Tag Archives: Bandcamp interview

L.A. Is The Best Place For Devonwho’s Sunny Rap Beats

Devonwho

Devon Fox is Devonwho. Photo by Patti Miller.

Last year, at the age of 31, Devon Fox moved back to Los Angeles after a short stint in San Francisco. For almost a decade, Fox had released hip-hop-leaning electronic music under the name Devonwho, but for a couple years in the Bay Area, he seemed to disappear. “Music wasn’t my main focus for a little while,” he says. “I’m getting back into it and just letting go of the whole perfectionist mindset.”

In the late ’00s, Fox gained traction as a member of Klipmode, a small, loosely-defined collective of producers that also included MNDSGN, Knxwledge, and Suzi Analogue. Launched in 2009 with no fixed homebase, the quartet of Klipmode producers helped calcify the L.A. beat scene’s musical urgency with their varying takes on refreshingly weird hip-hop electronica. The collective put Klipmode’s members on national and international radar. As they all struck out in individual directions, the collective’s structure faded, but the producers still hover around the same scene. Three of the four members—Suzi being the only exception—have released projects on the L.A.-based LEAVING Records, a wide-open stage for off-kilter music co-founded by Brainfeeder producer Matthewdavid.

Fox was the last of the Klipmode alumni to make his LEAVING debut, releasing a cassette EP called Lyon in May, effectively ending his hiatus. A new album called Luz builds upon the EP’s sound and finds Fox breaking his instrumental bent with a pair of vocal tracks. Like Lyon before it, Luz is a dense collection of impeccable electro funk: finicky grooves dripping in distinct, synthesized tones. Fellow Cali producer DâM-FunK is a strong influence on Fox’s G-funk aesthetic. “I kind of know the specific sounds that I’m looking for,” Fox says. “Particularly with this record, I had a sound: very warm, sunny.”

Throughout Luz, Fox pivots between synth leads that warble, bend, and blip. It’s a study in texture, but its producer has an equal knack for rhythm. Even when he pushes his tracks into glitchier territory, Fox still sounds naturally funky. The producer spoke with us about his background as a musician, how his new album came together, and why making music in a cramped studio apartment isn’t the best look.

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Sole’s Second Act as a Rapper, Podcaster, and Political Theorist

Tim Holland Jr.

The re-emergence of Tim Holland Jr., aka Sole, as one of the more fearlessly inquisitive podcasters in the independent music world is more revealing than surprising. Since his earliest days, Holland’s career has been defined by his restlessness. He co-founded the iconoclastic avant-indie-rap collective Anticon in the late ‘90s, pushed the boundaries of hip-hop in Sole and the Skyrider Band by collaborating with artists like Xiu Xiu and The Notwist’s Markus Acher, and, more recently, has extended his DIY ethic to his own imprint, Black Box Tapes.

He’s a student of revolutionary politics, putting independence and autonomy at the core of his real-world practices. On The Solecast, he’s as eager to gain insight from anarchists and activists as he is to talk shop with other indie rappers. In fact, he established the series as yet another way to build a knowledge base that the internet’s relative independence could help nurture. That’s a double-edged sword, though. Over the course of our conversation, Sole was frank about both the benefits and drawbacks of working independently in the social media age, when artists have been increasingly forced to go from “Do It Yourself” to “Do Everything Yourself.”

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Talking With a GosT: The Synthwave Producer Opens Up

GoST

Like many other synthwave artists, GosT’s songs are cut from the same blood-soaked cloth as horror greats like John Carpenter. His songs don’t just set the mood for movies, though—they’re the feature presentation, equal parts chaos and pure theatre.

A lot of that stems from GosT’s KISS obsession as a kid. “They had a huge impact on me performance-wise,” he recalls. “They were so over-the-top on stage and in myth.”

The same goes for GosT itself, a project shrouded in mystery, helmed by a producer wreathed in smoke and donning a skeleton mask. The whole thing seems larger-than-life—especially in a scene that is typically laid-back and reserved.

