Their next performance will be a part of the fifth anniversary Taint party this Saturday, June 20th, at DC9. The group will be participating in the third annual all-rap Round Robin, which will be held Friday, July 3rd, at the Load of Fun space, and are also scheduled to appear at Whartscape 2009. They have been included on a new hip hop compilation tape released by John Bachman of Napalm Def (details here). For more information about the band, including how to get their excellent A Personal Matter EP, check their Myspace.
They were kind enough to sit down with me in Emily’s apartment over (baked-from-scratch) cookies. This is the second of two installments. We open with a question that Aran had for Emily.
Aran Keating: When was the first time you had the impulse to rap?
Emily Slaughter: It was the year before (you and I) starting doing stuff… 2004 or 2005…
AK: So, New Face (in Harlem) was your first group?
ES: No, the first thing was the Sophistabits. It was the summer my mom moved out of our condo in Concord (CA). She was going to rent the place out after the summer, and then I was going to go back to college. We had parties and stuff, and then I started a group with my friends called the Sophistabits. We had this thrown-together show. It was the most people that had ever been to my house, this tiny little apartment, and the reason we did it is because we got this drum machine off of Ebay. We put it all together in a matter of weeks. That was the start. Then, I got back to (Goucher), and I tried to keep working on stuff, and I couldn’t really do it on my own. Luckily, Aran was like, ‘what’s up?’ Otherwise, it probably wouldn’t have gone anywhere. I had this little crappy drum machine that didn’t sound the way that I wanted it to because I needed to sample it.
AK: Yeah… I think you were motivated, but you didn’t have the means and the desire to have patience with technology.
To me, the energy of a hip show is typically different from the energy of a DIY basement show. When I saw you two perform, I felt like what you were doing had a great raw energy live. Any thoughts on that?
AK: Well, one of the things I hate about hip hop music is that you can’t create it spontaneously. It comes from this place of very careful sampling. I think that is why it is very important for me for our live show to be as ‘live’ as possible, that it is not just a CD player and hitting ‘play.’ An actual live machine is being used to make sounds, cutting and scratching…
ES: Yeah, when we used to do Mast Production live, we would both use the sampler at the end. But we don’t really use the sampler so much live now. I like that, you know, pressing buttons on stage… ‘I’m doing something!’
AK: Part of being spontaneous, though, is that there is a chance that things can go wrong. If there is no chance of that, then it’s not going to be as fun to watch, so the fact that things can go very wrong at our shows and sometimes do makes it more interesting.
At one of your recent shows, there was talk of a new Hall and Oates project. What is the story with that?
AK: It’s still in the works, it is just taking forever.
ES: The first song we ever did was a Hall and Oats song. Now, we have another one. So, we now have two that are ready to go and recorded. We know which songs we want to do and Aran is working on arranging them, making beats out of them…
AK: The idea of the Hall and Oats project is that we would just take the tracks that we liked and just pick the samples that we wanted to loop, and that was it.
ES: There are some awesome loops in some of those songs…
AK: Yeah, one of the first things we did was take the loop off of “I Can’t Go for That (No Can Do),” which has been sampled a million times, and just looped it, pasting that on the end of a song. It was really fun and it sounded good. Then, we got into our mutual love of Hall and Oates and decided to do an EP. It’s been taking a little while to get together, probably because we haven’t been working very hard at it.
ES: Yeah, we’ve been really busy with other things. When you don’t have a set deadline, it’s harder. With the A Personal Matter EP, we had some deadlines that we had set for ourselves, and, with this, it’s been different. And now Chromeo did that thing with Daryl Hall with “I Can’t Go for That,” so we gotta make sure they don’t continue to do that. We need to visit Daryl and be like ‘What’s up? Let us into your house.’
AK: No, but… it’s still in the works. We’re probably going to do it. We’re probably going to give it away for free so we don’t get sued.
ES: It would be so cool if they sued us! Would we meet them or would we just meet their lawyers?
Speaking of lawsuits, how do you feel about the sampling situation in 2009?
