This week I am teaching rapping and music production at a small summer camp near Tallahassee, Florida. It’s a long story, but I’m here because I ran into an old friend from New Jersey when I was in LA, and his brother is one of the directors here and asked him if I could come be a guest artist for the first eek. So they reached out to my agent Molly and booked me. It’s really just a morning schedule with occasional activities at night so I’ve been able to do production on the new album in my downtime. The guy who owns the camp also runs a tour bus / van rental company, so I’m living in a tour bus in a field by the skate ramp with a mobile studio I’ve set up.
Also teaching music with me this week is an indie band, Stages and Stereos. Last night we all did a show together for the campers in the dining hall. The kids had so much energy, I couldn’t believe it – I brought one of them up to rap “Mr. Raven” and he put his heart into it. I had a bunch of campers dance on the small stage with me “This Gigantic Robot Kills” and I kept high fiving everyone. They were all so happy to be away from home and to be on summer break and you could feel the joyful energy. Later, one of the counselors told me that one of the campers had been crying in the back of the room because it was his first time away from home and he missed his parents. This same kid was then dancing in front of the stage with everyone, giving high fives during my set. That made the whole night worth it – I’ve been that emo kid before who missed his parents at summer camp and I’m glad the songs gave him an excuse to be in the moment and not miss home. Awesome!!
Things have been going well on the “Zombie Dinosaur LP”. I’ve been getting vocal parts back from some of my collaborators. Watsky’s verses sound amazing and Roger from Less than Jake schooled it on our ska song! It’s now just a process of editing of everything… I’ve finished eleven new songs and am working on music and luyrics for about sixty more. MC Frontalot told me that when he does an album, he doesn’t really have extra songs. Instead, he finishes every song start to finish and then that’s his album. Not me, unfortunately, I get too scattered and want to follow every creative impulse in my brain… but the cool thing is even after the “ZDLP” drops, I can probably put out a box set of b-sides.
The spring UK tour was awesome– the festivals sold out and so did my London club show. I wanted to give a huge thank you to everyone that came out – I love that I can still headline there and people still care, without a label, publicist, radio plugger or honestly anything new. I debuted some of the new songs from the album and was able to work out some of the kinks by testing the tracks in front of forgiving audiences. Malibu Shark Attack (Tribe One’s new band) and Bee Mick See were the perfect openers; everyone loved them and we all had a blast. I miss that crew a lot – they went all out on that tour and I hope to get to Belfast to work with them on some music. Also, shout out to my amazing tour manager Hannah Edwards for all of her awesome organization.
People often ask me where they can get the physical version of “Lars Attacks!”, since it’s been out of print for awhile. Because it was the first album I did without any official record store distribution, I haven’t repressed it. I’m doing a new pressing for my fall US tour though (I can’t tell you who it’s with, but I promise you’ll be stoked!), so before the summer camp started, I hung out with my drummer Jon Longley and producer friend Joey Flash in Tampa. They showed me around the area and that night Joey and I tweaked some mixes for the re-release. Mike Sapone did some of the other final mixes that I’m going to tweak for the re-release. I’ve also been talking to him about working on tracks for the new album, he’s been sending me beat concepts and they are awesome.
Also, in other production news, two summers ago I recorded a track with Beefy and Random called “Hax”, I just got the final mix back for approval. Beefy is one of my favorites in this scene – he’s a hardworking dude and an incredible performer. Mustin did the beat on our song, I’m glad the song is finally coming out. Sometimes art takes a long time… it’s important to put something out every few years, but not to force it if it’s not read. Here is my time line of things I put out over the past decade plus that I feel were my most important:
- 2003 – Radio Pet Fencing (a compilation of early high school and college tracks that Truck Records put out, led to everything else)
- 2004 – the Laptop EP (songs I made on my computer in my dorm room at Stanford that Sapone helped me finish)
- 2006 – the Graduate (more songs I made in my dorm room, with help from Sapone and others)
- 2008 – the Digital Gangster LP (recorded in a week in 2008, YTCracker and I chilled with the Rondo Brothers in San Francisco with our friends and released this album for the fall tour we did with Frontalot)
- 2009 – This Gigantic Robot Kills (a record that took me two years to make, with production help from Jaret Reddick, Linus Dotson, Carl Caprioglio and the Crappy Reords team)
- 2009 – Single and Famous (what I created when K.Flay and I spent a few weeks writing songs up at Tahoe that summer)
- 2011 – Indie Rocket Science (a mixtape I did as a free download for my first summer on Warped Tour)
- 2011 – Lars Attacks! (my third actual album, my first Kickstarter project, has been released with various mixes and sample and sample-free editions, finally coming out in its “definitive” state this fall)
- 2012 – the Edgar Allan Poe EP (my second Kickstarter project, helped lead to awesome things like my invitations to speak at TEDx and the Carnegie Hall debut of the single / video at the Scholastic Awards show)
As you can see, Horris Records and I have pretty much been about trying to put a new project out every year or every other year. I was hoping to get the “Zombie Dinosaur LP” out this fall, but it’s looking like it could be an early 2015 release. I’ll be putting up previews of the songs as they come together; it’s going to be an awesome album and well worth the wait but I think dropping it in Sept or Oct is too ambitions right now. Have no fear though! It’s going to be ill.
