LordGio Speaks on Artistry, Overcoming Depression, and Open Musical Horizons

by Dustin

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It’s not very often that a submission to our open inbox actually catches our ears here. Generally projects are half finished, poorly put together, and underdeveloped; yet, the inbox remains open as a means for artists to put themselves out there. It stays worthwhile as every once in a while something genuinely special blows away all expectations. That was the case when Mississippi’s LordGio submitted his Heatwave Vol. 1 tape several months back. Digging into his back catologue showed a true hidden gem of an artist, and a true creative. Simply reviewing his material would have been difficult. There is no material about his backstory to provide context. It would have done any of his works a severe injustice.

That’s where we come in. We decided to sit down with LordGio and really sink into what makes him an individual. It’s a bit of a longer read, but we promise it’s well worth it. Enjoy.


EN: For those who are unaware, could you give a little background on yourself as a musician?

LordGio: Alright well, I guess technically I started with music in middle school when I was learning to play the trumpet, which I practiced all the way up until college. When it comes to rapping though, I started writing raps in 5th grade and they were pretty trash…but I guess decent for my age looking back at them? Like, I had a knack for sticking to themes, subjects and storytelling even though the wording was pretty cringey. Sometime in the 9th grade, I started being active on the website RapGenius (now Genius). I saw so many musicians on the forums and that made me realize how un-impossible this whole thing was.

I had gotten the game Rock Band in middle school and I played it pretty much every day until around the 9th grade when I didn’t really have time and I could pretty much “100%” all the songs on hard mode. I got the idea to use the microphone from the game (because it was a working USB Microphone) and use that to actually record some rapping on my favorite beats. I believe the first one I did was Low Class Conspiracy by Quasimoto.

I wrote something on the way to school and it kind of had the same subject of police brutality and was a bit of a distortion of a real life story that happened to me and looking back it’s one of the few of my old things that I’m like “eh that’s not too shabby”. I post that to the forum, asking people what they think. There wasn’t much technique or wordplay, but people appreciated the flow and storytelling and said it was pretty good besides the fact that it sounded like ass because the cheap mic and lack of mixing and mastering. However, that was enough for me to be like, “huh maybe I /can/ do this”. I started doing it more often all the while trying to improve my lyrical ability; studying hip hop way more than I did before and studying from all sorts of artists that I never listened to before. I eventually hit a bump where I was tired of looking for beats and never really finding anything that really fit what I was looking for (not to mention being too broke to afford any legitimately).

I started fiddling with the idea of just making my own beats. I tried all sorts of useless free software and made a bunch of worthless material, but each time I got better than the last and that’s all that mattered to me. I eventually landed on ableton and started getting decent enough after a while to where people said it was alright, but not to the point where I wanted to rap over it (which was the initial goal of course). I kept trying and trying and shaping and molding and changing styles until I finally made one and decided to try rapping over it. It was decent, but it sounded terrible. That was around halfway through the 10th grade…

Now I’d suffered from depression since middle school, and around this same time is where I probably hit rock bottom. I got tired of the routine (wake up, go to school, go home, repeat…replace school with college and then with work and do this until you die). I felt like life was so pointless and i just wanted to skip to the dying part, but I remember it like it was yesterday: I was in Chemistry class and I was staring out of the window looking at birds fly and wishing I could just do the same. Just be able to fly and never have to stay in the same place, and deal with the same shit over and over again. I was addicted to watching Curren$y’s Jet Life vlogs and wished I could just be on the road like that and go all over the world. So I said fuck it, that’s what I’m gonna do. I didn’t know how I was gonna do it, but I knew I was gonna do it. And I just kept getting better everyday. I didn’t even care about school anymore, nothing else mattered and music was the only thing I thought about from the time I woke up to the time I went to sleep. This shit became the only thing I’m alive for, and so I refused to let anything get in the way of it.

EN: So you got really serious about it at that point.

LordGio: Yeah. I started figuring out the formulas from watching interviews, listening to people’s firsthand accounts, soaking up any kind of knowledge, advice, and good or bad examples that I could find. I didn’t have any connections so i made myself the connection. I learned how to make beats, I learned how to mix and master, I learned how to promote myself, and most importantly, I figured out how exactly to get on and do something with this.

Enter: JELLYFISH_.

I realized that if I was ever gonna do something with this, I have to be unique. I have to have my own sound and my own image and my own brand. People need to remember me apart from everybody else that makes music. So I started a project making beats from scratch, with no real stylistic blueprint. Whereas before, I though “I’m gonna make a beat like this guy or like that guy.” I instead started JELLYFISH_ with the mindset that “I’m gonna make this beat that’s not like anything I’ve ever heard before.” I finally got enough songs that I was proud of, cut out a bunch of them, and put it on Bandcamp. Since then it’s been pretty much business as usual

That album didn’t just grant me any wishes or anything, but I’d say that was the turning point where I started realizing how to get myself on, and actually started applying it.

EN: I notice you mentioned Quasimoto. I’m assuming Madlib is one of your influences, but who else influenced and shaped your drive to produce?

LordGio: Madlib is definitely one of my primary influences. I’d say Curren$y was the one who inspired me to rap, but I remember very clearly that I wanted to start producing after I listened to Purple Naked Ladies by The Internet. Noisey had a behind the scenes interview with them at Syd and Matt’s apartment. They had simple, barebones furnishing, with eccentric lighting everywhere and a simple studio room and I was just like “this is it.” That was what I dreamed of. I imagined having a space like that and I was able (and still to this day able) to say that, if I could just wake up in a place like that everyday and just be able to and make some shit and do whatever…that was my dream.

At that time I was really into Odd Future stylistically. It was through them that I discovered guys like MF DOOM. I guess they kind of opened my ears to so many different genres and sounds. They probably inspired me to be confident enough make something as left-field and all over the place as JELLYFISH_.

Other influences though would be A Tribe Called Quest, Eric B & Rakim, the OVO collective. Artists like Three 6 Mafia, UGK and No Limit were influences from before I even started making music. Being from Mississippi that’s pretty much what I was raised on. I think those influences are starting to show a little bit more than they may have on JELLYFISH_ with this new sequel project I’m working, ANEMONE_. I should also list Flying Lotus, Hiatus Kaiyote and even Led Zeppelin to an extent. I’m influenced by a lot of stuff really [laughs], I don’t think I could make a full list.

