Music interview: Amerigo Gazaway
Amerigo Gazaway is a super producer who specialises in conceptual collaboration albums melding artists who never worked together but who, in different circumstances, might have done. His music is downloaded by thousands in the short space of time before they are taken down. He took some time out of his busy schedule to chat to 25ThC:
Congratulations on your newest conceptual collaboration, Yasiin Gaye, an amazing reinterpretation of tracks featuring the music of Marvin Gaye and Yasiin Bey (formerly Mos Def). When did you first come up with the idea of putting these two major artists together?
My manager/creative partner Rickey hit me with the idea back in October of last year. I was actually working on another project at the time, but had to switch gears when I realised that I couldn’t put it out because of various legal reasons. In the midst of revisiting the Yasiin Gaye concept, I was listening to Mos Def’s “The New Danger” album and after hearing “Modern Marval” (Mos and Marvin on the same track) again with the concept in mind, I was immediately intrigued by the idea of doing a whole concept album.
Why do you feel this collaboration works so well?
Much like my other project, there has to be real parallels between the artists that I use. While the pairings may seem “gimmicky” at first, there is always a lot more to it than just a clever title. I think this project works especially well because both artists have two different sides to their personalities: their fun/sensual side and a more political/conscious side. That’s actually why I chose to split the project into Side 1 & Side 2.
In preparing the project, you were fortunate to have access to large amounts of original multitrack audio recordings from Marvin Gaye. How did you go about sourcing this material?
The multitracks are available online, although I’m not at liberty to say where. For me, it was really just pure luck that I happened to find them. For a producer like myself, finding those multitracks was the equivalent to finding sonic gold. Once I looked into it further, I found out that Universal had actually done a campaign called “What’s Going On Now” in which they had made the stems available for people to do their own reinterpretations of Marvin’s music. This is where I found a good amount of the multitracks but there are others that I was able to get my hands in as well.
What was it like to listen to those original sessions?
It was incredibly eye-opening. You get to hear how the music is constructed and appreciate all the little nuances that make it so beautiful in the first place. It’s extremely humbling and fascinating, both as a fan/listener and as a producer.
How did having access to that material affect the final album?
It was very different from my previous projects. I am used to having very few resources to work with when it comes to stems/acapellas. This time, I not only had the acapellas but the the drums, bass, background vocals, horns, guitar, etc. which really added to the overall consistency of the album and gave it much more depth.
No sooner has it been released than it has had a takedown notice served by the Recording Industry Association of America. It must be quite hard for you after you have invested a great deal of time into producing such a unique release to have it shut down and prevented from being heard. What are your feelings about such take down notices?
I am not surprised. I didn’t ask permission from either camp and they have every right to defend what is rightfully theirs. I went into this project knowing that. However I did not anticipate it happening so quickly. We released the album on a Tuesday (ironically the 10th anniversary of “Grey Tuesday”) and by the next morning, the album had already been downloaded over 20, 000 times. By Thursday, it had been removed from Bandcamp and by Friday morning, over 100 new links had already popped up.
I’ve been doing this long enough to realise that what I do is considered a huge liability by the music industry. That said, I honestly just want to put this music out there and let the people decide for themselves. Let them be the judge. I think the music speaks for itself and if it wasn’t worth sharing then it wouldn’t have such an immediate impact. I think that they’ll eventually be teaching university classes on this type of stuff. It’s already happening now to a certain extent. Hip-hop/remix culture has become too big too ignore and it’s only a matter time before the major labels either learn to adapt or continue to lose out on a huge chunk of revenue.
Does this make you think twice about potential future productions or does it simply encourage you more?
It definitely makes me think twice about how I will release my music but it certainly isn’t going to stop me from doing what I do. Other than the takedown notice, the response I have gotten has been nothing but positive. People have been reaching out with suggestions for the next Soul Mates instalments since the day Fela Soul dropped. That said, we are also taking steps to make the music available while benefiting the artists themselves through a new service called Legitmix. Stay tuned to our Twitter for more details on that in the coming weeks.
