work and it’s like, “Ok, that’s dope.” There’s so much garbage out here that gets attention because it’s new, and that’s the frustrating part about it. If you’re consistent in music, that’s not good enough a lot of times, you have to have controversy or you have to fall real low to bring yourself back up, but we’ve been consistent and there’s so many of us, that that’s the biggest problem I see, we’re not new.

O: Also, over the years of doing it, touring, consistently going out and being on the road, not just only recording the albums, but the whole rap life in and of itself can take its toll. Sometimes people get jaded, but I think that luckily because there’s a lot of us, we’re able to keep ourselves focused and sharp. Without other people pushing you, and you’re hearing people recording songs and maintaining that creative energy and you don’t have it, your brother can lift you up a little bit and you hear some new shit, “oh man that’s dope,” it kinda gets your juices flowing. Maybe you’re at the house just bored, you wrote so many raps you’re through with it for a hot second, so it’s always a good thing to have other cats around you working and doing stuff. Casual, he’s always busy, Del is always in the lab working, A-Plus just consistent with the beats, so you can always go to those guys and be like, “What’s new?” just to get a little spark.

AC: In terms of approaching the writing, how would you say that your styles differ when you’re trying to come up with stuff for an individual album vs. working on a Souls project or working on a Hieroglyphics project, how do you approach each of those differently?

T: You’re competing against yourself when you’re making a solo record, so you get to look at things more holistically, you look at the entire project as a whole and where things fit in. Whereas when you’re in a group, you’re looking at how you fit into that particular song. With your own records I think it’s harder because you have to push yourself a little bit harder to be better than yourself, verse by verse and song by song. With a group album I think it’s easier because there’s so many other people you’re competing against that you have to come with your best work, that’s the main difference for me.

O: To me, I just feel more comfortable in the group element whether it’s Souls of Mischief or Hieroglyphics, I like the collaboration aspect of things and working with other cats, so to me that’s always been fun. I saw the challenge more so than doing music with others, trying to do something by myself like it’s a Herculean task cause you have so much more that you have to do. At the same time, once the process gets going, you kinda relax in your environment and it’s a good place to be because you can advance your style a little more. You get to go longer.

Especially in Souls of Mischief, we try to keep that quick jab approach so for me it’s kinda fun to just run my mouth for a little while. I’ve always been trying to explore more avant-garde styles whenever we’re doing songs with Souls of Mischief, so you can see the different elements that we bring to the table when you see our solo projects. You can see the different parts working. Sometimes it’s hard to tell what it’s like when you’re listening to the group all together then you get to hear the solo and be like, “So that’s how Souls of Mischief comes together,” at least for me because I’m a fan of Souls of Mischief too, even though I’m in the group, when I’m with other cats I love to hear the music and I like to hear the solo albums as well to see them even go further with it.

AC: Going off what you were saying earlier about the hardest thing is having been here for so long because new stuff always gets more attention. You hear a lot of mainstream writers, media people that say Hip-Hop is dead, and rappers will sometimes say that too. But there’s a lot of really good Hip-Hop out there if you know where to find it, so what do you listen to and what other artists in the genre inspire you?

T: Percy P, Guilty Simpson, Madlib, Black Milk. There’s a lot of groups that you probably won’t hear anywhere but satellite radio. I like Lil Wayne because he’s pushing the boundaries of mainstream but he’s doing something wild and crazy to something that just listened to dance rap so that’s good because maybe their minds will open a little more to people who dwell completely outside of that, but ain’t really much on TV that I like, not because it’s on TV, but because Rap music is really Pop music now. Hip-Hop can’t ever be dead. It may not inspire you the way that it used to, but that’s probably because you’re just not into it anymore. But as far as Hip-Hop, when we do shows and there’s thousands of kids there, it’s like, what are they talking about?

O: The way that Hip-Hop has been brought to the table and how it’s shown, it’s really not the true artform of it. It doesn’t represent. It’s more for trying to sell products, clothes, alcohol, stuff like that. It’s like a big commercial. But when there’s true artists trying to explore the creative process and what it takes to make a great song or a great lyric, a guy like J Electronica for instance is really dope. There’s people out there that’s doing it, but when you watch Rap City, you don’t get to see those guys that often.

