Jul 26, 2007 - 2:42 AM
[Visit EL-P's MySpace Page]
[Visit Definitive Jux]
After chain smoking three cigarettes, the fans start to line up in front of me. They all appear to be in their late teens, which would mean that they were suckling at their mother's tit, and making abstract fecal art in their Huggies when El-P made his debut single "Juvenile Techniques" in 1993 with his former crew Company Flow. His subsequent musical endeavors, which include producing the albums of label mates Cannibal Ox and Aesop Rock, and creating the premiere independent hip-hop label Definitive Jux has catapulted El-P into worldwide fame and reverence within the music industry. After a five-year hiatus, he recently dropped his second full-length album, I'll Sleep When You're Dead, a paranoid, personal, political and manic masterpiece featuring collaborations with Cat Power, Trent Reznor and members of Yo La Tengo and the Mars Volta.
My feelings of self importance begin to wane as the sound crew makes preliminary adjustments to the mics, mixers, equalizers, and other equipment that will be employed for the evening’s show. Every time a person with a plastic 'backstage' tag bouncing off their chest steps through the door, I feel a bit of relief. Our eyes meet, I smile and prepare to introduce myself, but they walk on by. After the fifth important person walks by without asking, “Are you here for the interview?,” I prepare to rush the fucking door. Just as I prepare to vault into a possibly perilous situation, El-P saunters out of the entrance.
He looks at me, no he glares at me. He sizes me up and gives me one of those “I will fuck you up if I have to” looks. In reply, I give him the “You may take me, but I guarantee you will be in no condition to perform tonight” look. He walks into the tour bus behind me. The door shuts, and I assume that he will remain there until he is due on stage. A feeling of defeat cascades over me. I flip open my cell phone and search for my editor's number as a man walks up to me and asks, “Are you here for the interview?”
Ten minutes later, he is seated in front of me. He is nursing a new tattoo. He is obviously wanting to be anywhere but here. However, I have his attention for fifteen minutes, and what follows is what arose from our encounter...
Me: I'm not very good at this shit; this is one of my first interviews.
El-P: As long as you got the recorder on, it's all good.
Me: I would imagine that you are a fairly politically aware person...
Me: Where do you see our country going in the next five to ten years? Given the climate here domestically, and our actions abroad, do you think America can maintain it's level of empire?
El-P: I don't think that America has existed for a while. Our government is not comprised of Americans anymore. It's comprised of corporate interests, and I think that we're headed towards a police state and I think that it's fairly obvious to anyone who is paying attention. I think that it's headed towards concentration camps in America.
Me: That's what one of your latest videos was about (Smithereens/Stop Cryin')?
El-P: Well, yeah...really the video was about servitude and human bondage in general. It was inspired obviously by Guantanamo Bay and Abu Ghraib. The reason why I did the video the way I did was because I wanted it to feel like it could easily be in America, 'cause it could. I feel like it's just practice. What we're seeing at Guantanamo Bay is just practice. Who knows how many fuckin' privatized jails there are just sitting, waiting, empty in America right now? Halliburton just got awarded $500 biliion to build new jails. Why? Anyone who knows anything about what's been re-written in our law, and what’s been eradicated from our law...I mean I don't think its paranoid to say that there is a pattern, that they're headed towards something.
Me: Do you find it troubling that kids know more about the contestants on America's Next Top Model or what not? Does the apathy or the lack of attentiveness by our nation’s youth deeply disturb you? Or do you think that a lot of kids are aware of what's happening to this country?
El-P: I don't think a lot of adults are aware of what's happening in this country. I don't think that people that are working in our government understand what's going on. I don't understand what’s going on. But do I find it disturbing? I don't know man, who am I to judge. That's a tough cookie to crack, you know? There is a well-oiled machine of deceit and intrigue that’s much bigger and has much more power than a group of kids that may or may not be aware of what's going on. Yes, I think that there's awareness out there though. But I think that America is the type of place where it's going to get a lot fucking worse here before anyone starts getting really upset because it's been a little sheltered, you know? It's just Arabs in Guantanamo Bay. It's not white guys in some concentration camp in Utah. I think that that will change, but things are going to get a lot worse first.