My kids’ show co-creator JJ and I had a meeting with out friend Adam F. Goldberg in LA last week. Goldberg’s the man – he’s worked on so much cool stuff over the years (Fanboys, How to Train Your Dragon, etc.) and now has a show on ABC called the Goldbergs about his life growing up in the 80s (I Fight Dragons did the theme song). He said he’s gotten a reputation in Hollywood as “the nerd guy”, but that has worked to his advantage. He told us that he wants to help us find a home for our kids’ show. JJ and I hung out with him at his office on the Sony lot in Culver City and got to take pictures with the original Ghostbusters car that was chilling outside! Queen Latifah does her show on the floor upstairs from him. We put together a pitch packet with character and episode descriptions, but it was crazy how Goldgerb already got the concept without us even saying much. I know production in the TV world takes awhile, but it was so awesome to meet up with Goldberg IRL and to hear his enthusiasm for Yes Yes, Y’all! Will keep you posted as it comes together.
I haven’t had much time to read these days, but on my flight back from London I did get to read Andrew K. Hurst’s book about touring with Itch on Warped last summer (“I’ve Got 99 Problems but an Itch Ain’t One”). Check it out here! He was Itch’s merch guy and it was his first time on Warped. His British perspective on the American subculture of doing Warped is hilarious – he’s an awesome writer.
One, I still want to do a series of author EPs, which I’ve been talking about for years. I was working on a book about the Beat generation and its connection to hip-hop, which I still want to finish and find a home for, but in the meantime there are a bunch of Jack Kerouac / William S. Burroughs / Allen Ginsberg songs that I want to do. I love how the lit-hop songs give me an excuse to dive into books and find contemporary connections through hip-hop. College was awesome because for a brief period, was my “job” to read Moby-Dick and write analytical papers on it… but the real world isn’t as forgiving. Not that I function in the “real world”! It’s just that taking a week to read a literary classic seems indulgent these days unless I’m recreating and reinterpreting the story for an audience. Then these exercises count as “research”. Grad students work very hard, but it must be awesome to dedicate the day to expanding your brain with a final, concrete dissertation on the horizon. I have a few indie rapper friends who have come back for their PhDs or are in the process of getting them. I think that’s a smart move. I’m not there yet, but I applaud the hardworking academics of the hip-hop community!
When the camp directors came to get me in Tampa, we listened to pop radio all the way back to Tallahassee. It’s interesting how every indie / rock / hip-hop song is so fused with EDM these days. Electronic music has become a dominant genre again. When I was making house music as a California teenager in the mid-90s, I never realized that twenty years later the aesthetic would mutate and come back to dominate. Eminem once rapped, “nobody listens to techno!”, and then surprised everyone to come back eleven years later to rap over a dubstep beat. Fashions and pop culture movements come and go, and as “Weird Al” Yankovic told me over coffee a few years ago the key to being successful is to keep working at something meaningful to you, get really good at it, and then hope it hits a nerve with an audience. I think it’s important for any musician to be aware of what’s happening in pop culture at the moment. It shouldn’t dictate and inform your entire oeuvre, but being stuck in your own aesthetic bubble away from everything for too long can be stifling in some ways.
Case in point: at Slam Dunk, I had a great conversation with a young rapper who was working on his start getting into the “indie rap scene” and asked me what advice I could give him. His lyrics were smart and funny and he gave me his demo, (which I unfortunately haven’t gotten to listen to yet), but he told me about his influences for awhile. One thing that impressed me was his taste. He had such a breadth of cool rappers he was into, old and new, which I think is an important first step if you want to be a professional artist. It’s important to study the craft of the giants in your field and then create your own style from, which is why Picasso studied realistic painting before he into cubism. All good artists are “fans” of the art they want to create before they become practioners. That is why Adam F. Goldberg’s show is so great – he’s a true fan of 80s, which is reflected in both the toys on the wall in his office and the funny pop culture tie-ins on his show.
Anyway, I should probably go, since I have albums to make and workshops to teach! I hope you are all having a great summer so far. I will keep previewing the new jams. Stay tuned!!
Thanks again to everyone for your love and patience. I’m excited to get this album launched and make some amazing videos for it!
Much love from your homie,
P.S. Pickles says hi.