FistFam - Sound In The Signals Interview

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First off thanks for the interview

Al Lover: Thank you, man This is awesome.

Your new album posted is out in December. Can you tell me a little about the project? How it came together and where you guys recorded it at?

Gus Cutty: We came at this album with a different approach than our past projects. Usually we have an idea of the kind of sound we want and a couple of producers who fit that bill and are down to work for free, then whoever happens to be a the studio drinking and feels like making a song at the time generally ends up on it. Its a great way to get the spirit into an album but can sometimes be a little sloppy. This time around, Al Lover stepped up with the idea to produce the entire record himself. He completed the entire instrumental album before any of us had heard any pieces of it, and emailed it to us one day with a list of each beat and exactly which artists were assigned to what, down to the verses and hooks, he thought in his head and he put it together who would sound right on each beat and what would make a well rounded album. Al truly produced this album and is to thank for it's cohesiveness and soul.

Al Lover: I had the beats for a while, and was gonna do a solo record but decided I would rather hear my friends rap on the beats instead. I don't really care about rapping anymore and am more focused on the production so it kinda just worked out that way. I'm really pumped on how it turned out. These guys did a great job with the beats I think.

Philo: We recorded this album in Ronny Mac's kitchen, which is where our primary studio is located. That's where the Fist Fam has historically made most of our best material, in kitchen studios. I think it's kind of a southern thing, because growing up, the kitchen is where everyone would kick it at in the crib. Mama might be cooking, and everyone would just hang out, drink beer, talk, smoke and whatever. It's a very social room, and I think you can really hear that on the record.

One thing I really like about the new album is the production. It really has an original feel to it. I guess this is a question for AL. What all went into making the beats for the album?

Al: Well, They were all made between 2008 and late 2009 on my MPC, all sampled stuff, really basic. No compression on the drums, filter base only, no 808s at all I think. None of the beats were tracked out, I just recorded 'em into Pro Tools, 2 track style, some might even be mono, I can't remember. I think that might have something to do with the sound of the record. The beats aren't really mixed for lyrics, and I think it gives the whole album a cool sound. I wasn't aware of it at the time, but am glad now that that's the way it turned out. To me it's a more approachable sound than the really over produced, super clean stuff done these days. I like shit a little more lo-fi, I guess. After That Philo and I added some cool post production stuff.

Philo: After all the lyrics were laid down, we came back and played a lot of live instrumentation over the whole thing. Henry Westmoreland plays a mean trumpet on quite a few songs, in addition to a little saxophone. Linus came through with an SP-404 an ran his guitar through it with a crazy tape echo effect. I played all that funky Moog keyboard stuff you hear. Then me & Al spent a while tweaking everything out, trying different plug ins, just trying to give it a really unique sound.

The new album will be coming out on vinyl. Vinyl has really made a comeback over the last couple of years. Why did you decide to release the album on vinyl and will the vinyl edition have any cool special things that come with it (sort of deluxe edition kind of stuff)?

Gus: We are all huge fans of vinyl and I can say personally it has been a dream of mine for a long time to have my own record. Its amazing that the format has made a comeback, and hopefully our fans our as big into it as we are. We figured, if people do buy a cd, they generally dump it on to itunes then shelf it and could care less. This record will come with a download code to download the entire album's mp3s' plus a couple of bonus tracks. We plan on pricing it around ten bucks so really it'll be the same as an itunes download, and you'll have a great piece of history to hold on to. Plus vinyl smells and looks cool.
Philo: I think Al, Gus, & I really wanted to press this on vinyl due to the fact that that's pretty much the only format we collect music on. Me & Al are both really into digging, for production purposes, and also just to have quality music to listen to. It (vinyl) is so much more personal, you have to actually get up and flip the record over to hear the other half of the album. And financially speaking, vinyl is the only music medium who's sales actually increased last year.
Al: I just love records. If it was up to me that would be the only format I would release music on, but it's not too feasible right now. Hopefully in the future when we're making tons of money.
Have you picked an official first single for the album? Also do you plan to a shoot music video anytime soon for the single?
Gus: The single "Posted" will lead the album. Our good friend and former youtube bigwig Jeben Berg created a great little freeze frame style video of pics from one of our shows for the song, but we are also shooting an "Official Video" which should be wrapped by the time this interview is out. We are also working on creating a video for every one of the tracks on this album. We shot "Drinking" back home in Asheville, NC, where we're from, which is being edited by our friend Rob Rush from the rap group Rec League, and the other videos are in various stages of completion.
You also have another release coming out that is a compilation album called Family History. Can you let our readers know about this? How'd you go about selecting the tracks that would make the compilation album?