I just feel like the vehicle that people are going to start getting Hip-Hop with is going to open the doors for more creative styles, people that are pushing the envelope stylistically and creatively which for me is the essence of Hip-Hop. How it was when De La Soul was coming out and A Tribe Called Quest was coming out, new flavors. I feel like that old form of commercialized, over-commercialized Hip-Hop, that is dead. It’s old hat, you can only use that so much before people get numb to it and it becomes a hard sell, pouring champagne everywhere, throwing money everywhere, people have seen that so much it doesn’t sell shoes how it used to, so now they’re going to start looking to the underground to do that.

AC: We were talking earlier about your latest project, Vulture’s Wisdom, Vol. 1. Talk about your vision for the trilogy, when the other albums are going to come out and what the idea behind these solo albums is.

O: I was just working with my man Architect, I’ve always been a fan of his music and his beats for a long time. He’s always been a cat that was out there, the style of his music is something that I always had a good time and enjoyed listening to. He worked next to us at High Street studios, he had a spot next to me so we had more of a chance to kick it and hang out and we were talking about doing a record, but it never really came together. Eventually I saw him in traffic one time and he was like, “I’ve got some beats, I’ve been thinking about you, we should do an album together.” When he hit me some of the beats and the style he was working with, it was perfect, we were right on the same page at the same exact time, so from there we just started collaborating and made a lot of music. Then we decided that we should not really stop at just one thing but hit cats with at least three projects, so that’s how the whole idea for the trilogy came up. The concept behind the title, like we were talking about earlier how everyone says Hip-Hop is dead, there’s nothing there, it’s over with whatever, we were like, “Nah, we can eat here, it’s still a viable option for us,” so that’s how the Vulture’s Wisdom title came into play.

We just are really trying to kill the backstory in terms of that being the forefront, we want to make the music the forefront, the style, the beats, the rhymes, the lyrics, not really like this guy did this, that, and the other. There’s always the story and sometimes it’s more interesting than the music and then you hear the music and you’re like, “this is what all the hoopla is about?” We want to bring it back to where the music is what people care about more so than the imagery. I feel like the 90s are something that people are trying to reach for right now, like that’s the golden ear, which for me is ’88, but other cats are more caught up in that ’93 era right now, always reaching back to the 90s and trying to bring it forward to here. Whereas I’ve always been a part of that connected to the whole essence of real Hip-Hop, so that’s where I come from, that’s my pedigree, whereas other cats might be trying to bring that back, I’m just trying to stay in that vein that I’ve always been in, that true essence of Hip-Hop, so it’s not a stretch for me to come and do something that people might call “real Hip-Hop,” that’s what we do, that’s Hieroglyphics, some of that good shit.

AC: Tajai – Stanford Anthropology grad, is that right?

T: Yea.

AC: How do you feel that education, that degree has helped your music? Have you incorporated that in your career at all?

T: It’s helped me with research, but that’s about it. School is school, it’s different from music, it just helped me research topics. Aside from that, it maybe helped me be organized in terms of my business, just going to school in general, but that’s about it.

AC: How important is it to you guys that you’re not major label? Do you think that you would have gotten anywhere near what you have accomplished if you were working for a major?

T: You’re just at the mercy of the market. There’s artists like J*Davey, Bilal, artists that you’ll never see their record. They’ve been in the industry now for almost a decade but because it doesn’t fit the labels idea of what records are supposed to be, it never comes out, so in that respect we probably would never have been able to bust the moves we could. It’s still different, it’s not like you’re doing it for a more noble purpose when you’re independent or you’re major. The way it is now, we’re like a major independent, us, DefJux, Rhymesayers, probably Stones Throw are labels where people want to get on the label, so it’s like they’re treating our independent record label like we would treat a major as a signed artist. We have more control, but really the market determines a lot of it and it’s harder right now to not be seen as generic in this marketplace because there’s so much. I mean, I think there’s more musicians than fans almost, especially rappers. So it’s hard to distinguish yourself as far as “into the marketplace,” so in that respect, it might even be better to be on a major label where they have the money to market you, where you have a shoe and a commercial and an appearance on Entourage and all these different things that are going to give you more exposure. Like when we put out a record, when we put out Vulture’s Wisdom, it has 8 videos, and how many of those are going to be on TV? We send them to TV, but do they end up on TV? No. So it’s really like we’re relegated to YouTube and MySpace and satellite radio and internet radio, and that’s the downside of being independent. It’s more a matter of exposure and it’s a double-edged sword. They’ll spend the money to expose you, but if they don’t like what they hear, they’re not going to expose you at all and you might never see the light of day.

