Cut Chemist has paired up with DJ Shadow for their Renegades of Rhythm tour, which honors and pays homage to the great Afrika Bambaataa. The man himself attended both shows the spin duo played at Irving Plaza last week, making a nice surprise for fans. FDRMX had a chance to chat with Cut Chemist (Lucas McFadden) after the show on Friday, and learned that the connection with Bambaataa (Kevin Donovan) goes back to when he first started, in ‘84. Both hip-hop DJ’s strive to convey emotion through their music, and Cut Chemist in particular prides himself on being able to do this, even if he doesn’t necessarily consider himself a great musician (even though he’s an arranger, composer, songwriter, DJ and turntablist).
“I’m one of those people that gets upset when people don’t feel what I feel, like, ‘How come they don’t feel what I feel after this?’ which is kinda of adolescent,” he laughs. “It’s true, I want to make things that convey an emotional landscape. So as an artist I try to do that. I like to make it personal so… To make my art unique, it has to be personal,” he continues.
“You know, as much as somebody might try to sound like somebody else, when you add your own personal emotions to it, and your own experiences, that’s what makes it,” he explains.
“That’s also why it takes me such a long time to make stuff, because it’s so draining mentally, like it’s so personal I get… if I don’t… it’s just hard for me to fill the word in for that process,” he finally explains. “It’s also like I’m making it for me.” It is indeed a long, and often arduous process. His 2006 studio album, The Audience’s Listening took him over two years to complete, and his 2007 and 2008 DJ mix albums The Hard Sell, and The Hard Sell Encore took just as long to make.
While it’s generally a good thing to be making music for yourself and not some (often twisted) ulterior motive, not everyone always supports you. “It can be cool, but sometimes people criticize me for that,” Cut Chemist says. “Like, ‘Oh you’re so self indulgent,’ you know?” This attitude towards artists can often lead to changes in their music, if they let what’s popular at the time effect their opinion of what they’re making and how they make it. Cut Chemist admits openly that this has happened to him on occasion, but he tries not to let it make the cut when that happens.
“I do [let what’s popular at the time effect my opinion of my music]. Whenever I try to do stuff, that kind of factors in what’s going on, it gets scrapped,” he says. For example, “I tried to make a dubstep beat once and I just couldn’t do it. My body could not do it. And I don’t hate it, I like dubstep. I was like, ‘I need to know how to make this,’ and I just couldn’t,” he explains. “I bought all the programs, all the ‘this-is-how-you-make-a-dubstep’ software, and I still couldn’t do it,” he jokes. As far as we could tell, fans weren’t in the least bothered by the lack of dubstep beats in his set, and rightly so, because, as he puts it,
“I make cool other types of sh*t. You know, I was on my way making another record and all of a sudden J-5 (Jurassic 5) got back together, then that kept going, then this [Renegades of Rhythm tour] got going, so there wasn’t time for it,” he elaborates. Will he ever manage to get that record out? “Hopefully next year,” he says. “I mean, I do have stuff coming out, but they’re always like mixes. I love to do mixes.” It’s true; currently he has only one studio album released, but his next album might fall into that category too.
“My next album would be me playing guitar and sh*t,” he says excitedly. “It’s already been put together. It’s like five, six years old,” which is a prime example of how long it takes Cut Chemist to assemble an LP. “It’s got Biz Markie on it, Myka 9 from Freestyle Fellowship, Deantoni from Mars Volta. It’s out there,” he assures. “But it just never got finalized and put out.”
With the all the time it takes to put together just one album, it’s hard to imagine still liking your work by the end of the long process.
“Yeah you get bored with it. When you get bored with your own art and you put it out, I think people can tell,” Cut Chemist admits. The way he avoids that is, “By kind of remixing it.”
“If you can stand getting back into it with kind of fresh ears, and going, ‘I can make this better’ then that’s great. Or,” he says, “it will get scrapped and never put out. Lots of artists make incredible stuff that’s never put out because of this reason. ‘Oh it’s too old, I’ve got to move on.’
“But I don’t want to abandon that material and I don’t want to put it out as one of those, ‘this never got released,’” he explains, “because those are never… I mean, they’re cool, but that’s all they’ll ever be, a comp[ilation] of stuff that never came out.”
“I dunno,” he continues, “it would be nice to like find a home that would market it, cuz right now I just run my own boutique label.” After all that remixing, and re-approaching something you’ve been working on for several years, how does an artist know when to stop?
“When enough people around me tell me that it’s done,” says Cut Chemist. And lucky for him since, “I have those people.” A significant part of the process that inevitably takes up time is scrounging for samples he uses in his mixes, whether he knows exactly what he’s looking for or he’s just hunting around for something cool.
“I sample from so many different sources: mp3s, CDs, movies, tapes, obviously records,” he lists. “It depends. I built ‘[My 1st] Big Break’ around a drum break in that quote I found and everything just came around it.
“Sometimes it’ll be a phrase and this phrase should go with this sounding drumbeat and this pattern. And sometimes it’s a bassline, sometimes it’s just, like a rapper, you know, like they’ll come in a cappella and I’ll just fit a beat under it.”
Hopefully we’ll see Cut Chemist back in New York in November, after he wraps up his and DJ Shadow’s (Josh Davis) all-vinyl Renegades of Rhythm tour with opening duo Edan & Paten Locke. In the meantime, fans will anxiously await his next album’s release.