WALTER GROSS - Interview
Alright, so let's start from the beginning. First time I heard about you was on Sole's forum. It was around 2005 i think. You were proposing to send a free demo to anyone that was sending you a pm. It was the Kind Of Blues mix-cd I think, that I latter submitted to Hiphopcore. I gotta say I was receiving a couple of demos from young producers because of the reviews I had in HHC and WCI and I wasn't expecting much. But this thing was special, right from the beginning. It was raw and very original, from the music to the art… You didn't try to sound like anyone else. You already had this blend of blues and beats going on… You were still living in Baltimore at the time, maybe to your parents' house? How life was back then and what did you want to put in your art? What were your influences?
I gotta say life was pretty strange. I just moved in with my childhood buddy who had a tendency to get black out drunk and woop ass so needless to say I felt safe from intruders but I had also just come off a crazy experience with almost going deaf and my ears were completely fucked up for a year to the point I couldn't really listen to music and up until recently I felt the effects. This past year was the first time I could use headphones and talk on a phone without pain. So coming out of that experience I wanted to venture into my own terrain so for Kind of Blue I stayed up for 72 hours drinking psilocybin tea and collaging with 4 turntables, MPC and whatever electronics I had. Came up with an idea to make collages and give ppl their own unique copy for free. It was my way of introducing myself and establishing the criteria to really push myself to the limits and experiment in the truest sense of the word. The adventurous side of art is what keeps me going...
Where did you take that love for blues records? do you collect 78s? Usually hip hop producers are more into funk, soul, rare grooves.. But blues has always been a part of your sound, right from the beginning. I'd say it's one of the most obvious influence of yours.
I would say there's several sources for my interest...
One is the fascination I've always had as long as I can remember with old Americana... The films, growing up obsessed with the little rascals and big band music and the 1950's Yankees, somethin' about it resonated with me and I loved the time travel aspect of it, it just gave me such a unique feeling.
Another reason is growing up a preacher's kid, I was exposed to a lot of racial issues in Baltimore City. My father educated me a lot early on MLK Jr. and the civil rights era and was heavily involved in organizations within the city that brought white and black preachers together. He would guest preach at black churches and as a kid going to those services made a huge impression on me that I'll never forget. I remember the day I learned to clap on beat in church as a youngster.
Then when I was 13-14 I was this little punk stoner kid and I moved from a little suburb of Baltimore to this house in the middle of nowhere where next door was this small house/shack kinda thing and this young white Italian blues guitarist lived there. He was professional and also smoked weed so I would sneak over there and hang out with him and my older brother, playin' cards, smokin' and just listenin' to blues all the time. That's all he ever played and he often had his bands over to practice so I got to meet all these eccentric old blues heads like the dapper Memphis Gold or the one eyed harmonica ripper, Charley Sayles. They were really nice to me and were pretty much the extent of my social life in those 3 years as I didn't have many close friends.
And then later on, it goes back to the hearing thing, when I started to get my ears back, somethin about those lo-fi recordings felt like bathwater on my ears, and it also got me back in the groove of things. My buddy I knew online, "Thought Jones" put me onto the Alan Lomax recordings for the Library of Congress and that sparked an obsession that carries 'til this day of just finding these old wonderful folk songs from the deep American south and beyond. Just the spirit of it, the feel of it, the rawness of it, it's so remarkable and continues to inspire me as much as the black gospel music did when I was a kid. I also found out about Lil Howling Wolf through the Baltimore Noise Scene and his junkyard style really inspired me to pursue a real rugged, jenky sound. Plus for the past 10 years I've kind of been living like shit, in poverty, moving around a lot, so in some small ways, I got my own blues like everyone else does, I just know how to enjoy it better than most I think. I'm used to being poor at this point and not sleeping on a bed. I just bought a 3 string mountain dulcimer so hopefully I can start writing my own little sad and beautiful hymns soon...
In the end it's all about rock and roll... Rock and fucking roll. Far as 78's I have a small collection and definitely enjoy diggin' for them, I try to get various old country and gospel mostly as the more known blues stuff is super expensive
Then you moved west, to California. What motivated you to do so? Describes us how different your life turned then. Right now do you regret that choice or was it a good one?
