This is my first tumblr update on the new album. I will be keeping you all in the loop with regular posts to document how everything is coming together with a project like this. Before I begin, I wanted to address some questions that people have been asking me.
“What’s up with the ‘Zombie Dinosaur’ concept? Where did that come from?”
I thought it would be a hilarious extension of some of my 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 tribute to the Tim Burton comedy, so killer dinosaur zombies were obviously the next logical step.
“So where exactly are you on the progress of this album?”
We have seven songs completely demoed and about sixty beats and rough lyrical concepts and verses that DJ and I are currently sorting through.
“That’s a lot of music!”
Yes it is – and since I’ve had ADHD my whole life, it’s very easy to go down the wormholes of different concepts and characters. DJ is helping me stay focused though. For instance, a few weeks ago I did a song about the minor character Hans Moleman from the Simpsons, which of course required a full day of research. The result was a tribute to my favorite TV show of all time and how Moleman’s uncanny ability to keep coming back to life can inspire us all to while we traverse the ups and downs of life. His story is a metaphor for this entire album and I guess you could say my career in general.
“What was up with ‘Lars Attacks!’ though? Why was it so different from the other stuff you’d put out before?”
That album was an experiment on how far I could creatively move past everything I’d been working on up until that point in my life. I wanted to make a record with faster and more technical rapping, with as little humor as and pop culture references as possible, with heavier minor-key beats and serious stories about my life, religion and hip-hop’s role as a glue in making sense of all of that. Basically, I wanted to take everything that “the Graduate” and “Robot Kills” were and do the exactly 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 to have on the merch table at the 2011 Warped Tour. Let’s be honest.
Between issues with a a mastering engineer and delays in manufacturing, I didn’t end up getting the CDs back to sell until Warped was already half over. Also – I think I confused everyone because there were so many darn versions of that album: the second pressing of the physical CD had different mixes, there was the sample-free iTunes / Spotify version and then there was the Bandcamp / robot USB amalgam. I had inadvertently become the George Lucas of indie rap for a minute. In all honestly, it was a chaotic time in my life; I was moving, I was constantly on the road for almost a year and I had recently come out of a serious, long-term relationship. So even though that album ended up being a hip-hop hydra with a million heads, creating it got me through a difficult and strange year. There are mixing and production elements of that album I still want to fix and repress, but that will come later when I have a break. (Also it’s no longer in print on CD. I get emails from people looking for it all of the time and crazily, I don’t even own a copy myself.)
Through everything, though, a friend who had my back from start to finish was the talented and hard-working producer Joe Oliger, a.k.a. Joey Flash of the Florida band IM1 (a project he started with my drummer Jon Longley). Joe and I spent many days and nights in the attic studio in his parents’ house in New Jersey working on beats, lyrics, mixes and arrangements, constantly pushing each other into new and unfamiliar musical territory. He really put a lot into that record and I will forever be thankful for his energy and focus.
Some of you may remember “Indie Rocket Science” also, the mixtape that came out right before “Lars Attacks!”, which was essentially a compilation of b-sides and alternate mixes from the record that would follow. When I listen back to “Indie Rocket”, I hear that that project has in all honesty better stood the test of time than “Lars Attacks!” has. But, due to the legalities of uncleared samples, less people heard it commercially. Some of the sample-free versions of the “Indie Rocket” songs were later released on the “Frosty the Flow Man LP”, which also contained sample-free songs from the “Frosty the Flow Man EP” (an underground project I had done with K-Mudock in DC that came out exclusviely on Bandcamp during the holidays that year). 2011 was the first time that Horris Records had truly become its own entity, and was the first time I had moved away from the bigger indie labels who had helped me with distribution / promotion / A&R over the years, so I was honestly still learning. Also – as some of you may remember I was also still working on Weerd Science to help get his “Sick Kids” album out to everyone, so I was wearing a million hats.
I learned two important things from the “Lars Attacks!” project era: (1) as an artist, it’s good to experiment, but also 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 and fans had related to up until then. I impulsively jumped into a project where I intentionally tried to abandon all of that, reinventing myself from the ground up. I think I confused everyone with the serious subject matter and also sheer amount of projects that Horris Records released that year, specifically with how they were all Frankenstein-ed together and released in so many different ways with alternate mixes. This led me to realize that (2) it’s a lot better to write more than you actually release and then put out one definitive album with only the best tracks. That’s how I made “the Graduate” and “Robot Kills” and that’s how I’m going about making this album.
Art is a process of trusting your instincts but also 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 quickly produce and create something for a perceived market is poison to the creative process, often exacerbated by the assumed competition for fans’ attention through social media and the sheer inundation of free online content. But good art stands outside and beyond all of that; a well-crafted song will exist years after the Instagram selfie of the artist in the studio mugging for the smartphone has been forgotten.
