Interview: clipping.

Ahead of their free festival performance at Metro Music Fest in Oklahoma City, clipping. sat down for an interview to talk about Daveed Diggs’ rap origin, the groups’ sonic progression through the years and the expansion of their audience post-Hamilton.

SW: Where are you guys performing tonight?

Jonathan: We’re in St. Petersberg, Florida tonight with the Flaming Lips.

SW: Will this be your first time coming through Oklahoma City this Saturday?

Jonathan: Yes, I’ve driven through it a few times but this will be our first show.

SW: How did you and the Lips start talking and what led you to go on tour together?  It’s quite an unlikely pairing yet seems like it would blend well in hindsight.

Jonathan: Our booking agent gives us lists of names that we could potentially do shows with and when we were suggested The Flaming Lips we thought they would be a good choice.  They’re a fun group and we love hanging out with them.

SW: Is there anyone in particular that you have to thank for your introduction into the rap game?

Daveed: I guess I would have to thank the director Jake Schreier, someone I actually went to high school with.  He is known for Robot & FrankPaper Towns and has worked on videos for Francis and the Lights.  I was around 14 or 15 when he asked me if I could rap for a beat that he was working on and that was the first time I had ever rapped on anything.

SW: How did you learn to rap so fast?

Daveed: Re-pe-tition?  We were just talking about this the other day. Back when I first started recording songs I was working with a guy named Romel Hopkins [aka] “Wild Man”.  Will was also on board with some of our projects and the fast verse style came from this beat that required a good amount of speed.  I remember the situation being almost “boot camp” style, with the two of them having me do 100 takes before they were satisfied with the sound.  It’s a combination of writing things with consonants that go well together and also just training your muscles for every specific song.

SW: Very neat to hear that is how the talent was honed.  I also asked because I know your presence in the Los Angeles area has given way to a performance or two with Busdriver.  Did he teach you any skills?

Daveed:  We grew up listening to Busdriver for sure.  I had actually only met him maybe a year or so before we toured with him.

William: Daveed and I saw him in either ’99 or ’00, right when he was out of high school.  I remember he was wearing a safari helmet and opened for Lab Tech 1, an underground rapper from Baltimore.

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SW: Being known for your harsh noise during earlier sets in your career, when did your sound shift to blend both areas of hook hip-hop with the same experimental vibe that you’ve carried for so long?

William: I think it’s more that we’ve transitioned the sound to be slightly calmer.

Jonathan: With our last record, we were trying to make everything feel very practical and within a specific world that lead us to different choices than we would have made if any sound was free-game.

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SW:  How has your time in Hamilton impacted your fanbase for clipping.?

Daveed: We get a lot more dads bringing their kids to our shows now.

William: We really love it though.  The way I explain it, Hamilton really exposed us to a bigger group that otherwise wouldn’t have discovered us.

Daveed: Because of that, a certain percentage of the audience at our shows possibly don’t know anything about the community of artists we come from.  When we book shows with other great lesser-known bands it gives us an opportunity to introduce new music to an audience that may have never known about it and the crowd always seems to enjoy the variety.

SW: Are there any nods or references in your lyrics that people interpret the wrong way?

Jonathan: I was just thinking, it’s not a sample but there’s a line in the song “Summertime” that no one has ever talked about that says “they pitchin’ that Helen Mirren” which is a reference to U.S.D.A.’s “White Girl”, whereas the cocaine representing white girl in our case,  is Helen.  We thought it was really funny but no one has ever asked or heard about the line.  That’s the meaning though.

SW: With your extensive knowledge of noise and ambient works, I’d like to know how you define what a good ambient track sounds like.

William: Woah.  There is a lot that goes into the criteria but to start, I like a track that doesn’t feel aimless.  I mean that in the sense that the artist isn’t making aimless efforts, there’s a difference between a stylistic technique and someone that may just be lacking creative direction.  There’s also a lot to be said about the pacing of a track and making sure everything kind of amounts to something.  I like these sort of clear; timbrel concepts I guess.

SW: Where do you see your sound heading next?