Me: Alright, I'm going to try to segue into music...I've heard rumors. I know that rumors are...
Me: (Laughing) Yeah. I've heard rumors of a Co-Flow reunion. Is there any truth to that?
El-P: It's still in the rumor phase, but we're gonna re-release Funcrusher Plus, with a DVD and possibly some new songs. That's pretty much as far as we talked about it. In my head, I don't see a reunion happening, but I think that commemorating the 10 year anniversary of that release could be cool, and we have a lot of footage that we never shared with the public. Just doing sort of a collector’s thing. I'm pretty happy doing what I'm doing right now.
Me: Are you and Mr. Len still on amicable terms...
El-P: Very, yeah. We're good friends.
Me: And Jus?
El-P: I don't speak to Jus as much, but it's amicable.
Me: What are your future plans as far as your music is concerned? Who would you like to collaborate with in the future? You collaborated with Cat Power and Trent Reznor and some other folks on this last album...
El-P: I don't really have a short list. I think the collaborations that I do, they have to happen organically…I didn't go out and intentionally seek out these people to be on my record, until it made sense because I had formed relationships with them, I had worked with them...I'm not really the type of person to call someone out of the blue...like, “Oh hey, you've never met me but I want you to be on my record.” That's not really what I do, but I'm open. I think that musicians should be open. Anything that's presented to me that I think is interesting, or could be worthwhile, I'll do.
Me: What do you think about interviews? Do you like conducting interviews? Do you find then kinda annoying?
El-P: Well, It depends on the interview.
Me: I would imagine that you get asked a lot of dumb questions.
El-P: No, you get asked a lot of the same questions, and you try to figure out a way to make it more interesting or different than the last time you answered them. But it's not a big deal, I like talking to people. But sometimes I hate it...not right now though. Sometimes it's the most painful experience that you could possibly endure. Sitting with somebody and trying to talk to them, and you really don't want to talk to anybody. They're asking you questions that you don't think are interesting, or that even sometimes are obnoxious. But every once in a while you do an interview through talking to someone about the record or the music, you discover certain things about the music. Making a record is a lot different than thinking about a record after it's done, you know? You make a record and it's visceral, and it just kinda happens...and then afterwards you're asked to explain in detail why everything happened...you don't really know until you start talking about it.
Me: Besides the near death experience you had on a plane when the engine blew up, what are other perilous events that have occurred on tours? Have you ever had to beat someone half to death, or nearly gotten beat half to death?
El-P: The more you encounter people, the more weird shit will happen. Of course there have been incidents and things that happen that are either out of your control or you were out of control. I try to limit those things as much as possible....Shit man, you can cross the street and get hit by a car, you know? Mr. Lif was just in a bus accident where they crashed into the barrier...and mountains and dropped thirty feet and the entire bus burned to a cinder. They had to be medivacced out. People broke legs, tore hands apart. Anyone could experience that whether or not you're on the road. But yeah, there's been incidents.
Me: One last question. If you weren't doing what you are doing right now, what other career paths do you think you would like to take? Or when you retire, what do you think you'll do?
El-P: I think I'll probably never retire from music. I'll probably still produce, still do things like film...score movies and work with other artists. I'd like to write a little bit, perhaps, one day.
Me: Like, a novel?
El-P: Yeah, maybe. But who the fuck knows? Who knows if there will be enough time to retire? I hope so. I hope I can be one of those people who retires someday, because they've lived a contented life and they don't want to do it anymore. But right now I'm a fucking workaholic and I can't imagine it. Not to mention I don't know if we're all going to be around. You know?
Me: That's all I can think of asking...do you have any questions for me?
El-P: No. I like your shirt, but that's not really a question, is it?
James Monroe Adams IV is a freelance writer and photojournalist based in San Francisco. James comes from a long line of despots, clergymen, numbers-runners, and long-haul truckers and produces content for Oh Dang! when he is not riding horses across the plains of Mozambique or getting hammered in the streets of San Francisco.
Gretchen Robinette is a freelance photographer who shoots 300-500 photos a day. Double Espressos and Red Bull are her fuel. Photography is her life until the day she dies, and in her grave will be her body and her Canon.