Sam Alden interview

This is Music Miner’s first interview with an artist who isn’t a musician. Sam Alden is a illustrator/cartoonist who went to my high school. I stumbled upon his work one day and was blown away. I wanted to know the man behind the art, so I interviewed him; what he shared showed me that his work is not only beautiful, but also intellectually and emotionally deep. I’m not a dedicated comic fan, but even I can appreciate the genius of Sam’s work.

What was your earliest experience with comics?

I learned to read from Calvin and Hobbes collections, and most of my early comic obsessions were newspaper strips. For some reason my parents were hip enough to get me into Krazy Kat when I was really, really young– like seven years old. If you’re not familiar, Krazy Kat is this bonkers newspaper strip from the 20’s with these constantly changing desert backgrounds and an androgynous protagonist and beautiful, beautiful scratchy artwork. It was out there in 1921 and it’s out there now, and it was really out there for a seven-year-old.

When did you realize illustration was your calling?

I started drawing comics before I could even write; my first comic was about Rudolph (the reindeer) and I had to get my parents to write the text alongside my drawings. I knew that I wanted to be a cartoonist since around that time, and I haven’t really changed career goals since then.

When did you make the decision to pursue cartooning professionally?

Kindergarten, no joke.

Where do you draw inspiration for your comics?

Mostly music, actually. I’ve always been jealous of that way that music can create an emotional atmosphere in like, ten seconds. You listen to ten seconds of good music and you’re in that world and you’re feeling what the musician is feeling. Comics can have the same emotional weight, but you have to build up to it by introducing all this narrative and texture, and maybe by the tenth page of a really good comic you’ve got someone in that world and feeling something different than they were before.

My comic Haunter came as a direct result of listening to a lot of my friend David Kanaga’s music. David has an enviable ability to take fairly experimental techniques and apply them to pop music, and it often ends up very jungly and multicolored. Haunter was an attempt to capture something of that enegry on paper. Ittakes place in this candy-colored jungle, and I tried to make a lot of very abstracted shapes and forms read as foliage and undergrowth, and then tie it into a simple, compelling narrative: a hunter is chasing a pig. The challenge of translating the nonvisual or the nonnarrative into something inherently visual and narrative is always really fun to attempt.

“‘Haunter‘ is a silent, full-color adventure comic. It’s about a hunter pursuing a wild boar, and eventually being pursued by an ancient monster. Haunter is serialised on Study Group, a webcomic platform.”

Who are your primary influences in the comic world?

In the larger comics world, I think my favorites are Tove Jansson, Yoshihiro Tatsumi, Osamu Tezuka, George Herriman, Gabrielle Bell, Jim Woodring, Jaime Hernandez, Lynda Barry, Susumu Katsumata, and Herge. And a lot of my formal comics education I owe to Craig Thompson, who’s been a really wonderful mentor and pal for the last few years. But mostly these days I think I’m just trying to make comics that my more talented cartoonist friends would like. So Sean Christensen and Julia Gfrörer, those two are my biggest influences right now and they probably don’t even know it. AND NEVER WILL unless this interview goes up online and they Google their own names a lot.

How has your style developed over youre years as a cartoonist?

My comics got a lot brushier in 2010, and suddenly I wanted ink everywhere, all the time. And recently I’ve been trying to cultivate a weirder, alternate style. It’s sort of wormy and clean lined, and it lends itself well to drawing things like monsters. It’s like of my B-style, like how sometimes PJ Harvey swaps out her deep heavy I-sleep-with-demons-voice for a higher, more delicate voice.

But in some other ways, I think that my drawing style now is just a refined version of the way I was drawing in middle school. You learn visual habits early and they stick with you.

What key events or experiences have had the most drastic effect on your style?

I think the big emotional stuff in my life comes up a lot in something like Eighth Grade. That comic is the synthesis of a lot of formative stuff for me; my parents splitting up in 2000 was a big one. Eighth grade, the real eighth grade, was a big year for me. I kissed a girl for the first time, and I had my first sort of sexual awakening, all of which was really terrifying and confusing and which I suspect I’m still parsing.

“‘Eight Grade‘ is an ongoing graphic novel. It’s about three middle schoolers and an interconnecting web of melodrama that engulfs them and their families in the final months before their eighth grade graduation.” 

What do you believe makes your work unique?

I don’t know, and I worry about that a lot. My art gets compared to Nate Powell and Craig Thompson sometimes, which is totally flattering (and undeserved) but I don’t want to just be known as Craig Thompson Jr. I think that my writing is a little more idiosyncratic and unique than my art, which is pretty much a synthesis of most of my favorite styles.

What do you strive for in your own work?

I guess I want to make a comic that’s good enough to make someone feel a certain way. Like I was talking about earlier with music and atmosphere; I want to make comics that really suck people into a world.

In your opinion, what makes a good comic?

