Thursday, May 18, 2006

Nerdcore Rising

This was my first interview. Well, that’s not exactly true: In 5th grade, I interviewed my gramps for a project about the Great Depression. I aced that fucker!

Seriously, I’m not exactly renowned for my interviewing acumen, and this meet-up rather rapidly devolved into a pair of old geeks casually gabbing about nerdly endeavors and participating in good-natured self-deprecation. I blame Frontalot. He wasn’t difficult or distracted or rushed – none of the things you mentally prepare yourself for before meeting an artist. He was relaxed. He was complimentary. And, for a professional nerd, he was actually pretty damn cool. Behold the fruits of my half-assed labor:

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I understand that this is your first national tour. Where did the idea for the corresponding documentary come from?

Well, my keyboardist Gminor7 knew Negin Farsad from New York and she heard about the band that he was in and thought it would be a good subject. And she’s a filmmaker so she really took it seriously and is actually doing it and I was surprised. When she first said it I thought oh nobody’s going to make a documentary about me, that’s crazy talk! But here it’s happening so that’s exciting.

Do you feel that having the cameras rolling has put even more pressure on you, this being your inaugural tour?

*laughs* Sort of. I mean, there’s definitely a bigger pressure to be amusing all the time than I usually experience. Usually I just save all that up for the stage. I think I might have been out of amusing this evening.

No, no. You were great! Definitely amusing. If this is your first tour, then that begs the question: what is your day job? I know you’ve mentioned previously that you primarily do freelance work. Is this still true?

Ummm… not currently, no. I actually just sort of wrapped things up with my last couple of clients so I can do this full-time.

Which then begs the question: do you find the “freelancer lifestyle” conducive to one who is pursuing his first ever nerdcore tour?

Yeah. Luckily I don’t have house payments. I didn’t have a job that it was really important to hold on to. I just had clients, and I can get more clients if I have to at some point, I guess.

So your education. You were an English major, is that right?

That is correct.

I’m just glad to see another English major who’s actually doing something somewhat related to language! Were you involved in any other types of bands or other performance projects before becoming MC Frontalot?

No, I was in some bands in college – nothing really serious, but we did perform and write songs and play and stuff. I’ve done a lot of Song Fight! stuff besides the MC Frontalot thing, and then Gabby my keyboardist, Gminor7, and I were both involved in a musical theatre company in San Francisco and Berkley called Emerald Rain Productions. Gabby was the music director of that troupe, and I was, like, a founding troupe member, and we did that for 10 or 12 years. And we did lots of original pop-rock musicals that we would write. So that was most of my stage experience.

Several of the people who are in the nerdcore/alternative rap scene (like MC Lars) started out in punk bands. There really seems to be an inherent punk/DYI ethic to nerdcore. Are you still recording everything yourself? Are you still laptop-ing it up?

So far, yeah, just home recording. I don’t know, I guess that is a big punk rock thing: doing it all in your basement. I love that it’s so much easier these days to make things that sound borderline professional just with a computer. It’s pretty great.

Here comes the shameless begging: Since you are self-producing, is there any hope that some MC Frontalot a capellas could escape onto the Internet so that aspiring djs and mash-up artists might be able to get their hands on them? (Hint-hint!)

*laughs* Actually I’ve got my crack team of high-powered developers working on my brand new Web site even as we speak, and it is going to be up, I hope, in about 7 weeks – 6 1/2, maybe. And it will have a whole section called the Open-Source Beats Program where I will post source kits for songs and let people post their remixes back to the site, and there will be, like, voting on which ones are the greatest and stuff like that.

The number of nerdcore acts really seems to have ballooned. (I’ve got here: mc chris, MC Lars, MC Hawking, and yourself of course, Ytcracker, MC Plus+, Monzy, Paulb, Jesse Dangerously, Optimus Rhyme, and the list goes on and on.) Do you feel that this constitutes a movement? Is that what Nerdcore Rising is about? Is there a scene developing, and, if so, what do you feel your place is within that scene?

