Interview: deM atlaS
Edwin Arnaudin: So, do you live in St. Paul or Minneapolis?
deM atlaS: I live in St. Paul, but I’m out in Minneapolis 80% of the time.
EA: And in which city did you grow up?
DA: I grew up in Minneapolis. I actually left the city when I was 10 and moved to the suburbs of Minneapolis and grew up there, 10-18. Then when I was 18, I moved to St. Paul.
EA: Very nice. So, I know you were touring for a little while with the Atmosphere crew and now you’re off the road for a few weeks. Other than the Minneapolis show this Saturday [Nov. 3], how are you spending your time back home?
DA: Man, I don’t know — reconnecting with friends. Really just been resting because being on the road, it’s so boom boom boom, so I’ve just been reconnecting with friends, hanging out with my mom [laughs], making music. Working on some new stuff.
EA: Is that solo stuff or maybe with [your side project] Sifu Hotman?
DA: No, we haven’t done anything in a while. I’d be open to it, but just solo stuff and some other stuff that might be a band. Who knows?
EA: Nice! Now, are you 26 or 27?
DA: I’m 26.
EA: I ask that because I want to see how your timeline syncs up with those of your labelmates. When you were growing up and getting into music, were you listening to Atmosphere and other Rhymesayers artists?
DA: No, not really. It was around the time that I was 16 that I got introduced to Rhymesayers' music. First it was P.O.S, then it was Atmosphere, then it was Eyedea, then Brother Ali, and the rest followed after that. Aesop Rock.
EA: What about their music stood out to you?
DA: Just how relatable it was. These are some cats that lived where I lived, and I just found the music to be really relatable and different than what I was used to hearing in hip-hop. Because when I was introduced to them, that was the crunk music phase, so Lil Jon was everywhere and Soulja Boy was popping off. I wasn’t a student of hip-hop then. I only listened to what was on the radio at that time, and so when I was introduced to Atmosphere and P.O.S and stuff like that, it opened my mind to the possibilities of what can be said in a song. [And] expression. Because I was into classic rock before hip-hop. I was into Pink Floyd and Jimi Hendrix. Soul music, Al Green, Jackson 5. Prince, Led Zeppelin, Nirvana. The list goes on and on.
EA: So then, how did you get connected with Rhymesayers professionally?
DA: So, I put out this tape called Charle Brwn and I recorded it in my mom’s basement all by myself. I made the tape, and then I just played it around town. I took every opportunity. If anybody asked me to play a show, I would just say, “Hell yeah. I’m there.” Because I knew nobody knew who I was or anything like that, so I was just like, “Fuck it. I’m going to play and make a name for myself that way.” So, that caught the attention of this guy named Kevin Beacham, who worked at Rhymesayers, and he put me on a show with Grieves. I guess that was some sort of audition or proving ground or something like that, because shortly after the show I was contacted by Siddiq, who’s co-CEO of Rhymesayers. And we had a meeting, and was just like, “Yeah, we want to work with you,” and the rest is history. [Laughs] That’s how it happened, you know? I was playing, like, three shows a week. [Laughs] I’d sometimes get paid in nugs of weed. I’d be lucky if there was 10 people in the crowd. I once performed for nobody. It was just the artist there. Nobody showed up. [Laughs] That was fun. [Laughs]
EA: That’s crazy! And so now you’re working and touring with these guys who really got you into hip-hop. What’s that like?
DA: It’s surreal, but it’s always been what I wanted. It’s always been in the cards. It’s kind of like I manifested that, but I didn’t think that it would happen this fast. But it’s surreal because these are cats that I was listening to in high school and I didn’t think that I’d be working with them, let alone touring with them in the coming years. [Laughs] It was really, really awesome, and there are still aspects of it that I’m learning about. It’s still very new to me. I’ve been with them for four years, but there’s still aspects of the business that I’m still getting hip to. I just released my first album after four years. All of the music prior has just been EPs and singles and stuff like that, so with the release of this album, it’s opened up the doors and I see other aspects of how things are done and it’s pretty remarkable.
EA: I’d say the album is pretty remarkable, too. You bring a lot of appealing styles together nicely.
DA: Thank you.
EA: I’m curious about what was involved in working with Ant on the beats for Bad Actress. How did you two approach this collaboration?
