|Questions by Will|
Krista's Between Atoms record came out at roughly the same time as my Humble & Brilliant, and I was a fan of hers from way back so when I saw her e-mail address appear in the recent orders on my Bandcamp page, I took a deep breath and started talking to her about, well, how much I like her music! Her previous record, Accidental Railway, was still heavy on the ukulele but lighter on the psychedelia and had been a big one for me. I told her about that.
We got to chatting and she invited me to accompany her and her band on a small tour around central Canada and I was SO excited to posse up and do so. Before that even happened I was listening to Between Atoms a ton and it's got so much in common with a record I might snag from a value village or dumpster that's genuinely made in the 1960s, my rap-brain couldn't help but envision it as sample fodder, even though I don't tend to touch records younger than I am for that purpose.
It was kind of like in a cartoon when you're on a desert island, starving, and your friend keeps turning into an enormous roast chicken?
Eventually you start trying to figure out if it's gonna be a wing or a thigh.
There were actually two or three segments of other songs that I thought were more directly crying out to be made into rap beats, but the thing about the breakdown in "Tired Angels" is that it's so ephemeral and lovely and it changes the whole song in a moment, then it's gone... I thought it would be my best bet as an artist to re-orient things around that moment, turn it into a hook, and build a treehouse in it her branches.
When I asked her for permission and stem files, she was already working on a rap remix of the album's title track... which she rapped on herself, as her alter ego Beta K. I think her style is kind of like a hybrid of Debbie Harry and Rammelzee, or at least B-Real! That track is here: http://soundcloud.com/hyporecords/between-atoms-le-pierre-crube She was awesome about the whole thing and even hosted a release party in her Montreal apartment that can only be described as delightful.
There appears to have been a lot of work involving a number of contributors to this song. Is it usual for you to involve a number of people in the creation of a song and how did you come to work with the musicians, producer etc...?
It has actually not been my habit to work with a lot of people on my own music, but I have a really strong yen to change that in the future. Like, I still feel that I can be the most honest and intimate when I'm doing my thing completely solo, or at least I haven't yet met the collaborator who makes me feel as free as that while still contributing things I could never come up with or do for myself, but as I detail in the zine that accompanies this song, I was really inspired by Kanye West's approach to production on "My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy," where he was not only the visionary but the conductor and curator of contributions from other beatmakers, musicians, and vocalists. I don't have the chops or resources that Kanye has, but I've got my little ideas or whatever, and I've got a LOT of talented friends at this point in my life, and all I'm ever thinking about when I listen to their amazing music is "COME WORK FOR ME."
Everyone who came into the record was sort of by circumstance more than design.
M Mac I had been working with a bit on projects that were not my own, and he had been really positive to me about Humble & Brilliant, so I was looking for an opportunity to work with him and when I started thinking about the beat for this track, I realized "oh... he would do what I want to do WAY BETTER THAN I WOULD." So I sent him the track, gave some vague ideas about what type of bass & drums I was hoping for (mostly I emphasized nastiness and PSK), and within what seemed like minutes he sent me the basic track. He added a lot of little flourishes over the time the beat was gestating, and actually there's a lot of subtle musical elements that you can hardly hear unless you check the instrumental version on the single. He used Krista's Stylophone lines, and chopped up some pianos, and just basically is a bad-ass.
Peter Project is someone I grew up with (or near to) in Halifax - we played baseball as kids, both were in bands, I taught him the basics of sampling when he used to do weirdo 4-track music; he's just the homie. When I found out he was arranging strings & orchestras for film scores I was like... I WANT SOME OF THIS. He was very obliging when I approached him about throwing down some hot bars on this record, and every time they kick in I feel like we've made Real Music like Grown-Ups. We have a project in the works that is an outcropping of this collaboration and it is going to WOW you.
Jeff Ngan is the most deliberate addition, because it's through him that I became friends with Krista in the first place. Music isn't his main thing but he started playing ukulele after I showed him how easy it was to be bad at it, and he got really good at it. I'm really happy to have him on the record - we were jamming all the time for a while there, uking it up. If I have a band, he's lead uke.
And my sister was just driving her ninja turtles van through town on her way to work in some orchard on the west coast so I made her sing harmonies like I made her watch the first season of Portlandia with me... we're just that kind of family.
Guest vocals are by Noah 23. Tell us about Noah. He's someone you've known for a long time, right?
I started talking to him on the Anticon record label forums in probably 1999 or 2000, and I felt like we had a lot in common because we were both into rapping really fast and precise (he was better than I was), and referencing weird arcana in our lyrics (he was better at it than I was), while both really having a b-boy ethos for how rap should sound, even as we tried to stretch it. The first tour I ever went on with Backburner, in 2002, he came to our Guelph show and rocked a little and was just a good dude to hang with afterward. I kept in sporadic touch with him ever since, and we played occasionally together when we were in each others' cities, but although we kept talking about collaborating, it never quite happened. We actually recorded him on a beat by Apt for a song with the three of us, but the verse went MYSTERIOUSLY MISSING, which was agonizing. That was in like 2004 or something.