Gus: Family History is a makeshift "Best Of" album for the group. We have been together making music as a collective for ten years now and have released an arm load of projects over the years with different arrangements of artists. Most of these projects, while great and loved in their own regard, are inconsistent in audio and content quality. We wanted to put together a compilation of songs we feel are both a good representation of why people love us and are fairly consistent audio quality wise. The Family basically put the trust into Philo's hands to put it together, and with the help of Ronny Mac and Mo Classics, they formed what I feel is a solid historical document of who we are.
Philo: We pretty much sat down, drank some beers, and came up with a collection of our best material from the last 10 or so years. It's really to give people a background on where the Fist Fam comes from. It's also a damn good time.

Al: A damn good time!

Leading up to the release you guys released a few digital singles to promote the album and the group. One track that isn't on the album, but is a really great track, is “All Mine.” Can you tell me how you came up with that song and what inspired you to use those particular samples?

Gus: Al and I are both huge Ty Segall fans, Al put me on to his music, and it is now some of my favorite contemporary stuff of any genre, along with Thee Oh Sees, who Al sampled for the B-Side "Part of the Game". Once I heard "Cesear" I went immediately to Green Apple Books and Records and bought Melted which played exclusively in my player for weeks. I kept playing the song "Alone" and freestyling over the beginning, and wanted to simply loop it to make a janky song on but didn't have any programs or equipment to make it happen, so I asked Al to do it for me. He immediatley asked if I just wanted him to make a beat instead to which I excitedly agreed. He came back pretty damn quick with it and as far as I am concerned, its one of the best rap beats I've ever heard. The words "All Mine" came first and I basically fit everything else around it. At first I wanted it to be more of a love song but, it's the blues dammit, and thats something I know a little about. I love story telling in songs and I also love a good cliffhanger.
Al: I was pumped when Gus came to me with the idea, it kind of just seemed perfect after doing the Woodist Remix project. Why not sample good contemporary music? Especially stuff from bands we go see all the time and love. In my eyes it's just opening up the doors for rap fans to check out this other great music that's going on right now, and vice versa. Not to diss anyone, but a lot of fools who make Rap music aren't up on some good Rock 'n Roll. There's a lot tighter shit out there than Radiohead, or whatever other popular indie bands people have sampled. We're lucky to live in a place that has one of the best music scenes in the world, and we're just trying to share this great music with new people. Plus the more hipster chicks that bump our music the better.
I've heard some website's refer to you guys as something new in hip hop the way you approach music lyrically and stylistically. Do you think you guys are a breath of fresh air for hip hop? What do you think it is about FistFam that makes you guys so unique?

Philo: We are a cold beer & a shot of whiskey for Hip-Hop. They've been drinking way too much Grey Goose & Patron. Garage Rap. Not so fuckin polished. Grimy like our lifestyles. I think our upbringing in the Appalachian Mountains of Western North Carolina definitely contributes to the originality of our sound. One other thing about us is we check ourselves if we think some shit is wack, we don't just say, we're the shit, so everyone's gonna like this. As a crew we're always striving for perfection, and checking each other if we feel something isn't up to par.

Gus: I don't know about something new, I think we are very traditional in our ideals. You gotta have great beats, drums are very important, and you gotta be a great rapper lyrically and creatively. We have clowned each other for so many years over lines here and there and all know and trust one another well enough that if a couple of guys think something is corny its prolly worth throwing out. The most important value that we as a whole have held since our inception is that you have to have your own style. There are a billion "rappers" out there, and always some one who can out rap you in one aspect or another, I dont care who you are, there is one angle of rap that someone is better than you at. But if you have your own style and are your own character you can never be replaced. Friendship aside, this is something we've always seen and appreciated in one another since the beginning. We like original people and so it is only natural that were all pretty weird.
Al: There's nothing new under the sun, we're just singing the same songs they been singing' since the dawn of time. I do think there is such a thing as new combinations though. We're fucking around with that, but the goal is just to make good music, fuck a genre, good music. We do have plans to freak some new formats of how to release music in the future though, so that might be some new shit, we'll see.
FistFam has been a group for about ten years. What advice would you have to newer groups that might help them maintain longevity and relevance in the internet age of music?

