Frequently Asked Questions

Q. I want to be a full-time musician like you one day.  Any tips?

A.  Whenever I do school workshops, this is the main thing I am asked after my talks. I came up at a time when everything was changing dramatically in the music industry, so additional advice would be specific to someone starting when I did (i.e. 1998-ish).  I started putting out music and videos in the early years of social media (pre-YouTube) with the help Nettwerk management, with whom I connected after studying at Oxford in the winter of 2003 and getting signed to Truck Records.  I have since found an audience in the "nerd rap scene", a group of people who are both loyal and very generous with their support.  Being asked to open for bigger artists over the years and doing things like Warped Tour has helped as well. These things have also helped me establish my brand and fanbase.

My advice would be to work to find your own niche where you can similarily keep creating and connecting with loyal fans.  If you can find 1,000 people who will support any project you put out, that is potentially enough to survive and have a satisfying career.  Work on hitting that benchmark in increments of 100, which comes about by putting out regular, topical content on YouTube, Spotify, SoundCloud etc.  Make sure that your material continues to be strong, that your live show is special and authentic, that your online videos are well-produced, and that you are always good to your fans.  If you are talented, unique, consistent, kind and are willing to work as hard as you can for 10+ years, doors will most likely open for you. If you want to do it and are willing to put all of your free time into it, you can.

Q. Can you teach me how to rap?

A. My TEDx presentation offers some tips, as do both books in  Paul Edwards's How to Rap series.  

In short, good writing takes time.  Your first few songs might not be Eminem-status, but that don't be discouraged!  I tell young rappers to write for at least two hours a day, be fearless in their revisions, and to listen to as much lyric-focused music as they can.  Learning to produce your own beats can help create a unique sound and inform your cadence, helping you tell your own story. There are lots of great YouTube tutorials on beat production.  Good luck, and most importantly, have fun!

Q. What is Horris Records?  I make music too, would you consider signing me?

A.  Horris Records started out as an imprint through Nettwerk.  They had a distribution deal through Fontana, who helped me release my first EP and my first official full-length, the Graduate.  

After leaving Nettwerk in 2008, I retained rights my first few projects.  I did an album with YTCracker and an EP with K.Flay as well as few other solo projects.  In 2011, I signed Weerd Science (Josh Eppard from Coheed & Cambria), releasing his sophomore rap album Sick Kids, a dark record about addiction and recovery.  These days, I'm not currently looking for new artists to sign, and anything Horris might theoretically be able to do for you or for your brand you can definitely accomplish without a small indie rap label like mine.  As Jello Biafra once said, "Anyone could have made this album.  Now go do your own." 

Q. Will the songs you've been releasing recently via Patreon ever be available publicly, i.e. on Spotify, iTunes or anywhere else?  

A.  Most of the songs I'm releasing via Patreon will not be available anywhere else.  Though there is still a small chance that a few of the Patreon songs may mutate and eventually be re-recorded, edited, tweaked or re-mastered for future compilations, signing up to support me through Patreon is the only way to make sure you won't ever miss any of my new jams.  Thank you so much again for your support!  

Q. What programs do you use to make your beats?

A.  Logic Pro X, GarageBand, Ableton Live 9 Intro and Reason on my MacBook Pro, and Chordbot and ReBirth on my iPad Pro.  I program and play synth and bass lines with my Akai MPK25 and record my vocals with a Shure KSM32 single diaphragm microphone via a Resident Audio T2 Thunderbolt audio interface. I have an Epiphone ES-335 PRO electric guitar that I write and record the majority of my guitar riffs with.

Q. Can I use one of your songs on my podcast / YouTube channel / Twitch stream etc.?

A.  Yes, yes and yes.  Anyone out there has blanket permission to use any of my music for any projects, as long as it's not being monetized.  If you are monetizing it, hit me up and we can work something out.  Thanks!

 

Q. Will you please come play my venue / wedding / school / convention?  

A.  If you have a serious offer and a venue ready, please email my agent Eva and we'll make it happen!  I also do school workshops.

 

Q. I am getting engaged / it's my girlfriend's birthday / my son just graduated from middle school / something else amazing happened to someone important to me.  Would you please record him or her a congratulatory message?

A. Happy to record congratulatory videos or freestyle raps for all of your celebratory needs.  All I ask is that you support my Patreon at any level you feel comfortable, and I'll send you whatever you need.  

