Exclusive Interview: RJD2’s ‘Dame Fortune’

Interview with RJD2, pondering the samples of the artist’s classic 2002 “Smoke and Mirrors,” DIY back when Xerox printing at the library ruled, Philadelphia roots, MPC-2000, ARP2600s: “forged in steel — solid, fortified.” Read the full interview.

Your best shot at making a career is to be good at what you do. Most often, that happens by doing what you love. You’ve gotta love what you do, and then it’s not work.

RJD2

Don’t Shoot, We’re Devo: Pt. 3

Image Courtesy Gerald Casale

Image Courtesy Gerald Casale

Scrunchies. Jazzercise. The Gremlin car, in all its hatchback deformity. Cone-shaped bras. Jell-o fruit salad. Members Only jackets. Hammer pants. Over the course of a decade, countless trends have lit the pop-culture landscape and receded into obsolescence. What is it, then, that endures about Devo? Why does their 1978 album, Q: Are We Not Men? A: We Are Devo, still sound timely nearly 40 years later. Why do their energy-dome hats still look awesome? We met with Devo’s Jerry Casale over several months to find out. In this, the third installment of our exclusive Devo interview series, Sara Jayne Crow delves into the origins of “energy-dome” hats, explores the pending McDonald’s lawsuit, and encounters the ghost of lawsuits past.

Flavorpill: Let’s talk about the beginnings of Devo, back when people lobbed beer bottles onstage while you performed. Before Saturday Night Live, before Warner Brothers records, before the lawsuits…

Jerry Casale: In a slightly different scenario, it could’ve been that the real beginning of Devo was also the end. It could’ve been over, and nothing else would have happened. We would never have had a body of work, or a history. And that’s how narrow the difference is. It’s like the whole story of Tesla.

FP: I love that you brought up Tesla right now.

JC: Why?

FP: It’s just poetic.

JC: That’s a great story. He was an amazing artist, and his legacy was besmirched. He was erased from history. Except for people like us, who know about him. That’s how it can go. That’s the difference… just that much.

FP: That’s sort of the human condition, isn’t it?

JC: That’s right. There are plenty of people today in the wrong place at the wrong time. Like the massive rape in Africa, and the People’s Democratic Republic of the Congo, or whatever the fuck it is. It’s horrifying. Where’s the great United States justice there?

FP: America is normally so obtrusive in foreign affairs. But in the case of the Congo, it’s not financially solvent, and the pain and suffering continues.

JC: The pain and suffering is unbelievable.

FP: So where do you think this is all going? All the pain, suffering, strife, pollution, devolution?

JC: There’s just going to be more and more of it. There aren’t enough powerful, good people in the world to stop the freight train of history into the black hole. There are too many evil people and subhuman victims that aren’t equipped to resist any more. The saddest thing of all is in American politics, where blue-collar people are the worst in terms of being affected by heinous policies of the Federal government that penalizes them and drives them further and further into the dirt. They are the most tricked by the very people that perpetrate their victimization. These are the people that voted twice for Bush and probably voted for McCain and Palin.

FP: Time for another tea party? Back to the beginnings of Devo question… let’s talk about something devoid of politics and pain. How about where the idea for the “energy dome” hats come about?

JC: The idea originally came from a comic book about a cancellator helmet. The character in the comic book wore the helmet so she couldn’t hear, and it made her happy because it blocked out babble from the outside world. It looked a little bit like a ceiling fixture I used to fixate on in my [Catholic] grade school. Because I hated the nuns so much, I would stare at the ceiling so I wouldn’t have to look at them. If you could imagine the energy domes turned upside down in white milk glass, they looked exactly the same. I used to love the design. And I thought, “We should make a vacuum-formed plastic hat that looks like that for Devo.” And so I set about trying to make it.

At some point, a worker in the production factory we were using asked if we were making flower pots, and I spontaneously said we were making energy domes because he pissed me off. If we gave interviews, we talked about Wilhelm Reich’s orgone box, and added that to the story after the fact. To begin with, it was more about visual design and a ridiculous idea for a hat.

FP: So what’s up with the Devo lawsuit with McDonald’s over the “New Wave Nigel” happy meal toy whose hat looks mysteriously like those hats?

JC: You know, it’s very funny. You know… McDonald’s is so frightening with the legal process that I realized how power works, true power, all over again. Even I was surprised by how avaricious it was. I’m not allowed to tell you a thing about this, or they can sue me… But there was no lawsuit.

FP: Can you at least talk about why you filed the suit?

JC: They had a promotion for Happy Meals where each decade of was represented by different characters, the ’50s, ’60s, ’70s, ’80s, ’90s and now. Oddly enough, the ’80s character, which was the “New Wave Nigel” doll, did appear to us to be Devo. I can’t talk about it. I like how the victim becomes the victim, again.

FP: That’s been a theme, hasn’t it?