I think there’s a common pattern for anyone who absorbs a lot of art and culture, which is that they begin by looking for stuff that looks or sounds really “professional” and then once they realize how much stuff there is out there that already conforms to those standards of competence, and reach a sort of saturation point on quality, they start looking for things that are weirder and more interesting. I’ve come to appreciate comics that fuck with some standard I’m accustomed to. But I still don’t really know what makes a comic good. Gabrielle Bell gets asked the same question in one of her diary comics, and she gets flustered and says something like, “I don’t know, I don’t like it when comics have too many lines …but then I also don’t like it when comics have too few lines”. That’s a pretty good standard. Comics should have the right number of lines in them.

“‘DUBLLEBABY‘ is a humor strip drawn by Sam and written by his brother Toby. It got a real cult following online and then Toby stopped writing for it. What’s the deal, Toby? Get your shit together!”

What has been the single greatest moment in your career as a cartoonist?

When I was in college we had a hip enough radio station to bring St. Vincent to campus. I drew a poster for the show, and after the concert I was a huge nerd and asked Annie Clark to sign the original for me. The poster was of a couple in the forest making out, and when she saw it she said, “That’s more action that I’ve had in months,” and I started sweating and popped fifteen boners.

What has been the hardest part of being a cartoonist?

The slow, inevitable realization that I may always need a day job. But maybe not, you never know. I’ve certainly saddled myself to the print industry pretty hard, which– guess what!– is not looking so hot right now. But I’m cautiously optimistic that independent comics will become a more viable career in the future.

What keeps you going when you feel drained with your work?

I guess it’s mostly a self-imposed, masochistic discipline. I had a lot of moments in college when I didn’t really feel like drawing, and I forced myself to because I thought: if I can’t make myself draw now, when I’m in this cushy, privileged position as a student at a small liberal arts college, then how am I going to make myself draw in the real world, after I’ve just come home from waiting tables and I’m exhausted and I just want to fall asleep?

How would your life be different without your art?

It sounds melodramatic, but I really have no idea. I think I’d be a pretty depressed and boring person. But who knows? Maybe without art in my life I’d be forced out of myself a little more, and I’d have found more meaning and excitement in the real world.

“‘Garden Spectre‘ is a short nightmare comic inspired by Japanese ‘gegika’ from the late seventies. It’s about flower symbology and a summer job.”

Where do you see yourself in ten years?

Oh god, anywhere but my parent’s basement. Portland is a wonderful city to live/be from if you’re interested in comics, but at a certain point it would probably be healthy to live in New York or Chicago for a period.

What notable work (projects, professional assignments, ect.) have you done that you would like acknowledged in the article? In other words, when I am talking about your career, what do you want people to know about?

I have a regular feature on Study Group Comics called Haunter, an online graphic novel called Eighth Grade that seems to be becoming popular, another online comic called DUBBLEBABY that is pretty popular as well, and I drew the credits for an indie film made in Chicago this year called Experience For Beginners. I was also an illustrator for an international men’s fashion show called CAPSULE in 2011 but I’m not sure what’s going on with that right now.

Information on Sam Alden can be found below (click links to be redirected):


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BK Beats interview

I got to have a candid discussion with Shey Mertz AKA BK Beats about his musical endeavors past, present, and future. Interviewing BK was a blast; he was down-to-earth, honest, and pretty fucking hilarious. Above is a link to “My Only Wonder”, a single off of his upcoming EP that he was kind enough to drop with this interview. 

When did you start making your own music?

I got Fruity Loops my Sophomore year of high school and started messing around with it, nothing serious though.

What does the “BK” in BK Beats stand for?

(Laughs) That’s everybody’s favorite question. I used to roll a LOT of blunts when I was a teenager so they would always call me “Blunt King” or “Blunt Kid”, so it came from being a big smoker back in the day.

Back in the day?

(Laughs) Naw it’s still the same thing. Blunts forever man.

Who has been the biggest inspiration to you musically?

My mom, not just musically of course. She would play that cool 90’s shit, always bumping Nine Inch Nails, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Blind Melon. She played guitar and always kept music in the house; she was really into different stuff, like Depeche Mode and stuff like that.

When did you get introduced to hip-hop?

I always liked hip-hop as a kid; I can remember watching the old Wu-Tang videos on MTV and buggin out, but it really came to me when my cousin in Chicago started putting me onto Tribe Called Quest and Mobb Deep. We would pump the Hell on Earth instrumental back to back to back to back. This was probably 2001, so I was 11 when I fully got into hip-hop.

Who inspired you to start producing?

J Dilla was the one who really got me into it, R.I.P. Dilla. I got rough draft when it was first re-released in 2007. My mind was blown; I had been making beats for awhile, but the shit I heard on that CD really punched me. Then I started seeing people who could do it all themselves; Prince, who can make a drum machine sound like a whole band. I was definitely big on the whole Detroit scene when I first got into making beats.