O: If you’re doing it in terms of a business endeavor, you have to take advantage of what’s out there. I feel like for Souls of Mischief at the time, how the market was, us going major label was the best way for us to go at the time. To try to go independent would have been a bad look. It gave us a really good opportunity to get our music out there. We made what we really wanted and it got out to the people. For a time, the labels were all about trying to make super Pop Hip-Hop and I don’t know if they were going towards super avant-garde now, but definitely the tide has changed in terms of which artists are selling records. Lupe Fiasco is outselling artists, he’s like top-tier in terms of who the guy is. Kanye West outselling 50 Cent, so there’s a changing of the guard where if you are really more on the creative side of things, you might be able to get in and bust some moves, if you’ve got what it takes. Some people don’t necessarily have that appeal so it might be bad for them to go the independent route, you gotta really weigh your options. Cause the main thing, what you want to do is get your music out there for people to see you and listen to you and at the end of the day, to me that’s the most important thing. Then you can do whatever you gotta do with your hustle.

Check back with Evolving Music on Friday for part 2 where we discuss the future plans of the group, their thoughts on the remix culture and their favorite Hip-Hop albums of all time.

RIAA Backs Down and Out

Last month, the RIAA (Recording Industry Association of America) admitted a massive defeat when they announced that they would no longer be pursuing individuals guilty of peer-to-peer file sharing. As they attempted to flex their corporate muscles in the dorm rooms of music lovers throughout the country, the RIAA completely ignored the fact that not only was the epidemic of file sharing actually a pandemic that they are virtually helpless to stop (and in reality could cost them more in legal fees than the fines bring in), but they also failed to take into account the fact that without significant portions of the proceeds going back to the artists, the musicians themselves wouldn’t back them. RIAA Screws Musicians, 3/18/08

Now, the RIAA, in the final throes of these legal actions, has dropped the ball once again. They claim on one hand to be for the artists, seeking revenue they have lost, but as already stated, they aren’t giving the artists any of that money. On the other hand, they claim that their actions are simply to publicize their fight against illegal file sharing. Ironic then that when the judge presiding over the latest hearing and trial brought against Boston University students stated that a live web feed of the proceedings would be allowed to be broadcast, the RIAA opposed it. If you’re seeking to strike fear into the hearts of illegal downloaders everywhere, by first announcing that you’re no longer going to be hunting them, and then actively trying to block a live video feed of the proceedings, you’re not really putting any teeth into those claims. And blocking the feed certainly doesn’t give you the publicity you were looking for.

When an entity as large as the RIAA produces a failure on the level that they have here with their pursuit of illegal downloaders, one can only laugh. They not only perpetuated the vision of them as too weak-willed to follow through on serious criminal lawsuits designed to halt illegal file sharing, but more importantly they painted the entire history of these proceedings as a joke that was never about files, never about artist revenue, and simply only about themselves. Maybe I’d have some sympathy for the failure of these suits if they were giving money to the artists or legitimately trying to work with file sharers to stop the process. But when the big bully on the playground expects you to give up your lunch money just because he’s bigger than you, I say make him make you give him that money. In the end, the RIAA, for all their posturing and face-value scare tactics, failed themselves and the musicians.

If you’d like to see just what an RIAA hearing looks like, you’re now enabled to have an inside look at the courtroom on January 22nd. But tune in… the RIAA might not have many more of these fights to wage. Click here for the Wired post and links to the video feed sites.