JC: Absolutely. It never stops. Whatever happened with McDonald’s… McDonald’s is a powerful corporation, and it creates reality, like Karl Rove. What they say goes. Even though we felt we were the victims, we were being treated like perpetrators and troublemakers. The fact that we’re not allowed to talk about it… you needn’t say more than that. By saying what I’m saying, I’m talking about it. That’s the problem.

It’s like the first time we were ever sued. We were sued less than every band, I think. The biggest and most furious one was where former friend and associate at Kent [State University], Bob Lewis, trumped up a suit about Devo about theft of intellectual property, which was ludicrous. Really, it was about a kid from Akron University’s college paper who tricked Mark into saying Bob Lewis was our manager, which was totally not true. Two years later, when we were getting ready to tour, and had a real manager — Elliot Roberts, who managed Neil Young, The Cars, Joni Mitchell and Bob Dylan. This guy pulls out this tape and tries to injunct our tour, so we were forced to settle. He tried to claim that was proof his case of theft of intellectual property was real, which was totally ridiculous. It would make a great movie in and of itself, because then everyone starts arguing about the reference points for de-evolution and where it came from…

FP: Isn’t that the most devolved argument you can have?

JC: I know! Did it come from the comic book, did it come from The Island of Lost Souls, who said what first, and we were all acknowledging that we got this idea from pre-existing sources: even the song title “Jocko Homo” came from a religious pamphlet. The point is that these are influences of artistic people, and the ideas don’t belong to anyone, on that level. What may be Devo is the fact that Mark and I wrote songs with certain lyrics and played songs a certain way. That’s what made Devo, Devo. Not who read what book first.

FP: In some ways, the “New Wave Nigel” character, McDonald’s was homage to Devo.

JC: They were using a copyrighted icon that I created without asking permission. The point is, we don’t approve of what McDonald’s represents. If we had, maybe the homage would have been a compliment to us.

FP: Wasn’t there a band you were in called 15-60-75?

JC: Yes, I played both bass and drums at different times in that band.

FP: You were quoted at one point as saying that you wanted to write McDonald’s jingles with the band, because that’s what was familiar to people and was part of the mental landscape of the general populous whether they knew it or not.

JC: We were inspired by early McDonald’s advertising, because we were so horrified by it. We wanted to subvert what people liked. We wanted to take it and misappropriate it, or be transgressive about it. In our early videos, we would watch McDonald’s commercials and see what they did-we learned how to do our shot selection and edit from McDonald’s commercials. But then we mixed it with German expressionism and horrific twists to screw with people. It’s like in the “Beautiful World” video, where we show some really ridiculous, humorous image and then a starving child in Africa right after it.

FP: It’s taking the familiar editing precepts and making it into something subversive and appealing via shock, which has far more of an impact.

JC: It’s alienation by the familiar.

Related posts: Exclusive: Don’t Shoot, We’re Devo: Pt. 2
Exclusive: Devo’s Jerry Casale on De-evolution and the Meaning of ‘Whip It’

Don’t Shoot, We’re Devo: Pt. 2


Even today, some 30 years after the band’s debut, there are legions of Devo-tees. Perhaps it’s due to the philosophy of De-evolution and the precocious employ of musical, visual and philosophical elements before it was in vogue. Perhaps it’s an inevitable outcome of years spent releasing daring records bound to off-the-wall antics, to court popularity and success while simultaneously shunning it. Perhaps it’s just the magnetism of the yellow-jumpsuit-”energy-dome” combination.

Whatever the allure, for every fan of the MTV-happy “Whip It” there’s another cataloging Devo t-shirts in cellophane wrap organized by concert year and sub-categorized by month and color. Earplug’s Sara Jayne Crow met with Jerry Casale of Devo over the course of several months. The following is the second installment (you can find the first here and below) in a series covering the De-evolution philosophy, Brian Eno’s “Oblique Strategies,” and the “rogue’s gallery” of Devo history.

Earplug: How’s Los Angeles?

Jerry Casale: Everybody’s doing meaningless shit, and they just do it in this endless procession of consumption. It’s like taking a shit. Out here [in LA], it’s just sadistic. The girls are really entitled, aggressive and mean. They’ve turned into the ways guys used to be… callow and womanizing. The girls are laughing at the guys who care about them. It’s just mind-boggling.

EP: Isn’t that just in keeping with the patterns of history, though? The pendulum swings?

JC: Yeah, but none of it’s good.

EP: Has it ever been?

JC: Maybe not. I guess I’ve never seen the volume of bad be so high and up-front, that’s all. I’ve never seen so many stupid people.

EP: De-evolution at work?

JC:
Yes. So many stupid people who are kind of proud of being stupid. Shameless. They don’t even feel stupid at all. It’s like how we got to a point in America where you can be put down as a politician if you were able to speak as if you knew more than the crowd you were talking to.