 

Q. Is the upcoming show in (insert any town's name here) all ages?

A.  If the age restriction information listed on the venue's sites is unclear, please hit up the venues directly.  I try to make every show all ages, but I do sometimes get booked to play bars and clubs that aren't, but it's best to get in touch with venues directly as asking me may result in misinformation.  Thanks!

 

Q. Do you ever do features / collabs?

A.  Of course.  If you think I might be feeling your project and would like to commission a guest verse fro me, please email me an mp3 of your track with your verses and the hook already recorded, explaining a bit about what you are looking for me.  I will get back to you as soon as I can and we can negotiate business stuff.  Thanks!

 

Q. Can my band open for you on your next tour?

A.  I'm all for giving up-and-coming artists a place to showcase their work, but I have so many friends I want to tour with these days that it's unlikely I can take everyone who asks me to bring them on tour.  That being said, if you do happen to have a draw in your city and want to open for me locally, please get in contact with the venue where I'm playing (I always list this info on my tour page), and ask for the promoter's contact info.  The next step would be to hit up promoter and see if they need a local opener.  If they do and you can guarantee a draw, there is a chance you'll be added to the show if there's room.  I

Once you kill it and if my fans like you, maybe we could end up doing more shows together down the road, you never know.  Thank you for your professionalism, going through the promoter is your best bet.  

 

Q. I want to perform a cover of (insert song name here) for my high school talent show.  Can you please send me an .mp3 of the instrumental?

A. Honored that you would want to pay tribute to my music!  Thanks!  A few of my instrumental are on YouTube or my SoundCloud, and there are ways to rip them, but I won't be able to send specific mp3s, sorry!  (However, please note that Patreon subscribers at the $5-a-song level get every instrumental, so those are available too.)

 

Q. Can you send me an .mp3 of the acapella for (insert song name here)?  I had an idea for this crazy remix.

A. Awesome, thanks for asking!  As I said before, if you support me on Patreon at the $5-per-song level, you will be granted access to the instrumental of every new song I ever release through that platform, as well as the acapella.  Alternatively, if you search for "MC Lars acapella" on YouTube, you'll find acapellas of some of my older songs which I give you full legal approval to rip and remix.

If neither of these solutions is helpful, I can't offer much more help, sorry!  However, if you wanted to do a rap "cover" of the song in question by rapping it yourself and using the new vocal for such a remix, you have my blessing!

 

Q. If I ordered a CD / shirt / hat / etc. from your webstore, would you personally sign it for me?

A. Thanks for your support!  Since my merchandise is warehoused and shipped from a fulfillment center in Phoenix and I currently live in California, that makes it hard to personalize items ordered.  However, if you want to bring anything you've bought online to an upcoming show, I would be happy to sign it and even draw you something special.  

 

Q. What are your real thoughts on nerdcore?

A. People aware of this hip-hop sub-genre often consider MC Frontalot, mc chris and me to be its three of nerdcore's original architects.  I met chris in 2005 and Frontalot in 2006 and have always admired both of their music as well as their work ethic.  We've all toured together a lot this past decade.

Over the years, fans at shows would sometimes tell me, "I don't like rap, but I like you guys," which seemed problematic for a few reasons.  The first generation of (usually white) nerdcore rappers created frequent, comedic comparisons between (a) the painful experience of people of color in late 20th / early 21st America and (b) the experience of contemporary awkward former-high schoolers once teased for their love of D&D (i.e. nerds).  Appropriating the hip-hop trope solely for comedic reasons seemed inappropriate to me, but it was an easy and effective joke in the mid-00s, which was something no one in nerdcore really wanted to discuss.  If young people who didn't typically create rap were now inspired to do so, I wanted their understanding of the culture to expand beyond the entry point that the first two documentaries on the subgenre explored.

So, I spoke out.  I wrote a blog about the sub-genre's limitations in 2009 and in 2010 argued that white appropriation of black culture without acknowledging its social roots is a form of racism.  This led to an angry backlash by the nerdcore community, which I addressed at length on Jensen Karp's Get Up on This podcast.  For further reading, check out Jason Tanz's Other People's Property, an interesting book of essays which offers a well-researched chapter on appropriation in nerdcore.

It’s very complicated, but thankfully these days, nerdcore has become more diverse and inclusive.