Universal Backs Live Video Streams

About a year ago I examined a Wired article looking at the head of the Universal Music Group, Doug Morris, and his attempts to move against the current of technology that was slowly eroding his old-timer’s hold on music distribution. My how times have changed. Not only has UMG joined forces with the other three major labels to eradicate DRM on iTunes purchases, now they’re actively joining the swelling ranks looking for digital solutions to real-life problems.

UMG, home of artists like 50 Cent and Lil’ Wayne, is always looking for new ways to interact with fans and bring their favorite artists to them in ways that are both exciting and relevant. Because of this and the potential they see in the company, UMG has joined forces with Kyte, an emerging web start-up that is aiming to fill a niche not currently serviced by YouTube: live video streams.

UMG is hoping that this will prompt massive coverage and interest in short live broadcasts from the backstage dressing rooms, the road, clips of shows or anywhere else these artists might find themselves wanting to reach out and directly connect to fans visually. It takes away the overhead of big-budget, high quality videos that need to be processed and uploaded and replaces it with a web-based streamlined idea that brings the live video straight to the viewer.

Of course, given that these video streams are live, it could become difficult if not impossible to control the content. I’m wondering how long it’ll take for UMG to take issue with that… This could also be a shot across the bow of YouTube as the four majors actively begin renegotiating licensing agreements with Google’s video baby.

Girl Talk Interview


Over here at Evolving Music we love musicians who are willing to shun convention and adopt bold new paradigms when it comes to music creation, production, or distribution. Or those who simply take risks with their music. Greg Gillis (aka Girl Talk) is one such musician. Known for his masterful musical mashery, Girl Talk “has turned the cut-and-paste process into a jams-packed jigsaw puzzle.” (Wired)

With the release of his fourth album, Feed the Animals (available through Illegal Art), Girl Talk continues his remix magic, in this case combining over 300 samples. Curious what songs were used? Click here. As if his peculiar art form wasn’t unique enough, Gillis went ahead and endorsed the Radiohead model, by selling his album online with a name-your-price system. The young fellow has been rather busy lately what with his new role as the unassuming rockstar. Check out his tour schedule on MySpace to catch him live. Greg was kind enough to let us pick his brain for you for a few minutes.

Sandra Possing: For the sake of any readers who might not be familiar with your music, let’s start with the basics. Girl Talk. Where did you get the name? Does it have a special meaning?

Greg Gillis: When I started doing laptop music, there was a theme in Pittsburgh, and even internationally, of people doing live electronic music at the time and I thought that some elements of it were stiff, stoic, very borderline academic… I was cool with that stuff, but I kind of wanted to challenge it a bit. I knew I was gonna do a project based around the idea of appropriating pop music and culture, so I wanted to pick a name that was sort of glossy and over the top that would challenge the stiff underground of electronic music.

SP: So there’s not one specific meaning to the name?

GG: It’s so many different things… Boardgames, books, previous bands. It just sounds like some Disney band name and that’s the kind of vibe I wanted in the early days.

SP: You used to be a biomedical engineer. You kind of did the double life thing for a while – nerd by day, badass DJ by night. What was that like?

GG: It was pretty crazy. I never told my coworkers about what I did. I’d never considered myself a DJ in the traditional sense and it would’ve been hard to explain the performance, just cause it was such an underground thing. They were an older group and they were cool but I didn’t want to go in there and be like ”Look, I have a band called Girl Talk, where I play computer and rip my shirt off, and remix pop music on the fly and jump on top of people. It would have been too much to push on them.



And in the early days of the job, it was like I’d always done Girl Talk since 2000 but it was something that was never intended to bring in money or be a career or anything like that so when I used to work there there was just really no point in telling them. It was just something where I’d make records in my free time and play a show once a month or something like that. So once it got very big and started taking off, it was at the point where it was too late to explain to them. You know what I mean? I would have loved to have told to them at that point, cause it turned in to me playing shows every single Friday and Saturday. You know, jumping on a plane and coming back and doing work Monday through Friday.

But, it was like 3 years into the time that I was working that job so I didn’t want to be like ”Look, btw, I forgot to tell you, I have this thing called Girl Talk and I happen to be selling out shows now”. It just would have seemed too weird. So ya, I didn’t tell them. So it was like a steady year of that where I basically had like a hidden personality. It was nuts. I’d sit in a cubicle all day on Friday then run to the airport, fly out, and then be signing autographs for playing the computer 4 hours later. It was very bizarre.