There has been a noticeable shift in your style from more traditional beats to newer age beats. What inspired this change?

When people started giving me love for the weirder shit I would make. I always thought that stuff was too weird so I would never put it out, but then the stuff with Greenova and the stuff with Zach G started generating interest, which was getting more trippy and more spacey. Basically just seeing the response. I had been making drum break beats for awhile and the response for that wasn’t there; I don’t think I was getting to the right audience. The people who I wanted to hear my shit was the younger, diverse crowd.

What do you do when you aren’t making beats?

I work and I’m going to school at UNM trying to finish up my undergrad. I’m doing business marketing, so that works with music.

Have you met the artists you work with or is it mainly internet/phone collaborations?

The latter for the most part. I finally met Deniro Farrar though. I was up in New York for you a few weeks and he had some shows booked; we did the KittyPride show which was our live debut. We raged like crazy, dude can party.

What can we expect from your EP?

It’ll be ten songs. The first four are from me and my keyboard and guitar player PBZ. He’s a good child hood friend and we finally got together and started making beats with no real aim or anything. So that’ll be like four joints with some crazy strings, keyboard, and live guitars on em; we went up to Denver and recorded that shit. Deniro jumped on one of them. I got some bonus tracks with emcees going over them. I don’t want to say too much, but I got a couple guests on there. It’ll be on iTunes and bandcamp with my label PotHoles Music.

Do you think advances in Internet technology have been beneficial or detrimental to the music industry?

It’s definitely both. All my music is released for free, so as far as my shit goes it has been hugely beneficial. I’m not too concerned about leaking or pirating. I haven’t met most of the rappers I’ve worked with; Main Attrakionz, Mo Green, Shady Blaze. The Internet let me reach out to those guys and they liked my shit. Technology makes artists way more accessible, which has been awesome. There’s also the marketing side, like building excitement and keeping people informed of what you’re doing. People see me in New York who have read about the Kiddy Pride show and know who I am, shit like that.

How important are music blogs to you personally?

Blogs are huge to me now. I wasn’t as into them about a year or two ago, but I was always on 2dopeboyz to hear all the cool shit. It’s changed now, I’m gunning to get on the big blogs; I find myself happy if somebody mentions my name.

What rappers would you like to work with in the near future?

Danny Brown is up there. My shit isn’t good enough, I want to be better before I try to work with Danny. More shit with Deniro, I would love for that to happen. I really like the whole Greenhead crew, they have this dude Le1f who I would be stoked to work with. Shit, everybody (laughs).

What does the future hold for BK Beats?

I’d like to get to the point where I can produce full time. Just making good music, I want to get better and better.

Information on BK Beats can be found below (click links to be redirected):

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The Physics interview

The Physics are one of Seattle’s most veteran (10+ years!) hip-hop acts and in my opinion one of the best of all time. I talked to them about their past, their views on today’s hip-hop, their Kickstarter campaign for their new album Tomorrow People, and their future projects. The interview I did with them is a exclusive, click the link below to be redirected:

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Hhans Audio interview

I was put in touch with EDM producer Hans Watkins through my cameraman Dominic Thomas. I was surprised at Hans seemingly effortless talent for production. He was super laid back and very down to earth. While he hasn’t done much yet, Hhans Audio shows a lot of promise.

Have you thought of any possible stage names you might want to take on?

I haven’t gotten too far with the whole the stage names thing. Right now I’m using Hhans Audio. The extra H is because the URL on Soundcloud for “hansaudio” was taken. Hoping to drop that H eventually, but other than that I’ve not given it much thought.

What was your earliest musical experience?

My friend brought his guitar over to my house when I was seven years old. I started playing that and began to take up other instruments, eventually moving into electronic music.

Do you have any musicians in your family?

My older brother. Him and I produce together, we’ve always played music together. We were in a band and would switch off on drums, bass, and guitar.

When did you get into electronic music?

It started freshman year. I heard a Deadmau5 album and was really into it. I started producing and tried to make stuff that sounded like it, which didn’t work out. But hey, always improving right?

Who are you’re primary influences?

I’m really into KOAN Sound. Skrillex obviously because everybody likes Skrillex. It switches around a lot; right now I like Amon Tobin and Eskmo.

 How do you go about making a new track?

I start out by picking some drums from my sample library. Then I’ll write a drum track, start messing around with some synths until I find something I like. Then I just go with it and build upon the existing sound until I’m happy with what I’ve made. I try to keep a groove the whole time and make sure the track keeps flowing. I need good sound design in my tracks; it’s not fun to listen to a track without some interesting sounds. I make sure everything moves and the mix is tight.

 What is your most recent work?

I’ve been just messing around with different ideas since I released my Strange Clouds remix. I’m sort of trying to expand my perspective on a couple genres so nothing complete at the moment, but I’m really digging the whole trap thing that’s going on right now so I might give that a try.

