Friday, August 22, 2008

Some Songs Can Last Forever: A Few Words with Beef Thompson

There's just something about the end of summer. As the air starts to cool and the autumn breeze begins to blow, I can't help but think back.

The slow change of seasons makes me wistful.

The universe itself seems to feel the same, as August has seen me conduct two follow-up interviews with a pair of my favorite previous subjects. The first was with Random, a spirited cat I finally met face-to-face just a month prior at Nerdapalooza. The next, which you will (hopefully) read below, is with Beefy, who holds the dubious honor of being the second artist ever featured here at Hipster, please!

Unlike Ran, I've never met Beefy in person. But still, I think of him in friendly terms. It feels, in all honesty, like I've known him for years. This could be due to the fact that, though we haven't conducted an official interview since, the two of us have kept in regular contact in the 26 months since we first discussed his life as a burgeoning "Internet Celebrity." Or it could simply be that I, like many of Beefy's fans, know him from his music. Or rather, know him through his music.

Beef returned to the wholly metaphorical hot seat to talk about his artistic evolution, his new album Rolling Doubles, and that uniquely honest quality that makes his music so dangerously personal.

Read on to learn more.

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In the 2 years since our last sit-down, you've released a number of albums and EPs, the foremost of which being 2006's Tube Technology. In your opinion, what was the main difference between that album and your preceding releases nerd. and The Whitesican EP?

Whitesican and nerd. were kind of like practice. I wanted to make some songs so I stole beats from Soundclick and put it out with the hopes that some people would dig it. I liked Tube Tech because it was the first time I had worked with people like Doc Pop and Snyder and it was the first time I had production I didn't have to steal. That's not to say I didn't steal at all, but it was the first time I started working with other amazing artists in the community. It wasn't the best album in the world and it felt more like a mixtape without a more consistent theme, music-wise, but I think it was a big step forward at the time.

You tend to write songs rooted firmly in your personal life, and it's hard not to note that several of the core collaborators from that album – and, indeed, a number of the songs' subjects – are no longer in your life. Does that make Tube Technology hard for you to listen to?

Kind of, which sucks because I really like the music. It feels like a waste of a beat. I listened to Doc's beat for "The Legend of Jones McFly" and I just kept thinking I'll never do this song live again. I hate "wonderfulamazing." I'm going to remake "GP." But I like to think music is made for the time and some songs fall away, but some songs can last forever. I'm going to hear "Chun-Li" for the rest of my damn life LOL. I think for my next free project I'm going to reuse some of those beats though. Can't get some of them out of my head.

You followed its release with another pair of EPs in 2007: Pale in Comparison: A Series of Cover Songs by Beef Thompson and The Adventures of Beef Thompson: Private Dick. Who is this Beef Thompson character? Did the name somehow represent a further evolution of Beefy as an artist?

Beef Thompson is a name I used back in the day when I was using Morpheus and Napster and there was that constant fear that the RIAA would bust you for downloading, so I thought that least I could do was give a fake name. But that started growing and it's how I like to introduce myself now. I like to think that Beef Thompson is the confident, cocky guy I like to pretend to be when meeting new people. It's my mask at shows. But when I'm at home or at my mom's or ya get to know me, I'm just good ol' Keith who is shy and insecure and who thinks his music sucks. But I like for the music to be confident and I like to put on a show, so Beef's the rapper. Now excuse me while I see a doctor for my apparent split personality disorder...

2007 also saw you take part in your first tour with Doctor Popular and MC Router. How was the Mediocre Tour experience? Would you like your next tour outing to be similar?

Doing those shows was amazing. We rocked it with Optimus Rhyme, The Goondocks, FSR, Monzy, and I swear to god a guy named Doctor Proper. The shows were a blast, but the planning sucked and it taught me a lot of things about going on the road if I'm lucky enough to do it again. No planning in just two months and no driving from Seattle to Oakland in one day!

In addition to your close working relationship with Doc and Router, you've performed and/or collaborated with producer Tanner4105, recently defunct Kennewick rockers From the Dust, international rap duo Dual Core, and (the aforementioned) nerdcore icons Optimus Rhyme. How have these experiences influenced your musical growth?

Tanner is probably the biggest influence I have musically. The music he gives me speaks to me. I never write faster than when I'm writing to a beat from Tanner. From the Dust broke up which sucks, but it's ok since I'll still be working with Al Craddock (singer/guitar) and Ryan Tidrick (drums) on a new project we're excited about. I'm on the new Dual Core album on a track with Wheelie and YTCracker that I'm in love with. Every time I work with these people I want to step up my game. If it's just me and a stolen beat I tend to get lazy. If I'm going to use one of Tanner's beats or work on a track with YT, I have to do my best to shine and let the others working with me know that they're not wasting their time on me. I hope to con Dual Core, Wheelie, YT, and a few others to rock out with me on the next album.