EP: Let’s talk about the beginnings of Devo and philosophy, which was couched in the concept of de-evolution. You have spoken of the band forming as a reaction to the brute military force at the Kent State University antiwar protest in 1970 in an older Vermont Review interview.

JC: Yes. I think I was kind of a hippie until that point. I believed naively that there was justice, that good deeds mattered, and that there really was a democracy enforcing the Constitution, and that bigotry and segregation were aberrations, not the norm. And I was wrong. The evil far outweighs the good, and you would have to be a constant warrior vigilante, day and night, to make a dent in it. One of the things I could do was to have an artistic aesthetic that was a sort of gun in your face, giving some back to ‘em, but in a way that you’re allowed to operate. Because if I’d done what I really felt like doing, I’d be in jail for homicide.

EP: What did you really feel like doing, or who did you really feel should be killed?

JC: Oh, there were so many people that should have died.

EP: Nixon?

JC: Sure, sure absolutely. There were so many, locally and nationally. But it’s like the Medusa. It seems to work when the right wing kills off a visionary leader because somebody trying to give people hope and a sense of direction and lift them up really is important. But there is always another evil guy. There’s an endless supply of those guys. Evil is easy; it’s based on fear and hopelessness. But the opposite isn’t easy. You change history by killing a visionary. The evil goes from the top to the bottom and right down from the largest kind of implications for masses of people on a political level to interpersonal relationships, love and business relationships. I have not been able to put what I know into practice, in terms of me becoming cynical enough to act differently. I always act as if things could turn out well, or as if what you put into something matters.

EP: So what are you working on right now, aside from the new album?

JC: I’m working on a first draft of the early days of Devo movie with Matt Diehl, a writer for Rolling Stone. It’s about Devo in the sad, sad Akron days beginning in 1974. It shows the truth, which is stranger than fiction, where, against all odds, and totally whacked-out, this art band goes from being this hopeless joke everyone laughs.. to synching up with the new wave and punk movements… It goes all the way through to where we get signed and try to start our first tour and get the deal to go on Saturday Night Live. The movie ends there, although there’s a coda or postscript that takes place in 1980 when “Whip It” is a hit, and everyone wants us to write another hit and meet with producers. There’s also a prequel including the killings at Kent State. It’s the probable journey and struggle to success, but the success is a question mark.

EP: How did you choose that particular time period?

JC: Because that’s where the important formation of the whole concept turning into a productive reality took place, against all odds and with a lot of conflict and dark humor, and where all the revolutionary aesthetic that we had got created, including our first 10-minute film, The Truth About De-evolution. You’re seeing this rogue’s gallery of people, the record company executives and New York promoters, and Iggy Pop, David Bowie, Brian Eno, Dean Stockwell, Neil Young and Toni Basil, Richard Branson, Ron Blakely… and it’s insane, how it all works.

EP: How did you treat the Brian Eno part?

JC: Just truthfully. It was pretty strange. Brian Eno and Devo were on two different dimensional planes that kind of intersected, but not really.

EP: Did you talk about the “Oblique Strategies” [Eno’s approach to finding a new formula for the Devo sound]?

JC: Oh, yeah.

EP: What did you make of that?

JC: Devo being the smartass intellectuals that we were, we thought the Oblique Strategies were pretty wanky. They were too Zen for us. We thought that precious, pseudo-mystical, elliptical stuff was too groovy. We were into brute, nasty realism and industrial-strength sounds and beats. We didn’t want pretty. Brian was trying to add beauty to our music.

EP: He probably wanted something spontaneous for your sound.

JC: We knew so much what we wanted. What his ideas were usually were antithetical to what we needed to do. The songs we brought into that studio we had played and played and played. We were married to what they were. We were driven by anger.

EP: Yes, and that anger seems to have drove you through three decades. What you were doing thirty years ago is more timely now than it ever has been.

JC: Yeah, but we knew then we were doing something that had nothing to do with trends. We were just trying to perfect what we did, and people made fun of us, saying, “Why the fuck are you doing this? Who wants to hear this, and why are you trying so hard?” It was because we had an idea. And now our music sounds contemporary.

EP: Now people are trying to re-make that punk, retro synth sound Devo mastered.

JC: There was a generation of kids that never heard us and finally found us and got inspired. And they don’t want grunge. They don’t want to hear about some whining bastard’s personal pain. They want something that unifies a group of people, inspires them, and lifts them up. And that is exactly what is new about new wave. That’s exactly what new wave did. When you heard God Save the Queen, and you were me at my age, and you heard The Clash’s London Calling, it was incredible. It made you feel like you could move, like you could go forward. It brought people together, and lifted them up. I think people need that now.

