Sometimes you stumble across an artist that just has an aura about them that instantly signals they work on another level compared to most. Maybe they’re involved in social causes, maybe they’re workaholics, maybe they’re incredibly mentally dedicated to their craft and community, or maybe they’re all of the above. Such is this case with Lightning Pill. From experimental music crafting, to making sure others don’t feel left out in the cold, Lightning Pill is a lot of things to the do-it-yourself music community. We’ve been aware of his work for a while, and thanks to an introduction by IHeartNoise we’re able to provide an insight into the mind of one of the hardest working individuals you’ll ever have the chance to know.
Lightning Pill can be found on his Twitter, and website. His blog (mentioned in the interview) can be found at Revenge of the Persona Non Grata, and also at its official Twitter. Be sure to give him a look after you’ve finished reading this interview!
EN: First and foremost man, thank you for joining us today. It’s an absolute pleasure. I’ve interviewed quite a few musicians, and I always love working with those who are socially conscious.
That being said, for those reading who may be unaware of you, how would you describe yourself?
Lightning Pill: I am a singer-songwriter who mainly plays keyboard. I take on multiple genres, all which fit underneath bedroom pop, antifolk, etc. I also make beats every now and then. On my downtime, I blog for Afropunk, IHeartNoise and Revenge of the Persona Non Grata, a blog I began focusing on avant-garde/DIY Hip hop, r&b, jazz and electronica.
I also write poems every now and then, but nowadays, poetry is molded into song.
EN: Did being a DIY artist yourself inspire an ambition to write about those forging a similar path musically?
Lightning Pill: Yes. Very much so. I’ve been in the music-making game for years, and found a correlation between most great DIY artists. They want Pitchfork and SPIN coverage and find themselves ignored despite putting out great work. I literally spent all year finding new music through Twitter recommendations and affiliations because, I wasn’t exactly messing with the recommendations of bigger labels. I understood the need to be on bigger platforms, but you don’t need to do that with blogs such as Afropunk helping.
The second album I put out to Afropunk as a DIY artist was Humanbeyondrepair, an album about having Asperger’s Syndrome. I didn’t have the money to tour, didn’t have a huge following, no labels, and so on, but they covered me. I wished more blogs would do that rather than creaming over the same bands they will slag on later.
Twitter is chock full of original musicians and small labels who want to spread their name with no real help from larger platforms. Since they are what I am, I can’t in good conscience make them feel like no one is paying attention. So, I started RPNG. Really it started as a blog for avant-hop, since there wasn’t a huge niche blog for that. Then it expanded into me giving love to smaller acts trying to get on 2DopeBoyz, Pitchfork or Consequence of Sound.
EN: That’s very similar to the reasoning why I started Extraordinary Nobodies. I really respect that at a personal level, but I have to ask: why do you think it is that major outlets turn their ears off to experimental and DIY music?
Lightning Pill: It feels related as why major labels sign experimental acts: if you are engaging, accessible and at least sound like you have a chance in hell in the mainstream or something, then you are “in”. That’s bullshit too, considering that there are some great acts that do have a fighting chance at connecting with the general public.
It feels like going to high school and the “cool kids” either ignore or bully the weirder kids, only to find that they envy them. Acts like SassyBlack (formerly of THEESatisfaction), and even AJ Suede, can’t be found on 2DopeBoyz even though the music has a chance of reaching the public. Only one clipping. song can be found there, too. People are likely to turn a blind eye to artists that don’t have a huge following, and you get a huge following through either celebrity-based nepotism or “accessibility” within the industry.
Perfect examples are rappers and singers within Deathbomb Arc, one of my favorite labels. Excluding clipping., rappers like Signor Benedick, Hareld and They Hate Change don’t get the attention they worked for in their fields despite being really original and talented artists. They deserve to be known in the same corner as Death Grips and Kendrick Lamar. I had to take matters into my hands and write about They Hate Change and True Neutral Crew in Afropunk. Their coverage would probably still be fairly minuscule, if they hadn’t known that I write for them.
EN: Are there any other acts out there that you especially think aren’t getting the attention they deserve, or is it basically the DIY/experimental community as a whole that’s being ignored?
Lightning Pill: It’s a funny thing. If they do get coverage, TheNeedleDrop and Pitchfork are the ones doing it. Still though, a good amounts of the DIY community pretty much live by their wits. Artists like DijahSB got into music and despite how great her music is I don’t even see Aftopunk covering her, and I sent in a blog about her Blue album.
EN: So, running your own publication very much came out of a place of frustration.
