Rock Me Real Slowly

All photos by Alberto Vargas unless otherwise noted. 

It’s been almost a year since I interviewed Gabriel Garzón-Montano for the pilot issue of Cypher Magazine (second installment coming real soon!). As a young writer—which I still am, no doubt—I still remember our conversation as a moving moment. February is always an intense time for me, where I most acutely feel the anxieties and excitements of a slogging hibernation that I need to break out of. To be honest, that’s exactly where my head is at right now. But enough about my shit.

When we spoke, Gabe was in a similar place, “coming out of a period of what I would call inactivity,” he told me. Before the interview started I told him that I was most interested in getting a sense of his story as a student of music. He was all for it—an interviewer’s dream. I turned the recorder on and asked him to tell me about his first music teacher. His features spread into a placid smile. His eyes were looking beyond the room that we were in; I could see him wading into the memories. Then he spoke, and we were off.

Among many other things, Gabe spoke generously about the artist’s discipline, of getting out of bed to pick up the microphone every damn day. His resolve to shoulder both the burdens and joys of creativity was, and still remains, a personal inspiration to me. I hope it can be the same for you.

I am beyond stoked to be releasing the full transcript of my conversation with Gabriel Garzón-Montano from the Cypher Mag vault. We’re doing this as a gesture of our excitement over Gabe’s recent announcement on Twitter that his debut LP is complete.

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The transcript is prefaced by the words that introduced the much shorter, more sculpted Q+A that was included in the print magazine. Fair warning, it’s long, so we’ve split it up into five sections for the sake of digital readability—but know that this is basically a verbatim representation of our spoken exchange, with only very minor edits. You won’t regret this read.

–Benji de la Piedra, February 2016

 

 

Imagine yourself on tour. You’re lighting up stadiums all across Europe for three months, opening night after night for the legendary Lenny Kravitz. When you get home, you find out that Drake wants to sample one of your songs. You’re ecstatic, of course, but you also want to stay focused on making your own music. You’ve got one masterful EP—Bishouné: Alma del Huila—to your name, which you’re looking to top with your first full- length release. So even while your name spreads across the globe and the Internet, you’re just trying to master the art of self-discipline.

That’s what the past few months have been like for 25 year-old singer-songwriter, Gabriel Garzón-Montano. The first track of Bishouné is “6 8,” a seductive and elegant slow jam that Drake turned into “Jungle,” the song that introduced us to his surprise album If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late. Like the other five songs on Bishouné, every clap, stomp, croon, and piano melody on “6 8” is performed by Garzón-Montano onto 2” tape. The six track EP—a narration of love, life lessons, and family—ebbs soulfully from start to finish. From the moody chord progression on “6 8,” to the uptempo energy of “Everything is Everything,” down to the steadiness of “Keep On Running,” Bishouné: Alma del Huila has the ability to bring a Baptist church to its feet and then to its knees. Garzón-Montano’s old soul shining throughout, the EP harkens back to elements of music that have become antiquated in our digital world. One hears a lot of space in these songs, but you can still dance to them.

Garzón-Montano is a dedicated craftsman and a rightfully rising talent. No doubt he’s got the chops to keep doing his thing for a while. His challenge now is to remain true to his artistry while the spotlight on him intensifies.

Early March, on a sunny afternoon in Bed-Stuy, he took a couple hours away from his Crown Heights home studio to meet me at Cypher League’s temporary HQ, where we talked about his musical upbringing, his artistic perspective and his thoughts on what the future holds for him.

Musical Education

Cypher Mag: So, today is March 2nd, 2015. I’m here with the new homie Gabe. So if you could start by just saying your name, where and when you were born, and tell me a little about your first music teacher.

Gabriel Garzón-Montano: My name is Gabriel Garzón-Montano, and I was born June 27th, 1989, in Carroll Gardens in Brooklyn. My first music teacher was my mother. And my mother was trained at Mannes as a mezzo-soprano, and went on to sing in the Philip Glass Ensemble, and to work with orchestras. She was in the New York City Opera, in the adult choir, not as a soloist. Ended up making medieval music—not making, sorry, covering it. A Brazilian record and then a record of French art songs by Ravel and Fourie and Debussy, stuff like that. And she played cello, piano and guitar, frame drum, a little bit of saxophone, barely. And was just all music all the time. That was my first music teacher, and I don’t know when it really would have started.

Do you remember the first time, maybe that you sat at the piano with her, or what instrument you started with her?

Definitely the voice. Me, [my sister] Luna, and her always singing. There’s recordings of her making demos on her tape recorder, and we’re in the background interrupting.

What kinds of songs would you sing with her?

I guess whatever, just copying her, or just little French songs. There’s one where you grab the other person’s chin and together you sing: Je te tiens par la barbichette, tu me tiens par la barbichette, le premier qui ria aura une clappette. Un deux trois! And then you sit there and the first person who smiles or starts laughing gets slapped. So I remember that, and she used to sing us to sleep and whatever. Another memory is sitting down at the piano with her and her asking me to make noises like the wind or the rain or the ocean.

On the keys?

On the piano. She would be like, Do the rain, so I would do the rain. She’d be like, Do the storm, and I’d do the storm.

Was it always just nature? Or would you eventually try to paint a scene?

No, it was simple, and I was really young.

How old were you?

I don’t know, like four. And then when I was six, she took me—she said, you gotta start an instrument. And I was like, okay. She took me to the Third Street Music School and told me to stop when I saw one I thought I wanted to play. So she took me there and we were walking around looking in different rooms, or for anybody in the hallway and in a bunch of rooms. And I saw these kids playing the violin. But they were plucking it, so holding it sideways, like just going through stuff before an ensemble class or a lesson. And I was like, that’s the one I want to start with.

Did you realize it came with a bow?

No [laughs].

That’s hilarious.

So I chose the violin and I was like, Oh okay, figured out you had to play with a bow. And I stuck with it till I was thirteen.

Okay. And then from there, where did you go musically?

Well I remember always fucking around with my mom’s guitar, and at first I would just lay it across my lap and play the strings like this [hands overtop of imaginary guitar] and just kind of play it the way you would play a steel guitar. My hands weren’t big enough. It was a classical guitar and they have wider necks and my hands weren’t big enough to get around it or even hold it, so I would just kind of lay it down and then play it from above. And then I remember asking her to show me how to do something. And then she showed me what a D-chord was and a G-chord. That was pretty early on, maybe at the end of my eleventh year.