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Information on Hhans Audio can be found below (click links to be redirected):

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David Heartbreak interview

You guys are in for something extra special; the first EDM artist to be featured on Music Miner. David Heartbreak was kind enough to do an interview via Skype. I’ll admit my knowledge of EDM is quite rudimentary, but speaking with David gave me a whole knew perspective on the genre. He does a fantastic job of explaining what different genres of music are on such a fundamental level that even a person with no understanding of musical composition or production can grasp the subtle differences between moombahton and fidget. David’s attitude on musical exploration inspired me to expand my horizons.

Where did the stage name “David Heartbreak” come from?

It’s pretty much just a pun on my real name, David Hart. Pretty self-explanatory.

What sort of music did you grow up with?

I grew up with primarily hip-hop. R&B, ambient music like soul and reggae, things of that nature. That’s pretty much it.

Are your parents supportive of your musical pursuits?

Ya. The future bass and the ambient stuff like that they’ll actually listen to, but they are pretty much closed off from dubstep, electro, anything with organized noise.

Your parents seem like they are in the group of people who don’t see dubstep real music. How would you disprove this false notion?

The thing about dubstep is that if you change the instruments and swap them out with something else and listen, it is very well written. You can see that from the orchestrated versions of Skrillex. The only difference is they choose different instruments, it’s all the same thing.

Nowadays, you make music from a wide variety of genres. What genre did you start with?

The first music I actually got into making was moombahton, which was my introduction to electronic music.

What exactly is moombahton?

It has changed at this point, but the moombahton started out as dutch house and then Dave slowed it down to 108 BPM. From there, you have people like myself, Munchi, Pickster, and Sabo. We came along and pretty much added our styles to it and ran with it from there. It’s electronic music with a Latin or Reggae vibe, or now that dubstep came, cats are doing it as dubstep at 110 BPM. It’s pretty much the same stuff you make with other genres but it’s at that tempo. Some songs that you make don’t work at 130 BPM but they’ll work perfectly at 110 BPM; there is more space in between the drums so it actually hits harder, the same way dubstep hits harder at 140 then it does at 128; more space for the bass to hit and you can fit more noise in there…if that makes any sense.

What caused you to move towards EDM and away from hip-hop?

I got bored. I never produced hip-hop; I was just big on the hip-hop scene. It was my background for listening to music. Three years ago (before I started making EDM) I was very close-minded to a lot of music. When the moombahton came along, it just opened my mind up to electronic music, and I felt like an ass,  like, “Damn, I’ve been missing out on so much good music for all this time”. It was a slap on the wrist for me, but it turned out to be a blessing in disguise; everything happens for a reason.

Rapper Deniro Farrar has rapped over several of your songs. How would you classify those tracks?

The stuff that he was rapping on, that’s the stuff I call future bass. You can call it hip-hop, you can call it post-dubstep. The main influence for that style is trance music. I was trying to recreate trance at 140 BPM, but I wasn’t a good enough producer at the time to actually pull off what I was trying to do. I just changed the drum pattern around; that’s how those tracks came about. People liked it; it’s not something for the club, but it’s music that you can listen five years from now and it’s still going to sound just as good.

You clearly have extensive knowledge of musical composition and theory. Did you pick this up in school or on your own?

This is stuff I picked up on my own listening to music twenty hours a day. Sleeping with iPods, iPhones, and iPads. Like I said, I’ve only been making electronic music for two and a half years, and that’s the main reason why I can’t make one genre; my brain won’t allow me to because it’s been deprived of so much music over the years and when I hear different stuff, it sparks something in me that makes me want to replicate it and add my own flavor. This process happens every week; every week I’m changing genres. It’s a good thing and it is a bad thing, but when it comes down to it, it’s what I want to do. Even when I DJ I don’t play more than fifteen minutes of the same genre; I’m all over the place. I try to tell a story with my sets; I’ll go from dubstep to hard electro to moombahton to trap to psychedelic trance. That’s why I change it up when I make music. I mean, I like pizza, but I don’t want to eat that shit every day. I think that this attitude will become a standard in the next year or so; you are going to expect more from your favorite artists. You will expect them to have a collage of music and not just one style. The kids (and myself) have ADD. Because of this, you have to be able to touch every audience. I listen to everything; right now I’m working on a metal track. My friend is in a metal band, and I listened to his stuff and it was pretty good. I know that when I go to recreate it, I’m not a drummer and I’m not a guitarist, but I can elements of it and apply it to what I do and make it Heartbreak. When you recreate a genre in your own way, you have to make sure you are making it correctly so that you aren’t disrespecting the genre. 

You have only been DJing for two and a half year and have already worked with Skrillex, Diplo, and other huge DJs. What do you think made you blow up so quickly?