EN: Do you believe that having a wide range of influences helped you to become more versatile as a producer going forward?

LordGio: Yeah definitely. I think having an ear for so many different genres has not only opened me up to different rhythms, chords, tones/tambres, but also different subjects or concepts that people who only listen to one style of music may not be familiar with but perhaps that they identify with personally or culturally. I think having those things that people can relate to gives them a further appreciation for my work because I show awareness of things they aren’t used to being addressed in “hip-hop.”

Speaking of that, I think having these different influences has also helped me to craft a sound that doesn’t strictly fit one genre. This allows my music to be picked up in different crowds. I’ve had people tell me that they’d never thought they would like 4/4 style dance music until they heard the second half of drip, at which point they started seeking out more. They saw that there could be stuff for them in the dance music world.

EN: Do you think it’s too limiting when artists allow themselves to be defined by a single genre right out of the gate?

LordGio: Yeah, I think it can cause problems in the long run. I don’t think Kanye ever really wanted to just be a rapper for example. I think he always intended on making projects like 808s & Heartbreak or Yeezus, but maybe we just caught him early in his creativity. I’ve noticed that there are artists who “blew up too early.” What often happens in the entertainment industry is that artists tend to be forced into the style fans discovered them with. If you look at a Kanye or an Earl Sweatshirt, you see people who suffered because they got famous for one thing, when in reality they have a lot more to offer.

I think a Tyler, the Creator is an example of when it goes right. He came in the game kind of unusual, so he had room throughout his career to completely re-invent his style because nobody knew what to expect since the beginning. I think that’s what I aim for and why I’ve grown much more patient with my career bubbling slowly. I want to build a diverse catalog before people really start looking at me, so no one has to look at future releases and feel blindsided by a change of pace.

EN: Touching on something you mentioned earlier because I’ve gone through similar things mentally. I was wondering if you could expand on the importance of music for you when dealing with depression?

LordGio: It was a lifesaver man. I grew up in a household that stood on the concept of “you’re a child, you don’t open your mouth unless spoken to. You don’t have an opinion, privacy, or a right to your own thoughts.” Looking back, that’s an unhealthy way to raise a child because it’s important for people to get these thoughts out freely and have them heard and digested rather than instantly rejected. I grew up feeling like I was alone. Like I’m the only one who thought the things that I thought and saw the things that I saw and there was something wrong with me. At some point early in childhood this, coupled with bullying at school and other things essentially made me give up on society. I still to this day (while I’m trying to work on it) feel like I can speak something clearly in English and other people react like I’m speaking another language. I just stopped saying anything.

I was left alone with these thoughts, like an open wound left to fester. Lack of self esteem turned into self hatred when I was the only one who seeing my side of things. Parents reinforced those negative thoughts that I already had. Life is only a predictable cycle of misery when shown no other path but the standard, and it fueled the inadequacy and self hatred because I don’t fall into that norm.

When you introduce the idea of writing lyrics however, this changes things a little. It introduced a space where I could write these ideas down. There is no criteria for being right or wrong; there is no “MLA format.”; there are no weird looks or uncomfortable moments; there is no misunderstanding because I know exactly what I mean by these words. When I share these ideas with strangers and they like them, they try to figure them out. Even if they’re getting it wrong, it feels like I’m not alone.

I mentioned that i first started recording music after being active on Genius. This also introduced me to many of my best friends of all time. People who were intrigued by the same art as me, even if it was for different reasons. This shows that I am truly not alone because if they completely shared my points of view, that would still feel like being alone. For their thoughts to be different takes on my own, it shows they aren’t patronizing my thoughts by pretending to share them.

Producing tacked on a whole new level to this. There’s kind of an understanding of how inefficient and ineffective spoken language can be. There are feelings and ideas that neither I, nor anyone can find the words for, but that I know other people experience. I think art is such a powerful tool because it allows us to communicate those feelings and thoughts to each other without the limitations of semantics, grammar, logic, and tone. A person can look at a painting of some splotches of color, and feel something from looking at it that they just can’t express in words; however, they know what they’re feeling, and it’s so strange because that feeling can be so much different than what the artist felt or even what the next viewer will feel.

Producing music is my painting. I have this freedom to put sounds here and there, like colors from my palette. Sounds that I create, sounds that I cut out and re-use because they’re familiar to me.

This limitless nature of sounds shows me that maybe life isn’t a predictable cycle. If nothing else, I can at least count on the idea that there are no railroad tracks constraining me musically. I applied this to life and realized that the railroad is only there if I want it to be. We’re told to drive on the road and that works for many people, but the truth is that we’re perfectly free to pull over and walk into the woods. If I wander around the woods long enough I may find other campers like me who have the techniques and supplies to help me survive. Alternatively, I could kick the bucket before I find these people, but that’s okay with me as long as I’m able to roam freely with the imagination of something being out there. It gives life meaning and a reason for me to press on and keep waking up for the next chapter.

EN: Do you think that, in general, we (be that author, musician, average person, whoever) need to be more open about mental illness? I know for many, particularly for individuals in poorer communities, there is a “don’t ask, don’t tell” mindset around it. I know you mentioned experiencing something like that with your family, so I’m very interested in your thoughts about how the discourse needs to change.

LordGio: That’s it exactly! There’s a cycle in poorer communities that “we have bigger things to worry about than mental health,” but that only creates further problems. We tell our kids that they don’t have anything to be upset about, which teaches them to disregard their emotions in unhealthy ways. It ends up warping their view of the world and causing them to develop more bad habits or commit harmful acts to themselves or others as an outlet.

Then as adults we reject the idea of seeking therapy, even amongst ourselves via honest dialogue because “these bills are more important” or “there’s nothing wrong with me.” Our kids see this, and it adds to the stigma around mental illness.

Unfortunately, the famous people who are more honest with their personal issues and struggles are seen as alternative, strange, or downright taboo to individuals in these communities too.

EN: I appreciate your openness on these subjects, thank you. Moving back into your music a little bit, your last project had some work with other vocalists if I remember correctly. What’s it like to work with the idea of having someone else perform on your track?

LordGio: It’s really exciting because when I’m making a song – whether it has lyrics or not – I kind of have this whole central idea of the song when listening. But then when I’m collaborating with people it’s interesting to see that the song could evoke a totally different or eerily similar feeling in them. It’s also exciting when I’m mixing or editing their vocals and they get that same sort of feeling.

