Monday, September 26, 2011

Gym Class Heroes Interview with Disashi Lumumba-Kasongo (Guitarist)

While on Warped Tour, I got a chance to speak with Gym Class Heroes guitarist, Disashi Lumumba-Kasongo, reagarding the tour, their forthcoming album and their hit single with Maroon 5's Adam Levine.

 How has Warped Tour been thus far?
Disashi: So far, Warped has been awesome! Gym Class Heroes hasn't really toured in two years or so. This is our  first big tour, since the last time that we toured. So the first couple of shows we were getting the technical kinks out. So we were frustrated about that, then we would go to signing's and the kids would be like "We are so glad to have you back! We missed you so much!" That brought our spirits right back up. Everything from that point forward has just been getting tighter and tighter. better and better.
Are you planning on touring in the fall?
Disashi: We are doing  nationwide tour with Dirty Heads, and we are going to the UK in early October. Once the album drops, it's just touring for seven or eight million years(laughs).
The new album is a couple years in the making correct?
Disashi: It literally is. Our new album is entitled The Papercut Chronicles II, and so the last couple of years a lot of kids speculated/rumored that we had broken up. We've never broken up, Travis was just working on his stuff and we have all been working on our own stuff as well. Literally that entire time we have been hard at work on The Papercut Chronicles II. We've gone as far as renting out abandoned Churches, to working in big production studios. We have done everything on every side of the spectrum to make sure the album is as good as we want it to be. If you name the album The Papercut Chronicles II, it's got to be as good as the first one.
Where did you get some of the ideas to work in places like abandoned Churches?
Disashi: I think that we just think of what we feel at the time, you know? I'm from Ithaca New York, and the guys were like "maybe we could record where your spots at?" and I was like "alright, cool!" we started looking into locations and we were like "here's an abandoned Church, how about that? Cool!" That's how a lot of things end up working out with our band. Whatever seems right at the moment, is what we will go with.
That's probably how you guys have been able to put out albums that have completely different sounds, and that progress with each album. What kind of differences do you see with this album, in comparison to your previous album, The Quilt?
Disashi: The biggest thing with this album is that we worked together, as musicians, more than we ever have. With our current line-up, we are really comfortable with playing with each other and bouncing idea off of one another. There were songs off of this album that came about when were jamming, then the next thing you know we have a song. There were also songs where a producer, that we think is awesome, might give us a beat and then we will go in there in a day and just bang it out. I think that's been one of the parts that I have enjoyed the most, spending time in the studio with those guys and just getting to enjoy the fact that we are real musicians. That we can take a song go in there and put our twist on it fairly easily at this point, which is awesome. I feel like there's a lot of music out there, and a lot of performers that kind of fake it. Not to call anyone out, but as a kid growing up today I would hate to grow up and not know what it's like to see a live band that really loves to play music and loves to play their instruments. It feels good to be able to give back to people.
Photo by Laura Means
Before you started working on the album(The Papercut Chronicles Part II), did you decide on a direction that you wanted to take the album in?
Disashi: I think that the most important thing for us was to find some ways to keep cohesive the themes of the original The Papercut Chronicles, to the new The Papercut Chronicles II.  In everything that we've been working on, we have been making sure from time to time, "alright is this still connecting the two?" Obviously, our line-up is different between now and then, a lot of the experiences that we have had have helped us grow, so we aren't the same people anymore. But yet, we want to still make sure that it's relevant, because it is a sequel. We revisited some of the musical themes, and stuck them in there as well as some of the lyrical themes. I think there are going to be times where, anyone who has listened to the original The Papercut Chronicles, will go listen to the new one and say "whoa! I remember that!" Which is cool, and that's what we want people to experience, but at the same time we don't want to re-make the album, because we can't remake the album. We want to just make the best version of The Papercut Chronicles II  that we can make.
You have a single out now, called "Stereo Hearts," featuring Adam Levine of Maroon 5. How did that come together?
Disashi: Originally when we joined the band, we gave our manager a list of people that we'd love to work with and Maroon  has always been someone that we have bumped to, even when we were in our "van days." We've never done a collaboration with Adam yet, but when we were going in to work with Benny Blanco on this song, his name came up and we were like "Awesome," because he is someone that we have looked up to. I think that's how it should be when you do a collaboration, because I would hate to use someone as a collaborator just because they are popular at the time. I would much rather use someone who we resect as an artist, and who we feel fits the song. Adam definitely blew it out of the park.
Speaking of Adam and that song, that was awesome that you guys were randomly on NBC's The Voice.
Disashi: yeah, it's funny because it was random. People don't believe us that it was random, but we literally went to rehearse the song together as a band for the first time, and we just happened to be in the spot that Adam was filming for The Voice. We were playing the song and then Adam Levine just busts through the doors with a camera crew like Clark Kent and just picks up the mic and starts belting out the chorus. We were like "really?" and he said "by the way, this is going to be on The Voice,"  and were like "okay(laughs)!" We were just setting up and getting ready in a warehouse/rental space.