Philo: Be yourself. Don't try to do emulate what everyone else is doing just because it's popular right now. For instance, if you've got a job flipping burgers, don't rap about being a kingpin in the dope game, rap about your life, because what's real is always the dopest.

Gus: Love what you are doing. None of us have made much money off of this music, we do it because we truly love it, the shows, the song making process, and the progression. Also, you have to be completely insane to try to rap at this point, I advise you pick up an instrument or even better, start a small business non music related.

Al: I agree with Gus. Pick up a guitar and learn to play the Blues.

Over the last few years hip hop has broke out into a lot of different areas and some things are for the better and some are for the worse. What is something you least like about the way the hip hop scene is going these days? What is something you really like?

Gus: I am not a huge fan of pop music in any form or fashion so of course I don't like most of the top ten stuff but with that being said I appreciate that there are people like Kanye who regardless of his lyrical prowess or ego issues, are putting some of the greatest producers of our age into positions of power and money (NoID, Pete Rock, etc.). My personal beef with rap, and I think this is true with all musical genres right now as a byproduct of our access to pirated programs and cheap recording techniques, is that too many people are trying to do it. A huge portion of the people trying should stop at being fans. I mean, if you really think it's so easy that just anyone can do it, then how big of a fan are you really? The thing with rap is, with rock you at least have to purchase something, spend money to do it, I mean, maybe you should not be allowed to say you're a rapper 'til you spend at least $5000 on equipment then you get a card or something, that would cut the rap world by at least 50% right off the bat. Another real beef I have is with the marketing world, and its influence on rap over the last 15 years. Basically they made it cool to have money "be a baller" and that if you have money you're doing something right, a very american perspective. So basically right now what you see a lot of is people who come from money, spending it on payola, mixtape cameos and quality recordings and being treated as the real deal, I mean I know for a fact that a lot of the big bloggers are getting paid to put people on. Most don't talk about it but everyone knows it. In the 90s many of my favorite albums were really cheaply recorded and may not have sounded great but the content was amazing. Now if you sound like that you're a broke bastard with no hustle. People don't realize it's the marketing world to blame for this. What I like about Hip-Hop right now is mostly what our friends and family, Gurp City and the other groups around us are putting out. I think Stones Throw is doing it right.
Philo: As far as what's going on in the bay, DaVinci & Roach Gigs are two cats I recently heard that I'm really feeling. The weakest shit about hip hop right now is people's live performances. Mother fuckers don't even be able to spit their lyrics anymore!! They just throw on a CD of the song, WITH THE VOCALS ON IT, and do like half their overdubs or some bullshit. If that's not weak as fuck, then god damn, I must be missing something.

Al: I just see Rap as Pop music now, it's over saturated and it's in the "Arena Rock" stage that Rock 'n Roll went through in the 70's, but in response to that Punk was born. Shit fertilizes the crops. It's just a cycle all things go through, I think. I for see some great things happening with the genre in the near future. A really cool counter act to what's happening right now. I don't pay as much attention as I should probably. I really like what Sean Price is doing for Rap though.

I guess that about wraps it up. Thanks for taking the time to answer the questions. Do you have any closing comments you'd like to make?

Al: Thanks a lot for the interview, I just wanna thank everyone in the crew for pulling together and making a dope album, and everyone else out there that we make music with, or who bumps our shit. Oh, and Ty Segall, and John Dwyer from Thee Oh Sees for giving us permission to sample their stuff.

Gus: I just want to thank our fans, a very diverse group of individuals who have given us the opportunity to earn there trust over the years. We will not disapoint you.

Philo: I'd like to give a sincere thanks to all the people that have supported us over the years. If you see me at a show and I seem like I'm brushing you off, it's just cuz I've got a hell of a lot of shit on my plate right now, please don't take it personal. Oh yeah, and buy the album, you won't be disappointed.

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