People are always looking for something different. That’s pretty much what it is. Everybody is looking for that spark. If you are a DJ you are always looking for the next sound. When the moombahton came out, that sparked a lot of people who were searching for something different. There wasn’t anything poppin at that tempo (108-112BPM) except for hip-hop and slow Brittany Spears records and stuff like that. It was uncharted, nothing really going on there. If you bumped it up a couple BPMs you had fidget, but a lot of people moved away from that, so it was totally open. We came along with moombah soul and moombah core and all these other subgenres and stuff like that. After doing so much stuff at that BPM, I got bored. If it is no longer challenging then I’ll move away from it. We had done everything there was to do with moombahton; we traveled the world and set the standard. I’ve not put out a record at that speed in awhile, although I think I’m going to put out an EP at that speed in September just to let people know I still got it. You’ve got to grow as an artist; some people want you to make the same shit over and over and over and over again. So as you progress and gain renown, you’re gunna to lose fans you’re gunna gain fans, but you still got to make music for yourself. I don’t follow trends; I try to set trends. One thing about the internet that is good is that you can hear music from every continent, but one thing that is bad is that some people sit around and listen to soundcloud and Youtube all day chasing somebody else’s sound. Chasing a sound that somebody made months ago; just because you hear a record today doesn’t mean that it was made last week. You can never catch up to the current “trend” so what’s the point? I don’t chase sounds, I just make music. Some shit I make is good, some shit I make is bad; I just keep pumping it out till I find it.

What is the hardest part of being a musician?

Moving from the hip-hip scene to the EDM world. A lot of people on both sides don’t think it’s that hard, but it is. Hip-hop is basically complex simplicity; everything is in the right place. In that respect it is the same as EDM, but when you are making EDM beats the beat has to be strong enough to stand by itself. In hip-hop you have three-fourths noise and the rapper is the final instrument. As a result, with EDM you have to know about frequencies and where things sit and compression; it’s a whole different ball game. It took me a couple months but I got it now.

What is your favorite part of being a musician?

Right now, traveling. Dude, I’ve been everywhere. Only places I haven’t been are Japan and Africa. I’ve been to Asia, Europe, India, you name it.

What does the future hold for David Heartbreak?

A lot. I’m real quite about stuff because things change like the wind in the EDM game, so you don’t want to blurt out shit until you get the contract in your hand and it goes down. I got a lot of big shit coming. When I tell you big I mean like… SUPER big.

Information on David Heartbreak can be found below (click links to be redirected):

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Galexy interview

I interviewed fellow Portlander Galexy, who is a rapper from Lincoln high school. I got into his music about three months ago, and I think he shows a lot of promise. Portland isn’t exactly a hotbed for hip-hop, so it’s always good to see local emcees coming up. Galexy was great to work with; super chill dude with surprising focus for a seventeen-year-old. I will be doing a follow up with both Galexy and Itay (his producer) in the weeks to come, so stay tuned for more on this duo.

Where did you get the stage name Galexy?

My name is Alexander Burns-Miller, so gALEXy has my name in it.

 What’s your earliest musical memory?

When I was really young I had these CDs that I would play on my radio. I would know the lyrics front to back on every CD; I had a really good memory for lyrics but not for anything else.

Do you have any musicians in your family?

Both of my godparents are both really avid musicians; they play the piano and trumpet. They heavily influenced me and inspired me to pursue music.

When did you start listening to rap?

The sixth or seventh grade. I was really into Jurassic Five, Eminem, Common, and Kanye West.

When did you start rapping?

About halfway through freshman year.

What music did you grow up with before getting into rap?

Mostly choral music. I’ve been in and out of choir since the third grade.

How did you and Itay end up collaborating?

Itay goes to my high school. He was kind of sceptical of me being a rapper; he hadn’t heard any of my stuff. At first he sent me a few beats and I sent them back with my raps. He really liked them, so we started collaborating sophomore year, working on our first album The Burnside Chronicles. We have been working together ever since.

What do you believe makes the Portland rap scene unique?

The Portland lifestyle. Portland is a place where people congregate; there are so many different backgrounds and stories within the city. I think that melting pot is what makes the rap scene unique.

What emotions are you trying to convey through your music?

I want people to feel like they are listening to something different. I put a lot genuine thought and effort into my music. My music isn’t all about celebration; rather it’s about the journey to get to celebration. I think from where you start to where you finish is the most important start of any story. My music talks about trials and tribulations, but eventually I’m hoping to get to talk about the reward.

What sort of person would you be without your music?

I think I would be a completely different person than I am today. Music has helped me get through so many different things; writing songs lets me vent and explain what’s going on for me. It’s therapy to me; without music I would be a darker person with less friends. Music is a way for people to connect and understand each other.

What keeps you going when you feel like your music isn’t going how you want it to?

I have a passion for music; I want to keep making better and better stuff for other people to listen to as well as for myself.

What has been the most memorable moment in your music career thus far?