EN: Would you like to expand further into working with other artists on their own material, or do you prefer to work mostly on your solo releases?

LordGio: I do prefer to work mostly on my solo releases, but I also want to have collaborative projects with people. My JELLYFISH_ album is part of a three part series and they’re all going to be self produced and have no features, but I’m always excited to have collaborations on other projects.

I also want to collaborate with artists of different mediums. I have this video out right now called “eyes(n)ears” that depicts me playing a set while a line artist I met does a live-draw outside a local art museum. We’re gonna be looking to do it again in different places.

But expanding on that, I’m interested in doing work on video games, anime, and independent film. I have fragments of ideas for short films, but I want to focus on my music first before I take on another medium.

EN: That seems like a very unexplored territory for younger producers. The only producer that immediately jumps to mind for soundtracking video games is Doseone. Do you think producing for other artists is a skill that’s highly transferable to scoring for a game or movie? I mean that in the sense that you’re basically having to bring someone else’s ideas to life rather than your own.

LordGio: Yeah, the only one I can think of in video games is C418 who made the Minecraft soundtrack. But yeah, it’s the same as that whole collaboration aspect where I think it would be cool to create my own interpretation of that artist’s vision. There’s usually more functional soundtracks, but then there’s those like Minecraft, or anime like Cowboy Bebop, FLCL, and Samurai Champloo, where the soundtrack composer approached it with the functionality taking a backseat but while still fitting within the aesthetic of the whole production. That’s where you have projects whose soundtracks can arguably stand alone as their own pieces. This often times enhances the project as a whole, because it can reinforce the emotions evoked from the writing or the visuals.

That’s the kind of thing I would want to work on, as I tend to find myself struggling when I try to do more strict and conventional work.

EN: To close, I’d like to ask a question that often gets asked to people who’ve made it to huge levels of fame; however, I always think the answer is more interesting when discussing it with smaller independant artists. If you were to sit down and talk with someone who was just learning to produce – as in they’re completely new to music as a whole – what would be the advice you’d give?
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LordGio: It would probably be that there’s no right way to do this. Lots of people are gonna feel like you’re doing it wrong, because either you’re not using the traditional techniques or because you’re not doing the state-of-the-art new techniques. The truth is, art has no blueprint. There’s no tried and true route to creating art, otherwise it wouldn’t be art. I look on the internet from time to time and see a lot of people asking what tools they should use, whether hardware is better than software, and whether sampling, sound design, or the use of live instrumentation is better. The truth is it could be any combination of those things that makes a great project, or it could just be one. Either way, use what you can get your hands on because it makes for a more interesting story when you came across a tool or material by chance and figured out how to make sounds with it especially if it’s something nobody ever considers using.

So yeah, there’s no right or wrong way. Don’t listen to the old people or the hipsters. Don’t listen to the little kids or the hypebeasts. Just make what feels right.

Qualchan’s Mixtape: Songs for Turning Up

by Qualchan

crazyeyes

Dustin asked me to do a second installment, so here I am – songs for turning up. Don’t “at” me on some fuck-shit over one of these dudes being goofy, or your favorite rapper not being included. Do some drugs and get lost. I’ll keep this short and to the point. The Hemingway of trap.

For those who haven’t left, here’s the playlist. Strap in.

  1. Playboi Carti – Location: Playboi Carti has put out the best album of the year so far in my opinion. This beat from Harry Fraud goes the fuck in.
  2. Xxxtentacion – Let’s Pretend We’re Numb: What do I even say…I’ve been on this cat since summer of 2016. This is an older song of his. Enjoy.
  3. Ski Mask the Slump God – Planet Drool (feat. Xxxtentacion): I had Ski Mask in my last list as well. He and Xxxtentacion are set to take over the industry.
  4. Rico Recklezz – Famous: My man Rico Recklezz is a Chiraq savage who dropped the hardest beat of the year.
  5. Higher Brothers – YAHH! (feat. J. Mag): Higher Brother have put out two lit at fuck collabs recently, this and “Made in China.” They’re definitely an act to watch out for this year.
  6. Sumo – Regular (Remix): Sumo is good, but his style is kinda everywhere right now. Once he finds his own voice this guy will be unstoppable. Pay attention.
  7. Go Yayo – Knock Knock (feat. G$ Lil Ronnie): G$ Lil Ronnie has been around for a minute now and I had Go Yayo in my last playlist. Yhis is his year. Texas is on the come up as a region.
  8. Famous Dex – Shooters: I think at this point everyone has some kind of opinion on Famous Dex. The last few months have been rough for him, so let’s go back to the golden era of Dex. Back to summer of 2k15. “Shooters” brings the heat.
  9. Syringe – I Don’t Like You: Syringe is part of the new wave of mumble rap, where more emphasis is placed on turning up on a few Xanax than spitting bars. He may not have a lot to say, but that beat is hard.
  10. Kay P – Blood Flow Down My Wrist: Kay P is dope. “Blood Flow Down My Wrist” is the perfect jam for rolling around with the windows down.
  11. Blake – Flexin: This is an an older song from Blake, but this cat is slept on.
  12. Rarri – What Dey Seem: Rarri brings the fire for summer cookouts.
  13. Lucki – No Work: Finally, a short one from Lucki to close out the set. “No Work” is a great song for the comedown.

Happy listening.

Qualchan’s Mixtape: 2017 Freshman Wishlist Edition

by Qualchan (intro by Dustin)

crazyeyes

In our ever growing quest to bring you new and interesting content, we’ve expanded our horizons and enlisted a wonderful artist from Seattle to bring you a guest curated playlist of up-and-coming hip-hop talents. That artist is Qualchan. Qualchan is a unique personality who will talk your ear off about alternative music, ignorant music, the Anticon era, and is finally tuned with various scenes in hip-hop.

With that in mind, who else could even put together the perfect “XXL Freshmen 2017” (come at us XXL, this is ours now) wish-list-slash-play-list? No one. It’s the perfect choice. We’ll let the playlist do most of the talking, but Qualchan has also hit us with a little summary of his thoughts on the artists he’s included in the mix.

Kick back and enjoy.


First of all, the playlist can be found here. Now, onto the rest.