I moved west because I got a job as a full time nanny taking care of 2 ginger boys like myself. The parents were 2 doctors and provided a place for me to live so I did music by night, played shows with K-The-I???, and babysat by day. I came from a big family and being the youngest of 5 I was used to being with my nieces and nephews. It was strange and fun. Then they moved back so I decided to stay. I'm glad I moved out here, it helped me grow a lot quicker, be exposed to more cultural diversity, meet a nice girl, become fully independent despite the struggles and really carve out my own niche. LA is a whole other monster and the trick to living out there is to balance it off with getting out of the city, go hiking, and soak up the nice landscape of the west coast. It's been pretty tough though, I've had to do a bunch of clinical drug studies and spinal taps just to pay rent. There's a strange passive-aggressive edge to everything that even I have been guilty of. However, I always appreciate meeting someone who's genuinely brilliant and fun to be around (who doesn't). Meeting people within the context of "scenes" is just so awkward in a way. My real audience seems to be more abroad but hopefully that'll turn around. I stopped giving a fuck about the politics and bullshit of the industry and all its sub-sects. I just want to do my thing and evolve as an artist and whatever happens, happens. Like Psychopop said in Slang Yourself, "You either got it or you dont." It's a binding philosophy for our crew, I think, whether he meant it that way or not. Don't get me wrong though, I hope a lot of people "get it". So to answer your question, yea I think it was a good choice, shit's tough but that's life.
Talking about Psychopop and Slang Yourself (see video below), let's talk about the Skrapez connection. I might be wrong but maybe the first connection between you guys was through the split 10" lathe cut we did as Vs The World, soon after i got Kind of Blue. Although you were living on the East Coast, your music has lots of parallels. How did you hook up and what do they represent for you?
Yea whenever people ask me or Tenshun that question we always say... VULGAR. Tenshun just got out of jail, I just got my hearing back, I laced up that YK Mixtape and I remember sending him some stuff and a painting I did while on acid. Like I said, or maybe I haven't said, SD does remind me of home a bit... Roughneck fuckers who crack me up and are awesome to chill with. No lame LA social hang-ups... They have a great community and I'm really lucky to be welcomed in. So much talent and shit goes deep w/ the hip hop steez which is cool because I got hip hopped out. Any limiting genre turns me off but they steady kick out heat and keep the best part of hip hop alive.
Far as the 10inch, that was in 07/08 I believe, so that was a couple years after. The first time we met however was awesome; it was an art show in Santa Ana for a lot of their SD homies, Honkey Kong, Neko, That Kid Peep etc... And they were hosting the music and asked me to join them, so when I arrived, we gave daps and cheers and just started jamming, even before we really hung out, we just jammed, and it's all captured on video (see video below) that's why I love that shit. I met K-The-I??? the same way, its dope, just hook up, bang shit out, then look up and be like, fuck yea, what's up homie! They're a big inspiration, and even better friends and thats hard to come by wherever you're at.
About Solitude… The DVD comes with items that seem at the same time very personal and like an instant shot from an older time (# paper about the exp. drug test, old baseball card, old comic book page, polaroid). Same with the videos made of black & white movies from the 50es or so, everything transpires a feeling of being haunted and a weird relationship towards older times, not in a very melancholic way though. It made me think of the whole "hauntology" aesthetics and groups like Demdike Stare. Is it something made consciously? Do you know D.S.?
It's definitely conscious. It's a culmination of everything. Not familiar with Demdike besides a mix they did, I don't really listen to too much new music, I don't give a fuck, its intentional, I don't want things in my head plus I don't have money to buy much new stuff and whatever I can buy I'm very intentional. The best stuff I love to buy is Babelfishh and what ever random gobly gook. I funded that record with those drug tests so it was funny for me to include them, and I love baseball, and the comics are just bonus, whatever I can find to make it all the more worth it.... It's that adage... "do what you can"... I live by that, my whole life and art is based on that. I mean I've yet to even make music on some decent speakers, even 10 years in, I don't have shit, but that's not going to stop nothing.
Solitude's a dear recording to me... That's why I re-hashed it and out of principle, was determined to press it on wax, it's my homage to Billie…
You use skits quoting biblical verses, you've worked with Pedestrian (from Anticon, as Evangelist J.B. Best - see video below) on some shows during which he gives sermons about murdered rappers, railroads over the sea, and the C.I.A. Can you talk about the role of religion in your music?