Photo credit: Moishe Brakha

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Rolling Stone stuffs

Devo’s Jerry Casale on De-evolution and the Meaning of ‘Whip It’

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The narrative of Devo follows a labyrinthine maze through the shattered idealism of the ’60s, the record-label monopolies of the ’70s, and the cocaine-addled New Wave scene of the ’80s. Recently reemerging for present-day collaborations with artists like Adam Freeland and Teddybears, the sometimes famed, sometimes infamous Devo have been busy of late. After completing a 2006 tour clad in the requisite yellow jumpsuits and creating “Watch Us Work It” for a Dell campaign, the band sued McDonald’s for use of its trademarked “flower-pot” or “energy-dome” hats in Happy Meal toys. Now on the cusp of releasing a new album after 19 years of silence, the band will be performing new songs at SXSW’s BMI showcase on March 20 in Austin, Texas.

Earplug’s Sara Jayne Crow met with Jerry Casale — co-founder, vocalist, bass guitarist, and synthesizer maestro of Devo — in his Santa Monica home over the course of several months. The following interview is the first installment in a series covering the long Devo history, De-evolution as a philosophy, the nature of the new album, and the real meaning of “Whip It.”

Earplug: After all this time, you’ve come together to release a new album. But initially you were brought together again to do music for a commercial for Dell, “Watch Us Work It”…

Jerry Casale: Yes, and the commercial got such a huge response. It was popular with listeners, and more importantly, it was popular with record companies. We gave it to Teddybears, and they produced it.

EP: This was during your 2006 tour?

JC: Yeah. I liked Teddybears, and their record had just come out. Paul, the creative director of Mother agency in New York (who hired us to work on the Dell commercial), knows them. He suggested that they do something with the song, and we thought that was fantastic. We loved what they did.

EP: I like that it updated the Devo sound.

JC: It was perfect, because it sounded like Devo, but it didn’t. People were like, “Is that Devo?” And then they were like, “Oh yeah, it’s perfect, it’s Devo.” It kept what people had in mind about what they think Devo should be without literally being self-parody, or something, which is a good fine line. I don’t think anyone would want Devo to come out and not sound like Devo, at this point. They wouldn’t accept that.

EP: How are you grappling with creating something new for the Devo sound while remaining true to the original direction, philosophy, and rawness?

JC: The way we decided to deal with this was to just use the same process we used in the past for writing, and to see what would happen, because it had been so long since we did that.

EP: The process being what?

JC: Everyone contributing ideas, sounds, and musical figures, and only developing the ones that everyone likes. With “Girl U Want,” like so many of our songs, we could tell in the first five seconds that they were recognizable as non-generic. We develop from there. That’s always what I was good at, taking things from different influences. “Whip It” was actually four songs, pieces of tape, and four different time signatures. There was the riff, chorus (a very slow, almost classical piece with no drums), and the bridge was a rock song, and the strange beat was an experiment that the drummer of Captain Beefheart, John French, would hang out with Mark [Mothersbaugh] and jam. A version of that beat that was too jazzy came out of that time. Once we had that beat, I had the idea of taking the other three pieces of music and unifying them. I had these “Whip It” lyrics from my attempt at doing a Thomas Pynchon parody. He did a bunch of parodies in Gravity’s Rainbow, and I liked them so much that I wanted to do one. So for me, “Whip It” was a parody of the whole Horatio Alger “You’re number one, there’s nobody else like you, you can do it” thing.

EP: Cheerleading stuff? Isn’t it ironic, then, that people generally think the song is about sadomasochism? Because, viewed in light of the theory of De-evolution that Devo stands for, the mindset is sort of masochistic.

JC: We like the irony. We knew people would think that. That’s why I made the video I made for the song. I said, “OK, let’s just give ‘em what they want, or what they think they want to see — except we’ll be making fun of Ronald Reagan and Americana. At that time, he was campaigning for the presidency on this whole rancher thing with the cowboy hat, on horseback.

EP: The lone ranger?

JC: Yeah, so we did this sort of “down at the ranch” video, but made it S&M. It was disturbing to everybody because there was a band playing in the corral, and Mark’s whipping this girl’s clothes off while cowboys cheer. It made us laugh, because it’s so horrible.

EP: It’s so demeaning…

JC: To all of us! To everyone.

EP: Yes, it’s an equal opportunity demean-er.

JC: It is, it really is. “Whip it into shape” is so ubiquitous, and cliché. I was trying to use lyrics that were a bunch of clichés if taken out of context, on purpose. Lyrics that are universal, but turn into some other meaning when taken together. “Freedom of Choice” was like that: starting with some slogan. We love slogans and commands, and that’s why we return to that idea. We try not to write about anything typical. One of our new songs is taken from a hunter’s safety vest that reads, “Don’t Shoot, I’m a Man” on the back.

EP: What are some of the lyrics?

JC: I get up every day / It’s a miracle, I’m told / Somehow I live to work / So I hit the road / Squeeze into my hybrid car / Drive as fast as I can / I scan the rooftops, yeah I scan the rooftops / Don’t shoot, I’m a man

EP: How is the mention of a hybrid car relevant to the song?

