Cult Favorite consists of MC Elucid and producer AM Breakups. I reviewed their stellar debut For Madmen Only earlier this year and reached out for them to be the guinea pigs for a new interview format I came up with for Thought On Tracks conveniently titled “Track for Track”, designed to give the reader some insight into the concepts behind each individual song contained on a particular album. They obliged, we linked up over Skype and peeled back some of the layers of the onion that is For Madmen Only.
1. People’s Temple
Thought on Tracks- Elucid on the first song “People’s Temple” your rhymes sound like they’re from the perspective of a cult leader. Can you touch on the perspective you used to write the song?
Elucid- I just wanted to set the vibe for the album as far as like the concept as the Cult Leader. I mention
Father Divine and Daddy Grace and those are two guys from the New York Area, leaders of large groups
of people in the 50’s for Daddy Grace, and Father Devine was a little earlier on in the 20’s. Also I had in
mind guys like Jim Jones and the Jonestown Massacre. A lot of the lyrics like “for who so ever believes”
are like bible verses. I was raised a lot of my life in the church so coming out of that, that’s like second
nature to me. I wouldn’t consider myself a Christian now, I don’t go to church or follow those kinds of
teachings, but it’s natural for me to reflect back on that.
ToT- When you say “Fear not you are perfection, would you die for my message, after all that I’ve
invested” you could take it from the perspective that someone is deceiving someone or possibly
helping them out.
Elucid- It’s encouragement, but with ulterior motives there, even evil…With the Jonestown example he
did that so much that these people packed up and left the country…
AM Breakups- It’s scary to have blind faith in anything. I know kids that I grew up with that are Jesus
freaks now and you can’t get a thing in their ear because they are so thankful that someone has done
this for them. It’s a very strange psychology to get into that, it’s almost unnecessarily guilt driven, like
you gotta pay them something back.
ToT- The specific word “Technocult”, is that something you came up with? Or where did it come
Elucid- It came from a free write session. (I just thought) these words sound cool together. Technology
and Occult, you can kinda jump off from that, like “Data miners tracking my keystroke/ they offer me
deep throat” thinking along internet lines with surveillance. It included ideas like police brutality as you see in the interlude at the end. I try to have concepts, but I’m not the best with that honestly, I just kind
of let it go.
AM- Which is amazing because your songs are all so conceptual by the time they’re done.
Elucid- I think it comes out of being aware. I read news, watch news, read books…all that makes its way
out via the rap. But I don’t really think about things when I sit down and write, I just go where his tracks
ToT- AM, the beat on “Technoccult”, especially the drums, has a thick, almost underwater feel
to it that I feel is representative of the album. Were you trying to create any particular sound or
AM- (Elucid) really pushed me to do things out of my comfort zone that I’ve never done before. When
we were making it he would come over every Sunday for our Sunday worship. I would play him things
that I had worked on and wasn’t sure about and a couple of them that I didn’t think were worthy tracks,
he said “No, this is finished”. I would have kept going but he made me restrain myself at times.
ToT- For “Omega3,” which features billy woods, was it something where you already had the concept for the song and asked woods for a verse or how did it come together?
Elucid- We had already done “Freedman’s Bureau” and on that song I was going again with police
brutality and I think he thought “I can fuck with this kid”, so on this record here we went more with the
racism in America type of thing…I was working at this bullshit job and got harassed on the phone and it
turned into that song.
AM- You showed up at our crib right after work that day and were like, “You’ll never guess what
happened to me at work today”.
Elucid- Yeah, so it came out of that experience and when I sent it to (woods) he was like, “Oh yeah, I’m
all about it”. We had just started making the Cult Favorite record and he was like “What is it about?
What’s the concept” and I told him the title came from reading essays from Eldridge Cleaver and he had
a strong anti-opinion of Eldridge Cleaver, so his line (“don’t get it confused like Eldridge Cleaver/ Soul on
Ice, balls deep in white pussy/ still cuts like a knife when he out juxing”) is a little jab at my concept.
4. God Body
ToT- “God Body” is a different song from most of the album, is it about a specific relationship or what is it drawn from?
Elucid- It came from a couple different relationships, being attracted to these similar types of women.
AM- (Elucid) gave me the drum loop, but that’s interesting we haven’t really talked about how on a
couple of occasions it goes from the cult leader vibe the girl/romance thing.
Elucid- Yeah, I mean cult leaders have sex, we like to fuck too!
AM- As a whole package I think it’s cool because it exposes the weaknesses, where as other places it’s
much more bravado.
