We met up with Busdriver at a coffee shop in Silverlake to discuss the future, the present, and the bits of past that stick around like gum on the bottom of your shoes. His newest Jhelli Beam is out now on Anti-. This interview by Daiana Feuer.
I can’t really kick it in this neighborhood anymore.
In this airport?
In this airport. In this neighborhood. I don’t know. I can’t.
Why can’t you? You get so sensitive.
A little bit.
Probably am. Strike that up as my primary weakness.
I’m weathering the storm. The electrical storm. Meaning, the live form in which music happens. Trying to reform my little show for a tour in the Fall around the U.S.A. Wisconsin. Seattle. Omaha. All the hot spots.
How are you changing the live show?
Just a couple of things. Nothing dramatic.
You’re the dramatic one?
I’m not the dramatic one. What’s dramatic are the songs and the…actually there’s nothing dra-matic about it. It’s all quite tame at the end of the day. Hopefully the live presentation makes it seem other than that. When you’re removed from the receiving end of the music and you add the place where the genesis of the music comes from, it’s a bunch of very practical elements. This has to go here because this means there, and then, ok! When we’re building the show and sound banks and cutting things, we’re pretty conservative.
We is you and Anti MC?
Me and Anti MC and God knows who else. Aside from that, I’m executive producing a rap record for my friends Thirsty Fish. They’re from my open mic—Project Blowed. Three guys, three rapping machines. They will be on Mush. I’m the spewer of cosmic advice. I’m with them every step of the way. I really want to do more stuff like this. To corral and harness other people’s output is strangely satisfying.
How do you feel about Jhelli Beam?
Here’s my purpose of the record. I wanted to reinforce the interest of a base of people who enjoyed my earlier records. That’s probably the last record I am going to make like that. I believe that maybe a lot of my records are anachronistic in that they reference techniques and a time and set of values that are long gone. They had their place in the ‘90s. I don’t think it’s bad, but sometimes I’m really indulgent. There’s a different emphasis that the next records are going to have. The way that I rap and write, it can be interpreted as clusterfuck of wacky ideas and maddening technique and pseudo song writing and that’s fine. But I want to pare it down.
Rapping less? A variety of things may play into it. I have a whole collection of songs I record that don’t play into the Busdriver records that come out. I want to meet some middle ground. It’s really stressful to make records like Jhelli Beam. I don’t want something easier. I want something genuine in other facets of myself. I don’t want these beat to death ideas I had when I was 14. That’s what Jhelli Beam is. It’s me being 14 and saying, ‘What if I could rap this way?’ And then rapping this way. I need to press the refresh button.
Are you going to make a pop song?
No, that’s the default mode for rap and indie acts. ‘Fuck this shit, I’m making pop records!’ And people are blowing up and making money. I’m already knee deep in the next shit and I haven’t really made pop songs, but I’ve made some kind of songs. I’m having fun. I’m fortunate enough that no one ever pressures me to go a certain way. Not my label. Not my grandmother. I don’t regard my posse’s input as much as I used to. I’ve gotten to the point where I can trust my instincts. I want to indulge that. That’s all that I have. I’m trying to come to terms with being a professional, an auteur, a man of the arts. I have to do things that I think make sense. Too much advice gets factored into rap music. When I read a lot of interviews with rappers, there’s so much emphasis on their careerist aspirations. ‘Hey, man, you feel like you being shorted by the industry?’—‘Yeah! I’m not blowing up! Yada, yada…’ Is that all people think about? Is that all people who ascribe to black culture think about? I don’t think so. This will land where it may, but we’ll keep going. L.A. has changed. There’s other kinds of things to do. The next Michael Jackson could be an architect or a neurosurgeon. The king of pop popularizing neurosurgery. I think I read somewhere that our president is the king of pop. Which he is.
Is that a positive?
Is it? It has sway over millions of people. I’m sure it is positive.
Is there a parallel between the sway of politics and the sway of music over people’s existence?
You can’t deny a cult of personality. You can’t deny a populist slant on good ideas or revisited ideas and I think if you’re a rapper or a politician, there are similar regions you have to thrive in and personal traits you have to exaggerate. Everyone in politics has to have some kind of—aside from good ideas on policy—some personal investment in things. It’s kind of the same with rap music. There aren’t too many rappers out there devoid of personality. Which makes it seem a bit like a minstrel show.
Minstrel. I actually did say menstrual because of my lisp. But people kind of dance around…
Bleeding all over themselves? Babies coming out of a woman! A sea of red and a killer dance beat.
