Music

Inside the Mind of a Slumerican

Alabama rapper Yelawolf reveals his true feelings about women — or, as he calls them, “bitches.”

SF Weekly

music1-2Had Hillary Clinton won the election, this article would have been different. But she didn’t, and Donald Trump did — and now I can’t look at a number of things, including the Southern rapper Yelawolf, in the same way.

The 36-year-old Alabaman emerged onto the music scene around 2005, when he put out his first independent album, Creek Water, an electronic hip-hop record laced with Southern and psychedelic flourishes. At that point in his career, the now almost fully tattooed artist had but a few inkings on his skin, including the word “Slumerican” on the back of his calf, which he’d had done in 2002.

Today, Slumerican is far more than just a fading image on the rapper’s leg: It’s the URL for his website, the name of a song he collaborated on with Killer Mike, an Instagram handle, a Facebook page, an entry in Urban Dictionary, a Tumblr profile, a record label, a soon-to-be weed strain, and Yelawolf’s namesake.

“It started just as a play on words, to be an American from the slums, like mud tires on a big truck with a Dixie flag, with white boys from the backwoods — but they’re bumping Biggie Smalls,” he says, adding that pretty soon, there will be a Slumerican store, barbershop, and tattoo parlor.

If the word rubs you the wrong way, you’re not alone. Though Yelawolf claims it is “an all-inclusive culture and brand,” I can’t help but think of the people that it represents: namely, Trump supporters. After all, wasn’t it White, rural voters who helped The Donald on his road to victory? And wasn’t it Yelawolf — who last year defended the use and wearing of the Confederate flag on Facebook — who said in a 2011 interview with The Guardian, “I represent the people who are the core of America”? (Click here to read more)

When The Going Gets Tough, Growl

Beach Goth 2016 was a fiasco and City Club sounds too polished, but The Growlers don’t give a shit.

SF Weekly

music1-1I’m lucky to get Brooks Nielsen of The Growlers on the phone when I call on a recent Thursday afternoon.

“I do the whole ‘I’m not talking to anybody anymore’ thing a lot,” the frontman says. “Even at this stage, I get people interviewing me who don’t know my music, who’ve never heard The Growlers.”

In fact, as recently as “like, two weeks ago,” Nielsen wasn’t taking calls from journalists. But I’ve caught him at a good time: The Growlers, all three of whom are from Dana Point in Orange County, are home for a week and have some time to spare. It’s a rare occurrence for the garage-rock band that has spent an average of seven months a year on the road since releasing its debut, Are You In or Out, in 2009.

“We didn’t know that we were touring more than anybody else,” Nielsen says of the band’s early years. “We didn’t know how much we were supposed to be touring.” (Click here to read more)

Two Semi-Charmed Hours With Stephan Jenkins

The Third Eye Blind frontman dishes on the band’s next album, trolling Republicans, and becoming ‘a whole person.’

SF Weekly

music1-2Interviewing Stephan Jenkins is like herding cats or trying to get my very untrained dog Mischa to do a trick. He evades questions, changes the subject, gets easily distracted, and takes minutes to finish sentences, often using as many as a dozen adjectives to describe one thing.

“This isn’t really an interview,” Jenkins tells me shortly after we meet up. “We’re just chit-chatting.”

It’s a little after 5 p.m. in the middle of the week, and we’re sitting on the patio at Zeitgeist, a metal bar in the Mission, because that’s where the Third Eye Blind frontman suggested we go.

For more than two hours we sit there, facing each other while seated on the same bench — because the din from the crowd and the live thrash band is so loud that our knees have to be touching for us to hear one another.

“I feel self-conscious,” Jenkins complains, after I ask him to hold my recorder closer to his mouth so that it picks up what he’s saying. “I feel like, ‘Is this really what my voice sounds like?’ Fuck!” (Click here to read more)

Chromeo’s Dave 1 Talks “White Women” and the “Kanye School” of Music

Miami New Times

Chromeo_Interview_2015David Macklovitch is almost naked during our interview. Unfortunately, it’s over the phone.