And then I started doing drums when I was twelve, and guitar. And that was the end of the violin. Because really I was trying to get to the guitar the whole time. You can tell by the way I chose it. But I’m so glad I did the violin because it’s one of the hardest instruments to learn how to play and the discipline it takes to play it is more on like a—how would you say?—it’s more thorough, it requires more of you. So that when you get to an instrument that’s easier to play like the guitar or the drums, to me, then you approach it with that, as opposed to the self—I don’t know.

I think I feel what you’re saying.

There’s an amount of detail involved in producing a sound on the violin that really helps when you carry the approach to learning an instrument. Learning one so complicated helps you then learn the other ones. Even though at the end of the day when you’re a master of any of them, I don’t think you can really compare. It’s all on that level of mastery.

But I mean starting with the violin, I’m sure it shaped—

My approach to learning music. Yeah. I didn’t really say it very well. I’m glad it was the classical tradition and the canon. It got a lot of music in my ears, that everything else is based on. And it, yeah, and the level of discipline. It was good to have that early on.

I totally feel you, having that basis and that discipline. And maybe we can go there, in terms of the discipline: Did you always feel like music was gonna be your thing, like what you wanted to be when you grew up was a musician? Or was it something that you found yourself focusing on more and more and eventually you were like, Oh I could be a musician?

Yeah, it’s just always been what I do. I do remember at one point, when I was talking to either my mother or my father and it dawned on me that eventually everyone has to start doing something and, like, getting money to do it, in order to live. And I was [eyes widen], Oh my God. That’s terrible. And I was like, Wait, what would I do? And I started going through the options. And I remember thinking all the classic, like fireman, doctor, astronaut, policeman. It’s funny how somehow even at that age they’ve managed to do that. People saying those professions as the first options.

Yeah I mean as a little kid, those are the pictures you see in the little books like, This is what grown-up people do.

Right, so the conditioning, looking back, was really clear there. But then I looked closer to home. My dad’s a cartoonist. He makes drawings basically. And my mother did music, so I was like, Okay.

So were they supportive the whole time or was there ever a moment when they tried to steer you away from it or warn you?

No. They were completely supportive. Always have been. I did a lot of it on my own though. Like my mom didn’t know how into it I was getting, singing and playing guitar. And then she saw a video of me performing at my school. She was like, You didn’t tell me you could do this! And it was like me doing all these covers and stuff.

What were you covering?

“Hey Joe.” Wait was it that late? Yeah, I was doing like Nirvana and Sublime and Jimi Hendrix. And like Ben Harper and some Dave Matthews Band.

And were you playing guitar at that point?

Mhmm. Guitar and singing. And I played drums too.

Yeah I was actually gonna ask you about that.

That was when I bought my first kit.

Tell me about that. How did you start with drums?

Well, my mom’s friend Cecilia had this apartment on Houston and Ludlow. Right next to Katz’s Deli. Cecilia Angle-Hart, she’s now kind of my aunt. And she had a drum set there. And I remember I just went up to it and started messing around with it. My foot couldn’t reach the bass-drum so I was just playing the snare drum and the high-hat. And, okay, Ben Perowsky, who’s like the man, and he was a friend, he taught me the choo-choo train, on the high-hat. And then maybe I did it on the snare. Then I remember taking the snare drum, or maybe that was later—

Anyway, so that’s my first memory, is Cecilia’s house playing on her drums, specifically her snare drum. And I remember people telling me, You know you’re supposed to play the high-hat. And I was just playing everything on one drum. Everything I could hear.

Okay so, that’s like really early on. And then I remember when I was like ten years old, making a kit out of a pillow, a tubberware container, and a book or something. You know, just different textures that would give me a different sound, and just kind of learning how to play drums like that, how to separate them out. But with no concept of the feet. Just the hands.

And right around then I was like, What would I do? I thought, Music. That’s like nine or ten. Actually now I remember, cause I was on 110th St. and Central Park West up in the towers by the park. And we lived there till like ’99. And then I remember we moved to Queens and in the meantime from ages 9 to 12 I was in the New York City Opera, in the Children’s chorus, cause my mom was in the adult chorus so she got us the audition, and when I went into that, the audition song was “Happy Birthday.”

That’s a hard song.

It’s a very common one so they know people aren’t gonna be stuck up on remembering it, so they can focus on singing. Tony Piccollo was the director, and he’s the one who auditioned us, and me and my sister both got in. And I saved up like 720 bucks doing that, for like a year. And then I bought the drumset with that. And I have it, that’s still the drum set I have. The bass drum’s in Harlem, the floor-tom is in Accord, New York. The snare drum is also. The hardware I ditched. And the cymbals are in a bag back upstate too. And the pedal I think I just recently left behind. But I’d had that pedal for thirteen years. I bought a better one, which my friend also has with the bass drum uptown. But I bought that drumset, the Pearl Form. It was black. I started playing to The Chili Peppers and all the records I was listening to. And at first I started playing lefty, but then I remember switching because someone told me, Are you a righty? And I was like, Yeah. Well then you play like this. You play with your arms crossed. And I was like, Why would I play with my arms crossed? And looking back I should have just stayed.

Oh, really?

Yeah, cause when you play open position—

You must be that much more nimble, right?

Yeah, cause when you play like this [models crossing arms versus open arms]. I should have just stayed. But people always like to warn you about things and not let you explore.

Yeah that’s interesting and very true. So did you have a drum teacher then, or a set of drum teachers? Or were you mainly teaching yourself?

I taught myself for three years. And then I went to Kinhaven.

What’s that?

Kinhaven is a summer camp in Vermont, and they have orchestra and chamber groups. It’s classical, so I went up there to do classical percussion, the summer that I turned thirteen. So I just did drums for a year with my drumset, and by then I was able to read music and do that. Yeah, that’s totally the age I was. Maybe I got the drum set late in my eleventh year. Anyway, shows you how different time was back then. Always home, meals were cooked for you. You’re able to make that much progress. Woah [long pause as GGM soaks in the memory].

Yup, so I went to Kinhaven, learned classical percussion there. Man, that seems off but it’s so correct. Yeah and then Justin Hines was one of my first drum teachers. And we did drumset stuff, we did rudiments. Also I went to Laguardia for drums, for a month, and then I went back to Rudolf Steiner where I was going to school before.

Why’d you go back?

Cause Laguardia looked like a prison. Looks like a prison.

What was Rudolf Steiner like? And where is it?

It’s a Waldorf School. 78th and 79th between 5th and Madison. It’s unbelievable, the way public schools are. Some of them I’m sure are great. And Laguardia is great, but I don’t know why they make them look like prisons. It’s as if they’re getting you used to the idea.

Absolutely, there’s a whole bunch of social theory on that. But so Steiner wasn’t like that? What was it like? Just take me through that, what is it like when you walk in?

