Alias Figures Out His Rubik’s Cube
Anticon's most musically adventurous producer, Alias, has just released his
sophomore solo full-length effort, Muted. This time around Alias is
focusing all of his attention on the production side of
things, passing on the vocal aspect. An instrumental
album is one of the hardest things to succeed in creating, especially in the hip
hop world. It's been a long haul for Alias, and after
a number of releases he's finally established himself
as a critically acclaimed rapper/musician/artist/producer. Recently I had the
privilege of discussing past projects, musical endeavors, and touring,
among other things with Alias. Here's what transpired.
Tiny Mix Tapes:
It's fair to say that your breakthrough song was “Divine Disappointment” off the
Music for the Advancement of Hip Hop album. What
was going through your head when people started to react
to the song?
Alias: It was all very strange to say the least. Especially with the
internet.....there were kids talking about it on message boards and newsgroups
before it had even been released, which blew my mind. the fact that I could get
this instant gratification from people talking about
my music was very new to me....and it was the first time I had feedback other
than friends on my music. It was a very exciting time
for me. Very fond memories of that time.
Tiny Mix Tapes: You were also an integral part to Deep Puddle
Dynamics, the supergroup consisting of yourself, Slug, Sole, and Dose
One that released “The Taste of Rain...Why Kneel?” You've
spoken very highly of this time in your life as well. What made this experience
so special, and where does it rank alongside
the other projects you've been involved with?
Alias: Doing the Deep Puddle album, was pretty much what made me decide
to try and pursue music as a profession. What made it so special was the fact
that this group of people who barely knew each other, could
make this album that was so honest, and so fresh and exciting. I had journalists
tell me in Japan that it's considered a hip-hop
classic there. It's definitely up there on the list as far as importance of a
project. It was the record that made us decide to band
together and form Anticon as a label and collective.
People always ask about a new Deep Puddle record, but to try and replicate that
would just cheapen the first one I think.
Tiny Mix Tapes: You also released an album through the Mush label,
Paint By Number Songs, with Sole and DJ Mayonnaise under the group name So
Called Artists. It's an undeniably dark,
depressing, and often overlooked project. What was your life like when the three
of you came together to make that album, and
how is it reflected in the music?
Alias: Oh man....it's immediately reflected in the music. I was very
depressed and unhappy when we recorded that. I had just moved to Oakland
and was working a temp job, and trying to work on this LP at
night. Some arguments happened, some sulking in the corner, between three people
who had to live together and work on this album. For
me personally, I haven't listened to that album in a very long time. I don't
feel it's my best work at all, and there's too much
emotional baggage attached to that album for me. So if it seems dark and
depressing, it's because that's where we were at I think. What you hear is what
Tiny Mix Tapes: You've always worked closely with Sole, and your
personalities appear to be quite different. You handle the Anticon-bashing with
a more laid back approach, whereas Sole
sometimes becomes caught up in the petty bickering. Could you tell us what you
think Sole's best quality is, and what you
think his worst is?
Alias: Haha....oh man....you're gonna make me bring it there? Ok. I have
known Sole for a little over 10 years now. I've toured with him, worked on
countless songs with him, lived with him, fought with him,
argued with him, laughed with him, and lived life with him. His best quality is
his honesty and his genuine concern for the good of
man. He is someone who has done a lot for me, musically and personally. He is a
good friend to have. His worst quality is his
paranoia. I think that's the driving force behind any
of his bickering or lashing out against someone. It's also the driving force
behind his shit-talking.
Tiny Mix Tapes: What's your work relationship like with him? Do you
make the beats to suit his requests, or do you just supply him with what you've
recently been creating and he adjusts to your vibe?
Alias: It seems to be ever evolving.
I used to just make a beat, and if he liked it, I'd give it to him. When I made
the beat for “Bottle of Humans”, I was still living in
Maine. I had originally planned on keeping it for myself to use for my album.
