My Berklee Interview
I was briefly interviewed by a student at Berklee College of Music in Boston, Massachusetts, which is the largest independent college of contemporary music in the world. He asked me to elaborate, and I’m naturally long winded, so I was happy to oblige.
NB: What made you pursue music?
Gadzooks: The funny thing about this question is that six years ago I would’ve rambled on about preserving the art form, keeping the culture alive, etc. That’s not to say I wouldn’t have been genuine, but I’ve long outgrown the self-righteous speeches and I’m no longer hesitant to admit I just love the attention. We all do. Musicians, I mean. Especially rappers. I always knew I could rap because I always rapped, I just never rapped in front of people. When I was 18, a less than emotionally stable girl I was dating gave me a burned CD of her friend’s rap songs. The sound quality wasn’t great, which actually intrigued me even more because he was insanely talented. I wasn’t as hip to the DIY mentality as I am now, so my mind was blown by the fact that this guy just wrote a bunch of rhymes, recorded them on his home computer, and was now being listened to in my car. It made me realize how possible it all was. So I got some equipment (without bothering to learn how to use it), recorded a song, which snowballed into several songs, which snowballed into live shows, which ultimately snowballed into whatever it is I’m doing now. It’s really only fun ten percent of the time, but that ten percent is fun enough to keep doing it. I never expected to get this far, which, relatively, really isn’t that far. But what else would I be doing? At this point, I’m really just curious to see how far this can go. It’s become more of a gamble than anything.
NB: Do you have any “creative habits”?
Gadzooks: I have several, actually. I rarely finish writing songs, which I suppose is less of a habit and more of a flat-out problem. I’ll start writing what I think is the song of my life, obsess over it for a week, get stuck at the very end, and never visit it again. I could release several albums if unfinished songs were the trend. So let’s hope someone cooler than me makes that the “in” thing. As far as writing habits go, I tend to always start songs with “I”, which is as frowned upon as starting a sentence with “but”. It’s something I fight against, which doesn’t much matter since I rarely finish songs anyway. I also forget to leave myself big enough gaps between bars to take breaths. I can always punch in and out when recording, so it sounds natural on record. Then I get on stage and nearly pass out from lack of oxygen. I’m getting better at it though. I don’t want to change my writing style so I just focus more on breath control. Recording habits include making several tracks of backing vocals only to end up scrapping the bulk of them and keeping it minimal.
NB: What does it mean to be an artist to you?
Gadzooks: Honestly, I’ve always just enjoyed making things. And not just music, either. The idea of going to sleep at night having created something new has always comforted me. That same idea keeps me awake at night if I failed to create something new that day. And by “new” I don’t mean “original”. Everyone’s so concerned with what everyone else is doing anymore, especially given how connected we are through the internet. When I make something, musically or otherwise, I don’t go out of my way to copy someone else’s outline but I really don’t even stop to wonder or acknowledge whether or not there’s an outline at all. It’s new on a personal scale, even if it ends up sounding or looking similar to what that guy made. I don’t support compromising your artistic integrity just to make something that’s sure to draw attention, but neither do I support compromising productivity to avoid having your artistic integrity questioned. Basically, there’s just as much room in the world for originality as there is for carbon copies, so artists should be allowed to do what they want to do. People who aren’t lazy will always be able to find something original the same way there will always be a healthy supply of carbon copies for those who prefer to be spoon-fed. Art is one of the greater aspects of life, but it shouldn’t be confused with life. It’s just art. I said it.
NB: How do you promote yourself uniquely in such a crowded online market?
Gadzooks: That’s a hard one. Well, from an “underground” standpoint, it’s probably easier than most would assume. I know a lot of talented people who are slowly but surly growing in popularity, but don’t have their own website. You’d be surprised how many of them aren’t even on iTunes. Although, they’re more famous than I am, and I have both of those things, so maybe they’re onto something. Or maybe those things are completely separate and don’t play much of a role in how well you’re received. I’m still trying to figure this all out, myself. Running my own website definitely doesn’t hurt. And just being able to say you’re on iTunes gives you an edge, especially to those familiar with the process. I also have songs you can only download on my website, for free, which is an incentive to visit it. I’ve never just settled for the free social networks, as valuable as they are. People see my website and assume I’ve taken classes or pay someone who has. The truth is I stay up late watching tutorials, and I’m not afraid to ask questions. If there’s one thing I’m good at, it’s utilizing the web. I’m constantly pitching my material to blogs, most of the time to no avail. I’m not afraid to stay up all night, knowing I have an early morning ahead of me, just fine-tuning my web presence. It’s something everyone can do, but few care to put forth the effort. Which is understandable because it can be an immense pain in the ass, but I believe it’s necessary. When they stop making coffee, I’ll worry.
