Thursday, September 08, 2011

The Decider

Counting this post (and our recent pow-wow on the GeekDad HipTrax podcast), I have interviewed geeky rap mainstay mc chris four times – more than any other single artist. This is interesting considering that mc is still often thought of as having a somewhat negative view of nerdcore, a term that is very regularly associated with my writing in general and this blog in particular. But that little aside is, alas, rather unimportant in the grander scheme of things.

For me, at least, what has typified each of my exchanges with mc chris over the past four or so years is his willingness to share. I fire off a lot of questions to potential interview subjects, and I always make it abundantly clear that he or she can ignore any that seem especially thorny. mc never seems to pick and choose.

He shoots back his gloriously uncensored responses generally within the span of a couple hours. And, while such candor can lead to some sticky situations, it does afford a proper look into the mind of the artist. It lets me as a writer and, hopefully, you as a reader truly grasp where mc is coming from at any given time.

He might not always give the responses you'd expect hear, but he always does it with a brand of wry honesty that has come to define him across his decade-long career.


When last we spoke you were preparing for the release of Marshmellow Playground. What was the fan reaction to a kid-friendly album from the generally foul-mouthed mc chris?

Awesome! A lot of my fans have been listening to me for ten years and in that time they've gotten married, had kids and now they want mc chris music they can listen to with them. I did it just as vague reference to the fact that George Miller gave us both Mad Max AND Happy Feet, two very different films.

I found that the reaction was awesome, except for the people that stole it and didn't know what it was. They were like, "What happened to you man? Rhyming about mommies and daddies and shit?!? You fell off!" Thankfully, families loved it and I got more than a bunch of reports about it helping kids learn to brush better and go to sleep. Lots of parents used it for car rides to school. It came in handy, so I'm excited to deliver the much longer sequel Marshmellow Campground in 2012.

You wrapped up last year's mc chris Goes to Hell with a "teaser trailer" for your soon-to-be released full-length Race Wars. Was the Mad Max-style musical concept already fully fleshed out by then, or were you just shooting from the hip with that closer?

Well, I had the album title for a long time. Since the Williams Street days. It gets referenced on all the old shows, but they're talking about all the races breaking up into groups and fighting for supremacy. I thought it would be more fun if it was about cars that are all racing each other. A Star Wars on the road.

I started to really develop the idea after seeing my nephew go nuts for cars. It reminded me of my own fascination with cars as a kid in the 80's. Every show had a car: Magnum, A-Team, Dukes of Hazard. And we loved the Cannonball Run series. It allowed us, in our own minds, to let anyone race with each other. Indiana Jones could race against James Bond. We picked the cars first, and then we picked who was driving in them. I think before computer generated effects, the most bad ass thing a movie or a TV show could do was show a car screeching around a corner. After touching upon things like Star Wars and GI Joe, I was excited to go back and investigate another facet of my toy-rich childhood.

As for it being a Mad Max thing, I think it just came to me as I wrote. The Ninjas vs. the Projects thing was thrown in there to emphasize Marshmellow Playground's innocence. We then just hit all the beats of a trailer. I recorded like 30 random things and then we went back and cut it up and threw in John Gemberling and Todd Hanson as well, who is the Senior Editor of the Onion and Dan Halen on Squibillies, by the way.

Your choice in instrumentals has changed a lot over the years, from the decidedly punk slant of Life's a Bitch and I'm Her Pimp to the classic DJ John era to the crazed pop of mc chris is dead and Goes to Hell. Musically, what can fans expect from Race Wars?

More instruments than ever before. New drum sounds. New instruments I can't pronounce from other countries I can't pronounce. Some fan made tracks. I can't really reveal what I did without spoiling it, but I can say that the album starts out very different and then goes into familiar territory.

I worked with some amazing musicians. They're on so much cool stuff it's crazy. Like they did the music for Red Dead Redemption, and you can hear a little bit of that sound in the track they did for me, "Tarantino." They were sending me all kinds of stuff. And my requests were varied, to say the least. The people that worked on this record definitely did this on the side. I'd be like can you we work on this tomorrow and they'd be like I have to tour with TV on the Radio or go be on Jimmy Fallon. The whole time I felt like it was so cool that they thought my little record was worth focusing on. And not only did they make music but they knocked it out the park. And Andrew Futral returned to corral all the music and turn everything into mc chris songs. We kinda eat music and then spit it out all fucked up.

