Featuring on our new Skope column, Linear Regression is The Aztext. This is where we dissect an artists sound, a producers style and give folks a bit more insight into where concepts come from and how lyrics are born. The Aztext are a Vermont residing duo, who have been doing their thing on the indie scene for a while now.
Using the services of various producers for their Who Cares If We’re Dope EP’s. We managed to sit with them and ask them about Volume 2 which sees them work with ‘San Francisco’s head-nod King’ – Touchphonics.
How would you try and sell this EP to someone who has never heard of The Aztext?
I think the EP’s greatest asset is its diversity, especially for someone who has never heard our music, or heard of us in general. While all the beats were produced by TouchPhonics, each track has its own distinct sound, and I think that can be appreciated by someone who’s buying a musical release that only contains five songs. Each track is about something different, has a different sound, and is approached differently by us in a creative sense. So, for someone who is new to our music, I think it is a great introduction, simply because after they have heard all five songs, they will have experienced a wide array of what we have to offer as artists, rather than five songs that all virtually sound the same, which would result in the listener only really having to hear one of the songs to get a sense of the group. This way, listeners can gravitate to the songs they like best of the five, depending on their particular taste.
Can you tell us which track means the most to you and why?
I feel the most connected to ‘I Make Records’ simply because when I was younger listening to music, there were so many albums that I could buy, pop in the stereo, and listen to the entire thing without hitting the ‘next’ button, or having to tolerate unnecessary filler between songs. It is a powerful thing when a group releases something like this, because it is indicative of a tremendous amount of time, work, and creativity that went into putting together the project. It was put through the same perfection process a work of art would go through before it is mounted in a gallery or sold to a buyer. This results in that particular album being timeless. This is something we strive for, simply because it is something we hungered for as listeners of music, so we try to keep that in mind when creating an album. Now, with the EP’s, it was a challenge, because each one would only have four or five songs, and a different producer, but we still attempted to create an experience with the entire season where the listener would never be given something that we didn’t feel completely confident about putting out, and that we hadn’t put all the finishing touches on. It is the editing process that results in artists releasing these types of ‘cover-to-cover’ albums, and we try to stay true to that. So, for our final verse on ‘I Make Records’, we wanted to pay homage to all the albums that we felt fit into that category and inspired us to make the music we do today.
‘I Make Records’ shows some serious wordplay in the final verse. How long did it take for you to put that verse together and were there any albums that didn’t make the cut which you tried to make fit?
This is actually something we did before on our first album, with the final verse of the song ‘It’s True.’ On that track, we took all the rappers or hip-hop groups that inspired us throughout the years and wrote a story using all their names (or track/album titles) as connecting points. We thought this was a cool way to show our fans which artists inspired us to rap, and also for us to pay homage to these particular artists in rhyme form.
With ‘I Make Records’, let me just say that it was a much more laborious process putting together the list of albums we wanted to include. This is due to our growth as artists, and an attention to detail that we acquired over the years. It probably took a couple hours just coming up with the list. We definitely wanted to include all albums that we felt fit into this category, of being ‘cover-to-cover’ classics, not just hip-hop albums. Our influences extend outside of the genre of hip-hop and we felt it was only right to show this on this particular track. After we came up with the initial list, we grouped album titles together based on which ones rhymed with each other. That probably took another 45 minutes to an hour. After that, we started trying to create the story we would tell using all of these titles. The process of actually creating the final verse once we selected which titles we would actually use took about 2 to 3 hours. The initial list is definitely much longer than what we ended up using in the verse, simply because it just wasn’t possible to include everything. The ones left on the cutting room floor were:
Abbey Road, In Utero, Superunknown, Hard to Earn, Revolver, 36 Chambers, Masters of the Universe, Women and Children First, Highway 61, Shadows on the Sun, 3 Feet High & Rising, Mama Said Knock You Out, Strictly Business, Illmatic, Blood Sugar Sex Magik, Master of Puppets, Harvest, The Infamous, Dangerous, Beggar’s Banquet, A Hard Day’s Night, Paid in Full, Moment of Truth, The Coming, ATLiens, The Chronic, Naughty By Nature (first album/self-titled), Tical, Iron Man, Supreme Clientele, Band of Gypsies, Wish You Were Here, Vulgar Display of Power, Internal Affairs, Here Come the Lords, Beats Rhymes & Life, Thriller, Off the Wall, Blond on Blond, & Nothing Shocking.