SP: How did they react once you told them?

GG: Um, I never told them. When I left the job, I basically… I didn’t lie to them… But again, I planned on eventually doing engineering work again – that was my first job after college. So I wanted to not break the ties with them, I didn’t want to be a weirdo. So, I told them that I felt that if I stayed with the job then I might be there until I’m like 50 with kids. And I was worried about taking advantage of my youth and I wanted to travel the world. Which, you know, was kind of the truth, but I didn’t really explain the music thing to them. But since then, I’ve had a lot of coworkers hit me up on Facebook and see like a thousand photos of me shirtless sweating on people. But they were cool with it. I knew they would be. It’s just kind of an awkward thing to tell people.

Sp: Do you miss it? You day job – sitting in a cubicle?

GG: Uh… no, not at all. I mean, with the music thing now, I really feel like I don’t have a job. I just, you know, do what I would be doing anyway and somehow I’m living off it.


SP: Would you say that your engineering experience has influenced your music.

GG: Ya, I mean I think… I think it’s the nature of going to school for 4 years to study something like that and then getting a job. I have no traditional musical training, and I’ve always been obsessed with and passionate about music and it’s kind of been my main thing forever. But, basically, in approaching this project with the computer, I had to come up with an alternative solution for making music. I knew I wanted to remix pop music and things like that. I had no idea how that would go down. You know just the nature of this project, where its very meticulous, and you’re working on small elements – somedays I’ll work for 10 hours on like a 30 second segment and then that goes on to influence a much bigger picture – I think that definitely relates to the world of engineering.

SP: So you’re using analytical, detail-oriented part of your mind.

GG: Ya, just kind of getting down and working on the small chunks and focusing on the small little bits that will piece together to solve a bigger problem. Not that there’s necessarily a problem but, you know, in the case of music, like a goal.

SP: If you weren’t doing what you’re doing with music or if you weren’t doing engineering like you have in the past, what else could you see yourself doing?

GG: Oh man, I don’t know. I mean, I did ok in high school, studied, did well in every subject. I kind of picked engineering randomly, so… I think I’ve always been good in math and sciences, so I think anything related to that like just straight up biologist or something like that which is kind of related. But, outside of that world, I have NO idea what I would do. Maybe… professional basketball player?

SP: Are you good at basketball?

GG: Ya, I used to hoop a lot. Not anymore. I don’t get enough time. My game is kind of sad to me. I was thinking about this… It’s probably the first time in my life where myself 10 years ago would totally kill myself now, and that’s always just a sad thing.

SP: You obviously have a lot of music or have access to a lot of music, given your style. How do you obtain your music? Do you still buy albums, download stuff off of iTunes…?

GG: I primarily buy CDs. At any point in time I usually have about 50 mp3s on my computer, so I don’t have a digital music collection. I usually download songs to hear them or if I have an idea for something I want to try out I’ll download it and hear that song then I’ll usually delete it after I’m done with it. So ya, it depends what I’m buying. I keep up with a lot of underground releases and independent releases. In that case I’ll go to the local indie retailer. Then I also buy a lot of just mainstream music released on majors and I love going to Best Buy and just dropping a ridiculous amount of money, and coming home and opening up the packages and sitting around listening to CDs. So, ya I primarily buy CDs. I still buy some cassettes and vinyl and things like that when I can. But I’ve been an active CD buyer for the last 15 years now.

SP: Do you ever poke around the internet to find music? Do you listen to Pandora, or use any social music sites?

GG: Um… I’m excited about that stuff. But I’ve never done that. My friends are telling me about Pandora – that seems cool. I don’t really read music blogs or anything like that. I’m pretty low key when it comes to exploring stuff on the internet.

SP: Where do you see the music industry going in the next couple years? It’s obviously changing.