Elucid- I think I brought it in late into the album, I thought “I haven’t even talked about women at all on
this record” so I thought pulling from real life stories it would work.
5. Planet Earth About to be Recycled
ToT- “Planet Earth About to be Recycled” is an instrumental track so AM, I’ll talk to you about this
one. What does the name mean and is there a concept behind the song?
AM- It’s funny that’s the only instrumental on the record and (Elucid) made the whole thing.
AM- No, but he played the synth…if you notice on that track it’s the same high-hat from “For all of
These Birds” and then Elucid sat with a couple synthesizers and made most of the tones, he sent me a
60’s rock track that we sampled for the distorted screaming sound, and then he picked all of the vocal
samples. So he basically made the whole thing, I just put an 808 underneath it.
Elucid- Yeah it came from a lot of different voices like Khalid Muhammad…Marshall Applewhite…Alex
Jones, who’s nutty and controversial but there’s certain things that he said that I sampled from…Bill
Hicks was on there too.
ToT- Were you responsible for all the vocal samples used throughout the album?
Elucid- Yeah, I did all of that. Even on my earlier projects I did that. AM was the first producer to give
me full reign…he was just really free to work with me in that way, I could even produce my own vocals
and stuff like that, so it was cool.
6. For all of These Birds
ToT- “For all of These Birds” is a big song for you guys, being a single and having a video. There’s a lot going on in the lyrics and the production is great. Just take me through that one.
Elucid- I think “For all of these Birds”, like “Omega3”, came out of frustration with work, “Dressing
better than my boss when what I have’s not what I want/ Still I’m thankful others make it work with
less”. I knew what I wanted to write about once I heard his beat, it just kinda took me there, that was
probably my favorite of the bunch that we recorded.
AM- That’s another one of those tracks where I don’t know if I’ve ever produced something like that
before or if I ever will again…I think Jimmy Da Gent was spinning a Cam’ron song in the living room
at the time and I was like, “Fuck this, I can make my kicks like that” and then it just turned into this
Elucid- The title is his title from the original beat, I didn’t do anything but add lyrics…I did the whole song
from top to bottom with no stopping and thought it was the best song we’d done.
AM- You can hear him say “gotta switch it off, gotta go from the paper back to the digital” when he
switches from the piece of paper he wrote the first verse on to his phone where he wrote the second.
He did it in all one take and then we all just sat there for a while.
7. Then He Rose
ToT- You follow up “For All of These Birds” with “Then He Rose” which is also as good of song as there
is on the album…
Elucid- That one almost got cut from the record. I didn’t want to put it out…I didn’t think it was that
strong, I thought it was very confusing to people. I thought that way because it was personal to me
in my upbringing. It was like bible verses twisted to fit where I wanted to go with that…I didn’t think
people would be into it…(AM) convinced me to put it on there
AM- It’s important, it’s the counterpart for “People’s Temple”. It shares the “there’s a man at the
pulpit” kind of thing. For me that track has a lot of weird inside stuff going on…The intro sample where
the guys are talking in the studio, that’s Levon Helm from The Band and he had just passed away so I
found this studio outtake where they were talking and I put that at the beginning and Elucid, completely
inadvertently, wrote a lyric in that song that goes “The band played a song, a smile spread across the
Elucid- I had no idea that was a Band sample, I’d never even heard of The Band.
AM- Also back in the day Elton John was obsessed with The Band and wrote a bunch of his songs about
The Band including one called “Levon” where he says “(Levon) calls his child Jesus”. Levon had passed
away so it all came full circle with the “Then He Rose”/Resurrection thing and it became this weird head
trip of a concept.
ToT- “Demolition” was the first song I heard that really got me excited about you guys as a group. Was it one of the first songs you recorded together?
AM- The first one was “No Invitation”, which is truthfully an AM Breakups featuring Elucid track because
that instrumental had been used on my previous album The Cant Resurrection…but I was making (the
“Demolition”) beat and I was super, super stoned. Jimmy Da Gent had dosed me with weed butter, I
was supposed to go out on a date or something this night and it was like me and Jimmy Da Gent and
MC Eleven chillin’ at the crib and Jimmy said like “Yo you gotta make sure that you eat before you go on
your big date”. I’d broken up with a girlfriend of like 2 years, really nervous and the kid fed me so much
weed that I was stoned out of my gourd. Eleven’s sitting on my couch writing raps and I’m just making
this beat because I’m really frustrated and really fucked up and I’m like, “This is definitely for Elucid”. I
burned two CDs, one of regular AM Breakups beats and one with just (Demolition) on it…I came to that
show that you did down in the Village.