I’m realizing that this is why people are still discovering “This Gigantic Robot Kills” and “the Graduate”, even though both albums been out for many years. I’ve noticed an interesting trend of young kids inheriting their older brothers’ and sisters’ music collections, and then being drawn to these first two albums. I get so many kind emails from young people who love the songs like “Download This Song” and “This Gigantic Robot Kills”, and I think it’s because I made those songs at a happy and optimistic time in my life where I could channel those emotions and feelings into my performances in the studio. Conversely one of my favorite songs from “Lars Attacks!” was “Judas Priest”, but no one ever really emails me about that song. I remember feeling a ghostly creepy vibe when I wrote and recorded that track – the lyrics just came to me in sort of a weird trance, but I don’t think I was really myself when I wrote it.
I could analyze the hows and whys of the different album making approaches forever, or I could simply channel that joy and passion for life and music into this new project, trusting that my team and myself to only put out only the best jams. This will always work when an artist is dedicated and hardworking and has faith in his or herself and his or her art. I’m very thankful for everything I’ve learned these past few years.
Why do you always say ‘joyful smiles’?”
Frontalot and I had an interesting talk the last night at SXSW this year. We were sitting in a friend’s yard at 3:00 am and reminiscing about the NES Game Genie and how with games like Contra you could just run through the levels, fearlessly blasting the creepy aliens unscathed. I told him that I saw life like an 80s video game game, and that the meaning of life is to implement that PMA cheat cartridge or Konami Code to spread positive vibes wherever one goes. He told me I needed to write a song about that.
SXSW was a special time this year, despite the tragedies that happened (and how lucky we were not to be hurt by the reckless driver). I remember sitting with Random and Doc Awk one night after the Tech N9ne showcase talking about how and why hip-hop and art are important. At a surface level, rap is just poetry: someone talking quickly over a syncopated beat. But Awk made the point that art, music and anything important is deceptive in its true purpose because it taps into something bigger than itself.
I think that 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 and can’t ever reach Justin Bieber status. But despite that, 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 all strive to tap into something bigger than us. We can all relate to this subjective millennial quest for identity and meaning in a changing, cut and paste digital culture and economy where even though people like us and Zuckerberg might control the technical puppet strings, we sometimes feel like we’re floating in this cultural desert space. “Lars Attacks!” was about what it feels like to be Sandra Bullock’s character in Gravity while “the Graduate”, “This Gigantic Robot Kills” and “the Zombie Dinosaur LP” are and will be albums about the joy, peace, clarity and victory that comes when said meaning is ascertained.
You feel me??
“How often will you be all up on tumblr with these updates?”
As often as I can. The project I was working on before this record was a book about the Beat generation and how dudes like Jack Kerouac helped usher in the social revolutions of the 1960s. I was writing a literary history to show how the Beats and hip-hop truly have much more in common in terms of their approaches to the subversion and recreation of the American Dream than many people might realize. Tupac Shakur and Jack Kerouac occupied a very similar place in their respective eras, mirroring each other in everything to where they lived geographically, the cities where they wrote and performed, to their effects on counterculture, to their writing styles and even to the way their demons and their celebrity eventually killed both of them at a young age. (I have a song about all of this on the new album called “You Don’t Know Jack”.)
What I love so much about Kerouac is his concept of “spontaneous prose” – he spent seven years traveling the country to research On the Road before writing his classic book in just three weeks. He would simply sit down with his typewriter, say a prayer to the cross that he hung on his office wall and spill his heart and soul into his rhythmic recounting of his incredible journeys. His passion and colloquial remembrances really helped show the world how America was changing and how he was developing as a person and artist. If you haven’t read him, please do! In my opinion, his best book was Big Sur.
Kerouac’s “freestyle” process was reflected in the many autobiographical novels that he put out, all of which encompassed a larger narrative that he referred to as the Dulouz Legend. Now, I’m no Jack Kerouac, but it’s clear that this creative catharsis really helped him find meaning in life and his times. I hope that these album diaries serve a similar purpose for me and anyone with the interest in reading them. You will see the changes I’m going through personally as I work on this project, the challenges, the joys and the ups and downs of this whole exciting artistic process.
I remember reading an interview with Wes Borland years ago in Guitarist magazine. He talked about doing the metal / rap stuff that he had become famous for with Limp Bizkit and what the creative process was like for him in the studio. He said something to the effect of “if you know exactly what your project is going to sound like before you start, isn’t your vision by definition limited?”
On Kerouac’s List of 30 Beliefs and Techniques for Prose and Life he similarly gives props to the the “unspeakable visions of the individual”. These diaries will reflect my own journey in deciphering these visions. When this album is finished and it’s in your and my hands, it may be interesting to go back and re-read how it came to be. (I did something similar when I made “the Graduate”; maybe I’ll dig those up in a future post.)
Thanks again to the Kickstarter donors!! How we managed to quadruple the goal still blows me away. Thank you for staying on board through the creative ups and downs of this whole journey. I promise to repay you with the best album I can.
With love and joyful smiles from West LA,