The road wends and weaves through the Naples neighborhood of Long Beach, California as I approach Greyboy’s Edward Killingsworth- designed monument of a home. I pass the obligatory Lexus SUVs, Jaguars and expansively landscaped lawns of this somewhat yuppified, “cancel- the- Friday- afternoon- patient- appointments-‘cause-I-gotta-play-golf” neighborhood. I’m trying to reconcile the vague preconceptions I have of Greyboy / Andreas Stevens—a playboy of sorts, a sunshine blonde California good ole boy who probably calls his guy friends ‘braw’ instead of ‘bro’ and happens to make really slick beats between surfing sessions—with a new idea I have of a Greyboy who would live withdrawn from the sluts and the clubs in a relatively quiet California city.
As I find his address, I’m taken aback from the simple extravagance of my surroundings. A perfectly restored Dodge in that pukish ‘70s mustard color foregrounds the utter mid-century modern perfection of his house. A walkway of stone steps dotting a reflecting pool leads to a glass-walled entranceway. The adjacent patio’s furniture lines augment the smooth transitions and blocky yet airy style of the dwelling, which was not surprisingly the recipient of the Grand Prix Award in 1967 (the first award ever to be given for residential design by the American Institute of Architects).
Throughout our interview, my ability to reconcile the Andreas that is presented to me with the one I expected is thoroughly depleted. Which is a good thing—it’s not good to categorize people, or have certain expectations—you’re almost always wrong. But Andreas is an enigma. He’s got a museum quality house with every well-dusted period collectible presented in perfect display; it’s as if he’s house sitting for his grandparents. Then he’s got these rather boyish qualities—checkered navy old skool Vans, a fleet of sterling, pimped-out and rare BMX bikes. And then there’s his anti-babe-magnet qualities—his Myspace profile doesn’t boast the inevitable Cleavage Shot Girls peppering his page with comments like, “You are SO talented I LOVE your EYES you are SOooooooo hot. Cum meet me in LA tonight! XXX!!!!!!” So, he’s got the quiet settled atmosphere of a retired person, but the passion of youth. He’s got taste, right down to his diamond-studded DC Shoes pinky ring. He’s not the type to catalog Maxims and Playboys in his bathroom reading material stash. And he’s most certainly not your usual hip-hop impresario who’s been churning out good beats for nearly a decade and a half.
Andreas’s 1994 breakthrough, Freestylin’, was Ubiquity’s first release. 1994 was a ripe year for hip-hop’s renaissance: Pete Rock, Goodie Mob, Outkast, and even the Beastie Boys were moved. But if anyone had tried to marry hip-hop with avant acid jazz prior to Greyboy, they were nowhere near as successful. Many producers of that era were limited by their inability to see rhythm beyond simple categories—jazz, soul, hip-hop, pop. Greyboy, however, married all of them with polyamorous grace and ease. Freestylin’ remained a relic of that movement, later inspiring DJs like Mark Farina in his popular Mushroom Jazz series.
His next success in Greyboy Allstars drew crowds from all walks—Public Radio bespectacled types, hip-hop low-slung pants types, frat boys, and an overwhelming bevy of dreadlocked hippies. Andreas’s talent had come full circle—he had broken down the categorical pigeonholing of genres that usually drew separate crowds, and everyone from everywhere seemed to like it. From a marketing perspective (which is a wholly ironic viewpoint for hip-hop), this ability to appeal to a broad audience versus hip-hop’s usual “sector market appeal” did him well. Andreas went on to surf the first MTV-fueled hip-hop wave that tsunami-ed the remaining part of the century, doing music for everything from the movies Celtic Pride and Get Shorty to a Kelly Slater video game and Budweiser commercials. His next albums, Mastered the Art and Soul Mosaic, also met with raucous fanfare.
After my interview with Andreas, I debated what to say about him for a long while—I couldn’t reach any firm conclusions on him that would anchor a “slant” for an article. Any conclusions, that is, other than these: Greyboy is full of polarities, a truly rare breed, and he’s Mastered the Art. So I’ll let him speak for himself.
I can’t get over your house, and these furnishings. You’re pretty into design, right? Someone told me that you had a store selling furniture at some point?
I had an unofficial sort of business on the side where I dealt art and furniture from this specific period, museum-quality things to private collectors. I have a friend who owns [California Living] gallery in LA, and I sell things there and at some auction houses in the United States. It’s a really cool gallery that only sells stuff specifically from mid-’50s to very early ’60s, like ’55 to ’62. I furnish my house with everything from that span of time.
So what do you do to find this stuff… dumpster dive, go to thrift stores?