Elucid- Culture Fix
AM- I was like “Here’s all these beats you should check out, but this other CD is THE beat that I made for
you”…must have been a week or two later you were like “Yo, I listened to that one that you told me to
write to, and I kinda like it now, I didn’t know what to do with it at first.” That was the second track that
we actually recorded, but the first Cult Favorite track.”
ToT- To me “Mollywhop” is more of a classic hip hop banger, the way the track hits you immediately, Elucid comes through really clearly on the song, what was the feel for making that song?
Elucid- It’s another song that I did not want to include on the record.
AM- [Laughs] We wouldn’t have had any songs on our record!
Elucid- On the hook I was like, “Oh that’s too much DMX” and then again I thought it was too slow and
too dark to do live, but again it just worked, people dig it…This is like the end scene, closing credits ya
know? “Dark shades in the rain, 10,000 yard gains”. This is I’m getting taken down, the Feds are rushing
in, like this is it ya know? It’s me recollecting…The “no knock, no knock” thing that came from these
NYPD laws, they don’t have to knock if they find whatever’s behind your door, if they find suspicious
cause they can just barge on in and mollywhop upside that head.
ToT- AM on the piano parts on there, did you take individual piano notes and stack them together or
was that a sample used on that song?
AM- I kinda give it away at the end of the track a little bit when I let the original sample ride out for
a minute. I guess I shouldn’t tell who it is, but it’s a really well known sampled guy, Busta Rhymes
sampled him for a couple of old 90’s singles and I don’t think anybody in a million years would have
chopped that sample and used it the way that I did because it’s not the way that the rhythm was
supposed to go…but that’s just one piece, that is actually one of the only songs that has synthesizer on
the album that wasn’t from a sample. Both the bass and the twinkly synth that comes in in the second
half are from synthesizers.
Cop For Madmen Only on wax at CultFavorite.com and look out for the full album remix featuring an
all-star list of producers which is dropping later this year.
Interview by John Bugbee
Last month, I received a nondescript album submission from Huntronik, an electro-infused trio from Brooklyn. It was the type of email that typically gets buried in the siege of PR spam that floods our inbox on a daily basis. If I was a more intelligent man, I would spend my days designing an algorithm that filters e-mail based upon whether it was sent by a press agency or the band itself. Unfortunately, I only recently learned how to spell algorithm, so that venture will have to wait until a later day.
Within the submission was Huntronik’s debut, self-titled LP. The album features nine, concisely crafted, imminently danceable tracks that straddle the line between krautrock and more traditional, synth-heavy electronic fare. From the initial listen, it was apparent that Huntronik had more going on than the typical bedroom DJ and electronic dance output that has become so trite since multi-track home recording became the right of the everyman a decade or so ago.
The tracks combined textures and tones from a wide swath of influences. The lyrics were both cerebral and playful, growing in depth as each sonic layer was peeled back. I was immediately taken with the release, and wanted to know more. So I reached out Huntronik’s architect and lead vocalist Greg Hunt about doing an interview.
Below, you’ll find the culmination of two chats with Hunt. For readability’s sake, I’ve combined our two discussions. During the interview, we talked about Hunt’s recording process, his goals for the release, his influences – music and otherwise. We talked at length about Hunt’s fascination with the theories of scientist and designer of artificial intelligence, Hugo de Garis. De Garis is a mathematical physicist and leading researcher in the field of evolvable hardware, which uses genetic algorithms to evolve neural networks using three dimensional cellular automata inside field programmable gate arrays. You know, just your everyday music chat. Stream Huntronik’s debut LP, and read the bulk of our interview below.
How was your vacation?
I went to some, random. exploited Carribean island, and drank some girly drinks with big umbrellas on them. I went with my girlfriend and my family. It’s good to be back in our studio. I’m here now – in Greenpoint. I live in Brooklyn. Steve lives in Jersey, I think he’s moving to Brooklyn. John lives in Brooklyn. I’m originally from a town called Acton, right outside of Boston.
What brought you to New York originally?
I moved here four years ago. Just music. I had always played music my whole life, and I just really wanted to buckle down and grind it out in New York.
What kind of music were you into initially?
Initially, I was playing piano when I was about eight, and I played jazz music off and on. It would start and stop from eight to twelve, and in high school I started up again and kinda got into electronic music. I dunno. I listened to maybe like Chemical Brothers or something in high school and was kind of fascinated with two guys and these strange terminals and consoles that were actually kind of conducting this dance music, which I wasn’t at all familiar with. But I started getting into a combination of rock and electronic.
What made you make Huntronik a full band project, as opposed to something you’re just trying to accomplish on your own?