“Yeah, I’m walking around in my underpants, trying to figure out what jeans I’m going to wear,” says the 36-year-old musician, also known as Dave 1, who makes up half of the band Chromeo. “I’m pacing around. I’ve got my socks on, my underpants on, and I’m like half groomed and half not.”

He’s on his way to the studio and he’d probably be listening to Chief Keef or Nicki Minaj’s “Truffle Butter” if we weren’t talking right now. “I listen to the same shit as everybody else,” he says. “I also drink water and sleep.”

The fact that Macklovitch listens to hip-hop is both surprising and not. For more than a decade, he and his Chromeo partner, Patrick Gemayel, have been making ultra-funk dance jams that are heavily saturated with synthesizers and reminiscent of the ’80s. And yet, when the duo first started making music in the early ’90s, hip-hop was what they listened to — so hip-hop was what they made. “I grew up with hip-hop,” says Macklovitch, who met Gemayel at a private school in Montreal. “Hip-hop was really a vehicle for us to discover music.” (Click here to read more)

Nasty Dad

U.K. grime producer Mr. Mitch tackles the subject of fatherhood, and tries his hand at singing.

SF Weekly

music2-mrmitchIn the early 2000s, while Americans obsessed over Justin Timberlake’s solo debut and all things Britney Spears, a new branch of electronic music called grime was bubbling up in London. In the beginning, it had multiple names — nu shape, sublow, and eskibeat — but it became known for its pairing of industrial and occasionally discordant sounds with lightning-fast raps. An aggressive and energetic subgenre, grime got its start in underground parties and on local pirate stations like Rinse FM and Deja Vu FM, and The Guardian recently hailed it as the “most significant aural rebellion since punk.” Early grime champions, like Dizzee Rascal, Wiley, and Lethal Bizzle penned wordy albums about gang violence, street life, and being different, and the adjective “nasty” is now a commonly used term within the musical style.

But though grime has reached critical mass in the U.K. — albums by grime artists have received Mercury Prizes, and tracks have been adopted as anthems by political groups — it’s only now spreading to the U.S. In fact, it wasn’t until this year that Skepta and Stormzy, two of the biggest grime stars, made their Coachella debuts. But that’s progress, at least to British producer Mr. Mitch, who hopes grime continues to expand in both scope and reach.

“I want it to be as broad as house,” he says. “I don’t want people to think of grime as just one thing.”

Mr. Mitch was a pre-teen when grime’s progenitors were dropping their debut albums at the turn of the century, and his music was greatly influenced by it from the get-go. Around the time most of his peers were graduating from university, Mr. Mitch — who had dropped out of a media-studies program to pursue music and host a grime club night called Boxed — was forming his own label, Gobstopper Records. In addition to a string of his own EPs, Gobstopper releases records from fellow experimental and electronic artists whom Mr. Mitch believes “wouldn’t get any attention otherwise and just needed to be heard.” Well-known avant garde musicians have since taken notice of the label: Bjork played a Gobstopper song during a set in New York, and Aphex Twin included a Gobstopper track in a festival playlist he later shared on Reddit. (Click here to read more)

The Music Industry Hates Trump

A look at the myriad of songs that have been released since the Commander-in-Chief entered the picture.

SF Weekly

feature1Los Angeles rappers YG and Nipsey Hussle spearheaded the trend of anti-Trump songs when they released their boom-bap track “Fuck Donald Trump” in March 2016. Since then, a number of artists from a wide range of genres have followed suit, releasing their own resistance songs and proving just how widespread hatred for Trump is within the music industry.

Dave Eggers launched the musical project “1,000 Days, 1,000 Songs” (originally 30 Days, 30 Songs) last October, which consisted of songs from acts like Death Cab for Cutie and Local Natives that urged listeners not to vote for Trump. (After Trump was elected, the project changed its name and transitioned into a playlist featuring one motivational, inspirational song per day.)