Of course Travis(McCoy) has a side project, but what are some of the other side-projects in the band? Do you have one?

Photo by Laura Means

Disashi: Eric's got a band called Willing Swords, and it straight Metal, with growling. He actually works with our keyboard player Tyler Parcel and their stuff is available on iTunes. Matt has been doing some production here and there. people don't really know that Matt has a tone of production ability and ideas, which is really cool. My project is called Soul and it used to be called the Midnight Society. It is rock/pop and I sing and write almost all of the music. My fiance does some singing to, and some of the song writing as well. It's been awesome and I am going to be working on that more and more as the year progresses.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

John West Interview

With his combination of positive lyrics, smooth soulful voice and catchy beats, John West proves to be a hybrid musician that everyone can enjoy. The Baton Rouge native, spent a majority of the last several years honing his craft while playing for crowds on the streets of Santa Monica. A little over a year ago, West signed a major record label deal and has been working hard on writing and recording his debut LP, set to drop this fall. I recently had the chance to sit down with the Mercury Records artist to discuss how he got hooked up with the label, the current status of his debut album and musical background. Check him out at 
How has the tour been thus far?West: For me, this is my first tour. So right now I am just learning how to get comfortable. It's almost like going to summer camp, where you have those first two weeks where you are like "I'm homesick!" Now I have gotten into my own flow, because on the bus it's just twelve dudes. It's cool, but everyone has to get acquainted quickly. We have these little bottom bunks that are almost coffin like (laughs), but it is so cool to be on a tour bus. Good times (laughs).
I just saw you play live, and I was wondering who are some people that you have looked up to in the past, in regards to stage presence and live performance.
West: I have been listening to a bunch of Jane's Addiction lately, only because I absolutely love their first album. He (Perry Cantrell) isn't the best singer, but just the way that he plays onstage and is able to get his band into a certain kind of vibe is inspiring. I come from a street performing background, so on a more old school tip, Bill Withers is the man hands down. He is somebody who did his thing, was obviously successful at it and also decided that he was going to have a real life too. After a certain period, he decided he was going to take a break from doing the whole live thing and focus on his family. Guys like Neil Young too, people that had a life outside of performing and who weren't consumer with their careers.
How did you get into street performing originally?West: I first started about five years ago when I moved out to L.A. and I met someone on MySpace, who wrote a song with and they were like "come out to 3rd street Promenade, and check out my friend Hope (on Atlantic Records). She is a really dope artist!" I basically saw her go out there and sell a 100 CD'S in a day and was amazed. So I started going out there by myself, and did it solo acoustic for about a year. It was hit or miss. On my best day, I would sell 40-50 CD'S but on a slow day you might sell two. I would go out there on a Saturday or Sunday and play two, two hour sets and be out there for eight or nine hours. So, I took a break for a year, and when I came back I brought a percussionist and played some more dynamic songs, that had the "8O8" sound. We would bring out a box drum, but hit it with a mallet to give it a booming sound. We would interact with the crowd more and started to learn how to put together a live set. All of the sudden we started doing really well, selling eighty or ninety CD's a day. We had a homeless dude selling our merchandise for us, Davey Hustle. He would be out there passing out fliers for our show and selling CD's. I did that for a couple of years and then got a manager, and began writing new songs. The 3rd Street Promenade wasn't connected to us getting the record deal, directly, but it was cool. Through the Promenade I was able to promote shows, because if I was selling close to a hundred CD's in a day, we could hand out five times that amount in fliers. Our motto out there was the "Humble Hustle."
Tell me about the time period between the "Humble Hustle" and starting to attract attention from major record labels.
West: Well, I had been out there for about a year basically making a living, being able to pay my rent. Then I did another year with a percussionist and then the next year I got with my manager. Every year I did only about three or four shows in L.A., so you would split them up and pass out fliers. We got the deal last year, the same weekend as Lollapalooza. Since then, we have just been making the album.
Any idea when the album is coming out?
West: Well, the last track on the album "Already There," will have Big Sean on it, which was just confirmed. He did a verse on it and it’s a super cool dude too! We will basically put out that single, hopefully within the next month and then news on the album release will come after. We'll just have to see how it pans out.