Your release statement mentions that there was a sense of urgency to record the song because Noah was quitting music at the end of 2011. What's the story behind that?
Thanks to social media, I saw in late 2011 that he was planning to quit rap, ostensibly for good, at the end of that year. He seemed to be in a pretty negative place and I felt bad for him but I also REALLY wanted to make good on our plan to work together if this was really our last chance. So... I sent him the Tired Angels beat, and was supremely relieved when he was down to bless it. Actually it was a little more complicated than that, which you can read about in the zine, but that's the general flavour.
The good news is that it took me so long to release the song after recording him (8 months), he has JUST announced that he's working on new material again. I don't see it as a fake-out thing, I just think he's in a better emotional situation than he was when he decided to quit. So I'm really pleased to see him coming back, and to know that I may get more chances to put our heads together in the future.
Given that Noah was quitting at the end of last year, but came through in time on this song, why have we waited this long to hear this song?
I have really intense ADHD. I don't mean that in a cute artistic metaphor way, I mean I find it really difficult to approach significant tasks full-on. It was mostly my verse that took the most time, to write and to record to my satisfaction, and ultimately my verse is the weakest link in the whole song as far as I'm concerned. I should have just got a different guest on it and the whole thing would have been out in like February!
Nah my verse is ok but sheesh. Oh also I'm not that good of a DJ so it took me a while to get all the scratches to where they sound pretty fresh?
You remarked upon the despair that Noah describes in his verse. Why is that significant?
I think it's really honest. Artists, activists, even like entrepreneurs or other people who serve a vision, we all have a limited resource of fuel to sustain us through doing the arduous tasks that we set ourselves. Sometimes it feels like we're being fools to not just take the easy way, and give up, and just let things be the way they were going to be without us. Or if not fools, then at least obscenely self-aggrandizing? So the samples and the zine materials all really focus on that moment of feeling like being on the verge of going "fuck it." It's actually kind of an extension of the last song on Humble & Brilliant, "Cold Comfort." When you're tired sometimes just lying down and passing out seems like the most amazing experience you could ever have.
It's not the way I hope everyone goes, I mean I want people to persevere and stick to their visions unless they have shitty visions. I still think my vision is pretty good so I'm not dumping it any time soon. But I don't begrudge anyone their right to hang up the gloves and be like that's it for me. And I especially understand that liminal moment where you don't know which of those things you're going to do. This is an anthem for that. I guess it's kind of whiny now that I lay it out, but that's a form of vulnerability that has a place in art! Exclamation point!
Is 'Slept Through A Landslide' a one off song, part of a new album or a different project altogether? The idea of reworking other songs in a similar way seems like it could produce something special.
It is in fact the inaugural edition of a remix & zine series I've surprisingly decided to call Charisma Prisms! I'm hoping to release one of these per month - a remix of a song by a friend of mine, produced by another friend of mine, and featuring my vision and my homies, attached to a zine collecting printable art (short stories, comix, poems, essays, etc) by my other homies. The cover of the Landslide issue was drawn by Evan Dahm, the brilliant cartoonist who does Rice Boy & Order of Tales & Vattu, and I'm hoping to keep my comic book scientists involved because they make me look very... very... sexy.
You have the NoFriends tour coming up imminently, what can we expect from your over show?
OOPS well what people could have expected included fast raps, confusing stage banter (it seems I referred to NFL as both "American soccer" and "the butt show" in Virginia? and challenged a girl in South Carolina to a head-to-head fingerbanging challenge?), partial dude nudity, audience singalongs, very polite call and response, making a point of drawing attention to my punchlines about Japanese Sailormoon characters and Dungeons & Dragons rules, and exhortations to make out, with me or with whomever.
Oh my goodness that tour was unbelievably good. The only thing that could have improved it would have been if I had answered these questions one month ago.
What follows the tour for Jesse Dangerously?
I really need to get into the lab. As quickly as possible, I want to finish my next Charisma Prism, a remix of "Fire Song" by Mary Cobham. The beat by Math Rosen is unreal, and the lyrics I have so far are... intense. Gulp.
I also have several EPs on the go with different producers: one with Corboe of Dream Jefferson, one with Abstract Artform from Winnipeg, one with James Hancock of Rifle Eyes, and I think I just committed to one that splits rap duties between me and Tribe One and goodness knows who's going to produce that. All these good artists out here though... I can't just let them slide on by!
Maybe we'll even see this "Jesse D 'til Infinity" mixtape I've been promising for four years? Gosh who knows. Right now I'm too busy catching up on month-old e-mails, haha.
Huge thanks go out to Jesse for taking the time to write such comprehensive, insightful and interesting responses.
Check his website for more news, music and information.