GG: I don’t know. I mean, I think the obvious answer is that CDs are going to be dying out at some point. I think there’s a chance that vinyl will still live on just cause the format’s a lot different whereas the digital audio quality on a CD vs a wav file or a nicely compressed MP3 is very similar. So, um…I don’t really know, but I think it’ll be interesting. I still feel like my friends and I go to the record store and buy albums because we have, you know, this moral code ingrained into our minds to support the music industry. It’s also like a nostalgic thing that I will never drop just cause that’s how I grew up listening to music.

But, you know, 10 or 15 years from now when there’s a bunch of kids who grew up just used to downloading music for free, it’s gonna be a whole different world. I can’t imagine them ever being excited about buying CDs, which is fine. I’m gonna stick to my ways. I’m gonna buy CDs until they stop being made. I’m pumped about CDs, but simultaneously I’m excited for that to die off and ultimately it’s just gonna change the reason people start bands, change people’s positions at records labels, change all that in ways that I could never even articulate.

Just the way we understand being in a band 10 years ago vs. 20 years from now will be a lot different. You know what I mean? I grew up seeing, like, Nirvana or even like Guns’n’Roses or something like that. Rock music – even as a kid you just knew it as this huge industry. You pour in all this money to these guys who are millionaires and then they produce a bunch of millions for you. And that might change, you know what I mean? I don’t know if that’ll be the case anymore. I think right now is a great era for touring musicians. It’s so easy to get exposure via the internet. Granted, there’s so much stuff out there, it’s hard to get noticed because right now there are probably more bands than ever, more projects, but simultaneously you can do something weird in 2008 and be noticed on the internet if people take to it.

It’s in the people’s hands rather than the mainstream media. So that’s exciting how you can continually grow like that to the point where… I don’t know what major labels will do or how they’re gonna hang on twenty years from now, but I’m sure they’ll come up with something.

SP: So, on that same note, obviously the way that artists are distributing music and the way the fans are consuming the music, that’s all changing very quickly. Is that why you decided to release your new album online with a set-your-own-price model, the Radiohead model.

GG: Ya, I mean, the label that puts out my stuff, Illegal Art, threw the idea out there. I thought it was great, you know. If we had released that album just as a CD it would have been a major delay, which is frustrating because it’s something I work on for two years. It’s exciting to just see it, to piece this thing together and to finish on a Tuesday and put it online on a Friday. And outside that, I just want to acknowledge that if we did release this on a CD, then some kid’s gonna buy it, rip it, put it online and immediately everyone on a file sharing network can get it for free. That’s just the reality of music now and I think that’s a great thing. I’m excited for the music to be spread through the internet. So it seemed like, why play dumb about it when you could just be upfront about it and acknowledge that reality and say to people ”Look I know you can get it for free, go ahead and take it for free if you really want to, or if you wanna pay us that’s cool too. I think pay-what-you-want model was novel enough that a lot of people were excited to be a part of it. A lot of people were hitting me up and telling me ”Greg, I paid $15 for the album!”


SP: Fans are much less patient than they used to be. They want their music how they want it and when they want it. They’re not willing to wait so you might as well cater to that.

GG: Sure, ya. I mean, I’ve only been really living off music for the past year and a half and I don’t want people to lose their jobs at labels and I like the idea of musicians being able to live off that. But, that’s also very foreign to anything I knew to being involved with music. All of my friends’ bands and my bands, Girl Talk when it first started… it was never like ”Man, I hope I can live off this”, it was just ”Let’s create music and get it out there to as many people as possible.” And when you take money out of that equation it’s like… right now is a beautiful time. You can get your music exposed to so many people.

SP: And that way it’s more genuine too.

GG: Ya. And even financially too. I see a lot of indie labels thriving, via merch etc. I always think about the project I’m doing now in terms of the bands I was into when I was in high school and going to someone like Kid 606, or going to see Pavement, or The Jesus Lizard, or anything like that. Just thinking about the size of shows that they played versus the size of shows that I play or any of my contemporaries play… the audience for underground music is enormous right now comparatively. That’s a very cool thing.

SP: Let’s talk about the artists that you sample. Obviously, what you do is a little controversial. What’s the typical response? Do they not reach out, do they reach out and say ”Hey awesome, this is positive promotion for us” or has anyone gotten upset yet?