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Breakfast with Jesus and Tupac

Jesus and Tupac were having an early brunch on a Thursday afternoon in Reno, when Jesus dropped his knife on the group for the third time.  "Fiddlesticks," he said, disgusted.  "It's these bloody stigmatas.  They make it impossible to hold anything."

Shakur laughed that famous handsome laugh of his.  "I too know the pain of messianic sacrifice.  Have you heard my oeuvre?"

"There you go again," Christ replied, waving his frustratingly un-buttered croissant in the wind, "it's always something, comparing your creative output to my role as a figurehead for love and salvation in the Western world.  Drop it Shakur, just drop it."

"I will," Pac responded defiantly, "much like you keep dropping that slippery-ass butterknife," before breaking into another inappropriately loud fit of laughter and slapping his gold rings against his black Chinos.  They ate their omelettes in silence as "Who Let the Dogs Out" played on the dusty jukebox next to the men's room in the corner.

The front door swung open.

"Oh Christ," Pac said.

"What?" Jesus said, scrolling lazily through his iPhone.

"No, I mean, oh God... don't make eye contact, don't, look who just showed up."  Jesus turned around.

"Table for one?" the portly man in the colorful sweater and dark sunglasses said to the hostess, before catching Christ's eye.

"Yo Big!" Jesus shouted across the diner.  "There's room here!  Come join us!" snapping his fingers as a third chair appeared instantly.

“I hate you,” Pac said to his friend, burying his face in his hands.

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"Zombie Dinosaur", final touches

A lot has happened since my last update.  I’ve finished six songs that are still in the running for the album and have made significant progress on seven more.  It’s been a rollercoaster of frustration and elation but as my previous projects have show me, it will all be worth it and getting stressed about the commercial viability of my rhymes and beats is the last thing I need.  It takes mindfulness and a focused meditation to keep going up this arduous, but admittedly fun and glorious mountain.  I’ve been jogging regularly, taking my vitamins and eating right.  Both really help!

I love how I’ve been able to assemble this really reliable, hardworking, passionate crew of collaborators for this project.  I still do most of the work on my laptop in Logic and Ableton, but it’s always inspiring to “co-write” with different producers and engineers across the world who can translate my ideas into a reality when I am limited with my production capabilities.  The magic of the Internet has brought us all together in 2014. Shout outs to:

Jordan Katz.  I met this guy through Adam WarRock a few years ago, he does live band arrangement for Brother Ali, De La Soul, Big Daddy Kane and a bunch of other hip-hop legends.  He’s been amazing at arranging artists to play various instruments on the record - and he plays everything himself.  I’ll call him and be like, “Okay, we need a beat like this, with this kind of vibe to this drum arrangement”, and within a few hours he’ll send me a fully arranged version of my idea.  He’s one of the only producers I’ve ever met who works faster than I do!!  Every beat we’ve worked on together is flawless.

Sam Waldo.  This kid is from Portland, I met him years ago when he drove all the way down to Bakersfield from Oregon because it was the one all ages show on my long as hell fall tour with MC Frontalot in 2008.  Since then we’ve collaborated on many beats and he’s always up to suggestions, he works hard and he is a perfectionist.  He’s really grown up in the years I’ve known him and the flavor he’s done on this album is impeccable.  Good things to come from this young talent!!

Watt White.  Watt used to sing in a post-hardcore band called the SmashUp years ago.  I’ve known him for almost ten years and he is the master of the genre parody.  I’ll be like, “Watt, we need to do a Slayer parody”, or “Watt, I need a melody for a song making of fun of how Sublime with Rome is not the same thing as Sublime” and he’ll give me tons of different options and always be open to my notes.  As our kids’ show Yes Yes Y’all! finds its way into the television world in the years to come, I want to keep working with him in that capacity too because he’s helped us with lots of music in that department as we’ve developed it.  I love this guy and he’s always on top of his game.  He’s so talented it’s scary.

Damondrick “DJ” Jack.  I went to college with this guy and have been touring with him on and off for years.  He’s the primary “overseer” of the project (he’s the Rick Rubin to my Run-DMC) and is always the first one to hear the demos as they come to fruition.  He’s always honest and has been great with helping me curate the beats, finalize the concepts and track final vocals.  I always have fun in the studio with this guy because I’m relaxed when we track.  He handles his business and has an incredible ear!!  It helps that he’s one of my best friends.  No one makes me laugh like DJ.

