The Lasso - Interview - 2-23-21Written by Chi Chi Thalken on March 2, 2021
The Lasso is a producer from Michigan who has been making music under the name for about a decade. He came to the attention of most hip hop fans through his work with Lando Chill, but since the release of Black Ego in 2018, The Lasso has gone on a run, dropping a solo album, then collaborating on albums with Psyspiritual, Chris Orrick, and ELUCID. This year, he’s come back with a new solo album, 2121. He recently took the time to talk with us about his background as a musician, his collaboration with Lando, and the labor of love that is 2121.
Scratched Vinyl: Let’s start with some background. Now you’re a producer and multi-instrumentalist that’s worked on a few different projects. Let’s go back, though – how did you first get into music, and what was your first instrument?
Lasso: Well, I think like a lot of people, first getting into music came from my parents. You know, for the first chunk of my life, they both had their own record collections they kept their whole lives, and they made it to our family home, so that’s the earliest roots. My parents, neither one of them were musicians, but they were certainly fans of both records and going to see concerts. My love for all that came straight from them. Now as far as actually starting to play, I was privileged to come up in a time and place where school band was normal, at least music class when you’re a kid. The first instrument I started playing was clarinet – I started playing in fifth grade in band class. I was instantly enamored with it, played it. It was an instant obsession. Then my grandpa gave me a really cheap Yamaha electric piano thing, just terrible plastic-y thing. But those two things were my first obsessions. Clarinet and plucking out melodies on the electric piano.
SV: What kind of music were your parents exposing you to? What were their collections?
Lasso: I guess, to simplify it for each of them, my dad would be Bob Dylan and my mom would be reggae music. But then beyond that, everything from Sly and the Family Stone to like Motown to…they let my brother and I pick stuff out. I was a kid in the ‘90s, so I just bought rap CDs all the time. For them it was like classic, great full understanding of ‘60s and ‘70s music. My mom grew up in Detroit and my dad grew up in San Francisco, so they were both around some great music. That’s what I got from them. Just a really broad and diverse understanding of ‘60s and ‘70s music.
SV: You mentioned that you were picking up rap CDs. What was your first inroad to hip hop? What were you buying?
Lasso: I mean, my first rap album was Whoomp! (There It Is). I was born in 1987. I was five when that came out and I liked to rollerblade to it. Then, I don’t know why, I think there’s just a number of white kids who – the whole Jay-Z/Puff Daddy era coming out was just so interesting to my ears. When I think back, I think it has to do with the fact that they were sampling these great funk and soul records, so probably my ear caught that, from my knowledge from my parents. And then there was big hooks – those records felt so good, and then not having heard rapping before, the flows and all that just sent me down a rabbit hole. You could hear Wu Tang Clan when you were a kid in the ‘90s, because it was on MTV! So I have a memory of Nas, all that stuff…hip hop for me is very second hand.
SV: So when did you make the transition from getting started on clarinet and piano to making beats?
Lasso: For me, it was like rock music and funk music and psych music first. Playing the electric guitar, and drums and bass. My parents were always cool with music, so we had the house in high school where bands could jam. I played in jazz band in high school – by the time I was in high school, I could play trombone, tuba, bass clarinet, clarinet…I was taking music really seriously at school, and then I was playing guitar at home and playing in bands. And then also, right around the same time, beat-making software became accessible. And when I started to play in bands, hip hop came back around via skateboarding. I was really into skateboarding and making videos, and that’s when I first heard underground hip hop. Via skate videos. All that stuff becomes shit you’re obsessed with when you’re a teenager. For me it was music and skateboarding. And then I was lucky, my parents saw it and got me a four-track, in 8th or 9th grade, for Christmas. ‘Cause I just wanted to record myself playing piano, clarinet, and guitar. From there, I just got really serious about engineering. I had a whole era of my life where I was working in corporate audio studios. There was this thread of engineering, and there was this thread of being a musician. I just kept seeking every opportunity I was offered from when I was high schooler until now, I just seeked out opportunities, whether it was classical music, hip hop, jazz, or rock or experimental music. I’m just obsessed with it. It’s all I’ve ever done.