NB: Would you ever consider a record deal?
Gadzooks: Absolutely, but I’d approach it the same way I approach any deal. That’s the thing. A “deal” is an agreement between separate parties, the object of which is to benefit both sides. People get record “deals” confused with record “hook-ups”. Record companies aren’t here to do us any favors, especially when dealing with major labels, but I don’t think that’s a bad thing. They don’t owe us anything. And if you’re irresponsible enough to sign a contract without fully understanding it, or without being confident that you’ll be able to hold up your end, then that’s your mistake, not theirs. It’s great to set goals for yourself, but you have to be realistic. Granted, there’s the occasional case of the label going back on their word, and that’s a separate issue, one best handled by people much smarter than I am. Much like the “originality police” I mentioned earlier, you also have to watch out for the “sellout patrol”. They’re everywhere. I don’t subscribe to the idea that a grown adult can’t make their own business decisions without having to worry about being labeled a sellout. That’s one of the sickest parts of this business, and I think it actually harms the art form more than it does it any good. The way I see it, a lot of time I could spend chasing my ambitions is instead spent sitting in an office doing things I don’t like with people I don’t care for. Why do I do that? Well, for money. So I’m already more of a sellout now than I would be if I signed to a major label.
NB: Do you have a consistent writing process?
Gadzooks: More or less. I write alone. I’m not the on-the-spot kind of writer, and I don’t do well writing with other people around. It’s somewhat of a confidence thing but it’s also that I’m easily distracted and hate feeling rushed. That aside, I’m a sucker for syllables and complex rhyme schemes. A lot of my songs come out of just wanting to rhyme cool words with other cool words. I can definitely write to a specific topic, especially when collaborating, but when I’m on my own I usually start by rhyming a few words I like, then I try to apply meaning to them and go from there, based on the topic I dug up. It may sound like going backwards, because it is, but that’s my thing. I like to take a word and beat the hell out of it until I have a list of twenty other words or combinations of words that rhyme with it. Then I go in and connect them all. A handful of years ago, I wrote a song called “Spectacles” that, to this day, people tend to hold in a relatively high regard. I think it has to do with the instrumental more than anything, which I can’t take credit for. Anyway, I cover some deep subject matter in that song, but people may be surprised to know how it started. I had just gotten my first pair of prescription glasses and someone said to me, “hey, nice specs.” I thought about how uncommon the word “spectacles” is today, despite how much cooler than “glasses” it sounds. So I started thinking of rhymes for it (vegetables, edible, episode, letting go, breath control, etc.), connected them all, and somehow ended up with an entire song about a homeless man asking for money to buy glasses. People I don’t know have actually been upset with me after my live shows because I didn’t perform that song. Which is an odd sort of compliment, but a compliment all the same. So there, one of my secrets is out.
NB: How do you approach “the piracy problem”?
Gadzooks: If we’re being honest, which I am, I’d be all kinds of stoked if my music turned up on a torrent site. I’m really not famous enough for it to even be a factor yet. I’ve been doing this for awhile now, but I’m still in that stage of just being thrilled when people actually want to listen to you. I honestly hope I never outgrow that stage. Nobody steals something they don’t like. At the beginning of my first album, Will Rap for Diapers, the very first thing I say is, “I wanna thank everyone for listening to this record, even if you did steal it off the internet.” The very next thing I say is, “while you’re at it, do me a favor and burn a thousand copies for all of your friends.” That sounds like something a lot of people would say half-heartedly for laughs or whatever, but I actually mean that. I’ve pirated a lot of music, myself. I’ve also pirated some music and I ended up enjoying it so much that I drove an hour and paid ten dollars to see the artist perform a twenty minute set, and then paid another ten bucks for the physical copy of the album I already downloaded. And I did that out of respect for the artist and in support of their craft. So that’s how I can only hope to be received. If my two options are making five dollars off someone who likes my music, or making no money off someone who “stole” my album but liked it enough to play it for his or her friends, one or all of whom may just end up in the crowd at one of my shows, I’m going with the latter. Don’t get me wrong, monthly iTunes checks are as thrilling as they are appreciated, but I didn’t start this to make money anyway. I’m not so far removed from the days when nobody even knew my name, let alone spent time listening to my album in their car, at work, etc. So I’m already a lot further than I expected to get.