[He flips through newspaper on the table]
You like that Cirque De Soleil stuff?
Actually I just performed with a circus dance company. They booked me and were dancing all freaky behind us. Contortionists and stripper clowns gyrating. I saw a stripper construct a portable stripper pole right there during sound check.
What do you make of the cross between strippers and clowns and burlesque? It seems somewhat popular.
Burlesque is one thing, but stripper clowns—that’s strippers as clowns, wearing things with the boobies out—that’s kind of different from burlesque. It’s a seedy underbelly of depraved yet very entertaining individuals.
What kind of entertainment do you like?
I like puppies and gumdrops.
How can you have a new puppy and go on tour?
That’s why I have gumdrops.
The puppy eats the gumdrop while you’re away?
The gumdrop eats the puppy. Then when I want the puppy again, the gumdrop regurgitates the puppy.
You like games?
I played Scrabble the other day for the first time. It was fun. I recommend. I don’t like cards.
You ever gamble?
With my life, but that’s about all.
What’s the most daring thing you’ve ever done?
Driving through Montana at 3 in the morning on a snowy night. That was daring. Daedelus was there. I was driving and it was getting slippery. He was playing a game—he’s got various ways of entertaining himself while the down time is being lived through—and he was looking at me and I was looking at him like really intense. He was like [concerned], ‘Are you ok?’ And I said [tense], ‘It’s fine! Just…a little slippery!’ That’s how I get down. That’s a good fun evening to me.
How about the guys you work with—Daedelus, Deerhoof. How does that fit into the Busdriver schema? Is this part of your evolution?
I don’t know if I am evolving. I think I should devolve a bit and set a different trajectory. I like these people. I’m always hungry to spend time and work with Deerhoof. I thought we were plotting a course at some point but we got sidetracked. I want to incorporate more people. I don’t want to get bored or complacent. I want to do things in real time rather than rehashing my old ideas.
There’s not too many other people doing your idea.
I think there’s a reason for that!
What age would you like to go back to?
There’s so many problems at every step. Which set of problems would I prefer over my current bevy of problems? When I was 21, I liked my problems. I didn’t like being 21 but I liked my problems. Hustling, that was problem. Hustling CDs on the street and writing rap songs and raising a newborn baby. Ooh, boy. It was a tough period. My daughter’s about to be 11 next week. She’s a big Jonas Brothers fan and I make fun of her at every twist and turn. I like now, though. I don’t think back, like, ‘I’m old, I need things!’
What is necessary? How do you deal with that?
I perpetuate disorganization. I throw it out into the world and it comes back 10-fold. I haven’t filed my taxes properly. I don’t know what I’m doing. I’ve got parking tickets from god knows when and where. I have no plan. By the seat of my pants. It works out somehow. I mainly do things out of fear. I make records out of fear.
Fear of what?
Exactly. Fear of what? What the fuck am I afraid of? Myself? Expectations? Lack of expectations? The ability to tour. What people think. Anything. I’m afraid of everything. Try to keep things on an even keel.
Is there fear in performing?
Riddled with fear. Not stage fright but I’m like, ‘I got to blow up! It’s not going well! Do something! Hit a button!’
Have you ever tripped over a mic cord?
Once I fell through a hole in a stage. It was years ago in San Jose. I’m walking off like, yeah, I’m badass, and then hoooo! But no one even saw it or acknowledged and I crawled out and I wasn’t even sure that it really happened. It was a complete hole. I disappeared.
What’s something to laugh at that’s humiliating when it happens to others? Like when they walk into a sliding glass door?
That’s a good one. I like when really confident or attractive looking people fall or trip or get knocked down. That never gets old. That’s what you get! But, what do I do for fun? That’s a good question. I used to go to museums. My daughter doesn’t like museums anymore. I took her to a David Hockney exhibit and she was like, ‘Why is that guy naked? What’s that man’s butt doing?’ I was like, ‘It’s expression. It’s something good? There’s something important in this painting…’
She’s not an L.A. kid that likes art galleries?
Some of her friends are. She’s definitely a child of now. She makes web pages and edits film and writes scripts. So she is kind of an L.A. kid but she’s more goofy. She does impressions and accents. We’ll be talking and she does this Indian accent. I don’t know where she gets it from. But she’s got a prolific mind on top of her for a child.
What’s she think of your albums?
She makes fun of me. ‘Sun showers, beebadeedee, bee ba dee dee…’ I’m like [weak], ‘Shut up?’ It’s all good. She my homie. I’ve been acting very fatherly the last year. Like, ‘Don’t do that thing!’ A lot of finger wagging. I need to ease up on that. More tail wagging. Like, ‘Good job!’ She loves clowning me. That’s her thing.
