Friday, September 28, 2007

The Dork Defender

It’s hard to believe that ZeaLouS1 burst onto the nerdcore scene a scant year ago. In that short time he has managed to endear himself to the faithful and spread the good word of nerdy rhymes far and wide. Whether performing at the local haunts of his native California, across the country as a featured artist at Nerdapalooza SE, or prowling the stage at Las Vegas’s Consumer Electronics Show, Z1 has turned critics into fans and kindred spirits into family.

Famed for a calm, affable demeanor that belies his imposing size, ZeaLouS1 is more than our titular King of the Boss Fights; he is a friend to all nerds, a self-styled defender of the weak. While many in nerdcore espouse the superhero mindset, ZeaLouS truly takes it to heart.

He is, at once, a nerd’s nerd and a musician’s musician. He throws himself wholeheartedly into everything he does, and what he does best is take the listener by the hand and lead him from the busy San Diego streets to the burning wastes of Azeroth and back again.

And there’s nothing he’d like more than for you to join him.

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Though you've doubtlessly related the tale before, how did you fall into the world of nerdcore hip-hop?

I've been making music since 2001, and the stuff I was coming out with then was lyrically more conscious-mind, underground hip hop. I'd been sampling video games and cartoons with quotes from Anime and I thought it was the coolest thing ever. Last year, while doing a live broadcast at Palomar College Radio on The Takeover, Anthony (aka: The Dark Prince) brought in a compilation of some songs he said were "Hip Hop songs that included really nerdy references" which he thought were right up my alley. I went home, browsed a few tracks and then “White Warrior” by YTCracker hit me. I couldn't BELIEVE someone sampled the beat from Gauntlet and then did a sick job adding some loops and flows to it. I was so inspired that night that I went in my “Lab” and busted out a few beats I had been playing with in the past and began work on my song “Level Up.” I haven't looked back since.

So you were making nerdy hip-hop well before you discovered nerdcore. What was your initial reaction when you realized that there were others out there making music in that same vein?

I was so surprised that there were other people making Mega Man and Fist of the North Star references besides me, but at the same time I was so stoked to know that there were other people out there that could catch my slick nerdy references and appreciate them. I'd slipped a lot of those references into my songs waaaay back in the day just to see if anybody would catch them, but now I can make full-blown songs packed with double entendres and references and have people like “YES! I know what he is talking about!”

Other than YTCRacker, who you’ve already mentioned, was there a specific artist or group of artists within the nerdcore community with whom you felt an immediate kinship?

When I first got to CES in Vegas earlier this year I didn't know anybody and I was still the new kid on the block. Photo by Vagrant AestheticWalking into the place and going into the DivX booth the first people to greet me and my boys were EPP. They talked with us, paid their respects and hung out with us. They showed me what was going on and filled me in on everything I missed due to being caught up in traffic. If it wasn't for EPP it wouldn't have been as fun or comfortable. Much love and respects to my cousins in Florida!

Your third album is slated to be released this October. Is the project proceeding according to schedule?

Yes....and no. If my dad calls me up and needs my help on a Raid or a Heroic Instance on WoW then I'm not recording that night lol. Other than that, everything is right on track.

Have you settled on a title?

No, not yet. It will be the icing on the cake at the end. I have a few ideas in mind, but I won't be able to name it properly until it all comes together.

Your first release, Assimilation Process: Complete, was a thematic introduction to the ZeaLouS1 style, while your follow-up, Collaboc1de, was very much a love letter to nerdcore as both a community and a lifestyle. What can we expect from your next effort?

The concept has changed a few times since I first started working on it. I have settled on the lyrical scheme going back to how I first started but with an enhanced technique. Nothing but straight storytelling and flexing the vocal drops. This time around I am taking a lot of time in hand-making the beats and gathering beats from certain other artists to fit each story I tell to the extent that even if there were no words on the track you would still hear a story. I am going to be taking everything that is ZeaLouS1 up to this moment and putting it onto an album, and when you play it I want you to feel like I'm sitting next to you telling my story.

That sounds like an album I’d like to hear!

So the mechanics of song creation have been enhanced for your new album. How has the recording process itself differed from your previous efforts?

This is the most time-consuming, clean sounding and brain-straining project I have done so far, and I would have it no other way. I am putting forth as much time and effort as I possibly can to make what is in my head and heart come out into the music that you will hear. I do that with all music I make, except this time I'm striving for a higher level of excellence within myself and what I put forth.

A recent video leak showcased a new recording setup, compliments of BOSSFIGHT; would you say that the forthcoming album will have an even more polished sound than those previous?