Qualchan. Seattle. I’ve been into hip-hop since ’92. I’ve also been into drugs and DJ Screw since ’03. And I’m bringing you people to watch out for in 2017.

Sauce Walka and Sancho Saucy are my two favorite rappers right now. Coming out of Houston, Texas they bring a sense of excitement and real danger that no other rapper has right now. They are really in the streets. Everyone associated with their sauce factory label are great, especially Sosamann. He signed to Taylor Gang a while back, and had a verse from 21 savage on his latest song. I’m sure he’s going to be doing really big things, and he and The Twinz are going to drip across the charts.

Go Yayo from Fort Worth, Texas is another guy on the come up in 2017. he recently signed to Soulja Boy’s SODMG… So expect to see him punch Chris Brown on Instagram sometime soon.

Famous Dex outta Chicago has been on for a minute, but I think his best period as an artist was the summer and fall of 2015. It was a tough choice between “Back Now” (on the playlist) and “Shooters,” but Famous Irv (just Irv now) brings the heat. Be on the lookout for bro to blow up this year.

Warhol.ss is also from Chicago. He brings an upbeat and wild energy, and the visuals for “Speed Racer” are great! Cole Bennette really brought his “A” game to this one. It’s such a great song.

Thouxanbanfauni is the only Atlanta rapper I really fuck with right now. “Who U Testin” goes in.

Usually by time I get to Ski Mask the Slump God, the weed and ‘tussin have kicked in. “Gone” is the perfect song to get lost in. He & smokepurpp are both from Florida and are really blowing up right now. ‘purpp’s “Ski Mask” gets me super hype before work.

If none of these guys make it onto XXL’s Freshman list, then I am done.

Apu Celebrates: One Year at Nobodies

by Apu

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Unfortunately, I’ve been a little busier than I expected to be this month. I was supposed to put something out last week and have this close the month, but it didn’t end up like that. Exams, trying to find work, and biology projects have gotten in the way of it. I should have known it would have been too good to be true for me to have more than one piece out in a month. So, instead, I thought I would write something quick about this site, since this month marks the one-year anniversary of Extraordinary Nobodies.

This site has grown at a rate that I would not have expected in the slightest. When we started, I was expecting it to just be something we contributed to occasionally and got a couple of views from here and there. I did not expect to get so many looks that we could actually set a goal something like three times and meet it each time, and then continue growing to where this year seems like it’ll be substantially bigger than last year was. I did not expect that there would be interviews from artists that we’re actually fans of, or that artists would notice what we were writing about them and actually share our writing on their Twitter and Facebook pages every once in a while. It makes no sense to me but we appreciate it.

Last February I was still coming out of the darkest, lowest place I had ever been in my life. I was trying to learn how to communicate again. When Dustin brought up the idea of the site and asked if I’d want to do it, I agreed. More than anything else, I felt like this would be a good way to get out of my head and get some thoughts down. They weren’t even thoughts that really pertained to my situation, it was still nice to have some sort of outlet for something.

I think it’s pretty clear that my pieces for the first few months weren’t the greatest. Like I said, I was still learning how to communicate again. I think around the time of my writing about Kuniva’s first History of Violence project is when I realized “oh, I don’t have to swear a lot and shoehorn cynicism into my pieces for them to be good” and my writing gradually got better. If I compare my latest piece, about hip hop groups, to the one I did about charisma almost a year from today, I see some real progression and growth. I’ve learned how to express my viewpoints more effectively. Hopefully that trend continues.

In the short time that we’ve been doing this, we’ve run into some really good guys who have given us looks that really helped our growth. I would like to send some special shout outs to Prof and Fatt Father. Prof was my first big look, and helped elevate my very first piece to a higher level than I thought imaginable at the time, and I’ll always appreciate that. Fatts has consistently shown us the utmost love since we first started interacting. It’s almost overwhelming to think about sometimes. I, like Dustin, will forever appreciate the support.

Speaking of whom, I’d also like to thank Dustin for thinking to include me as a co-writer when forming the idea for Extraordinary Nobodies as well as being one of the best friends I’ve ever had. I’d also like to thank our editor Emily, who deserves at the very least Bernie Sanders’ idea for minimum wage for having to edit my pieces.

Hopefully I can have a more consistent schedule in 2017 than I did in 2016 with the hiatus I went on after burning out for a time in April or May. In any case, I’m looking forward to the future of this site.

A Thank You: One Year of Extraordinary Nobodies

by Dustin

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It’s not often I step back from writing and approach the blog in a first person narrative. I usually leave that to my awesome co-writer and his (sometimes) monthly column. It’s just not my style; however, this is the kind of special occasion that calls for it. Exactly one year ago we went live with our first article. Since then we’ve published dozens of articles, interviews, reviews, and editorials entirely self-funded. Though it has been mentally tiring and an absolute grind at times, being able to look back on what we’ve accomplished over the past year is so incredibly fulfilling. More importantly however, it is also very humbling. Without the support of some incredible people, we would have probably just fallen by the wayside as another failed music blog. Our success may seem small to many, but to myself and the rest of the team here is an absolute thrill. I don’t think any of us really knew how to project goals onto this site, but somehow it still blew our expectations out of the water.

Anyway, before I get carried away I’d like to thank some people for their support and contributions over the past year. We strive to produce high quality content, but without these individuals none of that would have mattered.

First and foremost, thank you to the artists and individuals who’ve shared their voice with us on interviews: Kash, Swish, MCrv, Lightning Pill, and Michael J. Collins of FilthyBroke Recordings. You were all incredible to work with and I cherish those interviews dearly. I wish you all the best of luck in your careers, and I do hope that we get to work together going forward. You all had a brilliant lack of apprehension when speaking with us, and it was very much appreciated. Once again, thank you.

I’d also like to give a very special thank you to Fatt Father and his management team for providing us with our first ever interview just over a month after we started as a website. As fans of your music, you lending some time to us was a massive motivator to pursue further interview opportunities and continue to grow as a blog. Really, I can’t even begin to describe how much that meant to us. It was like being a kid in a candy store, only I got to interview one of my favourite underground rap artists. I don’t think myself or Apu will ever forget how exciting it was to get the answers back for that interview.

I’d also like to thank some individuals who regularly show support by spreading our work or putting us in contact with artists. In particular, everyone at IHeartNoise, Nick at Darling Recordings, Michael at FilthyBroke Recordings, Qualchan, and many others who have shared our articles. You are all truly the best.