Kevin Brew.  Kevin is an Australian fan who raps and makes beats.  He did the “Lord of the Fries” beat for me on the “Indie Rocket Science” mixtape and the “Moleman (Hans Moleman)” song on the upcoming album.  He works hard and has an amazing ear for melody and arrangement.  Every time he sends me ideas, it’s awesome, and he’s always quick and professional when I have arrangement ideas.

Nate Monoxide.  How I met up with this guy is amazing - he’s a British fan from the North of England and has an incredible ear for rock and rap arrangements.  We’re working on a song together that’s going to be the album’s first single (a Game of Thrones song).  We have a strange Vulcan mind-meld thing going… I’ll be like, “Nate, we need to change this synth line to something in a major key at bar 17, but let’s split the difference between that and the last interval.” He’ll say okay, and I’ll be listening to his changes and think, “I wonder if he’s going to resolve it to the major seventh?”, which he does before I can even write down the changes. A true talent and a prolific producer.

Mike Russo.  I know you all know how we told him he needed to cut his hair on the last album.  But little did you know that Mike is one of the best guitarists I know and a true genius when it comes to chord structures and melodies.  In addition to playing various guitar lines on albums I’ve dropped over the years, Mike has also co-written stuff like “Do the Bruce Campbell” (from my album with YTCracker) and a new Ninja Turtles song on the upcoming album.  He has a pop sensibility, a metal edge to his playing and a punk rock instinct when it comes to chord arrangements.  He’s from an indie background but can do pretty much anything.

THE KICKSTARTER FANS!  For the “play on Lars’s album” donor level, I asked the fans what instruments they played and was surprised by the diversity in their talents (melodicas, violins, tenor saxes!).  Our collaborative project “Crowdfund This Song” truly sounds like nothing I’ve ever worked on.  I’ve been getting cool new parts every day and have been so impressed by the talent and creativity of the worldwide audience of supporters.  It’s very punk rock - literally breaking down the barriers between the audience and the stage.  I love it.

I have two “lit-hop” tracks for the album in the works (Huckleberry Finn and Romeo and Juliet) so I’ve been forced to be selective with what I finish.  I decided to keep my Kerouac song off of this project and to save it for a future record that’s completely Beat lit inspired.  I’ve been reading Burroughs and Ginsberg too and plan on doing a hip-hop project about how their work really changed the literary landscape.  It will be a full-length LP, not just an EP.  After my last EP (the Poe project), I don’t want to inundate the audience with too many literary rap songs… this new album is more punk rock / pop culture / music genre parody inspired, like “the Graduate” was.  More on that later.

After the summer camp gig I was talking about in my last post, I went to hang out with my friends Jon Longley and Joey Flash in Tampa.  I hadn’t gotten to chill with those guys for a long time, we’ve all toured together over the years and I love them both like brothers.  Joey and I worked on some final mixes for the upcoming “Lars Attacks!” re-release for the upcoming three-year anniversary reprint.  We went out to a local hip-hop show and went a little bit “too hard on that tetrameter” you could say.  Jon drove me to the airport, I came back to California to check out the Mountain View Warped Tour date where I so many of my awesome friends from the tour and beyond.  I ended up rapping on three different stages that, with I Fight Dragons, on the main stage with Less than Jake and finally a solo set on one of the small stages.  I got to watch mc chris, Watsky and K.Flay and said my hellos.  I hadn’t seen chris since I was in Brooklyn last Christmas and it’s so great to see how happy he is and well he’s doing.  I really love that dude and I’m glad we got to reconnect.

I’ve been in touch with STZA Crack about our collab for the upcoming album - I saw Leftöver Crack years ago in Santa Cruz (Jello Biafra was at the show and I met him too)!  I sampled one of his tracks for the new album, I sent him the beat and said I wanted to have him sing on it.  He said he was down, he loved rap and emailed me a video for a song he did with Boots Riley from the Coup.  He’ll be in London for some shows while I’m here so the plan is to track his parts before I head back to California.  He is a genuinely nice guy and I think his political views are really brave but right on.

Last weekend I rapped with Wheatus at their festival show in Hyde Park.  We had a tech rehearsal on Saturday in London, I’m really getting to know the city more, I love the energy, the chaos, the architecture, the museums.  One day I’d love to have a studio in London and spend a few months a year out here.  When we were getting on the tube to rehearse with Wheatus, I ran into my agent Geoff completely randomly at King’s Cross!  It’s almost like I’m a British citizen these days.

