The music business is not in danger as sum believe, and for our Music issue three talented and innovative musicians gave me access to their world of music. We started out in the Brown Sugar room at Lounge Studios, last Sunday. The first look I got was of the wood paneling, and a literally one of a kind touchscreen soundboard which, like everything else in the place, Walt Randall built with his own hands, wire by wire and plank by plank. Needless to say, I was seeing stars.
The first star I got a chance to talk to was Matt J, a producer who has worked with Nicki Minaj and Lil’ Wayne. I had actually seen him perform during fashion week, but only at a Le Bain after party, so I didn’t get a chance to meet him then. The first question, I just had to get off my chest, because I knew absolutely nothing about how songs are made beforehand.
“So what’s the difference between a sound mixer and producer?”
“You know… that’s a good question. It’s basically, well, hmm, so it’s like I have the idea, as the producer, but then the mixer finds out how to get it into the music.”
At that point, what was really interesting to me was how Matt came up with his quotidian style. The zigzag sweatpants felt a little like Crooks & Castles meets Saved By the Bell, perfectly tailoring those after school smoke sessions and lazy Sundays when you’re ballin with the boys. It turns out that Matt is in the House of Fields, and that Patricia, even at 75 and after Sex and the City and Devil Wears Prada, still finds ways to reinvent the power stripes.
Then I got to chatting with the mixer, Mikaelin BlueSpruce or, as basically everyone calls him, Blue. I guess predictably for someone who moved from Seattle at 18 to study for honors at NYU, his visual aesthetic was a little hipster. Fade haircut, bushy beard, distressed jeans., but whereas some guys might try to run with that all the way, and pigeonhole themselves into ridiculously contrived or off brand clothes, Blue keeps it fresh. We got into a good discussion of the imprint Saucony (pronounced “Sock a Knee”) and we really bonded over how much we loved that Hendrix graphic tee.
“How does a guy from Seattle not end up in grunge?”
“I was born in ‘83 so I was too young to jump on that scene when Nirvana blew up in, like, ‘92, but my brother did. But you’d be surprised man the hip-hop scene out there is pretty poppin. I mean, I came here for school, but even before I got here I was pretty into it. There’s a lot of guys out there too. Macklemore, obviously, and Sir Mix a Lot, but not just them. There were guys I was boys with that both of them sort of rolled with, so you’re talking about people out there doing their thing for a long time.”
Up next was Luz, the Shanghai-born Bensonhurst rapper, whose single “Make You Believe” is going to drop any day now. He was another guy I had seen before, although only via ads on the subway. It turns out he did some modeling for Fusion.net’s “New America” campaign, which is trying to profile the whole jacquard beauty of urban social-scapes. The idea kind of resonates with Luz because in his personal style he tries to cultivate a unique, lifestyle driven sort of aura. The basic building blocks are streetwear, with the occasional jewelry accent from independent designers, but the geometries and color combos never get so bold that you, for example, lose track of Luz’s face, or posture. Once I got that down, I was able to sneak in a question.
“What’s it like living in Brooklyn?”
“Yeah, so I grew up there, so it’s obviously always going to be home but at the same time that’s how I can kind of notice some of the ways it changed. Gentrification is a real thing, and the thing is – the thing is that it starts out as a good idea. First, it’s artists and musicians move into a place because the rent is cheap, and then they can start working in the supermarkets and the coffee shops and on the weekends the nightlife really starts poppin. And generally, they’re nice people, because they’re just living their lives day to day too, and they make friends with the people who were in the area first. But once it becomes a thing, then it’s almost already a brand because there’s that organic process of growth, an influx of new people, and then supply and demand and rents go up, and then there’s influx of capital. I don’t know man, I don’t know what the answer is. I just know that someday the whole world is going to be Williamsburg, and that will kind of suck.”
By then we all pretty much knew each other. Well, obviously Matt, Luz, and Blue already knew each other, but it was only then I felt like I got to know them. I got their dynamic too. Each had his own kind of individualism which, yeah, I realize that sounds redundant but, yeah, it is what it is. Definitely all of them were anti-corporate, you know. They didn’t have any of those black on white hallmarks of Gotham couture which, again, carries over from how they live their lives.
See, another thing I just had to ask because, again, I have no clue how music is made was whether producers and mixers will work with just one record company throughout their careers. Matt and Blue said that, yeah, some do, but that nowadays, especially with the industry decentralization and proliferation of independent talent made possible by digital media, a lot of people are going their own route. The two of them like to stay on their own because it keeps them fresh, it keeps them in tune with the zeitgeist. I wonder if we’ll see something similar happen with the fashion industry, where giant hundred-year-old companies find themselves competing against an Internet of ideas. I don’t think it could, at least not on the same scale, because at the end of the day a song can be saved as a single file on a computer and shared on Facebook, whereas clothes, well we’re talking a physical item, and that’s sourcing, manufacturing, distribution, commissions, etc… Still, something to keep an eye on.
OK, I know this is becoming a marathon article, but I just had to include this last question-answer combo. We tackled it like a group. We kept coming back to it. And it was just too good to pass up.
“When you were playing your latest song, ‘Make You Believe,’ I got a real sense of suspended reality. It kind of kicked off with that otherworldliness, like literally not here and now type shit, that only the sweeping harmonies of a zither can deliver. And you layer and you layer and you layer, and right at the climax you throw in some call and response and we’re transported to the past and the future and, ah, ah… Where does that come from?”
“Yeah, totally. It was this sweltering day, actually it was EDC so we had dropped some ________ and _______ which—
“Wasn’t it ______?”
“Nah. No, it was definitely ________”
“Yeah. Personally whenever I drop ________ I get just a whirlwind of creativity.”
“Yeah so we were on some shit, and so we might have felt hotter than we thought it was, and we had been dancing, but we didn’t get the backstage tickets, we only got VIP, and, like, we didn’t want to wait in the line so I called my manager and asked what was good and he was like ‘Ok, here they’ll give you two extra each’ but I was like ‘That doesn’t help us with the line bro’ and he was all ‘There’s nothing I can do.’ So we bounced after only a few hours and sold the extra tickets to buy more ________ and then we rolled back to Jersey.”
“Yeah and on the bus crossing the Hudson we saw the sunset and it just looked beautiful and I knew we were going to make it, it would be good, I could believe it. And Matt started laying down the beat and when we got back to his place it was already flowing because I chopped up some lyrics in my head and strung it together with how I felt that day, and other days, and every day.”
“It was just that good energy, you know? It was life.”