“Only a few of us have taken synthwave towards the Justice end of the spectrum,” the producer says when we point out the similarities between his new album, Non Paradisi, and dance music. “It’s been natural, but we’re a small group of outcasts.”

Chalk that intensity up to GosT’s past as a member of several metal/hardcore bands—the identities of which he’d rather keep secret. But it’s not that simple—songs like “Aggrandizement” are both dynamic and deep. Our conversation, unsurprisingly, is the same.

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On “Wisdom of Elders,” Shabaka Channels the Spirit of South African Jazz

Shabaka Hutchings
Shabaka Hutchings.

As a young boy growing up in Barbados, Shabaka Hutchings wasn’t immediately drawn to music. There was no bolt of lightning, no key moment that made him want to pick up an instrument. Instead, bored in a music class one day, a teacher asked him if he wanted to play, and handed him a clarinet. “There wasn’t really any choice,” Hutchings recalls. “I wanted to play the saxophone, but they were like, ‘We’ve got a lot of clarinets, so that’s what you’re gonna play.’”

Hutchings lived in Barbados until he was 16, playing clarinet in reggae bands, and creating other improvised forms of music. In Barbados, music wasn’t classified by genre: “If you played an instrument, you just played that instrument. There wasn’t any kind of distinction about what, specifically, you played.” Hutchings started developing an interest in jazz when he moved to Birmingham, England as a teenager. There, he met and studied under legendary saxophonist Courtney Pine. “It went from a point of me knowing nothing about jazz, to practicing with an established jazz musician and checking out the albums he was checking out, and seeing what the music actually is.”

Over the years, Hutchings has performed and recorded with jazz luminaries—the Sun Ra Arkestra, Mulatu Astatke, and the Heliocentrics, among many others. He recorded his new album, Wisdom of Elders, in Johannesburg, South Africa, with a crew of celebrated local composers. We spoke with Hutchings about the LP, the difference between the South African and London jazz scenes, and how current events influence his art.

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How Divorce Fueled Psychic Twin’s Powerful New Album

Erin Fein of Psychic Twin
Erin Fein of Psychic Twin. Photo by Sean Waltrous

Erin Fein is sitting in a back booth in an old-timey diner tucked away near an overpass of the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. The 34-year-old singer-songwriter is attempting to enjoy a midday breakfast plate of eggs and home fries while explaining how  the breakup of her marriage and subsequent divorce became cathartic motivation to spend four years writing her debut solo album, Strange Diary, recorded under the name Psychic Twin.

She’s dressed in a weathered t-shirt bearing a patterned cross on it, which seems like a counterpoint to press photos I’ve seen, depicting her in strong and dramatic poses, complete with metallic makeup and brash lighting. The contrast seems apt, paralleling the way Strange Diary shifts from vulnerable to defiant, from hurt to angry—often within the same three-minute synth-pop song.

“I don’t know if I should admit this,” Fein says plaintively, pushing her eggs around the plate with a fork, “but when I listen to my record, it makes me cry. It’s hard for me to listen to it.”

Now that the songs are completed, Fein looks back and wonders why she recorded them in the first place. “I’ve asked myself the question: “You idiot, why did you write those songs? They’re so personal and this is hard,” she says. “I freaked out at one moment and almost didn’t put it out because it felt so emotional. But then I decided that’s not what I would do.”

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Michael Christmas on Meeting Prefuse 73 and Overusing Uber

Michael Christmas
Michael Christmas and Prefuse 73. Photo by Timothy Saccenti

Boston rapper Michael Christmas didn’t know who Prefuse 73 was when his label, Lex Records, proposed a collaborative album between the two. To be fair, Christmas was only six years old in 2001 when Prefuse released his foundational debut, Vocal Studies + Uprock Narratives. At the time, the producer defied the ethos of his label—the electronic-minded Warp—by chopping up Erykah Badu and Ol’ Dirty Bastard vocals. Yet a single guest verse on Vocal Studies was enough to show Christmas why working with Prefuse could make sense. “I heard [MF] DOOM was one of those people, and I was like, ‘OK,’” Christmas recalls.