That’s the fast forward version. But beatmaking, specifically, just to fast forward a little, came back around into my life around 2014. I had been owning this studio in Kalamazoo, Michigan, and this rapper, Motorkam, who’s on 2121, he just walked into my studio and was like, “Hey man, I see what you’re doing – here’s this other vision of what I think you could be doing with your talents.” He kinda just brought me more professionally into the world of rap and hip hop and dance music. That kind of took all these skills I had as a musician and an engineer and performer, in this more classic sense of like live musicianship, and…I feel like I restarted my 10,000 hours. Again! With this whole other understanding of music making with sampling and all that, and that’s taken me to where I’m at now.
SV: So you were in Kalamazoo, what brought you to Tucson?
Lasso: My wife is a teacher, and she got a job down there. When you grow up in the Midwest, you fantasize about the West Coast and the Southwest. I had already been going by Lasso at that point. I was already thinking about…so when she got this offer, we just both felt this calling to plant some roots in a different part of the country after being in Michigan for so long.
SV: Where did the name Lasso come from?
Lasso: I don’t know! I remember the house, being in the living room, when I was like, “I’m going to call my project ‘The Lasso,’ but as far as why…there’s nothing really there. I just thought it sounded – I’ve always been into simple band names.
SV: I could picture a ‘90s alt band called Lasso.
Lasso: Yeah, I like all these kinds of music, and something about that name…I felt like I could take it a lot of different places. That was my thought. I could make experimental records under this name, I could produce for people, I could make anything, because it sounds really simple. It has that country/western connotation, and that seemed campy and funny at the time. It’s about to be ten years from when I dropped my first Lasso record, so things just stick.
SV: So I’ve heard this story from the other side when I interviewed Lando Chill, but how did you first team up with him in Tucson?
Lasso: Regardless of where the destination was going to be, I was definitely on a mission in terms of music – I had a drive. So as soon as we moved to Tucson, I was really in my head – I’m looking for someone who can rap and sing. That was the thought in my head. It was within the week of me moving to Tucson, Lando was playing a show at this outdoor venue that was like a block away from my apartment. I just searched “Tucson hip hop” on Twitter, and I found a show! Like “Whoa! Who is this dude!” And that night I met a bunch of people who are phenomenally talented. Tucson – I was just lucky. I don’t even know what to think about that moment in time. I had just moved to this place that had so much going on, with weird hip hop. And those continue to be my best friends and the years there cemented my sound. But with Lando, yeah, I went to this showcase where it was like three beatmakers and him. I walked up to him after the show and was like, “We should work together.” I would Facebook messenger him, “You should let me producer for you, man! I would do it in a different way than just having you rap over some beats.” ‘Cause he had only started rapping about a year before. He had gone to college, stopped pursuing that, but in school he had gotten an assignment that led to him rapping, something like that. But he was someone to me who – I had already had a successful career as an engineer, so I had this whole idea of what a label, producer, etc. can offer an artist, just in terms of development, sharing tools, sharing vision. So when I met him, it felt like, “This is the perfect dude to start building something with.” Because we have these things that the other one doesn’t. And we were both looking for that.
SV: And y’all had a great run there, and then you both move on to different cities. And now you’ve gone on another run here, with a solo album, then an album with Psyspiritual, an album with Chris Orrick, and then with ELUCID as Small Bills. Was this any sort of a plan you had after Black Ego, or did stuff just kind of come your way and you rolled with it?
Lasso: Well, Black Ego was a turning point for me, just like crossing some threshold – like I’ve worked my whole life to be able to just wake up and record. To do it like an athlete, to do it like exercise. And something turned with Black Ego, in that era, where I hadn’t stopped since. I’m just driven by creativity every day of my life. I had this thought that I could produce a lot of people, and I’m luck to have met Mello Music Group through Lando, to have a label give me an opportunity and develop with me. That’s still an active process, but I’m always thinking of people. When I meet artists, and I hear something I like about them, it’s hard not to think of the sound world you could go with them. And the records that you listed are the people that I’ve had the opportunity to see that through and have a platform. Same with 2121. These are people I meet along the way, and we start to build an idea of shared music.