Thank you to both Walter Gross and V8 for trusting us with your projects before they released to do some early press. This is something I hope we get to do more of in the future, and it was very genuinely a lot of fun.

Of course I have to thank my team here at the site as well. Apu, your articles are great – stop being a little shit about the quality of your own work. I’m glad you write here, and that I get to work with one of my only friends who likes hip-hop on this site. Emily, you’ve been an amazing friend for as long as I’ve known you and you’re equally good as a part-time site editor. One day we’ll pay you for your work. Maybe. If you ask nicely (and if we’ve, y’know, turned a profit ever). I’m truly fortunate to get to do this with two people I like so much.

And most importantly: thank you to everyone who regularly reads this site. Some of you have commented, emailed in, and contacted me on twitter, and it’s always a blast to interact with you. We hope you continue to rock along with us, and that our content quality can continue to improve for you.

Here’s to another great year!

FilthyBroke Recordings’ Michael J. Collins Speaks on Respect, Running a Label, and Life in the Indie Scene

by Dustin

fbr

When a seasoned veteran of the music scene is willing to open up about their experiences, it’s generally wise to open your ears. Those who have committed to the indie scene grind their whole life have a wealth of stories, knowledge, and warnings for those who wish to follow the same path. Michael J. Collins, the leader of FilthyBroke Recordings (and long-time indie musician) is one of these such people.

To keep it short and sweet (because this interview is long and wonderfully in-depth), he’s seen a lot. We were fortunate enough to get to have a long sit-down with Michael, and the end result is an unforgettable interview about clawing his way through the music scene, and establishing an independent music outlet. He’s also a super charismatic dude – the interview was an unforgettable process that we couldn’t be more pleased to have had.

This is necessary reading for anyone enticed by a similar trail, and recommended reading for those who just love music.

EN: So, I’ll start with the basics since I like to make sure there’s info for new readers. When and why did you decide to start up Filthy Broke Recordings?

MJC: FilthyBroke Recordings, often referred to as FBR, will be three years old in May of this new year. As for the “why”… Jeesh, there’s a multitude of factors, but I can distill things down:

I had quit music twice before, and realized I would never be satisfied unless I could have a safe outlet to put out whatever the fuck I wanted. Some of which is hip-hop, much of which is not. Having released on many imprints around the world for several years, I learned the hard way that I am much more comfortable being a lone-wolf. Even if that means making way less money.

EN: I can definitely relate to that – at least from the writing side of things. I like being in control of my own output, even though it feels limiting at times. Do you ever feel frustrated with the sacrifices you had to make to achieve that “lone-wolf” status?

MJC: Oh man, in the beginning? Heck yeah, often. Particularly getting used to not making money, even though I knew that would be the case going in. As an artist that had never tried the label thing before, I honestly almost quit music again as our first release was coming together. Basically, I had been used to putting out 12″s on other folks’ labels for some time. I would get my fee and my royalties quarterly, and not really consider what was going on over on the other side. At that time, as you said, I wanted some control over what I was creating rather than being told by a label, “make more stuff like that one [release] from 2008.” This desire for control, as well as my lack of knowing how hard it actually is to run a label are what manifested into FBR.

Dude, within three months of the label going from concept to [the first] 12″ order being placed, I was stolen from… A myriad other shady shit happened that nearly led to me walking away before it even started… At that point my money was all-in though, so I figured try to peddle a few records and then call it quits. Going through a divorce at that time certainly did not help my lack of enthusiasm. Somehow things just kept going despite myself and my tendency to self-sabotage.

I still plan to get my fucking $350 from that punk out in California. If you are reading this, “CM”, know this to be true. I may show up at 84 with an oxygen tank by my side, but I will get that money back. I know it seems petty, y’all, but stealing is wack as fuck, and there are principles at stake for me anyway.

In short, the beginning was a nightmare. Now I am so so happy I made those sacrifices and stuck it out. I still go crazy daily. Hourly.

EN: That’s pretty intense man – it sounds like you’re one hell of a stubborn dude (I mean that in the best way) when it comes to your label. Was there a particular point where you finally were able to say, “You know what? I can do this?”

MJC: Ha! I am stubborn to a fault, I am obsessed with people “doing the right thing” and realize all of that is based in my own unrealistic expectations of others… Like, for real, I in no way wanna come off as negative about things, how things started, just how it was for better or for worse. It was a learning experience of the highest order, in that it truly tested whether or not I felt I could work in music in some other capacity than simply being a recording artist. Though I felt like saying “Fuck it” so many times I learned that people (myself included) are flawed, some youngsters/older folk have never dealt with labels before, not worth throwing shade… Rather, learn from the “climate” of what’s happening in the moment, pick a solid circle of trustworthy people, and love them to death. Help each other to the end of the earth… So, yeah… It was probably like three months ago actually where I felt like, “I can do this. I may be good at this actually, I am growing a thicker skin and a wonderful network.” And the bottom line is that putting out a wide array of music that oddly caught on a bit, with no PR, is addictive. I wanna prove everyone wrong, like, “we don’t pay to play but are sustaining.” Maybe unrealistic, but now if ever is a time for idealism.

EN: With that in mind, I guess this goes back a bit to what we talked about before the interview too, that artists and labels need to respect each other. How important is that respect to you in your operations both as an artist and label head?

MJC: In my mind, Dustin, [it] is paramount to everything. Respect is huge, I think that also taking a step back from one’s own bubble to listen to [and] push the work of others is crucial. I am always preaching, “Support Independent Music.” It was not until starting the label that I really knew what that meant, for me. And for me that means actually SUPPORTING good art by good people, whether it is associated with FBR or not. I believe that at the end of the day, cooperation trumps competition (pun intended. Like, I feel happier (and feel the label does much better) when I am sharing music by other people.

Sharing my own stuff all day is not only boring, but feels stale and selfish when there is so much other amazing music out there. I get turned off by (what I consider to be) ego-driven people, artists and labels. Folks that claim they are “The Best.” Folks that scream for support of their work yet do not engage with others. Liars, cheats and thieves. I guess it’s selfishness that turns me off, as I see it as completely nonproductive in this day and age.