I really wanted to play everything as instruments. Even the electronic sounds. When we play live, we play those with our hands. There is actually only a few loops. Like two drum loops. I’m not a fan of loops or looping anything. It’s like 70s rock. I like that. But I do really like electronics that are kind of grimy and old and kind of feel like they grew out of something. I don’t like clean sounds. My favorite synth is EMS 50 from 1970. It’s like the greatest thing ever. It’s one of the first synthesizers ever made.
Talk about your writing process a little bit. Are these songs that you pretty much construct on your own and take them to the other two members?
Maybe half of the songs, I would just do on my own. Some of them were slower than others, as the process goes. When it was slower, we would tend to do a group thing. But that also worked really well. The song “Rabies” was definitely a really slow, group process that took a few months and the same is true for “Deeper Watts” which went through a number of different versions. It started out as something completely different, and then it just became this kind of groove-oriented song. But most of them, like say “No Deceiver” for example, I just did pretty much on my own and then we just framed it as a group.
Talk more about the various versions of “Deeper Watts” and how the band wound up settling on the end result.
Originally, the song had words and it was structured in a difficult way. In other words, I think we all agreed that it wasn’t enough of a song as it was when we started. And then we just decided to take the elements of the song that we enjoyed the most and re-work the song. So it ended up being kind of a more mellow. It worked as something to put in between songs with words. Cause we do like instrumentals. We like a lot of scapes.
A lot of people talk about music as math in language form, or something like that. And I’m not a musician, but music doesn’t register in that way for me. It’s more of a combination between creativity, technical skill and somebody’s ability to effectively communicate. You said that you don’t like loops, and prefer these dirty electronic sounds that feel like they grew out of something. Talk more about what you mean by that, and where that gets lost with most electronic music.
A great example is Conrad Schnitzler. He’s this guy who was one of the founding electronic composers back in the late 60s and 70s on up to his death a few years back. And, what he did was use these really obscure synthesizers to make music that sounded like some kind of alien communication or something. It’s very strange. It sounds completely organic. I think that there’s a certain sense of wonder that come from that kind of electronic music that you’ll never really get from that more mechanistic stuff. I also like German minimal house or something. But it’s almost like a different thing completely.
I mean, this term electronic to me is confusing, because there’s an argument that you could make that guitar music electronic. So it’s a confusing distinction to try to draw. But it just means more that I want to hear something that sounds like it’s alive I suppose.
What are some examples of stuff that you’re listening to these days?
Well for rock, I like bands like Iceage, The Men, and Cave. Cave actually came out of Indiana, I believe. It might’ve been Illinois. It’s either Indiana or Illinois. [They’re currently based out of Chicago] For older rock, I like kraut bands like Can. For electronic stuff, I like this guy Pole, whose name I think is Stefan Betke. For older electronic stuff I like guys that were using really big, strange boxes. I have a bunch of really obscure records that are just crazy sounding today that people don’t really make. I guess Oneohtrix Points Never is like one example of contemporary electronics that I dig.
I remember when we were exchanging emails you mentioned Super Meat Boy, are you a gamer?
Yeah, a little bit. I played Super Meat Boy, X-Com. That was fun my friend has that. Yeah, you know. It’s fun.
On tracks like Deeper Watts, I get like subtle influences of video game sounds. Are those conscious influences at all or not so much?
I think so. I like 8-bit type sounds. I just like texture a lot. It’s odd, because I like melody a lot, but I also like texture. It’s one of those things I think people who are 30 or under grew up with. They were around video games and I think it permeated their brains or palate if you will.
Are there any other non-musical influences that informed this record at all?
Definitely. This guy who is a professor of computer science named Hugo de Garis. The song “We Can Build You” is basically just me trying to deal with a lot of his ideas and theories about computers. It’s hard really to articulate this, but I think today people do not associate rock music – at all – with computers. I guess if you say “computers and music,” most people are thinking of electronic music, and that definitely plays into it. But when you say computers, you don’t really think of rock music and I was trying to make a serious rock album that dealt with the future and what the future might be about for humans. I think Hugo de Garis has an interesting approach to rock.
I haven’t read his books, does he address something about music specifically. Or how did you apply what he was talking about to music?
That was the big challenge. It wasn’t all him. I don’t think he ever talks about music, but my big challenge was that if I want to approach taking this seriously. If I want to write a song like “We Can Build You,” for example. If I want to write a song about a higher intelligence and put it into the framework of rock music. Is that even doable? Will it still be interesting? I thought it turned out okay. I think, maybe it’s not something people will get all the way. Like, a lot of people will say, maybe this means something else. And that’s part of the fun. I don’t ever want to put something on a silver platter and say this is what this is. I like when people have their own interpretations.
