Never Staying in One Lane
“In the half decade we’ve been putting music out there, we’ve yet to lose our hunger, because we’re still not getting the recognition. I don’t know if it’s a hunger that will ever subside; for the sake of the music it’d be best if it didn’t, but for the sake of our livelihood maybe our hunger wouldn’t mind subsiding just a bit.”
-Kingston of BSBD
Interview & Introduction by Theo Constantinou
The portion right before the above quote is as follows, “Maybe because most people have an optimism that says, “just maybe this next one will be my break.” I know when I’m feeling under appreciated, broke and “hungry,” I just need to create. I guess it’s therapeutic, but it’s also ideally a means to make a living (yeah right).” Whether it is hunger, motivation or passion, there is only one dominating theme here: never give up and never stop. When I had initially thought to reach out to Younggod and Kingston, I didn’t have the slightest idea of where to start. Needless to say, after nearly one year and an extreme amount of persistence, our interview with Blue Sky Black Death happened. My point is this. Younggod and Kingston have been making music for over half a century combined and half a decade as a group, and they are as persistent as ever. That being said, one of the greatest pieces of advice I ever received in just a short 5 minute conversation with Joe Kanfer, CEO of GOJO was that, the key to success, no matter what you are doing, is persistence. Hell, based on their track record, Younggod and Kingston defy persistence, and that gives me hope not only for the future of music but for the burning fire in all of us.
The production on ‘No Image,’ is more than cinematic: it is beyond epic … the impact of the Waring Cuney poem and then Nina Simone singing it was classic. How do you feel your version of that poem / song holds up to the original?
We wouldn’t ever feel right comparing it to the original, because Nina Simone is one of the best vocalists of all time. But I think we succeeded by taking a Nina Simon sample and giving it a completely new context. We took one of the most soulful singers ever and juxtaposed it with straight up grim, ambient, doomy production; I’m still really proud of that beat. The Cuney poem was amazing; it sung so hauntingly by Nina Simon and it happened to fit so well with the mood of the beat…so it’s cool that a vocalist who would normally sound foreign to such a contrasting style of music, would actually fit right in.
Your song, ‘Floorchalk,’ with Guru and Chief Kamachi, has been on my iTunes top 25 since I heard it. What was it like working with Guru (RIP) specifically and Chief Kamachi?
I wish we had actually gotten the chance to really work with Guru. It actually worked out because Kingston knew Chief Kamachi. He owned a song with Guru on it, and was willing to part with it for a fair price. We kinda jumped at that opportunity. Here we are, two producers, who are almost totally unknown, getting a chance to make a song with the legendary Guru. Honestly, we were trying to make a little noise for an unknown group in a highly saturated market, and I think it probably did help some people take us seriously. That was the only verse on that whole album where we weren’t directly involved with the artist.
How did you guys team up with Yes Alexander, and how different was it for the both of you working strictly with a female vocalist as opposed to rappers?
Kingston was perusing MySpace for vocalists and came across her. We both really liked her voice; she had that unique vocal quality. It turned out that she was actually a friend of a friend. The three of us were each living in a different city at that time: Kingston was in Seattle already, I was in San Francisco, and Yes was in Portland. My brother’s good friend’s roomate was her best friend. That was kinda weird, especially because we found that out quite a bit later.
Working with her felt very natural. For one, she is very mellow, easy going, and likeable. She’s also open to all kinds of ideas. On our part, I’d say we feel just as comfortable with singers as we do with rappers. Most of our fans don’t know this, but around the same time as our first album, we did a whole collaborative album with Ceschi Ramos called Deadpan Darling: it never came out because most of the final mix downs were lost on a crashed hard drive, but he was singing on our production. It wasn’t like we decided to cross over into a new genre after being rap producers. I think from the beginning, it was always our intention to produce whatever kind of music we wanted to do and not worry about staying in one lane. We were brought up and inspired by so many different kinds of music, that we couldn’t possibly be satisfied with only producing for rappers, or only doing instrumental music.
Do you name your songs prior to producing them or after? For example ‘Lord of Our Vice,’ ‘Ghosts Among Men,’ ‘A Private Death on a Quite Eve,’ ‘Most Merciful,’ ‘Engage My Words’ … The music all seems so fitting to their respective titles. Is this done purposefully?
We name the songs after; we definitely try to have the names match the mood or imagery of the song. Before we have our final name, we’ll just have a bullshit nonsense name that is completely stream of consciousness, but not funny or cool enough like Lil B; just a place marker on our computers. All of the names from Late Night Cinema came from poems from Young God’s sister, Paige Taggart. She’s a heavily published poet living in NYC, and she got the New York City Foundation For The Art’s fellowship award a couple years back so, shout out to her! She’s a big supporter and fan of our music so we thought it’d be cool to pay her homage by using phrases from her poetry.
Noir + Violet is an amazing chopped and screwed version of your album Noir. What impact did DJ Screw have on both of you as producers?
