We come not to explain Al Lover, but to praise him.
This is largely because we have no idea how to explain Al Lover. How do you explain a kid from North Cackalackey, reared on rap and rock in equal measures, eventually moving from one coast to another, arriving in a city that serves as one of the ancestral homes of psychedelic music and culture, only to find that said psychedelic music and culture was served less by staring lovingly, longingly at the past and more by doing applying creative abilities right now, in the current moment?
Change the names and locales, however, and Al Lover’s story actually starts to sound pretty familiar – normal, even. Where the Al Lover story diverges from normality is in his application of those creative abilities right now, in the current moment.
And that’s where the praise comes in.
So seamlessly does Al Lover marry garage rock, psychedelic madness and irresistible, anti-gravitational head-bobbing that seldom does a day go by where we don’t find ourselves listening to at least a portion of his many and varied projects – be it “Distorted Reverberations” (featuring the current sounds of bands like The Night Beats, Shapes Have Fangs and Thee Oh Sees), “Satanic Tambourines” (featuring Al Lover creating his own solar system of skunky, silly satanic sounds), or his “Safe As Milk Replica” (a recreation of one of the greatest albums of all time and undeniable proof of Al Lover’s insanity).
Following the release of his official mixtape preview of Austin Psych Fest 5, and preceding his ultimate appearance at Austin Psych Fest 5, we give a sample of our love and confusion directly to Al Lover, who was kind enough to answer our ridiculous questions. Enjoy.
What is the first song or music that you can recall capturing your interest as a child? What do you think it was about it that drew you to those sounds? How have your feelings about it in the intervening years? More generally, how do you think your relationship with music has evolved over the past ten years? Five? Last week?
I think the first song (and album) that really got my attention me a kid was NWA’s “Straight Outta Compton.” I think I was in 4th or 5th grade. That shit was just so tough – I remember I was over at my buddy Nick’s house and he was like, “You gotta check out this tape my brother has.” So a bunch of us snuck into his brother’s room and listened to it hella quiet on the boom box, trying not to let his mom in the other room hear the tape. In terms of that song and rap in general, it was the rebellious nature of the music. At that time rap was getting a lot of heat with Tipper Gore, C. Delores (delirious) Tucker and all the censorship business. For a little white kid, that shit was so cool and taboo. I still, to this day, will bump that album and love every second of it. As I’ve grown older, it gets better, especially seeing how much went into the production (so many different samples layered in each song) and how positive the album actually is, considering how criticized it was back in the day. As time goes on for me, my appreciation for music just grows and grows, and genres or bands I didn’t like a week ago, I find I’ll gain appreciation for unexpectedly. Especially studying old hip hop beats and sample credits, finding records that were sampled, learning about record labels, seeing producer and musician credits on different records – shit like that is so interesting to me.
My relationship with hip-hop essentially begins and ends with the fact that my wife grew up on Staten Island, where her best friend once smoked a joint with Method Man. That, and I love the first DJ Shadow album. What is it about hip-hop that first allowed it to make its way to a permanent place within your brain? What is most satisfying to you regarding your involvement in the hip-hop scene? What is most disconcerting?
Man, I love Wu-Tang so much. That was on content rotation all of my high school years. So many Phillie’s Blunts smoked to that shit, ha! The RZA is probably one of the main influences on my production style – DJ Shadow, too. I remember there was a time when I wanted all of my drums to sound like the drums on “Organ Donor.” That dude is such a beast. Like I said before, I think initially it was the rebellious nature of the music that drew me to it. It’s also so accessible in terms of loops having an almost hypnotic effect and the fact that rappers are just basically talking to you over a beat in rhyme. I think there’s a reason it’s becoming the main form of pop music in our country. For me, what’s most satisfying about my involvement in hip hop (or any scene) is just making something that I feel no one else has done before or a least just different enough for it to be mine. The most disconcerting thing about it is being a white boy trying to make black music. It makes me feel weird sometimes, but I try not to over-think it too much. I’m sure Elvis probably felt the same way at times, but you just gotta do what moves you, I guess.