William: As much as we would love to say something concrete there are just some things that we would like to hold back on until the time is right.  I will say that we are very interested in continuing to do albums as a cohesive experience rather than adding each track as self-contained edits.

SW: What legacy do you want clipping. to leave?  

William: Oh man, being the first rap group to win a Nobel Prize for sure.

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If you find yourself in the Oklahoma City area for ACM@UCO’s Metro Music Fest, definitely stop by The Criterion, 500 E Sheridan Ave, Oklahoma City, OK 73104 at 9:30 for a free and incredible show from these talented men.

Interview: Helen Kelter Skelter

Helen Kelter Skelter is one of Norman’s faster-growing bands, being regular performers at Opolis and having a steady attendance at Norman Music Festival each year.  The group stands out with their niche blues vocals paired with an ounce of psych-rock but flourished in a way that creates their own unique sound.  Tim Gregory, one of the five members of the band sat down for an interview about the current news of HKS and their Opolis show this Saturday.

SW: Can you tell me your contribution in the band?

Tim: I’m kind of the “band dad” so to speak.  I still play guitar in the band but I also take care of most of the management for us.

SW: How many Opolis performances have you chalked up over the years as of now?

Tim: It’s been so many at this point, I’d have to say more than 30 times!

SW: Tell me how you nailed the main stage spot for NMF this year.

Tim: We just applied for it and because we’ve been hitting it pretty hard for the last few years at other smaller stages, I guess they thought it was time for us to be one of the big leagues.  It should be a lot of fun, though.  Playing on a larger speaker system will also do us a favor because we have such a heavy sound to work with.  I think the coolest part is that our music will be heard all across the festival which is something we haven’t quite experience before.

SW: Are you excited to play alongside greats such as Thee Oh Sees, Israel Nash and Oddisee?

Tim: Totally!  Also White Reaper and The Daddyo’s.  We’ve known those guys for a few years and we’re excited to play in the same festival together.

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SW: Your last record came out two years ago, I’d be willing to guess you’ve been working on some new stuff since then.  How has your sound changed in the past two years?

Tim: We have the next one done but we’re kind of sitting on it for a second until we have all of our promotional stuff ready.  We’re kind of looking for a new; clean slate, you know?

SW: Do you have any music videos in the works?  Do you think you need music videos to be a successful band in the digital age?

Tim: For sure!  Nothing recorded yet, but we definitely have some ideas rolling.  Having a video helps you stand out quite a bit, especially if it is a quality video.  More than anything, we want any video of ours to reflect the music that it’s paired with.  Something to add, rather than detract from the work.

SW: Is the Tame Impala/ [insert current contemporary psych-rock band] an annoying comparison for you, or do you like being grouped into that category?

Tim: We kind of get pushed into the psych-rock category a lot which is fine.  I’ll always be flattered to be compared to Kevin Parker!  With our first album, we just through a bunch of songs together that we had written because we thought they sounded good.  That sort of manifested into our own unique sound that we’ve continued into our 2015 record.  When our next album releases, there will definitely be a small difference to notice.  We’ve included more synths into our songs that I think a lot of people are going to like.

SW: How does Norman’s current music scene compare to when you all were first starting out?  Do you see an increasing growth in the talent that comes out of this city?

Tim: You can definitely see a growth happening right now.  I would like to see more out of town bands coming more often and I think that our music scene could be a lot better but it’s by no means awful.

SW: Have you ever thought of touring with groups such as King Gizzard or Twin Peaks?  I feel like your sounds would really merge for joint concerts.  What does your tour schedule look like this year?

Tim: That would be awesome!  King Gizzard is one of my favorite bands currently and they just dropped that Flying Microtonal Banana album which I’ve been loving.  We’re touring in over 25 places this year.  We’ll be going to Texas, Colorado, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Arkansas, New Mexico.  It’s our biggest stretch we’ve done so we’re hoping to gather some more fans along the way.

SW: Hype us up for your show this weekend!