I’ve been a huge DJ Screw fan for a long time now. He’s definitely had an impact on our music, and all of hip hop, at least indirectly. I wouldn’t say he’s a huge influence on our production sound too much, but the fact that we screw shit up goes all to him. Our obsession with really slow music could be credited to him partly as well. We actually didn’t do any chopping, and if you listen to all the classic screw shit, he doesn’t actually chop either; he just screws up the track. C&S came a little later. I think if we had actually chopped it, it would have been annoying. Our first screwed remix project was “Lean Night Cinema.” We did that back in ’08 I think, and released it on MySpace. It was actually one of my best friend’s idea for me to try that treatment on LNC. I loved it enough to give it an informal MySpace release, and I wanted to do the same for NOIR. A lot of people tell me they like it more than the original. I definitely think it serves kind of a different purpose and takes it into a new context. I don’t want to come off like I listen to my own music all the time, but I definitely listen to NOIR + VIOLET to sleep sometimes, haha.
What is one obscure record you heard where you said to yourself, holy shit I would love to layer a masterpiece over this record?
I always hear Kraut Rock shit that I want to sample. There’s probably a lot, but one I can recall right now is by a band named Captain Beyond, which should be really famous, but for some reason they aren’t. It was kind of a super group back in the 70′s that just didn’t reach the fame that it should have. Their whole album is amazing. I have a song in mind, but I don’t want to give it away!
What is your favorite movie score or soundtrack?
A modern soundtrack that I think is one of my favorites is, 28 Days Later. I can’t really think of ONE favorite, but for modern score composers, I’d go with Phillip Glass, Yann Tiersen, Clint Mansel, and one of my favorite composers who should be dumb rich off scores is Steve Reich. The God though, is Ennio Morricone. Sven Libaek for that dope 70′s quirky style, and John Barry because he did one of the best scores for Bruce Lee’s, Game Of Death.
Jean Cocteau said, “All good music resembles something. Good music stirs by its mysterious resemblance to the objects and feelings which motivated it.” What does your music resemble?
For one, it resembles some of the imagery we use in our artwork, sprawling landscapes … vast pretty things- haha. A lot of our music is nostalgic and emotional, because in my experience, that kind of music stays with you the longest … the kind of music that is highly emotive will probably grip you longer or at least it does for me.
How important is it for you as artists to always be evolving as individuals personally and musically?
It’s definitely important. I hope people can tell that we are always trying new things and evolving, and can at least respect that rather than being dissatisfied with a direction we take. It’s important to not get too comfortable in one particular lane; I always try new things: it wouldn’t be fun otherwise. I’m always open to new ideas and learning new things, and I think that’s important both artistically and personally.
Someone had asked you where you got your inspirations from … The one that stuck out to me the most was “hunger”. Why do you think determination, persistence, and ‘hunger’ really push humans to realize their dreams, and in your case, produce and create music that will last forever?
Maybe because most people have an optimism that says, “just maybe this next one will be my break.” I know when I’m feeling under appreciated, broke and “hungry,” I just need to create. I guess it’s therapeutic, but it’s also ideally a means to make a living (yeah right). In the half decade we’ve been putting music out there, we’ve yet to lose our hunger, because we’re still not getting the recognition. I don’t know if it’s a hunger that will ever subside; for the sake of the music it’d be best if it didn’t, but for the sake of our livelihood maybe our hunger wouldn’t mind subsiding just a bit.
I have been a fan of music since I can remember. I feel that Late Night Cinema is an album that will be remembered among the classics of instrumental records, like Miles Davis’s Kind of Blue is remembered for jazz, or Paco de Lucia Almoraima for classical guitar. Late Night Cinema is how real hip-hop should be made. What are your own personal thoughts on the outcome of that album?
I’m definitely proud of it: it was kind of like our magnum opus. I don’t think it will be remembered at all like Miles Davis’ work. Not at all. I wish! I still think our audience is much too small to make that comparison, but I know there’s always potential for growth. I’ve learned that our music has a lot more mass appeal than I would have ever thought. I wish it had come out on a different label. I think if we had been on a more fitting label for that project, it could have gotten a lot more attention, but I’m not mad at all. It was really well received despite that. I am going to say that I think our song crafting is better on NOIR, but I know there are die hard LNC fans that will ride for that album no matter what.
Younggod, what is your favorite breakfast spot in San Francisco?
The one I used to frequent the most was The Pork Store on Haight. It’s just a greasy spoon, but it’s definitely the spot in that neighborhood, so I think that’s where my loyalty lies. The past couple times I went back to visit, I’ve gone to Stacks’ in Hayes Valley. I like that spot because it looks totally un-San Francisco. It looks like a restaurant on a cruise ship, a bit gaudy, cheesy, and really big, but the breakfast is great. St. Francis in the mission is good too, and the ridiculous mission hipster servers are a plus.
Kingston what is your favorite dinner spot in Seattle?
Jones BBQ! Kingfish Cafe is pretty good too.
It was Hendrix who said, “Music doesn’t lie. If there is something to be changed in this world, then it can only happen through music.” What are your thoughts on this, and do you think music can really ‘change’ people?
Yeah, I think it can change people. Not necessarily their core character, but it will lead them in new directions, and make them discover things they might not have known existed. However, if music does change people, I think it’s really going to be during their adolescent to mid 20′s. Music resonates the most with people when they are “discovering” themselves, and creating those strong memories as teenagers and early adults. That’s not to say I don’t still love music and love finding new music, I just don’t know if I’m going to have the same epiphany moments that I had when I was younger. Also, Hendrix was on drugs, and listening to music while on hallucinogens can definitely change you. RIP to Jimi, though. He’s buried in Renton about 10 miles away.