Recycled Rock N Roll

Recycled Rock N Roll

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

People Under the Stairs - Music

Playing songs about the place where you grew up is a tradition that’s as old as music. Bruce Springsteen wrote “My Hometown” and Ben E. King sang “Spanish Harlem.” People Under the Stairs are a hip-hop group that lays down solid tracks about their hometown of Los Angeles with a lyrical ability has earned them a fanbase across the planet.

The group is composed of two members, Thes One and Double K. Inland Empire Weekly spoke with Thes One about keeping up with the Internet, touring the world, and their newest album, Highlighter

I’m sure you’ve had to talk to the press a lot since your band’s first album. What’s that still like, after so many interviews over the span of your career?

Being able to talk to the press is so different now. It’s a blessing and a curse. There was a time when a press person was a gatekeeper. Now, anyone can write anything they want, and all of those opinions just get tacked on. It’s the anonymity of the Internet. 

In the past, a critic had to stand by what they said. Now, you just have “Toker420.” I remember how there was a time when an album came out, and I’d be on the beach with a drink. Now I’m sitting in front of two laptops, babysitting the Internet. 

Highlighter is your eigth LP. If a person has never heard of you before, what’s in this for them?

Every album is really personal for us, so it’s always going to be different. We don’t just make a bunch of songs, we make albums with songs that work together. We wanted the album to rise up to a fast pace, to be a party album, and with a lot of energy in the lyrics so that the record has a harder feel to it.

There’s a lot of energy going on in L.A. right now that’s just like that, but we don’t write songs about what people should do. I think the younger generation is getting into music, and that’s what matters. 

A lot of your music is about life in Los Angeles, but your fans in other cities all across the globe enjoy it. Does this mean  that L.A. is a little like every city on the planet?

I think so. It calls into question what people’s perception of L.A. is. I’m Latino and Double K is black. In L.A., that’s no big deal, but on the road they’d think I was the manager, or he was the security. People would book us in Europe, and expect something completely different. 

Everybody has their eye on California and L.A. In our career it’s been fun to not be the gangster rap group. We’ve been more like the Red Hot Chili Peppers…like a local group. 

So it forced us to write more about L.A. so we could tell people what it’s really like. But there’s also a fake aspect of L.A. that people only see, so we try to represent what they don’t see and break stereotypes.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Cursive - Music

Cursive is a rock band with soul. Some of their best songs include “Let Me Up” and “The Martyr,” powerful tracks that brim with genuine passion. Like The Doors or Queen, who won the audience over with theatrical flourishes and spiritual depth, Cursive isn’t afraid to sing with true emotion.

But the band isn’t just one flavor. “Sun and Moon” from their latest album, I am Gemini, has a real 70’s garage band influence, similar to the Marquee Moon album by Television. Because they can also channel the gritty, cool, street side of rock, fans keep coming back.

Ted Stevens, guitarist and vocalist for the band, enjoys the comparisons. “I love that era of music. Richard Hell, Television, the late 70’s. We’re very influenced by it. The dark analog, the dusty, badass drum sounds, Queen, Zeppelin, Yes, Genesis... I sure love that New Wave punk stuff.”

Playing on the Late Show with David Letterman is a rite of passage for any successful rock band. His career with Cursive has had many high points, and Stevens admits Letterman was quite a peak. “We felt very fortunate to have the opportunity. It was as exciting as you think it would be. It was thrilling. That was our major performance, that day.” Do they have plans to repeat the performance? Stevens is down for it.“We have to go back and try it again.”

Gemini is Cursive’s seventh album. In contrast to previous LP’s, the band chose to go with some outside influence. “We brought in Matt Bayles, a producer we had never worked with,” Stevens says. “We had to trust him and step somewhat outside of the production process, so we didn’t have the comfort zone we had before.”

As a result, Gemini will surprise even veteran fans. “The project has a fresh energy to it.” Stevens says. “There’s a new drummer on the record, and that’s a huge part of the change.”

Literary types will also notice that Gemini contains many allusions to the Greek myth of Cassius and Pollack. Where did the inspiration come from? “The concept just came up. Every record begins as a conversation. Do we want to do another concept record? Do we even have to?”

“Our last album was a little abstract, but this story is more linear.” Rather than being a series of songs, from start to finish the music has a narrative. “Tim did a lot of research so he could tell the story the way he wanted to tell it, about the story of Zeus, with the references to Greek mythology, and we just went with it.”