Well it’s a nice building. Someone used to live there. It’s a mansion. There’s two classrooms per floor. Small. Do you know who Rudolf Steiner is?

No.

He basically developed Waldorf education, based on his observing children and the way they interacted as they grew through the years, and he wrote this whole curriculum that goes from when you’re three until when you’re eighteen. And it’s based in teaching and learning as a creative act. And the purpose of his education is to cultivate individuals capable of thinking for themselves. I think that’s the mission statement, something like that. We ate organic food there, did movement class, art, music. You don’t learn to read until you’re in third grade. Until then, you start doing this movement, Eurhythmy, where you learn the alphabet through gestures. So you’re learning to read before you even know that you’re learning how to read. By the time you—I remember the process from not knowing how to read to knowing how to read was very quick because of that. Because they’re teaching you [Goes through alphabet gestures—A, B, C…] Each letter has a move, but it’s related to how you write it. And Rudopf Steiner wrote tons of books, he was a painter and he was an educator, philosopher. Pretty intense dude. And Waldorf education is all over the world. But anyway, my parents did research and they figured that was the most wholesome, humane way for someone to do their thing.

So how long were you there?

From age 6 to 18.

With just that month off at Laguardia?

Yup. The first three months, like the first semester. And I did really badly in all my classes except for drums at Laguardia. I’ve always been a terrible student, always resisted it. But it shows in other areas of my life too, like there’s this natural tendency towards laziness and inactivity. And it started when I was in school and I would refuse to write a paper just cause I didn’t want to do the effort. One time my dad made me sit at the computer and I just sat there writing nonsense: The parrot went to the beach and set the broom on fire, like whatever. I wrote stuff like that till I had five pages and then I went back to my room. And I didn’t hand it in and he asked me why and I said because I didn’t think it was good enough. And I told him I had ripped it up so he couldn’t see it, and it wasn’t saved on the computer. Just stuff like that. So a bad student.

So how does that translate into music then? Like have you found yourself in a formal musical learning setting that you resist?

Yeah definitely. I think I slacked in the conservatory. But I was also focusing on my own thing, and transcribing a bunch of music. So you know there have been a lot of things, like periods of inactivity, since I realized I was really doing music as a personal statement, and not just obsessed about it and learning about it in whatever way since I was a kid. Once I realized that I was producing work, then I got that self-conscious idea about what it meant and how good it was and got discouraged by myself and by my trials and errors. And sometimes I get stale on that and stop working. I’m coming out of a period of what I would call inactivity, just cause I was on the road for a while, starting in October. And constantly moving and being in a car I found myself, I would pull out my journal or I would try to work on something like on the go, but I just didn’t find myself in that space. And then coming back I just kinda rode that out. But I’ve been working every day now.

The Composer’s Process

Well I’m actually super interested in that for a number of reasons, mainly because I’m the same as a writer. I need to sit around for a good while doing nothing before I feel like I can do something. So take me through that. Like just that last period of inactivity. When did you get back from the road?

I was there from October until November and I left again until December. I came back December 22nd. You know I’d been playing shows and working with other people on music. I think I’m also hard on myself. Didn’t have too much going on in January for example—Okay right, and then in February I worked with this girl from the UK, wrote and recorded two songs with her. And then just did rehearsals, shows, studio. And then that Drake thing happened. [Scrolling through cell phone calendar] Interview, photoshoot. Yeah I guess I’ve been—and then certain days off.

But yeah, I definitely have felt: the more you do less, the less you believe that you can do. And that’s just what I found myself in. Your sensibilities get shut down and you wonder if you still have it. That’s all it is. But it’s all avoiding responsibility. It’s like a victimized rhetoric that you have going on in your head. You get some sort of satisfaction out of being sad about it. But it’s like little crumbs, it’s like these little points, like, Oh poor me. But it’s so much greater when you just create. Life is so much greater, being alive is so much better. So that’s what I’ve been doing. Picking up the microphone. I have songs that I’ve been working on. I’m always working on something. It’s never off. It can’t be. I just recently spent a week at my dad’s house and I had near panic attacks. I would lie in bed watching TV and not wanting to get up and do the day. And then other times I’d be sitting and working things out, learning stuff on the keys, making a beat. So yeah.

And when you’re there with your dad for example, does he see you in bed for long periods of time and try to pull you out? Or does he think, You’re gonna figure it out on your own?

Yeah he’s like, I can’t live your life for you. But it would just be until nine-thirty or ten in the morning. And then I’d get up and cook meals with him and stuff and then maybe around eight-thirty, start watching TV again.

Okay. So you’d still have a full day. I think you are a little hard on yourself.

Yeah. But a lot of it, being confused, not being able to focus. Looking at social media. It’s really just a low conversation, a low level of inquiry and thought. Just kind of the basics of what the establishment has to offer: TV and social media.

I’m on Twitter but I never use it. And pretty soon I’m gonna have to use it if I’m going to be a writer. But I hate it. And it’s interesting to me that you bring it together with the establishment. How do you negotiate that? Do you force yourself to tweet or is it just something you do when you feel like it?

Yeah. If I feel like I have something to say that in some way is positive or there’s some sort of achievement I want to record. Sometimes Twitter’s not so much about being in the moment and catching to tweet at the time. Sometimes people go to your page just to see your collection of thoughts and what your trajectory is. So it documents. You don’t have to think about who’s seeing it right in the moment, perhaps they go back later and see a little story develop.

Yeah I was looking at yours on my way down here, and the one that popped out to me was “Stravinsky’s bringing me back to life.”

That was when I was upstate.

I think the tweet said that someone had given it to you and you were just rolling through it?

Yeah my friend Zack. I listened really to one movement of the Symphony in C, the first one. And there was one part where I went [eyes get wide, gestures ears perking up] and when that happens, that’s how you know you have to learn it.

So you’ve been practicing it this week?

Yeah it’s just like five chords that I took. Wait [counts]. Six chords. Stole it. I’m still like a piece of playdough though, I haven’t exactly figured out how to do it. Sometimes I have to sing while I do it to give it direction, otherwise there’s so many possibilities of how something could go that there’s no way to focus it unless there’s clearly an option that presents itself as the best one. So singing sometimes helps me steer that, because based on whatever I need up here, I move my hands to support it.

So would you say that every song—I remember reading another one of the interviews you did, you said you don’t always start with the same thing, like the drums or your voice. Does every song kind of find its center eventually? Or would you even say there needs to be a center?

There does need to be a center. For a song I think usually it should be the melody and the lyric, which is what usually people gravitate towards. The lyric has always been something that I just had to do, that I know I have to or else it’s not a song. If it was up to me, I wouldn’t really write lyrics, but it’s part of the way all these things happen to come together in me and come out, it’s as a singer-songwriter in a way, which is something I kind of resent.

