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: Speakerbruiser of Megasoid


Taking into account everything that Rob "Speakerbruiser" Squire has accomplished in his time as Montreal's resident Renaissance man, simply running through a laundry list of his contributions wouldn't truly serve them justice.  Luckily, he's made it easy to grasp the quality aesthetic he's brought over the years to the Montreal creative community. Just visit Weaponshouse, his boutique design house based out of Mile End, and let your eyes wander over the collection of objects presented on the homepage. A number of themes and aesthetics emerge, the contrasting elements of which are central to understanding Squire's art. The inklings of a classical aesthetic,  a presence suggested through the Italian riding gloves, the vintage razor, and archetypal glasses, are in turn made hostile through the implications of the brass knuckles. The professional design tools are compounded by the well worn fat-tipped markers and graff sketchbook, clear accessories of a proud delinquency. Somewhere in the balance lies Squire's style; constantly suspended between the clean lines of a Pantone production catalogue and irresistible recklessness. Of course, the grand image is dominated by the musical equipment - a sampler, drum machine, and synthesizer, each of which will be ritually used and liberally abused during Thursday's MegaHurtz event at Cabaret Juste Pour Rire. The Megahurtz promises to be a very special show for Rob's group Megasoid, as he is currently completing an extensive relocation away from Montreal. For a complete list of the man's accomplishments, check the information section on the weaponshouse site

Lookout Presents: You’ve cycled through a number of musical identities and collectives over the years. What precipitated the shift to making music under the name Sixtoo to your current moniker SPKRBRUZR?

Speakerbruiser Rob: Truthfully, I'm not quite sure. I have always had a number of visible monikers... Even Sixtoo projects sometimes labelled under different names such as 'Six Vicious' or 'Weaponshouse'  or 'S&N' releases. I suppose truthfully, I am just not ready to assume responsibility for all of my creative pursuits being judged under the guise of one visible career, when I do, I will probably just update my entire discography as Vaughn Robert Squire. Until then, I suppose I will continue to release things with different names, with different extensions and ideas attached to them. I like having different titles to be able to attach myself to, and being able to explore very different angles within the umbrella of electronic music that I make. Speakerbruiser is pretty appropriate though. I like loud heaters, and that is pretty much what i am playing and making right now, I will probably hold onto it for a while.

LP:   Megasoid, your collaboration with Hadji Bakara of Wolf Parade, is one of the most exciting acts to recently come out of Montreal. What can you tell us about how you two teamed up, how you create your distinct sound, and what we can expect to hear in the future?

SR: We started messing around with synths and drum-machines a few years back, after I blew up a modular synth that I borrowed of him. Hadji is one of the most brilliant programmers I know in terms of electronic music, and our chemistry with music was very natural... as a matter of fact, as we strive to start making music that exists outside of the blog/remix context, we have found it harder than we expected to make cohesive, good music, and not just making heaters that work in the club. We are taking our time, and have slowed our output in order to ensure that our 'real' releases are

We will be releasing our first official EP on Ninjatune sometime this fall. Should be interesting. Lot of rappers on it. It is music that we both stand behind, and I am excited to see what people think about it. Read More ↓

LP:  During Pop Montreal, Megasoid will be playing the Red Bull MegaHurtz A/V experience, by far one of the festival’s most anticipated shows. Do you and Hadji have anything new up your sleeves for the event?

SR: Well, I suppose the main thing is that we are not be playing together as Megasoid. For now, I will be the visible representation of Megasoid. Most recently we made the decision (due to travel distances and responsibilities / pursuits outside of music on both of our parts) that it was best for the band for me to handle the live performance of Megasoid material, and for Hadji to be my creative studio partner. We have really had some amazing times together onstage, I truthfully have always felt more comfortable without the accountability of having 'players chemistry' all the time...

We are both pretty intense individuals and as such, it comes out in our personalities in and out of music... we are best as creatives that come together and make things and not people that should be surrounded by each other all the time.  That being said, Hadji is my favorite person in the world to make music with, I think he is an incredibly dynamic individual that deserves to follow his passions outside of music..  and that it will ultimately be best for Megasoid for me to be the live extension of our collaborative outlet.

Perhaps when the LP drops we might do another 2-man AV show, but who knows, I guess time will tell. Until then, I am busting ass to make our shows something that stands alone in electronic music, with a philosophy about it carved out by two people with similar passions.

LP:  Your Turbo Crunk events were definitely some of the best parties Montreal has ever seen. What do you think makes them so good and will we see a return anytime soon?

SR: Thank you! I am really glad you liked them. I think it was a very special time for music in general, but especially for Montreal, being able to be the visible alternative to all the 'club club' music that was dominating dance-floors for the last couple of years, and for Montreal to be worldwide contemporary to the visible laptop beat scenes.

I think that most of the people involved with Turbo Crunk have an expansive knowledge of music, combined with an amazing group of residents and locals (Seb Diamond + Hovatron [both ex-Mofomatronix]  Lunice, Blingmod, Ango, Ghislain, Khiasma) being supported/co-signed by everyone from Zoobizarre to High Food to Peer Pressure to Mutek and MEG really made for some exciting things to happen. I also take a lot of pride in being able to say that we taste-made a lot of people that did their first shows here, and that we have in-turn built up good fan-bases for them enabling alot of our good freinds to return and be on bills that are bigger than the events we have promoted....

Getting to play alongside people like Theophilus London, Machinedrum, 215, Hudmo, Rustie, Mike Slott, Lorn, Nosaj Thing, Glitch Mob, Modeselektor has been nothing short of amazing. I am actually planning to move to the west coast for a bit, and as such Turbo Crunk has been put on ice... That being said, the Super Aqua Club team has joined forces with Duval (who we all love) and they together will be promoting events under the 'Night Trackin'' Moniker... all of which I am sure will be exciting and well curated, and that deserve peoples support. I love my Montreal team, and would just like to extend a little shoutout to everyone that came, was involved, performed, rocked out, had a great time, or hated it... we couldn't have had such an amazing time with music without everyone that came.

LP:  This year’s St. Jean-Baptiste Bridge Burner Party, which you threw in conjunction with Khiasma and Poirier, was insane! How did the original Bridge Burner come about and how did this year’s compare?

SR: Megasoid did the first bridge burner a few years back, with just a PA in a Van, rocking out until the cops came. It was awesome. I mean, personally, I always prefer renegade events over sanctioned ones (Olivier's loft parties, Scott's rooftop, Our Pop After hours party were really my favorite events in this city)... but Bridge Burner has really become an amazing event, mostly because it has received support from a good diverse group of people... with great promoters getting on deck, Pop Montreal, RedBull, Mike D, Khiasma, Ghislain and a lot of heavyweight local volunteers. This years was the biggest, and most visible, and most successful, but truthfully, the first one will always hold the space in my heart.

LP:  Your design firm, Weaponshouse, is a Montreal cultural institution with work spread out over just about every creative discipline. Could you explain what it is you do at Weaponshouse and what drives you to do it?

SR: I have always considered myself a visual artist and designer first and foremost, but somewhere along the line, I got lucky with music and started paying my rent off it and it in turn got priority. I like to travel, like the interactions but mostly like performing for people, in both a DJ and musicians context.

Weaponshouse is a work for hire  creative house that does high end production work of all sorts... everything from graphic design to industrial design to custom jewelry and clothing for friends. I will soon be setting up a digital label and licensing house attached to it, and will be doing some textile work as well, in case anyone is seriously interested, the site has been stripped down to a bare bones resume, but will be back up with a new site soon. Megasoid's website should be up in a couple days as well.

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