|Photo credit: Kyle Mistry|
But much has changed over the years, and my focus has shifted a bit. Now it seems that compilation albums and the Radio Free Hipster podcast have become a bigger priority, and as a result the noble interview feature has fallen by the wayside. Still, as a man who prides himself on his ability to remember his roots I knew I couldn't just let this slide forever.
This is why I plan to close out 2010, an amazing year for both nerd music and this tiny blog that hopes to cover it, with a bang – by featuring not only the return of regular interviews, but by spotlighting a pair of my very favorite acts.
The first is Dr. Awkward. He is a man that exploded onto the scene with a relentless brand of musical aggression tempered with the unassuming soul of a poet, and who shows no signs of letting up. Doc was kind enough to chat with me about his solo work, hip-hop hybrid outfit The Bossfights, Harry Potter and his own unique musical journey.
Read on to go behind the mask.
First things first, Doc: how long have you been rapping?
I've been rapping for roughly 6 years. It was never something I did consistently until recently however. I started rapping at a house party when I was 16. I stumbled into a back room, and stepped right into a cypher. It was love at first rhyme. From there I would just join freestyle sessions at parties and get togethers for kicks.
How did you discover nerdcore hip-hop, and what made you decide to begin writing rhymes in that style?
I was introduced to Nerdcore through a friend, and fellow rhymer, Soup Dogg. He would constantly play me really obscure music and he was constantly telling me about Nerdcore. One day he played me an MC Frontalot track, and I fell in love. After some googling, I came across ZeaLous1's music and knew right away it was something I wanted to do. As a huge nerd, it just made sense that I would combine my love of Hip-Hop and my life as a dork.
Your Next Gen EP was an instant classic amongst nerdy heads and – in my opinion, at least – a real musical high point of 2009. How was this project conceived?
I wish there was some grand moment when it all came together, alas there is not. After hearing the aforementioned tracks, I decided I would try my hand at dropping Nerd rhymes. I grabbed my SOCOM II headset, a free beat, and a free music program, and began "writing" for the first time. I went to the forums, and asked for critiques on the first song I ever wrote, "Secret Genius," which was a track about Pinky and The Brain. After several critiques about sonic quality, Soup Dogg and I split a $300 equipment bill to upgrade to something listenable. From there I just wrote a bunch of stuff and kind of threw it all together. I was fortunate to release the first EP, in a "perfect storm" situation. I am still convinced the success of Next Gen was largely due to circumstances beyond my control. I am grateful that I was so lucky.
That release featured a number of standout tracks, not the least of which were joints like "F.U.F." and "Geekquilibrium." While the former is a rather self-explanatory banger, there seems to be some real emotional depth to the latter. How much of the narrative from "Geekquilibrium" reflects your own experience and attitudes? Is it a personal anthem?
"Geekquilibrium" is a really special song to me. The song itself came to me in a dream, as corny as that sounds. I was sleeping, and someone in my dream began shaking me and yelling at me to "find your geekquilibrium." I woke up and immediately wrote the word on a nearby napkin. The next day at work, I really started analyzing the idea of a "geekquilibrium," and it's something that I often have to deal with. I mean everyday for me is this weird struggle, so I guess you could call it a "personal anthem." I was actually really surprised to find that it was a problem others had to deal with, as well.
You followed up Next Gen with a full-length album, Unlimited, earlier this year. How do you feel this project differs from your debut?
Unlimited was a statement. I wanted to show people that I was more than the first EP. Next Gen was great, but some of the tracks didn't really represent me musically. I felt like Unlimited was a chance to show listeners what I was capable of. I want listeners to hear the tracks and not know what to make of me as an artist. The entire album is crafted in this fashion. I want you to take both albums, play them on random, and ask yourself "what is this?"
I've remarked on a number of occasions that you manage to rock the mic as both an MC and as a more traditionally-centered singer. Have you had any vocal training?
HA! Definitely not. I never sang a note outside of the car or the shower before Next Gen. I was writing the hook for "Clan War" and jokingly sang it dramatically. I liked the sound of it, so I kept it. When it came time for "Unlimited" I wanted to push boundaries, and incorporate different musical genres into my music. I chose R&B to step out of my comfort zone, while bringing something rarely heard in Nerdcore. I still don't think myself much of a singer, though I enjoy it quite a bit.
Your music employs not only clever lyricism, but also lots of bright instrumental hooks (with even the slightest hint of G-funk.) To what extent do you feel your style was influenced by your environment? Is Dr. Awkward a California artist? Does he make California music?
Like anything I am influenced by my environment, but I wouldn't necessarily say Dr. Awkward makes "California music". I was born here in San Diego, CA. I grew up during the 90's west coast hip hop movement here. So artists like Tupac, Dre, Snoop, and Nate Dogg were my initial reference point of hip-hop. So I am sure that comes out in my music. At the same time I am inspired by artists from around the world, in all genres. For instance, my song "Unlimited" was inspired by the musical Wicked, and the hook for that song is inspired by Krizz Kaliko's "Genius." So I think it safe to say Dr. Awkward makes weird music.