You're also a member of geek music supergroup The Grammar Club along with the likes of Shael Riley, DJ Snyder, Adam!, and, until recently, Glenn Case. How did that project come together, and what can we expect in the Club in the future?

Shael and I did "Miss Information" for the first Rhyme Torrents and really enjoyed the process and the end result and figured why not do it more? Then we tried Tri-Forc3 and that didn't work out, so Shael and I originally planned on just being a duo and working with Baddd Spellah. When that didn't pan out due to Spellah being too busy owning the world and already doing 80 other projects, we slowly started recruiting others like Glenn, Snyder, and then Adam! Shael really is the head of that project. I come in, write and record, and take a bunch of credit, but Shael is writing all of the music and his lyrics, working with Adam and our new instrumentalists, and basically acting as the group's director. I love him for it 'cause it's a lot of work but he makes it look easy. We're working on our new album right now and doing it like we did the last one. Shael and I pass scratch tracks back and forth, then he takes it to Adam and they start perfecting. It's bizarre being in a group where I haven't met any of the other members, but I think the result is pretty great.

Your forthcoming solo album is being released under the name Rolling Doubles, as opposed to its original title 20-sided Rhymes. What prompted you to rename the project?

I'm notorious for renaming my projects. Tube Tech went through about a billion names before I asked Joe Dunn to do the artwork. Once there's artwork then it's final! I also decided that while I love D&D, I didn't have a song about it on the album and it felt like the title could be used for something else. Thankfully... that's gonna happen! Rolling Doubles in most board games is the ultimate in nerd "skill" and I hope listening to my album gives people the same feeling as when they get those double sixes!

Tube Technology was notably released under the banner of YTCracker's Nerdy South Records label. Will Rolling Doubles be a Nerdy South release?

Rolling Doubles is going to be a Nerdy South release and my first sellable item with YT. I love that dude. He has shoes with individual toes! He's been the most helpful person I've meet thus far in this community and I swear to god is one of the nicest people I've ever met. He made it rain on Chicago for crying out loud!

Is there an underlying theme to the new album? Some unifying concept?

Rock out and have some fun! Tanner and I were very rock influenced with this album as one can tell from "You Can Call Me Beef" and "Table Top." You'll hear what I think is a great blend of rock and electronica as well as a great hip-hop feel. Thanks to Tanner and Doc (aka: Drown Radio), Rolling Dubs feels like an album where as Tube Tech felt like a bunch of tracks thrown together... which it kind of was. It was kinda cool that on tracks like "Turn Your Radio Off," Tanner seemed to kind of match Doc's feel while still making it a distinct tanner4105 track.

You've already leaked a number of tracks through MySpace, The 61, and podcasts, but I'm sure fans are more concerned with what you haven't leaked. What sort of surprises do you have in store?

I love to leak my stuff. Reminds people that I'm still alive. But one of my favorite tracks on the album is "Disconnect" because YT and Ben of The Former Fat Boys really bring it and it's just a fun ass song about not getting a connection. There are songs out there on the internet like "Tilt" and "Turn Your Radio Off" that some have heard but a lot of people haven't yet. And even though she thinks nerdcore is dead and has fallen off the face of the net, Rolling Doubles will have a track with MC Router on it which some might dig. There's the album version of "Play With Me" that Tanner did and I love, "Last Minute Gig," and my favorite cut of the album "Minimum Wage Slave" with Shael. I can't wait for people to finally hear some of these. I've been sitting on "Olly Olly Oxen" Free for years now!!

Do you feel this album is as personal as Tube Technology?

I think so. My songs are always about how I feel or what I'm into at the time or just stuff about me. I think the last track on the album, "Story Time," is one of the more personal songs I've done. I wanted to have a good time with this album, but I'm not a character and my solo work tends to be honest and personal, and I think that is still present here.

I know it seems passé to ask, but is there a particular track from Rolling Doubles that you're especially proud of?

Like I said, I think "Minimum Wage Slave" is my favorite. I had written a chorus for Shael to sing, but he always feels uncomfortable singing other people's words, so he wrote his own chorus which I love. The beat Tanner created had a kind of White Stripes sound that I loved and I knew I wanted to make a track about how shitty it is working two jobs and still not making rent. Sadly since it's taken so long to get this out, I no longer work two gigs for minimum wage, but the feelings are still true.

You play a big role in the Nerdcore For Life documentary, and, as such, have been afforded much publicity because of its steady success. How do you feel your current situation would differ had you not been a part of that film?