Tim: We’ll be playing along with Mother Tongues and LCG & The X.  They’re both fantastic bands and we think that their sound is a great mix with ours so we’ll be making sure everyone is having a good time.  Come out and say hi!

Helen Kelter Skelter is performing Saturday, March 4 at 8 p.m. at Opolis in Norman.  Tickets are available at the door or online here.

Interview: A Giant Dog

Going on nine years strong, the eclectic punk-rock band from Austin, TX A Giant Dog are on their way back for a second performance within six months at the notorious music outlet Opolis on Main and Crawford and are riding this tour off of their early 2016 album “Pile”.

The band’s lead vocalist, Sabrina Ellis, speaks about the challenges that she and the members have faced leading to their eventual success on records such as “Fight” and “Bone”, which released in the years prior to their 2016 album.

“We’ve had people tell us that we aren’t punk-rock, which can be slightly discouraging to hear when that is the sound that you’re going for, but over time as we have become more accepted and developed our fanbase, I think it’s safe to say that the critics can’t necessarily succeed at defining what is and isn’t punk.”  Currently, “Pile” holds an 8.2/10 Pitchfork review and earned a solid B rating from Consequence of Sound.

In addition to overcoming critic reception, she details the years where anxiety began to take hold of her performance mindset.  “I never thought it would happen to somebody like me, but one day I just started to have panic attacks that I couldn’t explain and it really took a toll on my desire and thrill of performing.”  Overcoming this condition was no easy task, but by a self-described life changing experience that occurred from a near-death auto accident, Sabrina was able to learn to control her attacks and claims to be doing much better since this event.

Sabrina also discusses her primary influences behind the sound of the band, also noting her aversion of influential comparisons.  She says, “The question about influences is always a tricky one because every year or so it always shifts to a different answer than before.  Also, our most consistent role models tend to feel like a cliché that exists within most bands.”  She offers her most honest answer by listing off the likes of Iggy Pop, David Bowie, Pixies, Queen, and The Velvet Underground.

Delving into the creation of their latest record, Sabrina reveals A Giant Dog’s collaborations with SPOON producer Mike McCarthy, who helped with the mixing on “Pile”.  “Back in 2014, we had a good portion of songs written that are currently featured on ‘Pile’, but being without a label kept us from being able to release them.” She continues, “Through touring with Spoon, we were able to get noticed by Merge Records, our current label, and worked with Mike and his amazing vintage gear that really harnessed our sound and made sure that we didn’t clean up too much.”

Closing the interview, she teases that a new record is on the way for 2017 and that August appears to be the month of arrival.  “Toy” is the current title in place for this album.

A Giant Dog performs this Thursday at Opolis and tickets are on sale now at their website.

Interview: Big Gigantic

Highly acclaimed livetronica duo Big Gigantic will perform at Cain’s Ballroom in Tulsa, Oklahoma, tonight.  Together, the group’s Dominic Lalli and Jeremy Salken have had a good amount of success in recent years, especially in the festival world, at events such as Lollapalooza, Coachella and even Oklahoma’s own Backwoods Music Festival.  Salken, Big Gigantic’s drummer, talks career success, inspirations and influences, as well as insight about how Big Gigantic’s music comes to fruition.

Q: At what point in your career did you begin to really recognize your success?

A: We’ve been around for about eight years now, but we definitely realized there was something unique about us when we began to blow-up much faster than other bands we were associated with. We broke into the festival circuit pretty early on, but the performances were always during the day — before all of the bigger acts.  I think the moment that I truly realized we were a success was during a set at Camp Disco, back in 2010 or 2011.  We went on the stage and there were already tons of people there, and it felt like half the festival was at our set just raging and having a good time.  The act that was supposed to follow us was late, so they told us to keep playing for an extra fifteen minutes or so and it truly felt like we had a special connection between us and the audience.

Q: What was the process of working with Waka Flocka Flame on your latest album, “Brighter Future”?

