(Artwork care of Karen Ramsay (www.karenramsay.com), profile photo care of brianlackeyphotography.com)

Monday, October 28, 2013

Interview with Bob Cronin (dj BC)

Bob Cronin, professionally known as dj BC, not only produces great mashups and remixes, but he serves as the host DJ at Atlanta’s monthly mashup party, Bootie ATL. He has a fondness mashing The Beatles with The Beastie Boys, creating several albums by “The Beastles,” with the most recent being Ill Submarine. He’s also produced a series of holiday themed albums with the help of numerous other mashup producers.

This is part of a Mashup Artist Summit. Highlighted sections were mixed with other interview segments to create a conversation between several producers.

Jester Jay: A friend of mine turned me on to your work. I think the most pleasant surprise in your catalog was Another J on Earth. What inspired that? That is such a wild combo. I haven’t heard anybody else use Brian Eno…

Bob Cronin: I have been a Brian Eno fan for a while and I did a record with Phillip Glass and different hip hop artists [Glassbreaksand I was like, “All right, I want to do a mashup album.” After I did the Phillip Glass thing, I did one that used a lot of new avant garde electronic, early electronic performers and composers. That was kind of like that sort of thing. Using something more abstract and being able to use them as samples, with a beat, to create something really groovy out of something a little more far out. Then a friend of mine posted a YouTube clip of the song “Another Day on Earth” by Brian Eno. And I had never heard that specific record. And it was a little more recent than some of his other ones I had heard. It was really groovy stuff. I really liked the progressions and the sound quality and the rhythmic sense of it. And I thought I could use this.

When I started putting it together, it just happened. It was surprising to me. It was so natural and fit so well and so easily. I could cut things up and move them around, but it just fell together and sounded really good and these thematic matches seemed to be happening naturally. I was able to find vocal samples that worked really well. I was really proud of how that one came out. It didn’t really get a lot of attention, I think because there have been so many Jay Z mashup albums, with lots of Jay Z acapellas available.

Maybe Eno doesn’t really have a huge fan base, but I really appreciate you noticing that because that is one I really enjoy listening to myself.  I don’t always listen to my own stuff, you know.

JJ: The spoken word stuff, with Eno talking about style, added another dimension that I enjoyed.

BC: One of the things I liked about that, and that I dig about mashups in general is when two things are juxtaposed and it really throws something into a different light or makes it sound really different. Have you heard pomDeter’s “Call Me A Hole” mashup with Carly Rae Jepsen and Nine Inch Nails (“Call Me Maybe” with “Head Like a Hole”)? It takes that pop song and the Nine Inch Nails song and combines them. It gives that Carly Rae Jepsen thing a hard, aggressive drive and they work so well together.

In the case of Another Jay on Earth, the cool thing about it is that Jay Z’s vocals sound almost plaintive. The bluster sounds a little bit thinner. The music might have sort of a melancholy or sad vibe to it and it makes it sound like Jay Z’s being introspective about his situation, about what it’s like to be a black male in America and getting mistreated and those sorts of concepts. Or when he’s doing the bragging thing, you’re kind of like, “Well I can see that this is a device he’s using to protect himself.” I think it’s really cool. It works well. Maybe you can understand what he’s saying because the vocals are a little more up front of the music than the original mix, so you can pay more attention to the lyrical content.

JJ: I know exactly what you mean. On “Sweet and Clear,” he’s laying down this whole “should I be ashamed of what I’m doing?” riff and…

BC: Right, right. He talks about his nephews and what they’re going to be when they grow up.

JJ: I think you’re right, the lyric starts out a little bit introspective to lay that out, but in the original track, he’s pumping it out. Like a little bit of chest beating, maybe. Your mix changes the feel.

BC: Yes. That’s what I’m going for, so I’m glad to hear that that comes across. I think that’s sort of the same thing with novelty mashups, too. There’s a certain surprise; it’s usually a smile factor, where it makes you laugh. That’s one of the things I think is a lot of fun about mashups. The humor is a part of it that makes it healing to people and makes them smile or pay attention for a second.

But in the end, the track has to be good. “Call Me A Hole” is a perfect example of that. You can say, “Ha ha! He’s making fun of Carly Rae Jepsen by playing this really hardcore vocal over it,” but it’s so much more than that. It just works perfectly. It really rocks and it makes you dig the Carly Rae Jepsen. It makes you think, “This is cool, I like this version” and it sounds like its own song, basically.

JJ: It’s something like how cross-genre cover songs work.

