Licking Hammers: A Conversation with MC Lars

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Good art is always at the center of any cultural movement, we remember the artists with the fanciest megaphones.  Back in the day, gatekeepers were responsible for who we heard and who we didn’t.  These days, there’s more democracy, so I think we give “rock stars” more props because often times they are more self-made.” — MC Lars

Depending on who you ask, dreams either mean everything at once or nothing at all.  Personally, I believe their meaning lies somewhere between the two.  A neutral significance, if you will.  That being said, I woke up suddenly a couple weeks ago, stricken with the realization that I had just dreamed about MC Lars.  Specifically, I had just dreamed that MC Lars showed up at my apartment with what I now estimate to be at least 100 cheerleaders, all singing the Iggy Pop-sampled portion of Lars’ 2006 single “Download This Song.”  In the dream, I wasn’t surprised by this happening, as it was apparently a part of some monstrously DIY tour he had just embarked on, wherein Lars was attempting to perform the song for every person in every household in America.

As Santa-esquely improbable as that may be, the ambition of such an idea would fit pretty comfortably in the world of MC Lars.  Later that afternoon, I decided to reach out to MC Lars (real name: Andrew Robert MacFarlane Nielsen) to discuss his hindsight-influenced thoughts on “Download This Song,” as well as his upcoming book and future plans

BHAMFM: “Download This Song” was released 7 years ago, yet the message needs little adaptation to remain relevant in 2013.  Does this surprise you?  Has the music industry evolved/devolved the way you thought it would in those 7 years?

MC Lars: “Download This Song” was actually written and recorded in the fall of 2005, the rhymes were essentially a paraphrasing of David Kusek and Gerd Leonhard’s “Future of Music: Manifesto for the Digital Music Revolution”, a book that my manager had recommended to me.  What struck me the most was their comparison to music as being synonymous to water – you pay for convenience and quality, i.e. bottled water instead of tap water. I think it’s great how Spotify eventually filled the hole in the music industry, but am frustrated that it took so long to happen.  I made friends with Shawn Fanning this past year, he was working with some of my friends from college in San Francisco, and it’s fitting that his former business partner (Sean Parker) is responsible for Spotify’s success.  Some of the things in that song came true, some didn’t, specifically my speculation that labels would disappear.  They haven’t, they’ve just fulfilled their roles as digital tastemakers.

BHAMFM: How has your outlook on “the industry of art” changed since you first started touring and recording full-time?  Do you feel jaded or have you maintained a positive outlook?

MC Lars: I’m really thankful that I’ve been able to do this for over a decade and finally am at the point where I can save money and plan for the future.  I’ve been given some incredible opportunities which have opened doors (international tours, radio play, the blessing of crowd-funding sites like Kickstarter and stuff like Warped Tour), but the thing I’ve learned that really holds it together is the art itself.  If you are grounded and surrounded by supportive, loving people, that’s when you can make meaningful art.  When you are stressed or have negative people around you, it definitely shows in your work, and it tends to suffer.  I don’t feel jaded – there will always be people making more money than me and having bigger shows, but there will always be that dude at the open mic night, starting from the bottom.  I’m blessed that this is my gig and am really happy that now I get to diversify into other areas like kids entertainment and writing books.

BHAMFM: You were one of the first underground rap artists to both sample and reference “indie” bands.  A few years later, Donald Glover (Childish Gambino) released the extremely popular I Am Just A Rapper mixtapes, which strictly sampled “indie” bands.  Do you feel that your original willingness to pull samples and references from current indie music more or less opened the door for guys like Gambino to capitalize on doing the same? MC Lars: Donald Glover is dope!  He did a track with my friend K.Flay back when he was in college.  I’m not sure about whether he had ever heard about me or not, but I do know that creative sampling has always been the hybridizing lifeblood of hip-hop.  I don’t know if I can take credit for sampling post-punk and indie bands, it was just what I was into at the time.

BHAMFM: As a writer, what’s most important for you?  Words or melody? Do you feel they are mutually beneficial and influential, or does one “carry” the other?

MC Lars: A great beat and great production are both really important – I feel like my best songs had killer hooks that I sampled or co-wrote with people, and then a funny lyrical take on a pop culture topic.  Whole approach to writing songs lyrics has always been like writing a paper: your “hook” is your thesis and your verses are your defending paragraphs.  I love how “Weird Al” Yankovic is the master of the genre reference – his postmodern “style parodies” are amazing, but his masterful music and lyric composition are equally important.  The best artists, in my opinion, had great things to say and an engaging way of saying it.  Atom & His Package is a great example of this – I was listening to him yesterday and his song “the Palestinians Are Not The Same Thing As The Rebel Alliance, Jackass” still makes me laugh.  Melody is more important if you want to get people’s attention, great lyrics are necessary if you want to keep. it.

BHAMFM: Name one album from your younger years that helped shape you, not only as an artist but as a person. MC Lars: King Missile’s “Happy Hour” is one of my favorites, Hall’s poetry is really special to me and his talent with telling stories is a dope extension of the Beat movement.  “Anywhere” is one of my favorite songs.  He wasn’t the best singer, but he did his own thing and made a mark.  I met him when I was a teenager and he was really cool to me.

BHAMFM: Name one album from recent years that you feel is currently shaping you as an artist/person.

MC Lars: I love the new Schaffer the Darklord record, “Sick Passenger”.  He has his own rap style, his beats are awesome and I love how it’s a concept record.  He’s one of my favorite “nerdcore” MCs and he’s making us all work twice as hard!!  I love his skits, I need to step up my comedy game.

BHAMFM: Many would argue that Kanye West or Jay-Z are this generation’s “rock stars.”  How do you feel about this perception?  Do you feel that the cultural shift toward “anti-anti” hip hop (and, thus, away from “anti-anti” rock & roll) was a conscious one?  What truly makes one a “rock star?”

MC Lars: I’m currently writing a book about how the post-WWII counterculture revolution, as reflected primarily in Kerouac, indirectly paved the way for hip-hop.  There is definitely irony in the fact that Jay-Z has a net worth nigher than Samoa’s GNP, but still gives hip-hop props as having its genesis as the voice of an ignored, disenfranchised underclass.  Obama has Eminem on his iPod – what does that say about hip-hop?  People hate rock stars today as much as they celebrate them because we’re not bonded by the same pop culture as we were back in the day.  I admired Miley for acting ridiculous on stage and getting everyone to talk about her because when her record dropped, we were all aware.  It’s harder and harder to do that, so people resort to crazier theatrics and when it works, it’s impressive.  “Wrecking Ball” is a great song, and she knew that midwestern housewives were going to be upset because Hannah Montana shouldn’t be licking hammers in their view.  Yeezy is truly an artist – I love how he pushes people’s buttons, his beats are dope and he always has clever things to say.  Good art is always at the center of any cultural movement, we remember the artists with the fanciest megaphones.  Back in the day, gatekeepers were responsible for who we heard and who we didn’t.  These days, there’s more democracy, so I think we give “rock stars” more props because often times they are more self-made. Hear MC Lars on some transcendentalism tip rapping along to Dead Milkmen about Edgar Allen Poe.

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2 thoughts on “Licking Hammers: A Conversation with MC Lars

  1. Lars is a living legend. Great albums, great live and a great human.
    The moment he meets someone they are like his best friends and his thankfulness to his fans is so genuine.

    Always looking forward to the future of MC Lars.

    Like

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