With the album, how did some of the songs come together? Are you pulling some songs that you wrote a while back? Or did you write the whole album from scratch?
West: Some of the stuff is my old material, and then a lot of it is new. About seventy percent of it is new material. We have had some really cool sessions, and have been working with new producers.
Are you into co-writing? Or is it pretty much all you?
West: When you are working with a lot of Urban producers, you sort of split the publishing regardless who is doing what. I consider that co-writing, because you are both writing on the track, whether it's lyrics or the beat. Even when you are brining a rapper in to be on the track, they normally want twenty percent of the track. For the most part I am writing the new material in collaboration with some very talented people.
How does writing a song pan out for you personally?
West: I just try to write something that feels good to listen to and just feels good making it. It was completely different, when I used to just sit down with my guitar and it was my only source of inspiration. Now I work with a couple of guys. For example, I was working with these guys Pop and Oak. Pop does the beats, so you may walk in and he already has an idea going. Then Oak will jump in with keys, and then I will figure out some stuff while he is working on the chords. It is a very collaborative process normally. You are really bouncing off of the person that you are working with, and hopefully it is the same for them. Every song is like a different dance, meaning you work differently with different people. You are always exploring different sides of what you can do. It's a good feeling when you come up with a good verse, or someone comes up with a good beat. You are able to feed off of each other's energy and jam and you are recording at the same time!
Are there any songs that you can think of, where you got that feeling?
West: Yeah, definitely! "Lovely," the track that we leaked with Pusha-T on it was a dope track. That was also one of my old songs that we re-recorded. When they came with the re-mix, the new beat and started throwing in string-arrangements, everyone started to get that great feeling. Some of the other singles are great, but I think that some of the best songs have come out of some of the most recent sessions with Pop and Oak. Only because I got to do something a little bit darker, but still with a positive message through a darker context.
Is that a challenge for you?
West: No, not really. With some of the new stuff, I am rapping in the songs more and more. Just doing that in interesting, darker ways. The reason that I rap on these songs is not because I am trying to be a rapper, but I just feel like that's what the song needs. Melody is so important, but I feel like you can say more in a song sometimes when it lacks a melody and depends more on the poetry of the song. Some of the new stuff has a combination of styles, much like a "Drake: sort of thing. Where I rap and sing over some really well produced stuff. I am excited about the record for sure!
What attracted you to Mercury Records? How did the opportunity come about?
West: We had a publishing guy who listened to some of the new tracks that I had been writing and specifically a teen-pop" song that I had written that was really for me. So we set up some A&R meetings and flew out to New York to meet with Mercury and some other labels too. On our last meeting of the day, we met up with the president of Mercury, David Massey and it was just an awesome meeting. We played him some of our songs and it was more of him telling us his vision of our music. He had a real old-school kind of vibe where he is all about the love, and putting out good music. He has worked with some great artists like Oasis, over the years too. He's just a cool dude. He was like "hey, I gotta go to Lollapalooza now." The next day we got a call we got a call from the record company saying, "we'd like for you to sign a record deal with us before you leave town." It was great, because we got a really fair deal and they have made us a priority over there. Maybe it's because we have made some good music along the way. They have given us some great creative freedom, both Dave and our AR guy, but it has been a good time. Now we are out on the road for the first time, just getting warmed up.
Perfect day, driving with the windows down, what are you listening to?
West: It might be kind of dorky. I have been listening to a lot of Jazz and Grant Green. I have also been listening to a lot of Joe Henderson, a really great tenor sax player. He was a really import figure in influencing modern jazz. It's really upbeat and I can just vibe out to it.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Patrick Stump Interview (Fall Out Boy front man)

Photos by Laura Means
After many years of touring and recording with the incredibly popular punk-pop band Fall Out Boy, lead singer Patrick Stump is now pursuing a solo project. Stump's soon to be released debut LP, Soul Punk, aims to take listeners in a direction vastly different from that of Fall Out Boy. With a groundbreaking sound, Stump's music draws from several genres, including soul, funk, jazz and pop. With such vast influences, yielding such unique and diverse songs, Stump will earn your attention, and keep it.

