I was born in Berkeley, California in the autumn of 1982 to a librarian / teacher mother and an Australian American attorney / artist father. I was a child in the era of Reagan prosperity and was blessed with a loving, suburban family life and home in the Oakland Hills. My parents sent me to private schools and as a kid my favorite activities were drawing comics and listening to music. In 1993 my father got a job as the general counsel for an agricultural company in the Salinas Valley, so we packed up and moved two hours south to the Monterey Peninsula. Home to John Steinbeck, Beverly Cleary, Hank Ketcham, a popular annual jazz festival and a famous aquarium, the artistic “quaintness” of Carmel and Carmel Valley was initially isolating and confusing. I missed the energy and excited of the San Francisco Bay Area. I had to trade my weekly cartooning classes for Catholic school and uniforms. I lost touch with my Oakland friends.
But music and art were always there for me. I met my best friend, Tim Thompson and our fifth grade bond has lasted to this day. We listened to “Weird Al” Yankovic tapes over and over again and laughed and laughed. He helped me make sense of the confusion I felt as an eleven-year-old artistic kid and we made videos, songs and cartoons at our supportive parents’ houses. I focused on my grades and studied incredibly hard in middle school. I had big red glasses and a giant retainer. I drew comics, wrote songs and took guitar lessons. I formed a band as a seventh grader and we played the school talent show. For the introverted, sensitive kid I was, music helped me connect with other people. I was clueless when it came to girls, but that didn’t matter. I made up the pseudonym Lars Horris came from the 1995 Ben Stiller movie “Heavyweights” (Lars) and the 90s TV show “Dr. Quinn, Medcine Woman” (Horris). I thought they were both hilarious names, so in the true spirit of hip-hop, I appropriated them.
For high school I attended a college prep institution in Pebble Beach called Stevenson – it was really rigorous and strict but the opportunities there helped launch me and my career. Half of the students lived on campus, the other were local, and there were plenty of kids from far away places like Korea, Indonesia, Hong Kong and Germany. We had amazing resources, including our own 1,000 watt radio station, an amazing art studio and a giant theater with incredible production capabilities. I continued to play music with my punk band but discovered that I also could make songs on my own, thus saving the headache of organizing band practices. I learned ReBirth RB-338, Cubase and MIDI, spending every free minute arranging beats and writing lyrics. The Korean kids taught me how to breakdance in the ballet studio on the weekends and I played guitar in the school’s jazz band during the week. My musical and cultural education had begun.
Sophomore year, my teacher Biff Smith had us read Macbeth and assigned us to write a parody of it. I was intrigued by the witches’ chant (“Double, double toil and trouble / fire burn and cauldron bubble”) and decided to turn it into a rap. “Rapbeth” was my first real song, recorded over a house beat I made when I was sixteen. I performed it in assembly one day and despite the drama teacher’s assertion that I had haunted the theater forever, afterwards I had never felt more accepted. I continued to write raps and perform them and built a reputation around my school as an original “white rapper” in the pre-Eminem era.
Around this time I got into the Insane Clown Posse. I thought “the Great Milenko” was a strange, disturbing, beautiful masterpiece and their rage and intensity helped me channel some of the adolescent frustrations of being a smart, awkward prep school kid living in the secluded town of Carmel Valley with hours and hours of homework a night and no girlfriend. I never partied in high school – I was straight edge by default because drinking and smoking weed were not part of my world. We lived so far away from town that it was hard to meet up with people after school or on the weekends. Also, because of all of the boarding students were under the school’s care, Stevenson had a policy that if you were caught drinking at a party, even on the weekends, you could get expelled. Thus, while kids at other schools got wasted and hooked up on the weekends, I kicked it solo, using my free time to write songs and make CDs. I made about five albums in high school, two that I would burn and sell that later ended up on the torrent sites (“Nothing to Fear” and “Insectivorous”).
Junior year I was in a musical called Oklahoma!, which toured England the following summer. I loved how groups like the Bloodhound Gang and the Fun Lovin’ Criminals were so huge in the UK – quirky, white boy rap was marketable over there. Little did I know, I would continue to tour England for years and years to follow. As a senior I dated a brilliant poet girl from Minnesota – we fell in love but eventually broke up. I had less time for music that year and I learned about relationships and the challenge of balancing one’s creative life with one’s career. On the first day of Christmas break I found that I had gotten accepted to Stanford. I had written my essay on freestyling and the art of performance.
Stanford is an amazing place but I never quite felt like I fit in with the fraternity, pre-law, pre-med, athlete crowd which seemed to dominate the student culture. So KZSU, the Stanford radio station, became a haven for me, and I delved into the gigantic collection of hip-hop vinyl that dated back to the 1970s. “The Drum” was a Sunday night program that allegedly was the first hip-hop radio show on the West Coast. Working at the radio station, I reorganized the records and studied their cover art. I had three hours a week to fill with music so I familiarized myself with all of the important songs in hip-hop’s history. I started each show with Aesop Rock’s “Daylight” and would always end with Run-DMC’s “Proud to Be Black”. I was one of the only white hip-hop DJs at the station at the time, so the other DJs would joke that I was coming in to play “country” and “polka” music. Nevertheless, my show was popular and I played music by Atmosphere, Sage Francis and Eyedea who back in 2002 were all still very underground. I was on the crest of something new and it felt amazing.