I watched like two-thirds of that 21-part interview with de Garis. It’s fascinating stuff.
I remember when I watched that, I was pretty disturbed by it. I dunno. I work through a lot of ideas anxieties and problems through music. So, now I actually feel nothing about it. But yeah, I remember feeling really disturbed. But yeah, it’s interesting.
He’s most concerned with this issue of species dominance and its potential to inspire mass violence, but you said that you were less concerned with the pros and cons of what this technological evolution is causing. And that you were more interested in how it’s affecting our interactions with each other right now. I just wondered how you were able to push off that “threat” for lack of a better term.
That’s a great question. I think, for me, the way I see looking into the feature. I think the scientific community, generally the rule is, if you can view it, it can be done. So I just kind of internalized that, and said forget it. Whatever anxiety I have, there’s really not much to worry about, because whatever is going to happen will probably just happen. In other words, if I feel fear or anxiety about where technology is headed, there’s no point in me fighting something that can’t be stopped. I feel, not complacent, but I feel content that the direction technology is headed. But I don’t feel good about the way that people see themselves or see others, necessarily?
What do you mean by that?
For me, I know that there is a tendency now to be distracted and to lose focus on one thing, simply because there’s more distractions and there are more things coming at us. So, in that light, interacting with other people can become sitting in a room looking at a screen rather than being physically present. It’s that thing you’ve heard over and over: Oh, give a person a call and go hang out. But, I’m not necessarily sure that technology’s not good for socializing with people. It’s just something I wonder about.
You wrestle with some serious topics on the debut. I’m willing to bet that the vast majority of people who hear the record, or see the band play live are not going to be digesting these songs on that level. So why do you think Huntronik’s music resonates beyond the heady stuff? What do you think allows it to reach listeners on other levels?
Mostly because it’s not a joke. The music is rhythmic, but the instrumentation that we use is a little strange. I use synths. I play a sampler like a keyboard. But I think fundamentally, it’s because the song structures and the grooves resonate on a musical level. I think you’re absolutely right. If you’re just casually listening to some band and you’re hearing these songs, I don’t think you would necessarily make the connection of what I had in mind. But it’s possible to come up with your own interpretations that will satisfy you as a listener.
How did the band come together initially?
Basically, it was me and this other guy playing bass originally. The other guy left, and John – the drummer – joined up, and then Steve joined up. Now, we have to swap out John because he can’t afford the band – he has to go and work. But there’s been a few different members. But it was originally just a duo, and now we’re a trio.
You said the other member has to go to work, does that mean you don’t have a day job?
Well, I vacillate between walking dogs and working at restaurants. Anything I can do to pay the rent.
Keep fightin’ the good fight. What are the plans for 2013?
For 2013, I’d like basically to get the album heard by as many people as we can, so that we can tour. I’ve got a lot of ideas about new music. I hope the other group members will be into it, and we can work on that. But pretty much, just playing shows and trying to get people to hear the record.
Are you planning to continue to explore this theme of technological evolution? What kind of ideas are you wrestling with?
I think I’m going to move away from the technology thing. Aesthetically, I think it will be similar. This is just guesswork at this point, but I think we might grow in a way, harsher. Not more abrasive, but I’d say more attacking or aggressive. I keep hearing these sounds, rhythms and stuff and I want to try to get to them. But I think lyrically, there are other things that I may want to try to approach. More along the lines of just being a person, and not framing it with science or theories or anything like that.
Interview and introduction by Rob Peoni
Manhattan MC PremRock has worked with several Thoughts on Tracks favorites over the last couple years, including billy woods, Open Mike Eagle, and Blockhead. His album with Backwoodz Studioz in house producer Willie Green titled PremRock & Willie Green was one of my favorite albums of 2011 and it got an excellent remix treatment featuring an all-star cast of underground producers that was released earlier this year. An excellent live performer and freestyler, PremRock has proven he has studio skills and work ethic that should keep him relevant for years to come.
His new single “Step Right Up” is the first from his new conceptual project entitled Mark’s Wild Years. The entire album is inspired by the music of Tom Waits, but “Step Right Up” is an interpretation of a Tom Waits song of the same name. The timely song sarcastically warns of the angles and dangers of rampant consumerism right before we kick into the season. PremRock does a great job of capturing the feel of the Waits original and has me especially excited for this project. Download the single below and hear why PremRock is one of the most talented young rappers around.
Written by John Bugbee