JC: We were just trying to paint a portrait of a modern, harried man. An emasculated, rat-race man living in a dangerous world full of crazy people and violence. And he has a horrible life, so he wakes up every day to get in his little dinky-ass, wimpy hybrid, and then is afraid for his life as he drives in gridlock to work. He’s begging, “Please, don’t make me prey.” It’s an anti-violence song. Humans feel like they’re being hunted now.

In this day and age, the whole instinctual human need for self-preservation isn’t really relevant. We’re not fending for ourselves out in nature, in the jungle. We lead sheltered, easy lives. Modern violence has less to do with the physical and more to do with day-to-day human interactions. We may not be in the jungle, but we created a new jungle. An urban jungle. And we created an unsustainable environment, and we’re doing our own species in. That’s what the song is about, in a humorous way.

We’re also doing a song called “What We Do,” which is again addressing the fact that human nature being what it is, it’s almost programmed to self-destruct… It’s like not taking two years to die on chemotherapy, or something. You’re spared if you go quickly. But of course we don’t deal with it that way. In the video we’re making for it, a hand is picking from cut-and-paste ad graphics of people and chimps. It picks certain people and chimps, and puts them in a spaceship, and then they get beamed up. It’s a reference to the stupid Scientology mythology. We’re showing these video backgrounds in sync with the music at this year’s South by Southwest.

EP: You’re performing all the new music there?

JC: Three new songs. And also showing people what we used to do before anyone used to do it, which is to play in sync with video. And now, sure, Nine Inch Nails do it, and U2 do it. It used to be almost impossible to do it the way we had to do it with the technology we had back then. Now it’s easier, it’s just expensive.

EP: So how many new songs do you have right now?

JC: We have about ten demos, and we’re working on about five. We have six songs completed and mixed and ready to hand to producers. We’re looking at a fall tour with our new CD. In the meantime, we want to get this music to licensers and producers.

EP: What’s the general feeling of rapport or camaraderie in the group right now? How are you getting along after all these years?

JC: I can only speak for myself. I have the same commitment, excitement, and urgency. I think to a large degree that the two Bobs do, as well. We do have some really good songs now. There’s one called “Fresh” that I like a lot. The lyrics are:

So fresh / I’ll search until I find it / So fresh / I’m closing in behind it / So fresh / Nothing could be better / So fresh / Like I died and went to heaven / So fresh it almost makes me want to cry / So fresh it’s givin’ me a second life / I see a fork in the road / Where it goes I don’t know / I won’t even think twice / I really don’t have a choice

EP: So it’s about… encroachment? Love?

JC: It’s about anything. It’s about fulfilling your destiny, and chasing new love.

EP: Thermodynamics?

JC: Yeah! What was the old high-school maxim? “When the angle of the dangle is proportionate to the heat of the meat, and the mass of the ass stays constant?” That’s thermodynamics! I love those hillbilly truisms and wisdom. It gets profound when you get older and think about it. High-school kids know everything already.

EP: And then you learn it over and over again, and then forget it, and then you don’t know anything, and that’s the true state of enlightenment.

JC: That’s right. Artists tend not to forget what they knew in high school. That’s what I like about artists. Part of them doesn’t grow up. They don’t get ashamed of those impulses. I don’t like people who do things in a spiritless way. Like with anything, like with sex. If you’re going to bother doing it, try to do a really good job. Concentrate and be there, and try to really be good at what you do.

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DJ Greyboy

DJ Greyboy

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.”

Check Greyboy’s Myspace or the Ubiquity Records site for more on Greyboy.

Layout designed by CRO.

This article originally posted in TheBlacklistMag.com, which is sadly no longer in the cyber-realm.

Waajeed & Platinum Pied Pipers

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Sailing mad voyages of hip-hop piracy among a sea of less able producers, Waajeed and Platinum Pied Pipers are taking the hip-hop world like bandits. The pirate theme is well deserved: New York’s legendary Tiombe Lockhart has called Waajeed “Pirate King” and “the swashbuckler of funk.” The New York producer’s been plundering and pillaging hip-hop as we know it to arrive at pure, unprecedented treasure.

Waajeed is something of an ingénue in the hip-hop world. He only began producing in 2000, but his beats for Platinum Pied Pipers have the ring of classic producers such as Pete Rock. Hailed as an instant classic sound by Flavorpill, The Platinum Pied Pipers’ Triple P garnered instant fanfare—a rare feat for a fledgling release on Waajeed’s underground label, Bling 47. Waajeed’s history with music is long, though: he began DJing at just 14, mining his parent’s massive vinyl collection for new gold. He met Jay Dee (J. Dilla, RIP) in Detroit around the same time, and was privy to the burgeoning hip-hop scene of the ‘80s. He won a scholarship to art school for painting, but quit school to tour through Europe as a DJ for Slum Village. Upon his return to the United States, he decided to put down his brushes for another set of tools—production equipment.