BC: Like bluegrass guys doing Snoop Dogg or something like that?

JJ: Exactly.

BC: Yeah, I really like those kinds of cover songs. It is really similar. I think with those songs also, in the end, the tune has to be good and the players have to be good enough to pull it off well and have it be a good song in its own right and not just be a gag.

So, that’s what I hope for. My tracks can stand on their own as productions that are as good as stuff on the radio.

JJ: That’s a great set up for my next question. What’s your favorite mashup that you’ve made?

BC: It changes. I love them all and whatever I’ve just delved into is usually the freshest in me. I’m a little burned out on “#666666 Submarine” and the Beastie Boys right now because I was paying a lot of attention to it before I released it. But I’m really proud of The Beastle stuff, obviously. I really like Another Jay on Earth.

I really like the Santastic projects, the Christmas CDs I do as well. Those are compilations I do every year. I do one or two Christmas mashups or Chanukah mashups and then get a whole bunch of people to contribute and then release the whole CD compilation in early December or around Thanksgiving. Those are great, because I really like Christmas music and they’re a lot of fun. It’s cool to have a whole bunch of people doing it, because they all come at it from different angles. I’ll also do a Halloween one this year. I’m taking the reins back for a thing called {Monster Mashup} that I started back in the mid-2000s. Somebody else was doing for some time, but I’m going to be doing it again this year.

There is a lot that goes into it. I’ll have a website and I need to get somebody to do artwork. It takes a little bit of work to set up, if you want it to be something good, that has a cool feel and look and has a good cover and it’s easy for people to download. It takes a little time to coax tracks out of everybody and stuff.

JJ:  How did you get started creating mashups?

BC: I made mix tapes in high school, often for young women that I was interested in and friends. Then I made party mixes and mix tapes in college. Sort of pre-DJ music. I’d check out this equipment: speakers and an amp and a tape player. This was just before recording CDs became something you could do easily. I would play a tape and hover there and flip the tape over after 45 minutes. And then be ready with the next one and put it on, doing that for like 6 hours. Doing those gigs made me always want to have something that was new, that somebody hadn’t heard before. Then, I started making my own music and doing hip hop and electronic music in the studio with a four track. Eventually that led to using a four track to put a hip hop acapella over a reggae track or something like that. I wasn’t calling that mashups at the time, though.

Eventually, I went online and I found this website called GYBO – Get Your Bootleg On. At that time it was mashup oriented and McSleazy ran it. He’s a Scottish mashup artist, DJ and remixer. McSleazy’s website was huge. I was a lurker there for a long time before I posted anything. I was making my own mashups at home and figuring out what software  I needed to get to start doing it. It was like I had come home. It was a totally natural medium for me. Sort of like a DJ, but I also wanted to manipulate the music. I was influenced by sample-happy bands like the Beastie Boys and De La Soul, Prince Paul and Pete Rock. It just sort of took off from there. I made some tracks and people seemed to like them and it was really hip hop based. Then I started doing stuff with more vocals and whatnot. I cooked up some remixes for bands that were original, officially licensed stuff. So, it’s been cool. It’s been really a kind of fun ride.

JJ: Who have you remixed officially? Do you want to name drop a little bit?

BC: The band that I’ve worked with the most is Big D and the Kids Table, which is a ska-punk rock band out of Boston. They’re on Warped Tour right now. I did a couple of albums with them. The most recent one mixed Big D’s Fluent in Stroll record with Moe Pope’s vocals. He’s a rapper out of Boston. It’s good shit. It’s called Fluent in Moe. I was proud of that project. I should have mentioned that as my favorite thing. Because it was a real, legitimate release and I can get behind this being one of the best things I’ve ever done. I also did a record for them called Strictly Mixed and Mashed before that. Then we did a thing called Rude Remix Revolution, where the band and I got different bands to remix tracks. It’s been a lot of fun working with those guys. I also did a thing with the AKA’s who are like a Philly punk rock band. We had Travie McCoy from Gym Class Heroes on that remix. And I did a thing for The Human League, from the ‘80s. A remix of one of their Heaven 17 tracks. That’s most of the official stuff.

JJ: Have you experimented with longer form mashups like Girl Talk does?

BC: I’m usually focused on doing a track, a song that is. I’m not sure why, because I’m not usually on the radio. But stuff that is three to four minutes long. A song and albums of songs held together by a common thread of some kind. Either they’re sampling the same record or something like that. I have done a couple of longer things, like I did an ‘80s mix that was 9 minutes long and took 30 something songs that’s all ‘80s stuff mixed together. But, honestly, it’s not really my thing.

