Maybe you can start telling me about your French tour. How many concerts have been planned?
Not enough. We did four concerts and we have one more in at a Colmar. We played in Paris, Lyon, St-Etienne and Nancy. We were supposed to have more shows.
Can we consider that as a Soundtrack to a Book tour?
Yes, I guess so. Last year I did a couple of shows in France, in Strasbourg and Nancy, and it was the first time I did any sound from Soundtrack to a Book. I wanted to get far more people know the new songs.
It seems you are often in France. Is it because of your audience? What’s your relationship with France?
I don’t know. I don’t have any plan. I don’t understand why I have this audience in France or in other countries like Finland. There’s underground music everywhere, but some people are looking for more artistic types of sound, for instance Sweden and some places like that. Whatever reasons why I had an opportunity to come here, I take it. For instance, last year I went to Austria, and Swiss, and Holland, Finland, Sweden, Germany. I think part of it has to do with just the people who decide to involve and keep trying to make us come over here. In France, I happened to come to the Transmusicales about two years ago with Busdriver. That opened out a lot of things.
We had a discussion we some of your fans after your concerts in Paris, and we agreed that your new songs were very adapted to be rapped on stage. Is it something that you wanted?
When you’re doing a tour and writing an album like this on the same time, you want to make music that you can perform live. When you do something slow, it does not work live. I really felt I did something that I would enjoy to perform just as much that I would enjoy to create.
I guess it’s a bit more difficult with the tracks from Pyramidi. They are longer.
I think a lot of it doesn’t have to do with just the tempo or the sound, or whatever.
You produced yourself several tracks on your new album. Was it something new?
I did actually produce some of the tracks on Pyramidi as well. On Soundtrack to a Book, I did a lot of the production, initial sounds and beat programming. But my partner Gideon Zaretsky is the analogue genius who helped me realize that bigger sound. I’m trying to find that lo-fi sound, but in a more sophisticated way.
Have you tested the tracks from this album in the US? How did it work?
I think there are some universal elements in it. As a kid, you’re very anti everything. You’re anti commercial. You want to be really underground. It’s not that I don’t want to stay underground, but as I grew old I realized that there are elements, we would call them musicality, maybe would help other people to listen to music as well and not lose the old fans.
Indeed, I have the feeling that your albums are more and more pop oriented, in the good sense of the word. Is it something you wanted?
Yes, definitely. Like you said: in the good sense of the word. Pop is not a bad word, even if there are lots of horrible pop. In any genre of music there is pop, it can be the Beatles or in things from Egypt. It transcends people who just listen to that music, maybe just like a reggae superstar that people who just listen to music might also enjoy. But I make strange and abstract type of music at the same time. Not everyone hears everything I put out. Becoming more pop is certainly true concerning my solo efforts, but all I do is not necessarily like that.
It’s an evolution we see with other people from the Shapeshifters crew. For example, the last album from the Shapeshifters was catchier than the previous ones. Is it a general evolution of the scene?
I don’t know what makes something catchy. No-one is trying to make catchier music. I think it’s trying to open up the audience and then we can force the other stuff on them, the crazier stuff as well. And I can’t speak for everyone. We don’t have a convention of the West Coast hip hop scene that would tell "today we’re gonna discuss about…" I would be surprised (laughs.)
There are no illuminati conspirators.
No. There are no illuminati… Or maybe there is (laughs)! Let’s come back to the Soundtrack to a Book record. Some people are trying to make a music that sounds old, and some people try very hard to make something else, futuristic sounding. With the help of my producer, I was looking towards using this analogue material. It’s like being a kid in a candy store, using all this stuff combined with new technology. I collect old music on vinyl. To me it sounds better than the new products. Sometimes things are too clean, there is too much digital, especially in an age where the average kid can make his own record with his computer or his parents’ computer…
… And publish it on myspace.
Exactly, the instant rock star! I just want that people know that anyone can look deeper and try to find something new. Everyone that does music might have a different personally sound. It transcends music, that’s true for life in general. They don’t have to settle for what’s given to them and the limitation that are set up by society. They can search and dig and find something that can be for their personal satisfaction. It’s not "OK, you’re an underground person, you have to be very lofi and you have to rap really fast so that no-one can understand you, even in English". You can do everything. The only frontiers are the ones that we set. Hopefully people can break them.