GG: I’ve had no issues. It’s a rare case when people reach out but it’s definitely gone down a few times. A lot of people at labels have reached out and been cool with it and I think that a lot of people in the industry kind of understand my work is almost a tool of viral marketing and they see it as transformative, as something that’s not negatively impacting the potential sales of their product, so they’re into it. On the artist end I’ve had a few. One of the ladies from Yo Majesty sent me an email recently, the manager of Sophie B. Hawkins reached out cause she wanted to collaborate. I heard from a songwriter for Donnie Iris. I met Thurston Moore one time… He was not familiar with my material but we played a show together and I was explaining to him that I put out samples of his stuff on my CDs and he was (without hearing it) theoretically cool with it. I’ve had Big Boi from Outkast come out to a show of mine in Atlanta and chat it up and he was cool with it. So… If you pay attention to music right now, you know your song is blowing up when there’s a bunch of remixes of it. That helps put fuel on the fire. I think anyone who looks at the internet on a daily basis is probably aware of that phenomenon.

SP: Do you feel like this whole mashup, remix culture is exploding right now? Do you find that other artists are emulating you specifically? A lot of people do remixes, but we don’t see many people remixing that many songs into one track.

GG: I see it on the internet, people on my Myspace hit me up all the time telling me to check out their stuff and I check out what I can and I see a lot of people kind of mocking the style, which is great. When I started I was heavily biting the style of Kid 606 and I think it went on to evolve into something else. To me, that’s how you make music. You start off jamming to Nirvana covers in your basement and all of a sudden you’re making original music. Every idea is influenced by something, whether it’s physically or just an idea. I think it’s crazy and I definitely think the whole idea of remixes is blowing up culturally right now. That’s what the internet has brought to the table. People are allowed to be interactive with the media that they consume. If you go on youtube, there are a million fan videos for random songs, movie clips spliced together, people taking images from the public and splicing them together in photoshop. It’s like everyone is becoming so used to being interactive with the media that’s around them, which is way different than even 10 years ago. The tools are available now. It’s exciting.

I remember when I started doing Girl Talk, people were definitely remixing pop music but it’s like if a new Destiny’s Child song comes out and I do an unsolicited weird remix and put em on the internet, I could be pretty sure that maybe a couple others would be out there, whereas now it’s like the new Beyonce single comes out and they release the a cappella and instrumental on the internet and within 48 hours there are 1,000 new remixes and there are a bunch of Yubetube videos and there’s a chipmonks version set to a cartoon. It’s just like we’re living in an era of appropriation right now based on what the internet’s provided for us.

SP: Have people remixed your music?

GG: Ya I’ve seen it. There’s a brand of southern stuff – hip hop – called Chopped and Screwed, where things are slowed down and kind of chopped up a bit. I saw a Chopped and Screwed version of my album. Some other people have done some kind of experimental takes on my stuff. So I’ve seen it a good bit and I’m happy to be a part of that dialogue. It gets me pumped when I see people actually appropriating stuff that I’ve done and making something new with it.

SP: So, last question. It seems like you’ve been putting out an album about every 2 years – ’02, ’04, ’06, ’08. Should we expect your next album in 2010?

GG: I’m not sure. The last two albums were kind of like cousin albums for me. Both of those I worked on as one cohesive whole so it’s not like I work on individual songs. I work on one 15 minute piece of music until I feel like I’ve accomplished what I wanted to accomplish meaning that I don’t know if I’d be able to replicate that again. I’d like to mix it up again at some point. Kind of break out of that mold. It’s intense to dedicate two years to one … and then be stressful and you know you’re kind of putting all of your eggs in one basket. I’d like to fool around even , maybe put out an EP or put out some individual songs on the internet, just kind of break the tradition of what’s been going on. I work on music every day and I have no idea what it’s gonna go toward. When an idea comes out it just exists and right now I have really no view of the future beyond this month.

SP: One more last question. What do you enjoy more, doing live shows or working in the studio?

GG: It’s two different things. The live show is instant gratification. It’s fun. It’s in your face. It’s like the payoff. And working in the studio is more like a long term relationship where it can be really miserable and grueling and tough but at the end of the day it’s very satisfying.