SV: That brings us to the current album, 2121. Was this a project that you had a particular vision for, or was this something where you just started working with different musicians and it took shape as you were doing it?
Lasso: It’s a little bit of both. When I got signed to Mello, I think a common thing to do with a producer is offer them a producer comp, and so that concept was in my head, but I don’t really make beats – I’m not really pumping out beats in a way that I can just email them to people and get a bunch of verses. I don’t know. The sound? Yeah. As I’ve gotten older, and gotten more established and begun to understand who I am and what I do, I’ve boiled down my style. I have less and less things that I’m pursuing and I’m just pursuing them more fully. I’ve got this universe with Small Bills which is my more avantgarde, for a lack of better word, but it’s not about songwriting, it’s about sound and rhythm and fusion, and there’s this heaviness to it. So that’s one thing that I do. Then there’s this more songwriting…open thing. As I’ve gotten older, the groove has – my sense of wanting to have a groove drive it all, brings us to 2121. I’ve always been obsessed with funk music and groove music, and I think I’ve found a way to use that with my songwriting chops. And that’s 2121. So I was always thinking of this, it just takes time to make stuff – like I’ve probably made about ten times as much music as was on the album, it just takes a lot of time to be like, “This is it.” So I didn’t sit down to make an album called 2121, but I pursued it everyday with everything I had. And then it unfolds as you do it.
SV: One of the interesting things about this album to me was that you sort of had a house band. Of course, it’s obvious if you’re going to do that you’re gonna want bass and drums, but you also include cello and sax. How did you arrive at the decision that these were the core musicians that were going to help you flesh out this sound?
Lasso: I mean, the easy answer is that those are my friends, and we’ve been developing that sound together, and that’s the truth of it. They happened to play those instruments, and which happen to be instruments that I don’t play, and they have this awesome place in music history in funk music and jazz music. So there’s this whole thing that opens up from where I’m always trying to fuse eras and genres, but then you bring in these instruments that have this history to them, and then all of sudden you’re able to reference things, but then pull it forward in other ways. I’m really confident in my ability to play the instruments that I play, but I want my music to go beyond something I can just sit and think of on my own. And bringing in really skilled arranger/performers on interesting instruments is just really appealing to me. I really love Motown and Philly International and Funkadelic – there’s this whole history of music I like that is like, you build this rhythm band and then you put this orchestration over it. I’ve been lucky to know incredible people who can do that. You can want that, but to be able to do it – I don’t have the budget or know anyone to go hire a string section, but I have a friend who’s a total virtuoso, and that’s what we do for fun together – make records.
SV: As you’re building this sound outward – you mentioned earlier that you’re not necessarily a producer who’s just pumping out beats that you can email random emcees or put together beat CDs to pass out and just be like, “Hop on whatever.” That said, you do have a lot of guest vocalists on the album. How did you figure out who to bring in and where to slot them in to have everything make sense?
Lasso: Yeah, for the most part – Billi and Rachel, to start with, are the core vocalists who are really part of this house band that you’re talking about. They’re as much a part of this record as the sax and cello players. They’re the main songwriters with me. I’m a songwriter to a certain extent, but I always require songwriting partners. So they’re the songwriting partners. As for the features, they’re mostly people I knew and we had talked about working together. You sort of look at who’s in your world, and then come up with sounds that could work with people. I don’t have a ton of money or a ton of connections, I’m just a person with a lot of music. Ill Camille is one person that I was just a fan of, and I had an idea for a record that was almost done, and she wanted to do it, because it made sense. Nelson Bandela is a similar one where it was like, I’m a big fan of his sound and I had a track that I had made that I though he would sound good on, so he jumped on it. And then Hemlock Ernst would be the other one that was sort of new to my world, and that was via Small Bills. He knew ELUCID, and ELUCID made that connection happen. Other than that, everyone else were people that I was already shooting beats to and talking to. Sometimes the Rachel-Billi songwriting part would start first, other times it would start with a verse and then we would write to that.