I went to Oxford in the winter of 2003 to fulfill my Shakespeare requirement. It was scary at first – I didn’t know anyone so I reached out to any and every band I could find in the area to make friends. There was an online database of all of the local groups, which I used to contact as many people as possible. I got an overwhelming response and before too long I had every weekend booked with shows. My reputation grew and grew around the area; the quirky, nerdy twenty-year-old kid with the laptop and Shakespeare rhymes was something everyone wanted to see. A played a show with Mark Gardener of a shoegazer band called Ride and was signed to Truck Records after their then A&R man Paul Bonham met me at the show. We had a meeting the next day and I offered to help play the Trucks artists on the Stanford radio station. It was mutually beneficial and awesome and it felt very right.
That fall, after working at a summer camp for Stanford alumni near Lake Tahoe for the second time, I returned to the UK for a 10-day tour with my father as tour manager. An industry scout named Tom Gates from Vancouver based management company / label called Nettwerk read a review of one of my shows while he was in the UK with a band called Brand New. He contacted me about wanting to hear more music and we met in San Francisco that November and talked about my goals and dreams. I flew to New York to work with a Long Island producer named Mike Sapone and in December of 2003 we recorded the majority of “the Laptop EP” in his basement. Someone at MTV heard about the EP. They came to Stanford to film a piece on my life that focused on how hip-hop become such a strong part of college culture in 2004, followed by an article in Rolling Stone.
I took senior year off to tour with Say Anything, Gym Class Heroes and Bowling for Soup and released “the Graduate” after finishing my senior year in the summer of 2005. I received my BA in 19th century American literature and decided to pursue my music career before going to back to get my masters and PhD (which I still plan to do). Nettwerk helped me set up my label, Horris Records, and along with my company MC Lars LLC, I was set to do everything independently without need a major label. Through all of this I learned about the importance of being independent and owning one’s masters, discovering how to use the changing industry machine of the end of the twentieth century to launch myself into the twenty-first. The timing could not have been better.
In 2006 I toured Japan, Australia (where I had a hit song) and the UK multiple times, where I had always felt at home. I opened for Simple Plan, T-Pain, Snoop Dogg and Nas. “The Graduate” sold over 20,000 copies independently, even though I was telling people to steal my music. I left Nettwerk in 2008 to team up with Jaret Reddick from Bowling for Soup, and Horris Records joined forces with his label Crappy Records to release “This Gigantic Robot Kills” and “21 Concepts (But a Hit Ain’t One)”. “Weird Al” played accordion on a track from “Robot Kills” after getting in touch with me in 2006 – a beautiful example that sometimes life can go full circle.
In 2008 I made an album with my hacker rapper friend YTCracker and toured with MC Frontalot, but struggled somewhat with my label by the press as a “nerdcore” rapper; I felt the term had a novelty factor to it. I had not come up in an Internet-based online forum rap community, rather I had made a name for myself by being one of the earlier DIY MCs who actually toured but had also happened to rap about intellectual topics. I had played guitar and bass in punk bands as a teenager and felt that the term applied more to rappers who didn’t do shows and hung out online; I prided myself on the live energy my band and I brought and the work and time it took to put on an actual show. Nevertheless, the nerdcore community embraced me even though I encouraged the kids to listen to listen to hip-hop outside of the genre. I later realized that instead of polarizing the scene, I could bring the fans together by appreciating that some of these kids were even listening to hip-hop at all. Perhaps it was a cool thing that it took rhymes about Star Wars, computer games and Edgar Allan Poe to get them jumping, hands in the air. These days I still tour with Frontalot and mc chris, but we don’t talk about the subgrene that much. We celebrate the fact that we can make indie hip-hop for a living and follow in our heroes’ footsteps as professional rappers and that’s pretty much it.
In 2009 I recorded an EP with my friend K.Flay, a fellow Stanford alumni that I discovered and had been mentoring since 2004. In 2011 I signed Coheed & Cambria drummer Josh Eppard’s hip-hop project Weerd Science to my label. We played festivals in Europe together that spring and the entire Warped Tour that summer. His incredible album “Sick Kids” came out on Horris Records that May and my album “Lars Attacks!” dropped in September, featuring collaborations with hip-hop legends KRS-One and Sage Francis. Both albums were entirely funded through Kickstarter – a crowd sourcing pledge site that allowed fans to pre-order each CD. CNN came to my apartment in Brooklyn to talk about my perspective on downloading and the new media economics of running an indie rap label. It was a busy year that also saw the release of my first mixtape, “Indie Rocket Science”.
These days I’ve returned to focus on to the literary rap component of what I do. I’m releasing a series of EPs based on various authors I admire (Edgar Allan Poe and Herman Melville and William Shakespeare to start with) and am putting out a series of albums that focus entirely on books. I am putting together a pilot for an educational hip-hop television show for kids and I am writing a book about the history of hip-hop culture. I continue to do educational hip-hop outreach work with such groups as the Nantucket Historical Association and am teaming up with the Edgar Allan Poe House and Museum to raise awareness and preserve our nation’s incredible literary history. In addition to this, I’ve been continuing to work with the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, raising awareness of suicide in an effort to end it worldwide. Hip-hop is a beautiful and amazing thing and I feel blessed that it discovered me when it did. Stay tuned, we’re just getting started.