Every now and then, I have the pleasure of meeting someone who is actually from Cybertron.
No, not Optimus or Megatron!
However, Klopfenpop definitely fits the mantra, “more than meets the eye”!
(Cybertron should be a neighborhood in Seattle!)
I felt like a young Bruce Lee being schooled by IP Man in this interview. To tell you the truth, I didn’t mind at all! I gained alot of insight into the mind of the musical guru. Some people make music into their life. After this interview, I realized Klopfenpop was indeed rare in one key aspect…
…he turns life into music.
I wonder if he can turn lead to gold also?
Speaking with you, you understand a lot about the elements of music. Have you ever had any training or been taught music theory?
Klopfenpop: I had piano lessons growing up, so that was a great foundation. But honestly, a lot of the most important things I learned were just from hearing things, painstakingly figuring out how to replicate them, and then researching until I figured out what the technical terms surrounding it were. Later, I was a music major for one semester in college before dropping out. That taught me about modes, though that’s still something I understand on an intellectual level while never having been able to “feel” it very naturally, but string arrangements and best practices for composing harmonies were probably the most valuable thing I took from my brief university stint.
How did you get your start into production? Who was your inspiration?
It started off when a friend in middle school introduced me to the program Goldwave. It was (and is) a freeware audio program that has no multi-tracking or tempo functionality. I cut my teeth making remixes on that and eventually was introduced to Reason by my older brother. I still use Goldwave for certain quick edits and batch conversions today. A lot of producers I know actually still keep a copy around.
Honestly, my main inspiration to make hip-hop and to learn production was the hidden track before Remote Control on “Hello Nasty” by The Beastie Boys. I still remember the first time I heard it on the radio. It’s a sample of an old Chilean song that’s looped, then out of nowhere this huge drum break comes in and plays with it. It blew my mind. It was an epiphany. They were playing multiple songs over each in a certain way and making a new third song. They were making art from art—an audio collage, but resulting in a new coherent whole. Since then, it’s just been me responding to the revelation and mystery of that moment. Not long after my brother played me Cut Chemist’s “Lesson 6: The Lecture” of the self-titled Jurassic 5 album and that kicked everything up to a whole new level.
You produce other genres besides hip-hop, in fact you have a wide range. Who is your favorite musical artist that isn’t a hip-hop artist?
Man, I have a hard time narrowing down favorites—I tend to have a pretty eclectic musical appetite. For production and instrumentation Nine Inch Nails, The Notwist, and Vulfpeck have been and continue to be very influential on how I think about creating and shaping music as a whole as well as inspiring very specific sounds and techniques.
Music from my record collection that’s always influencing me is stuff like Ramsey Lewis, Ray Charles, Wes Montgomery, and The Nat Cole Trio. Individual musicians that I often find myself studying are James Jamerson, Randy Newman, and Darren King.
I also find myself drawn to the more dark or contemplative classical composer from the early-mid 19th century through to the early 20th. From Wagner to Chopin to Dvořák to Mendelssohn to Brahms to Debussy to Prokofiev to Rachmaninoff.
Oddly enough, I’ve also really been enjoying the recent revival of the sort of old-time music, Dixieland, old blues, western swing, bluegrass scene. Some of my favorites doing that stuff are Dom Flemons, Pokey Lafarge, The Devil Makes Three, and The Cactus Blossoms.
Back to hip-hop, it seems like you guys are creating a different type of vibe for hip-hop in the Pacific Northwest. Yourself, Lex Lingo, Bill Beats, Death Star, Shubzilla, etc. Is this a movement or just friends collaborating?
I think it’s both. There’s definitely a real range of technique and musical sensibilities within the crew and the local scene as a whole. It all seems to smell like the Northwest, though, you know? The PNW is pretty eclectic as a rule—everyone is into a lot of kinds of music, different cuisines, cultures, etc. I actually live just a mile from a Little Korea neighborhood.