A: Some of the collaborations on “Brighter Future” were planned for awhile and some kind of came together last minute.  The track with Waka was one that we had written for awhile, but we didn’t really know who we wanted to rap over it.  We had a few choices in mind, but unfortunately some things kind of fell through, but one day Dom (Lalli) ran into Waka, and he showed some interest in working with us. Dom sent him the track and cranked out the verses in just a few days, and it was absolutely great and also pretty unique sounding compared to Flocka’s typical sound.

Q: Who would you say has influenced Big Gigantic’s sound the most? 

A: There are definitely a lot of influences, and some can be pretty broad. We are influenced by anything from classical music to people like Herbie Hancock and Stevie Wonder. We really just like to take inspiration from anywhere in life and apply it to our music.

Q: What is your writing and artistic process?

A: It really just varies from song to song. Sometimes Dom will fool around on his sax and stumble across a melody that he likes, and he’ll play it over and over again — if he likes it, he’ll put it into Ableton (music production software) and start tweaking the sound from there. In actuality, each time we start writing it’s a different experience, and I think it helps maintain a variety in our sound.

Q: What has been the greatest achievement in your career so far?

A: Probably selling out Red Rocks Amphitheatre in Morrison, Colorado.  Every time we play there, I can honestly tell myself that if I were to quit my career at that moment, I would be content with the rest of my life. There’s just an overwhelming satisfaction that comes from not only selling out, but selling out at such an iconic place.

Q: What are Big Gigantic’s future plans?

A: We just started our tour yesterday, so we’re kind of riding on the new album right now and just trying to get the music out to everyone.  We are planning a winter or spring tour sometime around February, and we also plan to be at a bunch of summer festivals.

Q: What has been your key to success? 

A:  I’d have to say our work ethic. We’ve both put so much into this project and even though we have grown, we still manage to make ourselves small in the sense that I do all of our accounting and business work as opposed to hiring people and making it seem corporate. When it comes to social media, we always want to feel connected with our fans — actually be there and know what is going on with our scene — because we know how important our fans are to us. We want to treat our fans the way we want to be treated. That’s how our moms brought us up.

Big Gigantic tickets are still available for the show tonight at Cain’s Ballroom. Doors open at 7:30 p.m. and the concert will begin at 8:30 p.m. Tickets range from $24 to $39. A $2 fee will be applied to tickets purchased at the Cain’s Ballroom box office. Visit Cain’s Ballroom website for more information about Big Gigantic and future Cain’s Ballroom concerts.

Interview: Titus Andronicus

This week, I had the pleasure of interviewing Patrick Stickles of Titus Andronicus prior to the band’s show in Norman, OK.  Throughout this interview, we discussed a fantastic new policy change to one of Norman’s most iconic underground venues, along with a discussion of some of the group’s major influences, and a mild dissection of past releases such as The Monitor and Local Business.  The following conversation takes place just moments after a brief introduction via phone call, while the band was traveling from Austin to Dallas for a performance at the iconic venue known as The Loft.

OPOLISOpolis is at 113 N. Crawford on Tuesday, Aug. 13, 2013 in Norman, Okla. Photo by Steve Sisney, The Oklahoman

SW: You came to Norman this past Spring for a show at Opolis.  Will this be your second time here in Oklahoma?

Patrick: Actually, it will be our third show.

SW: Oh, I had no idea.  Where was your first show?

Patrick: It was still at Opolis.  That’s the only place that we’ve played in Norman so far.  It’s a very nice place.  The owners are great and treat us really well every time we come through.  If they ever want to have us we’re always happy to come by.

SW: Oh yeah, I’ve lived in Oklahoma all my life but when I came to school in Norman, Opolis was such a nice surprise. Especially considering Oklahoma’s underground scene pales in comparison to other major cities.  And like you said, the people that run the venue (Andy Nuñez) are so welcoming and friendly.  Bouncing off of that, what is your favorite thing about Norman since you’ve been here a few times already?

Patrick: Opolis, I suppose.  You don’t always get to do so much when you’re traveling around on tour, ya’ know?  Most of time we’re just on the run.  We make it [to the venue] by the skin of our teeth a lot of times.  That being said, most cities we go to, we get to see the inside of the club and maybe like a 2-3 block radius.  It’s not really quite as exotic (laughs) as you might think.  I guess the real memorable feature of Norman or any of these places is the people.

