Interview: Aloe Blacc

To the masses, Aloe Blacc is best-known as the singer of the opening theme song for HBO's TV series "How to Make It in America." In part thanks to that, "I Need a Dollar" is considered the unofficial anthem for twenty-somethings on the grind. Having spent about sixteen years in the business, Aloe Blacc certainly knows something about the hustle. Blacc's years as an emcee has expanded into creating conscious music that spans the sounds of rap, soul, hip hop, jazz, and R&B, culminating in his most recent soul album, Good Things. In many ways, his stirring music is reminiscent of sounds from the sixties, but the lyrics are decidedly current, and tinged with a political slant. A graduate from the University of Southern California, Blacc and his distinct sound are quick to be described by music journalists and bloggers alike as smart, but his music is more than that, as Blacc straddles the worlds of art and life. Check out LOOKOUT's interview with Aloe Blacc and don't miss him live with his band The Grand Scheme on November 16, 2010 at Le Belmont.

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You describe your music as "brand-new-old-soul." How is your music in dialogue with the past and how do you see yourself fitting in with "neo-soul" (if at all)?

I am a disciple of great and classic soul artists and my goal with this new album is to carry on an important tradition in soul music of making songs with social and political commentary. In my music, there are elements of some of my heroes like Al Green, Bill Withers, and Curtis Mayfield. These are just a few of the artists who have informed my style on Good Things. Quincy Jones gave some very important advice at an ASCAP conference I attended. He said that an aspiring artists should study the greats to learn all that they have done, and from this knowledge and understanding create something unique. I agree. I want to create something that is unique that has a quality of its own. I am sure that I will make soul music of all brands in the future from neo-soul to future soul and my very own brand-new-old-soul.

As a musician, do you feel like you have a responsibility to address political and social issues?

I think every adult with a conscience has a responsibility to address political and social issues. Whether you are a day labourer or a filmmaker, it is important to be aware of the issues that affect your life and have a constant dialogue about the problems and solutions. I feel like all public figures have a responsibility to address issues that affect their communities. It's important that people with access to speak loudly do so, to be a voice for the people who can not. I really appreciate someone like Michael Moore who, right or wrong, uses his access and visibility to start conversations about social, economic, and political ills. The first step is to be aware and start talking.

How did your do-it-yourself approach impact the final outcome of Good Things and your musical vision as a whole?

My first album, Shine Through, was one I wrote and produced all myself with the exception of a couple of beats from OHNO and Madlib. I worked with outside producers and musicians on Good Things and played a more hands-off role in the post-production aspect of the songs, which is much different from how I usually work, but I figured it was worth a try. I think that the beauty of working in this way is that I get to take these recordings to the next level in my live performance. It's fun to rework the songs with my band, The Grand Scheme, and produce the tracks in my own way with just the instruments we have on stage.

You've been getting quite a bit of mainstream success, especially thanks to "I Need a Dollar." As an indie artist, how do you negotiate between the industry (and the potential profits that come along with it) and your personal values and goals?

I will let you know the real answer when I get my first check for profits on the sale of the album. Album sales aren't what they used to be but I am extremely grateful for the popularity of the song. It's helping me to reach more people with my music and ultimately bring happiness to folks all over the world. I get emails and messages from fans who say that my music has helped them through hard times or brightened their day. This makes it all worth it, more than the money, or lack thereof. I look up to artists like Bono, Michael Jackson, and George Clooney who use their influence and money to make positive change in the world. I think this is the best way to deal with potential profits that come along with success.

How did focusing more exclusively on soul music in Good Things (as opposed to the multi-genre Shine Through) transform your artistry?

Focus is a good thing but I don't feel like it has transformed my artistry as much as it has transformed my growing audience's perception of me. I am still making songs in every genre because my muse has no stylistic filter. I am going to release another EMANON album with DJ Exile, which is all hip hop as usual, and every day I am coming up with new song ideas in all different genres. From a business perspective, focusing on one genre is helpful because it offers listeners the chance to develop a simple idea about me as an artist. The soul artist is an archetype that exists and is well-understood. Fortunately, a new music lover is born everyday and the tastes of music fans are broadening, so I imagine artists will not have to be so strict with genre-centrality.

Referring to the title of your album, what are the good things going on in your life right now?

Right now, I am able to travel the world with my friends who are all talented musicians. I get to write and create songs and deliver performances that make people happy. Things are quite good.

Aloe Blacc LIVE  in Montreal, with full band Grand Scheme, Maya Jupiter, Effusion A Cappella, DJs Scott C + Rilly Guilty.  November 16, 2010: More info
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Q&A: Montreal’s Fluxus

LOOKOUT caught up with Mark Sandford of the Montreal dance group, Fluxus. Fluxus' five members (Mark Sandford, Chris Ploss, Scott Nelson, Phil Gordon, Matthew Kolaitis) all play their own instruments and bring about a thrash-filled dance rock blowout. Mark is also involved with the netlabel and music community, Sixteen Sixteen. Oh, and he’s got a side project, Master Tone. Oh, and a blog. When we chatted, Mark had just made a bisque for the first time and was, to say the least, uber-impressed with himself. And I was, to say the least, uber-impressed with his engaging interview.