Unfortunately, we’ve got a huge legacy of racism, as well. Oregon was founded as a state with a law literally forbidding black people from moving there. Washington forbade Chinese people from voting, later passed the Exclusion Act forbidding more Chinese people from moving here, and eventually culminated in hundreds and hundreds of immigrants having their homes torched, being physically forced onto outbound ships or to Eastern Washington out of fear for their lives. Our record with Native affairs is by no means good. Our state fairgrounds were used as an internment camp for people of Japanese ancestry. Our police are in a continuous process trying to shrug off the endless investigations finding that they are violating the Constitution, federal law, and human rights. While we’ve legalized recreational marijuana and enabled rich dudebros to open small-batch, artisan weed shops, people of color who were disproportionately arrested (then incarcerated with mandatory minimum sentences) on literally the same block for selling the same drug, are still sitting in prison for breaking laws that no longer exist.
People up here want to remain ignorant to this stuff or pretend like none of it has any ramifications on our local culture, but it does. I’ve travelled a lot around the country, and Seattle is one of the most insidiously “secret racist” places I’ve ever been, but it’s still seen to outsiders (and insiders who are kidding themselves or remaining insulated) as this sort of liberal ideal of progressivism and forward-thinking culture. While a lot of people try to take pride in that, I think many in the artist community here are trying to come from a more authentic place and deal with the actual, real world we’re coming from. Sort of rebelling against the hipster bullshit that Seattle is known for and calling it out for what it is.
Who is your favorite hip-hop artist of today?
As far as rappers Chance The Rapper, Jidenna, and Sammus. Producers would be Wax Tailor, The Weeknd, and Kanye West. My favorite group is Dollabin.
If somebody gave you a scepter and a crown right now and told you, “YOU are the king of hip-hop”, what direction would you take it?
I’d leave it exactly as is. I don’t feel like I should be the guy to make that call. Sure there’s a bunch of shit I can’t stand or am just unimaginably bored by, but I also think the fullness of artistic expression is important. It helps push the boundaries of genre, technique, technology, writing, culture, and music into new places that will almost certainly be greater, more important, and more long-lasting than whatever happened while clearing the path needed to get to that new place. I loathe smooth jazz with all of my being, but it came directly out of my favorite late 60s and early 70s jazz fusion like Bob James, Herbie Hancock, Deodato, etc. And it’s what ended up paving the way for jazz to join back up with the thread of hip-hop—the very genre that was shaped by sampling those guys’ records—and make gritty, sample-based trip-hop, which I love.
More importantly, though, some of the most important leaps forward in art come as a response to—and often in direct opposition of—the current state of art. So while I may not be into Future, I love Atlanta underground and can’t wait to hear how that scene ends up rebelling against that to make something totally new and fresh as a response to it.
Rockstar, Rapper, or Hippie? Why?
Rapper. Too practical to be a rockstar, too cynical to be a hippie.
What projects are you working on right now and what do you have planned for 2016?
Right now, I’m working on some tracks I’m really excited about with Lex Lingo. You and I will be getting some hotness happening with my guy Bill Beats this spring that I’m super excited about. I’m working on a really innovative project with Doogie Howitzer up at Han’d Solo records out of Canada that involves like a dozen rappers and will probably end up on vinyl. I got to produce a crazy electro-metal song with Alpha Riff and Yugen for Riff’s forthcoming joint. MC-3PO of Death*Star (aka Rook The Rhymer) and I are working on a concept album of really dark progressive hip-hop album themed around classic gothic literature (you can hear a couple of the seeds of this project from last year’s NerdcoreNow VPC competition). I’ve got a couple beats on the illustrious Press B’s long-awaited Sexy Space Music. I have a few more cuts in the works with PovertyMan after the success of last year’s Not Safe For Anybody EP that I had the pleasure of mixing and doing some additional production on. Lavos and Yaki from The Moderators have a couple of my beats they’re working on, at the moment, and everything they touch is flames.
Someday, I’ll get around to finishing up my own next album Haiku de Grâce.
Listen to a few Klopfenpop’s dope tracks right here! Hear more tracks on his website at klofenpop.com