If today we have acclaimed projects like Death Grips, Blackie, Clipping, Ho99o9, and even a record like Kanye West’s Yeezus, we have to thank dälek for paving the way. After going on a hiatus in 2011, the project of MC dälek, DJ rEk and Mike Manteca, are back with a brand new album, entitled Asphalt for Eden. It was about the album, the creative process, the current state of affairs, and hip hop that we talked with Will Brooks (also known as MC dälek).
The new album is the band’s first official release since 2009’s Gutter Tactics and in 2011 you guys went on a hiatus. What made you take this break?
Honestly at that point we had a… we always toured extensively and by that point both Oktopus (Alap Momin) and myself, we were just kind of burnt out from just touring so much. It wasn’t really just one of us, but rather both of us, we were kind at the point where it was necessary to just relax for a second. I remember we had done a show in Switzerland and Oktopus said, “Yeah man, I don’t feel I can do this right now.” I completely understood because the truth is that I was feeling the same thing. [laughs] It just felt right at that time. I stayed home for a little while, but it was kind of short lived because soon after I started up the Iconaclass project, released that a couple of years later, and started touring on that. It was just time for both of us do something different at that point. You do the same thing for so long and you kind of lose sight of what it is that you loved about it. Sometimes you need that perspective, that change of scenery to let you breathe and see other things. Just being home around family and friends… when you’re touring you are experiencing a lot of exciting and awesome things, but you’re missing a lot of things that happened at home with your family and friends.
I found that more often than not, when bands/musicians take a break it makes wonders for them as an artists and it definitely is reflected in the music. Did you feel the effects of that break when you started working on this new album?
Yeah, absolutely. I believe that life itself is what fuels the art, so if you’re not actually living life… it’s hard to keep creating. [laughs] Sometimes you need to experience other things, you need experience life to draw from it and create more music and more new art.
Was there anything specific in your life or in society that made you want to create new music with dälek or was it that itch that doesn’t go away, no matter what, when you’re a creative person?
I remember when Obama first came into office a lot of people asking me, “What are you going to do now that we live in post-racial America?” [laughs] Which I always laughed at from the beginning. That’s a ridiculous concept. When it was first said it was ridiculous and it’s still a ridiculous concept. You know, that’s the thing… There’s no specific thing that made me want to do dälek again. I think it can easily be said that the climate of the world is perfect for what we do. [laughs] Honestly, I think is more the second thing that you’ve said. It’s that itch that just doesn’t go away. First, being on stage and perform is obviously something that I wanted to keep doing and making music is also something that I obviously I want to keep doing, as I did with Iconaclass and Fill Jackson Heights. I love those projects for what they are, and I continue doing those projects as well, but at the same time I played a couple of dälek songs during the Iconaclass set and it was like, “Man, I really miss playing these songs.” It was kind of what really sparkled it. The cool thing about it is that it wasn’t really premeditated, just kind of happened organically. It went from playing a couple of songs to doing a tour, and then the director Sridhar Reddy asked me to do a song for the soundtrack of his film, 6 Angry Women, and I ended up doing a song called “Police State Is Nervous”. That was basically the first new dälek song, I think you can say, and from that we did two more songs. Originally it was going to be a 7” but then the 7” turned into an EP, and then the EP turned into a full-length album. [laughs] Again, organically. Just more songs kept coming out and it just made sense to make it into an album.
There’s a shitload of layers on this album. How much of a struggle is to process everything and reach something that fulfills your expectations and that you can live with the fact that is there for the whole world to hear?
Yeah, that’s the trick, man. That’s the trick with music in general. You can sit here at everything at every juncture, you can sit here during the writing phase, you can sit here during the mixing phase, during the mastering phase, and second and triple guess and keep trying to get that perfect mix, or perfect sound, but the trick is to know when to let go and just let it exist. This record was definitely a challenge at every step… mostly, and honestly, because it was such a pleasure to work on but it’s almost like you don’t want to stop working on it, you know what I mean? [laughs] During the writing phase, we have more songs than we started, we have more kind of basics…
Yeah, I heard that you were already working on another dälek album.