I would say it plays a pretty significant role, I hold fast to the belief that we are merely vessels and true enlightenment is through the soul and the mind's eye. Spirituality and psychedelia are the same to me and I do explore the beliefs of the Gospel. Battling depression for most of my life and observing the evil around me and within myself and loved ones I chose music as a battle axe of sorts, one of my initial aspirations was to make music that could scare the devil. I used to literally make music in the basement with the lights off and just cruise on the MPC. I constantly pursue a mockery of such forces which is where my twisted sense of humor comes to play... And I do believe in spiritual warfare and its invisible rampage. Music is my weapon, art is my weapon, spreading ideas to strengthen the weak and myself is what I seek. So, this age old idea of good vs. evil does reside at the core of my art and helps me express the anger that's inside. This combination of anger and love drives me to constantly seek out truth and abide by it and hopefully express the notion of a universal oneness and the awareness that we as a species, are sick, our world is sick and we can rise above it through opening our minds and hearts, not to sound like a hallmark card, but I do believe that. This is why I resonate with folk music and gospel and blues so much because the beauty that it represents is powerful and reflects such ideas of redemption and heavy glory and people shouldn't try to ignore it. Some people try to write my music off as "dark for dark sake" but there has always been a method to the madness, I find people that like sick disgusting shit just to be hip or edgy are fucking stupid. I mean I was a babysitter and I desperately yearn for a puppy, but I also recognize evil lurks and humans should be equipped...
What lead you to making collages? Do you have an artistic training?
Not sure what exactly led to collages. Again my buddy, Though Jones put me onto some ideas. And in my psychedelic journey I thought it would be fun to hand craft each individual album cover for Kind of Blue and give it away for free for added incentive. I like approaching it the same way I do with music and in my lack of film capabilities it was a way for me to create stills from recycled material and my imagination. I like recycling, re-contextualizing and essentially re-using shit. I'm a cheap bastard that way, so it works out. Plus my hands shake and drawing and painting don't come easy to me at all. I'm trying to venture into more film stuff, I'm gonna be working on a couple things and the collages have helped me with framing, cropping and finding interesting images amidst the mundane. It's all pretty existential for me... None of it has ever come easy, which according to Andrei Tarkovsky, is how it should be, but he died of cancer in exile so who knows what's best...
What would it take for somebody like you / Skrapez / etc for "making it?" I often read messages from you of discouragement / frustration about the difficulty of reaching a bigger audience, but I guess, it's not a music meant to please a shitload of people... Is there certain goal(s) do you ultimately want to reach with your music?
I just want to expand my cult because there are 6 billion people in the world and I know a decent fraction of them would love this shit if they had the chance to hear it. That's all I can really hope for. My take on art has always been to explore originality through my individual filter and monopolize an aesthetic so that people and fans can always expect a certain WG standard to whatever I'm doing. And that standard is my take on the ins and outs from the otherworld to this surreal reality. It's kind of like a mosaic, where all these small pieces build a larger picture and that's hard for any newbie to swallow so it takes time for people or the cult to understand and appreciate that and that's okay.
But in a larger scope I'd like to eventually produce/direct/edit/score short films and then eventually move onto features. I also want the opportunity to make whatever the fuck I want, be it folk music, ambient or slow-death beat punk. I play in front of the same 8 people in L.A. with the same 4 people on the bill and its' completely pointless and counter-productive, I want new experiences and LA isn't an easy place to play or live, but ya know, what is? The industry's fucked anyway and that's exciting to me.
So let's finish about what's next... next projects… new plans for your life? Is there another city / country you want to experience?
Finally putting out a 7inch DIY style, my biggest and possibly best release yet limited to 500 copies. The record sounds legit. Sole/Youth:Kill split with a bonus LA Pink Filth Remix by yours truly. Then I have a tape coming out on Luana Rec. And then I'll be working on my solo record comprised of my vocals and slow tough beats. I've been playing those songs out for awhile and it's time to finally release it. It'll hopefully open me up to a different crowd because it's more defined and rock&rol l/ industrial then my other stuff. Also got some more ambient/hymnal stuff in the works. Also doing a split gospel mixtape with Psychopop. Far as countries, I'd love to visit Canada, Vancouver, B.C. and Montreal. I'd like to go back to Germany too because we never got to play shows there. UK. Ireland. And I love Portland, Oregon, that place is great. New Orleans. It'd be nice to play a good show in France again... Alright enough. I'm down though. Thanks Etienne, appreciate everything you've done for me, first dude to give me a chance.
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