Since Gemini is a rock opera, like Pink Floyd’s The Wall, will fans be able to hear it all from start to finish sometime during the tour? “We’re going to do a large amount of material from Gemini.  Yes, it’s a rock opera, but we’re going to save that performance for later. When we set out to write something like this, we know that at one point we have to perform it all in its entirety.”

Thursday, February 16, 2012

DJ Dark Monk - Music

“The killer awoke before dawn, he put his boots on
He took a face from the ancient gallery
And he walked on down the hall…”
                                               -Jim Morrison, “The End”

We live in an age of paranoia, so it is fitting that we live in an age of masks. Bank robbers roll pantyhose over their faces. Gang members use a bandana in a style straight out of the Old West. SWAT members wear black cowls and goggles to protect their identity. Costumed police officers assaulting protestors refuse to reveal their names and badge numbers, in spite of the declared legality of their actions.

The comic book supervillain uses a mask to hide his identity from the system and the superhero. After the crime, secrecy is his solace. The superhero also conceals his face from the criminal elements he is opposing, but mostly for the safety of his friends and family because the system supports him.

Times have changed and The Dark Monk from MF DOOM’s Metal Face Akademy operates anonymously because he is speaking truth to power. While mainstream pop artists sing about keeping it real, being an individual and standing up for what you believe in, their integrity evaporates when asked if they support anti-establishment, politically-motivated protest groups like the 99% Movement.

Fortunately, the underground music scene has picked up the slack. True Underlord is set for a February 28th release, and fans of hard-hitting hip-hop with a solid streak of controversial, critical analysis of a modern day society gone Armageddon are going to enjoy this solid debut album.

Produced by MF DOOM, Jake One and Madlib, the emcee known as The Dark Monk opens his mind to let the audience in and see a world where justice has to stay hooded because the real crime lords threatening society’s safety own the banks, manipulate the system and control the police.

In addition to the 2011 ultra popular college radio super hit “Real Terror,” True Underlord features tracks that cut to the truth with surgical precision like “Hyena,” a song that’s a shout out to both the Arab Spring and Occupy Wall Street, and “Nervous,” a slow burning meditation on how life under the gun isn’t games and glamour…it’s courts, cops, ambulances and death for people who aren’t prepared.

A protégé of MF DOOM, The Dark Monk is an emcee who avoids the boisterous claims of many other rappers the scene has no shortage of to focus on the science of composing music with the quiet, dangerous dignity of a ronin from the Tokugawa Era of Japan. Who is he? No one knows, and the his mask says nothing.

While the haters may dismiss the artist’s use of the prop as a gimmick, real scholars know that The Dark Monk is tapping into some very serious culture, history and civilization when he employs it.

For instance, Aztec priests often wore masks during religious ceremonies to inspire the proselyte and invoke the god the ceremony honored.

Back to the samurai, a mempo was a piece of armor designed to cover the face from everything the battlefield had to offer. Designing your mempo in the form of a snarling warrior or screaming devil was just icing.

To the modern day Mexican warriors known as the luche libre, the mask is still a very serious thing indeed. While they might be superstars in the ring, standing up for the common people, during the day they are often normal, blue-collar workers who could get into heavy trouble if society found out about their night job.

The ancient Greeks employed the same tools in their own theater. Before film, before television, before radio, people once gathered together under the stars to celebrate art in the form of songs, rhymes and masks.

Also featuring DJ Kool Akiem (formally of The Micranots) and mixed & mastered at XIL Laboratories by MOBONIX & DJ WESU, True Underlord is more than just a pretty piece of labor. The real super genius of The Dark Monk’s debut album is it's grim message. No matter whom you are, the system sees you as a supervillain, and there’s a camera on every street corner to prove it. One day we may all need a mask to survive.

You can check it out right here.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Bone Thugs-n-Harmony, Part VII - Music

Here it is, the last part. It's nearly 1,400 words, so I hope you packed a cup of coffee.

A very special thanks to Ta Smallz, Layzie Bone and Thin C for their time. These guys gave me a lot to work with during the interview, and I did my best to record their perspectives so that the reader could learn more than just the usual, "new album, latest tour, etc." that is the usual kind of information that ends up being printed.