SW: Oh I completely agree.  “Normanites” can be a little eccentric at times.  Sometimes when I drive around, I see people dressed up in medieval clothes, and it’s not even the medieval fair!  Truthfully though, I love Norman for the moments like that.

Patrick: Hey, we gotta grab whatever we can in this life (chuckles).  Speaking of Norman fashion, when we played there back in March, that was definitely the show of the tour where the majority of people were wearing plaid shirts.  You could look out from the stage and see a sea of plaid.  I don’t know why that was the trend, but they were lookin’ good!

SW: I feel like that’s a go-to “southern underground” staple.  That culture may distance themselves from any sort of traditional clothing, but keeping the plaid at least gives them some sort of self awareness that they exist in that cowboy culture?  I’m probably just making this up at this point.

Patrick: Either way, there’s nothing wrong with that from where I stand.

SW: Exactly.  Let culture do what culture does I suppose.  Continuing on about Opolis, this will be the first time (I believe) that you’ll be playing at an 18+ show (unless the first show happened to be like that), but the venue has kind of flip-flopped on that rule for awhile now.  Do you expect a larger crowd this time around because of that?  How big are the crowds typically for your shows at Opolis?

Patrick: Well, it’s not such a huge place is it?  I’d say it holds around 150 people at most.  I think last time it was just about sold out, but that was the first time we’d been there in a few years.  I don’t believe that the show tomorrow is on track to sellout just yet, but we’re hopeful and optimistic of course.  After all, it is the second time in a year.  You would hope that the people had such a good time last time that they couldn’t wait to do it again.

SW: Well hopefully those that read this tomorrow will be intrigued enough to come see you.  And honestly, there are still so many people that aren’t aware that Opolis is 18+ now.  So you could say this interview is also sort of a PSA about that.

Patrick: Oh yeah, that’s a very important point to highlight.  It’s bad when clubs discriminate against people for any reason.  Sometimes liquor laws and the whole “alcohol industrial complex” can get in the way which is really too bad.  Especially because the younger crowd are generally the most excited about these things.  Particularly in rock and roll, and how teenage emotions are so “high end”- rock and roll can really be a powerful and important thing, and certainly was for me when I was at that age.  Those people are often the most enthusiastic and the music speaks to them in a much more visceral way, compared to an older person like I am now, in which I prefer to watch from a distance.

SW: Yeah, it’s like you’re still a part of that crowd and promoting that type of music, but you obviously have a more mature outlook on things or that “hindsight perspective”.

Patrick: Yeah, I suppose so.  All I know is, we don’t like for anyone to be turned away and if they wanna rock then I think that’s their right.  I don’t know much about the laws in Oklahoma but I know that some places have stricter policies than others.

titusandronicusthemonitorThe Monitor

SW: I agree completely with that prior statement, and Oklahoma liquor laws is a topic that could go on for days (laughs).  Moving on to some more music related content, I’d like to start off with a few questions about your 2010 record, The Monitor.  I know it might be annoying or monotonous to drudge up questions about older work, so feel free to answer these as you will.

Patrick: I mean, I’ll try.  I don’t think about that too much anymore.

SW: Absolutely, like I said I don’t want to force any unwanted conversation, but if you don’t mind then I will proceed: It’s been a little over six year since The Monitor first released.  Prior to it becoming what some would call a punk classic, did you have any idea that it would receive the acclaim that it did?

Patrick: Umm… Not exactly.  Like, it wasn’t an accident, but it was intended to be a great thing.  That being said, that’s true of any record.  Ideally, you just go out and try to do your best and the degree to which people appreciate is a little bit beyond your control.  The only thing you can control is the effort, time, and energy that you put into it.

