Posted in Interviews
"Mood-setting music to listen to while to you do drugs and sit around the house."
We might be going out on a limb here, but it feels like 2011 was the first time hip-hop producers started being considered "artists" in their own right. That is, not just as producers, but as actual musicians. For decades hip-hop instrumentalists have played behind the scenes roles in the creation of rap songs, resulting in the rapper gaining all the praise. This past year though, producers have stepped out from behind their laptops and into the limelight. Artists like Clams Casino, Lex Luger, and Araabmuzik have changed the way people view rap music in general, sticking to a specific style and building off it relentlessly. Producers have always been essential parts in the creation of good hip-hop songs, it's just that they never really attained the gratitude they deserved until this past year. There's now a lane open for hip-hop producers to strive out and become their own entities, as well as gain recognition/fame for their beats without the need of an MC.
With that said, one of our absolute favorite hip-hop producers to pop up in 2011 was without a doubt Friendzone. This Bay Area duo consisting of James Laurence and Dylan Reznick made major waves early last year with the release of their Perfect Skies EP, a collaboration project with fellow Oakland-ites, rap group Main Attrakionz. On the EP, James and Dylan lace together ambient piano melodies with blissed-out synhts and air harp plucks, creating the perfect canvas for Squadda and Modre's light-footed flows to flourish in. Friendzone's instrumental work is instantly captivating, each song built off a visceral, raw emotion that is felt rather than heard.
Since then, Friendzone has continued to impress, releasing a grip load of one-off production pieces on their Soundcloud page as well as curating a beat tape entitled Kuchibiru Network 2 that garnered nods from bigwigs such as The Fader, Mishka Bloglin, and Nah Right. Recently, we got in touch with the duo and talked to them about everything from their musical upbringing, to they're thoughts on the Bay Area music scene, to what they make of hip-hop's newfound love for producers.
What kind of music were you guys listening to growing up?
Dylan: James and I have both been interested in all types of music for our whole lives. We’ve both had the internet since we were kids and spent our childhoods searching for new sounds to satisfy our short attention spans. I don’t think our generation ties itself to genres as much as past ones have. There’s too much music available and styles change too fast. We’re the first generation to grow up with instant access to pretty much all recorded media... If I decide I want to get into a new genre, I can read all about it and download all the most highly regarded records in that genre in a few hours. I did that a lot growing up. I think a lot of people have been doing that and that’s why the rate of change in music has accelerated.
James: I grew up in a household where Sade and smooth jazz were constantly playing. So that was a big influence on me actually haha. Then when I was about 13, I got my first computer along with high speed internet. I got really into electronic music and punk/hardcore. The band Xiu Xiu got me really interested in programming electronic music. When I first heard their record “A Promise”, everything changed for me. I’m also kind of in love with everything R.Kelly has released.
How long have you been making music?
Dylan: I started my first band when I was 14, and played in a lot of bands in high school. I was very into playing music, and saved up all my allowance and lunch money to buy instruments and fx pedals. At some points I was in 4 or 5 bands at a time. I wrote songs for all of them and made recordings of them on a little Pro Tools setup I had in my room. A lot of improvised music, extended prog arrangements, Slowdive-ish reverb/delay stuff and sound experiments. By the time I graduated, I was in a noise-rock band called Robin Williams On Fire where I played guitar with a screwdriver naked and spit in people’s faces. We toured a lot and played a lot of shows in dirty warehouses and in a former AC-Transit bus with a solar-powered stage built into it. While I was doing that I also started working with James in a band called Destroy Tokyo, which eventually evolved into Religious Girls. Between Religious Girls and Friendzone, I was extremely depressed and spent several months not talking to anyone and recording improvisations of loop-based music with my voice and keyboards for 12 hours a day. Eventually I edited those recordings into 2 records that I released under the name “Birthplace”. A few of those songs are on Kuchibiru Network 1.
James: My first band was a hardcore band called DDS. It was a ton of fun. I got really hyped up every time we played shows. After that I got really into noise and ambient music and I started this project named “doe”. It was really heavy industrial noise stuff, It was so exciting performing that stuff live. After that I was in Destroy Tokyo with Dylan, which was really cool. We toured a bit which was draining but a great experience. Then came LVC, which was my take on making blissed out dance tracks and now I’m in Friendzone.
Speaking of Religious Girls, I feel like if you could picture the most furthest kind of music from the stuff you guys make in Friendzone, that would be it. How does one go from making noise rock to hip-hop?