Lightning Pill: It started as a way to fill in the niche that 2DopeBoyz and XXL didn’t, couldn’t or won’t touch. It snowballed into a frustration that I shared with artists over making great music but not getting attention despite how “great” they are. This inspired me to take the reins, and I encourage many others to use the blog as a way to give back to your community. The moment I started the blog, I had plenty of artists say they loved my writing. JPEGMAFIA even said my kind of journalism and research rivals that of empty journalists and music critics today, which made me happy. I’ve even had plenty of people approach me to write something for them. I had no right to turn them down because I was, and still am, them.
Type in THEESatisfaction, milo, F. Virtue, Cakes Da Killa, or clipping. in 2DopeBoyz and watch it come up with nothing. The only real explanation I can find is that their blog mostly focuses on artists who aren’t too experimental, as to gain a huge following.
While I am here, I do want to shout out one slightly well-known blog that does what I do: UGSMAG. They cover nothing but that underground shit. Some avantgarde stuff, too. That blog, and the dearly-missed Potholes in My Blog, inspired me to write the blogs I do.
EN: Do you find it difficult to balance your personal life, music, and working on other projects such as journalism?
Lightning Pill: Only because when I get into these projects, I REALLY get into it. When I write about projects, I listen to 5 albums a day. After that, I find myself wondering when I’ll have enough juice and focus to put into my music. When I do music, I get really into it too. It gets hard because I don’t do any of this to merely half-ass it. I’m in it for the long haul… Even if I don’t get paid for doing any of it. That’s how committed I am to what I do. As for my personal life, people know good and well I don’t sit on my bed and do nothing. I’m always working on something to occupy my time. Whether it be hobby or not, I do it because I find fulfillment in it.
Admittedly, it does get hard making sure that when I am head deep in one thing, I don’t neglect the other.
EN: Throughout the year I saw you getting a lot of love from various outlets and labels, such as Deathbomb Arc for instance. How much does it mean to you to know that what you’re doing is being noticed?
Lightning Pill: Man, it means a lot! Imagine years of making music only to find out that I’ve got fans purely from being deep into the underground. This wouldn’t have been possible without Ilya of IHeartNoise, who heard me and has been hyping up my instrumental works, mostly. But since I started pushing everything, not one person has told me my stuff sucked. One dude did, but that was on a couple of fun bars over Jonwayne beats that got a lot of attention, and got me followed by Jonwayne himself.
The Deathbomb Arc thing had me taken aback because I’m a big supporter of the label. The reason being that Deathbomb is one of few labels that aim to surprise you with every artist they add to their roster. So when they asked me about doing a song for them, I was like “what?!”.
I have fans in Ceschi, Dionne Sheree, Ilya, They Hate Change, and plenty in the DIY/experimental (mostly hip hop) community. I feel blessed and it makes me want to work hard to see to it my next few albums and mixtapes don’t suck.
EN: On that note, do you think more artists need to take a second to step back and enjoy the small scale love they receive, rather than desperately trying to “make it big”?
Lightning Pill: In a short answer, yes.
In a long answer, I understand why people want to get big. They do it for money, for attention, to reach people and change the landscape of music. Everyone has reasons as to why they want to get famous. But even if I don’t ever reach the stratosphere, it’s still heartening to know I have a cult following. I do music everyday and never get paid, but it makes me want to keep going knowing people are waiting for my next work.
I was one of those people who wanted to do music to get paid for it. But the more I made music the more I slowly accepted I may never get paid, or that I may never get known to the level that, say, Atmosphere is. But even having a little fans may give me a new perspective. Perhaps making music for them will lead to them spreading the word and finding out that my music can get better and reach people who aren’t just blindly following me. Some people will become Jay-Z and Lil Wayne and some people will be Atmosphere and Run the Jewels. Either way, just knowing one person loves your work is heartening. All one has to do is keep going and keep making your best stuff, keep trying to one up yourself and watch people slowly reveal that they have been a fan of yours.
I think in time I understand why people say that knowing people love your work and are waiting for the next one is better than money. Often times, if people really love and support you, they’ll pay for it when it is for sale. I’d be just fine being the next Ariel Pink, Dam-Funk or Captain Beefheart. People should take any blessing that may come their way in the form of true love and appreciation for what you do.
EN: I noticed on the RPNG Twitter, you note things such as being a LGBT friendly site. I think that is awesome, and I wanted to ask how important it is to you to be open in your support of such causes?
Lightning Pill: Very much so, seeing as how there are a lot of gay rappers in existence. One of the first I found back in high school was Deep Dickollective, helmed by Juba Kalamka. Their music is basically conscious hip hop from a gay man’s point of view. Since then, I found rappers like Melange Lavonne, God-Des and She, and more recently Cakes Da Killa, LE1F, Mykki Blanco, Abdu Ali and F. Virtue. All of them are getting shunned from larger hip hop for being gay, and hardly ever pushed towards a straight demographic. They are part of the reason why I stretched my blog towards people who just plain can’t get bigger attention over stupid shit.
