Creativity as a Release: Part 2
As artists go, there’s few with the unique vision and angle of Rad Reef leader and Florida MC Zachg. His lane doesn’t travel in any set direction, and to say it winds slightly to the left understates the calculation that he channels into his work. Part 2 of our chat finds Zach detailing songwriting, the importance of smoking quality green, the power of a good meal, and what Rad Reef has in store for 2014. Enjoy!
Hip-hop raised me, so naturally I understand the power of trends and the passion that’s poured into fads. But what really interests me and what really keeps me dialed in searching daily for new and exciting sounds, is the process by which a musician reaches that final stage. I write, so I understand the revision process. But never having written a song, I love digging into the minds of artists to gain insight. Songwriting for Zachg is something intuitive, and beings from the gut.
He explains, “Songs always start with feelings for me, either I’m overwhelmed and looking for a way to vent. or I’m compelled and I’m looking for a way to create in order to deepen an experience. The former is more of a reaction to life and it’s about maintaining, while the latter is is an investigation of life and is about exploring. I use music as a tool to better understand myself and the world around me, and to affect a desired change on myself and the world around me. Speaking in terms of art though, and the relation of my person to the process of creating art, the type of change that I’m trying to affect only has to do with me. It’s true that I’m trying to affect a kind of change to the world around me through music, and I do aim to influence the institutions we live in, but when I’m making art I’m not thinking about that, or experiencing it on any substantial level. The change that I’m after when I’m making is strictly internal, and it’s about how I feel, or how I experience the world around me in that moment.”
Listening to a Zachg project is an event in itself. The vocals are poured over stacked layered sounds, making it possible to digest straight ahead or as nerds like me do, through a cross-sectioned experience. He explains further, “So, basically I come to the computer not with a melody in mind, but just with a kind of vibration to attain. I either start with an existing project file, or start from scratch. Lately I’ve been using existing project files more and more. It cuts out a lot of time, especially since the tracks have already been mixed. Each project basically becomes like a group of session musicians that I know, and these session musicians all work in particular ways, to produce particular musical experiences with consistency.”
Adding the live element gives the records a more natural feel, which pulls the listener away from the bottled, formulaic style of today. “From there I either start with drums, samples, or synths. If I start with drums I’ll work out a groove, then start building on top using samples or synths. If I start with samples I don’t combine samples from multiple songs (except in the case of percussion, or non-tuned sounds). Basically, no mater how I start though, I’m composing a 4 or 8 bar loop first. I go through and figure out the parts for each of the instruments until I’ve got a good basis for a song going. From there I will duplicate that cell until I have the desired length for the beat, which is usually between 2’30” and 5’00”. Then I start taking things out, and arranging. From there I will create the flow, and pacing of the song. At this point I either bounce a rough version and start writing, or keeping arranging until it’s done,” he says.
Zachg is an artist who tweaks until the sound is precise. He explains, “The whole process can take anywhere from a few hours, to 6 months. I usually finish a beat in a single sitting, or split between night composing, and next morning refining. This year though I’ve been working South.Florida.Mountains. pretty much exclusively. I’ve got songs on there that have been rewritten three or four times. I’ve got beats on there that I recorded, then reworked three months later. It’s pretty cool. I guess ultimately I like to just remain open and flexible about my process, and try to adapt to circumstances.”
Along with the release of a new album, 2014 is looking up for the Rad Reef camp. “I have a few things planned next. My album South.Florida.Mountains. should hopefully be out by March. It’s got features from Lofty, Left Leberra, Stash Marina, Western Tink, Tree, Blam Lord, Turbo Sonidero, Dizzy D, Joeybagadoughnutz, Supa, Shady Blaze, and a few more that are being finalized still. I’m working on redesigning the Rad Reef site. I’ve got t-shirts coming finally, and new stickers too. I’m gonna be doing a lot more writing for Wax Poetics, and the first official Mindcrate Collection (at least 15 different kits from 15 different producers) will be releasing before the year ends,” he says.