So Prefuse and Christmas formed Fudge and recorded a joint record called Lady Parts. Christmas spent last summer and fall at producer-engineer Nick Hook’s Brooklyn studio, mulling his plan of attack for the hard drive of 30 intricate, luminescent instrumentals that Prefuse prepared in advance.

Yet he sounds at home. As a lyricist, Christmas disarms with both his childish insults (“I’m Spongebob with the accent / And you hate a lot like Squidward, n**gas”) and moody anthems for the slacker homebody who likes to stay indoors. But he also tests his own vocal capabilities, like when he croons in Auto-Tune about getting drunk on weekends.

We caught up with Christmas to talk about the realizations, misadventures, and sandwiches he had during the making of Lady Parts. Oh, and Uber drivers: Don’t talk to Christmas during the ride. He’s not up for random conversation.

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Ian Nagoski’s Music is for the Birds

Ian Nagoski
Ian Nagoski. Photo by Rah Rah

One of 2015’s most restorative records was Ecstatic & Wingless: Bird-Imitation on Four Continents, ca. 1910-1944, a wooly bundle of .wavs pulled from 78s featuring men and women from the first half of the last century making bird sounds. Among the exhortations you’ll hear: Abdu Waheed’s stubbed-toe screams, which don’t sound much like a bird at all; Charles Kellogg’s full-bodied bird sounds; and Monsieur Alexandre de l’Alhambra’s uncanny valley chirps, set to music reminiscent of another “bird,” Charlie Parker’s “With Strings.”

There’s a twisty story of the record itself, put together by musician/researcher Ian Nagoski of Canary Records. The sounds came from 78s of people imitating bird sounds he collected over the past few years, then digitally restored and uploaded to Bandcamp. Tanuki Records found the digital files and produced a limited cassette release, packaged with extensive liner notes.

Ecstatic is just one of many recent releases from Canary, a label whose focus is “early 20th century masterpieces (mostly) in languages other than English.” In the past month alone, Nagoski has put out six releases, everything from middle Eastern meditative music, to 90 minutes of peckish noise recorded in a Newark, Delaware basement. These records feel fresh and relevant. There’s a sense that Nagoski’s label knows what obscure sounds will grab contemporary ears.

A native of Wilmington, Delaware, Nagoski’s career has been a celebration of termite art at its most gnawing and hard-to-shake. Amanda Petrusich devoted quite a few pages of her book on 78 collecting, “Do Not Sell At Any Price: The Wild, Obsessive Hunt for the World’s Rarest 78rpm Records,” to Nagoski’s knowledge and personality. Most recently, he’s worked with Google to help send a recording of a nightingale into space. And separate from all that, Nagoski has released a number of haunted drone records and CD compilations of great music of the past. Meanwhile, his early involvement in Baltimore record store True Vine still looms large over the scrappy city’s sinewy experimental music scene.

We spoke with Nagoski about birds, people imitating birds, and beautiful bird sounds being sent to space. Because birds.

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Mild High Club Traces the Steps of American Music on “Skiptracing”

Mild High Club
Mild High Club. Photo by Isaac Sterling

“I took cues from Miles Davis and Steely Dan and tried to surround myself with people I thought could really help me extrapolate my compositions,” says Los Angeles resident Alexander Brettin about the recording process for his second album under the name Mild High Club. Following last year’s psych-pop-infused TimelineSkiptracing is based around the idea of a private investigator who’s on a mission to retrace the “steps of the sound and the spirit of American music.”

Under Brettin’s direction, this fictional journey plays out via a seamless, 11-song soundtrack, built around breezy, relaxed synth lines, shuffling percussion patterns, and airy vocals that offer clues to move the narrative along. By calling on a team of musical allies who could help with technical aspects—like the tracking and mixing of the album—Brettin was able to free himself to focus on playing around with various instruments without “having to sit at a computer and agonize about clicking on too much stuff.” The result is a sumptuou,s, late-summer listen.

We spoke to Brettin about digging deep into the album’s overriding concept, striving to match Steely Dan’s level of production sophistication, and the fateful day he passed his demo tape to Stones Throw leader Peanut Butter Wolf.

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