AK: I feel like the best way to be productive and make good music is to be really shameless about where you’re sampling from. You shouldn’t be worried about finding some wicked obscure sample from the back of the crates that no one has ever heard before. I think that what makes good modern hip hop these days is recycling old tracks from the seventies and eighties. If it’s done creatively, I’m all for it. I’m for sampling anything, in fact, even if it came out a week ago. I don’t see why you can’t sample it and flip it. And as far as publishing rights goes, I’m not really worried about it for us. If it comes to the point where I need to start worrying about stuff like that for us, I will start worrying about it.
ES: That would be cool if we had to worry about it.
AK: If it came to that, there are a billion other places I could pull samples from.
ES: And you create a lot of beats, too…
AK: Yeah, for the most part “Quite Fine” is all mine, and Krush Groove is mostly mine as well. But I think what is most important is that we don’t think about it. If we think about it, it’s just going to get in our way.
Tell me about the group’s involvement with the all-rap Round Robin.
AK: That was one of our second or third real gigs.
ES: The first one was in 2007, the second one was in 2008… they always happen in July and it is always our group, Height, Mickey Free, Jones, PT Burnem, Plural… we’re having another one, a third one this July. It’s really a fun thing to do.
AK: The first one was at Current (gallery), the second one was at the Annex (theater), but yeah, that one at Current was the first big show we ever played.
ES: And it was a big show. I was freaked out. We were a very new group, and all these dudes were like ‘we want you guys to play this show.' It all turned out really good, except I had to freestyle and that was not good.
AK: Have you listened to that recording? Everyone was so behind you…
ES: No, I can’t listen to myself.
What does the future hold for AK Slaughter?
AK: Okay… what kinds of bombs do we want to drop on this man?
ES: Oh, yeah…
AK: Remember, some of these projects are confidential…
ES: I don’t what you are talking about! Anyway… I came over yesterday to work on a song and Aran is like ‘I have our next album planned out,’ and he shows me this list and it’s all these songs and a lot of them are on the theme of the Cyclops, who is this character we’ve been toying with the idea of using, putting the life of Cyclops on an album.
You mean Polyphemus, the Cyclops from the Odyssey?
ES: Yeah. So, anyway, we have this intro that’s like ‘Cyclops emerges from the cave’… and, from there, we just wanted to expand and have this whole ‘life of Cyclops’ thing. What I’m excited about is that Cyclops’s mom is a nymph, right? And his dad was Poseidon, and I guess (Polyphemus’ conception) was kind of like a rape, but I’m going to make it seem like it’s a sexy, seductive, cave orgy. So, I’m excited to write a song about that, about these two mythical creatures… and I want it to be a slow jam with talking in the background. That would be cool.
That could have some educational value, maybe…
ES: Yeah… we had this idea a little while ago about doing the school circuit, and writing about hygiene and things like that, but we never actually did it. The closest we came was playing this library in Virginia. It was not family friendly. It’s really hard for me not to curse. It fucks up all the rhymes.
Emily, do your true-to-life lyrics ever cause you any problems?
ES: Well, it is kind of awkward writing about people that are alive, that can see and hear what you are doing. It’s hard for me to write in general. It comes back to Aran writing about things that are more out there and me writing about things that are more concrete. Not that I don’t have an imagination, but it’s hard for me to just pull things out of nothing. I have to base things on experience, and it’s hard. For example, I drive a car now, so I don’t get harassed all the time on the street. Not that I want to get harassed, but-
AK: - that’s fuel, right?
ES: Yeah. I’m really happy right now, I’m in a really great relationship, and things are going really well so it’s harder to write-
AK: - so now we write about Cyclops!
ES: Yeah, the last time I wrote, it was all about ‘love stuff.’ I guess that sells… I feel like anger is more of a motivator than anything else. Anger and sadness, I can do so much more with that than with anything.
AK: Whatever your conflict is-
ES: -without it, there’s no creative energy-
AK: - because even LL Cool J, he needs love, he’s not in love, you know what I mean?
ES: Yeah. He got a lot of shit for that song, didn’t he?
AK: I think he did, but he sold like ten million copies of it.
And so concludes my conversation with AK Slaughter. Look for this fearless rap duo to emerge from the cave somewhere near you sometime soon.