That label, singer-songwriter?

No. I love singing and I love words and I admire great poets, I just don’t think—I resist the writing of lyrics. But I love words and I love poetry so—I have to do it though or else I have nothing to sing about, I’d just be going ooooooo. But on the record you can hear stuff like that: oooo’s. Cause I was like, That’s all!

Yeah I mean, now I’m thinking of the beginning of “Everything is Everything.”

Oh yeah, but that’s more as an instrument. The hook of Naeja—oooooooooo—I wasn’t about to be singing words behind that. It might sound too nerdy maybe—it’s more peaceful if you have a heady piece of music to just deliver it as that. Instead of trying to make it sound like a sci-fi, nerdy, I don’t know. If a melody is too angular like that, I feel like putting lyrics to it would be strange. But like, Thundercat does stuff like that, these really heady fusion-melodies with words. It just kind of sounds nerdy to me. Not Thundercat, just the idea of doing that.

I feel you. But with you at least, your music has a certain—Like I listened to your EP maybe three or four times on the plane back here and I kept finding myself like—ten minutes have gone by and I actually can’t quite remember what I’ve heard, it’s just been there. And my mind has been going off in all sorts of different directions. So yeah, if there are words—like I can’t read when I’m listening to music with words in it. You know words grab your attention and sort of say Hey look at me, but there’s something about the oooo’s that just fits and works.

Mhmm. Now what was I getting at? Oh, if every song has to have a center. So I said I think it’s melody and lyric because that’s what the masses are drawn to, it’s something they can understand. And something that they can remember. Lyrics they can understand, and the melody they can remember. Melody they can understand, and lyrics that they can remember. But to me the exciting part is the way all the pieces fit together, from the drums up through the vocal and all the rhythms and stuff and the arrangement.

And that must be even more exciting if you’re doing it all yourself. Right?

Yeah. Also it’s tough because sometimes I’m afraid that I’m running out of ideas. But that’s irrational because you have to keep going and then new things happen. So sometimes a groove will happen independent of a melody or a chord progression or words and I’ll have one of those things that needs a companion and I’ll be like, Oh yeah that drum thing I did the other day. Maybe I could sing these words with this melody over that. Mmm, or maybe not, maybe I’ll do it over something slower.

So a lot of the times it’s like a bunch of ingredients and then I see which ones go together. And sometimes it’s like a melody and a feeling and a groove and chords will happen all at the same time. It’ll be clear that that’s what the song is. Sometimes I just know that I like something I’ve done but it doesn’t have a family. It’s just alone. So different ways, yeah. I think that’s pretty much the case across the board.

So as an arranger, is there a school of thought or a particular arranger or someone who you would say is a real influence on you in terms of the way you bring those pieces together? Or is it really just intuitive?

Yeah it’s just what I think works. All the songs have some sort of a keyboard playing the chords, like the harmonic rhythm. And then I add vocals and the little percussion things and the bass and that’s pretty much it. I think choosing good sounds is part of what makes things seem a certain way to people. The fact that a lot of the sounds that I’ve chosen are acoustic also sets them apart in an era where there’s mostly synthesizers and beats, even though I have those things in my music too.

Yeah but they’re not—yours go like this [gestures of enveloping the music from the outside]. They’re not the heart of the music I would say.

Yeah. No particular arranger. I mean, yeah, you can hear Sly and Dylan and all these people in there. And it’s just standard, I mean drums, bass, keys, percussion, vocals. Standard pop stuff. And I try to make it a little bit different. A little sweet and sour.

And so in terms of when you’re—you know you said earlier, your mass audience is looking for lyrics, right? When you’re writing the song how much does that enter your thought? And not even in a pandering or I need to serve the mainstream kind of way, but how much is your audience on your mind when you’re making the music? Or are you your own audience in the moment?

Yeah I’m my own audience. I think a lot in terms of the live show. So now as I’m making my next record, I’m thinking about what things will be like [when I play them] live. To make sure I have the right amount of stuff that’ll engage people on a physical level. But in general, the type of music I want to make is stuff that’s funky but then has beautiful, really thoughtful harmony that makes people just kind of feel unable to avoid their humanity and their tenderness. That’s my goal. And any sexual element in my music is deliberately not gonna be at anybody’s expense, not gonna objectify anybody in a way that brings down their dignity. So based on that, I feel like that type of imagery and sensibility is often tied together with a certain aesthetic musically too. Especially nowadays, where the idiom is pretty much hip-hop, and the way hip-hop music has gone. I don’t know why I was saying that.

I was asking you about audience.

Oh yeah. So basically, I want it to be danceable, which it is, live. Anyways I think about my audience in terms of what the tracks are like, now. Before it was just in terms of whatever I was thinking. There was no audience. Now I know that people will listen to whatever I put out. Before I didn’t really know if anyone would. But I think the more I think about people, the less I’m gonna do what I think should be heard. But for example now it’s like, I sent my manager a demo. And he goes, Oh I don’t think it’s a single. But it’s definitely an album cut that someone would dance to in the morning. And just already hearing stuff like that. I wish I didn’t have to hear stuff like that. But then I think about it and I have to make the choice to just—I mean what does anybody do? I guess they just hear stuff like that and they know there’s this whole industry and this whole reality. And you’re just like, whatever. Madlib does a great job of that, just doing whatever he wants. And he’s been able to do something great, sustainable.

So is there someone out there or someone on your team who you send your demos to just for the music stuff? Like just to get another set of ears on it? Especially if you’re making the music yourself?

I don’t want another set of ears on it. Cause there’s always comments to be made. If I had just had my record—I did, I sent it to maybe five to seven people before it was released. And one of my friends who’s a musician sent me a bunch of mix notes, like Oh yeah you should bring this up and I think this-and-that. But to me it was like, No this is it. It’s done. And so if I hadn’t had that frame of mind, and I had listened to what everybody had to say, it would never end. I feel like there’s something about saying This is done that people have to just stop that and understand, Okay what was their intention? What was their vision? And it’s a new attitude when you close that door and you say, This is done. This is what it is. People listen to it differently. It’s amazing how much they accept, as opposed to critique.

So I think showing people stuff before it’s done—unless you have like—like the other day I made something and I thought it sounded way too much like a friend of mine’s music, so I sent it to my friends and they were like, Just relax dude, this is different. But I don’t think I would have done that before. I think now something’s changed, for sure. It’s less in the privacy of my own experience, where it’s like nobody knows what I’m doing. Now people are like, That’s what you do. You do that. So it’s a little different now. I can’t imagine what it’s like to have a hit record! On your own terms though. I can imagine what it’s like to have a hit record the way that hit records are made nowadays, usually, which is like, Gnarls Barkley—even though those guys had already been in the game. Cee-Lo was part of Goodie Mob. They’d been in the game for years.