He also supplied lots of original songs this year that I like a lot. Listen to music he normally does (The Age of Rockets and Field Mouse) and tell me he doesn't do a 180 when working with me. It's like he's living a double life. Half the time producing female vocalists or he's touring the country backing up famous chicks and the rest of the time he's making some of the most catchy inventive underground hip-hop out today.

What about lyrically? Any recurring motifs or fresh vocal ground covered in this new material?

We definitely touch upon the nerd motif. I already leaked "nerd cave" which is kind of a bare bones description of a modern day nerd's life, living in a small apartment, not going out. It's not that cheery. But the song surprisingly is. Caves is a motif on the album. And bears. That's all I'll say about that.

An mc chris album has beats too, and we try to hit those beats. Some fun stuff in the beginning, some serious stuff at the end, a love song and skits. Way too many skits. Which people will at first hate, then love, then quote. Or at least, that's how it's gone every record so far.

Are you finally through with bounty hunter on vehicle songs, or do you reserve the right to sneak those into future releases?

You have to wait to hear. There's a new subject that I've taken up, it's NOT Star Wars but I think it's going to make my fans really happy.

Recently "hoodie ninja" made its way into a Honda Civic ad campaign. Was there any "sellout" backlash associated with such a high profile project, or has the taboo surrounding the licensing of music for commercial use finally been laid to rest?

Of course, but I think the people that make those comments just kinda look not-as-smart-as everyone else commenting. Most folks were like, "Congrats! Ten Years of hard work and now you have something cool to show for it!" It's very validating to exist in your own right without corporate help, but it's also nice to be acknowledged. You feel less invisible. And that commercial played everywhere, before just about every movie that came out this summer, prime time every night.

Blink 182 is on a Honda Tour right now and my song plays right before they come out. That's just cool to me. And I think it was a fun moment for a lot of long time mc chris fans to say that's my boy! I got a lot of flack for saving the money and not doing anything with it. But I have no idea how this all plays out and I want to be smart.

The recently announced Race Wars tour boasts a really impressive lineup; you're sharing the stage with MC Lars, Random and Adam WarRock. Did you decide early on to make this a more rap-centered tour, or did it just come together on its own?

I like to go with what works and then give those last two slots to some folks that deserve a chance to show everyone what they can do. I think this tour will be an eye-opener.

Former tour mates I Fight Dragons were signed by Photo Finish/Atlantic Records in 2010, just months after the conclusion of your tour. Is a traditional record deal still something to which you aspire, or are you content to continue to do your own thing in your own way?

Congratulations to I Fight, honestly. I would like to think getting that opening slot does indeed get you attention.

It's just not my way to leave things up to other folks, like labels and management, that don't care as much as I do. I have a firm base that I can launch anything from a book to a cartoon, I can make records whenever I want and I answer to no one but the fans. I prefer the freedom and the anonymity that allows me to create with abandon. Bands get dropped because they're numbers don't match up with projections and then they split up, or maybe they split up because they didn't get signed. After a flash in the pan is long gone I'm still gonna be on Facebook announcing new records and new shows. I decide when it ends and that means everything to me.

You're now a solid decade into your musical career. How has the landscape changed for the indie artist since those early days?

Well everything I did in the beginning that was so fresh and cool and innovative is now common practice with just about every artist. I see quantity has started to matter more than quality with mixtapes becoming the standard.

I feel older and older, like I'm doing a form of hip-hop that no one even recognizes anymore. I grew up on Native Tongues and Public Enemy, the Pharcyde. Now I find myself trying to imitate the sounds of the rappers of the turn of the century. The dirty south beats before Dungeon Family came into play.

I definitely hate the new rap. Or at least I can't get into it cuz all the hooks suck or are nonexistent. Smaller rappers are trying to rhyme faster but no one knows what they're saying and older, bigger rappers are trying to act like they invented rap when they definitely didn't, they're just rapping in a bow tie.