I’ve loved the freedom of being able to travel and work on the Zombie Dinosaur LP wherever I’ve been staying in between tours and shows, but I also feel a bit scattered to be honest and longing for the day when I can have a permanent location.  My storage locker in Monterey has been my “home” for awhile, but that’s the price of being an artist.  When I was working on my book after Warped Tour, I drove up to Eureka and spent a few days laying out my first few chapters and exploring the beautiful NorCal coastline.  I’m hoping to head back there for a few days before I fly to back Florida for Orlando Nerd Fest.

There’s a track on the new album with a rave inspired outro.  I loved the last Die Antwoord album and I’ve never done anything like that, even though I started my career back in the 90s doing those kind of beats.  For the Remixes & Rarities compilation that the Kickstarter fans get, I’m going to include a CD with revisited tracks from that Lars era.  You’ve been warned!!

Also, it looks like the Zombie Dinosaur LP won’t be dropping until early next year.  I wanted to get it out for the fall, but it’s just not ready.  Sorry everyone!  I promise it will be worth it, even though it’s going to be “fashionably late”.

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Thoughts on these "Zombie Dinosaur LP" demos

Because today’s Internet culture is so obsessed with brevity and sound bytes, writing these pieces has been really fun for me.  It’s nice to say as much as I want about this project to anyone who cares to read it. 

I am currently sitting at LAX, waiting in a layover to London. TSA workers to my left wait for coffee in a long line next to frazzled men in suits checking their watches.  There’s a guy in a denim blue shirt to the right of me talking loudly on his iPhone.  “‘I guess I can’t swim’,” he says. “That would be funnier if he said that.  I like a joke there, I just don’t like that joke.  Any time you hear movie tropes, it’s always tricky.”

I’ll be in the UK for most of the summer, playing a few club and festival shows, working on my new album, potentially shooting a part for an indie movie in Scotland.  It still surprises me how many times I get to keep going back.  It will be my fourth consecutive year playing Slam Dunk – the first time was with Weerd Science in 2011 and we were blown away by the response.  The club audience turnouts have definitely waxed and waned over the years, but the festivals have always been amazing. I really love about traveling in the UK in May – the weather is always really beautiful.  As Chaucer once put it, when spring comes to England, “longen folk to goon on pilgrimages”.

I was ready to leave LA – I’ve been doing really cool stuff with some of my producer friends down there, but I have so much of the music ready that now it’s time to write the lyrics.  I find I write better when I travel. California is so dry and hot right now.  Anyone who still denying climate change needs to (1) realize that their political agenda is affecting their appraisal of reality and (2) open a window.

I posted on Facebook and Twitter a few weeks ago that I’m not on Warped Tour this year, but I keep getting people hitting me up asking me if I am.  Kevin likes to change it up and not put the non-headlining acts on every year.  I hope to do it again soon if they ask me back (2015 maybe?), but this summer, like I said, I will be in the UK.  So many artists I love will be on Warped this year though, so if you’re going please say hi t: mc chris, Watsky, K.Flay, I Fight Dragons, the Protomen for me… it’s going to be a great one.

As I sit in LAX finishing this update, I think back to the dozens of tours I’ve done over the year.  I think about how important it is to stay relevant and topical.  I met up with my old friend and former manager Tom Gates at Nettwerk when I was in LA; he’s always been a big inspiration and supporter and we talked about the need to put time into your art but not disappear for too long between projects.  I feel like sometimes these days, I run the risk of “running into the ground” songs that are over a decade old (“Mr. Raven”, “Hurricane Fresh”, “iGeneration” etc.) and that’s why it’s nice to have this time to work on a new batch.  This tour I might bring out some really obscure older songs (“Make Way for Ducklings”, anyone?) just to keep the set interesting and fresh.  I checked out the Spotify “MC Lars Artist Radio” the other day and laughed at some of the random things of mine that came up.  If you’ve never heard the original “Lint Song”, check it out – the wrong mix got pressed on a kids’ comp and it surprised me how hilarious it was that that version ended up on a kids’ comp.