But yeah, I think at the end of the day the key to all that, to coping with all that, is just that nothing gets in the way of your craft. It’s just something you’re doing. It doesn’t really weigh other considerations besides its self-fulfillment. The more that’s there, the less the other stuff gets in the way. The less that’s there, the more those become the ideas or the thoughts.

The Discipline of a Rising Star

So you’re at this stage now where it seems like you’re moving up. You just got off tour with Lenny Kravitz, your song got sampled by Drake. In a year, two years, five years from now, you could very well, I hope, be someone very big. And so is that something that’s on your mind a lot? Or is it something that people are telling you like I am now, putting on you and you have to react against? How is that knowledge coming into play on the level of your day-to-day?

There’s always been some sort of expression of that sentiment since I started taking music more seriously. It started out with my family, they’d be like Oh someday, you’ll be a star or whatever, just kind of like encouraging stuff and making jokes about, You’d better get us into the VIP or whatever. And then my family came to see me play at Wembley Arena. And they were backstage, they had the passes. It wasn’t my gig, but still—

My commitment to what I do has always created an impression of me as someone who will go on to do that. That’s simply put. I think I’ve always kind of heard stuff like that, but now that there’s been some validation industry-wise, and it seems like it’s a relatable thing that I’ve created, I guess people have been expressing their belief that I’m gonna continue to do this and have some success in it. How does that make me feel? I think in a way, I’ve been scared about not performing well, but fear is natural and if you live by fear, you’re just using it as an excuse not to do work that kind of you don’t want to do maybe because you’re a little inherently lazy. Even though it’s not what’s best for you, to be lazy. It just seems like it’s the easiest thing to do but it’s not. Kanye said, “It’s harder to give up than to try.” It’s definitely true, from experience. I’ve tried giving up, but it just doesn’t work. You just start panicking and you don’t feel right within yourself. If you can live without it, you can live without it. But if you can’t, then you can’t. Again, I think just focusing on creating, every day. The discipline removes the pressure of expectations. Cause it’s on another level.

Can you say a little more about that? The discipline removes the expectation…

Discipline is freedom from expectations because you—I guess the idea of considering what people expect from you—This is hard to say but I know what I want to say.

You’re bound to create something great if you’re creating every day, and so, by living in that greatness, it doesn’t really matter how other people interface with it, because it’s going to have something innate about it that’s important and that has merit and that people are going to like. So the more you’re focused on the doing, the less the exterior considerations come into play, like how it’s going to be received. I think the less you do it, the less you’re sure of it, or the less it’s something worthy. And so the more you wonder if people will like it. Cause perhaps they won’t. Whereas, if you do it all the time, there’s no question that people are gonna like it. Unless you have some sort of a flawed concept. Or are bent on offending people or creating something deliberately that people won’t want to hear.

I feel like you have neither.

Right. So yeah, so discipline is freedom from expectations because if you’re going out on a limb and trying something that’s perhaps risky, then you’re gonna have it so well-practiced and so well-rehearsed that it’ll just be some cutting-edge shit. Whereas if you’re not really on your game, then perhaps it’s gonna come across as a bold experiment but not a successful execution.

So then, is it really like a no-days-off kind of thing for you?

No there’s days off. On tour sometimes we were in the car for ten hours every day, or pretty much every day. So I would consider that a day off. You’re not really creating. You’re playing a gig at night so you’re still engaging in the ritual, but—Or sometimes if, you know, when my sister graduated from college that was a day off. I didn’t do anything that day; I drove up and spent the day with her. Sometimes you have to go to the doctor’s or whatever. So it’s pretty much all the rest of the time you have it’s go-time.

So you have very few days off.

Yeah, I mean, it just gets worse. It’s not as good when there’s days off.

I think that’s something that a magazine like Cypher is especially interested in. Cause everyone here seems so hungry and wanting to build and wanting to do their craft and just be really good at it. So I think the lesson of discipline is an important one for all of us to learn.

I wanted to ask about being on tour. What did you learn from Lenny?

I learned that you have to preserve yourself. So there’s no liquor on his rider. He doesn’t smoke or drink. He had a steam machine with him, drinking water, exercising, warming up. And he’s a great showman. He’s been doing it for twenty years. He looks great. So I learned that for longevity you need to have a serious, disciplined approach to your work.

And he played the Super Bowl right after you guys got off tour?

Yeah.

Did you talk a lot to him? Cause you were saying [before the interview] that you had different bus set-ups.

We chilled maybe four times on the whole tour. It was just in the dressing room beforehand. Sometimes we’d text each other and I’d go say hi, sit down for five minutes, chat. That’s about it.

What was he doing with his time?

I don’t know. He would show up at the venue maybe at 4 or 5’oclock to sound-check. And then he’d be on his way out by like 12:30.

Who else was on that tour with you? You said your bandmates?

Yeah. Jake Sherman, Spencer Murphy, and David Frazier on Leg 2. And then Armand Hirsch, Nick Simran, and Spencer Murphy on Leg 1. So it was two different configurations.

Were there ever any bad shows? Or shows that didn’t go the way you wanted them to?

Yeah. There were shows where I made a mistake from being nervous. Yeah there were definitely shows where things went wrong.

What happened that one time you made a mistake?

I was just hitting the wrong chord bags, I think. One of the times something went wrong with the tracks we were playing to, and they all cut out.

So then what happened?

We just kept playing the song. Without all the background vocals and all the stuff that was in the tracks.

Do you feel like people even noticed?

Absolutely. Yeah.

What was the reception like in general? Obviously people were there to see Lenny Kravitz and probably hadn’t heard of you.

Yeah they hadn’t. There was always people who were really down with it. And then a lot of people I don’t think were really trynna invest that much in the experience; they were just waiting.

So do you think you’ll go back to Europe soon?

Oh yeah, I mean, I had promoters who were really all about it. Promoters for arenas come back and say, That was a great show. So I definitely think we killed it out there. We did great.

Do you have any other offers in the pipeline? People to work with?

Small things here and there but nothing really. I submitted a dream-list to Red Bull, who’s taken an interest in my project and they wanna put money behind it. So they want to do a collaborative EP with another artist. So I gave them a list of people that I’d like to work with.

Who was on that list?