Platinum Pied Pipers’ Triple P is Waajeed and Saadiq, and boasts cameo appearances by Jay Dee, MC Ta-Raach, UK-based Spacek and SA-RA Creative Partners. It’s pure buried treasure that’s been unearthed by the group’s new approach to soul. Waajeed and I caught up to discuss the radness of the raw, how a painting is like a track, and what really put the funky in Funkadelic.

Tell me about how you guys met. You’re both from Detroit, right?

Yeah, we met sixteen, maybe seventeen years ago. At the time, we had just entered high school, and I was getting into music. There was this kid in my art class who was like, “my brother’s a producer, and he’s really talented. You should come by and grab some beats from him.” The next day he brought me his cassette tape. We made some beats together… with only turntables, a little drum machine, and cassette tapes.

You had a pretty spare setup there. But sometimes that can be for the best. The less software and fancy equipment used, the better.

Absolutely.

So what about Detroit? You are originally from there, but now live in New York. You have a big following in New York, but in an interview I read with you, you were saying a Detroit record shop only ordered eight of your records, and you sold 125 copies at one show in New York. What’s up with Detroit?

I think it’s… I don’t know. I think the grass is always greener on the other side. Wherever you’re not from, that’s where motherfuckers get into you. Like if I was born in New York, people here wouldn’t give a fuck about me. Yeah, that Detroit thing… in interviews I’m always get asked, ‘explain your Detroit sound. You have a Detroit sound, Detroit this, Detroit that.’ It really pisses me off.

I think people equate you with Detroit because you have a raw sound. I don’t think you sound ‘Detroit’ in any way. I think people tend to pigeonhole, which sucks. It’s a really unchallenged way of looking at music.

It’s the easiest way. It sums it up. To name a sound for a city is silly. And if I had a ‘Detroit’ sound, maybe there’d be more records of mine for sale there… the ‘Detroit’ sound is just ghetto tech.

Let’s talk about your paintings. Is there somewhere online where you sell your stuff?

Not really. I wish there was more time in the day.

I’m sure you’re busy DJing, producing, owning a record label, getting married…

The DJ thing is crazy. I’ve been DJing more than I’ve been producing lately. There’s so much to do and so little time. I wish I had more time to paint, or even draw. I miss it, but making a track is, to some degree, the same thing. With painting, you lay a foundation, and build on it. Add a few things and take a few things away. It’s the same process.

Yeah, it’s just a layering of textures to arrive at overall meaning and balance. Production is all about balance, too.

I agree. That’s part of what’s wrong with popular music these days, especially hip-hop. Because it’s so keyboard-based and doesn’t have any texture to it… every piece of art has to have some sort of texture to it in order to gel. I was just in Dubai, and got back a couple days ago. The whole scene was fresh, but there was no texture to it. That’s part of why I don’t like lots of hip-hop. There’s no texture to it.

I’m always pissed that these silly rappers are so successful. I don’t understand that at all. Lots of mass-popular hip-hop doesn’t say anything, besides ‘booty is great.’

I know. It’s like, what is anyone going to take away from this situation, besides seeing lots of T and A all damn day.

So let’s talk about your history a little bit. Let me get this straight—you got a scholarship for art school, and then quit to go on tour. After your return, you dropped painting and started making beats. Right?

Yeah, I was so into the music, I had to devote my time. I had always been involved with music, and DJing…

How old were you when you started DJing?

I was about 14. I started with my parent’s record collection—they were really into music in the ‘70s, and big party freaks. They had tons and tons of vinyl.

What kind of music were they into?

My dad was into jazz, and heavily into funk… Funkadelic and all sorts of stuff. I really didn’t get Funkadelic until the last ten years…

It’s kind of an acquired taste.

Yeah. You really have to understand what the fuck they’re talking about to even care. So I inherited my parent’s record collection. I have so many… right now I’m trying to alphabetize them. It’s hard to keep track of all this music.

I’ve read in articles before about how production came pretty easily to you, because it’s a form of expression, kind of like painting. You learn to operate whatever vehicle of expression, and the rest comes easily. Do you agree?

Absolutely. Music gives you another approach. I was hanging out with DJ Spinna a couple days ago, and he’s one of these record, record, record guys. Like he will know the name, producer, cover art…

The label, what year it came out, what pressing it is…

Yeah. Aw, man, he’s one of these record genius guys. He was explaining that your ear is so unique to you. Everyone hears a record differently… I hear a record in a completely different way than anyone else. That’s your benefit; you can approach it differently; chop it up, think about music in a nontraditional way because of being trained as an artist.

That’s the special thing about it… it’s a unique experience. Everyone hears music differently, and the way you create beats is only yours, because only you can hear music that way, and have that particular thing to say.

Yeah. Everyone who’s a great producer has preserved an experience… they’re bringing something unique.

Check Waajeed at Bling 47.

