Although quintessentially hip-hop at the core, you manage to bridge so many styles with your production, especially for Food for Animals. Pin pointing in particular the noise inclusion, is there a reason why your solo Ricky Rab productions aren’t as intense? Have you decided to channel that chaos only into the FFA sound?
Food for Animals often felt unfairly tagged with the noise-rap label, not that we had any opposition to noise. We continuously strove to make the most original sounds possible. We demanded that the audience work as hard as we did. We sought new ideas and concepts for every song, and thus we created many sounds that could be called noise, but never pursued “noise” as an end unto itself. I remember one of the first times we were working on sounds, we came to this realisation that what we were doing was far more complex than just putting distortion on hip-hop beats. That always seemed like the easy way out. In that sense I see very little change between my work as Ricky solo and Food for Animals. The foundations of rhythm are still being questioned with every beat. Everything still clatters and is dense with sound. If there is a main difference its that we have all come to embrace the dance floor more than before so I guess its somewhat less abrupt or confrontational because we’re trying to keep bodies moving nowadays, but its still very challenging music… and still quite often totally un-danceable, despite our best efforts.
Staying on FFA, the complexity of the production is apparent from the outset. Was this process mentally draining trying to perfect all elements and yet still maintain a level of consistency?
Our productions always required intense amounts of time. Another way to put that is to say that we worked slow. Vulture V aka Max D is definitely more efficient, but my own work always lingers with uncertainty, even doubt. I don’t hear ideas and say “that’s it, that’s the one” – I record it, and listen to it, and think about it for months. I don’t trust my own ear, and i certainly don’t trust my own brain. I’m working with ideas that are larger than my capabilities!
It’s obvious there’s a range of influences that have been poured into your production. Do you enjoy listening to artists of a similar nature to what it is you’ve achieved for FFA or Ricky Rab, or do you avoid similar artists at risk of clashing or even emulating their style?
In Food for Animals we never really considered ourselves to have peers in the underground hip-hop realm, especially when we started. There were precedents for sure, but it felt like we were onto something truly original. Our inspirations were mainstream ultimately. Southern hip-hop was a revelation to us at the time, more than NYC; when we started lots of indie rappers were being too NYC, and it was sounding all jazzy and the underground took a while to recover from that. They wanted breaks and we wanted drum-machines, they wanted big-words and we wanted flow, so we never even really listened much to our peers, though we made some friends along the way. Nowadays it seems like underground has learned its lesson, maybe too well, and now copping ideas from mainstream flow, as well as their bling/violence/sexism – that’s the new standard for indie rappers. They used to write sad raps about their ex-girlfriends, now they write about cutting girls up. To me, neither approach succeeds in feeling like a true threat to social order. Both seem faked/forced.
Although you operate off a laptop live, are your compositions all constructed digitally or do you still use organic / analog instrumentation when getting ideas down or even recording full productions?
Every song is always its own set of parameters, established rules which will then inevitably be broken. We’ve always used a balance of found vs created sounds, played vs sampled sounds, and as everyone who makes out there sounds can attest, it can often be extremely difficult to recreate the intricacies of a spontaneous gesture. So playing things off the laptop has always been necessary, though we’ve always augmented our live-sets with various processors, synth’s etc. so even with a pre-recorded beat you still never know where a song can go, anything can happen. FFA was always a computer-based project, and we could never have really existed without one. All of my music in some way deals with my relationship with technology, and awkwardly struggles with whether to embrace/reject my tools, to use them properly or to blow them up and make them my own. I got my start in making beats on some old PC, and immediately realised the potential it had in terms of recording my ideas directly and efficiently. DIY always. I can’t remember lines or chord-progressions very well, so having a computer was a revelation: there was no need to do demos or memorise synth parts. That first sound idea could make it onto the LP, provided it was strong enough.
What future plans do you have for Ricky Rab? Can any predictions also be made for FFA? Can we assume there will any sort of reversion to the IDM-esque noise based hip-hop rhythms?
I think we’re already experiencing a popular resurgence of indie hip-hop as well as (to a lesser degree) IDM sounds, even if the playing field is quite different from a decade ago. Food for Animals has a long delayed, fully recorded album New Balance that we hope will be out in late 2011 but really, at this point we are all mostly focused on our solo projects etc. Vulture V does the excellent left-field house label future times, DJ’s constantly, and records as Max D. He’s crazy blowing-up right now. Rapper H.Y has a more traditional hip-hop outfit called D.I. (Disturbed Individuals). I’m holding down Baltimore as Rick Rab, DJing and recording a lot of out-there club and dance oriented material. My most recent tape album is Thick Liquids and then Prance is going to drop in the Fall. I’ve got some great local support – shout outs to great label WTR CLR and my new shit is on Hoss (who did the last 2 FFA releases). I live up in this great church with that old-school IDM master Cex. We all hope to be back traveling EU sometime soon.