With this interview, all three of them really showed courage in expressing some very honest thoughts and opinions. I hope you all enjoyed it.
So you believe the media just hasn’t focused on the positive, when it comes to the subject of medical marijuana?

Ta Smallz: Well, I’ve been shot. I have pains that shoot from my hip all the way down to my kneecap. That’s why I smoke it.

That’s my next question. I know that two of the members of Bone Thugs suffer from conditions related to having been shot. How has marijuana helped deal with those conditions? How has it helped you?

Layzie Bone: Me personally I was shot by a .25 caliber bullet. I got hit in the back of the ear. For a while, and it was before all of this, in the early 90’s, I was suffering from migraines. I couldn’t sleep. I’d smoke a joint to deal with it. The pain would be so bad I’d have a hard time thinking, but when I smoked a joint the pain would go away and things would be a whole lot easier.

And you don’t have to take a handful of pills?

Layzie Bone: I never took anything like that, except Tylenol. But Tylenol didn’t help. Neither did Motrin. I’d go to sleep, and then wake up with the same headache.

With marijuana, you don’t have to take a handful of prescription drugs to deal with the headaches and insomnia. When Michael Jackson died, it was mentioned that he was taking a lot of different medications that led to his heart attack. What do you think of that?

Layzie Bone: If Michael Jackson had been smoking marijuana, instead of the pills he was taking, in my opinion, 100%, if he had been smoking marijuana he wouldn’t be dead. That would have been a lot better than all of those drugs he was taking.

Ta Smallz: I definitely think it would have helped. With my pains, I can’t take a Valium or anything. I do high energy shows. I’m a little guy. I need to have my energy. If I smoke a little marijuana it takes care of the pain and I can still function and do my job.

I think that what is most important is that you don’t have to take a handful of pills that would still hurt you.

Ta Smallz: Well, there was just too many side effects. Speaking for myself, when I took Vicadin it would hurt my stomach. I just can’t take pills at all. It's too painful.

Layzie Bone: I’m glad you said that because those side effects…there’s so many side effects with these man-made drugs. There’s side effects that hurt you more than the original problem. You run the risk of way more complications whereas with medical marijuana the worse that it’s going to do to you is make your hungry and sleepy. You don’t have a hangover. It doesn’t cause you any pain.

Ta Smallz: I suffer from insomnia. Ever since my mother got killed. I smoke before I go to bed because otherwise I wake up in the middle of the night.

Well, look at how Heath Ledger died. He was taking a lot of pills to help him sleep, and the combination killed him. Marijuana helps people, and I’m glad Bone Thugs is bringing the message. But you guys have been talking about it since day one.

Layzie Bone: The message is getting out there. We’ve covered a lot of ground in our years and now we are operating at our greatest capacity. That is a blessing in itself, so now we can spread messages of love and harmony, togetherness, unity, loyalty…all those things that make for a greater society.

That’s always been the problem with the mainstream media. The media loves pain. They don’t talk about the positive. They love to focus on the violence and the hurting. You guys came together and made this album, but instead the media will talk about the fights and the break ups. 

Thin C: Marijuana helps people. It’s a low-cost alternative to a lot of unhealthy drugs, but the media will talk about a few bad cases and ignore the positive.

Layzie Bone: Oh yeah. If we throw some sort of benefit concert this year, the media will ignore it. It’s hard to get the word out. Like if we do a Thanksgiving benefit.

Thin C: But if y’all get in trouble, the media will be all over it.

Layzie Bone: Oh yeah. If I get pulled over on Thanksgiving night, if I have one drop of alcohol in my system the media will be all over it.

The media likes the pain, man. But the good thing is that your band has a solid reputation. You’ve had a long, successful, influential career. So now you guys are so big you can force the media to talk about the positive like the healthy benefits of marijuana. 

Layzie Bone: That’s the point, man, education. It can come in the form of a classroom or in the form of a song. That’s why I love hip hop. Because you can play with words and manipulate them to get your message out even if it’s on a subliminal level. That’s what we do with our weed songs every time.

Look at California. The economy is messed up. Once again you have the media focusing on the negative…losing money, being bankrupt, but they don’t talk about how legalizing and selling marijuana would be a positive. It would fix the problem and eliminate a lot of pain. All these guys who are in prison for having a bag of weed, they wouldn’t have to be there.