About a month before the election, Eminem dropped the minimalist freestyle “Campaign Speech,” which includes a line intended to make Trump supporters think twice about their candidate of choice. “You say Trump don’t kiss ass like a puppet / ’Cause he runs his campaign with his own cash for the funding,” he raps. “And that’s what you wanted / A fuckin’ loose cannon who’s blunt with his hand on the button / Who doesn’t have to answer to no one? Great idea!” (Click here to read more)

Groovy Fungi

Chicago DJ Mark Farina brought ‘mushroom jazz’ to S.F. in the early ’90s. Now, he’s taken it to Dallas.

SF Weekly

music2-1On Twitter, musician and DJ Mark Farina recently posted a photo of two song waveforms. Over one that looked like a solid bar, Farina wrote, “I prefer this…” Above the other — a segmented line with uneven heights — he wrote, “…more than this.”

The first waveform is representative of music with an even tempo and steady instrumentals, a style of producing that Farina has championed and emulated since 1989. But it’s the second waveform that is most in line with today’s musical tastes. Most dance songs played on the radio or in clubs posses similar peak-valley-peak structures that denote buildups and drops — common ploys used by EDM acts like the Chainsmokers.

But Farina couldn’t care less. For close to three decades, he’s made a career pushing smooth, adroitly produced Chicago house and a blend of downtempo and hip-hop he calls “mushroom jazz.” He says he’d rather his tunes “have a groove that goes on,” than consist of erratic transitions or interruptions — even if doing so diminishes their chances of charting on Billboard.

“If what I do gets popular, so be it,” he says. “But I’m going to keep doing what I do whether or not it gets any more received beyond the underground.” (Click here to read more)

Cash Rules Every Song Around Me

The American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers recently sued nine venues around the country for playing members’ music without paying. The Grand Nightclub in San Francisco is one of them.

SF Weekly

music1-1We’re living in a golden age for live music.

Seemingly every week, new festivals are sprouting up around the world, in far-flung places such as limestone quarries in Sweden or the middle of the desert in Arizona. Bands are also touring more, often looping around the country multiple times a year in the hopes of playing as many shows as possible. Even older acts like TLC, the Monkees, and Bush have reformed and started playing shows again.

As for why more musicians than ever before are performing live, the answer is simple: money. Ever since streaming sites like SoundCloud and Spotify entered the picture — in 2008 and 2011, respectively — the record industry has been in a state of flux. Sales are declining as listeners opt to stream rather than purchase their music, and in 2016, streaming reigned as the No. 1 way that people consume music, according to Nielsen Media Research.

A large number of artists, especially older acts and bands that have broken up, rely on royalties they earn from licensing their music to streaming services. The pay is paltry — streaming one song can pay anywhere between $0.0003 to $0.007, depending on the platform — but it’s better than nothing, especially for songwriters and producers who don’t have the option of touring or playing festivals. (Click here to read more)

Oddisee Has All The Answers

The D.C. rapper has perfected the art of speaking his mind without sounding moralizing.

SF Weekly

music2Fans who chat with Oddisee — a D.C. rapper who likes to sit at the merch table after finishing shows — often critique his set list or tell him about their favorite songs.

But instead of dispensing unsolicited advice, fans should be asking Oddisee for answers. Because he seems to have a lot of them.

For a decade, the 32-year-old has been making music, churning out two dozen albums, mixtapes, and EPs in that time. Though he started out living in his mother’s basement, he hasn’t had a nine-to-five job since 2004, and he’s been able to afford living in Brooklyn for the past seven years. His quick rhyming and acerbic observations of urban and Black life in 21st-century America have won him legions of fans beyond the DMV, and his instrumental-only albums — like 2016’s The Odd Tape — have earned him street credit as a beatmaker. He’s also married with a child on the way, and owns some real estate.

Oddisee clearly has his shit together, a blessing that he believes is possible because he “think[s] a lot more than [he] should.”