No. The stuff we’re talking about here is really scarce, so usually you’d find stuff from an original estate or collector. It has to do with how long you’ve been in the game, and how many connections you have. All this stuff’s on the expensive side, and you have to have enough money to buy it in the first place. It’s just another interest, like architecture—it’s all sort of the same art. [Retrieves laboriously compiled thick black binder stuffed with page-protected photographs, certificates, and articles]. Here’s some information about this house. These are articles and things beginning from when the house was finished in ’57. That will give you an idea of the scope…. I bought it from this drunk woman who was the fourth owner. After I came back four times, she decided to sell the house to me. I wanted to preserve the house exactly the way it was when it was finished, even down to the furnishings. In older pictures, you’ll see that some of these furnishings were part of the original interior, but they weren’t here when I got the house.
You’ve gone and searched out all the original house furnishings?
Yeah, that stovetop control set wasn’t here [gesturing toward kitchen]. I did a lot of searching on eBay, sometimes Craigslist, sometimes other places. It took me 13 months of searching every day to find that stovetop set.
You’re pretty devoted.
Totally. For me, if I was going to restore the house, it only made sense to really do it all the way.
Go for it, huh?
I guess it was sorta personal… you know, somewhat selfish, too. I wanted to live in this house I dreamed about.
Let’s talk about music stuff. Soul Mosaic is pretty groovy, but it’s a real departure from Mastered the Art, which is flow-y and melodic. Soul Mosaic is angry.
Yeah. My albums are sort of a product of where I’m at, at the time.
You been angry lately?
Yeah… you know, yeah. Totally [laughs]. I wasn’t really angry when that record came out; I was more moody at the time. I was finishing that album while I was doing this, when I first moved to Long Beach and was neck-deep in restoring the house. It was a weird time. I do a lot of collaborating, so the albums are a product of who I collaborate with.
You collaborated with a lot of old jazz guys on Soul Mosaic…
Singers, rappers, musicians… it just depends. The only common thread with my records is that they’re all going to have that hip-hop influenced sound. The beats are going to always be funky, and there will always be a lot of sampling involved. It will never be that overproduced. I’m working on my new album now, which will probably be released in fall. It’s delayed because I just got out of the studio producing the new Greyboy Allstars album…
Your old band, right? I thought you guys broke up in ’96.
Yeah. It was a really weird, big deal where the band decided to get back together to record another album. There was a lot of strife in the band… just people being stupid and thinking that they were the reason the band was cool, and having resentment towards me. The band dissolved and everyone went their separate ways, and then it came full circle, to the point that all the guys in the band were like, “We’re sorry we messed everything up.”
Sometimes success can mess with people’s heads. I know Greyboy Allstars were successful.
Yeah. It’s a really common thing that happens to bands when they get right on the verge of something really, really big happening. It just derails the whole program.
Didn’t you guys have some sort of hippie following?
Yeah, hippies. It was unexplainable. They have a wide appreciation for music. The band is almost all instrumental, and hippies are into instrumental music. I used to do a lot of work doing movie soundtracks for snowboard companies and stuff, and so we’d go to the mountain towns to play these gigs, and a lot of ’em would be out in those areas. But if you like the music, I don’t really care what you look like. Every once in a while, someone would make a smartass comment about having a hippie following, but to me, it’s like, “Dude, I dare you to make a record that anyone wants to buy.” It’s like a miracle. If anyone actually goes to the store to pay money for anything that I made, that’s a huge deal. You just can’t take that lightly.
Well, there’s so much image in music. People who listen to drum ‘n’ bass dress a certain way and people who listen to hip-hop dress another way. Same goes for Phish lovers. Music that appeals to not only hippies, but also yuppies, is really rare.
Older people loved it. It wasn’t some gimmick that was aimed at some specific generation or age group. There was nothing but good that came out of that. Except when the band broke up, and that sucked. But now we’re doing it again, and everything is working out. And I’m loving being in Long Beach, because LA vanity bums me out. It stands for all the things I don’t like in the music industry. Even if you’re really smart, you can start to lose it if you live there. I get a bad energy from LA. I like nice things too, but that’s all that counts there. I like living away from it all, and I have enough interests for a couple people, so I’m never bored. I usually don’t ever want to leave, to be honest with you.
You used to play out more…?
Well, yeah, but I’m 36. I don’t want to be on the road. I’m not as into being in a nightclub any more. When you’re 26 you’re all about it, and it’s exciting and new.
Later, my friend and LA photographer savant, Marc Goldstein, snaps photos of Andreas on his spine-slatted stairwell as the Westward afternoon light streams in. Marc arbitrarily asks him, “Andreas, if you could live in anyone else’s body for six months, whose would it be?” To which he replies, after long deliberation, “Kinda like, just, me.” I laugh and mock in a self-satisfied tone, “Yeah, I’d just be myself.”
He says, “I have it pretty easy, so… I just like looking at people from the outside. I don’t really want to be anyone else.” I query, “Wouldn’t you want to be a girl? Like Pamela Anderson or something?” He laughs, “No… it’s scary. I have a twin sister…. No, maybe I would want to be a girl sometime, just to check it out.” I say, “Wouldn’t you want to know what it’s like having sex as a girl?” He laughs, “Nooooo… I like just knowing what I know.”
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This article originally posted in TheBlacklistMag.com, which is sadly no longer in the cyber-realm.