It was Madlib, Andre 3000, Lil Wayne, Riff Cohen, Chester Watson, Tijoux, Pearson Sound. It’s hard to see who I would gel with. When I really think about it I’m like, Hmm. After listening to a lot of suggestions that I got from people, what I found that a lot of artists who are up-and-coming have in common is pure beats, electronic beats. A lot of processing on the vocals, a very modern aesthetic with a lot of reverb and some kind of a trap thing.

Which isn’t really what you’re doing.

Not quite. I mean I have halftime music that speaks to the fact that I’ve heard all that and that I appreciate it, and love some of it. But I’m not trynna make stuff that is in that vein. I just think there’s enough of it.

The one that I think is the most out-there actually is Lil Wayne. Why’d you pick him?

I’m a huge fan of him. I love his musicality. I love what he’s done with his voice. I discovered him through listening to Tha Carter III like in 2012 or 2013. Like really late. When I heard it at first I was not into it. I was more into Wu-Tang and Tribe and rawer nineties stuff. So I didn’t really have an ear for what he was doing. But then I went back to it. I heard “A Milli,” I just sat down and listened to “A Milli” and I was like, Wow this is incredible. The way he sits on the beat, his performance, it’s remarkable. And then “Dr. Carter” with that really soulful sample. And just hearing these sensibilities I was like, Wow he’s just killin it. This is amazing. And then I just started going into all his other stuff and he immediately jumped out as one of my favorite rappers of all time. It’s pretty much him and Biggie. Those are my two favorites.

It’s interesting, really, because I think Lil Wayne is a great example of that discipline you’ve been talking about. There’s The Carter Documentary on YouTube, this guy who follows Wayne on tour. And the whole time he’s rapping. Any time they have downtime he has the mic, he has the filter, and he’s just rapping. In the hotel room, on the bus, whatever. And at one point he’s like, You know I rap mainly about all the bitches that I get, but I actually don’t sleep with any bitches because I’m rapping too much. So there’s something there that I see at least, and it speaks to what you were talking about. If you just put it in, keep fucking doing it, it’ll be great just because you have so much. And so much of it is you and what you’re doing.

There’s so much momentum.

Yeah exactly, momentum.

Yeah I have seen that film, it’s really inspiring.

Where do you think you are momentum-wise now?

Within myself? I’m picking back up. I’m basically coming off of—the tour faced me with a lot of questions about whether or not I was good enough to do this. And I am, and I think somehow I tricked myself into thinking that perhaps I’m not. And it caused an apathy, a little bit. And a fear. But again, a fear is just an excuse not to do work.

Was there a moment when you slipped out of that or came back like, No, I am good enough to do this?

Yeah absolutely, every night. In order to get up there. But sometimes I would get up there thinking like, Ehhh I don’t know. And those were rough.

Well that’s the thing, is, I’m sure even Lenny has those days.

Yeah he does, everybody does. It’s who you are on that day that really counts. But once again, just submitting to the act and the ritual and just getting into the part that’s just fun. That’s the doorway to that whole world of excellence, of just doing it.

So what is your ritual?

Start by warming up and then start playing. Open up some sessions, see what’s going on. Keep building the songs.

Were you rehearsing a lot when you were on the road? Or was there not even much time for that?

No, all our stuff was on his truck. So we didn’t rehearse at all.

So that ups the stakes I’m sure.

Oh yeah. Yeah it was just what we would do when we got up there every night. Or every other night, mostly, and there was a stretch when it was every night.

Is there anything else you want to add about the tour? Before we go in a different direction? Any memories or any moments?

Yeah the moments were just, all these shows playing in front of anywhere from five to ten thousand people. And just feeling that energy, and it was just totally surreal. I never thought in a million years that I thought I’d ever get to play audiences that big. And staying true to myself and keeping it small sometimes cause I realized my sound is small. Whereas his is huge. But I definitely found myself singing out more and just trying to engage more and put out more energy. Yeah it changed me. It brought my performance to the next level for sure.

Yeah cause I read in another interview you did that maybe the first night you performed, you were just singing for the first twenty rows, but then you realized that if you just titled your head back a little bit, you were suddenly singing to so many more people. Can you talk a little bit about that learning process of being bigger on stage?

It’s all about who you’re considering in the audience. A lot of the time, staying within your own private experience can make a performance worse and when you look at everybody singing to them, you realize what you’re actually doing. And somehow it comes out differently when it’s not about you and it’s about others. I think that’s a big thing in life. A depressed mind-state is one that only considers the self. It’s totally selfish. And the more selfless you are, the more in-tune with the natural rhythm and the flow of life.

So to me it’s interesting because your music is so—not self-absorbed, but you are doing everything yourself, you are your own audience most of the time. So much of it is you trying to make yourself your best self. Do you find that there’s sort of a yin-yang effect there at all with the live performance and the being out there? Does that balance things at all?

It’s nice. I think my performance is more assured now. I mean, it’s been a while since I made this music. So now the way I deliver it is a little bit different, I think, than what you would expect from the record.

In what way, different?

Maybe more charismatic. On stage than on record. But I can’t really tell. I’m too close to it sometimes to know.

Have you ever seen yourself on tape? Performing?

Yeah.

Any notes?

That I have for myself? Look cooler [laughs]. I have a hard time watching or listening to myself. Unless it’s really good. But I think just celebrating the music, and remembering to stay loose, is all you need. And then just singing the shit out of it.

Images

So I’m going to take it in a slightly different direction. We touched on this a little bit with Lil Wayne. Your influences and how eclectic they are. And I looked at the list of influences you have on that one interview, I forget with who. You had a couple classical guys, you had a couple rappers, you had Dilla, D’Angelo. But the one that took me back, where I was like Oh snap, I need to ask about this! was Arthur Rimbaud. And I was so interested because—

What interview did you read?

I can’t remember—It was Giant Step.

Oh wow I put that there? Okay.

Yeah I think you put your parents, Rimbaud, and then everyone else. And yeah, cause I was reading Illuminations over break and I got like halfway through it and I was like This is cool but I really have no idea what’s going on. And so I wonder what do you get out of it? Earlier you were mentioning that you’re into poetry as well.

Yeah pretty much just him for now. Illuminations is one of the best things I’ve ever read. I just love all the imagery he brings together, and how he finds ways of saying things that seem so enchanted, when you know he had the same existence that we do. Just being inside of a room, walking down the street, being in the countryside, walking in the park, going to a bar. And yet his world just seems so enchanted, and that’s kind of what I’m trying to provide with my music, is this other world. Inspired also by Gabriel Garcia-Marquez, magical realism. That stuff has always tickled me, I just think it’s so worthwhile and beautiful. I make my own meanings to what he’s saying sometimes. And then sometimes I think I know what he’s saying. But I just like the images.

Do you read it in French or English?

English and then sometimes I look over at the French.