These days, I only want to do the really good tours and shows and spend more time writing and creating, less time chilling in a van reminding people about songs I put out in 2004.  I think that’s only natural for any artist who wants longevity – my Dad always reminds me about a song called “Garden Party” by Ricky Nelson about a singer who goes to a gig an industry party where Dylan, Yoko Ono and a lot of ther people are only want to hear his old songs. “If memories were all I sang,” he sings, “I rather drive a truck”, and that because “ya can't please everyone… you got to please yourself.”

RIP to Bob Hoskins.  I had some tears yesterday about that.  He will live on forever in his movies, Who Framed Roger Rabbit will always be my favorite film and his performance in that was genius.

In happier news, I’m stoked about the new shirt, stoked about the new songs, stoked about the fact that I can read the new issue of MAD magazine on my tablet as I fly over the Atlantic Ocean tonight.

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More "Zombie Dinosaur LP" news

As I continue to post here, I will be keeping you all in the loop with regular updates to document how everything comes together with a project like this.  Before I begin, I wanted to address some questions people have been asking me.

I thought it would be a hilarious extension of some of the ridiculous album themes from the past.  “This Gigantic Robot Kills” was an album title that the late, great Wesley Willis came up with in 2000 while “Lars Attacks!” was my spiritual space-themed album, so killer dinosaur zombies were the next logical step.

“Lars Attacks!” was an experiment on how far I could move past the style of stuff I’d been working on up until then.  I wanted to make a record with faster and more technical rapping, as little humor as possible, the least pop culture references possible, heavier minor-key beats and serious stories about my life, religion and hip-hop’s role in all of that.  Basically, I wanted to take everything that “the Graduate” and “Robot Kills” were and do the opposite – to see how “non-commercial” sounding of a project I could create with my friends (KRS-One, Sage Francis, Mac Lethal, John Reuben etc.).  I’m still proud of that record, but in retrospect I realize that it was rushed for me to try to finish for the 2011 Warped Tour.  Between a mastering engineer who failed to meet deadlines and delays in manufacturing, I didn’t end up getting it back until Warped as half over.  Also – I think I confused everyone because there were so many darn versions of that album: two different versions of the physical pressed copies, the sample-free iTunes and Spotify version, the Bandcamp amalgam and the version on the robot USB.  I had become the George Lucas of rap in terms of rethinking everything.  It was a chaotic time in my life; I was moving, constantly on the road and had recently come out of a serious, long-term relationship, so even though that album ended up like a hip-hop hydra with a million heads, it got me through a hard and strange year.  There are mixing and production things on that album I still want to fix and repress, but that will come later.  A friend who had my back through everything was the talented and hard-working producer Joe Oliger, a.k.a. Joey Flash of the Florida band I Am One (a project with my drummer Jon).  We spent many days and nights in his home studio at his parents’ house in New Jersey working on beats, lyrics, mixes, and arrangements and pushing the boundaries of both or our abilities.

“Indie Rocket Science” was the mixtape that came out right before with some of the outtakes from “Lars Attacks!”… I listen back to that these days and I see how my heart and soul were right there, and that’s the CD that I really was most proud of in retrospect.  But, due to the legalities, less people heard that project.  The sample-free songs were later released on the “Frosty the Flow Man LP”, with songs from the “Frosty EP” that came out during the holidays in 2011.  It was the first time that I had worked with Horris Records as its own entity, away from the labels who had helped me with distribution / promotion / A&R over the years, so I was learning.  Also – I was working on Weerd Science to help get his “Sick Kids” album heard, so I was wearing many hats at that time.

I learned two things from that project: (1) as an artist, it’s good to experiment, but not to forget what makes you great.  Humor, high-energy beats, and pop culture references were the bread and butter of post-punk laptop rap and everything I had released to that day.  I dropped a project where I intentionally tried to abandon all of that, reinventing myself from the ground up.  Where “Lars Attacks!” ended up not resonating with people, “Indie Rocket Science” did, but I think I confused everyone with the sheer amount of projects released that year and how they were all Frankenstein-ed together in confusing ways.  Which led me to realize that (2) it’s a lot better to write and write and then put out one definitive album with the best tracks.

I didn’t go to the old friends in my life who I had previously trusted for their opinions on which tracks should be on the album and which should not.  I was so determined to prove that I could do everything on my own and that everything I released would be flawless, but in reality, I realized that art is a process of trusting your instincts but knowing what to edit and revise.  You don’t want to become Axl Rose or Dr. Dre and sit on a project forever, but you don’t want to rush it.  The anxiety of trying to rush and create something for a perceived market is poison to the creative process, exacerbated by the assumed competition of social media and the sheer inundation of information.  But good art stands outside of that – a well-crafted song will exist years after the Instagram selfie of the artist in the studio mugging for the smartphone.