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SuperJane: Four on the Floor

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At a hastily planned 1997 rave in a low-scale sports arena in Bloomington, Illinois, Chicago DJs Colette, Heather, and Dayhota found themselves obligated to rock a disinterested crowd drawn by cheap Xeroxed flyers. Working against the odds, Colette spun a thick house set and sang her own lyrics over the mix, her voice resonating one second, then swelling, full and throaty the next. Of the meager 100 attendees, a majority had gravitated to the dim corners of the warehouse in search of back massages. A sense of futility dominated the air as Colette continued, invoking the listeners with strains of “Rise up, Rise,” her head thrown back and eyes closed, to an oblivious crowd.

Three years later, on a packed Saturday night at Chicago’s well-established Metro club, SuperJane is in control. Dayhota contorts a loop into constrained tech-step acrobatics, creating a beat pendulum that swings wider and wider into final release. The thick silver rings on her index fingers catch light and glint at intervals, accentuating her dexterity as she tweaks the bass knob with each break. She hops and struts behind the turntables, looking sultry and satisfied.

As hundreds of dancers swarm to the hardwood floors, Dayhota drops a tune with a strapping bassline and an abandon that translates into limb kinetics in the crowd: arms flail and toes everywhere are smashed as rhythm consumes all present. Despite the sweaty and crowded conditions, everyone is dancing. No back massages are taking place in the corners of this club.

It’s refreshing to see appreciation, finally, for the artistry that is SuperJane. At the above mentioned sports arena gathering, there may have been 100 tweaked-out clubbers searching for Ecstasy pills rather than good beats. Here, listeners have gathered in search of one thing: aural sex.

The support evinced at the Metro is consistent with SuperJane’s growing global popularity. In recent months, the crew has been featured in multiple magazines (Spin, Time Out, URB, BPM), and their productions mixes are surfacing on several music labels (Seasons, Afterhours, Shroom, Classic, and Nordic Trax). So who are these four in-demand DJs?

Dayhota, Colette, Heather and Lady D have been involved in the Chicago music scene for numerous years, and their partnership grew out of both mutual appreciation for each other’s style and a solid foundation of friendship. SuperJane’s members met at raves and clubs in the mid-1990s and became intimate through their home city’s infamous 2418 North Avenue and Aberdeen loft parties, where they spun records alongside such producers as Gene Farris, Mark Farina, Freak, J-Dub, Diz, and DJ Sneak.

“We all became close in 1995, through those loft parties and clubs and shared musical taste,” recalls Dayhota. “Colette got turntables that year and we started practicing together. Our partnership naturally evolved.” Indeed, the group has spun as a collective at raves and clubs throughout the nation and plans on touring Europe next year. The SuperJane 2000 tour graced several clubs in cities ranging from Seattle to Detroit, and the next tour will eventually hit London and Paris. Although they share a common affiliation, the crew is far from homogenous. Dayhota spins barefoot, Colette simultaneously sings and spins, Lady D is both a record executive and mother, and Heather regularly spins in the international circuit. Together, these personalities and their quirks comprise a charismatic, colorful, and capable collective that reaches beyond novelty of their gender.

HEATHER

“SuperJane is an attempt to re-educate people about forgetting the whole mystique of being a female DJ. When SuperJane began, we were trying to mirror the approach of most parties going on, but with female promoters and female DJs instead of males. I’ve never really thought of myself as a woman DJ, but just as a DJ that happens to be a woman. I’m hoping people will be receptive to that.”

It seems that the music world has been nothing but receptive to DJ Heather Robinson’s authentic and discerning Chicago approach. Robinson’s been spinning for over 10 years, experience that affords her the ability to mix tracks seamlessly and effortlessly, one of the numerous skills required for DJ success in Chicago: “The number of DJs per capita there is high, regardless of gender,” she notes. “There’s a very high talent pool, and being in that environment requires you to fine-tune your style if you want to spin anywhere.”

Robinson’s talents have launched her on countless adventures, including appearances in clubs nationally and internationally. She has traveled with Mark Farina as a member of the San Francisco Sessions tour. In Europe, she’s spun in clubs such as London’s Bar Rhumba and at parties like Berlin’s Love Parade.

Like the other members of SuperJane, Robinson keeps a busy schedule. When she isn’t touring across the world, she works on music projects like her mix CD, Tangerine, released last year on Afterhours. “Even though I travel a lot,” she notes, “I try to make time for music.”

LADY D

“When I first started spinning, there was a lot of recognition because I was a girl. Early on, I recognized that as a woman, being a DJ was both a help and a hindrance.”

So says Darlene Jackson (a.k.a. DJ Lady D), a woman who manages to come across unhindered and carefree despite the dance music media’s representation of her gender. In fact, there are several variables that could quell Jackson’s carefree attitude. The mother of a two-year-old child, Jackson juggles careers as both touring DJ and a full-time career as A & R representative for three labels managed by Strictly Hype Records (SHR).

