Welcome to Magazine Sixty, Noah. Your excellent new album: Therapy is Expensive sounds like a trip through the life and times of sound and experience. How much of it is an observation of growing up in New York and do you think it would have been possible to create the same piece of music without the city?
Hey! Thanks so much for taking the time to listen and for your kind words. Conceptually, the album is very much a conversation between me and New York City; filled with love, hate and everything in between. A lot of the songs were conceived from a place of conflicted emotions about a city that has so strongly shaped my identity. Looking around and being like…”wait, this isn’t the same place I fell in love with as a kid and I’m not even sure I identify with it anymore.” I’m not sure I would have created the same piece of music elsewhere.
A few years ago I broke up with my therapist because it was really expensive and my health insurance at the time wouldn’t cover it. I channeled a lot of my frustration with NY, existential crises and a myriad of other issues into making music. The demos I made got put into a playlist called “beats I made cuz therapy is expensive.” And here are are.
The album contains many hints of different styles of music, including a nod to classical. What for you are the most important elements in making music transcendent?
I think I’ve always been drawn to the emotion behind music: the way it makes me feel, the feelings evoked, etc. Regardless of what “genre” it is. I hate to deduce it to something so general – a “vibe” or a “feeling” – but to me, that’s what it is. That’s how I grew up playing, making and listening to music. In NY, we listened to everything. We had to.
If it’s authentic and it makes me feel something I don’t care what year it was made, who made it, what instruments (or lack thereof) and so on. If you make shit that’s authentic, no one can take that away from you. To me, that’s what keeps me inspired.
Can you tell us about your connection to Flocabulary and what it means for you to be part of it?
For sure! So, I also work as a recording artist for a company called Flocabuary – a learning program for all grades that uses educational hip-hop music to engage students and increase achievement across the curriculum. I write and record songs on all subjects which are later animated to videos and shown in classrooms all across North America as supplementary learning tool. I got involved with Flocab four or five years ago through my friend Lynas and have been working with them ever since.
I’ve been rapping since a teenager so it’s something that comes natural to me. I grew up freestyling in cyphers, battling in the park and making rap records with my friends. My mother, father and sister are all social workers – I’m the deviant artist child. So doing this works allows me to bridge that gap and use my talent as an emcee/writer for something greater than myself. Making and performing music can feel really self-serving at times so I’m always looking for work that I find fulfilling and meaningful in other ways. I also teach skateboarding to elementary and middle school kids through a weekly after-school program.
Can you talk us through how you created one of the tracks from the album, giving us a flavor of your studio set-up including any favorite pieces of software/ hardware you always like to use?
Sure. I have a pretty minimal set up because I get super overwhelmed with too much gear + I’m a shitty musician. I use an MPC-60 & TR-8 for most of my drum sounds. I spend a lot of time digging for samples, field recording with my Zoom recorder and tweaking sounds with plug-ins my engineer friends tell me to get. I record vocals on everything even if I end up scrapping them in the final stages or just using them as a layer in the track. My voice has always been my instrument of choice, so I try and use it as much as possible.
I don’t really have a specific formula for creating. I used to share a proper studio with friends and would come in during my time block feeling like I HAD to make shit even if I wasn’t feeling inspired. Now, I’ve moved my studio to my apt and can chase the creativity whenever it strikes.
One of my favorite songs on the album is 4eversforever. Probably because it came together really organically at a time when I wasn’t making much music or feeling creative. I was deep in a YouTube hole and stumbled on this short documentary about NYC in the 80’s and I was like, “oh this would be cool to layer into a track.” I ripped it, opened up a new session and just went from there. I had this folder of breaks my homie Devon gave me plus a ton of drum sounds I made but never used. Somewhere in the doc these dudes were letting off fireworks in the streets which I thought would be cool to add in. I chopped the drum break, arranged it with these other hits I made then laid down the bass and lead. I liked the vibe and pace of it so I tried not to overthink it and add too much more instrumentation.
I plugged my mic in and did the vocals I did in one take. I just freestyled it then played around with the pitch. The vox were initially supposed to serve as a reference which is why there’s a lot of mumbling and they aren’t that pronounced in the mix. But after I played it for a few friends, they were like, “nah, that’s it, just leave it, fuck it, it’s cool.” It’s significant because it was one of the first tracks I made where I was didn’t overthink everything. I just allowed the ideas to form naturally and then moved on to the next.
Love the cover shot for the album. Can you tell us about it, and why the choice of a black and white image?
Thanks! The original idea was to shoot an old Victorian therapist couch in the jungle but then I discovered the difficulty behind that so I decided to use a photo I took. My girlfriend and I each shoot disposables on trips we take together. This is her at the Bahai Gardens in Israel this past winter. I decided on black and white because it fit the mood of the album.
I’m also intrigued by the influences which have gone into inspiring the album. Who for you are the most important both within the musical sphere and from outside of it?
Musically, I draw inspiration from so many artists across the spectrum. I grew up on Seattle grunge, hip-hop & punk rock primarily. My parents played a lot of classical and folk around the house. My mom sang in a choir. When I first started making music I idealized producers like J Dilla, 9th Wonder, Large Professor and DJ Premier. I definitely carry that influence with me today and anytime I get stuck creatively I dig for a sample, try to be Dilla for a second, realize it’s not possible and move on. I think Dilla probably led me to Moodymann & Theo Parrish / Sound Signature who had a profound impact on me, especially when I started DJing.
Outside of the musical sphere, I’ve been really inspired by contemporary dance and movement. People’s ability to move their bodies in certain ways and the choices they make in performing is beautiful and fascinating to me. I’ve been fortunate enough to see Alvin Ailey here in NY and I always come away inspired. Also, my friend Lir and I worked on a video for “Mish Mish” where she directed a group of incredible dancers. Excited for that to drop.
What for you can the human voice add to music that sounds and rhythm cannot? What is the most important thing (or things) that music can say?
The human voice is the oldest musical instrument so its importance is obviously profound. The human voice can be used as a tool or instrument similar to any other you would play. I often use it as a statement or to add movement & texture to a track. The human voice devoid of the lyric is a versatile instrument.
What informed your choice to self-release the album? Would you recommend it for other artists?
The choice to self-release was tough. It truthfully came down to this: a few labels wanted to sign some of the songs but no one was interested in the whole project and it was all or nothing. For me, this album is extremely personal and even though the vibes differ throughout, there is a sonic and emotional consistency that I didn’t want to break up. I was also kind of on some “you don’t get it and I don’t need you” shit – haha. I didn’t feel like I needed to compromise. Which in today’s climate is true to some degree. You can do it on your own and control almost every aspect of the release, rollout, marketing, etc. The problem is, you don’t have a machine behind you.
My advice for those that thinking about self-releasing is save up enough money where you can invest in other aspects outside of the music itself; PR, merch, visuals, are all really important. Get creative with the rollout of your project. In my experience, if you can reach people in an interesting way on a personal level, they are more inclined to listen.
And finally. Where can people hear you play live? And what plans do you have for the remainder of the year?
I’m taking a few weeks off from playing here in NY and trying to put together a few special shows for July & August. We did a Therapy is Expensive takeover at House of Yes in Brooklyn a few months back so I’m looking forward to taking that concept to some other venues. Also working on putting together a live show that includes DJ’ing, vocals and a drum machine that I’ll hopefully get to premier soon enough. Until then, I’ll be in the streets lurking at my friend’s gigs.
If you’re in Miami I’m playing at Floyd on June 29th. Really looking forward to that one.
Thanks for the chat!