That’s why people are still discovering “This Gigantic Robot Kills” and “the Graduate”, even though both been out for awhile.  I find that young kids inheriting their older brothers’ and sisters’ music collections when they go to college are drawn to those albums.  I get so many kind emails from young people who love the songs like “Download This Song” and “This Gigantic Robot Kills”, because I made those songs at a happy time and I channeled that into the studio.  One of my favorite songs from “Lars Attacks!” was “Judas Priest”, but no one really seems to remember that song.  I remember feeling a ghostly creepy vibe when I wrote and recorded that song – the lyrics just came to me, but I wasn’t really myself when I wrote it.  I could analyze the hows and whys forever, or I could channel that joy and passion into the new project, which is the best solution.

Frontalot and I had a funny talk the last night at SXSW this year.  We were sitting in a friend’s yard at 3:00 am and talking about the NES Game Genie and how with games like Contra you could just run through the levels.  I told him that I saw life like a game – the cheat cartridge is like a code to spread positive vibes wherever you go, and that that’s the one real mission in life.

SXSW was a special time this year, one of the best, as it always is.  I remember sitting with Random and Doc Awk one night after the Tech N9ne showcase talking about how and why hip-hop is important.  At a surface level, it’s just poetry, someone talking quickly over a syncopated beat.  But Awk made the point that art, music and anything important is deceptive because it taps into something bigger than itself.  That’s why people love nerdcore so much – it speaks to the fans and creators as a folk culture that by virtue of its weirdness and unflinching intellectual swagger, it won’t ever reach Justin Bieber status.  But we can still sell out small clubs, we can still get the reddit kids amped and we can still get hundreds of thousands of YouTube views.  Why?  Because we tap into something bigger than us; the subjective millennial quest for identity and meaning in a changing, cut and paste.

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"Zombie Dinosaur" studio diaries

Today I’m headed back to the recording studio in Echo Park where I’ve been working with my friend Jordan Katz.  He’s been incredible throughout this whole album process.  He’s a trumpet player who’s been the music director, touring with people Brother Ali and Big Daddy Kane and is currently producing the new De La Soul record!  I met Katz a few years ago when he and Martin Starr did a show opening for Adam WarRock in LA.  I remember watching Starr on Freaks and Geeks as a kid and then being surprised to see him rapping – he’s actually a genuinely nice guy a great storyteller when it comes to songwriting.  (He’s currently killing it as a disgruntled programmer on Silicon Valley, the new Mike Judge show on HBO… Frontalot agrees with me, it’s great!) 

Starr has a great, Big Boi-esque flow when it comes to rapping.  Yesterday we wrote and demoed funny song together about the origin of Easter… I came up with the first verse, he took it to a surprisingly place with the second, and then we brought it home to share the surprise origin of Easter in the third.  From projecting a character, to trying to piece together a story and trying to recreate an imaginary scene for the audience, rapping is a lot like acting.  I’m happy with the track and I was really glad Jordan could connect us.

This morning I was thinking about the concept of celebrity and how important it is to stay down to earth. I’ve always tried to keep that optimism about building your own world in the shadow of corporate media and how you can use that infrastructure to your advantage, without sacrificing quality in your work.  I remember in 2008 my room had a view of Capitol Records building.  “The Graduate” had finally recouped, I remember looking out the window and thinking how I was thankful for the people and industries that the major labels and industry had brought to this city, but that I didn’t need that world.  That’s why the robot is cutting through the Capitol Records Building on the cover of my second album.  He’s destroying the flat mass culture, literally.

It’s been a long education but I feel like I see things clearly, and as the Flobot also said in 2008, “I see the strings that control the systems.”  Growing up and starting my career as a rapper during the invention of media and social media has been interesting to say the least.  I was talking to my former guitarist Mike Russo on the phone about this last night.  We reminisced about how back in the 90s, AOL served as the proto-Internet, which was the start of everything.  For kids my age, it helped teach me a lot about the music industry with how labels and artists treated fans.  I gained a distaste for major labels and an appreciation for artists who had time to communicate with their fans online, doing things like the AOL Live Chats where they answered questions.  It was a shift in culture and media and I was fortunate to witness how everything changed, but as a fan and as an artist.