A similar thing happened when you were served a cease and desist order for your previous release Bizarre Tribe. In that case you only actually used less than four minutes of label owned Tribe material for the project and the rest was re-sampling the original tracks Tribe had sampled themselves. Did you feel a sense of irony and unfairness on the part of the record labels?
The irony is that the second the my links get shut down, a hundred more pop up. Bizarre Tribe is practically everywhere now (except for my website). Once this music is out there, It takes on a life of its own. People get their hands on it, press it to vinyl, make music videos for it, rap on the instrumentals, and even create their own re-edits/interpretations. Now my fans are the broadcasters and the tastemakers. It is up to them to keep this music alive.
What’s more ironic is that A Tribe Called Quest wouldn’t even exist without sampling. That’s a lot of what made their production so amazing in the first place. The juxtaposition of samples and street poetry – this is THE defining element of hip hop. It all started with the DJ/sampling. Now that very artform is being threatened by the major labels that are claiming to support it. People like me (the DJs, historians, collectors, re-issue producers, etc) are the ones who are actually keeping this culture alive. The DJ/producers are some of the only consumers who still actually buy music – we have to own a physical/digital copy of the song in order to play it/remix it etc. Meanwhile, the average listener can stream just about anything they want from Soundcloud, Spotify, YouTube, or any of the other streaming services that are available. The majority of people that are still paying for music are the die-hard collectors or fans and the DJ/producers.
The Pharcyde were actually very pleased with your album and in fact you went on to produce more music with them. Why do you feel there was such a difference in the way the two artists responded?
I think the difference is that Sony owns all of A Tribe Called Quest’s music while The Pharcyde are now independent. My manager Rickey and I were able to work with their team directly and collaborate on everything from the music, to the artwork, to the shirt design and marketing strategy. As for Tribe, I’m not sure. I’d love to think that they heard the project and dug it but you’d really have to ask them.
Fela Soul was the first time I became aware of your productions, being a huge fan of both Fela Kuti and De La Soul. That album is still available to download. How did that album come about and why do you think that one has managed to avoid being taken down?
Fela Soul got a positive response from the Knitting Factory (which manages Fela’s catalogue) as well as Fela’s longtime manager and the guys from De La Soul. While that may not have be the golden ticket per say, I think it probably played a large role in allowing the project to exist for as long as it has. Ironically, De La is still dealing with sample clearance issues from their early albums so I’m sure that has something to do with it as well. I think more and more people are starting to realise that they don’t need a record label to have a successful music career. All you need is a hungry/talented team, a loyal fan-base and extremely dope content of course.
How and when did you first get involved with music and particularly your conceptual collaborations?
I got into music long before the mashups. I used to make beats on my playstation using a game called MTV Music Generator when I was a kid. A few years later I built my first computer and started making music. At first I was making soundtracks for imaginary video games that my friends and I would come up with. My older brother and sister got me into hip-hop, and when I was 15, I bought my first pair of turntables and started sampling records.
The conceptual collaborations didn’t come until later. From 2009 – 2010, my friend Jonny and I were putting out mashups under the alias of “B-BOP & RCKSTDY” (based in the classic TMNT supervillians). That’s kind of where I got my chops at warping up acapellas and matching them to new productions. In 2011, I dropped Fela Soul, which at the time was just a side-project that I had been working on during my last semester at MTSU. I never imagined that it would go as far as it did, but once I saw the response, I decided to keep going in that direction. That’s kind where the whole Soul Mates idea was born.
Can you tell us about any of your future projects?
We will be making a big announcement about Side 2 of Yasiin Gaye in the next few weeks. We can’t announce a release date, but make sure to follow us on Facebook/Twitter and/or sign up for the mailing list to know when it hits.
You can find out more at http://amerigomusic.com
Interview by 25ThC.