SV: 2121 isn’t strict concept album, but it has these overarching themes and sounds to it. Did you have any sort of guidelines as you’re working with these people, or did you just kind of extract things and sequence it a certain way to make it work?
Lasso: It was really important to me, when I had this idea for this large ensemble album, to stick to a topic. I didn’t want it to be just a collection of verses. I came up with some concepts, and then across the tracks I kept the conversations similar, so there was that thread, but then I let the artist dictate where they took it from there. I think that’s what gives some variety to it, but at the same time you’re always hearing similar ideas, and I think that’s because I had similar conversations with everyone prior to writing their verses. I had an idea – these were themes I was thinking about…I think the earliest track was made in mid-2019. And then the last ones were made last October. So you have a concept and then you just work on it for a while. And you get better, and you get to know it better as other people start to work on it. I might want to say a certain thing, but then I send it to Rachel and Billi, and then they send me something back and it’s like, “Oh, that’s this and so much more!” Now we can do something else with this idea.
SV: That brings me to the title of album - how did you come up with it, and was this part of the plan from the beginning, or did it come at the end?
Lasso: Probably about halfway through making the record. Like I had this idea about cycles and loops and as I was building it, I was seeing these concepts come to life. And it was like, how does the arc of something change as it becomes a fusion of different people’s ideas? So that was this core idea that I was acting out as a producer, and also thinking about lyrically. As far as choosing it, it’s funny, because I wanted to release the album at the beginning of February, because that was this thing, so…I don’t know, things just come to you. It gave me something to build to. It came to me last summer, and I was looking ahead. It gave me a way to conceptualize – I had something that was about three sentences long, and now you have this catchphrase for it, and you can build from that.
SV: Now the album is out – in normal times you might do a release show, go on tour, and all that. Obviously, we can’t do that right now. Do have any plans for online shows or music videos or anything else?
Lasso: I mean, it’s tough. You think about albums when you’re working with a label, they come out four or five months after you finish working on them. I was lucky that we were able to make the video that we did make, and the album – it took a lot of work and planning. With all that – at the time when this album was still coming together, most of the music was done prior to when COVID was a word that I knew, and then we finished it over COVID. And then…yeah. I wish I had a better answer than, “The music is the product.” I’m not a big content wizard. The vinyl is coming, and I think that’s special. I love the video that we made. I hope we can tour together, but I’m a producer and the way to promote my sound is to make more music. So we’re already long into other projects. Together as creators, my whole crew here – I think that’ll be a thing that keeps it alive, us just making music together until we can tour.
SV: Also, even under normal circumstances, this album would be a little bit of an undertaking to tour, just getting people on the same page.
Lasso: Yeah, who knows. I don’t when it’ll come back around, but I do have this house band that plays across these albums, so when I look to the future, I think we could learn everyone’s catalogues, and then depending on were we are in the country, there’s opportunities for different people I’m producing. Outside of that, I don’t know. Right now I’m just working on so many different records. Hopefully we’ll make another video. I just love this album. It took me so long and I’m so excited for it to be out. I just want the music to be heard by people. I haven’t thought about anything after that.
SV: It feels like a labor of love.
Lasso: It really is. This isn’t an album that came on a deadline or with a time frame. It’s an album that came at the pace of life. I imagine it’s success and it’s growth will have a pace similar to that. There will be concerts and other videos and stuff, but when that happens – it’s so out of my hands right now.
SV: With that, I’ll end with the question that we ask everyone – if there were three people that you could work with that you haven’t, who would that be?
Lasso: Do they have to be alive?
SV: Dead, alive, any way you want to take it.
Lasso: That’s an awesome question…the first person that I think of is Smino. I’m going to do one current person, that’s Smino, one dead person, that would be Prince, and one musician I would want to work with is…this is a tough question…I would want to work with Low Leaf.
SV: Oh shit! That would be good.
Lasso: Yeah, I just love her harp playing. She’s one of my favorite people that can combine beat-making and instrumental performance in this unique way where she stays true to both things.
To learn more about The Lasso, visit: http://smarturl.it/2121