Yes, I prefer the “lone-wolf” aspect of control over the label’s output… However, I would have been dead in the water were it not for people like Fake Four Inc, Oliver Booking Company, Walter Gross, Ceschi, Fremdtunes outta the Netherlands, [and] so many others. These types of people contribute so much to our underground music scene; [they] do so with grace and a willingness to push the work of other unaffiliated artists and labels simply because it’s good stuff and worth sharing. The act of sharing someone else’s music may not seem like much, but when you do not pay to play nor have PR it is actually invaluable. I personally make a point to share non-FBR music all day, mixed in with some stuff about what we have going on. It feels so good to have someone say, “Yo, this is so dope. Thanks for sharing it, I have never heard this before.” And said person then has been turned onto something they can relate to or enjoy. I know that most of our music has been heard due to other people taking time to mention it.

That feeling of community is so necessary for me, as I have had some very bad experiences as mentioned earlier.

EN: Man, I definitely feel that – one if my biggest passions is putting people onto new stuff. Especially when it comes to independent art. Do you also feel like the music industry as a whole is pushing toward a more “grassroots” collective of small communities now that major labels have fallen out of favour (in part due to how they disrespect artists)?

MJC: Yeah man, I do see things moving towards a more “grassroots” perspective! And like you said, putting people on to other stuff seems to be a part of that. As far as what I was trying to explain before, regarding folks trying to band together, I am really happy to say I am observing it more and more. I know I often come off as crabby and negative, however the ideal I was mentioning earlier… As far as people big-upping each other rather than trying to push a singular agenda? It’s happening and I love it. Thus, I choose to surround myself with artists that see the benefit of exploring new music, sharing new music by friends or some 16-year old in Greenland.

Promoting myself and the label naturally comes with the territory. On the other hand, by actively participating in the scene as simply a fan? That has been not only the most fun, but the most rewarding because of the relationships that have manifested over time. I have been fortunate to work with people I have admired for 25 years, people I would obsess over as a kid… It’s such a trip. The only reason those things happened is because of friendships building over time. Friendships that organically started from a simple retweet in some cases. Let people know you dig what they are doing! Make a point of telling friends what you are into at the moment! It’s as grassroots as it gets, but it’s fun and the only way forward in my humble opinion. Little collectives banding together can make a big fucking noise.

EN: Related to this – I have to ask, how does it feel for you when you see someone repping a project you were involved in (either as an artist, or a label head)? I know for me, when I’ve received props for the site from someone I’ve admired it really brightens my day. Hell, even my whole week sometime

MJC: Oh dude, you have no idea! I still freak out like a little kid on his birthday! Call me a fanboy, but I am so full of self-doubt when it comes to my own music (which I have now been releasing for 20 fucking years). I don’t know whether to laugh or cry about that [laughs]. Not to mention I am so busy with the label and mastering for other labels I don’t often get to write these days. Thus, when someone I really admire takes a liking to a new piece it is refreshing and I feel elated. Like, “Okay, maybe I don’t suck as bad as I think and don’t need to quit.” I’ve become much better though, in that these days I am my own harshest critic. Back in the day when I was releasing a lot of music on other labels, I would smash my copy of the 12″ before it ever entered my home. Now I can listen to what I have done over the last couple years and not cry or throw up… Progress! I simply find reassurance when others reach out and say, “This isn’t bad, keep putting out music.” Otherwise I would just record for myself and never release it.

These days the biggest rush comes from the mastering stuff. I just finished mastering the new Walter Gross for Sole’s Black Box Tapes. Just being entrusted with something like that is so humbling and exciting.

EN: That’s so cool, I own some of Walter Gross’ music and he’s a beast. Dude’s got one of the most evil sounding styles out there, in my opinion. Did it take a long time to get to the point where artists regularly trusted you? I imagine building that rapport could be a lengthy process.

MJC: I have no idea how it ended up this way to be honest… It really should not have. I mean, Walter is literally my favourite contemporary recording artist. [He] is the most underrated person in underground music plain and simple, in my opinion.

I actually remember how it kinda started! I had recorded a remix for a label outta Canada. It was to be broadcast, pre-mastering, on some BBC radio show mix. The artist hit me up and said, “louden it for me so I can play it on the radio.” I had never messed around with post-production before, as I had been advised to leave it to the professionals. This was like 7 or 8 years ago. So, I started playing with a limiter and making really bad, really loud pre-release “masters” of stuff for promo purposes, [like] DJ mixes and such. I sucked so bad and knew it. As with everything else I knew I had to step up my game – learn some shit. I was totally secluded in the mountains of Arizona, and had no one to help me out. I just lived on engineering forums and started out with a few plug-ins. After playing around for a few years I felt like I was sorta getting a sense of what sounded proper and what sounded like trash. I bought some more gear and started doing it for FBR.

The turning point was when we released the Hoot cassette. It was archival material recorded between ’05-’09. It was all over the place, and I felt that I was ready for a challenge. For some reason the whole thing just flowed and turned out okay! Then I mastered the Walter Gross release for FBR, [which was] a while ago. From there I realized it was time to really go for it, but was still nervous as hell about ruining the work of others.

For some reason a few people trusted me as I continued to learn. I did the post-production on the joint release we did with Fake Four (which is awful now that I listen [laughs], but it taught me a lot). That trust enabled me to make a lot of mistakes and also learn a ton of stuff. I stepped up the studio and started trusting my ears. For the last six months I have felt really comfortable in the mastering lab, and somehow attained a client base. I just got a job tonight in fact, from someone I did an eight CD mastering project for a couple months back. I thought it was gonna take forever to find clients and build the rapport you spoke of; [however], I think since mastering is so fucking expensive (and I love doing it), trying to make it affordable has helped. I also think that my communication with the artist helps. I am so picky that I would never want to put out someone else’s project with my name attached if the masters were shit. I turn down jobs that I do not feel I can improve upon aside from loudness. It’s taking time, we’re still in the beginning stages really, but much love to the several repeat clients! I have over 100 songs mastered for all formats dropping on various labels in the next 6 months. I am so grateful, and still learning. However, the fact many folks have come back repeatedly really enthuses me. Like, “maybe I can do this!” So much self-doubt [laughs]… Our latest, the new V8 tape, was mastered by me. I think it is my best work to date in that department. Thanks all for the one day sell-out!