Speaking about rapping very fast, you may know that most French people won’t catch your lyrics. Is this a problem for you?
In all my albums, including Soundtrack to a Book, the lyrics are available in English. On my website, on Pyramidi, Free Kamal, The Weather, on all of them my lyrics are available in English. And it’s like the voice becomes more a rhythmic instrument and device. And everyone has a heartbeat. Anyone can appreciate the rhythmic elements. And for me my lyrics are like a code, a sort of language, a puzzle, than not anyone can understand, even in English. But if you keep listening to it, it’s like subliminal. It goes into the brain.
It works the same for slower music. When you listen to a new song on the radio for the first time, you don’t really catch the lyrics. Yes. It’s like the Rubik’s Cube. If it’s too easy to figure out, then you get bored of it. Then I try to make it three-dimensional. It’s a sort of code. It’s a kind of Da Vinci Code (laughs). If some humour, or knowledge, is included in your song, this is the best way for me to absorb it. Try not to take yourself too seriously.
I’ve recently read the interview you did with my friends from Hiphopcore a while back and you were talking about a possible jazz project and an Arabian music project. Is it still planned?
Actually, we have this jazz group called the Free Formers. They do like Ethiopian jazz, dub. But it’s a difficult coordination to getting all the people to the studio with the different schedules. I still have this dream. And I’m going to the Sahara for two months in December: Mali, Niger, Libya and Egypt. I will do camping and the sound for a documentary. I’m bringing my MPC with me and a small digital recorder and my clarinet.
Do you play clarinet?
Yes. I played clarinet on Soundtrack to a Book and on Free Kamal. I play a lot of other things as well. I want to capture the sound of the villages and the desert. I might have a lot of different pieces and try to incorporate them into a new thing while spending two months doing nothing in the Sahara.
Can you tell me more about this documentary?
Yes. You can look at runningthesahara.com. Ben Affleck and Matt Damon are the actors. There’s a company called Live Planet. And the director had an academy award for a documentary he made called The Last Days in 1999. These three people are attempting to run in 80 days across the Sahara from Senegal to the Red Sea in Egypt. It’s like 4,000 miles, so its 50 miles a day, 70 km a day. I’m the sound supervisor so I’m recording the dialogs and also capturing the sounds of the people in villages. And I will also be working on my own project.
Does this love for the music from the Sahara come from your Egyptian origin?
I’m always drawn to the similarities between many styles of music. My father was born in Mexico. I have family in Spain who listens to flamenco and gypsy music that have connections with the Arab world. It hits me. I think that if I didn’t have any family from Egypt, I’d still like the music from this part of the world. I can go to Indonesia, to Vietnam, to Brazil or everywhere, I find music I’m fascinated by. I’m really fortunate. I think that all these trips are the best fuel for creative music, and life in general. That’s my advice to people making music, especially in hip hop: listen to some music that’s completely not associated with the type of music you’re doing. And I think that you’re going to be surprised. You’ll come up with something much more original.
It’s particularly the case for Free Kamal. On this album you definitely have sounds from everywhere in the world. Was it deliberate or natural?
I think we did that too on Pyramidi.
On Pyramidi, it was mainly Arabian music.
Yes. On Free Kamal, you also have reggae sounds. It’s just a reflection on my taste of music. And once again it’s trying to destroy the mould that you create, so you don’t become the same thing over and over again, like “oh, that’s the guy that always does music from around the world”. Then you welcome like a cliché of yourself.
And what about Antimc, does he share the same philosophy?
He’s a very musical person. He’s into jazz and guitar, he plays many types of music as well. And he’s in love for a lot of rock stuff. That’s comes from records he has listened to, digging for samples.
Yes, you really can listen to the rock side of his music.
Yes, and the musicality he puts in it. Gideon Zaretsky is from the rock world. He produced and played drums in rock bands. He was coming from a different place than Antimc who’s more grown up with hip hop, and then some jazz, and who really appreciates music from DJs.
I have the feeling that lots of young Americans in the 80’s and 90’s grew up with both rock’n’roll and hip hop, which is not the case in France where these two audience are much separated.
