Sadistik - Interview - 1/13/2012
Seattle emcee Sadistik has been building his fan base over the last few years through relentless touring and creating a unique style of hip hop, one that features dark imagery, dense wordplay, and nontraditional production styles. His latest release saw him paired with Minneapolis emcee Kristoff Krane and producer Graham O'Brien. He recently took the time to talk with us about this album, his style, and his outlier status in his hometown.
Scratched Vinyl: How did you first get into hip hop?
Sadistik: I started writing poetry when I was probably twelve or thirteen, then I started rapping when I was fourteen, but it was pretty terrible. I didn’t start rapping really professionally until I was twenty-two, when The Balancing Act came out. So I’ve been doing it for the last four years professionally, but I guess it’s been about eleven years total.
SV: How did you develop your style as an emcee?
Sadistik: It actually took me a long time. I didn’t really know what I wanted to do. I actually called the first album The Balancing Act kind of tongue-in-cheek, because I kept starting what I thought would be my first album, and I kept trying to infuse different styles. I would have kind of a storytelling song, or a like a concept song, or this and that, and that would always have some emotional stuff, which I like making the most, but I was trying to be more diverse. Eventually, I just kind of like scrapped all those ideas and I said, “Fuck it,” I’ll just make one album that’s one mood of exactly what I feel like. It wasn’t that conscious, I didn’t know if it would be successful or anything, I didn’t even really think about, so I just made one album that was really heavy. I just felt that it was way more honestly me than trying to make clever, witty songs or things like that. I guess I didn’t really find my style until I was, I’m still finding it, but the style that people know from me didn’t happen until I was nineteen. That’s when I decided like I don’t really give a shit what people think, I’ll just make what feels right, and if it works it works.
SV: How did you find your production on your first album?
Sadistik: It was kind of a process. I finally decided what I wanted the sound to be - I wanted it to be really elaborate, really musical, like complicated, dense sound - that’s a really hard sound to find, it’s the hardest to make when you’re producing things. So, I had the first songs with Equilibrium at the beginning, and then when I crossed paths with Emancipator, that’s when things really fell into place. The first song I did with him was “Ashes to Ashley,” with Mac Lethal. I was so happy with how it turned out, and it felt so natural to me, I just started working with Emancipator a lot more, and using more of his production. And that took the form of what I was aiming for. That was kind of a big step in getting that sound, stumbling across Emancipator.
SV: And then you shifted your sound for your second release, The Art of Dying with Kid Called Computer.
Sadistik: Yeah, the second album was fun, because I didn’t expect The Balancing Act to get a following like it did, and then with that everybody wants that same thing, when they’re really into it. You know, everybody wants, they like “November,” and they like those prettier, sad songs. I just wanted to make something different. It was still emotional and had my sound to it, but I wanted to say, “Don’t expect me to keep making the same thing.” Kid Called Computer and I think very similarly with art, and so we definitely clicked creatively, and I feel like we put a lot of work into that. It was kind of a labor of love. It took about two years. I don’t know if it was received as well as Balancing Act, but I think it’s a little more polished in some ways.
SV: And that catches us up to your most recent project, Prey For Paralysis with Kristoff Krane. How did you first meet him?
Sadistik: I met Kris through Eyedea, who was a mutual friend of ours. Kris was kind of Eyedea’s protégé, they were best friends. So when Eyedea came to Seattle on tour, I played a show with them, and they ended up staying at my house and everything, and that’s where I met Kris. I had heard his stuff through Abzorbr, and I thought he was dope before I met him. We ended up clicking. So I did my first headlining tour was Save Yourself Tour, following up The Art of Dying release. So I contacted Kristoff to be on it, and he wanted to be part of it. Then Eyedea asked if he could be on the tour, just handle merch and walk us through things, which of course was pretty amazing. And Eyedea really pushed for us to work together. He felt like we had similar mind sets. We were in similar places both creatively and business-wise. Kris and I both clicked because we’re both really obsessed with what we’re doing.