EN: It sounds like you have a very strong sense of pride in your work – Do you ever get frustrated when you see an artist or label being lazy/sloppy with what they’re releasing?

MJC: I think the word “sense” is the operative word here, man. I wanna take pride in everything, but always feel I can do better. I think this can be good though, always challenging one’s self to do more, better. Our latest release, the V8 cassette, was certainly an exercise in trying to do “the best we have ever done.” It was by far the most complex and involved project we have ever been involved with. There were a lot of key players that allowed this thing to even make it to the point of release. The 12″ and digital are forthcoming on TSLOS outta Chicago this spring… I ended up mastering the whole thing for all formats, and then subsequently was asked to release the tape. I gladly jumped on it, as it features some amazing talent: DJ Pain1, Kenny Segal, Vyle, and more. Lot’s of close producer friends too. It ended up with me mastering like 30 songs that spanned nearly 90 minutes. Then we pulled from that for the 25 song cassette edition with a bonus track. We were so grateful and lucky to sell it out, as it was pretty expensive, but so worth it. V8 and I handled the music stuff. His girl Vern Royale did the packaging, [and] she absolutely killed it. It’s the most intricate and in-depth packaging we have ever done. It took months to finalize everything, the custom cassette pouches, custom handkerchiefs, and such were all placed in take-out bags with receipts and all. Each one custom, numbered, and with lots of extra goodies. It was really hard at times, I didn’t think we would pull it off to be honest. Now, seeing all of the pics that folks are taking of their orders is the payoff. I really liked V8 and Vern’s concept of basically making a takeout meal of music and art. Thankfully my girl and label partner helped a ton with design layout and such, as I suck at it.

My point in telling you all of this is basically that I want people to know how important each release is for us. I always wanna keep pushing to do something different. This leads to my answer to your question [laughs]… Yes, I get pissed off when I see sub-par merch. I recently ordered a limited release, it was quite expensive. The record had no label to indicate Side A or Side B. I mean, if this were some obscure drone release I could get with it. It was not though, and the packaging was flimsy as well. To this day I have no idea which side is which. I’m not really trying to talk shit, it’s a good record; however, I think attention to detail is hella important, especially now with so many people releasing music.

EN: That V8 packaging was really something unique – had I been in a better financial position when it dropped I would have scooped that up. Seeing creative physical packaging is, honestly, one of my favourite things about the independent scene. Which leads me into asking: do you think artists should strive to be creative with their releases now that physical media is becoming more of an indie scene thing? It feels like physical media is shifting more towards being an art form, rather than a bare bones distribution method. And I’m curious about your thoughts on it.

MJC: That’s a cool question because I actually thought a lot about this over the last couple of weeks. Everything I spew about quality packaging, art-centric releases, and unique extras that create a “theme” of sorts with the physicals? These are all very true for me personally, and how I plan to move forward. We have some really weird shit in the works for FBR011 and FBR012 as far as design and concept. While all of these things are vital to our vision, it’s simply a matter of taste I think. At the end of the day, the music is the most important thing to me. Thus, I can’t really speak to how other artists should approach their releases.

I have some bare-bone 12″s and cassettes, as far as packaging, but it just works. A white label with an “A” stamped on it for example, nothing else. And the music speaks for itself, in some ways adding more flair may have taken away from what was trying to be conveyed musically (but this is different than just sending out un-labeled records that seem kinda sketchy, as I mentioned earlier). So really, I think it’s a matter of quality product no matter the aesthetic. As long the artist feels they have seen their vision through completely, that’s a successful release in my opinion. Having an idea and feeling that the physical or digital final product fully conveys. With FBR, things are very “artsy” right now [laughs], but if you see our Walter cassette it is bare-bones as fuck yet fits the music perfectly so we all thought.

Oh, and the reason I just used the word “digital” is that I think digital releases rule. I love them. And for someone with little to no overhead, packaging can be pricey and time consuming. Maybe trying things digitally first is a way for one to dip one’s toe into the waters of releasing music. We are beefing up our digital series big-time in 2017, coordinating a biggie right now. Digital is just as viable as physical is my take on it. Like you said though, people really like physical goods and cool art concepts that coincide with them. I suppose if one wants to go down the “limited art release” route, it is just a matter of developing said concept and deciding if it can be executed well. If so, go for it.

EN: I feel like you’re describing a very tasteful minimalist approach, and I think that has a lot of artistic merit for sure. Even going back a few decades, New Order’s first release after Joy Division ended was incredible that way. The cover was just the band name, album name, and catalogue number. It looked amazing.

You also just lead into the next thing on my notes! I wanted to ask, do you think there’s too much negativity toward “digital only” releases? I see a lot of people complain when there isn’t a physical, but digital ultimately seems like the easiest distribution method.

MJC: Bro, I have the Factory Records book (FAC451, they did it just like a record release) sitting on my coffee table! That’s funny you bring up New Order and Joy Division, the Factory Records aesthetic was so dope. Exactly, you nailed it with the “tasteful minimalism” for many of their releases. It was a huge influence to me. Cabaret Voltaire released on Factory I believe, one of my favourite bands ever. Somehow founding member Stephen Mallinder has become an internet “friend,” and he has done two guest mixes for us. All because of non-ego driven people just giving each other props years ago! I digress, but it’s just a cool coincidence.

Hell yes, I think people hate on digital-only releases sometimes and consider them less artistically valuable or some shit. No way, not in my opinion. Again, that’s why we are expanding our digital series over here at the label. Digital releases are awesome and just as viable as physicals for many reasons: One can still make awesome digital art for it, the music can be amazing, the overhead is basically nothing, and it can be downloaded immediately in all formats, even .wav! I hope we see more folks with larger labels start to do some digital-only stuff, if only to make it feel more approachable to someone starting out. I hope to see the digital platform utilized even further.

EN: Do you think iTunes gave digital releases a bit of a scummy aura back when they were the dominant platform? I remember buying tracks and having the quality being all over the place (even though it’s listed at equivalent to a 256kbs mp3). To me this has always stood out as a reason why digital is looked upon so negatively. Fortunately we’ve got outlets like BandCamp now.

Hell, iTunes in the early-mid 2000s was half the reason I relied on scummy shit like WinMX and Limewire, unfortunately.