Yeah, we have the basics for the next album already. I mean, more so than that I have a surplus of beats that goes back to when I started. I basically have an archive that goes back to 2005 when I started actually using external hard drives. There’s more than enough music to all my projects. [laughs] But yeah, with this album it was so much fun to work on that we just kept on adding layers and working on songs, and adding sounds, and mixing… I look at mixing more almost like sculpting ‘cause you have all these layers and you have to figure out what to take away from certain parts, how to arrange it, and how to make it sound best. And even within that you can get lost where you could feel that you never have the perfect mix… I mean, there’s no such thing. There’s no perfect mix and you, again, just have to know when to let go and just let it exist. We finally got to that point with this album where we decided that these would be the songs and this is the way they would going to be, and they would going to sound.
“…we never got to the dälek sound with, ‘Let’s make the craziest, most experimental music we can make.’ I think that’s the wrong approach to make music.”
I noticed that throughout the album there are taken a lot of left turns, sonically speaking. I mean, there seems to be a great deal of unpredictability. Was it an essential part of the creative process?
I don’t know if we hear it as a left turn, necessarily. The structures of the songs were pretty much there from early on, we kind of had the skeletons of the songs early on. It isn’t like we are coming up with like 40 different parts and then pasting them together. The songs kind of grew organically and what you hear… if it is a drastic change it is just a change that felt right to us. Even from the start of the group, like me and Oktopus, we never got to the dälek sound with, “Let’s make the craziest, most experimental music we can make.” I think that’s the wrong approach to make music. If it’s experimental then that’s just our take on hip hop. The only way I can put it is like, these songs sound right to us. [laughs] If they sound weird to other people… maybe we are weird, I don’t know. [laughs]
On the opening track you say “Agreed aesthetic is embedded so I’ll shatter that / Impaired vision like the world’s got cataracts/ Endured attacks on all fronts, now we pushing back / Aligned thoughts to outflank how they counteract.” You are known for being a social aware person/artist. How much do you think our society can go before what you say in that song becomes a worldwide reality? I mean, there seems to be too much apathy in a world that’s on fire.
Yeah, you’re absolutely right. Unfortunately, I think that it can go on infinitely further because… the sad thing and the amazing thing about human beings is that we can tolerate so much pain, so much discomfort, and so much adversity. It’s amazing and awe-inspiring but at the same time it also means that people just accept a lot of shit for a loooonng time. So, it would be nice to say, “Yeah, things are at the tipping point and everything has to change,” but people have been saying that “everything has to change” for the last… I don’t know two millenniums. [laughs] And to a degree, yeah things have changed in 2000 years. Things change over time but at the same time are very cyclical and the more things change the more things stay the same. I think the world will always be at the tipping point. At least that’s the way I see it, that’s what I’ve taken away from my 40 years of existence, for whatever that’s worth.
On “Masked Laughter (Nothing’s Left)” you say multiple times “I’m trying to breathe!” and you add “Muthafukas let us breathe!” Thinking about Eric Garner and others that suffered in the hands of the government. It still doesn’t feel that the US in general, in this case, knows what the fuck is happening. Does it feel that way?
I think it’s more awake than it has been in a while. I wouldn’t say ever because, again, things are very cyclical. If you at the 1960s I think people were very awake and I think people are reawakening again, but I just worry that how long until we are back in the 1970s and the 1980s, you know what I mean? Where people kind of just give upon the whole dream of changing things and just kind of goes back. It just seems that’s the pattern. It’s just like this endless circle waking up a little… and if you think about it, isn’t that just the pattern of life? You wake up, you go to sleep, and you repeat the pattern until the day you die. Maybe that’s just the natural order of things. I hope not [laughs] but…
Hip hop seems more mainstream than it ever was. Everyone seems to listen to it and pay attention to the culture. The irony of it is that the cultural gap still feels like monumental. What’s your take on this specific subject?
Yeah, there’s definitely a disconnect, but I feel like mainstream hip hop to a large degree is more entertainment than anything else. But that’s changing a bit. If you listen to Kendrick Lamar… There’s exceptions to the rule, people that break that mold. Like, they’re selling millions of copies, they’re in the public eye, and they’re actually saying something. Obviously not enough at all but at least I feel that we are on a cusp of that changing a lot more. I feel there are more artists that will follow kind of the same path. Even if it’s just because they see that he is selling and they want to copy him to sell too… so be it. If that’s what it takes to get more conscious people to create art, I think that would be great. Then you have the flipside of that where you have some stuff where it wouldn’t matter if the lyrics were there or not because the music isn’t really saying anything, which I’m torn about. Sometimes I’m alright with music just being music for music sake. You can get emotion and feelings without lyrics and I also don’t feel that every song needs to be a protest song. I think there’s room for everything, I just think there needs to be a better balance.