SV: How did Graham O’Brien come into the project?
Sadistik: Graham was friends with Kristoff and Eyedea, actually, and part of the Minnesota scene. Graham was the drummer for Abzorbr, and Kris and I were already kicking around ideas, because we were going to be on tour for about three months together. And we were like, “We should just do a record.” And we’re like, “Okay, I know this producer, we’ll check out this beat…” and nothing really grabbed me. And then he was like, “Check out my buddy Graham’s stuff.” And it was so different and grungy and aggressive, and technically interesting, so it really got my attention. So we asked Graham, and he was definitely down to be part of it. So we decided to go with this crazy, grungy, super technical kind of rapping on it. We wrote the whole album in the back of a tour van, and then we recorded it in three days at my house. It was kind of a rock and roll thing.
SV: What was the songwriting process like?
Sadistik: Well, Kris and I toured Europe in April together, then in May and June we toured across the country, a 58 date tour. So during that 58 date tour, we were getting the beats from Graham, and writing them, kind of the skeletons of it. And we basically did all of that in the van, except I think one song when we finally got to my place in Seattle, which was the last stop on the tour, when we recorded for three days straight. I think we wrote one more song on the spot. It was kind of an interesting process, especially because being so worn out from touring, like when you’re in the van, usually the last thing you want to do is be productive and put energy towards things, because it’s such an exhaustive process to tour. But we got along so well, it ended up being pretty easy.
SV: Did the tone of the album stem from the beats you were getting from Graham?
Sadistik: It’s interesting, because the thing people say the most, even before we came out with an album, is because Kris and I have played so many shows together, and we’re such good friends, people are always like, “You have such much chemistry.” We always hear that. And it’s interesting, because we work really differently. I’m very meticulous, when I work on my solo songs, I spend months on them, I redo things over and over, I constantly rewrite and tweak things, very detail oriented and kind of anal about it. Kris is very quick - I think he’s one of the best freestylers ever, he’s very improvisational, so he’s kind of on the fly. So he’ll get super inspired and make a handful of songs really fast, and I don‘t work like that at all. So on this album we met in the middle. I kind of had to be in his world in the sense of making a project quickly and not having enough time to change all the details. But then he had to meet with me, like it was a little bit darker than he usually does, and he did some layering stuff that I like to do, so it was a little median between our two styles.
SV: That brings us to the video for “Higher Brain.” You directed it, right?
Sadistiik: Yeah, I wrote it, directed it, and produced it.
SV: Where did the idea come from?
Sadistik: Oh my God, that’s the first time I’ve ever directed anything. I’m a huge film nerd, so I’ve always wanted to do something like that. But this was really on the fly. There were so many technical difficulties, that literally two days before the video shoot, I didn’t know if we’d do it. I only had one day to do it, because Kris was coming in on tour, and I had counting extras and everything, about fifty people involved in the video. It was kind of a crazy headache. The mood of the video that I wanted came through better than I’d hoped, but the concept of it wasn’t as crystal clear as I hoped it would be. But it was kind of a give-and-take, so, the concept was kind of elaborate, but I think it got a little convoluted, because it was so stylish. Like the tricky lighting, it wasn’t as easy to pick up on some of the ideas I had for it, but I was still happy with how it turned out. I definitely wanted to be ambiguous and have people guess. I didn’t just want to look cool rapping in a warehouse or anything like that.
SV: Was there anything in particular with “Higher Brain” that made you want to do that video to that song?