Dylan: For me, the transition from Religious Girls to Friendzone was pretty natural. I’ve never played a single style of music for too long. Even Friendzone’s music has evolved a lot since we started. Our first songs were a euphoric sort of electronic pop. Footwork later became a pretty big influence. In early 2011 we started working with Main Attrakionz and from that point forward hip-hop production has become our main focus. But even that stuff has evolved.
We've never been to the Bay Area--Oakland and San Francisco respectively--but judging on the music that's come out of there over the past year, it looks like a pretty open minded place for up and coming musicians. How has being from the Bay had an impact on the kind of music you make, your tastes, and just life in general?
Dylan: I’ve actually never really been that into the music scene in San Francisco. Oakland has a pretty active community of DIY artists and warehouse venues, which has always been more fun. But really I’d have to say that in the Bay Area it’s hard for our sort of music to get attention. Lil B is from Berkeley and, while selling out shows in New York City and Los Angeles, he played to nearly-empty rooms in the Bay Area until very recently. Main Attrakionz still play to pretty small crowds. All of us have found our audience on the internet; without it, we’d pretty much be unknown because the local music community has done very little to support us. Shouts out to Mike Melero and Gary Rivera though, those guys do cool shit in the bay.
The Perfect Skies EP was one of the best things we heard all year. Talk to us about how that all came together.
James: We didn't know what the songs were going to sound like after we gave them to Squadda and Mondre. We don’t approach the tracks with a vision or anything like that. On “Perfect Skies”, I’m a big fan of the Japanese pop group Perfume and the song we sampled is one of my favorite songs by them. When we gave them the beat I had no idea how it would sound in the end. They are incredible artists who blow my mind every time we meet up. They wrote and had those songs recorded in less than 2 hours.
How do you guys feel about producers in general getting a lot more credit for their work than in the past? Or Maybe a better question would be: how do you feel the role for producers has changed over the past couple years?
Dylan: I think recently people have begun to really recognize instrumental hip hop as a valuable art form... All it really is is slow tempo electronic music with hip hop beats. “Slow tempo electronic music” can mean a lot of things. There’s a lot of unexplored potential in that world.
Also I think the internet era has triggered a surge of interest in music designed for listening to at home. Mood-setting music to listen to while to you do drugs and sit around the house. Most rap music is very vocal-focused, but what we and alot of others are doing right now is trying to make something more sensual. Songs that can just drift right past you if you let them, but have a lot to discover if you listen intently.
Just to get a better representation of what you guys listen to, what were you guys' favorite albums/releases from 2011?
Main Attrakionz - “Blackberry Kush”
Danny Brown - “XXX”
DJ Rashad - “Just A Taste Vol. 1”
A$AP Rocky - “Live.Love.ASAP.”
Araabmuzik - “Electronic Dream”
Squadda B - “I Smoke Because I Don’t Care About Death”
Rustie - “Glass Swords”
Tim Hecker - “Ravedeath 1979”
Drake - “Take Care”
Pictureplane - “Thee Physical”
Lil B - “Angels Exodus”
Zomby - “Dedication”
Rustie - “Glass Swords”
Nujabes - “Spirtual State”
Spaceghostpurrp - “Blvcklvnd Rvdix 66.6 (1991)”
Drake - “Take Care”
Various Artists - “Bangs and Works vol. 1”
Unicorn Kid - “Tidal Rave EP”
Balam Acab - “Wander / Wonder”
Various DJ Mustard produced tracks: YG - “I’m good”, Tyga - “Rack City”, Problem - “T.O.”, and Soulja Boy - “FAN”
Danny Brown - “XXX”
Main Attrakionz - “Blackberry Kush”
What can we expect for from Friendzone in 2012?
Dylan: Currently we’re working on a remix that Pictureplane asked us to contribute to a remix album he’s putting out in early 2012. Gonna have 2 productions on Main Attrakionz' sophomore which might come out in April. A Main Attrakionz/Friendzone mini album will hopefully see the light of day in early 2012. We also plan to release a single containing the two first songs we ever recorded with Main Attrakionz, which are really special but incredibly hard to mix. Wanted to release them on Christmas but that didnt work out.
A few people have contacted us recently that we’re pretty excited about working with. I’m sure some will work out and some won’t. Also we are planning to release a non-collaborative Friendzone record in 2012, as well as one or a few mixtapes compiling all the instrumentals from our various production projects.
James: Yeah, I can say I’m most excited for two things. The first two songs we did with Main Attrakionz are pretty awesome. That night changed everything for us. The Friendzone record is going to be a joy to work on cause it’s just going to be me and Dylan. I’m excited for 2012.