DA: So, from going on tour with them, Ant and I developed kind of a bond. And he showed me a couple of beats. He’s like, “Hey, check this out. Let’s make a song together sometime.” And that was in the plans, then a year or two passed and we didn’t really talk much of it. Finally, I got around to making a song to one of the beats and he’s like, “Man this is awesome! This is really good!” And then he sent me some more beats and I made a couple more songs with those beats and then pretty soon I was going over to his place, over to his house. We went to his basement and he has just crates of records — walls of records. It’s amazing. [Laughs] And he’d just play me beats off of his laptop that he created years prior — 5 years, 10 years ago. And he’d play me a beat and I’d just come up with something like that. It was like magic. It was effortless.
I didn’t know that it was going to culminate into an album. I don’t know what we were planning, but we were just making music, just fucking around. And after, like, the sixth, seventh song we created, it was pretty evident that we were going to make an album. It couldn’t have happened at a better time because I was trying to find my way. I was producing stuff by myself; but it wasn’t really there yet. There was something, but it just wasn’t really there and it was taking a while, so it was really a blessing to get up with Ant, a seasoned veteran. I love his sound and he’s one of my favorite producers and just creates. And that’s how Bad Actress was born.
EA: As you said, you’ve done some of your own producing, so did you provide much input on how you wanted the album to sound?
DA: He was pretty much on his own. He just showed me these beats. He collaborates with this cat in the Bay Area. He’s named G-Koop and he’s a mulit-instrumentalist and he just plays the samples that Ant created — I mean, I’m sure there’s more that goes into it than that, but these beats were all finished when Ant showed me them.
EA: And did you write all of the songs after you had the beats, or did you come in with some that were finished to varying degrees? It sounds like you mostly came in, heard the beat and got inspired.
DA: Yeah, every beat had a very thematic sound to it. It felt like a play. Every beat had its own vibe. And, you know, he showed me some beats and it didn’t work. I didn’t feel a connection to it, but certain beats, like, you listen to “Gratitude” or “Can It Fall” — he showed me those beats and right away the songs were already done, so I was just channeling something, you know? Those beats spoke to me and the songs came out effortlessly.
EA: What also impresses me is the sequencing, especially at the beginning with “Never Belonged” and “Early Train” back to back — it really pulls you in and hooks you. Whoever decided to put those there, I want to give a high five or something.
DA: [Laughs] Yeah, yeah. For real. [Laughs] For real. But I just love — the beats have a very thematic…not orchestral, but they’re just very thematic. I heard those beats, I saw pictures. I saw a movie — you know what I mean?
EA: Definitely. Yeah. And, so, kind of in that sonic vein, what’s your current live setup? Do you have guitar and drums to capture the album’s instrumentation?
DA: Not yet.I haven’t been able to do that yet because 1) I can’t afford it and 2) I haven’t found the players yet. I haven’t actively been searching for the band yet, so as of right now I just use a DJ, and they just play the songs and I just do my thing.
EA: As we’ve said, you’re one of the younger artists in the Twin Cities who’s made a name for himself. How closely do you keep tabs on fellow up-and-coming artists in the local hip-hop scene?
DA: There’s so much talent here. It’s really a beautiful place to be and a beautiful time to be here because everyone’s on their own trip. You know, it’s a balance for me. I do my best to support the music that I fuck with and the people that I fuck with, you know what I mean? I go out to shows, I throw support. I retweet their albums or whatever. But I kind of keep to myself. I go to the shows for inspiration. I want to be inspired, but I don’t want to be too influenced by what somebody else is doing. I try to really keep to my own and keep to my craft, but I am mad inspired when I go out to their shows and when I listen to their music and their songs.
But I mainly keep to myself and what I do, because I’m still trying to figure out what it is that I do. You know? [Laughs] The music making process, it’s still very early for me. I want to become a better producer because I have this sound in my head that nobody else can do but me, and I want to explore that. I’m constantly trying to explore that and get better as a writer, a singer, a performer — whatever.
IF YOU GO
Who: Atmosphere with deM atlaS, The Lioness, and DJ Keezy
When: Sunday, Nov. 18, 8 p.m.
Where: The Orange Peel, 101 Biltmore Ave. theorangepeel.net
Tickets: $25 advance/$28 day of show