Yes, absolutely. Thanks to BOSSFIGHT for hooking me up with all the equipment I needed to take my music to the next level. Because of The Dark Prince and the rest of the BOSSFIGHT Family I have been able to make this next project the most powerful piece of work I've ever been a part of.

As you yourself are an Audio Production major, do you generally prefer to produce your own tracks, or do you find it easier to free yourself of that responsibility and simply focus on your rhymes?

I love being able to make my own beats and I am very, very particular about what I flow on. If the beat doesn't make me feel like writing anything then I know anything I do write to it won't be as potent as it could have been. Some DJ's and beatsmiths have sent me tracks that have blown me away, and as soon as I hear the beat I'm grabbing desperately for a pen and some paper. Having someone else make a beat for me is awesome if they know the vibe I am working with and sometimes it really hurts my heart to have to tell them “I'm sorry but I'm not feeling this.” I know how much work and time it takes to tailor-make a beat, and if the vibe is right then the freedom of just writing lyrics and flowing on the beat is such a relief. Making specific beats for the story that I want to tell is the hardest and most arduous process when it comes to making music for me. I prefer making my own but I am nowhere near the best so it's awesome when a DJ or beatsmith comes along who makes a beat that I am infatuated with.

IllGill was recently added to the BOSSFIGHT roster. Does the label have any plans to bring additional artists onboard?

Yes. We are currently getting things ready to be a self-sufficient business before we aggressively begin the scouting and recruiting process. We have big things in mind and we are working diligently from the bottom up putting our time in and doing things the right way. The best part about it is we are having fun, and if we never become successful I will still be able to tell my kids one day how much fun I had doing what I loved to do.

Do you envision BOSSFIGHT as a solely nerdcore hip-hop label, or could we potentially see acts from other genres come into the BOSSFIGHT fold?

I can safely say that we will by no means limit ourselves to any one music style or genre. Like I said, we have some big things planned but we gotta take care of what’s currently on our plates first. Keep an eye on us in the year to come!

What, if anything, can you divulge about the enigmatic group known only as The Sinister Six?

I'm not exactly sure what, if anything, I am allowed to divulge, but when they drop that album it’s going to make people see a different side of nerdy hip hop that many think is only hype.

(EDIT: Shortly after this interview, The Sinister Six were revealed to be MadHatter, YTCracker, ZeaLouS1, Benjamin Bear, Big Stephen, and ShelShocker. The group, however, has still remained tight-lipped about the specifics of the project.)

During the week of this year's San Diego Comic-Con, BOSSFIGHT sponsored an event called N3XT L3V3L boasting an impressive musical line-up at the San Diego Sports Club. What can you tell us about the show?

It was the first show we have ever thrown and it was a very big learning process. So many things need to be taken into account when you throw a show and in this business we are still pretty much noobs. The artists that we got to come rock the mics for us were amazing, Gill and I got to rock out for the first time through the whole show, we met really cool people and made a few connections that have turned into great friendships. The show wasn't as huge as we thought it would be due to inexperience of how to run it, but for it being our very first one it was incredible. I can't wait until we get to do it again!

Are there plans to make N3XT L3V3L a recurring event?

Absolutely! Every year from now on as long as BOSSFIGHT exists there will be a N3XT L3V3L show in San Diego, California.

You journeyed all the way to Florida to play at last month's Nerdapalooza SE. How did that event compare to more high-profile shows such as your gig at CES or the CAPCOM booth performance at Comic-Con?

First and foremost, I wouldn't have been able to do a performance at the CAPCOM booth if it wasn't for YTCracker giving up time from his set to allow me to do so. Much love and respects to YTC for that!

Now the Florida show was a completely different beast altogether. This has definitely been my favorite show I've had the pleasure of performing at. It was a huge and prestigious honor to have headlined the first Nerdapalooza SE show in history. Comic-Con was a prestigious place to be at and to perform at, but when it comes to being around other people who drove 8 hours just to hear and be a part of the music you like and make there is no comparison. The audience was right there just a few feet away from me, full of fans and artists a like singing along with me to every song I did. There is no replacing that; there is no substitute. I would be honored to play at the rest of the Nerdapalooza SE shows forever and if its not in the cards to have me perform, you'd better believe I'm saving up money as we speak just so I can be in the crowd next time. Florida is Nerdcore Friendly and they showed me nothing but love and so it shall be forever returned.

You host a regular college radio show with your friends and classmates The Dark Prince, Silent D, and Tony B. What would you tell the uninitiated about The Takeover, and have you considered a career in radio?