It’s kind of funny to think of something that’s just a bunch of people looking at Web sites and sending email to each other as a scene. Like, traditionally scenes (especially music scenes) have been around a place. But it has some stuff in common, I guess, with a scene like a music scene. There are certainly a lot of people who have latched onto the idea that you don’t have to be cool to write down raps and even share them with people. So I’m glad that that’s happening. I see myself as uniquely positioned to, um, exploit the current ballooning popularity because people generally mention me when they talk about nerdcore because I stuck the phrase together a few years ago, I guess.

Of those acts, you’ve worked with both the Hawkman and Jesse Dangerously. Is there anyone else from the nerdcore movement whom you’ve worked with or would like to work with in the future?

Bedsides Hawking and Dangerously? Well, you know, I’d love to do something with mc chris. We talked about it once a long time ago, but he’s very busy being famous. *laughs*

Do you hope to find yourself in the same position where you start a tour and it just never ends? Because mc went out how long ago and he is still on the road? That’s crazy!

It’s true. Well, that is certainly what inspired me to get off my ass and actually go do this: his, you know, seemingly effortless success. I’m sure it was a real pain in the butt, but he did really well with it last year and I said well alright, there really is an audience for the stuff that we’re doing. He has a bigger audience a) because he’s better at rapping and b) he’s got national exposure from doing the Adult Swim stuff. So it’s probably not going to be anywhere near as easy for me to, um, draw that audience on this tour. But if it draws well enough then I can keep going. That’s sort of how I’m looking at it.

Tracks like "I Heart Fags" and "Special Delivery" have a definite political slant. How important is this political element to nerd music and nerd culture? Don’t folks generally think of nerds as being fairly apathetic?

I don’t know if I can speak for nerdcore music in general and its relation to politics. I know that when I was trying to make those songs I was really almost trying not to. It’s like, I knew that the kids who were already drawn to the music were probably interested in it being funny and not having; well, having complex and funny jokes to unravel out of the lyrics, but not necessarily having to think about the world and what a mess it is. It’s like, a lot of people turn to music, especially funny music, in order to escape from all that kind of stuff, but I’m from Berkeley, California and I just couldn’t help myself! That’s how the lyric to the "Special Delivery" song starts “I tried to go clean from protesting,” but I there’s just no… I couldn’t – I couldn’t not do that. Um, and same with the "I Heart Fags" song. I think I must’ve, like, probably lost at least a couple of fans off of that, but, you know, hopefully my fans have an open enough mind that, at least, if they don’t dig a song they don’t have to listen to it and they don’t have to reject everything about it. So, I don’t know, uh, if nerds in general tend to be political. Most of the intellectuals I know from home and from college, they’re all very political and they’re usually geeks too. But the sort of wider, gaming culture nerds, like, math nerds tend to be Libertarians. Definitely not a left-wing crowd naturally. But, I mean, that’s me. I gotta, like, actually express myself.

I guess that’s sort of an important thing about the archetypal nerd: you can be liberal, you can be conservative, there’s not really, you know, you don’t really have to wear a certain shirt to be a nerd. It’s just something that naturally occurs.

Very true, yeah.

What are the signs and symptoms of a swollen hip-hop gland?

*laughs* Well, it sort of engorges, and then you kind of squeeze it and it’s painful, and some rapping comes out. And you find that you have to express your hip-hop gland, through squeezing, repeatedly. Or you can just go to the vet – they’ll do it.

So the expression: that would be the proper course of treatment?

Yes. It’s like when a dog drags his ass on the carpet. He’s just trying to express the anal gland.

Aside from dropping geek rhymes, what’s your nerdiest hobby/obsession? Are you a comic geek? A gamer? An anime guy? What’s your thing?