I like a lot of different kinds of music. I like jazz and classic rock and blues and whatever else, but the stuff I’ve grooved on is hip hop and punk rock, so it’s stuff that’s really structurally coherent: verse-chorus-verse-chorus-bridge-verse-chorus or intro-verse-chorus. So, a lot of times I’m just knocking out songs and that just sounds right to me. It sounds right to me to attend that sort of a structure.

JJ: How do your measure your own success when you look at the things you’ve produced?

BC: That’s funny. I don’t know how to measure that. It’s tough to say. Some things, I’m really happy with how they came out but nobody else paid any attention to them. Like Another Jay On Earth: it didn’t get any press coverage at all. Even if I was talking to a journalist about something that was directly related to it, and I mentioned it, usually they didn’t even talk about it. I’m not sure why that is. Maybe Brian Eno is not that popular, but I thought that was really a cool thing. A lot of people said that they liked it, so I think that it has a limited audience. But I felt that was really successful.

Obviously, I like to have a reach and it’s cool to say that I know that at least 40,000 listened to something. I did this Cannonball Adderly remix with some drum and bass samples and it’s one of my most downloaded tracks ever. If you look at my monthly statistics, on a month when there’s no Santastic downloads and no Beastles, that is a top downloaded track. And it’s all Asian countries where jazz is big and jazz remixes are more popular than they are in other places. Maybe it’s something with the Asian MP3 search engines and how they crawl the web. If they’re searching for Cannonball Adderly, it probably comes up. I always thought it was really good and it didn’t get a lot of attention on message boards and yet it gets more downloads than anything else.

JJ: This next question is a more sensitive topic. Understand that I love the whole idea of mashups, but some people see them as a very derivative art form.

BC: That’s fine. You know what? That’s been said about so many forms of art over the years that it’s not even worth worrying about.those folks. Who cares, really? They may be totally right. It may be a lesser, derivative art. But you can say that punk rock was the same way. It was primitive and non-complex and it used basic structures and therefore it was a lesser form of music. People said that about the blues and African music. They said it about turntablism and electronic music: that they’re just programming it or moving a record that someone else recorded. In the end, everything is derivative and it really doesn’t matter. In my opinion, if people are doing something and they find it rewarding and somebody else enjoys it, then that’s cool. It is something different than making an original rock and roll song, but it also has its own challenges and rewards. It’s something that people find interesting and sometimes meaningful. What are you going to do? It’s not like anybody can get rich off it at this point.

I appreciate that question.

JJ: It’s interesting, too, that when you listen to jazz and sometimes rock, the solo might include a reference to an earlier song. In that case, it’s seen as a little tip of the hat but it’s the same thing. Those are live samples that expand the context of the main tune.

BC: When it’s done well, it makes you even question your own presuppositions about music. It makes you say, “Maybe I was wrong about Carly Rae Jepsen.” Maybe that can be kind of a cool track. Sure, it’s a more commercial version with the way the vocals sound and how they mixed it, but when you hear it mixed with Trent Reznor’s vocal, it kind of sounds cooler. It gives you a bit of perspective into the fact that context and prejudices and suppositions about artists and genres affect it and they can be thrown out the window and exploded. I can say that I like that Carly Rae Jepsen song and I’m not ashamed. And I like it even more with the Trent Reznor vocal. It’s cool because you can bring in so many things. It’s fun and it’s the opposite of snobby.

JJ: Can you name any other mashup artists whose work you really like?

BC: Yeah, there are a lot of them. Ones that I’m really digging right now are Mikey Mike from ParisFrance and DJs from Mars from Italy and DJ Schmolli from Austria.

JJ: I love him.

BC: And he’s still producing tracks, but these are the guys that I know and that I’ve heard more recently. DJ McFly from Boston has good stuff. DJ Earworm, obviously. I’m also always going back and playing stuff by A Plus D and Go Home Productions and DJ JR. The old classic GYBO stuff. Lobsterdust is always good.

JJ: You mentioned Go Home Productions. I talked to Mark Vidler in an earlier interview.

BC: He’s great. I’m glad you did. I would have suggested him. He’s a really amazing mashup artist.

The guys who are really good at what they do…it’s much more than sticking A over B. There’s a lot of thought that goes into it, tweaking, and additional elements brought in and fragmenting the sound source. It’s pretty impressive sometimes what people can come up with.

JJ: Bob, I really appreciate your time.

BC: Nice talking with you.

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