Layzie Bone

Thin C: Marijuana is a major part of the solution. Marijuana could play that role for the whole country. Hemp can be made into paper, clothing, the whole 9…whatever you want to do. It could replace plastic.

Ta Smallz: If it got legalized you could eliminate the risk of buying it from a dealer and instead go to a doctor. There’d be less people going to jail and then we could tax it and create jobs. There’s a lot of people we could help with it, people need jobs right now. I believe that’s what we should do, create jobs and opportunities for people, from doctors to the people working in the office. You’d have a lot less people getting arrested.

Layzie Bone: You can fuel a car from hemp. You can eliminate having to cut down trees. In closing, we are more than willing to take on the task of pushing this idea to the front and help our planet go green in order to contribute in a positive way to the existence of humanity. This is a message I’m proud to contribute to. A friend with weed is a friend in deed!

ALL: (Laughter.)

Monday, February 6, 2012

Bone Thugs-n-Harmony, Part VI - Music

This is it, people, 1,000+ more words of Bone Thugs-n-Harmony. Part VII will come up shortly, and that will be the last part. Until then, here you go.
I can imagine that there were East Coast groups that liked Bone Thugs, and then there were West Coast groups that liked Bone Thugs, and you guys somehow stayed out of the fight and brought a lot of people together that would not have come together. 

Layzie Bone: Even when we perform we do our tributes for those two. You gotta rock the Biggie and the ‘Pac.
Layzie Bone: With our fans it’s like they are a story, a myth, like some shit out of a fairy tale book. You gotta show love, all love because I don’t know how but we managed to stay neutral.

Ta Smallz: That’s why I tried to get on this record with my family Bone Thugs-n-Harmony out in the midwest. I got Li’l Wayne and Davey, B.G. down south and for the east I put L., Santana for this record, and Onyx and for west coast...I got E 40 so everyone is getting a piece of it. 

That's how it is now, no matter what region you come from, there's no borders. You are going to hear us with everybody.
So the theme of unity keeps going with rappers all across the United States on one album.
Layzie Bone: ‘Pac was trying to do that back in the day with Thug Nation.
I remember when Tupac died and thinking about it now still really depresses me. When you lose a great mind before it’s time you always feel it. You always know when someone was taken away to young is what I’m trying to say.

Medical marijuana is a huge issue now. I see a lot of bands that are rapping about marijuana. But you guys have always been rappin’ about marijuana. It’s always been a subject in your music. It's like everyone else just caught up with you. 

My point is, what do you think about the change in how the public views marijuana? Now it’s something the media talks about, but you guys were rapping about the subject before the media.

Ta Smallz: Marijuana is God’s gift. With all of these man-made drugs, ecstasy, crystal meth…these are drugs we make as men. There are no other uses for them. With marijuana you can make your clothes, your shoes, paper and everything. People are beginning to see it’s healthy, it helps cancer and people are beginning to see the benefits and it’s like, wait a minute, let’s look at marijuana really is.

So you think things have changed in regards to the politics and marijuana?

Thin C: I think it had to happen. We made a mark in these times, but it was about time for it to happen. In my mind it’s just cool that you can go and get yourself a prescription. Of course it was due to negative publicity in early America that gave us this negative outlook on what it is. There were lies and propaganda, but the point of it is that it does what it’s supposed to…you can’t lie about that.

Thin C

Ta Smallz: Doctors are finding out that there are things marijuana can do that we didn’t know until recently. We’ve gotten more knowledgeable about the world and we’ve gotten more knowledgeable about the plant. If you don’t know, you can’t say for sure. But I’d rather use that than Tylenol or drugs.

Layzie Bone: I expected marijuana to come back and be legal like it was meant to do anyways. The country was built off the hemp plant. At one point it was illegal to not grow marijuana in the U.S.

Thin C: The Declaration of Independence was written on hemp paper.

Layzie Bone: There have always been marijuana advocates with rap. You got Dre and Snoop Dogg with The Chronic and you have B-Real and Cypress Hill, but the government couldn’t regulate the product so they had to make it illegal because you can grow your own. 

But if they do make it legal the profit won’t stop. It’s what we need. Over in Amsterdam their doing that, and I just left that place and it’s been legal over there. But now they tell me that it’s more of a government regulation, like you can’t have the word “marijuana” in coffee shops or they used to have the hemp plant on a mug, but in Amsterdam you pay a tax on that. Regulation is just more of a way for the government to make a profit.