Sadistik: Well, that album, making it, I went into it, especially for me more than Kris, because he did the Abzorbr stuff, so people kind of knew that he had that edgy, crunchy side to him. For me, I knew that a lot of my fan base was going to totally reject it, or have this “What the hell is going on?” reaction. I knew that making the album, so I felt like some people are going to love this and some people are going be totally disappointed, so we might as well go all out and give them the most aggressive one. So if people like it, they’re definitely going to like, and if they hate this song, they don’t have to waste their time to listen to the record. That song’s really aggressive, and there’s no intro, really, it’s just kind of a static sound, and then it goes from zero to a hundred, which I thought would be cool for a video. It just had a cool vibe to it. We were between that and “Pyramid Song” for a video, and I’m glad we went with that one.
SV: You’re from Seattle, which has a hip hop scene that’s given us some pretty interesting music over the last few years. How do you feel about the scene and the creative community? How has it influenced you?
Sadistik: It’s kind of interesting. I’ve only been here for three and half years. I grew up in Washington my whole life, but being in actual Seattle, I’ve only been here a few years. There’s a really good scene, there’s a lot of talent - I think there’s a lot of marginal talent, too. But there’s some really good stuff out here. I get a lot of the bigger shows - I do pretty well, but I don’t feel like I fit in with this scene. When people talk about Seattle rap, I’m not in that conversation. I’m kind of like an outlier, I don’t fit in. There’s a lot of positive, conscious rap here, and I’m not really into that scene, and there’s a hipster swag rap thing that’s getting really big here, and I don’t really fit into that, either. I’m just the weird dude in the background. But a lot of dudes that do well locally, get a lot of press, and do well at shows, and stuff, but the second they leave the city, nobody know who they are and they don’t get anybody at their shows. And me, I’m kind of the opposite - like I do pretty well at home, but there are cities pretty far away that I do a lot better at. A lot people don’t even know that I’m here. I get emails almost daily, or people on Twitter, being like “Come to Seattle!” and I’m like, “I live here.”
SV: Maybe people think because you worked with Kris, you’re also from Minneapolis?
Sadistik: That’s another thing, too. People are like, “You’re from Minnesota, right?” and I’m like, “No, I’m just friends with those people.”
SV: You’ve got a few projects in the works, one being a book of poetry.
Sadistik: Yeah, a poetry book I’m slowly working on, that I’m totally insecure about, but we’ll see how it goes.
SV: Was there something in particular that made you pursue the idea of publishing a book?
Sadistik: I juggle so many projects, and I’m so obsessed with this, that I tend to drive myself crazy every once in a while. I mean, I write every single day. And then it’s like I want a little creative break, to refresh my mind, but if I don’t do anything at all, I start to go crazy, too. So I started writing poetry more often as an alternative. Like I want to write something, but I don’t want to worry about rhyme schemes and rhythms, and stuff like that. Try something different. I’ve also been dabbling in guitar. Stuff that I can do that’s not just writing verses, so when I do write my music, which is obviously the most important thing to me, I stay inspired.
SV: Did you study creative writing or English?
Sadistik: Not in school or anything. I double majored in psychology and sociology.
SV: Do have any other projects in the work?
Sadistik: Yeah, I’m working on a full album with Emancipator, which I know we’ve said forever. His solo album is just about finished, so then we’re going to focus on that. And then I’m working on a solo album, which I guess will be the true follow up to The Balancing Act. That’s about halfway done, and it’s coming together pretty fast, and I’m really, really excited about it. It’s called Flowers For My Father, and the people I’m working with are some of my favorite artists. I just feel like there’s a lot of talent on it. And it’s the first album since The Balancing Act where I make every single decision, there’s no input from anybody. I’m really excited about it.
SV: Can you tease us with any names involved?
Sadistik: There’s production by Blue Sky Black Death, Kno from Cunninlynguists, I’ve got a song with Cage on it that I’m really excited about...I don’t think I’ll announce anything else yet.
SV: Finally, if there were three artists you could work with that you haven’t already, who would they be?
Sadistik: Even though I’ve made a couple songs with him, I wish I could make another song with Eyedea. Thom Yorke and...El-P. I wanna work with El-P.
To learn more about Sadistik, visit: http://sadistikmusic.com/