DJ has just been hired to record all of the vocals for the album.  He did most of the vocal production work on “the Laptop EP” and “the Edgar Allan Poe EP” – he always gets the best out of me and the dude has an amazing ear.  He doesn’t use his Stanford music degree enough, so Horris Records and I are working on remedying that with this album.  Ha!!

Off to the studio!!  Thanks to anyone who’s still reading these ruminations.  More to come.

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Ghostface

I’ve been living in a hostel in Brooklyn for the month of January.  I’ve been sharing a kitchen and the bathroom with a bunch of other people and it reminds me of college.  We’re moving to a different and more permanent place tomorrow and then I’m going to Cape Cod with Flash Fire to do more work on Lars Attacks!  We are finishing up the album artwork for the Oglio release of 21 Concepts (But a Hit Ain’t One) with three new songs.  Also, I’m signing Weerd Science to Horris Records to spread the word about his new amazing album Sick Kids that’s been unreleased for way too long.

I’ve been going into the Universal recording studio in Manhattan to finish up a bunch of collaborations for other artists’ albums.  It’s been fun writing for other projects.  I did a verse for a track with Kosha Dillz and Homeboy Sandman and another for a young Ohio rapper named Nick Brophy.  I’m always in the midst of a song about Flowers for Algernon with Random (Mega Ran), we’re going to do some more literary songs.  He just did a great one about the Metamorphosis by Kafka.

I just finished reading a book called “Teachings of the Buddha”, a collection of stories that talk about impermanence and compassion compiled by a Buddhist monk named Jack Kornfield.  I spend a lot of my time reading these days.  I caught up on my back issues of Rolling Stone so now I know all about Eminem’s recovery from addiction and the prolific talents of Bruno Mars.  It’s important as a musician to be aware of the pop landscape.  One of the recent issues had a list of the 50 best singles of 2010, I downloaded each from http://beemp3.com and have been listening to them on repeat on the subway.  My favorites are “the Ghost Inside” by Broken Bells, “We Used to Wait” by Arcade Fire, “the Diamond Church Street Choir” by the Gaslight Anthem and “the Trip to Pirate’s Cove” by Tom Petty.

These days there is just so much media to go through that it’s hard to remember that one must sit down and “enjoy” music.  I remember at a CMJ conference in the 90s a singer from an industrial band called Spahn Ranch said “Music shouldn’t be a huge stack in the ‘in box’ that you’re trying to clear off of your desk.  You should listen to what you want to listen to.”  That’s the journey – finding those gems when time is at a premium.

I read another great book called Ripped: How the Wired Generation Revolutionized Music by Greg Kot.  It’s basically a “people’s history of downloading” with some interesting quotes.  There’s a funny one about Ghostface Killah saying he has thousands and thousands of Myspace friends but only a percentage of them bought his album.  “I got my firstweek SoundScan and I didn’t appreciate that s***, you feel me?”

Someone responded that just because you have Myspace friend it doesn’t mean they’ll come to your house to help move furniture.  “People don’t really buy music these days FYI,” the person added.

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Kidney stones for Easter

I woke up Easter morning in excruciating pain.  They say it’s the guy version, and nothing feels worse than a mom in a hospital giving child birth.  I guess the Easter Bunny came with a fun new gift, that’s ironic chocolate eggs weren’t on my list.

I’d felt the pain before.  The feeling of two large mammals drilling down your leg, from your kidney into your bladder.  It feels like your stomach is being ripped apart by weasels, the pain is excruciating.  And all you can do is sit there and groan and pray for medication to come rescue you.  It’s no fun at all.

I woke up uncomfortable.  I sat in the bathroom, alternating between the bathtub, the toilet, the bathtub, the toilet.  I came out and asked if we could go to a doctor. Ouch.  We went to Urgent Care of Olympia.  They asked me to fill out six different forms as I sat hunched over in the chair aching.  We waited a few hours and the doctor finally came in. They said they didn’t have an X-ray machine.  Awesome.

They sent us to the Capital Medical Center in Olympia.   I sat resting my head on my jacket.  They led us into the room.  I sat on the table.  They took blood pressure, asked me questions, and hooked me to an IV.  They gave me pain medication.  They wheeled me down the hall.  I was friendly and gregarious with everyone I saw.

I came back and the pain started to hurt again.

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