I read in SPIN Magazine that Juba heard some sites pull the “there’s nothing we can do” stance for making gay music more mainstream… To this day, the only gay rapper the world can even mention is Frank Ocean, who only spit a few bars on a few songs.
It’s very important to notice all dimensions of music in general. People need to stop being brand new about rappers just because it doesn’t fit their universe. I just told Cakes Da Killa, “people would rather hear some mediocre ass dude spit bars than to hear you rap. That should change!” That stemmed from me praising clipping. for having Cakes Da Killa on a track, and working with an actual gay rapper. I couldn’t give less of a single fuck about a person’s sexuality. If you got true bars and can stand out musically, fuck everything else.
I cover LGBT rappers, Christian rappers, anyone who can bring something truly fresh to the table.
EN: Do you think that someone like Fly Young Red, who basically turned the gay rap scene into a meme with “boy pussy” did more harm than good for the LGBT community in hip-hop?
Lightning Pill: Eh… I think we should be past the whole “harm and good thing”, seeing as how there are multiple dimensions of anything LGBT. Where there are people who make gay people look hypersexual, there are people putting a good name on it. It’s the same as black people showing they have respect and intelligence among ratchets thinking they are acting white.
Of course it is doing “harm” as it is showing gay people as hypersexual, rather than people who have more to talk about than just that. You know? But, the same can be said about demands that Nicki Minaj and Rhianna be less aggressive with sexuality in their music. They are doing nothing more than being a mirror for the culture we live in. The only difference is straight people make AIDS and femininity jokes, while giving or getting AIDS from the next girl with a fat ass and a pretty face. Where there is a Fly Young Red, there’s a Cupcakke or multiple amounts of dudes talking about running a train on your girlfriend.
That’s just the way it is, but the ones who have yet to see it that way are straight people.
EN: That’s a great approach to conceptualizing it. My cousin (who is big into LGBT activism, with her girlfriend) has already remained conflicted on people like Fly Young Red, so I thought it’d be interesting to get another perspective.
I’m also very curious on your thoughts about hyper-masculinity in hip-hop. I interviewed Kash Jordan last year, and he really wanted to see hip-hop move away from the trend of hyper-masculine music. Do you share that sort of view?
Lightning Pill: Yeah, and as fast as possible. Back in the day, they said hip hop was for the outsiders and hip hop is revolutionary. If that’s true, then why are all these masculine-ass drunk dudes with guns taking over the game? At the end of the day to me, they are more rap than hip hop. The difference between the two is like the difference between rock, alternative, and punk.
Hyper-masculinity is doing a lot of harm, in that it is controlling the idea that men don’t have feelings. We are hyper-violent, hyper-sexual ne’er do wells with hella masculinity problems anyway. Even worse, some people encourage this shit. I thank God for Kash Jordan and Young Thug aiming to tear that shit down, because hyper-masculinity is a fucking facade. All the way. Show me a man who flexes their manhood like diamonds, and I’ll show you a weak dude who probably wishes he was as brave as LGBT types and hides insecurity with a gun or an equally masculine girlfriend. Or show me a dude who talks shit to other rappers, and you’ll see a woman revealing him to be a “fingerinthebootyassbitch”.
Hyper-masculinity is stupid because it denies that men have a feminine side, which they do. Everyone has a little bit of something. Every man has a bit of femininity and every woman has a bit of masculinity. Point blank! It’s just a matter of when you bring it out, at what time, for what. You know? It gets dangerous, if not tricky, when there’s a clear imbalance of the two, but what can one do about that? You know?
EN: Yeah, I get what you mean – in a lot of ways it seems like hip-hop as a whole is going through a bit of an identity crisis, don’t you think? Like, there’s the hyper-masculine old guard, then this new wave struggling (but trying) to break that binary but facing resistance.
Lightning Pill: It is, but it is necessary. They say music dies when you put out the same shit and things get hella stale… Actually, I wouldn’t call it an identity crisis. Maybe an exploration to see all of what hip hop and rap can actually be and do. It’s a revelation of different dimensions of hip hop that was mostly just banished to the underground. It’s intriguing, and long overdue.
EN: That brings me to my next question, what is your biggest gripe with hip-hop currently? Is it the hyper-masculine environment, or something else?
Lightning Pill: My frustration with hip-hop mostly lies in people’s thought that hip-hop should be one-sided, hypocritical and ignorant of their influence. The same people who admit being influenced by Biggie and Tupac are the same dudes who say that their music is “just music” when they get called out on their ignorance. Anytime these people say they don’t want to be role models, I respect that; but, if they didn’t want to be role models, then they should never have gotten famous… Where everyone can see them and learn from them.