The Takeover is 3 hours of random chaos mixed with Nerdcore and whatever the hell Photo (and cool zombie) by Vagrant Aestheticelse we plan on playing that weekend. We are on a college radio station that you can listen to live at PalomarCollegeRadio.com from 6pm to 9pm PST on 1320AM. Since we are under the thumb of the FCC, our weekly goal is to press the envelope as close as possible without getting Zeb (The Emperor of Palomar College Radio) into trouble. Recently we have taken some notes on how to run a better structured program from our big brothers at The Awful Show so we are going to see how that goes this semester. Nothing is held sacred on our show.

Because Silent D. was kind enough to interview me and have me on the show when it was called The Rundown I have given serious thought to being a radio personality, but, as it stands, I won't do the show unless Silent D. is there. He is the heart and soul of The Takeover. I talk trash and laugh and make fun of stuff, Tony B. is the whipping boy, and DP sits there, says random sexy stuff and makes fun of us as we embarrass ourselves to entertain the audience. Welcome to The Takeover!

As this marks the much-delayed return of the Hipster, please! monthly interview feature, I am beholden to ask: what kind of nerd is ZeaLouS1?

I am blessed with the ability to stomp bullies who pick on the meek, but I am also fortunate to have the ability to naturally excel at most games you put in front of me. I didn't have the best grades in school, but I was the one that found a way to beat any game we were playing. My dad gave me a trunk full of comic books from the 70's through the 90's and a dictionary. At 16 I was bench pressing over 380 pounds and playing Pokemon at school for lunch money. I pretty much dropped out of college because I spent all my time training on Marvel vs. Capcom so I could beat the guy who wasn't letting anybody play in the student lounge. The only reason my boys and I stopped playing Magic: The Gathering is because no one wanted to play us anymore because we rarely lost. My guild on WoW is full of nothing but friends and family and I think sometimes I talk to my Dad more on WoW than I do in person. I apologize for the long explanation but I had to explain it so you understand why I look at my life as one big Boss Fight. ZeaLouS1 is a prototype.

Lastly, ZeaLouS, what is the nature of nerd?

Back in the day Nerds were considered to have great booksmarts yet they were somewhat socially inept people. That’s all changed. Since the internet has become so powerful it has changed everyday life for just about everyone, and in order to survive on the internet you're going to have to pick up a trick or two and read a thing or three. The internet is the most powerful resource known to man, and lets be honest, who do you think runs it? Nerds. =)

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Like most of you, when I hear a nerdcore hip-hop track I am looking for geeky references; I’m looking for that sci-fi namedrop or that clever allusion to Mario Kart or the recitation everyone’s favorite irrational number. But being a nerd is more than knowing the terminology. There is the ever-important concept of “walking the walk.”

There is conducting yourself in a nerdy manner, certainly, and there is doing nerdy things; these are all perfectly acceptable forms of embracing one’s dork side. But lest we forget the long, hard walk of living the nerd life.

YTCracker famously espoused that nerd life was his career, and, while it may not yet be paying the bills for Beau Fa'asamala, nerd life is his passion. It is his focus. His muse.

In a world that tells us that nerds are mousy, ill-tempered, unsociable malcontents, ZeaLouS1 stands out at as powerful, equable, and friendly.

In a world that tells us that music is a commodity, focused more on affluence than content and more on marketability than craftsmanship, ZeaLouS1 simply endures, making the music that he loves for the enjoyment of those with a similar slant.

To put it more plainly: in a world of insincere pitchmen, ZeaLouS1 is a genuine artist.

Moreover, ZeaLouS1 reminds us, through his dedication to excellence and his focus on personal musical growth, that the power of the nerd paradigm is its unending willingness to adapt.

7 comments:

Church said...

Nerds be benching 380?! 0_o

Nice interview. I'm interested to see what's next, both from him and his label.

(BTW, my favorite irrational number is Phi.

antisoc said...

Sinister Six?!?!?!?! Wow, that's gotta be the best news I heard this month (nerdcore related, that is).

Very insightful interview.

Z. said...

I'll be keeping an eye on Z1 and BOSSFIGHT myself, Church. I expect amazing things.

Glad you enjoyed the piece, Soc. Thanks for the support!

pinky said...

awesome interview Z.

much love to Z1 an the boss fight guys.

nerd life bitches.

Z. said...

Thanks, Pinky! Expect to hear more from your fellow Sedgwick Avenue Alliance members in the coming weeks.

Big Ran said...

bossfiiiiiiight! nice read.

Z. said...

Thanks, Ran. I appreciate the support.