Yeah cause there’s definitely a musicality to the French that gets lost in the English I think. So every time I was confused I was just like, Oh I’ll read it in French, at least it sounds better.

Yeah but in English it’s still pretty amazing.

Do you have one image that stands out, at least right now? Or that is on your brain?

I just love the colors he assigns to things. He just brings up colors. Purple, orange, red, black, white. And I love when he sprinkles those in. And animals. He always talks about flora and trees and stuff. Especially Illuminations because I started reading A Season in Hell, and it’s much darker and it kind of just goes on and on in this really dark thing that conjures up a lot of images of Hell and the darkness in one’s mind. I just don’t—I think it’s interesting that people have delved so deep in writing about darkness, when I feel like there’s so much that you can find in the world. I don’t know what that does for people.

Yeah you’re not a dark dude. Your music isn’t dark, I would say.

No. I think there’s definitely a melancholy in it. It feels like a pastel kind of a mist to it.

Yeah but it’s almost like a serene melancholy. Like a sort of, This is just how it is and I’m cool with it.

In my new songs I have images like “cactus,” “red balloon,” “sour mango.” Things that are coming out of that desire to bring this other flavor. I don’t know what it is.

Are those images in the songs?

They’re lyrics and titles. I just find myself kind of going towards that.

Which then—this is a question that’s been on my mind so now is a good time to ask it—I’m interested in your visuals. Like the cover of your EP, the video to “Everything Is Everything,” and even the video to “Keep on Running,” there’s like a fragmented quality to it. Which is so interesting to me because I think the music is so smooth and so integrated that the visuals are actually not quite like that, at least to me. So do you have a way that you always approach your visuals? Or do things just kind of move according to each song?

Visuals again are kind of this unwanted burden. The only task I really set out to fulfill is the music part. But then in the way a modern artist presents himself, a musical artist, in pop music, you gotta make videos. I’ve never really planned those out. Those are in collaboration with somebody and I kind of let them do their thing.

Do you have people that you’re trying to work with?

Not really. Maybe I don’t spend enough time thinking about it. Some part of me doesn’t really care. I hope that doesn’t sound discouraging. But I feel like the more I do the music the more people will just come to me with great ideas.

So the video for “Everything Is Everything,” how did that video happen?

Santiago Carrasquila and Joe Hollier. Santiago made the cover with the same technique where you shoot a video, and then scan it while it’s playing on an iPad. And you get stills where there’s multiple different positions within one frame, based on the scanner’s progress. And then for the “Everything Is Everything” video, the idea was to use that. And anything that was live action was still scanned, so you could see the dust and it gives it this almost analog quality. But it’s totally a digital process. And then they got a bunch of stills together based on the playing video on an iPad that’s being scanned while it plays and then they strung them together to animate certain sequences.

At first they were talking about having me in the forest, singing a song and doing all that, and then a week before that Santiago had sent me a video of this guy singing “Happy Birthday” to him in his office, and I was like Who is that guy? And he was like, It’s this guy Vlad who sings on the corner of 27th and 6th Ave or 23rd and 6th, and he’s there every day. And I was like, Why don’t we get him to be the lead character? And that was just based out of the fact that I don’t want to be in my video. I don’t like photoshoots. I don’t want to be some kind of performer in front of a camera. It’s just not, once again, it’s not part of what I was thinking of when I made my songs. There’s no vision in that way. Which I think could be troubling. Cause people love that. They want to see the person. But I just don’t have that desire. So I was like, Let’s throw the old man in there, and they were like, Yeah. And I was like, Yeah that’d be crazy. Everything is everything, and I think that’s a good way, have some old man singing it.

Maybe there’s a subconscious desire to alienate people. Or just to confront them and to be like, You want to see something sexy? You want to see youth? You want to see me walking down the street lipsynching? Here. Here’s a thirty second intro of spinning leaves. I feel like people have the patience for it though. I can’t tell. But it’s interesting, it’s this whole unresolved part of the vision that I guess I need to embrace. But without money it’s hard to really do. You gotta be really creative. Part of me doesn’t want to spend my time considering what my videos should be like. I feel like that’s spreading my aesthetic juices too thin. Maybe that’s just an excuse. But if you’re making music, that doesn’t mean you’re also making video. But it’s part of the game though.

Yeah, I mean, I think you could read it any number of ways. Like all the ways you just threw out you could read it as any of them. But I think you have such a good conception of yourself—like you know what you’re not, and that’s just as important as knowing what you are.

Sure.

And I think the video totally works. I love it. I think it’s hilarious and visually stimulating.

Oh that’s great. Good. Well yeah, it’s all about giving people a new experience. That’s one of the things I can say for sure, is that I’m not interested in just doing something that I’ve seen.

So when you—like the stuff you’re making now, do you ever have a visual pop in your head and you go and write it down? Or is it still really like, making the music, making the music? Like are you more conscious of, Oh I should have a visual to go with this?

No. That’s a good idea though. Yeah it’s just songwriting. And making tracks.

Gabriel playing drums with Quincy Vidal at the Cypher League Dojo in March 2014. Dominic Missana on bass. Photo by Sketchy Stu

A Great Beginning

So I wanted to ask actually, taking another turn, about Cypher League and your relationship to them. Cause when [editor-in-chief] Ben [Toren] asked me to do this, he was like Yeah, Gabe is super down. So if you could just walk me through that relationship.

Well I went to Steiner, the Waldorf school I was talking about with Sei Smith and Ki Smith and they started a gallery and event space with a venue in the basement called Apostrophe Gallery. And they asked me to perform there and I said sure. And through that, this community of people out there in Bushwick, some of which were these Cypher League kids, saw me play and then when I put Bishouné up online people started reaching out from that community saying that they were really into it. And that’s how it started, just meeting them there at Apostrophe. Them doing another article on me, a couple articles. I would stop by at parties or perform at parties. I was playing drums in a hip-hop group called Quincy Vidal. That’s how I met Ryan [Bock], and Ryan did the “Keep On Running” video. I think the first article written about me ever was a Cypher League article. Ben wrote it. Or Megan wrote one too I think.

So what’s it like getting all this new press? Is that another thing that’s taking up a lot of your time?

Well yeah, I guess it’s about to be 4pm, so the day is pretty much almost gone. We’ve done this today. I think I need to find a way to answer questions quicker and not put so much on the line. But has it taken up my time? I mean the other day I did three in a row and that took like an hour and a half. So it’s not too bad.

Do you find—because I’m interested in my own approach as an interviewer—so many of the pieces that I see about you and in general are short just because they’re for a web audience. Just a few questions, a few quick answers—

Those are usually emailed.