Has being a dad made you better? Is it a playground in which you can learn about yourself?
Having a child has almost nothing to do with self. It’s not self-fulfilling. It’s fulfilling but it’s not a place where you reassess yourself so much. It’s not like, ‘Oh man, this is so good for my insides! My soul is re-energized via this little exchange.’
Where do you get your clothes? I appreciate your colors.
The Salvation Army. Really? My daughter gets the new clothes. I get the recycled shit. I do like bright colors. I don’t like dark colors. That’s from the ‘90s when Grand Puba came out and he dressed a certain way. We all used to wear Eddie Bauer stuff. All colored shirts and stripes. I don’t necessarily dress like that now but it’s similar to that. But the child. The immediate reward of having a kid is that you become more compassionate, more patient, more sensitive to people’s needs, more cognizant of the underpinnings of people’s personalities, and what kind of upbringing gives way to how people become. How a country’s regional culture melds into people, how it becomes people or how people reject it. Children in France and Norway have different priorities and different levels of xenophobia, different footwear. It’s good to know what that is. Then you understand people more. Or you can act like you understand people more. Kids are fascinating. Kids in the U.S. have so many advantages. It’s bizarre. On one side the educational system in L.A. is kinda bad. My daughter’s about to go into a magnet middle school. It’s good but what’s happening there? I’m wary of teachers when they make too many sweeping hand gestures. ‘Kids have to le-e-e-e-ea-rn to be freeee!’ And I’m like, what are the requirements for mathematics? How are you introducing algebra? ‘Freeeeee!’
My math teacher blew bubbles out of her eyes.
See, I don’t want bubbles—out of her eyes?! That’s exactly what I’m talking about, Daiana. I want regimented education. Not bubble-blowing math teachers. Actually that’s fantastic. That’s crazy.
What subject were you bad at?
But you’re good at memorization.
Not really. I don’t memorize lyrics at the time. But if you spend hours with them.
How many times do you do a song before you perform it?
I don’t rehearse.
Then you’re good at memorization.
Ok, fine. But all those details get obscured. You become a creature of habit. I do something a couple of times, I guess I can pull it off live.
Do you think the apocalypse will happen in your lifetime?
If I lived in Iran then I would understand that the apocalypse is happening right now. If some kind of cataclysmic doomsday scenario comes out, the blow will be softened for the USA. No one will know it happened. The rest of the world will be in fucking ashes or a smoldering pile. We’ll be here drinking lattes with HD-TV channels beaming straight to our heads. I don’t know. That’s some conscious rapper disillusionment. Like, ‘Man, they’re going to control our MINDS! We’re never going to be free!’ With Britney Spears break-the-chains hand gestures. I don’t think the world is going to blow up yet. But there are worse things than the world blowing up. Such as not being able to go to school. Did you know they’re going to cut that out? So poor people can’t go to school. This is Schwarzeneger attempting to save a few bucks. If you’re poor and you’re exceptionally talented, you are staying home.
Not that I agree with that, but there are some ideas about civilization not being sustainable, which will require the dying off of a large part of the population.
‘Poor people are going to have to die for the world to keep going.’ Are you predicting a mass-scale holocaust?
Maybe little ones spread about the world.
There aren’t too many people. There’s mismanagement in how these people live. No one has gotten the clue that the paradigm shift doesn’t have to be in 10 years, it has to be now. That takes a lot to do. That’s why Obama can’t do it in his term, or two terms. He’ll probably set it in motion, kind of…there are too many groups he has to appease. He’s not going to do that shit. I don’t know if people are going to die. In the ‘60s they said it—the world’s going to end! But it didn’t. The quality of life is going to become different. Who knows? Americans spend a lot of money they don’t have.
If only the world were different. You can’t make life the way you want it to be entirely. You have to have insurance.
You don’t have to have those things.
They send you letters that say so.
I don’t have healthcare.
What do you do when you’re sick?
I hope that I don’t get sick—that’s what I do.
BUSDRIVER WITH DEERHOOF AND AVOCET ON FRI., JULY 31, AT THE ECHOPLEX, 1154 GLENDALE BLVD., ECHO PARK. 8 PM / $14 / ALL AGES. ATTHEECHO.COM. BUSDRIVER’S JHELLI BEAM IS OUT NOW ON ANTI-. VISIT BUSDRIVER AT BUSDRIVERSITE.COM OR MYSPACE.COM/BUSDRIVER.