SW: Right, I feel like there are some cases in which artists may have an intuition that their work might be well received, but its the records that reflect nothing but true rawness and honesty that manage to make their way to the top of the charts that really stand out, and I’m sure it must be a good feeling to know people connect to your music so intimately.  Continuing on the subject of this release, I know that many people adore the Civil War concept that was thrown into this album.  That being said, I feel like there are so many things that could go wrong with concept albums, such as focusing too heavily on the extended metaphor at hand and losing focus, or coming across as a bit too “try-hard”.  I feel like The Monitor seems to be a perfect balance and had a really good execution in general.  Did you have that forethought going into this project or did the pieces just fall in place naturally?

Patrick: I don’t know, I mean, I was like 23 years old.  You’re really kind of asking the wrong guy- it sounds like you know a little more about it than I do even.

SW: I suppose I have read into it a little deeper than most, but now that you mention it, I could assume from the author’s perspective its kind of just your SW work or thoughts that you just feel like sharing to anyone willing to listen.  Would you say that’s how it is?

Patrick: You could say that.

SW: Well, moving onto one of my staple questions for every artist who are some of your influences that helped establish the sound of Titus Andronicus, or simply helped shape your musical identity or interest?

Patrick: There’s like hundreds of them, right?  You know like anybody you could name: Lou Reed, Springsteen, Bob Dylan, Wu-Tang Clan, The Clash, or fuckin’… you know, there are tons of them; its endless.  We all just go through life and we’re exposed to all these things that are floating around in the air and they all do their part to weave the tapestry that is our perspective on life.

SW: I agree with that so much, I mean, that’s the beauty of it.  The tapestry is a great analogy.  Moving back to the topic of your own work, I wanted to bring a little notice to Local Business, the follow-up to your 2010 record.  While the The Monitor had its fair share of nihilistic themes and disdain towards humanity, the beginning of this latter release kicks off with the lyrics, “Okay I think by now we’ve established everything is inherently worthless”.  Would you say that this release was an outlet to reflect on these ideas even further, or sort of a sequel in a sense?

Patrick: Well to me mind, every record kind of builds upon the ones that came before it.  Basically every release is just a snapshot of my frame of mind at the time that the record is being created, you know what I’m sayin’?  And in the same way that people are always growing and developing in the way that we see the world and the way we think about life, well art is sort of the same.  When a particular record or any kind of work is in the past, its not really in the past because the act of making it a prominent part of your development- you know you’re just always trying to get to the next level of your think about art, life, and just everything in general.

SW: Exactly.  And I feel like having those recordings would be nice from a personal standpoint because it basically gives you a synopsis of the type of person you were at that point in your life.  I mean, it really is just kind of frozen in time and its out there for everyone to see.  I guess you could say history.

Patrick: Yeah, pretty much.

3c501d64The Most Lamentable Tragedy

SW: I’d like to focus the last few questions towards your latest release, The Most Lamentable Tragedy.  I would have to say that this is your most ambitious release yet, with its 29 song tracklist and over an hour and a half length.  What inspired you to create such a hefty album with so many “acts” and parts?

Patrick: Well I basically just had certain things that I wanted to express and explore and stories that I wanted to tell, and I didn’t think I should be boxed in by someone else’s definition of how long a rock and roll record should be.  It really is all arbitrary you know?  It’s a lot like any other art form out there, just a different vessel to communicate ideas and stories through.

SW: That’s a great way to look at it.  I think that’s how some of the best albums are made, by not listening to anyone’s standard for how songs should be written, let alone the length of them.  My final question about this album deals with the overall theme, or message that you want to convey to your audience through this piece.  What is the theme of The Most Lamentable Tragedy?

Patrick: The moral of the story is that we go through life, and life is like this confession of the moment.  You have moments that can be rather positive, but in turn these moments can become negative rather quickly, and I’d like to think that we shouldn’t take these good moments for granted, and that we must not forget them.  It’s really easy to become absorbed in negativity, especially when we let those feelings win over our joy.  That’s basically the moral of it all.

Titus Andronicus will be performing tonight at Opolis.  Tickets are $15 dollars, and doors open at 8 PM.  Show starts at 10 PM.  For more info head over to the venue’s main site here.