Not deep into anime, although I love watching it. I do still, even at my advanced age, spend an inordinate amount of time on certain video games. Um, I mean I just lose a month to Civ IV, you know, and it’ll give me worse carpal tunnel than when I’m working. It’s awful. So, I definitely am deep into video games. Much less, like, the RPGs and tabletop stuff since maybe junior high/early high school; I haven’t done a lot of that. But, deep into video games. I still love comic books very dearly. Ever since college I’ve been much more interested in, um, like the Fantagraphics stuff, the Dark Horse stuff. Dan Clowes and Chris Weir are my favorites. Julie Doucet and Jim Woodring. Um, I love a lot of different comics, but I don’t meet a lot of people who love the same comics as I do. Mostly the comic nerds I know are into, like, Justice League and Marvel and whatnot.

Penny Arcade Expo: is it as amazing and geek-awe inspiriting as it seems? I know you’ve said before that that’s what you look forward to. Is it geek Mecca when you get to PAX and there’s the table-top gaming and the comic guys and the people with their noses in their DSes? Is it what it appears to be? Is it all that and more?

Um, it’s pretty wild. It’s definitely everything you would imagine it to be, and it’s very impressive. I wish I could enjoy it more when I go. The year before last I was able to go just for the night and then I had to disappear. And last year I also had to disappear right after. And then, even the whole time I was there, I had to staff my booth. So I didn’t get to play any videogames last years. This year I’ll bring a PSP so that I can.

That’s another question: PSP or DS? Where are you stationed in the handheld war? Am I to take it you’re firmly entrenched in the Sony camp?

It’s funny; I’ve only ever owned two dedicated gaming consoles in my whole life. I was always on computers. Like TRS-80, the Commodore 64, then PCs. The first time I ever bought a consoles I bought on Craigslist a used PS2 so that I could play San Andreas ‘cause I’m so obsessed with those Grand Theft Auto games. And, um, so I have a PS2 and then I bought a PSP so I could play this fucking Liberty Cities. It’s like the amount of money I’ve spent to play Grand Theft Auto games is totally outrageous!

Lastly, what would you say -- since we’ve sort of discussed the types and levels of nerd-dom -- is the essence of nerd? Can you pin it down, or is it just too nebulous?

Well, it’s easy to sort of define what it’s not, right? The nerds are the kids who aren’t cool. Um, but what a nerd is? I always thought, growing up and constantly being hollered at being told that I was a nerd and getting put down, I always thought that maybe those other kids have their shit together in a way that I don’t socially. But I have, you know, a rich inner life. I have an imagination. I’m smart enough to enjoy Dr. Who and Monty Python. I have a sense of humor. I have all of my pretty little comic books. And what do they have? They get to smoke pot with the other popular kids. How long is that gonna last? And, hey, I was right. That, like, lasted through junior college, and now where the hell are they?

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And that was it. Front and I rapped for a few more minutes about nerdly self-indulgence, and then I bid him adieu.

When it was all said and done, he had taken a half-hour to sit down and answer a bunch of goofy-assed questions from some guy with a blog that all of a half-dozen people actually read. He had even closed down his merch table early, probably missing a load of t-shirt and CD sales that could’ve otherwise bought food, beer, gas, and comics on his first ever tour, to do so. What’s more, he had done so gladly and for no other reason than to talk with a fan. It didn’t really behoove him to do it. I mean, shit, there’s no amount of free publicity to be found here. I’m actually guessing most of you reading this linked in from his site. The truth is, I suppose, it was just a friendly gesture. It was nerd love. It was geek solidarity. And when Front comes to your town, you go out and show him some love too. He’s working hard to bring the nerdcore to the masses. Shouldn’t you be doing the same?

Nerd Up!

**The accompanying Frontalot-as-zombie images scanned from my personal collection and used without permission. Interested fans can easily catch these illustrations (and a damn fine story) in Image Comics’ The Walking Dead Volume 1: Days Gone Bye by Robert Kirkman and Tony Moore available at finer comic shops and online retailers everywhere. Please don’t sue me.**

1 comment:

JK said...

Half a dozen, plus one. Came in from http://www.rhymetorrents.com/, got stuck in Web Clicky Hell for about 45 minutes, reading random articles. Thanks for the good stuff.