posted: 05-14-04
interview: charlie bucket
What was the reason for the big delay between when "Chained Reaction" dropped and the new album "Tack-Fu Presents the Production Team: 85 Decibel Monks"?
Cash was one reason, also I switched to software as my production tool: Acid / Sound Forge. And that took a year to get good at that. I'm still learning new tricks. Plus, I wanted to let some of the tracks marinate. Only the best sounding, dopest tracks made the cut.
Why the switch to using a computer? Now that you have had time with the software do you like it better than what you were using?
The software gives me so much more flexibility. I can spend as much time as I want tweaking sounds and editing. Don't get me wrong, starting out with analog tapes and samplers gave me a great foundation to build on. The analog realm of recording has given me a bit of an edge over digital producers who have never messed with 8-tracks, and rented out studio space with a 24-track outboard mixer. I picked up some neat little studio tricks along the way and applied them to the software programs.
Who are the 85 Decibel Monks?
They are just a rag tag collection of bedroom producers in the Iowa City area. They like to make beats and they give me permission to take whatever bits I like for my own diabolical purposes. Kent Williams a.k.a. the Chaircrusher is probably the most important cog in the machine. He does all of the final mixing and mastering, or what I like to call 'putting the sugar on top.' Plus, he is one of the few musicians in the group.
"Evolution Is Outdated" was produced by DJ Vadim. How did this track come about and how did it end up on your album?
When Vadim was on tour back in 2002, we opened for him. He was really digging our music, so I gave him a disk of some stuff we were working on. We kept in touch via email, and a year later he was in town again on tour. After the show, Vadim let us listen to a CD of his new beats and he said, "take one that you like!" I picked out a pretty raw beat, took it home, and I started to tinker with the drums, shored up the sample, and took out the record crunch. I passed the new version over to the Bad Fathers producer for more enhancements. We got Blueprint and Illogic to spit a few bars while they were in town, in exchange for me promoting their show. The Bad Fathers finished up the rest of the track with their lyrics. Done deal.
You have a few tracks with the Bad Fathers, who are they?
My boys here in Iowa City. Gov. Auto Funkstar, Juan Hooks, and Cousin are the lyricists, along with Jethro who does their song arrangement and studio engineering. Greg is their live drummer and Adam plays bass. They have two sounds, the live version and the studio version. They have a great live presence and they pack the club. Anyway, I hit 'em off with all the music I work on, if they like it, they write to it. So we are pretty close, but I'm not actually in the band.
How does your approach change when you're making a beat? For an MC or an instrumental joint.
Sometimes a track just calls out for an MC over the top of the track. Sometimes the music speaks for itself. When a producer works on a beat for 10 plus hours, he's going to feel deep down what direction it's going. MC over the top, DJ scratching, cool samples from spoken word records or just straight ahead instrumental. It's hard to explain; usually I hear what needs to be done in my head when I line up a bassline and a drum pattern, kinda figure out the vibe, then try to find the sounds to complete it. What's great about my production team is, sometimes they come up with things that were better than my idea!
Since you live in Iowa City is it hard to build with people. Do you think you will have to move to a larger place to have more success?
Thank goodness Iowa City is friendly to the underground hip-hop vibe, because most acts on tour will come through town and get love in return. Word spreads among your peers, and alot of times acts will get hold of either the Bad Fathers or me to open up for them or help them promote.
Plus, our relationship with the club owners in town is excellent. If they're unfamiliar with a certain hip-hop group, or if the group might be asking for to much money or whatever, we'll break it down for them. We want everyone to benefit, the visiting group, the club owners and the fans. If everyone walks away happy, then we can continue to keep this thing rolling.
There are too many benefits working in my favor right now to leave the area. Pennies on the dollar in studio time, I work with several talented beat makers and lyricists, and the cost of living is affordable.
If I want to tour, Iowa City is just off I-80, and that highway will take you about anywhere in the U.S. to spread the word.
Do you want to help Iowa City grow as far as hip-hop? Like bring acts in and help the local cats.
That has been in motion for the last 7 years around here. The growth has been brick by brick. However, at every hip-hop show lately I'm seeing new faces and more people getting involved. Promotion has improved, the look of the flyers is better, the local acts have improved over the years, more clubs are willing to book hip-hop acts. I'm glad other people are stepping up around here.
What's the scene in Iowa City like?
It's always in transition. Iowa City is the home of the University of Iowa, so students come and go all the time. An artist can never rest in this environment; you have to keep pushing to get that name out there. There is a lot of stiff competition for the entertainment dollar, a lot of market forces are working against a local artist. Students go to school, most have a part-time job, a girlfriend/boyfriend, keg parties and dozens of bars competing against each other, the University of Iowa football and basketball programs are huge! Then you got video games, cable television, pizza, movies, it never ends!
Why didn't you make a version of Jay-Z's "The Black Album"?
No! Remixing Jay-Z? I'll pass.
A lot of unknown producers did it to get their name out there.
It's a gimmick; I'd rather not go down that path to get my name out.
Now that you have this release behind you what's next?
To be honest, it's not behind me yet! I need better distribution with this release to set the trail for future projects. I'm trying different tactics to get the word out on a national level. I'll be setting up a booth at Scribble Jam; we'll see how that goes. I still got work to do.
Do you feel this is a make it or break it album for you?
I wouldn't say make or break. However, everything will be re-evaluated. If I lose money again, I'll just stick to soundtrack work and contributing to other artist's projects and just have fun with it. I can't keep on pouring in what amounts to a nice used car on these projects and not see some profit in return. So the people in the end will decide my fate. From what I keep on hearing from record store owners and record distributors across the nation is: People just aren't buying music as much as they used to.
In your press release it said MTV Cribs used a few of your songs. Are you looking for more opportunities making money that way?
With a company like MTV, Nickelodeon and VH1 for instance, all they're looking for is some cool music they can put in the background on their shows at a reasonable price. Trust me; the major labels really stick it to the TV and motion picture industry with royalties and fees of that sort. But me? I'm independent and my sound is quality, so let's strike a deal and everyone can walk away happy. I want the steady work, not the jackpot, so I'm more than reasonable. And the great thing is, under my contract, if the powers that be use a beat for their show or film, I still retain all creative rights. All things considered, it's a different type of satisfaction when you hear your music over other people's creative visions. True story, I'm at a friend's house watching Puffy's "Da Band" drinking a beer, and as he's lecturing those ungrateful knuckleheads he recruited on yet another screw up, one of my instrumentals comes on as they pan the camera around the room for reaction shots. I about spit up my beer in mid-drink!
Can you make a living producing beats for TV shows?
I don't see why not, it seems to be this little niche I've discovered with different types of rewards attached. In the end, I'm still making the beats that inspire me, if television or film companies are inspired enough to use them for their purposes, that's fine. No one is standing behind me demanding that I make a certain type of song for a show or a product.
Is there anyplace online people can buy your album?
Just check out www.tackfu.com for info.
Any last words?
Do as told and check www.tackfu.com, as well as for the album "Tack-Fu Presents the Production Team: 85 Decibel Monks".
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