But there’s a feeling of pride to be a part of any movement. I’ve been directly part of it for quite some time to get the movement off the ground.

Yeah, and you guys have been rapping about it since back in the day. There’s proof, the albums are there. On what level do you think Bone Thugs is a part of the political movement to make the product legal?

Layzie Bone: I plan on being very loud and very outspoken about the movement. That also goes for the hemp plant. It’s just logical for our environment. It’s sustained out population for a lot longer than these chemicals we’ve just invented. We need to reserve this plant just like we need to reserve this world for our children.

Well, I think on a lot of levels unit is going to be necessary to fix the planet.

Ta Smallz

Ta Smallz: We’ve been political. We’re talking about it. When we go to medical marijuana clinics we sign pictures and speak at rallies. The movement brings people together. The plant brings people together. It doesn’t matter what color you are when you have some good purple you all are going to sit down together and smoke it. Then you’ll break out the music you may not know like Deep Purple or Led Zeppelin or Bone Thugs.

I think it heals in all ways, and people are not out there hurting each other over marijuana. It’s not like alcohol. We just need to let people know how it’s helping and not hurting. We need to get the word out. People think, “Oh, you’re on drugs, you’re on marijuana” and it’s that they don’t understand the difference.

It’s good because now there’s structure. There’s structure to the stores, to the dispensaries, that’s how it’s treated. And we’re not just a bunch of potheads. If critics could come to the stores and see how people are feeling better, they’d be more informed.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Suzanne Kraft - Music

The Green Flash EP by DJ and producer Suzanne Kraft (aka Diego Herrera) is the kind of single you’re glad you purchased a decade later. Packed with four solid tracks that explore completely new dimensions of deep house and disco, this little emerald also features a slick, minimalist design on the cover that demands to be on a t-shirt.

Green Flash is an undeniably happy single. Whether it’s the ethereal spirit of “Morning Come” or the resounding, driving momentum of “Femme Cosmic,” the groovy, uplifting music Kraft makes can be described in a lot of ways.

“My intent is to make people feel something. I don’t really put much thought into how it’s going to be received when I’m working on music. Any label applied is just accidental.” Like most artists, Kraft’s eclectic productions reflect his own myriad tastes, including German electronic music, Kraut rock and bands like Ashra. “Some of my favorite things to play are far removed from house. “

When I ask Kraft about his favorite bands and influences, he admits there are so many he could name. “I just say labels instead of artists. I’m mostly influenced by early 80’s late 70’s pop stuff, like Island Records, Trevor Horn productions and Library Music.”

There’s a lot of disco in what he does, and Kraft acknowledges the influence, although the young producer is just working with the genre he enjoys. “I think that my style is a consequence. When people used to ask me what I play, I’d say ‘disco’ and they’d think ABBA or Bee Gees, but that’s stuff all sounds the same to me.”

Like most successful DJ’s, Kraft unveils new vistas for his audience to enjoy with his samples, and stays away from songs we’ve all heard one thousand times before. “I hate karaoke disco,” he says, so you aren’t going to hear “Staying Alive” in his set.

Kraft will be performing at the Ace Hotel & Swim Club on February 4th and 5th for the “Friends of Friends” show, along with Daedelus and Tomas Barford. Featuring a lounge atmosphere combined with the spring break buzz only a poolside party can produce, it’s worth going to, and he’s worked it before.

“The place is cool. I played there about a month ago during a beer tasting night for an Internet radio station I work for, so I know the crowd. It’s fun, very laid back, with a small-resort vibe and a full bar.”

In addition to performing, Kraft hasn’t stopped creating. “I’m working on a new EP for this label that’s part of, well, it’s a baby label, for a friend of a friend called The Young Adults. I don’t have a name for the EP, yet. I’m also working on a record for 100% Silk (, a record label that launched just last year.”

If Green Flash is just a small preview of what Kraft can do, his next big feature certainly deserves the green light. Here’s to hoping for a full LP from the man in 2012.

Suzanne Kraft w/Daedelus, Tomas Barford and The Young Adults at the Ace Hotel & Swim Club, 701 East Palm Canyon Drive, Palm Springs, (760) 320-8550;;; Sat.-Sun. in the Amigo Room, Feb. 4th and 5th, 10 pm. Sun. Poolside, Feb. 5th, Noon-5 pm.