But I played it for him over the phone, and he lipped
out. He told me that he had something written that would go perfectly with it
and that I had to give it to him. I didn't want to, but I
knew that he would make a great song out of it, so the next
day, I mailed the disks to him. Within a week, he called and played it for me
over the phone. I got chills. Then when he sent me a
tape with all the stuff he had been working on, I got to hear it for real over
real speakers. I was blown away. I've always kind of known what beats he would
like and which ones he wouldn't. For the stuff on Selling Live Water, I just
worked on beats everyday, sometimes making 2 or 3, and I would only bring the
ones that I knew he would like and that he could be
comfortable with. I have boxes of disks with beats that I made around that time
that I never brought to him. And now, for his new
album, I've just given him tracks and he raps on them, and I'll probably go back
and rework the songs to fit his vocals and the overall emotion of the song. I
can't wait to see what approach we take the next time
we work on music.
Tiny Mix Tapes: Well you guys certainly make a great team. With the
release of The Otherside of the Looking Glass you were crowned the pioneer of
goth-hop, the most sarcastic sub-genre in music
history. But this album really got you a lot of praise from critics and fans
alike, for your production talents and rapping
as well. How did it feel to finally have a full-length album of your own
completed and available to the public?
Alias: It felt great. I have always
kind of played the background in the Anticon scheme of things. But this album
did a lot for my self-esteem. Once it was released and
I started seeing sales reports and reading reviews, I was blown away. Then when
I toured with Themselves in the U.S. and Europe I was
blown away again. My favorite part of doing shows was during “Watching Water”, I
could hear people singing along, but I could only hear
the “s” sound of the words. That sound really messed with me, I got many lumps
in the throat from that sound. But hearing people singing along with your songs,
and having people come up and share stories about how my album
has affected them or helped them through a rough time in
their life is some crazy shit to hear everyday for 2 months. You would think
that it's something that would inflate my ego, but it
seems to be just the opposite for me. It's very humbling, and I can feel myself
getting obviously embarrassed in front of them. I
don't know....it's hard for me to put in exact words how it feels, but it's
definitely a good feeling. I definitely got very inspired and had an extra drive
to do more music. Like I got some confirmation that I
was doing something right.
Tiny Mix Tapes: The album definitely had some powerful material on it.
And now you deliver to the world Muted, an album that showcases a somewhat new
style of production for you. You seem to be dipping
into electronica and live instrumentation. Was this a natural progression or a
Alias: I think it was natural. Most of The Otherside of the Looking Glass was recorded in 2000. I was listening to lots of old hip-hop and Radiohead
then. That's it. But since then, I've gotten into lots of
electronic music and lots of what is considered indie-rock. It really shaped how
I wanted to do music. With the beats I did for Selling
Live Water, I started incorporating some keyboard stuff into the production.
With Muted, I had just gotten back from tour, and I
went out and bought a G4 to record on, and a new keyboard and some other little
studio gizmos. I knew it was a new sound for me, but
it was still honest. I wasn't forcing anything or trying
to sound a certain way. It's just how it ended up sounding. I
wanted to make it more melodic and pretty and less sample based. I spent a lot
of time figuring out melodies and chords with my
keyboard and guitar. I can't read music, and I don't know musical notes. I just
did it all by ear. I was very happy with the outcome.
Tiny Mix Tapes: You're obviously a fan of the Notwist judging from
Markus Acher's appearance on the album. You mentioned that other types of music
influenced your own work. Can you name some of the
bands or artists that you've been listening to lately?
Alias: Yeah, I'm a big fan of the
Notwist and all of the stuff Morr Music puts out. Mr. Morr gave us lots of music
when we were in Europe, and I love all of it. I'm going
to be doing a remix for the new Lali Puna project. I've also been listening to
Four Tet's new album, Rounds. And Christ. from
Scotland. He's released an EP and an LP on Benbecula that I can't stop listening
to. Beautiful stuff. Who else? Mum, Boards of Canada, Radiohead,
Lucky Pierre, all of my Vangelis records, Pinback, the new
Buck65 record, Cerberus Shoal, Neutral Milk Hotel....uh....man, lots of stuff.