Conversely, we’re going to go ahead and assume that you didn’t grow up being obsessed with psychedelic rock. What were the major listening events that eventually turned you on to the sounds of psych? How does your location in San Francisco impact your appreciation of current day psych rock? What is it about this general genre of music that you find so fruitful for your own musical creations?
Well, I grew up with my Pop’s playing all types of classic Rock ‘n Roll – The Stones, The Beatles, The Velvets, Cream, Big Brother and Holding Co., all sorts of shit. In middle school, when drugs started coming around, I was bumping the fuck out of The Beatles’ more psychedelic-era stuff. “Magical Mystery Tour” was my shit, and I would say that was my “introduction” to psych. As the years went on I just explored more and more. Once I got into producing and record collecting in the early 2000′s was when I really started looking for the more weird, off the beaten path stuff. As far as living in SF and the current scene, it was definitely seeing Thee Oh Sees live that really got me turned on to what was happening in this city. I was listening to some of the local stuff and really feeling it, but actually seeing those fools play live … that shit melted my brain! I’m really inspired by the energy of the scene, but I think it’s how these folks really hold on to the traditions of Rock ‘n Roll that impresses me most. There’s a huge influence of the Blues, R&B, and Rockabilly on people like Ty Segall and Thee Oh Sees, and seeing them holding onto those traditions while stepping even further outside of the parameters of what “psych” is, is totally dope to me.
One of the first things that make your creations so compelling to us is the fact that what you’re doing is still, even in 2012, somewhat confounding to a lot of people. What resistance have you encountered from those from a “rock” background? What resistance have you encountered from those with a “rap” background? Do you feel that rock dudes are afraid to dance, and if so, why? Do you feel that rap dudes are afraid to play guitar, and if so, why?
Maybe it is a bit confusing to some people. I mean, most “rap rock” shit has been done by people with no taste whatsoever and it has ruined the idea for a lot of people. For me, I’ve encountered minimal resistance from folks in both realms, though. I think the hip hop crowd that I interact with and reach out to is one that is privy to the influence of blues, r&b and soul on rock ‘n roll and vice-versa, and how all that is an influence to hip hop. On the other side, I think that a good amount of people in the garage/psych scene can make that correlation as well. I’ve met a lot of folks in that scene that are like, “Hell yeah, I love rap music.” I think most of the people that identify with the garage/psych scene have less of that “indie” pretentiousness that you find in some of the other current rock genres. Fool’s are just trying to have a good time, and they respect and appreciate the history of black music. It’s all just perversions of the blues interpreted from different sides of the spectrum. That’s how I see it, anyhow.
Another on the list of things that keep us coming back to Planet Al Lover is the humor that we find in your efforts, demonstrated best by some of the obscure and quizzical spoken word segments (e.g., on “Sonic Stalactites” from “All Over” – “I like to go out at night … it’s pretty OK! I’m a dancing fool!”). Do you pick up on a humorlessness in either the rock or the hip-hop worlds you explore, especially considering the presumed progressive and adventurous spirits that one would presume populate both genres?
For me the comedy aspect is making fun of myself more than anything. I try not to take myself or art too seriously. That shit is silly to me. Not to say that I don’t fall victim to thinking I’m way cooler than I really am, because I do, a lot. For me it’s a way to try and keep myself grounded and humbled, I guess. I think there is a tough guy ego approach to rock ‘n roll and hip hop. Most of the people I’ve met in both scenes are chill as hell, down to earth people, but there’s always that guise of having to be “cool” or whatever when you’re in the spotlight. For me making fun of that aspect in myself and others is just a way of saying, “It doesn’t have to be so serious – let’s just have a good time.”
Your music strikes us as a very inspiring example of the need for active creativity in music, for boundaries both social and musical to be continually challenged, questioned and reformed – something you explored to some degree on “Creative Controlled.” Your thoughts? Is other people’s art off limits?