With all this to do, when does she find time to relax? “I don’t think about it,” she says. “Between a record career, DJ career, and caring for my child, I keep really busy, so there’s not much time for myself. I find that I enjoy traveling to spin… I get on a plane to go somewhere and relax there, and that’s mostly the time I have to myself.”

Jackson’s recording career alone has been demanding. In the last year, she’s worked on several singles, including the wonderful “Champagne Lady” for Afterhours and a spoken word piece on the Body Music Label titled “Rhythm and Poetry Featuring Lady D.” Her full-length CD, Naked Kaleidoscope, was also released last year on Afterhours.

Jackson seems to enjoy this busy schedule. “I need a lot of change, a lot to keep me busy,” she explains. This desire for change seems to be a pattern in her life—she graduated college with a biology major and went on to medical school with the goal of becoming a podiatrist. After a brief attempt at the graduate life, she decided, finally, to take a break. “I realized I just didn’t want to be in school any more, so I worked all around Chicago… as an aerobics instructor, freelance writer for the Chicago Tribune, retail salesperson, and I even worked the skybox [at United Center] where the Bulls [play].”

Jackson’s odyssey from medical school to motherhood and DJ success has sharpened her resolve. “Although I need a lot of change, I feel I’ve gotten to the point where I’m driven towards one goal,” she says. “I’m resentful that Europe has a liberal radio where there is a place for dance music, and America doesn’t. [My desire to] overcome that is what drives me to get my music out there.”

DAYHOTA

“We get a lot of press about being women. We want to be known as DJs, not women. It will take awhile to get past the media’s hype about women DJs,” explains Shannon Ialongo, known in DJ circles as Dayhota.

It seems Ialongo has obviously transcended the. She is now locally and internationally respected both for her Chicago style of tech-house, and her residencies in Chicago hotspots like Mad Bar, Karma, Smart Bar and Crobar, among others. Remarkably, Ialongo will be traveling to Macedonia later this year to spin, a unique privilege previously afforded to very few DJs in the world.

Ialongo’s uniqueness is not necessarily specific to DJing: she’s something of a Jane-of-all-trades, with interests ranging from music production and physics to writing and graphic design. “I’m a full-blown Aquarius,” she says of her multitude of interests. “If Lady D is the sensible SuperJane, and Colette is the go-getter, and Heather is the intellectual, then I am the dreamer of SuperJane. I have so much energy and I’m interested in so much that it’s hard for me to sleep at night.”
What, then, does she plan on doing with her insomniac hours in the future? “I plan to have a CD out (titled Kisses and Music Never Lie) on the Music 101 label this summer,” Ialongo says. She’ll also work on a compilation CD with the rest of the SuperJane crew slated for release later this year. Ialongo’s also looking to hit the studio: “I plan on producing some music that is a bit mellower than what I spin. I’m an emotional romanticist, and the music I produce is always a reflection of that. It’s not as hard [as the music I play out].”

And what about that barefoot spinning? Ialongo often begins a set wearing thick black platform stacks and slips them off half an hour later. “Well, when I first started spinning, feeling the bass through the floorboards with my bare feet helped me match beats. I’m really a hippie at heart, and I love to feel comfortable, like I’m at home.”

COLETTE

“As SuperJane, we wanted to take away the novelty of an all-girl lineup,” explains DJ Colette Marino. “We all feel the same about music, and that’s what ties us four DJs together—that and hard work to get where we want to be.”

Marino’s work ethic has proven integral to SuperJane’s success. She became a student of music at nine years old and got involved in the Chicago dance music scene in the early ‘90s. This led to working with DJ Lego and singing freestyle over his DJ sets. Soon thereafter, Marino began working with DJ Sneak and nightclub promoters Deeper Than Blue. Her involvement in the music scene eventually segued to spinning. Marino borrowed an old set of DJ Sneak’s turntables and buried herself in music, practicing singing and spinning at the same time. She’s since partnered up with several labels over the last five years to release singles and a CD, In the Sun, for Chicago’s Afterhours label.

Marino is still managing to maintain a fast-paced lifestyle. She’s recently moved from Chicago to Los Angeles and lives with her boyfriend and fellow producer Angel Alanis. Marino is now on the road two to three times a week to spin. “I usually travel from Thursday to Sunday, and then I generally work in the studio Monday through Wednesday.” Despite this busy schedule, she’s managed to work on a new track for the A-Squared label that is remixed by KC, a.k.a. Kevin Cunningham.

Although the music life manages to keep Marino quite busy, she plans on taking on an even larger workload: starting her own record label. “I feel that if you’re making music, it’s easier sometimes to just do things on your own, especially with the exposure of the Internet. I wanted to take the initiative to start my own label. I’m ready to start my own thing,” says Marino. It seems that she has.

This cover story featured in XLR8R Issue 49.