“I’m constantly observing and cataloguing and storing things in my brain,” he says. “If I really divulged my thoughts on everything, I think I’d make a lot of people feel uncomfortable and awkward.” (Click here to read more)

Doug Hream Blunt’s Funk Revival

Three decades after its release, the 67-year old San Francisco musician’s debut album finally enters the limelight.

SF Weekly (Cover Story)

Screen_Shot_2017-05-03_at_5.59.09_PMDoug Hream Blunt was watching TV in his first-floor, Visitacion Valley home when the phone rang. It was the middle of 2015, and the 67-year-old — who doesn’t own a computer and only recently upgraded from a flip-phone to a smartphone — had just returned from dropping his daughter Juanita off at middle school. Blunt wasn’t expecting any calls that day, least of all from a boutique record label in New York City.

“I looked for Doug online and called him up,” says Yale Evelev, president of Luaka Bop Records. “The conversation was along the lines of me saying we loved his music and we’d like to put it out, and him laughing and saying, ‘OK.’ ”

Unusually late in life for a musician, Blunt began recording his kaleidoscopic, guitar-forward music in 1985 at the age of 35, but he hadn’t released any new material for almost two decades. The label, formed by Talking Heads frontman David Byrne in 1988, had learned of Blunt through an obscure DJ mix that contained his late-’80s, fuzzy, psychedelic jam, “Gentle Persuasion.” The song’s hypnotic melodies and Blunt’s breathy, stream-of-consciousness lyrics impressed Luaka Bop, which had just finished a five-year record-release project with funk musician William Onyeabor.

“We found [Blunt’s music] really mind-blowing and interesting and weird and hard to explain,” says Eric Welles-Nystrom, Luaka Bop’s director of communications. “It sounded like it was from the ’70s, but at times, it had an ’80s and even ’90s sound.” (Click here to read more)

Crusaders of the Strange

Husband-and-wife duo Vantana Row combines rapping, screaming, and bassy electronic production into inventive, off kilter tunes.

SF Weekly

music2-2It’s hard to categorize East Bay duo Vantana Row’s sound.

While their music involves rapping, it also includes screaming. Though the band is guided by a punk ethos, its tunes lean more toward trap and hip-hop. There’s manic drumming, à la metal or hardcore, but also heavy doses of bassy, electronic production that sounds a lot like E.B.M. (electronic bass music). At times, you can even hear a bit of dance or pop, which, when combined with screamo vocals, would qualify as crunkcore.

Even Jamey and Volly Blaze, the husband-and-wife team behind Vantana Row, don’t know how to classify their music.

“I’m just doing this because I don’t have any music that I really feel inspired by,” says Volly, who has a face filled with freckles and what appears to be a backwards letter “F” tattooed between her eyebrows. “But it’s hard, because there is no genre like us. And we’ve really been trying to figure out what we are.” (Click here to read more)

House Music’s Shooting Star

U.K. producer Jax Jones is now more famous than the artist who helped launch his career.

music2SF Weekly

Jax Jones’ parents really didn’t want him to pursue music.

“My parents are super-traditional,” says the British house producer, best-known for his 2016, island-inspired dance-pop single, “U Don’t Know Me.” “To them, any career in the arts — they just wouldn’t have it.”

With an Atari, Jones started making beats at the age of 14, but he says his dad still held out hope that he’d become a doctor, and that his mom always pushed for a career in investment banking.

“I could have done it,” the 29-year-old says. “I was pretty smart in school in terms of grades and stuff. I just got the bug to do music.”

Relations between Jones and his folks finally hit a boiling point when the musician tried to return home after graduating from college. Though his parents agreed to let him move back in, there was a stipulation: If Jones wanted to live there, he couldn’t come home later than 10 p.m.

As a burgeoning DJ trying to break into London’s nightlife scene, Jones knew that the ultimatum would be a death knell for his career. (Click here to read more)

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