When I was in Junior High I dressed like all these hipsters do now, pretending it's the 50's, wearing plaid shirts and sweater vests. Of course I got made of fun of. But now it's hip as fuck and everyone is trying to copy the hipsters that were copying the Japanese and the tattooed rednecks in Atlanta that dressed like that before them. I take pride in the fact that I stick to what I know and every once in a while it becomes extremely popular.

I've had quite the summer on Twitter where I get told at least once a day that Kreayshawn and Nicki Minaj sound like me, "but not funny." Well... at least I'm funnier than Nicki Minaj.

Earlier this year you handily used Kickstarter to generate some capital for a very special project. What's the status of the mc chris cartoon?

It's very secret and very safe. My artist Nate Bellegarde worked his butt off all summer drawing some awesome stuff. We're bringing to life a bunch of things that I think my fans will appreciate. I meet with Titmouse before I leave for tour and we discuss the storyboards. I'm hoping to show everyone a trailer at Christmas. The backers have been getting the inside scoop all the while which is super fun, kinda like a secret club with decoder rings. So far everyone has been keeping mum pretty well. The trick is to keep it under wraps.

You also expend an awful lot of time and energy collecting donations in the name of your nephew Murray to fight CF. How much money have mc chris fans generated for the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation over the years?

I'm proud to report that we passed the $100,000 mark this summer. I'm trying to raise money every week selling anything of mine that isn't nailed down. This week I announced that this huge Captain America box from Hasbro that is up for bid on my eBay sale for CF has the first copy of Race Wars in it. I think it's at like $300 bucks now. When I send stuff out I try to include lots of what I call, "loot," candy, Legos, Magic cards. I want to make a bad day awesome with some surprise goodies and I also want people to see that doing something good can result in cooler crap happening.

You covered "I Lost on Jeopardy" for the Twenty-Six and a Half Weird Al tribute, and you previously covered his DEVO style parody "Dare to Be Stupid." How big of an influence was Al on your particular brand of humorous music?

I never got an Al album to honest. But I grew up on MTV so his videos definitely taught me parody. I remember singing, "Smell my feet!" to the GoGo's "We Got the Beat" at Summer Camp when I was little. So his influence goes back to my very early days of being an asshole.

For comparison, mc, you and I are the same age, but while you're touring the country I am decidedly stationary with a wife and two kids. Will mc chris ever settle down to a life of quiet domesticity?

Yes. As soon as possible.

Lastly, you've got an album ready to drop and a new fall tour all lined up. What else is coming down the pike from mc chris?

A song where if you memorize it you will know all the US Presidents.


Is it weird that I hope that last answer means mc is covering Animaniacs' classic "The Presidents?" Probably, but I digress.

There was a time, in the far-flung days of yore during the height of their "feud," when fellow nerd rap pioneer YTCracker stated that, while he and mc chris failed to see eye-to-eye, he still "respected his hustle."

There was something oddly prophetic about that statement. Because now, years later, mc has managed to endure by doing just that – by making his own way through the generally fickle and surprisingly hostile landscape of modern music. By approaching recording, touring, marketing and fan interaction in his own indubitable fashion. By staying on that proverbial grind. And it has served him well.

With more than 10 years under his belt he has managed to make an indelible mark on not only the geek culture that is so often evoked in his lyrics, but also on the broader pop culture. His is the unique voice that crops up on television commercials and movie soundtracks, instantly recognizable even if not always expected.

Love him or hate him, Christopher Ward is now and forever your favorite rapper's favorite overblown cartoon avatar.

He is "the high-toned honky." He is MC PeePants. He is a zombie and a wizard and a bounty hunter and a basket case. He is mc chris, and he is in control of his own destiny.

And he is most certainly funnier than Nicki Minaj.

Wednesday, September 07, 2011

Birthday Wishes

So I was on the Facebooks this morning – I'm not proud of it, but it's where my little bro Roach chose to post his Dragon*Con pics – and I noticed that this is the birthday of a certainly notable nerd MC. San Diego's Doctor Awkward, of The BossFights and, um, simply being fuckin' Doctor Awkward fame, turns 24 today.

Though I'm not sure if it was explicitly planned, his birth-iversary also coincides with the release of a hot new single. Not to mention a snazzy new logo. Both are on display over at Bandcamp, but I've embedded 'em below via internet magic.

Listen, enjoy and be sure to give the good Doctor your best on this, the day of his birth.