Man, I think it’s all fair game. Take it all in, chew it up, and shit it out in your own way. I see sampling as the same as taking a chord progression from an old r&b song, augmenting it a bit and playing it faster through a distortion pedal. With sampling current stuff I try to get permission from the artists if I can out of respect, but the only reason copyright laws and shit came around is because people wanted to make money. Now, if I’m making money off of a sample of someone else’s stuff, I would gladly pay them for it. For me sampling this current music (or anything for that matter) is a way to share something that inspires me with other people in my own way.
Would you care to comment on the rumor (the rumor that we are attempting to start right now) that your next release will be a double-sided seven-inch picture disc, featuring a psychedelic-drone version of “You Can Call Me Al” on Side A, and an acid-folk version of the Phil Collins/Phillip Bailey ditty “Easy Lover” on Side B?
Yeah, I can’t speak too much on it right now, but it’s actually gonna be a pop-up, picture-book, 3-D vinyl platter that will take its own turntable to play. I’m working with Technics right now designing the custom Al Lover turntable that uses a laser to play the record instead of a needle – it’s gonna be some ground breaking shit. We actually contacted Phil and asked him to play drums on the record and he’s down. I think he’s trying to get away from the ironic way his music from the 80′s is perceived and get back to the avant-garde roots of his Brand X and early Genesis years. We’re in the middle of a bidding war with Columbia Records and Mexican Summer right now to see who will put it out. I’m very excited about this project.
What was your inspiration for the “Satanic Tambourines” cassette release? Is there any greater proof to your insanity than your re-creation of the good captain’s “Safe As Milk”?
That tape was actually a few older beats I had and liked but never used for anything. I really wanted to experiment on them with the numerous pedals I’ve been collecting, something I started with the “Woodsist Remixed” and “Safe as Milk Replica” projects. I also wanted to layer the samples in a way that would kind of be like a wall of sound approach, with a subtle layer of drones and loops set back in the mix to kind of create a weird cloud for the samples and drums to sit on. The name I came up with drunkenly and just thought it sounded funny and ludicrous.
The most insane record freak we’ve ever known – author Annie Dillard – once said the following:
“Similarly, the impulse to keep to yourself what you have learned is not only shameful, it is destructive. Anything you do not give freely and abundantly becomes lost to you. You open your safe and find ashes.”
Yeah, as much as I’d like to think that the art/music I make, or anyone makes for that matter, is “ours” personally … it’s really just the vibrations of the universe being sent though our own personal experience, manipulated the same way, I guess, a guitar tone would be through an effects pedal. It’s all from the same source. So why not share that tone with others and let them build further upon it. Sharing is caring, bro.
What’s next for Al Lover?
Since it’s 2012 and the world’s gonna end soon, I figure I should try and stay busy. I’d really like to get on the road again and start touring (booking agencies, what’s up?). Right now I’m working on an official mixtape to announce the line up for the 2012 Austin Psych Fest that
will be out around the 17th of January is out right now. They also asked me to play the festival which I’m really excited about! In addition to that I’m working with a couple guys forming a band for the beats that will incorporate live instrumentation so I can take things a little further in the studio and on stage. I have a EP with my man, Gus Cutty sampling only cuts off of In The Red Records that should be out for free, online by SXSW. A few remixes of songs by a couple really dope garage bands that they’ve asked me to do, and hopefully this collaboration with one of my favorite psych bands out right now (can’t say who at this point – it’s still in the works). I have a record coming out with a really dope rap group called Weekend Cult titled “Myrtle Beach” that I’m really excited about. It’s gonna drop on the 12th of December, the winter solstice and end of the world – probably won’t do too well in sales, but what are ya’ gonna do? I also have a project coming out by the end of this month that is kind of a unofficial second half to “Satanic Tambourines” that I’m gonna release for free download featuring all samples of 60′s heavy, hippie bands like Smith, CSN&Y, Zappa and others … all of which will be posted on blog at http://coolallover.tumblr.com/
Thanks a lot for this interview man – I really appreciate it! I’d like to shout out Impose records, Fist Fam, Weekend Cult, Gurp City South and everyone else who’s shown me love. Big ups!