When we performed at the Mission Theatre here in Portland. There was a crowd upward of 300 people there. We were only performing at intermission; it wasn’t like they were all there to see us play. Even so, it was great playing for a crowd of that size.

What can we expect from Galexy in the near future?

Itay and I are working on a new mixtape called Passion. It’ll have twelve tracks, not as many as The Burnside Chronicles. After that, I’ll be doing a mixtape on my own called Late Nights and Summer Buds. It will be more laidback and more singing based then the other projects; there will still be rapping. It’s going to be a different sound, which will hopefully give way to diversity in my future projects.

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Information on Galexy and Itay can be found below (click links to be redirected):



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Zachg interview

Hailing from San Francisco, creative powerhouse Zachg does it all; rapping, beats, mixing and mastering, video production, album artwork, clothing, even dancing. Zachg went above and beyond in our email-based interview, and I enjoyed reading every answer he gave. 

What sort of music did you grow up with before you discovered hip-hop?

None really. I didn’t really get into music till I got heavy into skateboarding. I didn’t have anyone older to school me on shit, and I wasn’t really allowed to watch MTV or anything. Once I got into skateboarding though I really identified with all the punk music, and they put hip-hop in those videos.

What other genres have you experimented with?

I have 4 solid years of training playing Indian classical music. Been studying tabla since 2004 I believe. But don’t play much anymore. I used to make very zoned out experimental music that was focused on drones and atmospheres surrounding drums. Also spent a lot of time just doing field recordings, as well as composing experimental stuff that was similar to John Cage. I got my MA at NYU doing research on the history of sampling and avant garde music. Rappin was the first music I started doing, which lead to a lot of other stuff that all lead me back to rappin.

How did you first get turned on to rap music?

(Laughs) skate videos. I used to dub tapes off the VHS and play ‘em in my car. There was nowhere to get rap music where I lived.

When did you first start rapping?

Started rapping in 2000, or 99. 99 really, but 20000 formally. I used to freestyle these funny songs when one of my homies played guitar. Then once I got to college the dudes across the hall of my apartment had a microphone, so me and my homie Giuseppe started recording these freestyle tapes called Dirty Grandpas. Eventually I got tired of just rapping over radio beats, and the same dudes with the mic gave me a cracked version of Fruity Loops. From there I started making beats. I also started battling really heavy around the same time. This was 2000-2003 in Orlando, which was an AMAZING place for rap music. We had an incredibly diverse scene, and the dudes from back then who were battling went on to found Grind Time.

Who was the emcee who really inspired you to begin rapping?

Damn, that’s a tough one. It was probably The Grouch though. At that time I was crazy into Living Legends, and to me that dude was a respectable rapper and a respectable human being at the same time, which was kinda unheard of at the time (laughs).

Has your family been supportive of your musical pursuits?

 Not till recently. I caught a lot of shame and pressure from them for a long time. Which is why I went and got an MA. I was trying to stay true to myself and please them at the same time. To me being a professor of music was a viable option cause it was something my family could understand. Thankfully that didn’t work out completely, and I never got a PhD. We hit a breaking point at the end of last year though. It was one of the most painful things I’ve ever done, but I basically told them “either you respect me and my choices or you’ll never hear from me again.” It still hurts to talk about. I have a very close relationship with my family. On one hand they really empowered me to feel strong and to follow my heart, but on the other hand they fought real hard to try and force me to do what they wanted. Thankfully though they listened when I told them they had to quit meddling and be supportive. We have a much better understanding now. It’s cool now. My folks called me on Monday before my show to wish me luck, and they called the next day to see how it went.

When did you begin to realize that you had something that people wanted to hear and that your rap could be something more than just a hobby?

(Laughs) to be honest there are still some days where I doubt whether or not people care about what I do, but that’s really just the human elements of an eternal struggle. I will tell you though, that from the moment I started rapping anytime I ever rapped in front of people, I have always gotten tons of praise from folks of all walks of life. It always feels good when some crazy thuggin dude, comes up to me and is all “man I was really feelin what you were sayin.” But, when I realized I wasn’t going to be a professor, I took stock of my life because it was time to make a career choice. And the thing I was best-qualified for, the thing I had spent the most time doing, the thing that I was most clearly excellent at was rapping. It wasn’t until 2009 that I got real serious about it, and at that point it was a pretty objective decision based on the fact that aside from smoking weed, there is nothing that has come more naturally to me.

How would you describe yourself stylistically?

My shit is and isn’t at the same time. I’ve studied tons of different musicians and musics, and pulled little pieces from everything. I look at myself like a Leonard Cohen or Bob Dylan; I just tell my story as a young Jewish man trying to realize myself, and I try to pass on the wisdom I’ve found. And of course have fun. It’s about being responsible to my music history knowledge, but being accountable to my peers in the present.

What do you believe makes you different from other modern day emcees?