Each track comes with its own sound; ‘Tear the Moon Down’ is so much faster than the other four on the EP. Did you choose production that would test you as MC’s and allow you to show your lyrical skills?
I think every MC likes to see how fast they can rap and test themselves to this extent. However, with this track, it more came out of a mutual desire to incorporate our music with what the producer of the EP is capable of. Touchphonics is also a prolific drum-and-bass producer in addition to making hip-hop beats, so this has been something we’ve wanted to try to bring together for some time. This EP was a perfect opportunity for us to do so. In the end, it became about more than just the speed of the track. Once the hook came together, and the cuts, it just became about making it the best possible track it could be, rather than just a way for us to rap as fast as we could. Although that was a pretty fun challenge for us. It also gives us a chance to branch out to drum-and-bass fans that might not be aware of us as artists.
‘Cool Don’t Exist’ is a track that definitely sits well in today’s world. Was this inspired by anything in particular?
It pretty much came out of a conversation we had as we were sitting with the beat, listening, and trying to come up with a concept. It sort of goes along with what we were trying to communicate with the title of the entire season, ’Who Cares if We’re Dope?’ I think people get so caught up in fulfilling certain expectations that others set for them that they forget about accomplishing what they initially set out to do themselves as artists. You’re never gonna be able to please everyone all the time, even if you’re Steven Spielberg. There’s got to be a point where you just say, ’Are we making this to please other people or are we trying to make discoveries within ourselves and incorporating this creatively with our music?’ Of course we want our fans to be satisfied with what we put out, and we never want to be selfish as artists and completely turn a blind eye on what people want to hear, but I think it’s important to stay focused on creating the best possible product you are capable of. Set your own mission, realize it, and the rest will follow.
As far as ’Cool Don’t Exist’, we were just talking about how there’s such a preoccupation with being ’cool’ and ’hip’, and what did this even mean anymore? Isn’t being cool just being yourself and being confident in that? To us, trying too hard to be cool is almost uncool. So we decided to flip the whole idea on its head and make a statement for people to make up their own minds about. Just put it out there and see how people take it. This way we’re saying, ’We don’t think we’re too cool, ’cause cool just doesn’t exist anymore. People have ruined it by making it something to strive for rather than it being a result of what you’re doing and who you are as an artist.’
Does using only one producer encourage more cohesion, even though these songs are all so totally different?
I think it definitely translates into more cohesion for the listener, because even though each track does have its own distinct sound, there are definitely trademarks of that individual producer running throughout each one that ties them together. Each producer has their own instincts and what they like to do with music in their own distinct way that identifies them and distinguishes them as individual artists. I really enjoy what it allows for with each release because one of the challenges of releasing a full album that includes an array of different producers is deciding which order of tracks is going to allow for the most cohesion due to the different musical nature of each producer. This way it’s a much simpler process and allows each specific producer to be identified on each release rather than a listener having to turn over the album’s front cover to look for who produced which track, which only the really die-hard hip-hop heads do anyway. I think it’s better for all parties involved.
What was it about Touchphonics that made you want to work with him on this EP?
We have known Touch for many, many years, more than a decade now, and are signed to his label ’Elevated Press Records’. He has been a contributor to our music for all of our albums so far, and it was just an inevitable conclusion that he be part of this project. He is a very gifted producer and takes things in directions that I think are unpredictable, which is a great asset to have as an artist. He takes the raw essence of what makes a traditional hip-hop beat dope and puts his own unique spin on it that makes it totally modern yet still accessible to the hip-hop fans that yearn for the classic sound of old.