SP: So if making an album is like having a long term relationship, is a live show like a great one night stand?

GG: Absolutely.

Musical Musings

With 2008 and all the music that came with it steadily speeding away in our rear view, I got to thinking a lot about what we did and didn’t see last year in the musical world, and what’s coming. When it comes down to it, 2008 was largely defined by some of the musical trends we saw, the continuing struggle over DRM and the ever growing attempts to market, brand and distribute music in ways that utilize multiple media and social platforms.

Musically, there was a greater push towards mash-ups (AmpLive Interview) and punk fueled Indie rock. Bands like Fall Out Boy and Bloc Party among many others kept driving guitars, sometimes melancholy lyrics and music that’s in your face in terms of pace at the forefront of the radio mainstream. Hip-Hop continued its usual pond-like trend: scum on the surface, beautiful water underneath with “artists” like T.I., T-Pain and Flo-rida topping the charts while rappers like Akrobatik, eLZhi and Black Milk continued struggling to boost their word of mouth. The line between Hip-Hop and Pop was continually blurred as radio Rap brought in more Rock and World music sounds into their songs.

We saw Kanye West rebound from a personally disastrous year to re-vamp his sound with 808s and Heartbreak, and we saw Guns ‘N Roses dig themselves out of a nearly 20 year grave to release the much anticipated Chinese Democracy album, something that many fans thought they’d never hear. Of course, most fans expected to hear either a new Eminem album (Relapse) or the long awaited and highly anticipated Detox album from Dr. Dre, and they got neither.

The DRM battle raged on in 2008, and in even just the beginning weeks of ’09 we’ve seen a nice movement in the area. For most of 2008, the IFPI (2) and the RIAA battled downloaders, both large and small, in court. Looking for lost compensation, they took to trial serial filesharers and spent massive amounts of time and money scaring college kids into settling out of court for fear of an expensive and punitive sentence against them. In the end, these efforts were largely useless, and in my mind, a joke, as they claimed to be fighting for the artists, while we all pretty much know how little the labels show the artists from individual song downloads.

The record industry spent months wringing their hands over lost profits and ways to control music that they long ago lost almost all control over. You have to wonder if, looking back now, they aren’t thinking of all their recent efforts as merely shutting the barn door after all the animals already escaped. And the change in tune has been brisk… Now, just two weeks into ’09, Apple has announced one of the broadest and most accessible withdrawals of DRM and price restructuring of MP3s in years. The four major labels have helped produce this movement, and it shows the increasing power of the consumers in the music marketplace. Once tied to hard copy formats like CDs with an average price table, consumers this year found diverse and creative ways to obtain their music, forcing the hand of the labels to recognize that DRM is not what the people want. How this lack of DRM will effect iPod sales or iTunes downloads remains to be seen. The launch of the App Store on iTunes also took music mobile with an incredible number of music related apps (and a few apps that are just plain incredible) designed for the iPhone.

The idea of Take Away shows and having artists perform live in unconventional venues took off. Nine Inch Nails picked up on Radiohead’s experiment with a free download format of an album, but they’ve taken it a step further now by offering over 400 GB of HD video footage from their concert tours up on torrent streams for fans to remix and create DVDs. This fan interaction has become tantamount to bands in the last year with MySpace including music, and a large number of acts going from conventional websites to social networking platforms.

And while these social networking sites and the bands that use them were beginning to become increasingly entwined, musicians were getting in the mix as well, literally. Late in 2008, MixMatchMusic officially opened its doors to musicians from all over the world to create, upload, collaborate and work with stems to broaden the ways people approach making music. With the DemoGod award at Demo ’08, a write-up in the San Francisco Chronicle and the ever-popular, this vision of worldwide musical collaboration and the power of mixing and matching steps closer to being a full-fledged reality. (MixMatchMusic)

So what’s next? With the DRM barriers falling, the new foundations of band and fan interaction being laid and Web 2.0 casting a wider net over the ‘net, music in 2009 could be anyone’s game. Personally, I’m just waiting for The Detox… And now a moment for the outstanding musicians we lost this year, Bo Diddley and LeRoi Moore, among others.

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