Wherever there’s a person just trying to get a check, there are a group of kids on the bus talking about “smoking dicks”. And the parents only care when there’s music that disturbs the general idea of how society is. They are no less ignorant than anyone else. To them, mainstream music is the only music there is, until someone busts out a hip-hop album that’s better and possibly more revolutionary. The trouble with mainstream rap is that people always think “this is how it is”, and that’s bullshit. There is always more to the world than what people see… Or maybe their ignorance is willful. Either way, I hate that hip-hop wants to use their ignorance as a crutch for why some of them just want to make money and don’t want their music to do anything else. Once you are on the Billboard, you are a fucking role model to someone! Deal with it!
Also, I am not entirely comfortable that entertainment has an upper hand over education at times because of how catchy and gripping the music is. People think all you got to do in music is make hits about what you know and don’t know, but how many of them even know how to play an instrument? How many of them studied the music business to figure out how to get ahead other than just making hits? Kids are like sponges. They learn from artists because in their eyes, artists and entertainers are more intriguing. That’s their escape, and it eventually turns into their education whether they believe it or not. So, when something like hyper-masculinity is a thing, more men are being taught that that is what being a man is. We both know that is absolute bullshit and a complete detriment to their sense of humanity.
EN: It sounds a lot like you want prominent musicians to realize that they’re role models and use that elevated status more wisely.
Lightning Pill: Do they have a choice? They are literally in the face of the general public. Men, women and children of all ages, sexes and creeds see them. They don’t have to completely change themselves, but if that’s what they want to maintain, then they have the option of embracing the private life of others. Hell, they could be underground where you can be anything or anyone and nobody can censor you. Hell, Cupcakke is a rapper who has turned down a LOT of record label offers to do it herself, which might afford her some lowkey privacy compared to much bigger types. As soon as you are eligible for Teen Choice Awards, you should expect eyes on you. Not just in terms of fame, but in having loyal “followers” in every sense of the word. It is inevitable and raging against it would be hella useless.
Though, I wouldn’t have minded much if Cupcakke went bigger because I predict her time infront of the spotlight will be spent offering something for the kids as well as adults.
EN: So, transitioning to something a little more about you as an artist. What can we expect from you in the coming year both musically and otherwise?
Lightning Pill: I have been told multiple times to never tell people things before they are done, or before they happen… But, I have two albums and a long mixtape coming up next year. The long mixtape is called Cincuenta, which I can say is my only truly guaranteed project. The rest might fall to the wayside if I lose motivation and seek to do other things musically. But Cincuenta is a yes for next year.
As for performances? I am working on performing more, and maybe testing out Concert Window or my own YouTube concert inspired by Couch by Couchwest.
EN: I like that you’re always trying innovative things like the concept of a YouTube concert. Have you ever released any physical copies of your music? If not, do you plan to?
Lightning Pill: I haven’t. I wish I had the funds to construct physical stuff. I’m still trying to find labels interested in releasing either cassettes or CDs. For now, it all remains digital. Though, I recently talked to Become Eternal, and if all goes well, they will make cassettes of my old ambient work. So, stay tuned there!
EN: A bit of a random question here, but my curiosity is eating me alive. Where’d you get the name Lightning Pill, and what’s the meaning behind it?
Lightning Pill: I have two explanations for this, both of which actually fit. One day I was walking home listening to Patrick Wolf’s The Magic Position, this whole time I pictured him as this glam folktronic figure. I was already trying to work out a sound that’s like folk music using electronic instruments, as opposed to using electronic instruments to manipulate the sound of folk instruments. I have a tendency to put myself in artist’s shoes to keep my imagination going, and I named myself Lightning Pill.
I thought about it a little further another day when I remembered seeing a cartoon where all of the farm animals ate the pills that were supposed to control the weather. If an animal ate a sunny pill, the sun shines out of your stomach. If you are a rainy pill, a rain-cloud will constantly follow you. If you ate a thunder and lighting pill, your insides will get shocked.
So, my name is a bit more extroverted than my music is willing to match, but Lightning Pill stuck around longer than Charcoal Sketches of the Invisible Man (a name I was now willing to use when in a band or collaborating with an artist).
EN: Alright my man, we’re basically at length for this interview. So my last question is, is there anyone you’d like to shout-out, and show some love to, to close things off?
Lightning Pill: The most important person I have to shout out is Ilya of IHeartNoise. If it wasn’t for him, who knows if, one, I’d be making music, two, you’d know that I made music and three, I’d be blogging or sticking with the idea of making experimental music. He was the first ever person who had not only been blogging about my music, but actually championed and listened to my work. Not to mention, on Twitter, he constantly shouts me out to people looking for new music, new writers and all of that. Without that, who knows if you’d be here talking to me. Who knows if I would be getting as much blessings as I do now?
I’d also like to thank those who have listened to my music, read my tweets, and checked out any recommendations I had sent their way. I’m doing my very best not to let anyone down. It’s a hard process, but I didn’t adopt a workaholic persona for nothing. Thank you to all reading.