What’s most impressive about Zachg is his drive. His vision is expansive, and he’s a worker, which is what’s necessary for success in today’s rat race. Expanding the Rad Reef brand to new cities and new markets is a top priority. He goes on to explain, “Probably the biggest thing though is the launch of The Rad Reef in downtown Las Vegas. I finally got some people behind me with some capital and I’m putting it to work to realize the most crucial element of Rad Reef, which is creating a service for artists. The space is a Venue/Recording Studio/Shop. The shop is modeled after Costco, where folks pay a yearly membership fee, then they can purchase music equipment at wholesale prices. We’ll also sell other lifestyle goods, and music and stuff at normal retail prices though. The recording studio will be free for members to use during business hours, and myself, or any of the other artists at the space will be available to give advice. The venue will be more akin to an art gallery than a club. The venue will host musical performances as well as panels, and workshops.”
He continues, “It’s a wide open space, with an impeccable sound system, and a 12′ x 12′ x 12″ high stage in the middle of the room. Capacity is kept low, and the idea is to experience the music instead of subjugate the music to a social spectacle. Of course, there’s a kitchen in the space too, and we’ll prepare food there for people constantly, because food brings people together in a substantial way. The idea here is to create a community center that turns all of the new connectivity that our internet music culture has created into a way to be included in something. People connect on the internet only so that they can be included in something beyond what they’re already a part of, Rad Reef is is creating something to include people around music.”
Food is a tie that binds, and being familiar with Zachg’s YouTube presence means you know his foodie love runs deep. After chatting about meals I was ready to put on my fat kid pants and snack. So what exactly would he serve at an invite only Rad Reef dinner party? “Definitely gotta have wine and beer ready for when folks arrive. I’m not a huge liquor drinker, so I wouldn’t have any on hand. And of course, it’s cheese and crackers our for folks when they arrive. But not just any cheese and crackers. It would be mostly sheep milk cheeses cause those are my faves. Maybe some pecorino crotonese, manchego, ossau-irraty, bucheron, and garrotxa. For the crackers I would go with Trader Joe’s whole grain pita crackers (the round ones in a box, not the pita chips), or Blue Ribbon Bakery matzos,” he explains.
“The first course is a salad, this one is a classic Zachg original: arugula (baby or wild), shredded golden beets, fresh corn, heirloom tomatoes, crumbled feta, homemade maple syrup vinaigrette, and topped with crumbled tortilla chips. Second course is another Zachg classic, the turkey taco: eryngi mushrooms, fennel, cashews, serranos, fresh corn, kale, and turkey breast. Seasoned with: cumin, pimenton, fenugreek, and ajiwan seeds. Topped with a manila mango salsa. Served in hardshell tacos. Palate cleanser would be the Zachg juice: Carrot/yellow pepper/kiwi juice. Third course, classic Zachg Rigatoni: Fennel, oyster mushrooms, serranos, and fresh corn. Seasoned with : fresh tarragon, fenugreek. Topped with grated pecorino. Palate cleanser: fresh ruby red grapefruit juice with seltzer water. Dessert: Chocolate chip, cardamom bread pudding topped with fresh berry compote.” Told you this dude knew his way around a kitchen.
And what about elevating his mind? It’s naive to believe that drugs and art don’t swing hand in hand, especially in a day and age when the culture of smoking is at it’s most technologically advanced levels. So it goes, weed and rap are the veritable peas and carrots or the music world. Zachg admits, “Weed has most certainly elevated my game. I definitely use it to help me get in a zone that is conducive to creating art, and I use it to stay in that zone too. But for me it goes way deeper than that. Being involved in the cannabis industry has provided me the means to understand myself in new ways, and experience the world around me in new ways. I built a reputation for myself with weed, and I’ve made a communion with this plant. I mean, they wrote that article about me in GOOD magazine, and I wrote a weed column for Vice for almost a year. I think if you really look at my art, and who I am, and what I represent in a social/cultural sense it gets difficult to parse Zach from Cannabis. I would not be who I am today without weed, and I am grateful for the opportunities that it has given me.” Preach brother, and pass it to the left hand side.
It wouldn’t be me if we didn’t talk drinks, so I had to put it out there., what’s Zachg’s drink of choice? “My drink of choice is most definitely seltzer water. But when it comes to booze I’m usually drinking a Negra Modelo,” he admits. He’s truly my brother from another. Much love to Zach for taking the time to open his world to Shiny Glass Houses, and be on the look out for a Rad Reef takeover in 2014.
Click here for part 1 of our chat https://shinyglasshouses.com/2013/11/24/from-the-galaxy-of-south-florida/, and be sure to follow @tzachg on twitter. Visit https://radreef.squarespace.com/ and http://radreef.bandcamp.com/ to keep up with the movement.