I think it would be more or less the same. N4L is getting press, but there are still only a handful of people who have actually seen it. I think that if this thing starts blowing up or if it starts having even bigger, higher profile screenings, there's no limit to what it could not only do for me, but for nerdcore as a whole. But until then, I'm still just a dude who works a 9 to 5 who makes music whenever possible.

A pivotal moment of the doc occurs when you take the stage with Optimus Rhyme at PAX 2007. Sum up that experience in three words.

Oh. Em. Gee!

The filming for that documentary also led to a meeting between you and cinematographer/From the Dust drummer Ryan Tidrick, also an associate producer of the film. What specific role has Ryan (and your ensuing friendship) played in your artistic development?

Ryan and I are doing big things. Tidrick is a fantastic drummer but his real passion is film and I'm a big fan of such things as well. For the past two week I've been writing a script for a series of web shorts we're going to start filming in the next few weeks with Al. We're also working on a bit of a side musical project to make sure he keeps active as a drummer and writing music, but for now our heads are wrapped around writing and producing the new project.

I understand that your music and various other projects keep you busy, but do you still make webcomics?

I stopped doing webcomics when I realized I wasn't exactly great at it. I still doodle on my tablet from time to time and maybe when things calm down I'll be able to dedicate more time to it, but for the foreseeable future there probably won't be any comics coming from me for a little bit. I would like to make little comics like Doc Pop does and give them out at shows though.

This question is wholly selfish, and I apologize: Are there any plans to resurrect Just Another Lazy Podcast?

There was, and it's possible it could still happen, but it's unlikely. It's hard to find another person who shares the kind of dynamic with me that Jones did. I've been thinking about starting one with my roommate Tuna, but right now I'm so busy with work and music and keeping my lady friend happy that I'm rarely at home. But I do hold out hope for a reboot to JALP. I miss the Faithful 7 so much!

We miss you too, big guy!

In the past two years you've made a lot of changes. You've changed jobs. You've made changes to your living arrangements. You've made new friends, and had new experiences. You've evolved as an artist. But what about Beefy is still the same?

I think what's stayed the same and what will always stay the same is that I'm just a chubby kid who wants to make ya smile. I'm an outgoing geek with rhymes just trying to entertain. I've been growing up, getting smarter and wiser and a lot of personal things have changed in my life, but I still live on the net. I still play videogames whenever possible, and I still talk for hours with my friends about whether or not the Chun-Li movie will be any good. But some of my changes have been for the better, and some of it has been shocking if you consider that I've actually watched an anime or two that I actually liked. Change scares me, Z. It scares me!

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I'm currently wrapping up a full review of Rolling Doubles, so I'll save my impression of the album for another day when I have the luxury of elucidation. For now, just let me say that, though Beefy is still very much Beefy, he has continued to grow in interesting ways as a songwriter.

But this is a piece about the man, not the music. As admittedly hard as it may be to separate the two.

Surely no one captures the spirit of the oft-termed "second generation" of nerdcore more than Beefy. While artists like founding father MC Frontalot, DG YTCracker, and the recently defunct Optimus Rhyme represent the first genuine face of nerdcore, Keith Moore represents an interesting offshoot and a promising future.

That's not to say that Beef is without his critics, as along the way he's made both allies and enemies in equal measure. But love him or hate him, it's hard to deny that he makes nerdy music a lot more exciting.

In a world of banality, Beefy is nothing if not interesting.

7 comments:

Church said...

"Your forthcoming solo album is being released under the name Rolling Doubles, as opposed to its original title 20-sided Rhymes."

Ah-HA! There *was* a reason that the d6 bugged me! I feel so much better now.

Great interview, both of you.

Matt said...

Wait a minute. Beef has guested with two groups, From The Dust and Optimus. Both have since gone belly up. No offense Beef, but stop guesting with groups. You're cursed.

killsaly said...

Optimus Rhyme is defunct? Why is their web page still listing shows for the near future? I know about all the side projects, didnt know they ended. I know you get the inside scoop z, so whats the deal?

Church said...

kills, I think they're in swan song mode.

antisoc said...

I'm hoping for a national tour at some point. Like a NC4L showing with artists performing that are featured in it. Or something like that.

Justin said...

Looks like you were right Church, Optimus just announced their last show is this Thursday. I need to go cry now.

Z. said...

Thanks, Church. I'll take any opportunity to get my talk on with the always fascinating Mr. Thompson.

But he obviously knows what he's doing, Matt, as Optimus has given him the keys to the kingdom and he and former FTD members now have their own project.

Yup, ks, Optimus is no more. This week's farewell gig is that last hurrah.

That would be an amazing event, Soc.

I just blogged about that, Justin, and I'm crying with you. :(