Yeah that’s what I figured. So do you ever find that interviews become a space for you to discover new things or articulate new things that you can then take into the music?

Hm. No, but interviews a lot of time, like the way this one started, remind me how much I have to be thankful for in the way I was raised and the family that I’m from. It makes me think fondly of them and of my childhood. Which is really important. And to recognize the work that I’ve done. It’s easy to get tired because you get asked the same questions over and over again. There’s only so much people can ask. So yeah, making the effort to not give a stock answer, and to remain in the conversation, is important. But I think it’s inspiring to know that people are curious to see what’s going on in your mind.

And just to know what’s going on behind the music. I mean everything you’ve said about discipline is still ringing for me. And even like what you’re saying about how this interview brought up your childhood at the beginning, I think—

I mean you saw I was smiling, I was so happy.

Totally. But I think there’s something of that in the music. I don’t know if I’m trying to put two things too strongly together, but there’s a quality of childhood or a quality of playfulness and exploration. What you were saying before about not wanting your appeal to come at anybody’s expense, I think there’s an innocence in your music that is part of what makes it resonate so much.

Right. Exactly. Yeah especially in a world that is about the opposite. It’s the best way to keep people down. But I think—What I do is try to make something that is a soundtrack to bringing value into everyone’s life. In the hope that people can really hear something from the heart. I know it’s a cheesy phrase, but something that was really done from the heart.

So do you—I’m sort of getting ready to wind down here—so with all that, that we just kind of put out on the table, are there any moments in your life or in your career that stand out as real moments of learning or of a breakthrough or anything that you want the readers to know? That would speak to what you’ve been saying?

Hm. I don’t know how to answer that simply. A real breakthrough.

Or like a teacher you’ve had. I know it’s vague.

I mean the teachers I’ve had have been my folks, the records I listen to, and Henry, who I did the record with. I’ve been recording with Henry since I was fifteen, then I stopped kind of around the age of eighteen. And then got back up with him when I was at the age of twenty-three. So there was a period for five years where we didn’t really work together. But he took his time and worked with me, and developed me, cause he believed in what I had. Which is just so rare. He put me up with a tape machine when I was fifteen and was like, Alright play it. If you can play it it’s gonna be on the record. And if you can’t you’ll hear it because it’s not gonna be very good. And really taught me how to record. How to play to record. And sharpened my sensibilities.

So is he still working with you now?

No he works upstate. I just work out of my house. I don’t go to studios to work. If I had a budget I would go up and work with him.

So, we were talking about this before, but just for me to get it on tape: What’s the state of the new project?

I’m going into the studio this summer to record my debut LP.

That’s great dude. Do you have anything you want to add?

I wish I could say something amazing and inspiring.

You’ve said plenty of that.

Ok cool.

Oh, before we end for real, I did want to ask, going back to the issue of discipline: Is there anyone for you out there that motivates you, like you see and say, “Damn, that person works super fucking hard”—

J Dilla and Prince. Just unrivaled work ethics. And Drake now. He puts out a lot of material. Except sometimes what he’s saying isn’t quite on the level. It serves a very specific ego.

Well that’s what’s amazing about your music, is it’s pretty much ego free. It’s not about you at all.

Even though it has to be, for it to be at all insightful.

Yeah but it’s about you as a person and a human being, not as an individual. It’s not as self-referential.

Right.

It’s more universal.

Exactly.

You know it’s funny, one of my best friends says that every time he listens to a Dilla beat, it’s like carefully unwrapping a piece of candy and putting it in your mouth and savoring everything about it. And I think there’s something about your music that does that too. It’s meticulous and takes its time. It’s a very simple pleasure.

Thank you. That’s awesome.

Cause you don’t do too much. There’s a lot of space in your music. A lot of room. Which lets everything stand out that much more. You don’t crowd it. And that’s the work I guess is refining it and deciding what really needs to be there.

What really needs to be there. Exactly. It’s easy to make something like [mock explosion sound]. But you listen to all the music that people listen to know—look at all these Drake records. It’s drums, some floating sample, and then a vocal. And what more do you really need?

Do you think we’re in an era of minimalism?

EDM is not minimalist. But some of the drops get that way. Frank Ocean’s record was really minimalist. James Blake came through with a brand of minimalism.

Even Yeezus. The way Rick Rubin stripped it down in two weeks.

I’m into it. I think it’s great. A lot of Dilla stuff is like that; a lot of open space.

Which I’m sure has an effect when you play it live right?

Live, I inject stuff to make it a little fuller. Just so that people have more. Little things get added, so it gets brought to life. In a way I wouldn’t want to listen to it on record. On record I like it dry. And live I like it to be a little more—

Well I saw the video of you playing “Pour Maman,” and you threw in the shout that’s not on the record.

Exactly. Cause people like that stuff. They like to see what you can do.

And that’s part of the live performance, being in the moment, caught up in the rapture.

Yeah, I mean all the singing I do live in that section is not on the record.

In another interview, I think also with Giant Step, you said you were getting into house, “the old school Chicago house.”

Oh yeah, at the time yeah. Ever since I started buying records.

What do you listen to?

I mean right now I’m not really listening to much. But before I was listening to to Casual Records. This guy Johnny Fiasco. Larry Herd, Farley. Just a bunch of the classic drum machine stuff.

And is that finding its way into the new project?

No. I think the most electronic I got was “Me Alone.” I’m curious to see where the new stuff is going. Sometimes I listen to an idea and I’m like, Is that even worth it? I don’t know. And sometimes I just get like, Eh. I could do this. Is it important? I don’t know, I can’t really tell. But I guess it’s what I do so I should just do it. Cause sometimes when I’m really analyzing like, Do I want to go out and sing this song for the next five years? The answer’s no. But what else am I gonna do?

That must be hard.

It’s weird. You can’t just make it and then be done with it. You make it and then it’s a cross you bear. Or a piece of work you celebrate, however you want to put it. But sometimes it feels like a little bit of a cross.

And especially now since you don’t have that many songs on record. Like when you were performing would you just do the whole EP?

I’d do the whole EP plus three new ones so it’s nine songs. So that’s like a full concert.

Would you do them in order?

No, live I do “Everything is Everything” first. Now I’m sure a lot more people are going to know me for “6 8” so I’m gonna have to put that in. Whereas before people would just talk through it. It’s incredible the way hype works. A lot of people like that song right off the bat without any way of gauging how other people felt about it. It’s also the first one.

Well it’s interesting that you start with “Everything is Everything” live—

Just to get people moving—

Moving, exactly. But that drum on “6 8,” dude—

I wonder if I’m ever going to find a way to start something better than that. It’s a great beginning.

Alex Oka