How has the tour been thus far?
Stump: Awesome! It's a whole new world. First off, this is my first real tour. We've done some one-off dates, so this is the first time doing the full on in-a-bus tour, which I was scared to see how everyone got along on a bus and it has been awesome. The shows have been so great!

I've seen you perform with Fall Out Boy before, but would you say that you perform differently on stage with your solo stuff?

Stump: Oh yeah, I would say it is a totally different show. The dynamic is totally different. It's like the difference between being Brian Johnson in ACDC, which I always kind of related to because I was the lead singer, but I wasn't really the focal point in Fall Out Boy. I didn't really talk in between songs, or whatever and I think that he really had that vibe where he is the singer but Angus is the center. It is the difference between that and something like a Fela Kuti show, there were moments where he would really take it and say "this is my show," and also he would back off and really rest on the band that he had. he had really brilliant musicians around him all of the time. I think that I get to be a little bit more energetic. Fall Out Boy's nature of guitar rock, four piece music really meant that I was doing a lot of playing. With this (project), there is a little been more of an atmosphere where if I wanted to dance, I can dance.

Are you playing a good bit throughout the set?
Stump: Oh yeah! I play a lot, but its great because I play piano, I play drums, I play trumpet. I literally move around the stage a lot because I am playing a lot of different instruments, but I'm also instrumentally moving around a lot because they give me the space to. I can be part of the horns section for a minute, I can be lead guitar player for a minute, I can be the drummer for a minute, so that is really cool and a totally different thing that Fall Out Boy didn't get to do.

Photo by Laura Means
Your debut full-length album, Soul Punk, is set to drop on October 18th. How long has this album been in the making? Do some of the songs date back to F.O.B?
Stump: Yeah, I mean ultimately a lot of the stuff that I ended up writing years ago ended up got  jettison in favor of new stuff. It's kind of like the Ship of Theseus, where it is the same record that I started years ago, but it doesn't have any of the same parts that it used to. Over the course of (creating) it, bits and pieces got replaced until it was replaced. It's a "tin man" kind of thing, where it is a different thing then what it started out as, but it's still the same thing as far as I'm concerned. I have been working on it for a long time, but really I have always been working on material. I have always had "solo material," that didn't really make sense in Fall Out Boy. Musically I fell like it is a totally different facet of my personality. With Fall Out Boy, musically the four of us got together and all of us liked hardcore and styles of music, but decided that we were going to be a "pop-punk" band when we started. When you set that umbrella for yourself, and you have an idea outside of that umbrella, you can't pull it in. It's still got to fall under that somehow. With this music I can do literally anything I want, which is great. But it is also a challenge because I'm like “what do I want to do(laughs)?" Also, how do I avoid making it every flavor at the soda fountain? How do I avoid making it "the suicide (laughs)" That was a cool challenge I thought.

Just from listening to the Truant Wave EP and a little sample of Soul Punk, you have definitely developed a brand new sound. When you were developing your sound, were there any specific artists that maybe inspired the direction you ultimately chose?

Stump: The thing is that I wanted very much not to try. Any art that you are playing based on effort, loses something. I think that most of the time it should be something that happens, and you are inspired, and you just feel and follow your instincts. The best chiseled sculptures happen when the sculptor looks at the stone and says "I saw this sculpture in the stone, and I had to get it out."  It's not contrived. I had to just write, and see what I wrote after. I ended up having this pretty wide birth of material sound-wise. And that's the thing, I feel like as a writer I have a bunch of different styles and I had to be like, "alright, which one do i start as my first record?" I noticed that with this record, when I listen to it objectively, I hear a lot of Prince; I hear a lot of Minneapolis, The time, the family etc. I also hear Michael Jackson in there. Those artists are like comfort food for me, those are things I grew up on. Also, there is a lot of jazz, especially 70's fusion jazz, and the way that 70's funk and fusion jazz were in this echo chamber together. What Herbie (Hancock) was doing, Sly (Stone) really liked and what Sly was doing, Herbie really liked. Also, I have always loved David Bowie. When he began to experiment with pop (music) in the 80's, I really thought there was a really fascinating reverence for it.  A lot of people looked at pop music as just idiot music, or dance music, and with this he was giving it a lot of respect. I thought that was really cool, and I am hearing a lot of that in what I am doing on this record. None of that was intentional. Again, I wrote and then worried about it later. I wrote and then I was like "well, what songs make sense together? What songs tell an audible story?"
What about the other songs created during this process? Do you think that they will surface eventually?

