In late July, I got the chance to see Eyedea & Abilities at the Bottom Lounge. It was a hell of a show. The first act Educated Consumers (a DJ/MC combo, like the headliners) were wry and workmanlike. It was a well enough start to the evening, but then hometown hero Psalm One absolutely took over the proceedings with her dexterous, jubilant set promoting her new release Woman At Work. Her's was certainly my favorite of the night but Kristoff Krane also proved to be extremely talented and magnetic. He ran his set like he was all the kids' favorite youth minister at Bible Camp, getting into the crowd, hushing us with "come on, y'all"s when he had something important to say, and goading us into a frenzy with competitive chants.
I feel like Eyedea has a rep for being a serious and mysterious MC, but his set also proved to be ecstatic all the way through. He gesticulated and seethed through knotty verse after knotty verse till I thought he was going to pass out. The crowd was happy to oblige his requests for jumping contests during the early songs, and was properly blown away when Abilities took the spotlight for a showcase of his (fucking insaaaane) DJ'ing skills.
The night- which capped with all the performers back onstage for a freestyle cypher that used beats from classics like Ye's "Get Em High" and friggin' "What's Your Fantasy"- was way more fun than any underground rap show has a right to be.
Before the set I got to interview Eyedea (aka Michael Larsen) about his inspiration, his (many) ongoing projects, and a super rad dude named Michael Gaughan.
RFC: You've done a poetry book, and are running a label. Are there any other projects that you're still trying to flesh out?
ML: Yeah, my band Face Candy. Which is all like improvised free jazz. We just finished a record, and there's a film coming out. We did the whole project in three days. Two days in the studio, one day live in concert. I had four different camera people follow the four different members of the band from the moment they woke up. There's over a hundred hours of footage. I think it'd be great, [but] I need to find someone else to sit with me and go through it. So I have the 45 minute record, and then a separate outtakes record.
RFC: Do you have any projection for when the proper album might be out?
ML: I wanted it out by fall, but I don't know if that's going to happen. A newer [project] is called Guitar Party. I was asked to play guitar, it's the first band I'm in where I'm not doing any of the words. So it's me, my friend Jeremy, Andrew Broder (from Fog and Why?), and my friend Jeremy's 6 year old daughter singing and screaming over it. It's so out of this world, it's one of my favorite things ever. So I'm going to finish recording that, and then jump back with Face Candy and see what I'm going to do with that.
RFC: Your latest album with Abilities has a shift in sound from your earlier work. Was that a conscious decision or did it just happen naturally?
ML: It happened more naturally, I guess. Not a lot of people know this but our earlier stuff was actually from when we were really young. Before this last record, By the Throat, the newest Eyedea & Abilities record was written when I was 20. On our first record, I was 15. On my Oliver Hart record, I was 17. I'm 28 years old now, so doing [By the Throat] was completely natural. I wanted to make music that more reflected what I grew up listening to and what actually influenced me.
Before, I thought I had to be like some macho rap kid because that's what people accepted. I was under 20 years old, I was young and didn't know how to express myself. So [when making By the Throat] I went back to all the types of music I liked when I was growing up and always wanted to make but never had the guts to.
RFC: How did your lyric writing develop in the time between E&A's self-titled 2004 album and By the Throat?
ML: I started writing songs that were more ambiguous, that'd mean whatever the listener liked. So you don't have to have had this [particular] bad situation to relate to it. At that same time, I broke my fucking hand! I'm right-handed, so I started writing with my left. It did two things: one, you use the other side of your brain. So I started thinking differently and it became more primal and emotional in a certain way, less literate. And also physically, it was difficult for me to write a descriptive sentence. So I started writing things like "FUCK OFF." "I'M PISSED." "THIS SUCKS." and my lyrics started turning more like that: shorter phrases.
RFC: Have you and Abilities started work on the next E&A yet?
ML: No, not really. There's the Guitar Party thing, the Face Candy thing... I made a record called the Many Faces of Oliver Hart years ago (my first solo produced record) and I'm doing another one of those. I've been working on it for a couple years and not really getting too far, but in the past two months I've come up with some really cool shit.
RFC: Do you approach, say, an Oliver Hart record differently than you do a release from Eyedea & Abilities?
ML: Yeah. Max (Abilities) is such a strong, opinionated person and has a very distinct sense of what he wants. So really the sound of Eyedea & Abilities is where we butt heads. When it's just me, I don't have anyone to say "You shouldn't do that part that way." So, inevitably, the whole approach is different because I have to be like "Hey, what do you think of these lyrics?"
And that's what cool about Eyedea & Abilities. It's me and someone I've known and loved for a really long time meeting in the middle. That's always what it sounds like. It sounds like two dudes who don't agree about anything in life trying to make [a compromise].
RFC: A photographer at the site I work for went to school with Michael Gaughan, who did the art for By The Throat. How did you guys meet him?
ML: Gaughan is one of the biggest inspirations in my life. He moved to Minneapolis a few years ago and he's the kind of guy that when he moves in a city everyone knows. He's so out of his fucking mind. He's such a brilliant, productive human being. I mean when I really started hanging with him he was a 3rd grade art teacher, he has this rap persona called Ice Rod which is fucking brilliant, he has this band called Brother and Sister which is like a positive punk rock band with his sister. And they do scavenger hunts. I mean I could talk about that dude for days.
He's never done any drugs or had a drink of beer and he's [still] one of the most creative people you will ever know. He never stops. He's the kind of guy who has no walls, no fear, you know? He opened up for Face Candy with this new thing he's doing called Little Dog On Top of a Big Dog which is like his acoustic stuff. And I'd seen him play his acoustic stuff before; he'd like taped markers onto the headstock of his guitar and while he was playing he'd paint pictures of shit, like what he's singing a song about.
So I thought that when he opened up for Face Candy he was like going to do something crazy. But I forgot: it's Michael Gaughan. He's gonna do something crazy, but it's not gonna be what you expect. So what he did is, he went up, and says "Hey, I just wrote this song today it's called People Love Time." And it's like [singing] "People love time. People love time!" for forty five minutes.
RFC: [Laughing] That's crazy! Yeah, John, the photographer, was telling me Gaughan once made a guitar out of jolly ranchers.
ML: Yep, yep, yep! His edible guitars. He is the real deal. If you think about real artists, he's the example of a full-blown real fucking real artist. Which makes him one of the most unique and genuine human beings you'll ever meet.
RFC: How is your label going?
ML: Crushkill? It's not, really. The whole model is if you're on that label it gives you the space as an artist to yourself. We have zero dollars and zero time to actually do anything with a record that we're not on. So it's kinda like "Here, here's a system." All the years that I've spent doing this, I've learned that there are certain things that you have to do to be successful. And so that's kind of what we give to people.
Like, I might put the Face Candy record out by myself. I might put that Guitar Party record out by myself. I have a lot of ideas. As things are changing, and as I become more and more discontent with my position in all the companies and people I work with sometimes I just feel like I just want to do everything by myself. It doesn't matter as much. It's not like there's a million dollar campaign anyway. All any label I've ever been on does is, I feel like, not much. Not much more than like giving me a platform to talk to people. And I don't think I need that much anymore. I'm in a transitional period.