Well for one I’m at the older end of the spectrum, which I feel gives me different perspective and different priorities. So in that sense, my business acumen is largely beyond the scope of my peers. But that’s cause I been working more than half my life. I’ve had easily 30 jobs, and I’ve learned a lot about how to run a business. So that just makes me more viable as a business, which is basically the unspoken half of being a rapper.

I make my own beats, record myself, mix and master my own records, and do my own videos (direct shoot, edit, and do the titles). I also do the artwork and PR for all my stuff. There isn’t anyone else I know of that’s fuckin with me on that level. Most of these rappers don’t even know what phantom power is, and the moment you were to make them create something entirely on their own you’d have a radically different impression of them. No matter what happens, my show goes on. Always, and there is never a discrepancy in the quality regardless of what happens.

Being a music critic for Mishka. That gives me a whole different perspective on this because I don’t just listen to what I like. I listen to everything to see what it’s doing.

And really just my knowledge of music, and my personality.

What is the story behind Radreef? What does Radreef encompass?

Rad Reef is my brand. Originally it was a cannabis delivery service based in the area. I had started it with the intention of having a cannabis delivery service that was also a lifestyle brand. If you look at the cannabis industry there is very little conception of branding, let alone successful executions of it. For me it was obvious that if I was starting a business, which I was, it would have to be more than just cannabis to really be successful and fulfilling. And so, when it came time to start fleshing out the brand creating a logo, building a color palette, establishing affiliations and so forth it was natural for me to just graft my life onto the business.

Unfortunately on the day when I filed my last piece of paperwork with the city (I was living in Berkeley at the time) I got hit by a car as I was riding back to my place. That put a pretty firm kibosh on me doing deliveries on my bike. But, I had just spent the last 4 or 5 months building out the front end of a business that was now without a backend. So, I just dropped the cannabis part and started fleshing Rad Reef out as my own fledgling Mishka. Working with those dudes has shown me a lot, and I know I’ve got the right mind state to follow in their footsteps with something different.

When I founded Rad Reef I had to make it a not-for-profit mutual benefit corporation, and form a collective in order to comply with cannabis regulations.  Legally, a collective is a very loosely defined term in California, and it just means a bunch of people who share a cause. When Rad Reef ceased being a cannabis business outright (we still promote cannabis, and cannabis-related issues pretty heavy) it didn’t cease being a collective. Yes, we sell t-shirts and stickers, and records but there is an additional element to the business that is designed to help a group of people with a common cause.

Artists are rarely people with sufficient capital to live out their lives to the fullest. And while I cannot do anything to influence how much money someone makes, I can do a lot to influence how much someone’s money is worth. And for that reason Rad Reef offers a host of goods at cost. You can think of us like Costco, except we have the goods catered to the lives of young artists, and we sell them at actual wholesale prices. The idea is to provide artists with the materials they need, as well as very basic goods like alternative apparel t-shirts, Pilot G2 pens, moleskin notebooks at cost. You pay a small fee for a yearly membership to Rad Reef ($20 or so), and then you can purchase goods at cost plus tax, shipping, and a 1 or 2 dollar processing fee per item. It removes the notion of profiting off of basic goods. I personally think it’s ridiculous that we have to pay more for stuff just so that a middleman who does nothing but broker the goods can make as much money as the people who manufactured the goods. We’ve simply run out of fiscal space and there is no room left for profiting like that in this nation. Rad Reef is a lifestyle brand, but if you choose to join it’s also a collective that helps make your money go further as an artist.

What inspired you to pursue clothing as another means of creative expression and business?

Damn, that’s really hard one to pinpoint. I mean I was silk-screening my own t-shirts in college, and sewing to modify stuff. I think my approach to life has always been “How should this be? Ok, how do I make it like that?” as opposed to the idea of just choosing from available options. Clothing and appearance is very important to me because it’s the way that most people in any given day will identify me, and it’s also the most readily readable aspect of a person’s personality. Even if you don’t care about clothes at all, your appearance and the clothes you choose always tell a pretty deep story.

I have very expensive taste when it comes to clothes, and I can’t afford the stuff that I want, so the other option was to achieve the same effects by changing clothes to more accurately reflect my mind state. (Laughs) damn I just remembered in college I used to ALWAYS have a 1.5 litre bottle of water so I made this t-shirt with a big ass pocket on the front to hold my water bottle. It’s so fucking stupid, but it’s so accurate. And I always want that accuracy over everything else. I guess I stuck with it because it still serves a purpose for me, and because it’s another thing I’m pretty good at that can help me survive in the world.

Where do you draw inspiration for your music? Your art?

Everywhere really. I think that’s another thing that sets me apart from the crowd. Little things in life are a major thing for me, so in that sense I draw a lot of inspiration from my surroundings and being in a city is very beneficial for me. Seeing kids on leashes, watching a couple get into it at the grocery store, 3-legged dogs, etc. I’m a very observant and analytical person, and being in a city is just constant fodder for my mind. My mind’s major focus is the production of works of art, chiefly music, so I’m just constantly reading everything from behind very productive eyes. Everything gets folded in.