Stump: It's almost like I have the starts to four or five other albums, of material that sounds progressively different from this. I look at albums like novels. If you write a really good scene or a really good moment, just because you wrote it, doesn't mean that it fits with the story that you're writing. There are songs that I wrote before Fall Out Boy, that won't get released until well after, because they are sounds that make sense after this record, or after the next record. I have it kind of charted out. It's almost like "which record do I write next? Which record do I think that I am going to finish?"
Photo by Laura Means 
When recording the record, were you ever tempted to push the music in a certain direction to capitalize on Fall Out Boy's large fan base?
Stump: Commerce really didn't mean anything to me. It was one of those things where really early on I had to psych myself up for it, because it's kind of going to be scary. Some Fall Out Boy fans are going to be pissed, because it is not a pop-punk record. Again, there were a lot of other things that people liked about Fall Out Boy, but if that was the thing that you liked about F.O.B, I am not delivering that at all. I really had to come to terms with that. No one really wants to be hated, and I had to be okay with the reality that there were going to be a lot of people who are going to say "I hate this(laughs)." If anything, I made a concerted effort to never worry about that. Again, because it just didn't make any sense with the record that I was making. That is one of the reasons that I produced it myself. I always wanted to record it myself and play all of the instruments, and write everything, but I had initially intended on getting together with a producer. I wanted to find someone to really take charge of it. I realized in meeting a lot of producers, that in spite of my hesitation, I never wanted to be arrogant about it and be like "I know better ." I did have an idea of what I wanted it to sound like, even down to the title, Soul Punk. I think that expresses the album well, but when you say Soul Punk, everyone's going to have a different impression on what that is. I talked to some producers and they would be like "yeah, it'll be throwback 70's soul, then it'll have some 70's punk." That's not what I meant by that at all. So in regards to whether or not Fall Out Boy fans are going to be into it, I just had to do my own thing and worry about it later.

On Soul Punk, aside from writing, recording and producing the album yourself, you also played each instrument on the album. Did you always have that in mind? Or did you decided to just take the reigns and do the whole thing yourself?

Stump: It was something that I always wanted to do. A lot of people point out that Lupe Fiasco is on the re-mix of "This City," but it's a remix (laughs). The track is pretty much my original track. It is very similar to what I did, just plus Lupe Fiasco. The album version is just me, and the album is just me. That is something that I just wanted to do because it's me at my natural stasis in a studio. I'm learning a lot more about music theory, especially since I have had this solo band. Everyone (in the band) knows their music very well and I am kind of learning from them and getting a crash course from them in being a real-deal musician. I never knew how to converse musically, and it was always just easier for me to show it rather than describe it to somebody. I know a lot of people that are like "I want something like this kind of drum beat." There are some people that have a really good way of describing it without music theory, and there are other that can just say "it's in C-Sharp." I can't do it, so I have to show it. So it just made sense for me to just do everything myself. Now that the ball is rolling, I think that in the next record I will play very little. Because now, I have this band, and we have this unspoken kind of thing.  Even though I'm not writing it, it feels enough like mine. It's funny; this record was so starkly me, the next one will be pretty hands-off.

How did you assemble the band?

Stump: Well, Matt Rubano is a good friend of mine and he was a really big part in encouraging me to do this. He had been saying to me for awhile "if you ever do a solo thing, let me know." I told him "probably not, I don't think I'm feeling it. I'm scared of doing one," but he said “no, if you ever do let me know." So finally the time came and I was ready to do it, so we began auditioning people. That was one thing that took a while, on top of getting the record together. It didn't really take me that long to record it, but people had been waiting for a long time. One of the big things I wanted was "the band," to tour with it (the album). Matt and I auditioned a lot of people, saw some really great musicians and to make some really hard decisions as far of who it was. It's interesting, we picked these guys because of their musicianship, but we kept them because they are such rad people. We really get along, which is a unique thing because usually you have these tight bands based on musicianship and they are very disparate individually. With these guys, we are really good friends and then we go out there and shred together. It means something a lot when you have a good show, because all of us are like "we did it!"

Perfect day, driving in your car with the windows down, what are you listening to?

Stump: "Rock With You" or "Human Nature" by Michael Jackson. I think that is pretty much, "perfect day" music.