Tiny Mix Tapes: Speaking of touring, you're about to embark on tour
with Sole, Telephone Jim Jesus, and Odd Nosdam. Musicians often talk about the
ups and downs of touring. How do you
maintain sanity on the road?
Alias: Beer. No....not really. Uh...I kinda go into a different mode
when I'm touring. It's a strange thing to do, drive all over the place,
performing your life's work in smoky loud clubs. But you get
to meet all kinds of new people who like your music. I don't know. I'm happy to
be where I'm at with my music, and the fact that I
have the chance to do this is crazy to me still. I guess it's just the daily
phone calls to my wife that keep my sane. It also
helps to travel with good people, which all of the guys in anticon are. Just
phone calls home and try to keep a level of comfort.
And beer. No not really.....I'm kidding. No I'm not. Yes I am. What?
Tiny Mix Tapes: Haha...How do you plan on bringing the new music from
Muted and the Eyes Closed EP to life in a live setting? How will your
performance differ from the past?
Alias: Well....it is all instrumental, and I didn't want to rely on a
laptop for my performances. I even intentionally got a desktop G4 so I
wouldn't be tempted to use a laptop for shows. Not that I
have anything against it, it's just not for me. I will be bringing along
Telephone Jim Jesus from Restiform Bodies to help me
with the set. He's a very musical guy and is full of good ideas. So for the set,
we both have an MPC and a keyboard and lots of effects
machines and gadgets. Just playing different parts and effecting them. Some of
the songs we're playing everything over a drum track,
some of it I switch up between playing the drums live on the MPC
and playing stuff on the keyboard. I won't be doing vocals at
all either, so that will be a change for me. But I look forward to not getting a
dry mouth during every song. Should be fun.
Tiny Mix Tapes: You'll save good money on bottled water. Where do you
see your music going from here? Plan to incorporate your voice into the songs
again? Keeping with this same sound?
Back to sampling perhaps?
Alias: Well....I've already set aside a huge batch of beats for a new
album with vocals. They're kind of a cross between the beats I did on Selling
Live Water and the stuff I did on Muted. They are all really
upbeat and should be fun to perform live. They seem to have lots of flutes and
are kind of “world music” sounding with lots of
electronic mess and hard drums. Always with the hard drums. I'll be trying to
write a lot while we're driving during this
tour......hopefully I'll get lots written so I can start recording when I get
back. But I also plan on doing more instrumental
stuff. I'm going to bring my little brother, Ehren (who played on The Otherside
of the Looking Glass) out to Oakland to record a project with him.
He's only 17, but he plays saxophone, flute, clarinet,
electric guitar, drums, and piano. But I think there's something to be said
about doing music with a sibling. Look at Notwist, Boards of Canada, and
Mum. I'm really excited to work on that. Next summer he'll be
coming out for two weeks.
Tiny Mix Tapes: Definitely something for fans to look forward to. Well
I think that concludes our interview. Thanks a lot for the time. Do you have
anything you'd like to say? Any messages for the Tiny
Mix Tapes readers?
Alias: Um...my mom told me once that it's important to start everyday
with your favorite music. I've lived by that rule for the past 4 years since I
moved to California. You should too. No matter if your
friends think your favorite music is shitty. Do it anyways. It's good for you.
Oh, and don't vote for George Bush. I don't know if
you've heard, but he's not a very nice person. Something about a war and stuff.
I don't care who you vote for, but I strongly suggest
that you don't vote for George Bush. Thank you.
Alias then had to go tend to his dog who was, as he described, “doing a
pee-dance by the front door.” Be sure to go out and purchase Muted, and try
to go out and see Alias on tour. He'll be all over the
country. He's a swell guy with a great sense of humor and the manners of a
saint. Thanks to Alias for taking the time out to