But, I think the biggest source of inspiration is myself at this point. I’m only here because of how hard I’ve worked, how many times I’ve refused to give up, and how much I love being alive. It’s a lot like a perpetual motion machine at this point. I’m going to keep moving and working and building, and at this point I can step back and look at what I’ve done and there isn’t even any thought to it. By simply acknowledging what I’ve done it pushes me to go further and further because I’m past the hump at this point. I want to be free. I want to eat what I want whenever I want, and I wanna be able to go wherever I want whenever I want. I want to be able to tell my mom and dad they don’t have to go to work anymore if they don’t want to. I don’t have those things. I never have, but I’ve never stopped believing that I need them in my life. The difference between who I am, and who I want to be is probably the biggest single inspiration. I refuse to wake up another day on this earth and not be a little closer to living the life I know I’m supposed to be living.

Known associates?

(Laughs) this one would be too long if I list everyone, but I’ll give you the most major ones: Mishka, Nick Vogt, Main Attrakionz, Shady Blaze, Dope G, Shadowrunners, Sortahuman, Metro Zu, Shuttle Life, Mobbin No Sobbin, Areb crew, Bruiser Brigade, Jel, Keyboard Kid, Fresh Galaxy, BK Beats, Uptown Greg, Ryan Fritch, Black Noi$e, and Turbo Sonidero.

What has been the hardest of being a rapper?

Just the whole unknown clause. Not knowing if I’m going to “make it”, not knowing why the fuck I get up and live this life everyday. But, at the same time I really don’t know anything else. This has always been the thing that suits me best so it’s been really tough to go so long with no real recognition, and feel like I’m not really getting anywhere.

How would your life be different without your music?

Damn man, I honestly couldn’t even tell you. While I never really think of myself as just a musician, I’ve been making music steadily since 2000. It has been both a method of release, and discovery for me. I’ve come to know myself better, as well as the world around me through music. I think if you took music outta my life I’d honestly probably be dead or in jail. I have a crazy temper, and emotionally speaking, my capacity exceeds my control. Combine that with the fact that I don’t go for disrespect, and it doesn’t take much for me to wind up in a situation where I could get hurt, or hurt somebody else. I’ve done a good job over the years getting it under control, but without music I don’t think I would have been able to do that. In fact I know I wouldn’t have.

How do you feel about today’s rap scene?

Very optimistic. You know I been in this since 2000. I’ve seen it go from a time when people could not accept my weirdness, to a time when people actually want that weirdness. Looking at dudes like Danny Brown, or Action Bronson, or Lil B it’s not hard to see how I have a legitimate place in this now. Before I was always part of some outsider faction. Not because I wanted to be an outsider (I never ever called myself a “nerd rapper” cause I think that’s a stupid fucking title, but it’s the box that people used to put me in) but because the insiders didn’t want me around. Now, I still stand out for the same reasons, but it reads more so as virtue than stigma.

What has been the single greatest moment in your rap career thus far?

It hasn’t happened yet. It’s a feeling that I know about that I’m yet to experience, but I’m very familiar with it. It’s like I know exactly what the moment is, and how it feels, but it hasn’t happened yet.

What does the future hold for Zachg?

Eternity. I’m doing more than 20 records this year, and I’m currently at 14. My next solo record Raindancin (in the Pussy) is done. That one’s waiting in the chamber. I’m about to start working on Bright Side of the Moon which is an LP that will feature one beat each from a bunch of different producers, and that will most likely be the next record I release. Left Leberra and I are working on the second Hashburry Gardens record. I’m workin on an EP with Lowercase. All Fucked Up Everything vol.2 (a record compiled solely from voicenotes on my blackberry) is very close to completion. I’m just about due for the second instalment of Foreverglades, which is just all the instrumentals for songs I’ve done in the last 3 or 4 months. I’m working pretty closely with Western Tink and Beautiful Lou prepping the Mobbin No Sobbin record for Mishka. Nick Vogt and I are working on compiling a bunch of our writings for Mishka to print into a Zine. Rad Reef is about to launch a new site and move into phase two. I’m trying to wrap up the second episode of Piffbusters, which is a webseries I started to dispel myths about weed but it’s been kinda languishing. Keyboard Kid and I have been talking about doing some lightweight touring. I got beats on other people’s records. A few other top secret Mishka projects. I mean there’s more stuff too, but this is starting to feel excessive. Basically I have a job that pays the bills, and it thankfully does not encroach on my time or my life in the slightest. And when I’m not at work, I’m working on music. Until I experience that feeling I was telling you about I’m not going to let up, and I’m not trying to be wasting my time on shit that ain’t music.

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