I think he also challenges us as MC’s; his beats force us to consider new ways of approaching songs lyrically, and allows us to make discoveries that we might not have made had we not been presented with those particular beats. Obviously with ’Tear the Moon Down’, it allowed us to go in a direction we had never gone before, and take a musical risk that would allow us to gravitate to fans of another genre that might not be aware of us as a group. All of the beats on this EP presented us with challenges and led to each one being about something completely different. That left us really satisfied as artists.
How does your creative process differ when it comes to writing and recording?
Our writing process involves us sitting down with each beat and listening to it for as long as we have to in order to try to find some sense of direction. Usually it starts with a hook, maybe even just the melody, and building off that. Sometimes we will come up with a concept and use that to springboard off of. The beat is what fuels the whole process though. When we are writing our verses, we don’t like to rush the process; we allow it to take as long as it has to, putting them through multiple editing sessions. We also like to bounce ideas off each other, and make suggestions, offering constructive criticism. We have definitely moved past that whole phase of a group where the individual members are just trying to ’do them’ and not be responsive to what someone else has to say. That is not the way a group structure works. There needs to be a balance and mutual respect of one another for the whole thing to work and come together with ease. Otherwise it’s just a bunch of different people making music with each other, not one focused unit of artists truly working together.
The recording process involves one of us in the booth and one of us at the controls. We spit our verses until they sound completely solid, no matter how many times it takes. We are perfectionists when it comes to that; we don’t like to settle for subpar material. Might as well take the time to make it right. The one manning ’the boards’, so to speak, AKA ProTools, will offer suggestions which the one spitting their verse can take as they please. We just like to keep an open air of advice. It doesn’t always have to be right, just open to consideration. This creates the most positive recording atmosphere. Also, we are always open to unexpected moments of inspiration. A different way of doing a hook, or cutting a few words from a line to make tighter, all of these are open to possibility. We like to try lots of different things, not all of which end up on the actual track; it just allows us to exhaust every opportunity to make the best possible song we can.
If you could use one song from this EP to summarize what The Aztext are about as lyricists and which you feel represents you to the fullest, which one would it be and why?
I would have to say ‘Till the AM’. The song itself is about a night of partying where nothing else matters, and all that you focus on is the moment and the good time you are having. While I am not saying that this is specifically what represents us as lyricists, the idea of taking even a concept like this and trying to make it lyrically challenging with intricate wordplay is what we are all about. We are never going to sell ourselves short no matter what the concept is, and this in particular is a track where we could have taken a more relaxed approach and just focused more on a party flow, with lyrical dexterity being secondary, but instead we chose to make it as lyrically rich as any of the tracks on the EP. Also, each of our verses focuses on the two different sides of a night of partying. Mine presents a picture of the feeling you are having while you are in the midst of these moments, caught up in the euphoria you are experiencing, but with the inevitability of the sun coming up and the night being forced to end, left only with memories (if you are that lucky), while Pro’s is more about getting older and attempting to have nights like this, and how it differs from when you were in college and could do it all the time with less repercussions in the morning, but how it is still necessary to do from time-to-time in order to get all your stress out of your system. This is the advantage of having two lyricists in a group, the idea of being able to offer two different perspectives on the same topic.
Do you have one track (can be by any artist/any genre) that you wish you could have been a part of (either performing or writing)?
Black Moon’s track ‘Who Got Da Props?’ is a song I would really have enjoyed being a part of. The beat alone brings me to a place and time in hip-hop that I miss incredibly. It is the essence of hypeness. Da Beatminerz were just very aware of what makes a hip-hop beat dope, and they could make both the slower head-nodders and the faster, up-tempo hype beats that made the early 90’s so raw and live. Also the way Buckshot flows on the beat is the essence of that B-Boy era way of flowing, where the rhymes are clever but not too wordy, and the timing is so on-point that he just rides the beat perfectly. Due to the way that song makes me feel when I hear it and the nostalgia it conjures up in me, I would have loved to have been able to have a verse on it, and have been part of the creating of it.
By: Laura Croft the Crate Raider – CriticalMMG@gmail.com