To download Fluxus' latest release, Navy Blue (free), click here.

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LOOKOUT: For those who don’t know, can you tell us a little bit about your record collective Sixteen Sixteen?

Mark Sandford: Basically, when we started Fluxus, we needed a place to put our music. You know how every single person and every single band has a MySpace? Typically, it’s like “Oh, go check out my MySpace.” That doesn’t carry any weight anymore. So, we thought why not build our own little website and put all our music and our friends' music up there. Myself, Chris Ploss, and Scott Nelson started the website. Scott, who’s a computer science major, built the most insane website and application to stream music. It ended up being a warehouse for our music. So we could record something and then send it out on the internet. We were recording other bands here at our apartment, and it was like, “Hey, why don’t you put this stuff on the website?”

I noticed a distinct change in sound from Cargoes of Empire to Navy Blue. How did that musical change in Fluxus end up happening?

When we recorded Cargoes of Empire, we had a different group of people than we do now. Fluxus itself was a project between Chris and I and so it was whatever we were working on at the time. When we recorded Cargoes of Empire, there were six of us. When you have six people in a band, it seems like the biggest group of people ever…  Just so many people in a band. We have five people in the band now and it seems so much lighter. I don’t know what one person changes, but it made a big difference in sound. The sound that you hear on Cargoes of Empire came out of the people that were working in the band and these people moved away and moved to different projects. Chris and I wanted to make what we really liked: dance groove, dance music. We got two new members and they were totally down with that and it started taking shape from there. We’ve taken some of our Cargoes of Empire songs and made some of our own remixes, kind of in the vain of Duran Duran or Soulwax. So, it's like a weird evolution and it seems like a right fit.

What do you think is special about Montreal in terms of making music and playing shows?

Montreal is such a creative place and people who are creative here are very serious about their creativity and that’s a really excellent environment to be in. Montreal’s not a big city and that’s what makes it good because we hang out with people that are in so many incredible bands and they’re just our friends. It’s such a rich network of people. I can’t speak for other people in other cities, but the creative network is so big within a small city and that’s really powerful because you can go to a show and chances are, a lot of people in the crowd are friends of the people up there, which is really encouraging and special.

Have you ever been playing a show and everyone’s standing around no one’s really dancing? What do you do? How do you keep the energy up?

That’s one of the reasons I wanted to make dance music. In Montreal, we did a show at this really weird venue, it was packed but everyone was sitting at tables. So we played forty-five minutes of nonstop dance music, and people really enjoyed it, but in a weird way, in a “I’m-gonna-sit-here-with-my-beer-way.” That’s a challenge for me, like how will I make people start feeling what life is?

We’ve talked about this as a band. If we’re going to play dance music, music that is somewhat repetitive and upbeat, it’s our job to look enthused or at least pretend that we’re into it. That’s what you have to do. Montreal’s kind of a weird city for that, maybe it’s part of the European thing. I lived in Detroit for a while and people go crazy. It could be a folk song and it’s like a rave.

What’s next for Fluxus?

We’re taking a little break right now. The next thing that’s up for us is that we’re possibly shooting a music video. We’re trying to secure money for that, which is, you know, kind of difficult. Les Appendices, a franco-comedy show, were at one of our shows and dug what we were doing and we’ve been in a conversation with them about shooting a music video. We’re all waiting on government funding.

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MegaHurtz Madness 101 w/ Lunice + Nosaj Thing!


Nosaj Thing brings the gadgets when he goes big!

There is no way that anyone is adequately prepared for the Red Bull MegaHurtz Pop Montreal Show at Club Just For Laughs Thursday, October 1. Just to be clear, this will not be a normal show. This will be an overstimulating shot of adrenaline served straight through the eye, ear, and breastplate. It will only hurt a little but it's guaranteed to hurt so good!

Let's break down the logistics:

9 different artists, including acts like Megasoid, Grahmzilla, and Baretta, will take their turns at trying to blow out Club Just For Laughs' extensive sound system. Red Bull MegaHurtz aims to allow the forward-thinking artist to push the idea of live performance far past the typical set: 2 CDJ players and a pioneer 800 mixer.

Take a look at the Synced Visual Show by Nosaj Thing that is set to make its WORLD PREMIERE on October 1 at the Megahurtz:

Nosaj Thing Visual Show Compilation Test Shoot on Vimeo.

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Likewise, the audience should experience a new expression of “electronic music” (house, techno, indie, nudisco, dubstep, electro, trance….), one that bends genres and senses in a unique display of creativity and technology. The result will be a high voltage, live event for the ears, eyes and mind.

Yes, there will be a visual component, but this ain't the dorky light show your weird 4th grade teacher with the harelip made you go on a field trip for. The MegaHurtz A/V experience is an unprecedented foray into what can be done visually in a live setting - literally.

After hearing those tunes supplemented by those visuals, we dare you to try to hold back. Lunice, MTL's own Street Bass pioneer, knows how to handle the MegaHurtz. After and before his set, don't be surprised to see these moves on the dancefloor:

If you see him, just give the man his space and let him go! Lunice's Lazerremix Vol. 2 drops this Saturday September 26. Stay posted!


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