MJC: I was the same. After about a year of novelty, iTunes disinterested me and I stopped using it. Yes, 256kbs threw me [too]. $9.99 for a DRM album of sub-par audio quality ain’t my thing [laughs]. I think people like us may be in a very small minority though, to be honest. Like, do you think the average listener knows the difference between downloading something from iTunes as opposed to Bandcamp? I seriously have no idea! From the fact that the artist gets paid more to the fact that the music is better quality, even CD quality if one chooses? Seriously, I have no idea. And every time I go to get digital distribution set up, I sorta just let it slack and forget for another six months [laughs].

I’m not hating on streaming, but at my level I prefer to have shit available via BandCamp only these days. As far as I know, it’s the best platform as far as paying out to the artist or label. Were I Faith Hill or MC Hammer though, I would likely be all up in Spotify’s guts. I still get shit from music friends about this. Maybe it will change soon, maybe I am just lazy… I think part of it is that I only want the music available on platforms that provide a minimum of 320kbs MP3s, but especially .FLAC and .WAV. Since firing our distributor two years ago it’s been just me until quite recently, and that was rough. Hence, my laziness in certain areas.

EN: Do you see potential in streaming as an option for small labels though? I’ll argue until I’m blue in the face about how flawed streaming can be, but it definitely seems to have intriguing capabilities.

MJC: I am probably the last person to ask about that [laughs]. I have never even explored it due to all the horror stories I have heard about how it is useless. However, I am open to learning more as I agree with you, there must be potential there. High-res streaming would be cool. Maybe exists, but I missed it. I was just talking with my girl and we will likely explore it in the future, but maybe only if things get to a large enough scale where it would be advantageous.

EN: [Laughs], I appreciate the honesty. It’s just an interesting subject. Streaming is definitely heading toward higher res, but the big issue is ultimately still royalty payouts. They’re incredibly low.

I’m going to go somewhere a little cheesy, but we’ve got a lot of aspiring indie label owners who check out the site regularly. What advice would you give to someone just starting out, like you were with FBR a handful of years ago?

MJC: There are more labels than people in the world [laughs]. I honestly was gonna say, “just don’t do it.” But that’s a dumb thing to say.

Look, running a record label is really hard work and there is not a big payoff if one is looking to get rich. It was not until 2016 that we were finally able to say we were in the black and able to fund future releases with sales. It took a couple of years and money was spent as we do a lot of physical releases. Things feel good now, thankfully, but I guess I would ask myself a few questions before making the decision to start a label:

1) Am I willing to struggle and work thanklessly for 10-16 hours a day, and even be working when I am not actually “working?”
2) Am I willing to put my own art aside in order to have the time to start things out properly?
3) Am I OK with rejection?
4) Am I OK if someone decides to fuck me over, will I maintain?
5) If things pick up, do I mind living at the post office and dealing with all the angry people behind me in line as well as irate postal workers?
6) Am I good dealing with a variety of personalities?
7) Am I cool with doing nine things at once all the time?
8) Will I reply in a timely manner to emails, texts and phone calls that come in all day?
9) Am I willing to take risks?
10) Am I willing to support other artists and labels?

I think if one answers “yes” to these ten questions, this could be for you. Or just do what I did, make a bad decision because music is life, and we are all gonna die so fuck it.

EN: Could you ever see yourself doing anything else, is is music where your heart is forever? As far as your main passion and focus in life, I mean.

MJC: Nah, I could never do anything else at this point. Seriously, I mean… I am gonna be 40 in a couple weeks. I never intended this, even though music has been a dominant force in my life as far back as I can remember. I went to university. I actually worked as a psychotherapist and administrator for both the public and private mental health systems for years. At the end I was seeing so many people die, and not improve due to bad policy and greed, so I quit. At that time it was to attempt getting back into writing and releasing on other labels. The experience was frustrating because I was being asked to make the same type of music I was making 10 years ago, so I went off on my own. Hence, FilthyBroke Recordings.

EN: Now onto something a little more current. You’ve got a compilation album coming out soon to benefit an anti-bullying organization. When and why did you decide to put this project together?

MJC: I will be totally honest: First off, I feel like we are currently dealing with the biggest bully in the world tearing people apart, dividing people. It is disgusting and sickening and even as a straight white man I am unable to process or accept what is happening. Secondly, I was relentlessly bullied as a kid. I moved when I was nine and was “the new kid.” Being beaten and laughed at without any intervention from those that were supposed to protect me has never left me, and it never will. I am not happy much of he time, often hate myself, and feel like no one actually cares about me sometimes. I know this not to be true in my head, but occasionally my gut says otherwise. I do not like seeing people hurting. I do not like the vulnerable being taken advantage of. I do not approve of bullying in any way, it ruins people. Donald Trump is a fucking bully. There are 70-year old women being detained in airports, as we speak, in 2017. Just no.

I’m not very good at many things, but this is a very serious and personal issue to me. The response to the compilation has been overwhelming, I am shocked. I feel like this may be an issue important to other people as well, thus we just want to donate all proceeds to Ditch the Label.

EN: As someone who also went through a lot of hellish bullying as a kid, I really respect and think it’s wonderful that you’ve taken the initiative. Seeing the response even from the outside has been touching to say the least. Do you see a lot of merit in music being used as a fundraiser? It seems like a really cool way to raise awareness and funds.

MJC: I do see a lot of merit in it, especially in that using art to raise money also raises awareness in and of itself… Like, the “product” that facilitates an ability to donate is music; music on its own is very powerful and certainly can deliver a message singularly. Just seemed so easy to try to do the compilation. Like you said though? About the response? People came out of the woodwork, no ego all positivity. People that I never would have thought of approaching… They seemed “out of my league” and I woke up to an inbox of songs donated from these amazing people. Mostly unsolicited aside from my tweet about wanting to do it. Some people give a fuck I guess, and that’s just amazing to me.

EN: I’m happy that it took off – I suggest to all of our readers to check this thing out when it drops, and support it if you can. We’re at about length. Is there anything else you’d like to say as we wrap this bad-boy up?

MJC: Just thank you for the best interview I have ever been a part of, for real. I needed that, thank you Dustin.

EN: Cheers, man. We’ll do another one for sure. You’ve got so much experience and insight into the music world that it’d be criminal for me to not have you on again.

MJC: Anytime.

Lightning Pill Discusses Experimental Music, Helping the Community Feel Heard, LGBT-music relations, and More

by Dustin

lp

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.