I don’t really think that’s true. You have many styles of hip hop. You have very straight rap, very classic and with boom bap, a type of people with a certain type of clothes. Those people only get into records for sampling them, for your hip hop. They look for all the classic breaks from the old soul records, James Brown and all this stuff. I don’t think people are so eclectic in the United States. It’s very personal. It depends on some styles of hip hop. There are even some kids who didn’t listen to hip hop when growing up. And then they become exposed to underground hip hop and start doing this kind of underground hip hop but never listen to classic rap.
In the US, hip hop was already big at the end of the 80’s, whereas in France it really started in the middle of the 90’s with the success of French hip hop.
I remember when I was a student in the beginning of the 90’s. We were speaking with an American guy who liked the same rock group as ourselves. Then he started saying that he liked rap as well, and at this time most of us were disgusted.
Maybe we had more time with this music than over here. And we had Run DMC and Aerosmith’s "Rock this Way" which was an early introduction to the combining. And you had even the sampling of Led Zeppelin’s drums. But not everyone who likes hip hop likes rock, and vice-versa. And it’s very regional. You have the East Coast and the West Coast. And in the West Coast you have Los Angeles and the others. And in Los Angeles you have different neighbourhoods. And there you’ll find different influences such as punk rock. But I think that in the early time you had more intermingling, especially in New-York where you had the Beastie Boys who was originally a punk band.
And you had the role of Rick Rubin who was both a hip hop and a hard rock fan.
Yes. Absolutely, it’s interesting.
Is a reissue of some Log Cabin material still impossible?
It is possible. I know the men who have all the material where we recorded songs. But we just need everyone who was in Log Cabin to get together and to say “OK we should do this all together”. There were so many people involved. You have Murs, and Eligh, and Scarub, and people all over the place. But it would be great. I just don’t necessarily think I must be the catalyst to make it happen. I’ll sort of put it out like “hey, we could do this, it’s there, and I think the people would love it”. But that’s all. Everybody is now doing his own music, and they don’t really want to think about the past.
You can already find lots of Log Cabin material on the Internet. As far as I’m concerned, I have a whole Log Cabin CD.
You do? Can you send me one (laughs)?
It’s definitely very lo-fi. I don’t know where it comes from. I got it from someone who got it on the Internet and copied it to me.
There are so many tracks that no-one has ever heard, that never made it out the studio. It’s like a goldmine. I’d like their release to happen, but it would take someone to talk to everyone to make it happen.
Are you still connected with those who joined the Living Legends?
Now and then, we run to each other and we do shows together. I definitely love those guys, we did so many things together, and they are part of my history. But we don’t call each other that often.
They are more classic hip hop than what you or the Shapeshifters can do.
Yes. Maybe that’s one of the reasons why people are hesitating to put out that stuff.
Anyway, I’m sure you would have fans for that. I know some of them.
Yes, I know.
Just a few days ago, I was with Busdriver for another interview. He was the hip hop guy at a techno festival in Caen. And one of my questions to him was about the possibility to have a new album from The Weather. He told me that was not planned but still possible. Would it be your own answer?
Yes, that’s very possible. I’d like to do another one. But we have to be able to do it with the right timing so that it’s not compromising the solo things he’s doing and his growth, or what I’m doing. I’m ready, I’m always thinking “let’s go”…
… But you have lots of other projects.
Yes. It also depends on someone who proposes us the opportunity to make it. It’s always fine to say “oh, let’s make a record”, but then you have to really do it. Busdriver is on big things now that he is on Epitaph. At this point, a new The Weather album would need someone from a label to say us “hey, you want to make this record, you want to put this out”. On our own, it’s always conceptually possible, but we definitely need someone else. And we don’t want to do anything backwards. We have our own plans, we are touring. For example, we’re both in France at the moment, but we’re unable to meet with each other.
Yes, that’s exactly what he told me. Do you have any final message to close the interview?
As we’re moving into this next stage with the digital media, the multimedia, we’re going to see even more video clips and involvement with the music and the visuals. And I think it’s great. It has to happen. Everyone can just pirate music on the Internet, which is good and bad. People are exposed that wouldn’t be otherwise. But it will also make artists work harder. They’re not going to make just their albums. You’re going to see the return of the singles and the clips. For example, you have to see this video clip that the French rap group La Caution did. It’s very good, it’s very over the top, even if this is something you won’t see on the television because you have people getting shot out and blood coming out. I think this is the future. Everything has to be more severe as we are living in a world of Jackass and Borat. People want more and that’s going to force artists to give more.