Unlike a lot of nerdcore artists, you are a family man. Does married life make it difficult to gig and record?
It's only difficult to leave them behind. My family are my biggest fans, so it's tough to be away from them all the time. So that has been something, we've all had to learn to deal with. Other than that issue, having a family has really had positive effects on my music. I am constantly bouncing ideas off of them, to get a sense of how a concept will be received. I draw lots of motivation and inspiration from them, and I am blessed to have them.
What albums, artists or events have provided you the most musical inspiration?
It's hard to narrow my inspirations down to a few specific things, because I draw from everything. As far as artists that really shaped major directions in my music, there are a few. The Grouch was the first artists that made me want to rap. As far as pursuing nerdy music, I have Frontalot and ZeaLouS1 to thank for that.
|Photo credit: the Scrub Club archives|
I hope you are not implying that I am an IMPOSTOR! In all honesty, I put the Dark Mark on my arm because I am a HUGE HUGE Harry Potter nerd. It was the single piece of literature that spawned my love of reading as a child. It is for that reason I saw it fitting to immortalize my love for it in ink. Even the cover of Next Gen, is the mask of a Death Eater. I am just fruity for the Potter universe.
Have you ever given any thought to a Potter-related musical project or to collaborating with any members of the Wizard Rock scene?
I would absolutely love to do some Harry Potter themed music. I think it would be really cool to work with some sweet WRockers, although I am kinda a potter snob. The music would totally have to meet the level of love I have for the literature!
In addition to your work as a solo artist, you are also a member of rock/rap fusion outfit The Bossfights. How did you fall in with that particular group of musical miscreants?
Begged on my hands and knees. Sent love letters. Washed cars. Anything I could do to be a part of the band! Honestly, it just all kind of came together. ZeaLouS1 told me about his new musical direction, and asked if I'd like to come see them practice. I made the trip and instantly fell in love with them. They are all incredible musicians, and just beautiful artists with their respective talents. We all hit it off and, to use cliches, the rest is history.
Early on you labeled yourself as a "next generation" nerdcore artist. What other acts do you feel represent a similar next gen aesthetic?
I think anybody can be a next gen artist. It just means someone dedicated to the evolution of their music. I think that's what nerd/geek music as a whole needs, more people who are willing to be unique. Awhile back MC LARS haphazardly tried to inspire artists to evolve, while I don't agree with his approach, his message was a valid one. We all need to evolve, and stop trying to conform to what is geek/nerd music now, and instead try to shape what it will be.
What do you see as the greatest threat to nerdcore as a movement?
I have a very weak grasp on nerdcore as a movement. Recently I have come to realize I don't fully understand it. I had a very naive view of Nerdcore when I released Next Gen. I said I'd be the next generation, in an attempt to bring it to the masses. I'm not sure that's what nerdcore wants. "Nerdcore" is a very abstract concept, it is both all encompassing and ready for new direction, while simultaneously content in its current state and obscurity. The more I attempt to change it to bring it to a different audience, the more I get the feeling I don't accurately embody "Nerdcore." So it's rather difficult to speculate on what threatens it, when I don't get it myself. I'd say the only who could properly answer that, is Frontalot himself.
If you, due to the ever-popular "circumstances beyond your control," were forced to immediately retire from music, what single track or performance would you want to be remembered for?
That's tough. I'm not really sure I've done anything that warrants being remembered. I can tell you that if I left music today, I'd remember Dr. Awkward for every performance, every "fan" I had the pleasure to meet, every email from someone who took the time to listen, every smile I saw when I was blessed enough to perform for people who wanted to listen. I'd remember Dr. Awkward as one of the most rewarding experiences of my life.
What's next for Dr. Awkward? What can we expect to hear from you in the future?
Right now I'm focusing on the writing process for The Bossfights debut album. As far as solo, it's hard to say. I'm gonna keep doing the music I love to do, and I hope it finds the ears of those that would love to listen.
Any parting words?
Keep those DualShAwks up and Keep Moving!
Dr. Awkward is that rare act that grabbed me from the very first track. I remember listening to the opening strains of "Welcome to the Awkward Show" – with its Kasparov beat and its snarky, Eminem-style delivery – and being sure that Next Gen was nothing short of a keeper.
Since that time Awk's delivered a fantastic full-length, become a defining element in the first true nerdcore/metal fusion band and stunned me both with his lyricism on wax and his swagger on the stage. He has also come to represent to me a very pure strain of geeky hip-hop.
As an artist, Awkward pays a musical debt to early influences like Dr. Dre and Tupac, but isn’t afraid to admit the role that his scene contemporaries like MC Frontalot and ZeaLouS1 play in his continued evolution. Awk doesn't rep nerdcore because it's convenient, but because the style itself reflects his own dualistic nature.
Dr. Awkward is both nerd and hip-hop. Deeply. Genuinely. Unapologetically.
And if that ain't next gen, I don't know what is.